Dresden Files Storm Front Ch24

Last time, the storm has arrived and yet Harry is still not dead.

Mac’s car was an ’89 TransAm, pure white, with a big eight-cylinder engine.

So it’s a mere ten years old. I guess you could say that if Harry’s able to be in a taxi for a single trip, and taxis are going to be younger than twenty years, then it’s possible Harry could make it a full trip without the machinery crapping out on him – even if he’s stressing it by speeding the whole way, even.

But that’s not the real question. The real question is, how is Mac able to keep it from crapping out on him? Is Mac a non-magic-user? If so, why does Harry need his car in particular? Is it because

The speedometer goes to 130 miles an hour. In places, I went past that. The falling rain made the roads dangerous at the speed I was driving, but I had plenty of incentive to keep the car moving as quickly as possible.

Another person might feel that driving very fast isn’t just dangerous to you but to the people around you, but Harry knows no one else is a person, so no worries there.

Also, if Harry can’t drive anything earlier than 1940s without risk of sudden mechanical failure, what are the odds the brakes even work at this point?

Most of the cars I saw had their headlights on, and streetlights were clicking alight as I barreled down the highway.

You know, the more society relies on technology, the more wizards harm society just by being near it.

We know lightbulbs “tend” to burn out around Harry. Let’s assume a mere 1% chance per minute.

If Harry passes 1000 streetlights, how many blow out?

How many broken streetlights before one causes an accident?

If Harry passes 1000 cars, how many headlights burn out?

How many brake lines start to leak?

I tried to tune in the weather station, on the radio, but gave it up. The storm, plus my own agitation, was creating a cloud of squealing feedback on the radio’s speakers

So apparently the radio (which has bugged out almost immediately every single time Harry’s been near one) in a ten year old car (fifty years past Harry’s limit) is only not working because of a combination of the storm itself and Harry’s emotions apparently supercharging the technology bane effect (but not so much anything else goes wrong in the car).

It’s like how no one meets Harry’s eyes at the pub because they want to stay out of it and aren’t a badass alpha male like Harry, not because no one meets other people’s eyes ever because soulgaze. None of the elements we’re given are ever meant to be part of an actual world. The story is written to our regular world and magic elements are inconsistently edited on top.

I hit the brakes to slow for the turn onto the lakefront road that led to the Sells house, started hydroplaning, turned into the slide with more composure and ability than I really should have had, and got the vehicle back under control in time to slide onto the correct road.

I wonder if the author thinks this all fits in the “physics which magic doesn’t argue with” box.

The TransAm slid to a halt in a shower of gravel and a roar of mighty engine, then sputtered and gasped into silence. I felt, for a giddy second and a half, like Magnum, P.I. Blue Beetle aside, I could get into this sports-car thing. At least it had lasted long enough for me to get to the Sells place. “Thanks, Mac,” I grunted, and got out of the car.

And now, the precise instant it no longer matters, apparently the entire thing self-destructs.

The storm loomed before me, rolling across the lake toward the shore-I could see columns of rain, dimly lit by the fading light, falling into its waters.

Okay, so the curve of the earth is such that the horizon is about three miles off. Therefore, if Harry can see rain hitting the water, the storm must be within that range. Ignoring land-to-stormbottom distance, thunderstorms can reach three times that tall. How can you power your spells with storms if your sphere of influence can barely reach the edge? Maybe thunderstorms are just so incredibly potent that even a tiny bit of it is enough to power spells, but in that case you could probably rule the world by tapping a power plant or two.

There could be magical traps or alarms strewn about, or spiritual or shrouded guardians invisible to the naked eye. There could be spells waiting, illusions meant to hide Victor Sells from anyone who came looking. I needed to be able to see past all that. I needed to have every scrap of knowledge I could get.
So I opened my Third Eye.

Okay, so, we’ll assume that it goes without saying that all of those invisible magical things also have their magic signature hidden from second sight. The fact Harry is making a big deal of third sight here proves he can’t have been using it when feeling storm magic energy back in the middle of the book, and he also stated he’d always know a magical practioner despite obviously not having his third sight on for the threeeye(tm) junkie, which means that all the stuff he’s mentioning now must be invisible to the always-on second sight magicians have.

On the one hand, that makes sense if you assume the biggest concern magicians have is other magicians, on the other, why wouldn’t a magician turn their third sight on too before entering? Obviously for your secret undead scorpions, the concealment is helpful – you could send one scuttling into a rival’s office deliberately, or leave them places you need defended that aren’t obvious. But while non-D&D folk don’t reflectively check for traps every step, anyone planning an assault is going to want to scope things out, so why bother hiding your base’s enchantments?

One option is that it’s really easy to put an extra drop of energy in to conceal it, so wizards just work that into their standard spell frame and use it for everything. Another is that second sight is a lot more common than third and he was worried about various non-wizards too. Bianca being a vampire seems like it’s semi-public knowledge (although it’d be pretty hilarious if this guy actually had no clue) and she’s something you’d want defenses against after blowing up one of her people. Fairies might be limited to second sight as well – and while he doesn’t seem to have anything that went off when they were spying on him, they also didn’t warn Harry about any traps, so he could have some traps set up but not armed. You figure fae are the sort of assholes who’d order their low-level minions to buzz places all the time and see what blew them up, so you’d want to keep your defenses from triggering until you had someone important to fry.

But anyway, third sight. Let’s hear about it.

It isn’t something that lends itself readily to description. Describing something helps to define it, to give it limits, to set guardrails of understanding around it. Wizards have had the Sight since time began, and they still don’t understand how it works, why it does what it does.

Wizards continue to be shit at investigation, and the author continues to be lazy as fuck about any of this fitting together.

The only thing I can say is that I felt as though a veil of thick cloth had been lifted away from me as I opened my eyes again-and not only from my eyes, but from all of my senses. I could abruptly smell the mud and fish odor of the lake, the trees around the house, the fresh scent of the coming rain preceding the storm on the smoke-stained wind. I looked at the trees. Saw them, not just in the first green coat of spring, but in the full bloom of summer, the splendor of the fall, and the barren desolation of winter, all at the same time. I Saw the house, and each separate part of it as its own component, the timbers as parts of spectral trees, the windows as pieces of distant sandy shores. I could feel the heat of summer and the cold of winter in the wind coming off the lake. I Saw the house wreathed in ghostly flames, and knew that those were part of its possible future, that fire lay down several of the many paths of possibility that lay ahead in the next hour.

Okay, so third sight both gives you super-senses in the present AND lets you see through time. Unclear on if the junkie was seeing That Which Is Ominous using yet another power to see psychic scars or if he was seeing Harry’s past itself. In addition to all this, it is also sees emotions and symbolic futures to go with the literal future.

The house itself was a place of power. Dark emotions-greed, lust, hatred-all hung over it as visible things, molds and slimes that were strewn over it like Spanish moss with malevolent eyes. Ghostly things, restless spirits, moved around the place, drawn to the sense of fear, despair, and anger that hung over it, mindless shades that were always to be found in such places, like rats in granaries.
The other thing that I Saw over the house was a grinning, empty skull. Skulls were everywhere, wherever I looked, just at the edge of my vision, silent and still and bleach white, as solid and real as though a fetishist had scattered them around in anticipation of some bizarre holiday. Death. Death lay in the house’s future, tangible, solid, unavoidable.

Or to tie it all together, third sight lets you experience precisely whatever hodgepodge of things the author feels like describing.

Also yes, this is all a gigantic plot hole because Harry was explicitly told this guy was poking magic with a stick and should’ve flipped on his third sight when he was first walking around.

I shuddered and shoved the feeling away. No matter how strong the vision, how powerful the image gained with the Sight, the future was always mutable, always something that could be changed. No one had to die tonight.

I have absolutely no idea why he thinks this is a known rule, especially given he seems to have little to no idea how anything else works about magic. Nor do I know why he’s so bothered by the idea of death in general – he’s killed in self-defense at least once before and he’s spent a lot of time saying he intended to take this guy out, plus this guy has already killed innocent people repeatedly and made an attempt on his life, and Harry’s whole “clear my name” motivation? It revolves around this guy taking the fall instead.

It didn’t have to come to that, not for them and not for me.

Yes, it does. This guy broke magic law. The whole council subplot has been about how Harry will be killed for breaking magic law. If Harry doesn’t kill him, the council will hours/days later. The only way this guy makes it out alive is if Harry bursts in there with the intent of helping him escape wizard justice and somehow the guy listens and does that instead of being happy Harry’s decided to make this easy and exploding him.

But a sick feeling had settled into me, as I looked on this darkling house, with all of its stinking lust and fear, all of its horrid hate worn openly upon it to my Sight, like a mantle of flayed human skin on the shoulders of a pretty girl with gorgeous hair, luscious lips, sunken eyes, and rotting teeth. It repulsed me and it made me afraid.

GO TO THERAPY

And something about it, intangible, something I couldn’t name, called to me. Beckoned. Here was power, power I had thrust aside once before, in the past.

Yeah it’s time for the tempting. It’s done in a plodding checkbox manner and it’s terrible.

I had thrown away the only family I had ever known to turn away power exactly like this.

Remember when Harry was raised by his beloved dad? Because he’s apparently forgotten.

This was the sort of strength that could reach out and change the world to my will

I assume it’ll never really be explained why black magic is so crazy powerful compared to white, and I’m entirely sure it’ll never really be explained how in the hell black wizards aren’t in charge given this.

I could kill the Shadowman, now, before he knew I was here. I could call down fury and flame on the house and kill everyone in it, not leave one stone upon another.

The best part isn’t really what a tired and plothole-ridden cliche this all is. No, it’s that Harry continues to be Superman. This guy never was in Harry’s league at all, you see. It’s not just that he was using storm power to boost himself past Harry’s level, apparently going evil alone is a ridiculously huge power boost and the guy still needed storm power on top to be a contender. Harry can crush him and the rest of the world at once with similar boosts.

Come to think of it, Harry could probably literally still crush him without even the boost, he did say that he could blow out walls by accident pretty easily, and he also knows fireball.

(Burning the place down should be a major consideration for wizards. Harry said that magical creatures like vampires can’t enter houses, but while that’s all well and good when it comes to avoiding them feeding on you, deciding to burn you to death is actually safer, all things considered, than a direct fight. Another reason for wizards being cut off from regular society should be that they prefer their “houses” to be caves and magic all-stone towers and similarly siege-resistant dwellings.

Harry goes on a bit longer about how absolutely unstoppable he’s be because he’s the bestest most powerfullest wizard ever.

It’s admittedly true, but that’s the problem.

Or, no, it’s not exactly it. The problem is he’s all-powerful and also for some ungodly reason the author built half the story around the question of if he was powerful enough.

I’m honestly pretty fond of stories where the character is really powerful and the question is what they’ll do, not if they’ll succeed at it. I just spent a very enjoyable Thanksgiving making my brother read the Kuroshitsuji manga, after all. Or since we’ve been talking comics, I also loved Miracleman. There’s a lot of stories that are about people’s decisions, but when power enters the equation, so many writers assume the conflict should center on hero-beats-villain.

I mean, it’s not just that right now I’m having to sit through Harry being tempted by the dark side for a couple paragraphs before he’s all nope nevermind about the power he probably doesn’t really need anyway. It’s also that Harry is really not an interesting character.

His primary motivation, in all seriousness, is being alpha male. Demon on his heels and damsel fainting at his feet, he decides the best use of his time is to insult and slap the wizard behind it. He’s spent most of this book refusing to do much of anything, for little to no reason. So far, Harry seems to be motivated by, in rough order

1) Showing he’s cooler than thou to other wizards
2) Not dying
3) Lazing about
4) Getting paid
5) Sex
6) Helping others

Money wouldn’t make him work on the case but being blamed for the heartsplosion would. Even then, he was pretty lackadaisical about it and stuck to the most direct route to solve it, refusing to investigate other options that might bear fruit and might not, which is why he kept dead-ending until the plot handed him the answer.

Now, a story that wasn’t busy sucking Harry’s dick could make this into some decent tension. If the most powerful wizard in Chicago is lazy, self-interested and the only thing that he puts effort into is smashing down any perceived challenger, it’s easy to see how Harry could be at the center of a lot of problems. People who need his power will be looking for ways to get him on their side, and the best way is to convince him their problem is some upstart wizard who, they heard, doesn’t think Harry’s anything special. Other people who need his power will have no idea that he tunes out pretty much every other request, despite the fact ghosts have surrounded the church full of orphans and puppies and are chipping through the wards as we speak.

If Harry is meant to be decent under it all and just very self-absorbed, the story becomes just how much fallout it takes from this before Harry realizes what he’s done and changes. If Harry’s meant to be a horrible person who we’re following for the trainwreck, then the story is about how everyone else handles him crashing about.

Other, less awful versions of Harry could have the tension be on if Harry will figure out what he needs to do in time (best fit for a detective story, just requires higher quality writing than getting handed the answer in chapter 3 and explaining how he’s not going to bother looking at it) or the possibility suggested by Harry saying he can’t summon his weapons without accidentally blowing a wall. It actually is possible to do a character like that if you stop gushing about how awesomely powerful they are and focus on how their lack of control means they actually can’t do a lot of things at all. Harry knowing he’s a bull in a china shop could be very interesting – having to hesitate every time he’s about to use a spell to judge if it’s safe, and sometimes getting beaten upside the head by some thug with a baseball bat as a result because reflexively throwing up a shield charm is like hitting everything in the radius with a freight train. Maybe Harry swore to pacifism after the trauma of murdering another person with magic (Harry’s initial description sure sounds like using magic to kill is just inherently horrific, regardless of why you do it) but his lack of control means even defensive magic has a good chance of hurting people.

(For those who absolutely need more weakness in a character, we could also say Harry can pump out amazing amounts of magic but doesn’t have a higher magical capacity than anyone – magic is life energy and normal wizards have a self-preservation block that prevents them from doing more than skimming a bit off the top. (“Wizard’s death curse” is for the sort of thing they’re suddenly able to pull off once self-preservation is no longer an option.) And unfortunately life magic is homoeostasis rather than working like an engine where it runs as long as there’s a drop left. You can win a fight with plenty of magic left, walk off victoriously, and die of hypothermia because you body’s ability to generate heat in response to temperature stopped working three fireballs ago. Harry can mess himself up trying to do a minor spell and expending way more energy than he needed, and if he decides to go all out, there’s a very good chance he’ll die even if he wins. Focus remains on what will Harry do and not can Harry fireball harder than anyone else.)

Harry doesn’t pick the dark magic because ghost mommy channels white magic through the pentacle and gets him to hold it, and that makes him calm down. I guess magic user mom was always in a plans then.

That wasn’t what magic was for. That wasn’t what magic did. Magic came from life itself, from the interaction of nature and the elements, from the energy of all living beings, and especially of people.

This is such a weird hippie moment. Harry does it once in the beginning and once at the end, and in-between he clearly doesn’t give a rat’s ass about this.

I was not a murderer.

Harry’s backstory is that he killed someone. I mean, I can see Harry not self-identifying as a person defined around this trait, but he is a murderer in that he committed a murder. That’s why he’s got Morgan hanging around. In fact, depending on how demons work he may have committed another murder during this very book.

The difference between him and his opponent is that his opponent kills innocent people for gain while Harry kills in self-defense, but for some reason the author doesn’t want to put it that way.

And wizards don’t use magic to kill people. They use it to discover, to protect, to mend, to help. Not to destroy.

Just so we’re clear – he is still totally going to get into a deathfight with the other guy. But somehow it’d be immoral to blow the place up from outside and moral to do it from inside, so Harry has to monologue to us about how he won’t do it one way because that way is a way murderers pick and he’s better than that when murdering.

I didn’t have my staff, and I didn’t have my rod.

That was totally your choice, Harry. It wouldn’t have been that hard to go and get them.

Harry then whines that he’s all by himself, because he deliberately tried to keep Murphy from helping (and in the process got her incapacitated) and then beat unconscious his other obvious ally choice. He followed this up by failing to solicit help because he really loved the idea of lone-wolfing it just that much, but people should feel so much sympathy that he’s getting what he said repeatedly he wanted.

And so, I walked through a spectral landscape littered with skulls, into the teeth of the coming storm, to a house covered in malevolent power, throbbing with savage and feral mystic strength. I walked forward to face a murderous opponent who had all the advantages, and who stood prepared and willing to kill me from where he stood within the heart of his own destructive power, while I was armed with nothing more than my own skill and wit and experience.
Do I have a great job or what?

haaaaaaaate

50 Comments

  1. illhousen says:
    “Or to tie it all together, third sight lets you experience precisely
    whatever hodgepodge of things the author feels like describing.”

    I would recommend you to read An Imago of Rust and Crimson, a Worm fanfic which handles seeing the hidden truth about the world much better.

    Also just generally enjoyable AU which takes the ideas behind Worm into a slightly different direction, paying much attention to careful world-building. The story focuses on street level and is unlikely to escalate like Worm did by the end.

    It’s a bit slow-paced, but very enjoyable.

    Link: http://forums.sufficientvelocity.com/threads/an-imago-of-rust-and-crimson-worm-crossover.1326/

    “Remember when Harry was raised by his beloved dad? Because he’s apparently forgotten.”

    Don’t you know? His dad was Darth Blane who revealed his true power of being mildly annoying which Harry rejected in favor of being infuriating, as wizards should be.

    “I assume it’ll never really be explained why black magic is so crazy
    powerful compared to white, and I’m entirely sure it’ll never really be
    explained how in the hell black wizards aren’t in charge given this.”

    That’s actually kinda addressed. Black magic seems to create a feedback loop where it feeds on your negative emotions while pushing you towards feeling more negative emotions.

    Black wizards don’t rule because they tend to go insane.

    “I’m honestly pretty fond of stories where the character is really
    powerful and the question is what they’ll do, not if they’ll succeed at
    it.”

    I would also add that “Now you, with all your human flaws and biases, have the power to change the world. What will you do?” is the central conflict of Exalted when the game is played right.

    Mostly for Solars, but the question is relevant for other Exalts as well.

    “This is such a weird hippie moment. Harry does it once in the beginning
    and once at the end, and in-between he clearly doesn’t give a rat’s ass
    about this.”

    I like how the idea that life is magic and magic is life is handled in A Madness of Angels. Just a very cool world-building that book contains, even if other elements don’t quite live up to it.

    1. Farla says:
      Black magic seems to create a feedback loop where it feeds on your negative emotions while pushing you towards feeling more negative emotions.

      Black wizards don’t rule because they tend to go insane.

      But how fast is that?

      If it’s rapid, then it isn’t even real temptation here, Harry’s refusing something that’s a bad deal. If it isn’t rapid, the implied power boost should be enough for black wizards to wipe out the white wizards fast enough that black wizards predominate – and new wizards living in a black wizard’s nightmare world should be overwhelmingly going for the more power of black magic, so it’d end up being a stable system even if the individual components burn out more often.

      1. illhousen says:
        As far as I can tell, it happens with the speed of plot.

        If I were to guess, I would say that it depends on how often you use black magic. If it’s a morning routing, your mind would rot within weeks. If you only do it on big occasions, it might take years.

        The key to successfully using black magic, therefore, would be dose regulation.

        It isn’t very relevant to Harry, though. Aside from being a powerhouse already, he’s going to get some more power boosts with little to no strings attached down the road.

  2. GeniusLemur says:
    “The speedometer goes to 130 miles an hour. In places, I went past
    that. The falling rain made the roads dangerous at the speed I was
    driving, but I had plenty of incentive to keep the car moving as quickly
    as possible.”
    Boy, you can just feel the tension dripping off the page can’t you? We’ve all ragged on the worldbuilding, characterization, prejudice, and Mary Sue in this misbegotten mess, but it’s also worth emphasizing that the nuts and bolts of the writing itself are shitty too.
    1. Farla says:
      I remember advice once about how you shouldn’t judge a book by the beginning, because that’s the most polished, and some writers can even keep it up to the middle. Flip past that and check the quality of the other half.
  3. GeniusLemur says:
    “The difference between him and his opponent is that his opponent kills
    innocent people for gain while Harry kills in self-defense, but for some
    reason the author doesn’t want to put it that way.”
    It’s because the author will not allow his Mary-Sue to be flawed.
    1. Roarke says:
      I’m not sure what it says about me as a person, but I really tend to dislike it when a power fantasy narrative makes the main character have a strict moral code limiting their behavior, and tempts them to lose their inhibitions, but they stay strong and blah blah blah.

      It’s weird, because my favorite hero is Batman, from whom Butcher seemed to be drawing inspiration for Dresden, with sprinkles of Spiderman and other popular heroes. But when I’m thinking of a hero I would personally want to be, it would be something like “Save the world? Absolutely. Spare the villain? Uh… *gunshot* No.”

      1. illhousen says:
        Well, I understand why authors are doing it.

        Part of the power fantasy is the reduction of complex moral choices to simple questions of your self-identification.

        You want to kill that man? You can do it.

        You don’t want to be a murderer? You don’t need to be.

        The world of power fantasy is the world where only the hero can define the hero. No matter the circumstances, the hero can always make it work without compromises, without changing self-identity.

        At its best it gives us inspiring stories about good prevailing against all odds, uncorrupted.

        At its worst, we have this. A story where the bargain for power is rejected because the power is not truly needed to begin with.

        1. Roarke says:
          Yeah. This is pretty much why I need power fantasies to come in an RPG package, preferable wRPG. I appreciate the hell out of a good narrative, sure, but I like making my own choices, when it comes down to it.

          It’s not like I identify as a “wannabe murderer” or someone who’d readily kill given the chance. Like you said, it’s about choices. I want to choose not to kill, not have that choice enforced by an outside factor. If a narrative wants to force a morally-sound hero on me, it’d better be a damn good one.

      2. Farla says:
        I think what makes Batman work is that Batman is not, at least in any good story, put in a position where killing is a necessary thing. (The meta problem that everyone he takes down inevitably escapes is a whole different issue.) By the end of a Batman story, Batman has saved whatever victims he found and beaten the criminal until they’re defenseless. Killing them wouldn’t help anyone, and by stopping, Batman shows that his violence remains controlled and his purpose is that of a protector. These people did something terrible, and Batman had to confront that on his way to stopping them, but he doesn’t kill them at the end just to make himself feel better.

        Wonder Woman actually follows very similar rules, despite being presented in comics as sort of his opposite – a pretty grounded person who is absolutely willing to snap a neck. But she isn’t bloodthirsty – she doesn’t kill to make herself feel better at the end, but only in a pragmatic way, and she’s just as willing as Batman to try to resolve things peacefully when the option presents itself.

        And a big thing with both is that they aren’t really sparing the villain, they’re leaving them alive for the justice system to handle, in a world where that generally works barring drama.

        The problem with this style is where the writer thinks the important axis is “not killing” and decides to show how devoted the character is to not killing by presenting a situation where killing is necessary and then having the main character refuse, then presenting this as a virtue instead of a flaw. (Trigun is the only show that comes to mind as actually getting this.)Or having the character waste our time claiming they don’t want to kill but not actually making any effort to avoid it (pretty much all good superheroes will try to talk if it’s an option) or making a big deal of it when the person’s going to be executed anyway and they apparently have no problem with that, both of which we see here.

        1. Roarke says:
          The problem with this style is where the writer thinks the important axis is “not killing” and decides to show how devoted the character is to not killing by presenting a situation where killing is necessary and then having the main character refuse, then presenting this as a virtue instead of a flaw.

          That is some really good insight into the intricacies of writing moral complexity, yeah. There have been some Batman stories that did well painting Batman’s unwillingness to kill as a flaw, though I’m drawing blanks as far as their titles go.

          I mean, mundane cops are given authority to use lethal force in certain circumstances. A lot of people hate that, because if a cop kills someone under sketchy circumstances and then gets off (hm, why does this sound familiar to current events) people riot in the streets. That still doesn’t change the fact that cops need that authority to do their job sometimes.

          That’s part of the problem you outlined, where in this grey reality there is no black-and-white “I’m not a killer therefore I will never kill no matter how dire the circumstances” morality that looks good. Or sane. Or interesting. Unless you’re Batman.

          1. Farla says:
            The cop thing is largely abuse, though.

            The original idea, which I think is valid, is that cops shouldn’t attempt disabling shots because disabling shots don’t work well at disabling without killing, and so you should never draw your gun unless it’s a situation requiring lethal force in the first place. So if you’ve got, say, a crazy serial killer covered head to toe in the tallymarks of his thousands of victims, you don’t try to take him down with fisticuffs, you use lethal force to the best of your ability. And if for some reason you know said crazy serial killer who’s killed thousands is going to dodge the death penalty and inevitably break out in like a week, AGAIN, you’re looking at an ethical obligation to do vigilante justice yourself even if, somehow, the situation doesn’t demand immediate lethal force (…like, maybe he just fell and broke every limb, and you can be totally certain that every limb is broken, and this isn’t a trick, and he doesn’t have a buddy waiting to kill you when you get close, and… It’s actually hard with some of Batman’s villains to come up with situations where lethal force isn’t required by virtue of who they are.)

            That cops went on to take this perfectly good framework and shoot unarmed people in the back is a separately terrible problem.

        2. Steeler says:
          Plus, a lot of Batman’s enemies are mentally imbalanced or unwell, so they can’t be held liable for their own actions. (I vaguely recall this being an important plot point somewhere or another, but I may have hallucinated that.) By sparing them, Batman is getting them another chance to be helped through their issues. There was also that thing with Harley Quinn and her being essentially an codependent woman being controlled by her abusive boyfriend.
          1. SpoonyViking says:
            Sort of. The Riddler, for instance, is clearly insane, but he CAN be held liable because his insanity does not prevent him from knowing the difference between right and wrong. The same logic can be applied to most, if not all, of Batman’s villains (depending on their characterization that week, of course).

            That said, I don’t agree that Batman has an ethical obligation to kill them – and even if he does so, I’d expect him to immediately surrender himself for imprisonment and trial. But then, I’m more of a conservative regarding vigilantism (as opposed to violence performed in self-defense).

            1. Farla says:
              The real problem is Batman villains use “insanity” as an excuse for why the state never kills them, and also exist in a universe where the strongest building material is cardboard, and also insanity gives you super strength and speed and so on.

              Batman doesn’t have an ethical obligation to kill a villain, but he gets an ethical obligation to kill the Joker by the Joker’s fifth genocide. And if tally mark serial killer is still alive at this point and about to break out again too, he also has an obligation avoid imprisonment because he’s got to murder that asshole too.

              Vigilantism is ultimately a matter of finding some aspect of the law lacking. In general, that means it’s imperative the ethical vigilante takes care not to overstep their bounds and become a criminal in turn. In Batman’s universe, though, the biggest area the law is lacking is its inability to handle arrested criminals.

              You could be a Gotham superhero by breaking into Arkham and shooting everyone who’s 1) escaped twice and 2) committed multiple murders each time. Rather than pre-trial vigilante, you’re a post-trial one, only going after people who’ve been found to be unrepentant murderers and continuing threats to society rather than doing your own investigations. You’re respecting judge and jury, both of whom admitted these are evil people who do evil things, but ignoring the law that opposes execution.

              This would not only reduce the inevitable mass deaths each time those people escape, but it’d also depopulate Arkham, because apparently in Gotham they think “serial killer” is all you need to count as crazy. The tax money saved could go to better social services to help people before they go crazy and serial killery, and the few non-escape-artist-mass-murderers in Arkham would then be moved out of that hellhole to actual legitimate psychiatric institutions.

              Plus, Harley’s shown to be pretty stable and even helpful if you just keep her away from the Joker, so killing off the escape-artist-mass-murderers could even move a bunch of remaining people to the superhero side instead.

              Reply
  4. Roarke says:
    The bit with temptation is one of the worst things about the book, and it will continue to be one of the worst things about the books for as far as I’ve read into the series – and I’m on like, book ten. Partly because it does get somewhat tolerable, and also because it’s been a year since I’ve read anything new.

    Temptation comes in so many different forms. “More power” is one of the simplest of them. There’s the temptation to pursue vengeance, slake lusts, and basically remove all the restraints on your behavior. It’ll be a running theme throughout the books, and I absolutely hate the way it’s handled.

    Harry is a goddamn Purity Sue. Even, to some extent, in the book I just read in which he finally makes himself a damn Faustian bargain. It gets really fucking tiring watching demons and whatever offer him power, and have him turn it down, saying he can’t give up his soul or free will or whatever, and that he’s got to be responsible with his power (the SpiderMan quote is given) and power itself corrupts (LOTR is quoted), and then the book proceeds to be uninteresting because Harry stomps through the world on his own steam. His allies are like the only interesting things.

    It’s the worst kind of “have your cake and eat it too” power fantasy, because you always win physically and morally, and it becomes terribly predictable. It just doesn’t belong. I would love to read a decent book in which the consequences of a morally sound person making a bargain for power is actually well-explored.

    1. illhousen says:
      https://www.fanfiction.net/s/6654901/1/A-Green-Sun-Illuminates-the-Void

      A good variation on Faustian bargain.

      It’s ZnT/Exalted fanfic, but you don’t really need to be familiar with source materials to enjoy it. The story fumbles a bit at the beginning, with the author seemingly unsure where he wants to take it, but finds its balance soon enough.

      The main character is an Infernal Exalt.

      https://pactwebserial.wordpress.com/

      A web novel about a heir to the old family of diabolists. Has an interesting take on the deals with devils as diabolists there can nearly effortlessly summon some major guns into play, but typically really don’t want to do it because they and everyone around will pay a great price even if everything will go according to plan (which is far from guaranteed).

      The story is big on piling the misery (not cheap angst, genuinely bad shit happening) on the protagonists, though, so you need a great deal of tolerance to it.

      1. Roarke says:
        I don’t read fanfictions even when I’ve read the source. But I’ll take a look at the web novel, thanks.
        1. illhousen says:
          Come on, just one shot fic wouldn’t hurt you.

          Seriously, the author I linked is pretty good. Even if you aren’t into fanfiction, you should check him. He is certainly better than Butcher, faint praise it may be.

          1. Roarke says:
            I’ll think on it after I finish the web novel. If it’s of comparable quality, I may give it a look.
            1. illhousen says:
              Note that the novel is incomplete. It’s still publishing. Tomorrow is the next update, in fact.
              Reply
              1. Roarke says:
                *adds to the list of websites to check every day*
    2. Farla says:
      I still have no idea why he even would want power.

      Getting followed around by Naked Steel might be annoying, but he apparently never intended to violate any rules and going by his reaction he never thought he might get blamed for a violation he didn’t do, so he didn’t need the power to take them on. And his day to day power use is grossly under his actual capacity, so it can’t even be that it’d make his life easier to be able to do magic without straining himself because that’s already his life.

      1. Roarke says:
        I guess it’s supposed to be because he’s got a big white alpha male temper, and whenever something starts to threaten him he immediately reaches for the MAXIMUM FORCE with which to smack it down.
  5. Eilonwy_has_an_aardvark says:
    Initially, I wondered why Dresden wasn’t given a 1982 Trans Am, if we’re handing out Trans Ams, since that’s the car used in Knight Rider.

    But wait… the white 1989 Trans Am is a 20th anniversary edition Indy pace car replica, produced in an edition of only 1,555. Because Harry is SO SPESHUL that he has to wreck a super-speshul car. Its top speed with the original automatic transmission is 162 mph (thank you, Wikipedia), and it does actually have a V8 engine.

    So pretty much the only thing in this book that the author troubled himself to get accurate is Dresden’s borrowed Suemobile.

    Also, cooking over a wood stove for a bunch of wizards pays extremely well.

    1
    1. Roarke says:
      Hey, woah, please don’t be snide about Mac. He speaks so little that there’s no dialogue for Butcher to butcher (woefully original, that), and that automatically puts him in my top two or three characters.
      1. Eilonwy_has_an_aardvark says:
        Not snide about Mac… thinking back to earlier discussions that Dresden must be paying through the nose for all those cooked-over-woodfire steaks and brewed-by-hand beers. Car confirms this is a pricey little bistro.

        In a loosely related thought, if I were going to write wizards who face limitations in the modern world, they would have to choose between taking the bus and having crazy people’s random feelings coming at them (crazy thoughts being harder to block than sane ones because I’ll think of a reason) or driving, which requires CONSTANT VIGILANCE against everything at once, and wizard senses just add distractions by including things normally invisible. (I had a Zipcar today and found the experience exhausting — I’ve gotten used to the bus driver doing all the work.)

        1. Roarke says:
          Yeah, there are a ton of ways to make extranormal senses backfire in the day-to-day. I wish we’d seen more of that.

          You could, for instance, make it so that Dresden was a vegetarian because he once opened his Sight (we’ll say before he could control it) and saw the piece of meat on his plate as an actual animal that was slaughtered, butchered, and packed for transport a few days ago; it hit him harder to see that happen on his dinner table, and you never forget what you see, so he sees that animal every time he sits down for a nibble. Or I guess maybe he’d just come to terms with that, but still rarely eat meat.

          1. Eilonwy_has_an_aardvark says:
            I love the non-meat-eating idea. It increases my yearning to see Harry stuck in the barrio (concrete block house with metal roll-down window shades and tar-and-gravel roof — perfect protection against fiery other-wizard attacks!), where he can hear the opinions of the neighbors’ chickens.

            I’d also eliminate the time constraint on tech and just make it that the extra electrical and magnetic fields are irritating to wizards. If you grew up with a given device, you’re used to its psychic bzzzzz-bzzzzz noise, but if it came along new in your adulthood, it’s harder to adjust to. Wizards could thus use computers, but today they’d still have a desktop machine they mostly keep turned off and connect to the internet with a modem, rather than using a laptop or tablet that has physical contact with more than their fingertips and needs wifi. (ETA: This would also explain who’s still using dial-up internet.)

            1. Roarke says:
              A wizard could theoretically use an extension cord to a really high-tech desktop/router, and only be physically close to the keyboard, mouse, and monitor, which are always comparatively simple.
              Reply
              1. illhousen says:
                That’s just asking for the defense perimeter to be compromised unless the wizard lives in a castle or at least a mansion with enough space for it to not be a problem.
              2. Roarke says:
                Well, considering Victor Sells lives in a nice lakeside house, and he’s the new, untaught wizard on the block, I’m going to bet that other wizards have perfectly sound finances and accommodations, and that Harry having no money is less “wizards are always strapped for cash” and more “Harry Dresden is a financial fiasco.”
              3. Farla says:
                No, the technology go boom zone appears to be pretty small, because all Murphy has to do is turn off her computers before Harry actually enters the room. Even just putting a computer at one end of the apartment and using it from the other might work, as long as you always turn it off before getting up.

                Someone in Harry’s position on the bottom story could also try digging a pit, lining it with something to keep the water out, and keeping the computer in there, if more distance is needed. (Might be an actual reason to hang out in a hellstate busily bulldozing away your habitat, less effort needed for your computer pits.)

              4. Farla says:
                Brilliant!
              5. Roarke says:
                One thing that’s really bothered me is that Dresden’s narration starts making references to TVTropes after about the eighth book, specifically the Evil Overlord list, which is really fucking stupid because he can’t go within ten feet of the Internet.

                Also, I love the word “eighth.” You can’t spell it right unless you’re willing to spit on everything you’ve learned about phonics

              6. Falconix says:
                Pretty sure the Evil Overlord list predates TV Tropes, but your point about not being able to get on the internet to read that stands.
            2. Farla says:
              where he can hear the opinions of the neighbors’ chickens.

              That might actually make him more okay with eating chicken. They sound super cute but I’m pretty sure the actual vocabulary is just “MINE” “I KILL U” and “AHHH!”

              Making tech be about uncomfortableness rather than a zone of destruction would also make it clearly into Harry’s problem rather than everyone else’s.

              Reply
          2. Farla says:
            Or he could be one of those super-ethical meat eaters who eats only humanely raised and slaughtered animals. That’d be expensive enough to make meat a very occasional food.
            1. Roarke says:
              In later books Harry will mention, quite out of nowhere, that he was raised on a (non-industrial) farm for two years after killing his mentor. It was not established this book at all, as far as I can recall, but it would be relevant to his situation as well, since a small farm, if it has any livestock, tends to do its own slaughtering.
              Reply
              1. Farla says:
                Technically, you can still raise animals horribly and ship them out to be slaughtered from a small farm, but yeah, pretty unlikely.
    2. Farla says:
      Oh good god.

      I am going to just assume from now on that the rest of the wizards make plenty of money and Harry has a forever discount because he’s the only one with the power level to refresh the protective wards.

  6. Roarke says:
    And so, I walked through a spectral landscape littered with skulls, into the teeth of the coming storm, to a house covered in malevolent power, throbbing with savage and feral mystic strength. I walked forward to face a murderous opponent who had all the advantages, and who stood prepared and willing to kill me from where he stood within the heart of his own destructive power, while I was armed with nothing more than my own skill and wit and experience.

    Do I have a great job or what?

    haaaaaaaate

    This is not how one builds tension. This is not how one establishes a character’s badass witty nonchalance. We knew Harry was going to beat this guy the entire book. Of course, it takes an entire rewriting of the novel to make Harry likable enough for this scene to work, and fixing the scene without fixing the rest of the novel would be like slapping a bandaid on a bullet wound and calling it a day. So I don’t know why I’m even complaining.

    1. illhousen says:
      Just imagine all of those skulls being Bob.

      The scene becomes suddenly horrifying.

      1. Roarke says:
        Just imagine all of those skulls being Morte.

        The scene becomes suddenly hilarious.

        Speaking of which, why does asshole, knowledgeable, pervert skull work with Morte but not Bob?

        1. illhousen says:
          Mostly because Morte is harmless in that regard. He can flirt, but that’s all he does, what with not having a body and all. Bob, by contrast, actually can follow with actions when freed.

          And, of course, Morte isn’t into coercion. If people aren’t interested in his advances, well, their loss. Bob has scary spirit powers.

          Most importantly, there is more to Morte than perversion, knowledge and being a skull. Pretty early we find the message about how we shouldn’t trust the skull, and later his story is revealed.

          In other words, Morte is a character with some depth. He came from somewhere, he has motives for doing what he does, and there is a resolution for his story.

          Bob is, well, just there. Watching you.

          1. Roarke says:
            Kotomine Bob likes to watch.

            But yeah, Morte’s got his fair share of depth, like almost all PS:T characters, because that’s the best game there is. As far as the writing anyway. The IEngine… guh.

            1. illhousen says:
              Well, on the plus side it doesn’t do 3D turn-based first-person battles. That’s a bloody mess which was apparently popular in ye olde days when 3D was new.
              Reply
              1. Roarke says:
                IEngine still sucks. I haven’t played any IEngine game to completion except for PS:T.
              2. illhousen says:
                I’ve played Baldur’s Gates I-II and Icewind Dale I-II*. They are more tolerable when it comes to battles. Like, there is actually some tactic involved, and sometimes you’ll get a tense moment or two.

                Mostly the battles looked like everyone was half-asleep, though. A consequence of poorly adapted D&D rules where each round takes 6 seconds. So that’s how long characters wait between actions.

                *Russian translation is hilarious when it comes to choosing character voices. You see, when creating a new character, you can pick a voice for command responses (battle cries, affirmations when you click on them, etc).

                There was a bunch of standard voices for any character, plus a couple suggested for specific classes with more specific content. Wizards would talk about their arcane powers, cleric would say that their god is with the party, etc. You could assign those voices even to characters of the wrong class, though, it was jjust a suggestion.

                So, there are two voices for rogues. One is fine, your typical vaguely-threatening stuff and implications of illegal activities. The second is one of the most hammiest voices I’ve heard. Not for indoor use to be sure.

                And he tells stuff appropriate for shady thieves, which makes it even funnier.

                “SILENT BLADE CUTS BETTER!!!”

                “STICK TO THE SHADOWS, FRIEND, AND WE’LL WIN THE BATTLE!!!”

                I am pretty sure he managed to be sneaky only because enemies really didn’t want to notice that crazy guy two meters in height trying to sneak past them.

                That was from Icewind Dale II

                The first one had a voice clearly belonging to a kind old lady. I mean, imagine a quintessential grandma playing with her grandchildren, and she’ll have that voice.

                She was talking about building mountains of corpses and leaving none alive in her wake.

              3. Roarke says:
                Sounds like my grandmother, alright.

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