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Fourteen Books Read Out Loud - Qualified Perceptions
firstfrost
firstfrost
Fourteen Books Read Out Loud
Notes on listening to all of the Dresden Files on audiobook. (There are lots and lots of spoilers. If you haven't read the series, but are still undecided as to whether or not you should: they're fun, have a very good consistent world with nice worldbuilding, have some character stupidity and some plot stupidity that will irritate perfectionists, have a lot of Plot Rampages Around With Three Dooms Crashing Into Each Other, and have maybe slightly too much sexism.)

These are one of the Fictions of my People, so I decided to give them another go. I have a tendency to stop reading a series when I get to something too stupid to tolerate - I threw in the towel on Harry Potter with the explanation for the Goblet of Fire, and I have been thinking that I should go finish those too someday. But anyway. I stopped after Fool Moon the first time, because the level of "I shout at you about why won't you trust me without an explanation, rather than explaining" between Murphy and Dresden reached epic levels. tirinian assured me that it got over it, and in fact that seems to have been the apex of that theme. (But still! The scene at the end! Murphy is pointing her gun at Dresden (because there's a bad guy behind him running at him). Dresden is pointing his spell at Murphy (because there's a bad guy behind her running at her). Then Murphy spends THREE PAGES telling Dresden to "get down on the ground", so he thinks she's trying to arrest him because she doesn't trust him, and really it's because she wants to shoot the bad guy (who is presumably running really really slowly all these three pages) is excruciating. I nearly gave up on it a second time. She couldn't have said "Duck" instead of "I mean it, Harry. I don't know what you're doing, but get down on the ground. Right now." ? ) But in later books, it really does get better, and I give Butcher credit for that. Reading (listening to) the whole series as a whole, you can see Dresden growing (or anti-growing, in some cases). In the case that originally bugged me, he starts trusting Murphy, starts trusting her to have her own agency, even to have her own agenda. He learns to stop making the same mistakes, and learns new powers, usually for good reasons. Sometimes he gets stuck in a rut of completely new mistakes, and takes a while to get out. I respect that as a character thing.

James Marsters is a fun narrator. He's probably the best voice actor of the narrators I've listened to. There were a couple of things I noted in the early books, where I felt like he didn't actually understand the sentence as he was saying it (if you pronounce "spellslinger" as "spells linger" I think you're not catching the gunslinger reference, and "the eyes dipped, as if the creature in the dark was making a bow" should not be prounounced as if tying a bow.). Plus, if you don't know how to pronounce "Sidhe" you really can't take your best guess at it. But after the first several books, that stopped - he got Sidhe right in the next book, and he taught me that I did not know how to pronounce "Samhain" (I'm curious - did you, before you just went and looked it up now?), so I really can't cast too many aspersions on the whole "how is this pronounced" thing, since Learning Words from Books is also a thing of my people. (Changes has a different narrator and that was Just No Good. In addition to a different voice, the new narrator was more of a storyteller and less of an actor. That is, Marsters always gives us the narration in Harry's tone of voice. If one of his friends is in trouble, he sounds worried, or upset, or angry, or tragified. The storyteller style makes the friend-in-trouble scene sound dramatic. It's not the wrong choice for telling a story, but it was very different. It was interesting to notice this. :) )

Morgan is unbearably stupid, and never gets over that. He only gets dead, which to my mind is an improvement. Is there ever a time in any work of fiction when a character shouts "Lies! Lies! You're lying!" as their sole point of argument and they are right? The running joke in Turn Coat where every time Harry comes back to the apartment, Morgan and Molly are in some magical John Woo standoff about to kill each other except the dog was sitting on them both, was funny. But everything else about Morgan was annoying, and not in any sort of good way.

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So, the sexism. Dresden is "chivalrous", I get that it's supposed to be partly a positive aspect and partly a negative one. He does get called out for being patronizing and sexist. Characters shouldn't be wholly perfect, sure.

But it really irritates me when he says things like "I didn't want to see anyone else get hurt because of [the bad guys]. Particularly not anyone with such lovely breasts." It pushes him over the line, for a few moments, from "flawed hero" to "character I do not like and stop rooting for". Though I will concede that this may be exacerbated by listening to it as an audiobook. It's more jerky to say "I like her breasts" out loud than it is to think it to yourself. And intonation matters; is he saying it straight, or is he self-mocking? If I'm providing the voice in my head, I think there's some self-mockery to it, but with Marsters providing the voice, it's unironic.

Basically, it's like the internal HUD for Dresdenvision has a little number above all the female characters for how hot they are (and it goes to 11, with the Sidhe queens...), and in addition to the health bar and the fatigue bar, there's a days-since-last-got-laid bar that he's always a little fixated on too. I don't feel like Harry was an implausible character in this respect, but sometimes I just wanted to switch off the HUD for a while.

Finally, there are a number of cases of women and girls being used as dangly princess item cards to be rescued or corrupted or killed or tortured or used as leverage against Dresden; the worst refrigeratoring is a woman, but the second worst is a guy, so I can't make a very strong sweeping statement. I guess that's kind of how all my thoughts about the sexism go - there was enough to kind of bug me sometimes, but there were also enough counterexamples that I have to hedge all my complaints.

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Dead Beat, about halfway through the series, is where I got the feeling that Butcher was feeling confident enough in himself to start showing off a little. ( 1) I liked the Sheila/Lasciel trick a lot - I was starting to get very suspicious of Sheila as not what she seemed to be, but I didn't guess what she was at all until the reveal. 2) I think the whole reason that necromancy uses a drummer is so he could use "DEAD BEAT" as the title. 3) http://suptg.thisisnotatrueending.com/archive/14455039/images/1301799036289.jpg ) On the other hand, the explanation for the MacGuffin number fell into the flaw of being an explanation that fit the data as a justified solution, but made no sense at all as a thing to have happened that way. Mediocre mysteries have this problem all the time.

Okay, I'm not sure this makes sense without more detail. Early in the book, our main characters find a flash drive, swallowed by the smuggler who was selling the magic book to the evil mage. The flash drive contains one sixteen-digit number and nothing else. They all fuss all book about what the number means, and finally figure it out towards the end - ahah! It is a pair of GPS coordinates! They can navigate by GPS to where the magic book is hidden! Because the smuggler knows that wizards can't use tech, so hiding this information in tech like this will totally prevent the evil mage from finding the book if he betrays him in the deal. Which he does, of course. And, yes, "encode your secret in a way that your betrayer can't access" is a good thought. But if you are hiding the magic book in your very very memorable drop site (under the dinosaur skull at the museum), you don't have to encode its location via technology. You just have to remember where you hid it. (Possibly it makes sense if you weren't the one hiding the magic book and you don't actually know where it is yourself, but I don't think there's evidence of that in the text). There has to be a reason that the killer wants to leave the body in a locked room, or has to; you can't just explain how he did it and leave it at that.

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Changes does a really powerful job of setting Dresden's entire life on fire. But between Changes and Ghost Story, Dresden does a lot of backsliding towards jerkness and not telling people about things to protect them. I kind of liked the It's A Wonderful Life aspect to Ghost Story of how Chicago without Harry has gotten a lot worse, but I am kind of dubious of the Fomor as totally off screen bad guys.

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Hmm. I'm a little mixed about Cold Days. Dresden is more unlikeable for a lot of reasons, but he also gets called out on pretty much all of them

Right. That's as far as the series has gotten so far. I guess I'll give the whole series four stars, up a star from the first couple of books, but if you're wondering whether to read them all, you should have stopped at the first paragrah.

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Comments
chengesu From: chengesu Date: January 28th, 2014 07:29 am (UTC) (Link)
Fun! I listened to the whole series on audio too, and enjoyed it. I too hated when James Marsters was replaced, though on reflection that's an interestingly visceral way to feel how different (and sucky) Harry's life and world is during that book.

I actually want to repeat the series sometime to understand how much Harry as an unreliable narrator actually comes through when you know what's going on (which is something I've heard). I do think that explains some of the male-gaze and jerkishness which comes through. It also makes it more annoying because it's not just a character saying that, it's the narrator (which is usually a more reliable point of view than a character). I'm not sure how much Butcher sets it up that way because Harry is flawed, and guys really are like that (often), vs. just not realizing what comes across as sexist/jerkish.

I mostly consider the books to be fun, with some amusing world-building, but not too serious, so I don't pay attention to the plot holes or character flaws too much. I don't get enough modern fantasy since I stopped playing White Wolf games, so this series scratches an itch.
jofish22 From: jofish22 Date: January 28th, 2014 03:25 pm (UTC) (Link)
I read them all about a year ago. I'll be interested to see how you feel as things go on. I didn't felt the series really improved through the books, but I think that's because I actually like the noir-detective stuff a la Nero Wolfe or Perry Mason or whatnot, which there's more of in the first few books, and I don't like the tedious discussion of Sidhe politics, which to me reads like all those bits in the middle of the Economist that you feel slightly guilty about skipping over.
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: January 28th, 2014 05:03 pm (UTC) (Link)
I do like the detective genre a little better than the Sexy Sidhe stuff, it's true, but I really hated the "Murphy and Dresden don't trust each other for stupid reasons" plot, so I liked when it got better. :)

Also, I feel like Butcher's strengths are not in his mystery-puzzle-building, so it was okay to wander afield from that for me.
kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: January 29th, 2014 09:26 am (UTC) (Link)
Not having read the books (but having heard much about them, because as you say, Fictions of my People), I wonder how much of the chivalrous/sexism is lifted strait from the noir detectives the main character descends from.
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: January 29th, 2014 09:00 pm (UTC) (Link)
Maybe? But my feeling is that the old-fashioned kind of sexism is a little more invisible and assumed. Pretty much every book Dresden has a little mental soliloquy about how he is *particularly* offended by violence against women, and doesn't like hitting women, even if that makes him old-fashioned. The original noir heart-of-gold detective would probably be against hitting women, but he wouldn't feel the need to remark on it so defensively?
kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: January 29th, 2014 09:20 pm (UTC) (Link)
Yes, but old-fashioned noir detectives ~never run up against anything that challenges their sexism. Dresden lives in a different reality than they do, and does, and the visible clash isn't pretty. And it sounds like it's also distracting from the story? Or would it be a different story if he weren't dealing with those assumptions?
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: January 30th, 2014 12:00 am (UTC) (Link)
It's a little distracting for me when it irritates me? But that's a reaction, rather than necessarily a Story Flaw. You could certainly take out a lot of Harry's character, including the chivalry, and have him do the same things, and it would be the same story, but it would be flatter.

But I guess if you were to ask me, on a slider between "Butcher put in the sexism to ironically deconstruct the traditional noir-detective sexism" and "Butcher put in the sexism because at heart he thinks more or less the way Harry does about chivalry, and thinks that benevolent sexism is an endearing character flaw" my instinct is that it's closer to the second?
kelkyag From: kelkyag Date: January 30th, 2014 01:14 am (UTC) (Link)
Ah, sad. That would be very frustrating.
firstfrost From: firstfrost Date: January 30th, 2014 01:31 am (UTC) (Link)
But really, it irritated me some, some of the time. It didn't make the books horrible or anything, and it was probably exacerbated (as all character flaws are) by going through the whole series in one gulp. It wasn't as bad as "very frustrating" :)
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