Last time, Harry does a bunch of stupid shit that’ll bite him in the ass later.
Today, he’s going to the pub.
The pub is a special wizard pub.
There isn’t even a jukebox. Mac keeps a player piano instead. It’s less likely to go haywire around us.
To once again get into the science/magic debate, what the hell constitutes “technology”? Pianos are literally finely tuned machines. If the laws of physics so much as quiver, they’re going to sound terrible.
Personally, I think the easiest magic handwave is somehow it’s tied to electromagnetics, as a lot of modern technology gets fucked up by that but it’s otherwise not a big deal. A wizard can be radiating EMP crap everywhere and it won’t affect people, cigarettes or guns. It’d still mean you need to use old model cars rather than anything with computers in it, but it wouldn’t be based on literal age (which should mean any 1940s+ piano is going to be wonky at best) or “delicateness” (in which case a literal piano may well work worse than an electronic keyboard) and in fact, wizards could invent their own stuff just fine provided they built with this in mind. But this does lose the special concept here that it’s a sliding technology scale, as opposed to magic and technology working together just fine until very recently.
But the only actually consistent way of doing that seems like it would end up as a consensus reality thing like Mage (again losing the originality aspect), where standard model pianos work because everyone was born after that blueprint was common, but any new system of hammers and threads would screw up around them until enough time passed that it became standard as well. And then we’d just have wizards funding free ipods for people so the consensus would solidify enough they could have some. (Actually, that might be an interesting plot – the real reason for all those initiatives to spread laptops worldwide is because there’s a secret cabal of incredibly powerful wizards who really, really want to watch cat videos on youtube, but so far they’ve only gotten as far as being able to use basic cellphones.)
I’d also have accepted the literally built in the 1940s rule. If the piano is actually from the turn of last century and in general, wizards squabble over antiques because anything with moving parts needs to be more than a half-century old to be any good to them, that’d work too. But instead we have the nonsense that Harry destroys copiers at range but an apparently brand-new stereo only starts skipping shortly after he turns it on.
If you’re tall, like me, you walk carefully in McAnally’s.
Well. Subtext complaints retracted.
The place is thirteen-themed, and unlike the technology rule that part works well. Thirteen is associated with bad luck, but it’s far more solidly grounded as just plain magic – it’s the number above ten fingers and two feet.
Thirteen wooden columns, carved with likenesses from folktales and legends of the Old World
Here’s another urban fantasy problem – or specifically, an “our world” urban fantasy problem. This one is even thornier than the issue of integrating magic into history, and unfortunately, barring a time machine we’ll never be able to do much about it.
The actual things the likenesses are based on going to be all over Chicago and, by implication, the US in general. But those things never existed here. If we’re going on the idea that fairy tales are about real fairies, then the stories the native people told must be true of what lived here. And we really don’t know what those were. Honestly, we only have a general idea of how their culture as a whole worked – almost all of them died, we murdered most of the survivors, and the Europeans weren’t particularly interested in recording how some dumb heathens thought you should run things and even the couple who tried weren’t exactly very good at it. Pitifully few of their stories remain, most of those are suspect given the massive deaths and questionable interpretations of the people recording them, then the water was muddied further by a fresh crop of assholes.
You can’t tell a story about American fairies. Whatever “traditionally” lived here, whatever names it had and rules it followed, it’s gone. You can dig up a couple corpses to try to look more authentic and that’s the most anyone can do.
The only attempt I’ve ever seen to address this is the idea that colonists bring over their own magic creatures, so when we shot everybody, we also shot all the spirits they believed in. But that answers one question by raising a half dozen more: are spirits totally dependent on humans? how does that work with areas that are cut off from any human contact, are they magic-free? can you also murder them without murdering people by just forgetting the stories? if you write the story down, do they pop back into existence if a new person reads the story? can you invent brand-new monsters by writing something and telling people it’s a fairy tale? if spirits are tied to humans like this why don’t we see them doing anything to defend themselves?
(And generally, making things powered by human belief just raises again the question of why we don’t see this impacting how well societies do. Like, in Japan foxes are sometimes helpful and generally non-dangerous tricksters, and in Korea they feed you your friend’s maggot-ridden corpse before pulling out your liver to eat in front of you. That’s a pretty major disadvantage to Korea. Lot of people getting nommed on while Japan doesn’t have to worry about it. Maybe there’s a lag period where the creatures exist long enough to be a greater threat to invaders who aren’t familiar with them, giving a minor defensive advantage to offset the general losses, but even still, the first people to think up “unkillable monster that eats anyone who isn’t us” should’ve conquered the world, because that’s the most evolutionary fit belief.)
All these problems just to produce the general unpleasantness of handling the fact the “Old World” that came to America murdered so many people even their cultures are gone by creating a story where their cultures were literally murdered and replaced.
But I’m sorry, you were saying something about your fun pub.
Mac makes his own beer, ale really, and it’s the best stuff in the city. His food is cooked on a wood-burning stove.
More and more I’m thinking the reason Harry’s broke all the time is that he just can’t manage money. He’s got rent that seems to be only a few hundred dollars (five hundred will pay this month’s rent + part of next) yet he struggles to get it, he’s admitted his job pays very inconsistently, and the first thing he does upon getting that money is…head to what honestly sounds like a relatively expensive place. I mean, there’s a reason we largely stopped cooking over wood-burning stoves.
Even assuming the author is picturing this as working like D&D, where the bars are run by L30 former adventurers who are just in it for fun, so the fact this is apparently the only wizard pub in town doesn’t matter, there’s still the issue that unless this place is operating at a huge loss then wood-burning stoves and homemade beer is going to cost you through the nose. (And if it didn’t, then unless there’s a no-muggle shield on the place is should be swarmed by people looking for cheap quality food rather than having plenty of space.)
“Hey there, Mac,” I hailed him. “Been one hell of a day. Give me a steak sandwich, fries, ale.”
“Ungh,” Mac said.
For what I can only assume is ‘hilarity”, Mac mostly communicates in this grunt.
Harry also checks out the newspaper and we get a dash of exposition on the plot-important drug “ThreeEye”.
Jesus, this stuff is worse than crack.” The article detailed the virtual demolition of a neighborhood grocery store by a pair of ThreeEye junkies who were convinced that the place was destined to explode and wanted to beat destiny to the punch.
That really seems more like something to compare to PCP (you may recall that as the one that kept popping up in the articles about cannibalism). That’s merely in the realm of “highly debatable”. In contrast, most of the stuff attributed to crack has to do with the fact that if you’re addicted to it, you’ll be really desperate to get more when you run out. The “crack criminals are violent psychopaths!!!!!!!!!!!!!” is really about needing another reason to kill black people than anything else.
(One of the things this series has gotten flack about is whitewashing Chicago. On the one hand, yes absolutely. On the other hand, at least we’re spared “racism” as an endearing character flaw that by the way is validated by the fundamental forces of the universe. It means, at least, that the criminals here and the ones using crack Harry’s thinking of are presumably white people – though, I forget how the one we run across later is described. Hopefully I won’t have to take this back.)
ThreeEye gives you “third sight” and no, I don’t have a clue what second sight means in that case. Third sight is magic vision. Harry thinks it’s stupid to trick people into thinking they can do legit magic.
“If it was serious stuff, the department would have already called me by now.”
“The department who probably doesn’t know what third sight even is and can only identify magic by ‘I have no idea wtf this happened it shouldn’t be possible’ situations, because I like to not explain anything ever. Yup. Definitely they’d know if this was magic or not.”
Then, speaking of race, our Spicy Latina appears.
She was a woman of average height and striking, dark beauty, wearing a crisp business jacket and skirt, hose, pumps. Her dark, straight hair was trimmed in a neat cut that ended at the nape of her neck and was parted off of the dark skin of her forehead, emphasizing the lazy appeal of her dark eyes.
I actually like Susan Rodriguez best, largely because she’s the only one happy to interact with Harry on the only terms he’ll interact with women which means their scenes are the least painful. In other situations it’d be offensive that she tries to get stories by the power of her tits, but I just assume she acts like a normal person to other normal people and uses the power of her tits on people like Harry because if that’s all he cares about, you might as well use it for your own gain. That’s explicitly not canon, by the way, but just barely not contradicted if we assume most guys are similar sleezeballs.
(Note I said “least painful” and not “enjoyable”. There’s one big issue with this scene we’ll see in a minute, in addition to minor niggles.)
Rodriguez is a reporter for a silly ALIENS TOOK MY BABY type tabloid that she uses to publish actual legitimate supernatural events, presumably because it’s easier to have an editor who doesn’t bother to read anything being published than it is to argue each time that the aliens the woman reported really did steal the baby but they were actually glamoured fairies, who were then driven off by buckshot by an on-the-ball farmer during their flight to the secret gate on a nearby hill.
She was the one who had fainted after we’d soulgazed.
Minor niggle one. Also, Harry doesn’t even claim she chose to soulgaze, so there’s decent odds it just happened by accident because Harry was too alpha male to bother averting his own eyes.
She smirked at me. I liked her smirk. It did interesting things to her lips, and hers were already attractive.
Minor niggle two. This actually wouldn’t be a problem most of the time, but this book is generally vile, so – the problem with describing expressions solely based on hotness is that it’s the exact same reasoning as saying that he likes how she looks when she’s angry or sad, both shockingly common statements men make with no awareness of just how fucking creepy it is, and Harry’s previously suggested he kinks on damsels in distress, so.
She leaned toward me, enough that a glance down would have afforded an interesting angle to the V of her white shirt. “I’d love to hear you tell me about this one, Harry.” She quirked a smile at me that promised things.
I almost smiled back at her. “Sorry,” I told her. “I have a standard nondisclosure agreement with the city.”
“Something off the record, then?” she asked. “Rumor has it that these killings were pretty sensational.”
“Can’t help you, Susan,” I told her. “Wild horses couldn’t drag it out of me, et cetera.”
“Just a hint,” she pressed. “A word of comment. Something shared between two people who are very attracted to one another.”
“Which two people would that be?”
She put an elbow on the counter and propped her chin in her hand, studying me through narrowed eyes and thick, long lashes. One of the things that appealed to me about her was that even though she used her charm and femininity relentlessly in pursuit of her stories, she had no concept of just how attractive she really was-I had seen that when I looked within her last year. “Harry Dresden,” she said, “you are a thoroughly maddening man.” Her eyes narrowed a bit further. “You didn’t look down my blouse even once, did you,” she accused.
I took a sip of my ale and beckoned Mac to pour her one as well. He did. “Guilty.”
“Most men are off-balance by now,” she complained. “What does it take with you, anyway, Dresden?”
“I am pure of heart and mind,” I told her. “I cannot be corrupted.”
She stared at me in frustration for a moment. Then she tilted back her head to laugh.
She had a good laugh, too, throaty and rich. I did look down at her chest when she did that, just for a second.
The first half of this is fun. They’re bantering. They both know what they’re doing and are acting as two consenting adults. Then it all goes to hell.
One of the things that appealed to me about her was that even though she used her charm and femininity relentlessly in pursuit of her stories, she had no concept of just how attractive she really was
“I find it hot when women lack self-esteem.”
That’s seriously all this fucking is. You’ll hear over and over that part of what makes a woman attractive is not knowing they’re attractive. If you know where to look, you’ll find people expanding on this into admitting that insecure girls are best because you can control them, and then we get into the practice of insulting girls to make them sleep with you by convincing them no one else will ever want them. If you’re thinking that sounds incredibly shitty, now picture them continuing to call her fat until the girl ends up hospitalized for malnutrition, as happened to someone I knew. It has nothing to do with attractiveness and everything to do with control.
And so we see in the final line here – he’s pretending not to find her hot, even though he does. He’s pretending not to look at her breasts, even though she wants him to. Because admitting he finds her attractive would ruin his ability to control her. Her “attractiveness” has as much to do with the fact he’s frustrating her by pretending not to care about her body as it does her actual body.
Then he has the gall to present this to the reader as her controlling him.
Harry then proceeds to tell us he hasn’t had much luck on the dating scene. No worries, Harry, you’re well on your way to being a PUA.
But let’s just pretend that never happened, shall we?
Susan was a known quantity-she was attractive, bright, appealing, her motivations were clear and simple, and she was honest in pursuing them. She flirted with me because she wanted information as much as because she thought I was attractive. Sometimes she got it. Sometimes she didn’t.
What a completely reasonable relationship that sadly, bears no resemblance to how he talked about her paragraphs back but I’m entirely willing to embrace the immediate retcon. This sounds a lot the sort of thing a lot of fans of the book seem to be talking about when they describe the books as being full of strong female characters and Harry just having this particular flaw of chivalry, so maybe it’s yet another situation where readers give more weight to what’s told directly (Harry claiming he likes intelligent and straightforward women) than any of what’s actually shown.
But anyway, he then says that this is not one of those times he can “accidentally” let stuff slip, because heartsplosions are serious fucking business and also Murphy is already pissed off at him. He informs us he is a shit liar, a trait that seems remarkably inconsistent so far, and so decides to just repeat “no” in response to every question in the hopes this will put her off. Not only does this elementary-school word game attempt at deflection fail to actually work, Rodriguez decides to be funny by responding to it with a middle school level word game:
“Do the police have any leads? Any suspects?”
“Are you a suspect yourself, Harry?”
Disturbing thought. “No,” I said, exasperated. “Susan-”
“Would you mind having dinner with me Saturday night?”
“No! I-” I blinked at her. “What?”
She smiled at me, leaned over, and kissed me on the cheek. Her lips, that I’d admired so much, felt very, very nice. “Super,” she said. “I’ll pick you up at your place. Say around nine?”
“Did I just miss something?” I asked her.
She nodded, dark eyes sparkling with humor. “I’m going to take you to a fantastic dinner. Have you ever eaten at the Pump Room? At the Ambassador East?”
I shook my head.
“Steaks you wouldn’t believe,” she assured me. “And the most romantic atmosphere. Jackets and ties required. Can you manage?”
“Um. Yes?” I said, carefully. “This is the answer to the question of whether or not I’ll go out with you, right?”
“No,” Susan said, with a smile. “That was the answer I tricked out of you, so you’re stuck, there. I just want to make sure you own something besides jeans and button-down Western shirts.”
“Oh. Yes,” I said.
She leaves while Harry is struggling to reboot his brain and Harry tries for sympathy from Sir Gruntsalot, who grunts a lot, then uses some of his only words to tell him he’s stupid.
Harry then whines that also, he has so much to do at night, so that means he has to investigate the missing husband tonight, as opposed to…why wouldn’t he get on that, god Harry why are you so lazy. Also apparently jamming up his schedule is his need to meet with “the vampiress” at night. I can’t remember if vampires in this setting are actually asleep during daylight, but I hope so instead of him being even more of an idiot than expected. He then rambles about the possibility that maybe their dinner date will involve sex omg sex that would be so great sex sex sex, followed by manpain.
I had been a miserable failure in relationships, ever since my first love went sour. I mean, a lot of teenage guys fail in their first relationships.
Not many of them murder the girl involved.
Yes, the book just one-upped your standard fridging.
And while the chapter’s almost over, the author manages to pack in more misogyny for the final paragraph, because he’s a professional like that.
I shook my head, bewildered. They say we wizards are subtle. But believe you me, we’ve got nothing, nothing at all, on women.