Summer Knight by Jim Butcher

The Dresden Files are pretty well known by now, since they inspired a short-lived  TV series and a RPG game. Butcher has used the success of the series to create two other book series. I’ve read them all and found that they are at the worst decent time-wasters. Like any author his books can be hit-or-miss just based on the individual’s interests as well; Fool Moon was not his strongest entry, but I just like werewolves and so I was swept along where someone else might not have persevered. A later entry in the series called Ghost Story was much better written and showed off Butchers’ skill, but spirits on the other hand are not that fascinating in my opinion. That being said, I’ve never really been interested in in Faeries or stories about them, but the way he writes them and makes them “modern” and yet inhumanly fascinating was able to get past my initial reluctance.

     Summer Knight starts off with Harry Dresden in a bad place following the events of the previous book, and things quickly go downhill. He is contacted by one of the Faerie Courts (known as the Seelie and Unseelie) in order to put something right. This means that a hapless young wizard is surrounded by mysterious, powerful beings who in many cases could squash him like a bug, as well as years of intrigue and fighting for status (magic + politics = fireballs instead of filibusters! Highest-rated TV channel ever!). This book is where the universe Butcher was planning to create really took wing, and I suspect where the groundwork for his RPG was laid as well. It features a host of new characters, an in-depth look at the power players and factions within the magical community, and some further suggestion that events in the earlier books might have alternate meanings.

It’s for these reasons, as well as the increased confidence Butcher shows in the writing that Summer Knight is one of my favorite in the series, (the rest of which are constantly shifting in rank as they are reread). As a person who likes to start a series in the beginning, it’s startling to consider that this book is probably the best place to enter the Dresden Files series of books if you want a serving of excellent writing without the early-days problems that dog most series.

In an earlier review I looked at Storm Front, the first of the series, and the two books side by side could be used to teach a class on writing improvement. On the one hand, starting at the beginning of the Dresden Files might be for the best-on the other, why not jump in where the fun really begins? I can’t answer which way is best. I’ve also begun listening to this book on CD, and it says something that the story sound just as good when spoken aloud as when read silently.

What is CBR#5?

Someone reading my reviews might be puzzled as to why they’re titled “CBR 5”. I’m participating in the fifth year of Cannonball Read, in which a person will read and review as many books as they can in a given year. I opted for about 20 I think, since I’m quite fast and (sadly) have a lot of free time nowadays. It’s a great impetus to get my brain working and work under a deadline, even if it is self-imposed. I’d highly recommend anyone with an interest in writing to check it out.

How Bad is Good?

We all have them. Like an embarrassing relative, the movie, book, game or TV show you keep hidden from the world, lest you burst into flames of ridicule. Whether it’s Twilight, Fifty Shades of Grey, Flash Gordon (AHHHH!) or something on SyFy, they’re out there. And like the old saying that there’s someone from everyone, there’s also someone who likes whatever you don’t.

However, that raises the question: why? Is it nostalgia, that tricky little bastard? I’m one of the aforementioned Flash fans, and I love that movie to death. But when I tried to introduce it to some friends, it did not go over well. On the other hand, they have likes that I don’t. But nostalgia can be so deceptive, and let us down so easily. We’ve all gone back to things we loved as a child that just didn’t hold up later in life.

How bad is too bad? I’ve seen my share of bad films as well, both through the filter of MST3K (without which I would not have survived) and on my own. What’s the tipping point between “I am dumber for having watched that” and “Hey, that was hilarious and fun, even if the budget was pocket change)”? It seems to be a fine line and vary from person to person. Is it just different strokes? More masochistic tendencies?

And yet, some of that “borderline” entertainment goes big. Look at Evil Dead. No-name director and actors make a cheap horror film about people trapped in the woods. The bargain bins are full of people who have tried to imitate it. What was different? Something appealed to enough people to bypass the “bad” and make it a cult classic and cultural touchstone for a lot of people. And sometimes we just want to turn off our brains and shamelessly indulge ourselves in something that will not require any kind of response. The problem there is if it’s too terrible, it will provoke a negative feeling and ruin everything.

It can’t be learned, because very talented and educated people don’t manage to pull it off consistently. It has to be an intuitive spark, something that can’t be labeled or found in a classroom. Like anything else, some people have it more strongly than others, a gift for connecting with people. The same way someone can write a song or a story (or a blog) that will make you laugh or cry or think. It’s that word, sympatico. It just strikes a chord. Maybe it’s a good thing it’s not more common. That way we enjoy it all the more when we find it. But don’t let that stop you from picking up some bargain bin entertainment along the way.

My Take on Ethics

Ethics are defined as a system of moral principles, or the way things ought to be. It deals with values, as opposed to facts. Now, I could go into things like meta-ethics, and hedonism, and virtue ethics, and consequentialism, but no one really cares about them, and neither do I.

Obviously, ethics play into many other concepts. Strong ethics plays into having good character, for example. Ethics affect a great deal of how we act, think and feel. It narrows or widens our options, as well as influencing how others treat us in a variety of ways. If I know you are a trustworthy person, for example, I’ll be more willing to be friendly to you or to tell you something I might not otherwise.

Why should we be ethical while working? We shouldn’t abuse that expectation. You expect the bank teller to count your money properly or the guy selling food not to spit in your drink. You don’t know them, but you trust that they won’t do it. And that trust is what makes the world work and interactions between people possible.

And if the threat of reprisal is the only thing keeping you from doing something bad, then I feel sorry for you. That means you’d do what you want if no one could stop you, and that’s kinda scary. An ethical system cannot be imposed from without – that’s not how they work. If you’re forced to behave a certain way, it won’t be genuine, and therefore problems will arise. Ethics tell you how to take “informed risks.” Bear in mind that “ethical and lawful” is not the same thing, much of the time, and that bending the rules is not inherently bad.

We mainly should be ethical not because of what other people think, , but because it is the right thing to do. Acting in an ethical way is all about choices. Do you step up and take responsibility for the mistake? Help out someone even though it’s out of your way? Take on a harder job so someone else will have it easier? Ethics also prepare you to be more successful in everything you do: people can spot a fake a mile off, and so if you’re genuine, you will draw them to you and show that you’re trustworthy. So really, it’s in your own self-interest to be ethical, quite apart from the moral aspect.

There’s also the question of what’s ethical. Obviously, different people have different ethical frameworks. So how can a group of different people reconcile their beliefs in order to keep things moving smoothly? That’s simple: reach a consensus on what everyone agrees is wrong, and try to find an equitable compromise. We must all hang together, or most assuredly we will all hang separately.

Here there should be dragons

The world as we know is a nebulous place. There are issues and problems around every corner. Constant pressure on everyone to stay warm, fed, and paid, getting ready for whatever life throws at us. And that’s fine. It keeps people on their toes.

But sometimes I’d like our problems to be simple. Instead of a War on Drugs, or Terror, I’d like a War on Dragons. Big, mean, fire-breathing monsters that would crush our cities and be a clear and present danger to our lives. Godzilla-like, they would be an easy target for our military. It would be so refreshing. No one would be pro-dragon.

We could sell T-shirts, have huge rallies (which might not be wise, now that I come to think of it) and just get behind the effort. A lot of our politicians would be at a loss, since what’s to debate? Can’t make peace, can’t cut the budgets, can’t argue the variables. Big evil lizards. Life would be good.