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write every day no exceptions – the Name of the Wind June 20, 2010

Posted by Conventioneering in write every day no exceptions.
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I lied. Not writing about the Martian-Venusian war. Also, can I just say that writing every day no exceptions, especially with my other obligations (full time job, preparation for grad school, move) is rather grueling? Mostly because… well, for me, it’s difficult to write without direction. I really need someone telling me “Hey, this is what you’re assigned, and your deadline is X.” If I don’t have a deadline, I don’t work. Hence the “every day no exceptions”. I have a deadline of midnight each night, and this severely annoys my mother because it means that I’m often using this to avoid doing the dishes.

I can’t even imagine what this would be like if I was living alone. I probably couldn’t, because I’d have to eat sometime. Or I’d have to give up sleep. Damn my need to sleep for 8+ hours every night 10 preferable. I wish I was one of those people who only needed three hours of sleep a night. Dear fellow Transhumanists – can we stop worrying for a bit about the whole Singularity thing and maybe make ourselves sleep-optional? Not to mention immunity to disease. I think those are much more reasonable short-term goals, guys.,

Right, essay of the day…

I’ve been having some troubles with books lately. I’ve been trying to read fantasy and science fiction books in the evenings to get my brain to decompress after a long day, and at first this went fantastically. Jhereg was a fun romp, sort of your typical modern high-fantasy that sometimes gets very confused and thinks its science fiction, or maybe it’s science fiction pretending to be high fantasy. Either way, it was fun and silly. The Black Company was a bit too morose for my tastes at many points, but I got through it. Patrick Rothfuss’ The Name of the Wind was frakking fantastic, and brought fantasy (long a genre that had been dead to me) back to life. What I loved about it was that it was more like reading a really good memoir than “And so and so got on his horse and went to defeat the Dark Lord.” There’s a Dark Lord alright, and there’s a so-and-so, but the framing device is that our So-And-So (in this case, Kvothe, pronounced ‘quothe’) has fallen into a depressive funk because a lot of shit has happened to him in his life and he doesn’t want to play Epic Hero Guy anymore. He’s only in his twenties and already he’s (presumably) killed dragons and kings, and oh dear if I go any further we’ll get into spoiler territory. He’s a legend in his own lifetime, most people are pretty sure he’s fictional.

And at this point in his life, he’s content with being fictional. Kvothe is pretty content to spend the rst of his days as a failing innkeeper in the arse-end of nowhere, even as the Dark Lord starts doing his Dark Lord thing and making a big fuss killing folk. This is despite the Dark Lord killing Kvothe’s parents! He is not Batman. He’s just a man, and he’s a man who honestly doesn’t want to be bothered.

Of course, this being fantasy fiction, his student/servant Bast (who seems to have a giant raging crush on Kvothe, by the way. This isn’t a fangirl talking, either, this is a genuine case of “did you write this guy to be this gay on purpose?”) has other ideas, and those ideas include getting a famous wandering historian to write Kvothe’s memoirs in the hopes of getting the guy back in the heroing saddle.

What follows is a wonderful tapestry of a world that both follows and completely subverts the usual “Farm boy goes out on a quest thing.” The great thing to me is that while Kvothe really is a hero, and he really does go from “Fairly ordinary kid” to “guy who commands the very elements etc etc”, the book takes a realistic approach to this. Well, as realistic as a fantasy novel gets, anyway. There’s a mentor, but he’s not drawn to Kvothe out of some great destiny and he doesn’t stick around. In fact, you could say that there’s several mentors who come and go, just like in real life. Kvothe is brilliant, but his brilliance is (probably) not ordained by some higher power. Well, it might be the result of being half-fey, but that’s just tinfoil hat speculation. When his parents are viciously murdered by the Chandrian (aforementioned Dark Lord) it isn’t because Kvothe is any sort of Chosen One; it’s because his parents were poking about at stuff they shouldn’t have been and also because they were in the wrong place at the wrong time. And Kvothe, in refreshing dose of realism, doesn’t instantly swear revenge so much as he goes nearly catatonic from shock and becomes feral, wandering the woods and surviving only because of what he’s learned from his mentors. Instead of being picked up instantly by a gentle benefactor, he then ends up in a city where he lives in squalor, and not the sort of romantic gentleman thief squalor either, or even Oliver-esque squalor. We’re talking something that feels gritty and genuine and goddamn depressing.

Kvothe gets out of this, I won’t say how, but again, it’s less because of some sort of miracle as it is because of Kvothe’s own wit and a bit of extrordinary luck that Kvothe has the sense to take advantage of, at which point he goes off to a university of magic, but one that is entirely unlike Hogwards. In fact, if any of you have ever read “Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality”, it’s basically Hogwarts as if that version of Harry ran it. Much of the ‘magic’ is actually good use of (real but obliquely described) chemistry and the laws of physics. One of Kvothe’s teachers has basically figured out how to make light bulbs. And Kvothe himself has enormous problems with his student loans and paying them back. It felt a bit like reading about my own current predicaments, only in some version of early Rennisance Europe. Sort of.

There’s real magic, alright, and it still operates on distinct principles – indeed, basic magic seems to follow laws of thermodynamics to some extent. The high magic is treated as something strange and powerful and incomprehensible indeed, and is only barely sprinkled into the narrative… and even then, it’s not mountain-moving or earth shaking, but rather something subtle and terrifying. Making walls vanish. Bidding the air to move.

There’s a dragon, yes, and there’s a girl, but neither are what you’d expect. The girl is as strong as a girl in a medieval analogue culture can be, but in a realistic way, and Kvothe even comments on this. The dragon is more like a big drug-addled cow that happens to breathe fire, a misunderstood creature that ultimately is, like so many of the other characters, in the wrong place at the wrong time.

The book has a cruel end in that I want more and I’m not going to get it until April. Patrick Rothfuss has somehow gotten me excited about fantasy literature again in a time when I’m really, really jaded about this sort of thing. I’ve nursed a “seen it all” attitude for so long that this came as a real and genuine surprise.

… heh, and here I started out intending to complain about the fantasy literature I’m reading right now, which I’m not liking in the least. Perhaps I’ll save that for tomorrow. In the meantime, you should all go read The Name of the Wind, because it’s excellent.

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