Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Storm Front, chapters five, six, and seven, in which Will tries to ban the author from writing women

Someone brilliant on tumblr pointed out that "I can't even" is basically the modern redux of "Well I never".

I cannot even with Dresden, folks.

Storm Front
Chapter Five: Men Are From Mars And Frankly Sometimes I Think We Should Just Be Sent Back*

Dresden has had a long day of being near naked corpses, staring into the soul of a powerful man who knows how to get what he wants, and silently judging a woman for having the temerity to not be a stupendous man-wizard badass, so he decides to unwind by going to his favourite pub, McAnally's.  I... I will--deep breaths, Wildman, deep breaths--I... will... take the high--oh my god I know it's a real name but how do you just--keep it together, man!--Iwilltakethehighroad and not make any of the extremely obvious jokes because I am a writer with some sense of decorum and maturity.

Dresden spends a full page rhapsodising the old-timey glory of the basement pub, with thirteen of all of its fixtures and wooden pillars that break up the flows of magic from all the "broody, grumpy wizards" that hang about there.  No electronics more complicated than a lightswitch, only homebrewed ale and a bar where you pick your food up yourself, LIKE A MAN, instead of having some waitress do it for you like these fancy types all expect these days.  I'm wondering how many other actual 'grumpy wizards' we're going to see, since it seems like even one more is immediately going to make it obvious how boring Dresden himself actually is.  He recognises (but doesn't name) two guys playing chess in the corner, and orders a steak sandwich and ale from Mac, who hardly ever talks but only says things that are wise.  UNLIKE A WOMAN, OBVIOUSLY.

Worldbuilding!  Harry grabs a wizard newspaper and reads to us about a story in which some kids got high on 'ThreeEye', which supposedly gives you precognition, and blew up a convenience store which they believed was somehow destined to explode anyway.  Harry doesn't buy it: "If it was serious stuff, the department would have already called me by now."  What department?  The police?  The wizard police?  Is Dresden also a wizard cop?  (Why aren't there wizard cops?  Why aren't there wizards already insinuated into the police force to handle magical crimes instead of forcing them to grab consultants like Dresden?)

Mac observes that someone followed Dresden in, and Dresden identifies "Miss Rodriguez" by her perfume, but of course, being a woman, "She probably wouldn't think about her perfume giving her identity away when she could assign my mysterious, blind identification of her to my mystical powers."
  • Characters who are unnerved by Dresden's mysterious powers: Murphy, Monica, Rodriguez
  • Characters who are unimpressed by Harry's supposed potency: Carmichael, Marcone, unnamed chapter-one mailman.
I can't quite put my finger on it, but there's something that distinctly categorises these two groups.

In case we didn't already suspect from the surname Rodriguez, Susan is Latina, helpfully hinted at in her paragraph of description which separately includes references to her "dark beauty", "dark, straight hair", "dark skin of her forehead", and "dark eyes".  So, there's those things.  Let's just bask in the discomfort of exotification and the immediate sexualisation of the only woman of colour.  Dresden made have mulled Murphy's legs and had uncomfortable highschool-cheerleader fantasies about Monica, but Susan Rodriguez shows up and suddenly we're one misstep away from this becoming the swimsuit issue.

Rodriguez is a reporter for the Chicago Arcane, a tabloid magazine that occasionally catches the real thing (like the Unseelie Incursion of 1994, when Milwaukee quietly disappeared for two hours), and she's figured out he's a real wizard.
She was the one who had fainted after we'd soulgazed.
Her feminine vulnerability thus established, she immediately sets about using her spicy Latina sex appeal to try to drag a comment out of Dresden on the murders.
"Just a hint," she pressed. "A word of comment. Something shared between two people who are very attracted to one another."
Dresden is of course too cool to be so easily swayed, at least on the outside, but regardless of how hot she is, Dresden knows that the hottest thing about her is the way society has ingrained her with the conviction that she can and will never be pretty enough:
One of the things that appealed to me about her was that even though she used her charm and femininity relentlessly in pursuit of her stories, she had no concept of just how attractive she really was--I had seen that when I looked within her last year. 
"Harry Dresden," she said, "you are a thoroughly maddening man." Her eyes narrowed a bit further. "You didn't look down my blouse even once, did you," she accused.
Dresden remarks sarcastically on his incorruptible purity, She laughs, and he takes the opportunity to check out her awesome boobs, because HE IS A MAN AFTER ALL.

This scene is stupid and I'm not going to provide more details on it than I have to.  Dresden refuses to answer her questions even when she turns it into a cute 'yes or no' game and then uses that to 'trick' him into agreeing to get dinner with her Saturday night at a nice restaurant.

I kinda loved Ender's Game and Shadow the first times I read them, even if I brim with scorn now.  Eye of the World had a few charms, sort of like a clueless old man telling mostly-harmless stories of his youth but unable to stop calling women 'skirts'.  I already hate Dresden so much I'm honestly not sure I can get all the way through this book this time.  Already I look back fondly on a mere month ago, when I thought things were actually going to happen in this book and I hadn't gotten to know our insufferable protagonist yet.  Updates as the hatred evolves.

Dresden bemoans the ease with which she 'tricked' him into this date.  (Just not going is apparently not an issue.  Why?  Is a wizard's word literally his bond?  Did she enthrall him while he wasn't paying attention?  DOES SHE HAVE A MIND-CONTROL SIGIL IN HER CLEAVAGE?!)
"Why did I say yes?" 
Mac shrugged. 
"She's pretty," I said. "Smart. Sexy." 
"Any red-blooded man would have done the same thing." 
"Hngh," Mac snorted. 
"Well. Maybe not you." 
Mac smiled a bit, mollified.
I'm going to act like this is confirmation that Mac is ace or gay, although I presume it's actually supposed to mean that he just makes better decisions because he's too smart to get tangled up with those tricksy girlfolk.  Dresden mulls how he's going to fit this date into his schedule, and whether he should account for the possibility of naked fun times afterwards.  He is seriously concerned.  After all, he's never done well with dating:
I mean, a lot of teenage guys fail in their first relationships. 
Not many of them murder the girl involved.
Faith and fucking begorrah.  Not only is Butcher giving us a dead woman in Dresden's past to make him sad, not only did she die violently, but he is the one who killed her and you know that means that it was a tragic accident for which he blames himself and it will be the responsibility of other people to explain that Dresden shouldn't feel guilty for killing his girlfriend.

I have been induced to read these words with my own eyes and for that there can be no forgiveness.

The chapter mercifully ends not long after that and I'm going to have to read ahead a bit to see if I can survive this or if I'm just going to get angrier and angrier every chapter until I challenge the book to mortal combat and one or both of us dies amidst rain and fire.

Chapter Six: How to Pick Up

Blessedly, this chapter contains almost none of Harry's thoughts on women, and focuses on the essential premise of the book: a wizard who is also a detective.  Harry gathers up some materials from his apartment and goes on a long drive out to the Sells' lakeside home for some investigating.  After scoping a bit in normal terms (he grabs a tube for camera film under the stairs and notices the suspicious state of the garbage bins) he sets a faery trap and monologues at us about magic for a while: true names and magic circles, how they work, how you bait a faery, that kind of thing.  It's not bad, apart from my grievances with Dresden's tone, which is 60% made of the author winking at the reader (the faery disappears in a twinkle like Santa, not that Dresden would dare try to trap Santa because he's far too powerful, don't cross Saint Nick, ha ha).  Said faery, whose true name is a beautiful cadence but goes by Toot most of the time, falls into the trap and agrees to ask around on Dresden's behalf, reporting that there were people at the house last night having sex and they ordered a pizza.

That done, the author realises he's hit a lull and so falls back on Raymond Chandler's famous axiom, 'a man bursts into the room with a gun', although that's not nearly magical enough, so instead a man bursts out of the woods with a sword.

Chapter Seven: How Not To Worldbuild

The man in question turns out to be Morgan the Warden, White Council agent in charge of making sure Dresden never does anything fun at all.  He has concluded that Dresden is the murderer, on the basis that Dresden once before killed someone with magic and Morgan has just been itching to get his justifiable homicide on ever since then.  Like all the characters in this story who don't want to have sex with Dresden, Morgan is not supposed to be smart.

Dresden points out that he's done nothing illegal (apparently trapping and extorting faeries is completely legit as long as you don't actually mind-control them) and that if Morgan wants to try to prosecute him for it they'll have to convene the entire very busy and ill-tempered White Council, so he should drop it.  Morgan relents and puts away his enchanted sword, but then demands to talk to Dresden unofficially and grabs him by the arm.
I didn't dare mess around with Morgan when he was acting in his role as a Warden of the White Council. But he wasn't wearing that hat, now. Once he'd put the sword away, he was acting on his own, without any more official authority than any other man--or at least, that was the technical truth. Morgan was big on technicalities. He had scared the heck out of me and annoyed the heck out of me, in rapid succession. Now he was trying to bully me. I hate bullies. 
So I took a calculated risk, used my free hand, and hit him as hard as I could in the mouth.
Like any classic Manly Hero, Dresden has four emotions: Lust, Condescension, Wounded Pride, and Punching.  Some have theorised about the existence of umami, the so-called 'fifth emotion', but no research has yet found any conclusive evidence.  Morgan starts to threaten him, but Dresden counters that he legally doesn't "have to put up with it" unless Morgan is on official business.  Morgan can find no legal grounds to "come after" Dresden, and so lets him go.

(Good news, everyone: if you punch a cop while they're not in uniform, they're legally required to just stand there and take it, apparently.)

To my everlasting delight, Dresden thinks Morgan is too stupid to realise that there's no law against punching back, and he eventually does so, flooring Dresden in one hit.  Ten points to the old guy with the really inadvisable ponytail!  (He has a terrible ponytail, we're told.)  Having finally expressed their true feelings to each other, Morgan and Dresden part ways, and Dresden fills us in on his backstory.  To my immense shock, the magic-kill that Dresden was convicted for was not his first girlfriend like he implied, but his original magic teacher, an as-yet-unnamed dude who "tried to seduce me into Black wizardry".

Before we go any further on that subject I'm just going to give the floor to Martin Luther King for a minute:

"Somebody told a lie one day. They couched it in language. They made everything Black ugly and evil. Look in your dictionaries and see the synonyms of the word Black. It’s always something degrading and low and sinister. Look at the word White, it’s always something pure, high and clean."

White Council and Black wizardry.  Awesome.  Top marks again, Butcher.  Also,  Dresden, your male teacher tried to "seduce" you while you were young and impressionable.  Not in any way a statement with homophobic connotations.  Nothing.  [irony] Pure as the driven snow. [/irony]

So, it is legal to defend yourself or helpless people with lethal force, giving Dresden a pass on getting executed, except that apparently there's no protocol for judgment when the defender successfully kills their attacker.  I... what.  Shouldn't that come up all the time?  Obviously, whether lying or telling the truth, any wizard who kills another wizard is going to claim it was self-defence.  That is why we in the muggle world have detectives and stuff.  Why is Dresden talking like his case was such a weird aberration?

(Also, I would like to know more about necromancy in this world and whether there aren't a lot of cases that could be solved quite easily by talking to ghosts.  Can they talk to ghosts?  Is that why most wizards try not to kill other wizards?  Or is it illegal to summon the dead?  Too Black?)

So Dresden was let go from that case on super-probation, and can now be executed for breaking any Law of Magic, apparently?  He wonders if some members of the White Council don't want him dead for daring to practice wizardry openly.  I wonder why they don't have a law against that.

Dresden concludes that the only way he can clear his own name is by researching the eeeevil magic that was used to murder those two, and his best lead for that is Bianca the Vampire Madam, so off he goes, wondering if Morgan will kill him in the belief that he was the murderer, or for doing illegal research into the murder, or if Murphy will kill him for edging in on the police side of the investigation.  He is surrounded by troubles on all sides.
You know, sometimes I think Someone up there really hates me.
Me, Dresden.  It's me.

Next time: We meet Dresden's cat (charming) and haunted skull named Bob who loves to get up to zany antics like sexual assault.  If you listen to the wind, you can hear me screaming.


*I suppose I should make a consistent note that these books don't have chapter titles and I'm just making them up for funsies, lest new readers be confused that the titles are so much more entertaining and thoughtful than the text.

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