Last time, Morgan, the most ethical guy we’ve seen so far.
By the time I got home, it was after two o’clock in the morning. The clock in the Beetle didn’t work (of course), but I made a pretty good guess from the position of the stars and the moon.
So wear a watch!
The first international watch precision contest took place in 1876, during the International Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia (the winning four top watches, which outclassed all competitors, had been randomly selected out of the mass production line), on display was also the first fully automatic screw making machine. By 1900, with these advances, the accuracy of quality watches, properly adjusted, topped out at a few seconds per day.
Admittedly, you’ll be facing about a hundred+ dollars to get a decent one, but this should be like maintaining a 1940s car, just one of the costs of doing business as a wizard.
I didn’t think sleep was likely, so I decided to do a little alchemy to help me unwind.
I’ve often wished that I had some suave and socially acceptable hobby that I could fall back on in times like this. You know, play the violin (or was it the viola?) like Sherlock Holmes, or maybe twiddle away on the pipe organ like the Disney version of Captain Nemo. But I don’t. I’m sort of the arcane equivalent of a classic computer geek. I do magic, in one form or another, and that’s pretty much it.
We’ll see in a second that he’s a classic computer geek in the sense someone who likes typing on a computer is.
I live in a basement apartment beneath a big, roomy old house that has been divided up into lots of different apartments. The basement and the subbasement below it are both mine, which is sort of neat. I’m the only tenant living on two floors, and my rent is cheaper than all the people who have whole windows.
I find it really hard to believe. Maybe things work very differently in Chicago, but usually rent is primarily based on space and only secondarily how livable that space is. We’ll also see shortly that Harry is one hell of a problem tenant, which should’ve gotten his rent raised.
The house is full of creaks and sighs and settling boards, and time and lives have worn their impressions into the wood and the brick. I can hear all the sounds, all the character of the place, above and around me all through the night. It’s an old place, but it sings in the darkness and is, in its own quirky little way, alive.
Like with the no killing with magic, I wish there was more done with this. Instead of having wizard sight that flicks on and off, maybe wizards could just percieve things differently all the time. The older an object was, the more “real” it feels. A hundred year old house is brightly colored, while they have trouble even noticing a plastic spork.
Imagine Harry acting a bit like this anything plastic. Could also be a funny connection to his money issues if he subconsciously perceives most of the stuff people hand him as not that real. If you paid him in bills from 1900, he’d suddenly register the cost of things, but if it’s printed in 1970? It might as well be Monopoly money. (In fact, if you found an old enough set, you could probably troll wizards by paying them in the fake bills and watching them try to use those in stores. The precursor of Monopoly was invented in 1902.)
Mister is an enormous grey cat. I mean, enormous. There are dogs smaller than Mister. He weighs in at just over thirty pounds, and there isn’t an undue amount of fat on his frame.
Please remember to neuter your cats. I know it seems cruel to remove their balls. I know some of you have serious issues and are trying to live vicariously through your pet’s active sex life. (Harry will go on to mention his cat having a hot date. No. That is not a thing.) But they’ll be happier and they won’t inevitably die. Tomcats are not long-lived animals. Not only are they going to be getting into dangerous situations and regularly getting hurt, but the testosterone flooding their bodies is also reducing their ability to heal from those injuries. And I don’t mean slightly here – the gaping head wound on this one big tom finally healed right up after he was fixed. There’s also FIV, which, much like HIV, is incurable. While the amount in the population will vary depending on area, my personal experience has been 0% of regular stay cats have it and 100% of full grown tomcats have it.
Neuter your cats.
I think maybe his father was a wildcat or a lynx or something.
The reason you don’t see thirty pound cats often these days is other people are responsible. With the magic of testosterone, many cats reach this weight.
Your cat is not a special snowflake with special genes. Cut his balls off.
Harry did, however, go through the proper procedure for getting a cat, which is to find it on the street and take it home.
with his tail torn off by a dog or a car-I was never sure which
Harry seems unaware of the many things that harm kittens, such as other cats, rats, raccoons, foxes, coyotes… He does know his cat hates both of those things, but it’s a tomcat, they’re just really aggressive and territorial. Even unfixed female cats can get hyper aggressive and try to murder dogs. Back in the days before people understood neutering, one of my mother’s childhood cats got particularly homicidal when pregnant. One time a dog was walking by their yard and she went berserk, hurling herself at the fence to try to kill it.
Mister had recovered his dignity over the next few months, and shortly came to believe that he was the apartment’s tenant, and I was someone he barely tolerated to share the space with him.
Please god let this joke die already.
It’s not just that it’s a cliche, it’s not even an accurate version of it! Cats are many things, but barely allowing their owner’s existence? No. The jokes about cats are how demanding they are from their owner. Cats are basically furry babies. They cry when they want anything and sometimes they just want to sit on you for a few hours and they don’t care if their tiny needle claws hurt. This reads like someone’s heard of cats and heard people joking about it, and is trying to write his own cat joke from that. Cats are aloof and people joke about being owned by them, so cat joke = cats believe they own the apartment and want it all to themselves.
He sauntered over to me and rammed one shoulder playfully against my knee. I wavered, recovered my balance, and unlocked the door.
This is going to be a running joke. Look, I’ve been rammed by thirty-pound cats, and no. The reason people trip over cats is because the cats get in the way while you’re walking. The heavier a cat, the more difficult this becomes. If you’re standing, it shouldn’t be a problem, and if you’re standing expecting the cat to ram into you and you still nearly fall, you are very very drunk.
My apartment is a studio, one not-too-large room with a kitchenette in the corner and a fireplace to one side. There’s a door that leads to the other room, my bedroom and bathroom, and then there’s the hinged door in the floor that goes down to the subbasement, where I keep my lab. I’ve got things pretty heavily textured-there are multiple carpets on the floor, tapestries on the walls, a collection of knickknacks and oddities on every available surface, my staff and my sword cane in the corner, and several bulging bookshelves which I really will organize one day.
The money issue is really, really annoying me.
Carpets and tapestries are both costly things, and triply so when you can’t, say, use a computer to find a cheap bulk price. Even just the rods to hold them up cost a lot. Plus if he’s doing this for insulation reasons, which I’m assuming he is unless he’s downright insane, he wants the thick heavy version, which is way, way more expensive than the wall scrolls of cotton cheap stuff. A wise wizard would definitely want to blanket his place with embroidered giant blankets, but where exactly is the money for this coming from? We opened with the claim Harry is out of money and can’t pay his rent. Now we’re told he’s covered everywhere but the ceiling in fabric AND has all sorts of random junk AND tons of books. Also a sword cane, which are not cheap things, and getting one actually usable in a fight is going to cost still more.
(Another thing that’d have helped counterbalance the sexism would be Harry knowing how to sew because he makes his own quilts. His job obviously has a ton of downtime sitting around in his office. It’d also flesh out his character better to say that he’s been making the stuff that surrounds him.)
But somehow he has the money to buy all this stuff when also he’s heating his place solely by charcoal, and lighting it by lamp or even candle because the electric lights (1800) don’t work much of the time.
If I may digress a moment.
I saw this great display on different lighting through the ages, and it showed how innovations in lamp technology were a huge deal because candles are horrible as light sources so to generate enough light to not ruin your eyesight, you needed to burn whole stacks of them, which gets incredibly expensive. The development of polished metal and glass to focus candlelight was extraordinarily important as a technological development and this asshole just ignores that to use freestanding candles instead of even putting one inside a mirrored lantern for movable and far brighter light. That’s like step one of lamp technology!
This is sort of like why I can’t watch the Sleepy Hollow show, despite it being less hideously awful than a lot of the other options on television. We learn about the American colonies as a bunch of people with strong feelings about religion, misguided work ethics and occasionally fucking up enough they needed to engage in widespread cannibalism. And while that last one is obviously an entertaining moment in our history, there was so much else going on!
Let’s just take the inventions here. He has a kerosene heater under the impression that’s safer than a gas heater, despite the fact even modern ultra-safe kerosene heaters are dangerous and he must need to use something positively ancient given he can’t even play nice with light bulbs. Sadly, googling didn’t provide me with a good historical overview of kerosene heater development, and yes, I am seriously sad about that, but it does have a bit on the lamps. See, the original kerosene lamps, known by the very fitting name of “dead flame”, had the minor design flaw that if they fell over or broke, the oil and fire got everywhere and burned the place down. Then, decades later, someone figured out how to not make them do that (most of the time). In the intervening time, people just had a lot more fires. Also, sometimes they just exploded! And people tried to fix that too, eventually. But people used them anyway, because candles are horrible horrible illumination sources and also they’ll still burn your house down.
This is all a) super cool b)why there is no way in hell he gets a good deal on rent.
When “If” a fire starts, he’s on the bottom, so the fire goes right up, killing everyone else in the building.
Furthermore! You know how the wick of a candle is basically string? That’s a braided wick. Prior to that, candle wicks weren’t consumed by the fire and had to be regularly cut off instead, or else they’d fall over against the candle again and quickly melt it into a puddle. It was invented in the 1800s, which, remember, is sometime after people figured out the basics of lightbulbs. The material candles are made of, paraffin, was late 1800s. If he can’t have lightbulbs, he should be using tallow candles with thick, twisted wicks and a weak light. (And no matches, but I assume magic can at least handle that much.)
In conclusion, if you don’t actually know anything about technology and don’t want to go on about all the interesting things people use if they can’t use 20th century stuff, don’t just say your character is using old technology which is like candles and lamps or whatever. If he had magic lamps that ran on magic because he’s magic, we could skip this whole issue, but supposedly he doesn’t.
I took off my duster and got out my heavy flannel robe before I went down into the lab. That’s why wizards wear robes, I swear to you. It’s just too damned cold in the lab to go without one.
Except robes suck for that.
I like covering myself in a blanket as much as anyone, but there’s a reason we invented fitted clothing, and it’s because it works better. If wizards can’t heat their own houses, they should punch anyone who makes a robes crack right in the face, out of their sheer jealousy the rest of us get bathrobes and they have to wear five pairs of pants just to not die in their sleep.
Also, a duster basically is a better fitted robe. I’ve got a nice trenchcoat I wear all winter. Sometimes I keep it on indoors because I am a member of the reptilians and need to hold on to every scrap of waste heat I get from muscles. If you tried to take it away from me and offered me a robe in exchange, I would bite you.
Plus the looser your clothing, the more likely it’ll catch on fire, and we’ve established his house has open flames every few feet.
Anyway, Harry is heading down to his magic lab.
Shelves over the tables were crowded with empty cages, boxes, Tupperware, jars, cans, containers of all descriptions, a pair of unusual antlers, a couple of fur pelts, several musty old books, a long row of notebooks filled with my own cramped writing, and a bleached white human skull.
Ooh, fur pelts! See, that’s what wizards should be wearing. When in doubt, wearing the skin of dead things is a good way to keep warm. That would be the stereotype, not some flimsy robes.
But what we were supposed to care about (how, when the issue is that it’s cold?!) is the skull. See, the skull is the magic computer.
Oh, I’m sorry, magic computer AI which is so totally different. See, the skull is inhabited by an air spirit (sort of like a faery, but different thanks for clarifying that really helped) and he knows all sorts of spells for Harry, and this is totally different than Harry just googling them on magic internet because reasons.
Also because rape.
“Let me out for a ride, and I’ll tell you how to get out of it.”
That made me wary. “Bob, I let you out once. Remember?”
He nodded dreamily, scraping bone on wood. “The sorority house. I remember.”
I snorted, and started some water to boiling over one of the burners. “You’re supposed to be a spirit of intellect. I don’t understand why you’re obsessed with sex.”
Bob’s voice got defensive. “It’s an academic interest, Harry.”
“Oh yeah? Well maybe I don’t think it’s fair to let your academia go peeping in other people’s houses.”
“Wait a minute. My academia doesn’t just peep-“
I want to be really clear. The spirit does not just go to a sorority house and invisibly watch the girls naked. It does stuff. What stuff is left vague at the moment (we’ll get semi-confirmation by the end) but we can tell already that whatever impact it had, it was significant enough that Harry heard and was horrified to the point he’s never done it again.
If a spirit can “influence” people into having wild sex parties so out of control that Harry fucking Dresden knows it happened, that is not consent. That is horrifying.
“You’re trivializing what getting out for a bit means to me, Harry. You’re insulting my masculinity.”
But that’s not an issue to the author. The problem is the uproar it causes. It’s totally understandable that a spirit that could force sorority girls to have sex would do it, if that spirit was male. Just like all the other things that are totally understandable if you’re male.
The skull then insults Harry’s masculinity and he says he does have a date. Because obviously, that is what is important here.
It was my turn to get defensive. “She likes me,” I said. “Is that such a shock?”
“Harry,” Bob drawled, his eye lights flickering smugly, “what you know about women, I could juggle.”
I stared at Bob for a moment, and realized with a somewhat sinking feeling that the skull was probably right.
In another, much better story, this would be to bridge the gap between the negative sexist trait and the idea that Harry is basically a decent guy. He’s being socialized by a rapist skull he thinks knows better than he does. We’d see that left to his own devices, Harry doesn’t act like an asshole toward women, but horrible shit comes out of his mouth when he repeats what he’s learned from the skull. That’s where stuff like witches being extra evil comes from.
Instead we have Harry enjoy reminding Murphy that he man, she woman all the more because he knows she hates it.
“We’re going to make an escape potion,” I told him. “I don’t want to be all night, so can we get to work? Huh? I can only remember about half the recipe.”
Harry: too dumb to write a recipe down.
The skull tells us that thanks to the magic of plot fiat, magic potions have precisely enough downtime to make two without it taking any extra time, but three potions is too difficult. Therefore, they’ll make two potions! But not two escape potions, even though if you’re in enough trouble to need an escape potion, you’ll probably be in enough trouble to need a bunch.
“A love potion, Harry!
The skull insists or else it won’t tell him how to do the other potion, and Harry, being too fucking dumb to write it down last time, has no choice. Incidentally, Harry first threatens to throw him down a well to be trapped forever, which is to say he threatens to torture the skull if it doesn’t do what he wants, then when the skull calls his bluff:
I gritted my teeth and tried not to smash the skull to little pieces on the floor. I took deep breaths, summoning years of wizardly training and control to not throw a tantrum and break the nice spirit to little pieces.
It takes years of training to get Harry to the point where he can stop just short of smashing everything and killing someone because that person said no to him.
Incidentally, it’s not because this is wrong. It’s because wizards need magic computers, and not only that but in fact this one is the best magic computer Harry’s ever heard of. (Because Harry is a sue who gets everything he needs while the author keeps telling us that no really, it’s so hard being him.)
Could I make the potion by myself? I probably could. But I had the sinking feeling that it might not have precisely the effect I wanted. Potions were a tricky business, and a lot more relied upon precise details than upon intent, like in spells.
We will see in a second that this is a filthy, filthy lie.
Harry then says that, well, maybe he’ll just make the potion and not use it, claiming it’ll denature or something (de-magic?) after a few days. I assume he means “like all potions” here, although he really should say that, because it’s kind of an important limitation and would also go a long way to explaining why he has no potions on hand.
Love potions were about the cheapest things in the world to make, so it wouldn’t cost me too much.
Also somehow he knows this despite not knowing how to make one, as we’ll see in a minute, and furthermore it’ll turn out the potion can only be made by dumping in something expensive because bitches be golddiggers.
And, I thought, if Susan should ask me for some kind of demonstration of magic (as she always did), I could always-No. That would be too much. That would be like admitting I couldn’t get a woman to like me on my own, and it would be unfair, taking advantage of the woman.
No, it would be rape.
When this inevitably happens, for the record, it plays out exactly like it’s rape.
But Harry’s primary objection is just that it’s admitting failure to have to rape a woman, then distantly second, that maaaybe drugging someone to remove their free will and turn them into a fuckdoll might be unfair, somewhat.
Because this is such a light and funny topic, we then get more funny banter as the skull makes him promise to do the potion precisely according to his directions, because apparently sometimes Harry tries to do it his own way and there’s HILARIOUS consequences. Because this whole chapter is comic relief, see? Joke tiemz.
Potions are all made pretty much the same way. First you need a base to form the essential liquid content; then something to engage each of the senses, and then something for the mind and something else for the spirit. Eight ingredients, all in all, and they’re different for each and every potion, and for each person who makes them. Bob had centuries of experience, and he could extrapolate the most successful components for a given person to make into a potion.
And this is what Harry thinks is enough to count as a potions nerd – following the directions of someone else who actually knows how to do it with barely any idea of what that involves.
The escape potion was made in a base of eight ounces of Jolt cola. We added a drop of motor oil, for the smell of it, and cut a bird’s feather into tiny shavings for the tactile value. Three ounces of chocolate-covered espresso beans, ground into powder, went in next. Then a shredded bus ticket I’d never used, for the mind, and a small chain which I broke and then dropped in, for the heart. I unfolded a clean white cloth where I’d had a flickering shadow stored for just such an occasion, and tossed it into the brew, then opened up a glass jar where I kept my mouse scampers and tapped the sound out into the beaker
So like I said, potions do seem like the sort of thing one should be able to work out for themselves. You can see an obvious link and logic behind each ingredient.
But ignoring Harry’s claim that it’s impossible to work this out on his own, as with the fairy trap, I really do like seeing this sort of ritual stuff pop up. Personally, I think the shadow and sound bits are cheating, because I feel urban fantasy should be about stuff that sounds like you could do it yourself, but conversely, I can see how making one or two ingredients impossible adds to the feel you could do it if only you had the last piece.
But it’s time for the other potion now.
“Tequila?” I asked him, skeptically. “Are you sure on that one? I thought the base for a love potion was supposed to be champagne.”
“Champagne, tequila, what’s the difference, so long as it’ll lower her inhibitions?” Bob said.
“Uh. I’m thinking it’s going to get us a, um, sleazier result.”
“Hey!” Bob protested, “Who’s the memory spirit here! Me or you?”
“Who’s got all the experience with women here? Me or you?”
“Harry,” Bob lectured me, “I was seducing shepherdesses when you weren’t a twinkle in your greatgrandcestor’s eyes. I think I know what I’m doing.”
I sighed, too tired to argue with him. “Okay, okay. Sheesh. Tequila.” I got down the bottle, measured eight ounces into the beaker, and glanced up at the skull.
“Right. Now, three ounces of dark chocolate.”
“Chocolate?” I demanded.
“Chicks are into chocolate, Harry.”
I muttered, more interested in finishing than anything else, and measured out the ingredients. I did the same with a drop of perfume (some name-brand imitation that I liked), an ounce of shredded lace, and the last sigh at the bottom of the glass jar. I added some candlelight to the mix, and it took on a rosy golden glow.
“Great,” Bob said. “That’s just right. Okay, now we add the ashes of a passionate love letter.”
I blinked at the skull. “Uh, Bob. I’m fresh out of those.”
Bob snorted. “How did I guess. Look on the shelf behind me.”
I did, and found a pair of romance novels, their covers filled with impossibly delightful flesh. “Hey! Where did you get these?”
“My last trip out,” Bob answered blithely. “Page one seventy-four, the paragraph that starts with, ‘Her milky-white breasts.’ Tear that page out and burn it and add those ashes in.”
I choked. “That will work?”
“Hey, women eat these things up. Trust me.”
“Fine,” I sighed. “This is the spirit ingredient?”
“Uh-huh,” Bob said. He was rocking back and forth on his jawbones in excitement.
“Now, just a teaspoon of powdered diamond, and we’re done.”
I rubbed at my eyes. “Diamond. I don’t have any diamonds, Bob.”
“I figured. You’re cheap, that’s why women don’t like you. Look, just tear up a fifty into real little pieces and put that in there.”
“A fifty-dollar bill?” I demanded.
“Money,” Bob opined, “Very sexy.”
That’s the love potion.
An actual person at the end of the twentieth century wrote that, and then other actual people read it and published it.
Since there’s a lot there, let’s go through and examine a few choice bits.
“Champagne, tequila, what’s the difference, so long as it’ll lower her inhibitions?”
“Uh. I’m thinking it’s going to get us a, um, sleazier result.”
Harry doesn’t argue that the only important part of the liquid is the alcohol to get her too drunk to say no. He just feels like if he’s going to rape someone, he wants it to be like a classy rape, where you slip the roofie into the wine at a candlelit dinner, not raping some tequila-chugging skank in the bar’s bathroom. He has standards, you know.
“Right. Now, three ounces of dark chocolate.”
“Chocolate?” I demanded.
“Chicks are into chocolate, Harry.”
“Page one seventy-four, the paragraph that starts with, ‘Her milky-white breasts.’ Tear that page out and burn it and add those ashes in.”
Even a love potion supposedly there for women is defined around the male gaze. The guy who loves romance novels picks out a scene he liked that he remembers as involving breasts, and the justification is this is what women want. Romance novels describe the male character, but we don’t have that page ripped out and added, because the author doesn’t care about those parts of the book. He likes the parts about titties! Also romance novels are stupid and for girls.
“Money,” Bob opined, “Very sexy.”
And this final bit, this is the bit that says she deserves it. All women want is a rich guy and you’re rich, so it doesn’t matter what they say afterwards. They’re probably just trying to extort more money. When the potion works – so what if she’s clearly incapable of consent? The fact it worked proves she’s a gold-digging whore.
So how should it have gone?
Well first off, it shouldn’t.
But if you’re going to do it? Then own what you’re making. It’s a sex potion. You can do it by getting her drunk, by pretending to care about her, or by flat out paying her, it’s all the same in the end, right? The romance novel page of milky breasts? That’s put in to make her behave in the depicted way, ie, to have sex with someone.
I would like to end this by reminding you that this is what the potion will actually do right in this very book when it’s inevitably drunk. Not only is it obvious from the start what the potion will do, but it happens. The author writes it, and he later writes exactly what this whole chapter threatens, and yet not once does he actually understand that this is rape.
But that will be then. We don’t have to deal with it for a while.
We finish by Harry “activating” the potions by just throwing magic at it.
The energy from magic comes from a lot of places. It can come from a special place (usually some spectacular natural site, like Mount St. Helens, or Old Faithful), from a focus of some kind (like Stonehenge is, on a large scale), or from inside of people. The best magic comes from the inside. Sometimes it’s just pure mental effort, raw willpower.
Sometimes it’s emotions and feelings. All of them are viable tinder to be used for the proverbial fire.
I’m not sure to classify this as foreshadowing or plot hole. If wizards know they can get magic from other places for a boost, you’d expect that to be a major factor in wizard society and politics. If wizards can straight up make focuses, you’d expect them to be doing that all over. And…if wizards can use feelings, you’d expect them to be really emotional.
I had a lot of worry to use to fuel the magic, and a lot of annoyance and one hell of a lot of stubbornness. I murmured the requisite quasi-Latin litany over the potions, over and over, feeling a kind of resistance building, just out of the range of the physical senses, but there, nonetheless. I gathered up all my worry and anger and stubbornness and threw them all at the resistance in one big ball, shaping them with the strength and tone of my words.
The magic left me in a sudden wave, like a pitcher abruptly emptied out.
And the idea of wizards specifically using up emotions is one I don’t think has been explored much.
This connects to my bit earlier about how I’d have liked Harry better if we saw his explosion at Morgan to be a departure from his usual behavior. If Harry was better characterized in general, you could show him as having a lot of volatility – he’s often cool and collected only because he channels that stuff into power for his spells. The longer he goes without doing magic, the more energy he has stored up, and the more emotional he becomes. This would serve to further alienate him from normal people, because to most people, this just translates into unpredictability which humans really don’t like in our social interactions. You want to know what makes the burly man suddenly break down in tears over so you can avoid the topic, not play sobbing roulette each time you meet. It’d also let us have the tragic backstory and crippling angst while still having Harry non-crippled by angst much of the time, and even make it more plausible Harry’s emotional IQ is so shitty.
It’d even make this whole sequence less of an asspull if Harry literally couldn’t sleep because he’s scared and upset and this is how he’s learned to handle that (instead of actually learning to handle being scared or upset).
Once the frothing had settled, I leaned over and poured each potion into its own individual sports bottle with a squeeze-top, then labeled the containers with a permanent Magic Marker-very clearly. I don’t take chances in getting potions mixed up anymore, ever since the invisibility/hair tonic incident, from when I was trying to grow out a decent beard.
Speaking of asspulls, Harry’s claimed he just made the potion to please the spirit, but he’s bottling it up anyway, because otherwise it wouldn’t be available for hilarity later.
“You won’t regret this, Harry,” Bob assured me. “That’s the best potion I’ve ever made.”
“I made it, not you,” I growled.
Your skull did all the stuff that involved actual skill, also again, anger issues. Either he didn’t empty all that out or he’s just perpetually on a hair trigger – and that could make sense, because if you’re powered by burning coals of anger, you’ve got incentive to relight those at the first opportunity.