I’ve got lots to read, and I like it

I think I remember a time I was momentarily sort of without anything interesting to read.

That time must have been when I was ten or thereabout, I think.

It’s wonderful and also scary that there’s just no end to things to read — even to entertaining, well-written things. And it’s wonderful and also scary that with libraries, interlibrary loans and remainders of a graduate student’s pay I have the resources to get my mitts on more of that than I have time for. (Still, the mantra remains: “If you’re stressing over your free time, you are doing it wrong.“)

Someone once said that any decent bibliophile has more books in her (or his) library than she’ll ever have time to read. Often I think the city library or the university one have many times more than that; the only way I can get out of the history section of the university library is by swearing to myself mere “I’d like to know” doesn’t cut it; a “near-stumbling tug of instant curiosity” is what stops me to look, nothing less.

I don’t know if I’ve a very critical reader as far as style, beauty and the like are concerned; I’d guess I am not. I certainly don’t have any special expertise in the fields of emotions and human relations — though on the other hand I’m very capable of endless griping about cliche plotting and world-building. (Not that griping indicates knowledge, but it should at least mean some thought, no matter how prejudiced, has been applied at the subject.)

Now, the reason for these outpourings is that over the last week I’ve been very pleasantly surprised by two usually overlooked, though not to me unfamiliar sources of fiction.

* * *

First: Warhammer 40,000 is a tabletop miniature wargame whose background is the supposition that “in the grim darkness of the far future there is only war”. (Mind you, it’s even a theistic future — but the gods are those an atheist like me sees as the most probable ones: malicious monsters of corruption and Chaos.) I’ve never played Warhammer 40K, but I’ve long admired the style of the setting. There’s something very… well, very aesthetic in making the universe as big a crapsack as it can be.

At the moment, I’m two and a half books into the related book series the Horus Heresy, of whose plot it is enough to say that in the middle of vast, brutal war some major crap is picking up in a storm that will make the war a thousand times more vast, brutal and warlike, and seems to involve no faction that can be called “the good guys”. (What’s really delicious is that most main characters start the series as secular and atheistic as one can be… and then learn that yes, there are gods, and incidentally, they are gods of the “Blood for the blood god!” kind.)

The thing is, one would tend to think tie-in fiction like this is pretty horrible; but I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read so far very much; as far as I can see the writing and the plotting is good, and it certainly gripped me. Partly because while there are a few decent guys, there are no good ones; and on the level of factions, every one seems to be becoming worse and worse. That’s not only a minority approach; it’s also one that makes for a very good story, because you don’t ever know who’s going to be foiled or killed, or who to cheer for. That kind of ability to surprise is more infrequent than it should be. So, I’d say one could go pick up the first volume, Horus Rising (by Dan Abnett), and the second, False Gods (by Graham McNeill), and see if one likes them. Good for all friends of over-the-top drama and darkness.

* * *

Second: Harry Potter fan fiction.

What? Some of you are still here? Okay, read on.

Late yesterday I noticed I’d been saving a link to one particular story on fanfiction.net, one called Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality. I painted a few chapters, clicked Firefox’s “show source” for the chosen bit, copied and pasted to Notepad, and ran the html through Mobipocket Creator; five minutes later I was reading it on my Bookeen Cybook. (This is not intended to be toy snobbery; just a mention of the useful fact that at least in Firefox the “show source” choice shows up with the source bit already highlighted; then just copy and paste and you have what you want without spending time snipping out the excess before and after out of whole html files.)

Two hours after that I was back on my computer, adding all the remaining chapters to the file.

An hour and a half later I surfaced long enough to put the Cybook aside and fall asleep; after waking up, it was two hours before I got myself out of the Cybook which my treacherous hands had first grasped as I awoke. (Since then, I’ve been trying to club my brains with Bugliosi’s colossal Reclaiming History because I know the next time I pick the thing up I’ll be bound to stay in until I’ve read all there is to it.)

So, well, yeah: I’d say as my opinion that the particular bit is good. (Long, too; and still ongoing.) It’s a retelling that supposes a Harry Potter that is super-intelligent, super-rational and super-scientific (and super-realistic!); and it gets all kinds of interesting when the other characters have to react to that. It’s smart, touching, full of shadows, and occasionally incredibly funny. (As in when Harry, scientific and sensible, reacts to the overkillific fact that some Hogwarts students are given personal time machines to help their academic performance.)

Like a lot of fanfic, “Methods of Rationality” assumes you’ve read the originals; and if you have, it’s an excellent ride because it is inquisitive about those points Rowling didn’t pay much attention to, like how exactly the wizarding world works, and what the fact of magic being real implies. (Also, I can’t help liking someone whose Rowling’s-property legal notice is eventually formulated as “All these worlds are J. K. Rowling’s, except Europa. Attempt no fanfics there.” Always nice to see someone genre-conscious.)

Oh well, there’s a page for the “Methods of Rationality” over at TV Tropes. Now that I’ve directed you there you’ll have quite enough to read, and I can stop.

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