Musing on Current Events

Blame it on the World Cup. Sports have almost completely taken over Google’s Hot Searches list. Of the top ten searches for Monday, seven are sports-related. Five of those seven are related to the World Cup–the other two are “LeBron James” (basketball) and “Wimbledon 2014” (tennis). Total World Cup domination is expected. What’s more interesting is the three non-sporting items in the list.

At Number Seven, we have “Teen Wolf”. Yeah, more than 50,000 people are looking for information on the fourth season of a TV show based on a thirty-year-old Michael J. Fox movie*. Ah, America, I weep for you! No, actually I’m glad to see it. As long as the general public continues to show interest in Teen Wolf, True Blood, and Twilight, it means there’s still a large audience for urban fantasy. Despite Laurell K. Hamilton’s best efforts to destroy it, I think it’s a sub-genre that still has some room to do interesting things.

* It’s probably germane to mention that Fox’s character played basketball…

Number Nine is “Alaska Earthquake.” Good to know that people are paying attention to what’s going on in the real, non-sporting world. Here’s an interesting fact: According to the USGS, the continental United States has survived 53 earthquakes of magnitude 2.5 or above in the past week. Of those, 31 (58%) were in Oklahoma. You think Mother Nature might be a little annoyed at Oklahoma? I’ve been trying to think why that might be. I doubt it has anything to do with the Rodgers & Hammerstein musical, and it seems unlikely that it has anything to do with the state’s unique perspective on marriage. I can’t help wondering how much of Oklahoma’s current miseries have to do with the amount of oil and natural gas that’s been mined in the state. Come on, people, think! Anyone who’s ever played Jenga knows you can’t pull all of the bottom pieces out of the stack without toppling it…

Number Ten. Um. Well, this is where we start getting back to America’s usual fascinations. “Frances Bean Cobain” squeaks into the tenth slot, just ahead of “Robin Thicke” and “Hayden Panettiere.” Think about this for a moment: those three searches cover celebrity, death, sex, and (preferably female) skin. All the topics we normally see cropping up in the Hot Searches list. The World Cup isn’t so much distracting America from its usual preoccupations as it is compressing them.

Update: While I was writing this piece, the search statistics for Tuesday started to appear. The first search to garner enough traffic to make the list? “Luis Suarez.”

Suarez is a member of Uruguay’s World Cup team, and he’s in the news because he apparently bit an opponent during a game today.

Yeah. Bit him. Folks, this is clearly the ultimate news story for the week. We’ve got your sports, we’ve got your celebrity violence, and we’ve even got your urban fantasy–clearly Mr. Suarez is under the impression that he’s a vampire: this is at least the third time he’s been accused of biting someone during a game. The only thing we’re missing is an earthquake. Fortunately for Brazil, all of the South American earthquake activity recently has been in Chile, on the opposite side of the continent.

You know, I just got a great idea for a story…


Those of you who know the Science Fiction/Fantasy field may be wondering why I consider Jim Butcher an inspiration. Today’s post is an attempt at answering that question.

Unlike other creators who I consider general role models, Butcher is an inspiration for one specific aspect of his work. To date, he has published 14 novels in the Harry Dresden series without falling into the pitholes that long-running series with a single main character are prone to: telling the same story over and over again or warping the character in some arbitrary way to allow the author to start over.

As a counter-example in the same “urban fantasy” genre, consider Laurell K. Hamilton’s Anita Blake series. Hamilton, IMNSHO, commits both sins. Through the first eight books, Anita faces a series of opponents of increasing strength, culminating in “Blue Moon” where she encounters a demon. In Blake’s universe, demons are at the apex of evil power, so Hamilton doesn’t have a whole lot of room to continue escalating Anita’s opponents; instead Anita, formerly a self-doubting heroine with a strong personal moral code throws her moral code out of the window, choosing to drift through a series of repetitious encounters and complaining about her unhappiness. She sleeps with vampires and a variety of weres and has multiple relationships at once, things she had previously vehemently rejected. She acquires new powers, each of which seems to serve little purpose but to drag her from one partner to another. In short, the later books of the series feature a character who shares little with the original beyond a name, and the stories have changed from fantasy-themed mysteries to fantasy-themed generic romances. (Disclosure: I read the first half-dozen books multiple times, haven’t re-read later books at all, and stopped reading them entirely around book 13; it’s possible things have improved since then, but it seems unlikely based on the synopses I read while writing this paragraph.)

How does Butcher avoid similar fates for Harry? Over the course of the series, Harry acquires a set of allies, people he can count on to assist him when an opponent is beyond his own abilities. His allies have lives of their own as well. They move in and out of the novels, things change in their lives when they’re not on stage, and they return with new motivations derived from their off-stage experiences. Harry grows in knowledge and power, not so much gaining new powers as enhancing and refining the ones he has. The cost of growth is in self-doubt and concern over his ability to continue doing what he believes to be his mission: protecting Chicago and its residents from the supernatural powers they don’t believe in and couldn’t fight if they did. The result is that Harry changes greatly, but he’s still the same person as in the first book, just more nuanced and thus more interesting. Meanwhile, each book still has a “whodunnit” at the core – or at the very least a “whydunnit”.

According to Butcher’s website, he has a definite end planned for the series, with another nine books to go, give or take. Unlike Anita, who seems to be hopelessly adrift and likely to remain that way until the public stops buying the books, Harry is going someplace. He may not like it when he gets there, and he definitely isn’t going to like the trip, but I have faith in Butcher that I will enjoy the trip and be satisfied that I’ve arrived at the right place.