Uncommon Sense

April 11, 2023

Character Analyses from the Wheel of Time

Filed under: Entertainment,writing — Steve Ruis @ 12:23 pm
Tags: , ,

I am grinding my way through the Wheel of Time series . . . again. And I am recognizing more than just a spirited story. I am recognizing the author’s shortcomings and biases. We see these in the character traits of the main characters in these 14 books.

The author of the Wheel of Time books . . . which may explain a lot.

The Aes Sedai The main characteristic of the Aes Sedai, which in the Old Tongue means “Servant of All” is that they are servants of none. They lord it over everyone they meet and brag about how kings and queens tremble in their presence. Humility is not a trait anywhere in evidence. Their predominant exposition is of an overbearing Matron who insists on receiving all of the niceties but balks at giving any of them. And they judge social standing in their little club by how powerful each sister is, because, well, might makes right, no?

The Ta’veren The three main characters, all male, grew up in the same village and have the same stupid traits. While the characteristic of being ta’veren means that they “modify” (in uncontrollable ways) the fates of all of those around them, their main characteristic is their infantile maleness. There main fear is not being able to protect the women around them. All three basically swear to never kill or even hurt a woman, even though their major most powerful enemies, the Forsaken/Chosen, include a number of women, all out to kill or enslave them.

The Minor Female Characters All of the female characters seem to believe that males would die stupid deaths while young if females didn’t guide them onto correct paths. And I thought men were arrogant. These women make men look like pikers in the Game of Arrogance.

The Seanchan These folks used to live in the lands of the Wheel of Time, but they left on a wild goose chase and now are returning, with more than a small claim to rule the lands under discussion. They are a matriarchy, which makes sense since the males who could wield the One Power among them went crazy because of the poisoning of the One Power by the Dark Lord. So, men who could wield the one Power had been weeded out and the women who could wield the One Power were not to be trusted, so they were put on leashes. Clearly these are the Republicans of this story. While not misogynists like our Republicans, putting powerful women on leashes is a wet dream in GOP circles.

Sadly, if the Seanchan were a little more democratic, they might have tried to explain their case and be given a way to earn a place back on this continent, maybe by cleaning out all of the Trollocs and Fades from the Blight, thus making empty land for them to occupy, but no, they stomp in, demand people swear fealty to their leaders, and lord it over every one they meet, or at least try to lord it over them. They, like all the rest, have an honor culture that demands that the elites kill those who insult them, like by not lowering their eyes enough when passing by. Sheesh.

The Dark Lord Clearly this character is misunderstood. Represented by flawed characters because of his incarceration, his actions are painted black from the get go. When trapped, as he was for millennia, it would drive any of us a bit mad and lead us to taint the male half of the One Power.

The One Power The author must be a Christian because the One Power is clearly two magical powers. The female version requires practitioners to yield to the One Power to get it to do their will. Call that the New Testament half. The male version requires the practitioners to battle it and force it to do their will. That is, obviously, the Old Testament half. How are these the same power? Plus, the Forsaken/Chosen have access to the True Power giving us a trinity of magical power sources, thus making this a truly Christian work.

February 21, 2023

Reread Much?

Filed under: Art,Entertainment,writing — Steve Ruis @ 1:02 pm
Tags: ,

I am an avid reader, not fast just persistent. I enjoy greatly fantasy and science fiction works and I learned early on a simple lesson: don’t start a multi-volume work until they are all available. I learned this in college. I acquired a copy of The Fellowship of the Ring (the infamous Ace Paperback version) and while I had trouble getting going once I did, I stayed up quite late for several nights only to learn that it was the first volume of a trilogy. Like a maniac I drove to my favorite bookstore and was able to get The Two Towers, but they had run out of the third volume. So, I searched avidly as I tore through the second volume, finding the third volume just in time.

I followed this rule for a long time. I also broke that rule because several of may favorite authors wrote trilogies of trilogies, sometimes more. One of my favorites, C.J. Cherryh, has written 21 volumes in her Foreigner series (putting her on a path to a trilogy of trilogies of trilogies). I read each one when it comes out; they are just too good. (This series is like an old movie serial short, each book starts up where the previous one left off . . . and I have read all of her other works, too, many, many dozens of them.)

I did make a mistake, however, when I was sucked into the Wheel of Time series by Robert Jordan. The author warned us that he planned on the thing to be 12 volumes. And if you look at the publication history (see below), you can see that the final 14 volumes took almost 23 years to publish. The problem with this kind of work is that it may never be finished. (Will George R.R. Martin ever finish Game of Thrones?) In the case of Robert Jordan, he died before the series was finished! But he left copious notes and Brandon Sanderson was hired to finish/write the last three volumes (which he did brilliantly).

Each book averages 306,277 words and 702 pages, which was good because there was like 21 months to wait for the next volume (on average). But I don’t read that slowly so when the next volume came around, it was many months since I finished the last one.

The Wheel of Time Publication Schedule

The Eye of the World  January 15, 1990
The Great Hunt           November 15, 1990
The Dragon Reborn    October 15, 1991
The Shadow Rising      September 15, 1992
The Fires of Heaven    October 15, 1993
Lord of Chaos             October 15, 1994
A Crown of Swords     May 15, 1996
The Path of Daggers    October 20, 1998
Winter’s Heart             November 7, 2000
Crossroads of Twilight January 7, 2003
Knife of Dreams          October 11, 2005
The Gathering Storm   October 27, 2009
Towers of Midnight     November 2, 2010
A Memory of Light      January 8, 2013
Totals   11,898pp (PB) / 10,173pp (HB)           4,410,036 words            19d 5h 25m reading time

So, for my last birthday, I gave myself a gift. I had since given away my hardbound copies of the Wheel of Time books, so I purchased the Kindle versions and I am re-reading the series. I am currently in volume six. And I am frankly amazed.

I wonder if this is how people with Alzheimer’s disease feel. It is as if I am reading this for the first time. I do remember most of the main characters, but much of the details about them I remembered incorrectly or not at all.

And I love long books. I have read Tolkien’s trilogy many times (as well as listening to the audio versions several times (while commuting). But the number of characters and storylines in this work borders upon the bizarre. And, like many male authors, I find his characterizations of his female characters shallow. I have to ask myself whether half of the characters and storylines advance the narrative at all and we would be better off without them. One count lists 2,782 characters in the series, 148 of which are point of view characters at one point or another. I wish Jordan had followed the Rule of Parsimony, like Jack Vance, say, and trimmed this down to six or seven volumes.

I find myself skipping through parts that drag, being able to pick up the narrative fairly easily down the road. And, yes, things are always more complicated than we think, but this is supposed to be an entertainment, not a lesson in realpolitik.

I am enjoying the effort but find myself shifting to another book for a while when the plot drags. On my eBook reader, another book is just a tap away and I, as usual, have several dozen “in progress.”

December 3, 2022

Science and Truth

I was reading a work of philosophy and the author objected to the categories of writing: fiction and nonfiction, in that “fiction” implied imaginary and so not true and non-fiction implies fact-based and therefore true. He had many interesting things to say, but they were mostly based upon this false interpretation.

When I read a work of non-fiction, I accept that the author tried to get the facts straight but I know how bleeding hard that is, so I don’t expect it to be 100% “factual” and certainly not a “true account” whatever that is. Writers of fiction often display more insight into things like the human condition than “fact-based” writers. When I read a work of fiction, I don’t expect it to be fact-based, so if a dragon shows up, I am okay with that. The two categories say something about how the authors went about creating their work, but nothing whatsoever about their veracity.

The problem here is with the word “truth.”

Truths are absolutes, and therefore, as far as I am concerned, they are mythical. I have written about absolutes before, so I won’t dwell on that topic, just to say they are extensions of things we see beyond any evidence for their existence.

I have often read that science cannot discover “the truth,” often by religious apologists, and this is obviously true as a statement. Science, in fact, is not looking for truths and never pronounces things as truths. We are smarter than that because what we think might be true today can be found to be false tomorrow. This is why all scientific findings are provisional. Scientists know this as it is beaten into them, but the lay public, looking over scientists shoulders, is often disturbed when scientists change their minds. What scientists think is a virtue, adapting to new data, the public finds alarming. This is because the public believes in the existence of absolutes, like truths, and when scientists announce a “discovery” the public think it is pronouncement of a new truth.

The best thing we could do educationally is to drum this into the minds of all citizens. Scientists are looking for what might work now so that they can continue to learn things, even though those new things may contradict what they have found previously. We in science call that progress. Religionists call that heresy. The public needs to learn to distinguish their religions from scientific “reality.”

As to what is “real,” just don’t get me started.

November 22, 2022

I Am So Spoiled . . .

Filed under: writing — Steve Ruis @ 11:02 am
Tags: , ,

I am spoiled because of the spellchecker in Microsoft Word. Now I know the limitations of spellcheckers, e.g. they only find 60% of misspellings, etc. But Microsoft Word’s checker is one of the best, if not the best, and I learned this quite some time ago. (So, one thing Microsoft managed to not fuck up.)

So, I was typing a response to a comment one of my posts attracted and typed “stupic” rather than “stupid.” The c and d keys are adjacent, you see, and I am a hunt-and-peck typist. So, the WordPress spell checker caught this typo and offered the following possibly correct spellings: stoic, stupa, and stupas. WTF? A stupa is a dome-shaped structure erected as a Buddhist shrine. How many times do you think that comes up in blog post comments? Sheesh. (So much so that Word flagged stupa and stupas as being possible misspellings!)

In typing this out in Word, Word caught the stupic typo and offered two possibly correct spellings: stupid and stoic. As a matter of course, when I spell check even long documents, the correct spelling for my typos is in Word’s top five suggestions, at least 95% of the time and the #1 suggestion is often the one I wanted. I also write a lot on odd topics: philosophy, archery, etc. which use considerable jargon.

So, spoiled I am.

August 14, 2022

A Response to the Salman Rushdie Attack

Filed under: Art,Culture,Politics,Religion,writing — Steve Ruis @ 1:51 pm
Tags: ,

After seeing the attack on Salman Rushdie, I felt powerless to do anything and then I remember the Barbra Streisand Effect. So, I went online and bought a copy of Satanic Verses and I will read it, thereby spreading the message the religious idiots wanted to suppress. I suggest that you do the same. It puts a few dollars in the author’s pocket and spreads words that the zealots don’t want spread. Let’s drive Satanic Verses to the top of the bestsellers lists . . . again.

May 26, 2022

Signposts on the Way to Oblivion

Filed under: Art,Culture,writing — Steve Ruis @ 10:54 am
Tags: , ,

I just read this year’s (2021) list of winners of Nebula Awards. Of the writings listed I discovered that I had just bought one of them (at a great discount, which I assume will disappear now the book is a Nebula Award winner).

I have been reading science fiction and fantasy books since I was 13. I am now 75, so it has been 62 years over which I have read myriad such books (all of Edgar Rice Burroughs, all of the Wheel of Time, all of Andre Norton, all of C.J. Cherryh, Tolkien, Jules Verne, all of Isaac Asimov, most of Robert Heinlein, all of Robert Silverberg, all of Michelle Sagara, All of C.S. Friedman, much of Mercedes Lackey and Anne McCaffrey, all of Jack Vance, all of P.K. Dick, much of Katherine Kurtz, and on and on . . .) and I still read dozens and dozens of such books every year. The interesting thing to me is that when I looked at the Nebula Award works, including the runners-up, I did not recognize a single author’s name, not one.

I have officially been passed by.

March 18, 2022

Time Travel and the Grandfather Paradox

As a wannabe science fiction/fantasy author I read a lot and often enough encounter time travel and its glorious weirdness. Some scientists say time travel is impossible because of the paradoxes involved, the Grandfather Paradox being one of the most commonly cited. If one were to go back into the past and locate one’s grandfather, what would happen if you were to kill Grandpa? If you managed to pull it off, the paradox occurs. If your grandfather died before your parents were born, then you would never have been born, travel in time, and be able to kill your grandfather.

These complications are easily escaped by creative authors, who project that when you kill your grandfather, the timeline in which he and you existed separates off and is disconnected from the current time line (both of which toddle off nicely). You are still alive because you are a visitor from that other time line, but can no longer go back as you can time travel but not timeline travel.

Another approach is you pull the trigger and kill grandpa and you immediately disappear and history adjusts, automatically tying up all loose ends . . . except in rare cases in which and our intrepid hero can find the clues and, and. . . . And the mechanisms for these things to happen physically seem way too magical.

Other authors have time fighting back. You pull the trigger on the gun and the gun jams. You fix the gun and pull the trigger again and the bullet misfires, etc. In other words time fights back. You can’t kill Grandpa because the Universe Abhors Paradoxes, don’t you know.

I like the one where you kill Grandpa and then just disappear, with the wrinkle that you end up back in the timeline in which Grandpa lived. This can be great fun as repeated trips into the past can result in trivial actions causing our hero to spring back (remember the butterfly in Brazil, flapping its wings and causing a hurricane in Japan) over and over and over, thus creating so many time lines that the time overlords investigate and take action against him, and so on, etc., usw.

The Law of Unintended Consequences is also involved in these stories. In one, a time traveler goes back in time to find out of the Jesus story was real (guess who ended up nailed to a cross). (I think that was Behold the Man by Michael Moorcock, but I am working from memory and that was a long time ago.) Or a time traveler goes back in history and executes Hitler as a youth, only to find that someone far, far worse was waiting in the wings but who had gotten pruned out by Hitler and so was unknown to us.

Fun, isn’t it.

It is not so much fun for the scientists trying to determine the differences between possibilities and probabilities when it comes to this topic. Sadly, only a few people are actually working on such problems. More are working on real problems, one of which perplexes me. It is the case that quantum mechanics and Einstein’s General Relativity theories do not seem to be compatible, that is neither fits nicely within the other, nor is there some fusion that seems to work to combine them. Actually, I wonder why this is a problem. General relativity comes up when you study gigantic objects, like planets, starts, galaxies, etc. and quantum mechanics comes up when you investigate things smaller than atoms. Expecting the theories in those two realms to play nice is a bit like wondering why the biology of frogs in the Amazon basin doesn’t inform us about the formation of diamonds deep below the surface of South Africa. Where does the expectation that the two big physics theories should be compatible come from? I suspect it comes from a desire to see the world around us as a relatively simple machine. (I do not.) It is a bit like Rodney King’s appeal “Can’t we all just get along?” It sounds nice, but there is absolutely nothing indicating that it should or even could come about.

March 9, 2022

Sometimes a Cover is Enough Again

Filed under: Business,Culture,Religion,writing — Steve Ruis @ 12:33 pm

This episode of this ongoing series involves the book Jesus Listens, by Sarah Young which has the snappy subtitle “When All is Lost, Prayer Remains.”

So, “Jesus Listens”? I have to ask, how could the author possibly know this? It certainly is not from all of the prayers of amputees who had their lost limbs restored. If she winkled it out from scripture then all she could really say was that “Jesus told us that he listens,” or “Jesus promised us that he will listen to our prayers” and both of those are a stretch because, well, Jesus didn’t write those scriptures. Most of those writings were by people who never met the man (if he existed). If she transformed scripture into reality, then she would also have to back all Christians vigorously following Leviticus dictates because Jesus endorsed “the Law,” every jot and tittle (actually not just Leviticus but Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy). Ten commandments? Tish tosh, there are 613 of those suckers, so strap ‘em on and let’s get to work!

But, on the other hand, she might have gotten the word, straight from the Holy One’s mouth, through a personal revelation from Jesus his self. And we know that when that happens, nobody ever gets it wrong. But if she believes that she would have to support Mormonism because Joseph Smith had a visitation from Jesus and Yahweh (Yahweh wanted to introduce him to the sprout, don’t you know.) and then Joseph Smith got a set of golden plates that he had translated to create their scripture, a heck of a lot better support for their scripture than there is for the Christian Scriptures, which were voted in (and out and then back in and then . . . ). She does seem to have a direct connection to Jesus the Christ as she says that he wants to have a personal relationship with you. How could she know this otherwise? She is amazing!

It seems that “there is one born every minute” was an underestimate. Books are written quite often whose only reason to exist is to support the unfounded biases of “believers” of all kinds of weird things.

My next book will be “So You Believe in Weird Shit—That’s Alright, Lots of Us Do!”

May 17, 2021

People Sneer at the Things Women and Girls Love

Filed under: Culture,writing — Steve Ruis @ 11:07 am
Tags: , , ,


“Teenage girls have so much sway over culture, yet people sneer at the things that women and girls love, and are contemptuous of the creators of that content, particularly if they are women,” Bardugo says. “To me, that contempt speaks to a deep fear. When you start dictating culture, money gets involved and people take notice. When I see someone deride things that women and girls find pleasure in, all I see is someone fearful that women will overtake the culture they’ve had dominion over for so long.” (Leigh Bardugo, as quoted in The Guardian)

Leigh Bardugo is an author of young adult fantasy books with her first novel is currently being staged for the screen by Netflix (Shadow and Bone).

I seems as if she is a bit isolated from the rest of us in her niche.

“Teenage girls have so much sway over culture” Uh, maybe with other teenaged girls and I think that has to do more with marketing than anything else. Way back when I was a teen, there were no influencers because there was no influence because there was little to no marketing to teens. Occasionally a B movie designed to attract teens would be made, but really there was not much. There were no special clothing stores or even sections for teens, their clothes were just mixed in with the larger sizes in the children’s department and the smaller sizes in the adult’s departments of department stores.

I suspect that all began to change with the advent of rock ‘n’ roll music.

“People sneer at the things that women and girls love.” Uh, again, I don’t think so. There are memes and stereotypes aplenty (women are obsessed with shoes, women are flighty, obsessed with romance, etc.) but men have a set of such things, too (men are obsessed with sex, men are clueless socially, men aren’t very bright and get easily fooled by women, men are often nerds (women not so much), etc.).

I think the comment above is largely fueled by social media responses. I can’t say for sure because I don’t “do” social media (Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, whatever). Elsewhere in The Guardian piece I am reacting to, the author stated “I used to be very active on Twitter and, quite honestly, I don’t feel comfortable interacting there any more, so I stopped.” I suggest that anyone achieving much success rarely finds a completely sympathetic audience on any of those social media platforms.

Plus, authors are notoriously shy of criticism of any kind. When I was writing my first book, my publisher would send me an envelope full of reviews and comments (this was pre-Internet days). Those envelopes would sit on my desk for days before I could screw myself up to open them. The vast majority of comments/reviews were quite positive but the dread of criticism never left me. After having written hundreds of magazine articles and dozens of books, I still get a queasy feeling in my stomach when I read criticism of my work.

So, in this age of easy connectivity, it is easy to bask in the glow that fan boys and fan girls can waft our way, but negative criticism, even from idiots who you know haven’t read your work, still stings.

I do not “sneer at the things women and girls love.” I tend to look at them as I look ay yearling deer. Pretty to look at, fascinating to watch, etc. As an educator, I hate to see any youths, male or female, enraptured by shallow pursuits but often as not, I admire them for their energy and earnestness. It is what kept me in the classroom with 18- and 19-year olds for almost 40 years.

November 30, 2020

Fascinated by Trivia

Filed under: Culture,language,writing — Steve Ruis @ 9:59 am
Tags: , , , ,

Americans and the British are often described as being two countries separated by a common language. As an editor, I find myself editing works written by British people, among others, and there are definitely subtle differences between American usage and British usage. You are probably aware of things like spelling differences, e.g. honor and honour, color and colour, etc. and both region’s slangs are vastly different, but other things are more subtle.

For example, in punctuation Americans use double quotation marks, “ ”, first and then if something quoted is nested inside of that quote we set that off with single quotes, ‘ ’. The British do that in reverse order.

What stimulated this post was I was reading a piece in the New Yorker than began “On November 22, 1820, the New York Evening Post ran a perfunctory book ad that was none too particular in its typesetting:

WILEY & HALSTED, No. 3 Wall street, have just received SYMZONIA,
or a voyage to the internal world, by capt. Adam Seaborn. Price $1.

This advert was printed in 1820 in America and includes the British practice of treating collective nouns as being plural rather than singular. So, in the U.S. we might say “the team was devastated by the loss” whereas the Brits would say “the team were devastated by the loss.” In British English the word team infers multiple team members so is treated as referring to a plural thing, whereas in the U.S. the “team” is one thing and so is treated as a singular thing. In this case the publisher is clearly at least two people and is treated as a plural, with “have just received” rather than a singular, with “has just received.” (E pluribus unum?)

The quotation indicates that the American practice was either the same as the British practice at that time or at least was not fully transformed into the American practice with some doing it one way and others doing it the other.

You, of course, are wondering why anyone would care, but apparently a great many do. As a college professor, even teaching a subject like chemistry, I took seriously my responsibility to teach my students how to write. (Every chance I got to talk to an employer of students such as mine I asked them “What could we be doing better on behalf of our students?” and to a person, they responded with “Technically they are fine, but if you could teach them to write better, that would be very helpful.” It was almost as if employers of STEM students got together in their secret base to create this talking point.)

So, as a teacher of college freshmen, I gave up T-F, multiple choice, and fill-in-the-blank test questions and asked but two kinds of questions: one which required a calculated answer (with the reasoning displayed clearly or explained) and one that required a short, that is paragraph length, essay answer, e.g. an explanation, or a description, etc. By the end of the semester my goal was a 50-50 distribution of these two types of questions.

And do not think I was not envious of those biology teachers who ran their mark-sense (Scantron) answer sheets through our mechanical reader and had their midterm exam scored in under ten minutes. (I gave my tests on Fridays so I would have the hours needed to read and score them and be able to return them at the next class meeting.)

I was in the unenviable position of having to explain to my students why being clear in one’s writing was very valuable. I told them that if they said in a job interview “I be excited about working here.” that they would not get a job offer. People, including employers, do not think logically; they usually respond to their gut feelings about people and people who speak or write and make gaffes are generally considered to be “not up to par” and are passed over.

I am musing on “why I give a shit” about obscure grammar points. Partly I had to know better than my students what was and wasn’t acceptable in written language and partly I was curious. I became known as something of a grammar grouch, a despicable sort of human being who is constantly correcting people. (Yes, I am recovering; thank you for caring.)

I also know that all of these rules are entirely arbitrary. Yes, they have been established to promote clear communication, and this can be critically important when laws and contracts are drafted, but I know of no laws regarding the topic per se. We just go along to get along.

As an editor, my main goal is to preserve the voice of the author. If I have met them and spoken to them (this is becoming increasingly rare), I want to hear their voice in my head as I read their piece, because that is what will happen when people who know the author read that piece. If you do not understand this, consider the college freshman who writes a short essay that reads as if written by a college freshman but then abruptly transitions into formal encyclopedia English or even British encyclopedia English. Gosh, do you think they did a little copy and paste plagiarism? It is not that hard to tell the voice shift in reading such things, so readers who know the author can tell if I rewrite a part of their piece in my own voice . . . instead of the author’s.

When editing British manuscripts for our magazine, I use American punctuation for our largely American audience but retain British spellings (colour, honour, etc.) to preserve the author’s voice. For the one book I edited for a British author, I preserved both the British spellings, but also the British punctuation (which was quite a test).

Yes, I know I am weird, kinda proud of it. Just wanted to share a little of the consequences of being weird . . . like me.

Addendum Oh, and the book, Symzonia, is considered by some to be the first American foray into science fiction.

Next Page »

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.