Pregnancy test before X-ray?

Browsing the Internet, I came across Jessica Caldwell’s essay Fractured: A First Date, in which she tells her story of breaking her arm in a drunken flirtatious arm-wrestling session. What struck me about it was that, when the doctor saw her in the emergency room, he told her that he would need to do a pregnancy test to confirm she wasn’t pregnant before he could X-ray her arm.

Wait, what? I get that, if a woman is pregnant, it’s worth thinking about whether a particular X-ray/CT can be postponed a few months until she no longer has a passenger to share in the radiation dose; doses from X-rays are trivial, but can add up over a lifetime and it makes sense to limit them. But Caldwell had a broken arm. Her X-ray was essential and couldn’t wait.

I’m wondering – what on earth would that doctor have done if Caldwell’s pregnancy test had been positive? Left her with a second elbow in her arm for the next nine months? Put a cast on it sans X-ray and kept fingers crossed that it didn’t heal too crooked? You know, I formulated those questions as flippant ones… thinking about some of the scary things I’ve heard about the dominance of pro-life thinking in the USA, I’m actually not too sure. If Caldwell had been pregnant, would she actually have found her doctors putting that embryo’s priorities before hers and denying her the X-ray she needed for her medical care?

I now have a header!

Took me long enough, I know. Well, it’s nothing to write home about – just something I threw together on Canva – but I like it and, at any rate, it’s a big improvement on not having any header.

If anyone has any particular suggestions about how it could be improved, fire ahead.

‘The Martian’ – book vs. film

One of life’s many joys is to see a book you’ve loved made into a film that does it justice. I had that joy a couple of weekends back, when I watched the DVD version of the film based on Andy Weir’s The Martian, which I’d already read and loved last year. The film is awesome – brilliant visuals, great characters, and true to the spirit of the book.

What I want to do now is geek at great length about how the book compares to the film and what I think of the inevitable differences (mostly good, but I have some gripes). This will contain about a billion spoilers and will be in large part incomprehensible to anyone who hasn’t seen the film/read the book (preferably both), so, if this is something you were planning to read and/or watch, this might be a post to bookmark for a later date.

[Read more…]

The Apologist

I’ve been reading an interesting opinion piece by my sister over on The Pool: Sorry, but people need to stop telling women they shouldn’t apologise. The background to this is the increasing recognition that apologising is a gendered phenomenon, with women doing far more of it than men, which has led to many declarations that women should cut back on the apologising habit. Ruth’s argument here is that the problem is not with women tending to apologise too much but with men tending to apologise too little. What we should actually be doing about the apology discrepancy, she argues, is expecting men to bring their apologising up to appropriate levels.

The various anti-apologising op-eds and think pieces often quote a 2010 study, which showed that the reason women say they are sorry more often than men is because they have a “lower threshold for what constitutes offensive behaviour”. This finding tends to be framed by journalists as an example of female deficiency. But, really, isn’t a person with a “high threshold of what constitutes offensive behaviour” actually just another name for a dickhead?

Even for trivial matters, there are few things more grating than a social interaction containing a gaping apology-shaped hole… Saying sorry is a recognition that the time and feelings and convenience of another person are important.

Excellent points (say I without a trace of nepotism, natch), and I agree with this as far as it goes. Still… the implication seems to be that this is the only cause of the apology gap and that women in general typically have their apologising threshold pitched just right. I’m not so sure; I’ve certainly come across the phenomenon of overapologising, and my impression is that it is indeed a fairly gendered thing. (It’s also age-related, which is a whole other issue.)

Example from this same article; Ruth describes apologising to her agent every time she has to ‘bother’ him. I’m not an expert on how the whole agent/writer thing works, but I don’t think I’m going too far out on a limb in guessing that the agent is making money out of this and that the things Ruth is ‘bothering’ him over are actual work-related things which he is getting paid to deal with. Routinely apologising for asking someone to do the job they’re being paid to do? That’s an apology too far, surely? When we apologise for asking for things that we actually are entitled to, we reinforce ideas that we should make ourselves lesser, use fewer resources, less space.

Of course, Ruth’s article also raises an interesting question; why, when we find that men and women are doing something differently, do we assume that the answer is to tell women to take responsibility for closing the discrepancy?

Any further thoughts?

Thoughts on the ‘Proselytising to Children’ Issue

I recently read a post by Hemant Mehta over at Patheos (which I initially took to be recent but which was actually posted a year ago; I guess there must have been some recent commentary on it moving it temporarily into the ‘now trending’ section) titled An Atheist Dad Left His Kids with a Relative… Who Used the Opportunity to Proselytize. What Should He Do? The title is fairly self-explanatory, although it turns out that what went on was above and beyond even proselytizing:

The Pastor and my sister in-law told my girls “They needed to accept Jesus as their master, and maybe if they prayed hard enough god would change their dad’s mind and he wouldn’t burn in hell.” Who would tell A 6 & 8 year old that shit??

Someone manipulative, emotionally abusive, and devoid of appropriate understanding of boundaries, that’s who. Happy to clear that up for anyone who was wondering. Have a nice day.

Anyway, while I hope it’s obvious to everyone reading that that approach (which also included the guilty parties trying to tell the children to keep the meeting a secret – guys, when you’re using a line that makes you sound like a child molester, it might just be a sign that you need to totally rethink your attitude) is so far beyond the pale that they don’t have ‘pale’ in their colour range, this did get me thinking more generally about the issue. What would I do if someone wanted to invite my children to a church service/talk to them about Jesus? Obviously, if there were any alarm bells to make me think that the person was likely to pull this kind of manipulative crap, then not a chance, sunshine – but suppose I didn’t have any reason to fear that this was going to be the case?

The answer’s simple; I’d leave it up to my children. If they were invited to a church or Sunday school session, I’d pass on the invite and let them decide. If someone wanted to preach to them, I’d check with them whether they were OK with listening and respect their decision. If they did decide to attend the session/listen to the spiel, I’d want to stick around to check what they were hearing and chip in with my two cents on the matter, but I wouldn’t stop them from hearing it. (Unless, of course, it did veer into the kind of abusive territory described above. Not staying quiet for that, thank you.)

By the way, I guarantee you that at this point in time, neither of them would be interested. My son sees life as divided into things which involve electronics in some way, and the boring bits. He reluctantly accepts that life intermittently forces him to endure the latter for periods of time between playing/talking about/watching YouTube videos about computer/console games, but he doesn’t have to like it and he doesn’t like it. Anyone trying to convert him would probably find themselves sitting through one of his autistic-fervour monologue accounts of every detail of every level of whatever game he’s currently into. My daughter has a more normal range of interests, but actively dislikes Christianity and religion. That, I swear, wasn’t me, and I’m not sure how she even reached that conclusion; but, there you are, she wants nothing to do with anything of that ilk, and anyone wanting to talk to her about Jesus would likely get short shrift.

But if they change their minds in the future and do want to accept any offers of proselytising sessions, or even seek the information out themselves, that’s fine by me. I’ll let them know my views, but I won’t try to stop them looking for different ones.

Addendum to the ‘Yay! Questions!’ post

You remember a couple of weeks back I wrote a post answering that TodayChristian ’10 Questions For Every Atheist’ meme that had been going round?

Well… I didn’t recognise the question list out of context, but turns out that (with the exception of the ‘And there is a HELL!’ line at the end of question 3) it didn’t originate with the TodayChristian page. It actually originated with this post, by a blogger called Robert Neilsen, who writes a blog called Whistling in the Wind. You may notice a few things here:

  • Neilsen is, in fact, an atheist.
  • He wrote this list as a collection of some of the main questions-for-atheists going around the Internet, so that he could provide answers.
  • The TodayChristian page does not credit or attribute him.

So, this means that

a) The TodayChristian authors are happy with using plagiarised work. Kind of adds a poignant note to the questions on morality in the list, doesn’t it?

b) Someone has actually looked at a post in which all these questions were answered by an atheist, and quoted them without the answers in order to claim that these are questions atheists cannot answer. Which… does have to net them some points for sheer chutzpah, but that unfortunately has to be set against the large number of points deducted in the ‘basic honesty’ section.

Anyway, I have updated the post to make sure the meme is now correctly attributed, but I thought it was worth writing this post as well. The TodayChristian page want to try taking work that isn’t theirs; let’s shout it out so that people see what they’re up to.

The Wyndham Fallacy

Hi again! Sorry for my long absence! I had a pretty busy week followed by a week of being absolutely wiped out by a horrendous cold, so I haven’t had a lot of energy for posting.

I came across another Answers in Genesis post that I thought was worth a mention (via the same route as before; a post on Libby Anne’s Love, Joy, Feminism blog. So hat tip to her once again.) This one was written by someone called Avery Foley and is called Why Does God Allow Bad Things to Happen? The answer, in case you were wondering, is apparently because anyone who’s a Christian eventually gets to go to Heaven for all eternity. So, uh, that’s quite all right then and glad we cleared that up. Anyway, here’s the bit that I (like Libby Anne) wanted to comment on:

Evolution supposedly progresses by the death of the less fit and the reproduction of the most fit. So, if this the case, why should we help the old, sick, infirm, and disabled? Shouldn’t they be eliminated as less fit? After all, in the world of evolution the strong survive, and tough for you if you’re born weak or less fit. According to an evolutionist’s own worldview, how can death, disease, suffering, cancer, and disabilities really be “bad”? In nature, the weak and ill die off and the strong survive, passing on their good genes to the next generation—this is how evolution supposedly progresses. Death and weakness from disease and mutations is a must for “bad” genes to die out. So by what standard do evolutionists call these things bad? Certainly not by their own standard! To claim a standard for good and bad, they have to borrow from a different worldview—the biblical one—to define what good and bad even are.

Well, first off, I don’t have to borrow from the biblical or any other worldview to say that it’s bad for people to suffer pain or distress or loss of autonomy, and good to take steps to help or prevent situations in which those things happen. Sure, there’s room for plenty of complexities and grey areas and debate around those basics, but I’m still baffled as to why the ‘So how do you even define good or bad without a God, huh? Huh? Huh???‘ question is meant to be such a ‘gotcha’. But what I mostly wanted to comment on here is this bizarre claim that a belief in evolution as a scientific fact somehow requires us to also accept it as a moral imperative.

This is a fallacy that shows up now and again in creationist writings, and it is exactly as logical as saying that, having discovered that gravity causes people to hit the ground when they fall over, we are now morally obligated to push them down. I have for some time thought of this as the Wyndham Fallacy, because it’s rather nicely summed up by a line author John Wyndham wrote in his novel ‘The Kraken Wakes’; the main character tells his wife ‘Darling, if I happen to mention that, as a process, autumn follows summer, it does not follow that I am all for getting a ladder and pulling the leaves off the trees.’

‘The Kraken Wakes’, by the way, is unrelated to evolution and uses that line in a different context. In general, though, it’s in creationist writings about evolution that this fallacy typically shows up. After all, the story creationists believe about how the world got started is one that’s heavily tied in to their morality and their worldview in general; not only does this make it virtually impossible for a creationist to question that version of events (because they so strongly believe it’s morally wrong to believe anything else), but it actually makes it difficult for many creationists to get their head round the fact that beliefs about origin don’t, in fact, automatically have to tie into our moral beliefs, and that the two can be independent.

Or maybe they just push that line as a way of making non-fundamentalists look bad. Why go for accuracy when you can have propaganda?

But either way; no. Yes, in nature the less fit are more likely to die. No, that doesn’t put us under any sort of moral obligation to kill them off. If you think otherwise, I look forward to seeing you at the end of summer with that ladder.

What I’m Reading – Benedict Jacka’s Alex Verus novels

As I mentioned recently, one thing I want to start writing about on here is (are?) my thoughts on whatever book I’m currently writing. I’m not planning for anything very organised; I don’t have enough free time to commit to a Book Review Wednesday or anything of that sort, and I also expect there will be times when I want to write a lot about a book or series and times when I’m all ‘Meh. I’m reading this thing and it’s kind of not that bad.’ So this will just be a regularish, as-and-when discussion of whatever I find notable/interesting/fantastic/execrable about whatever I’m currently reading/have recently read. Or possibly even stuff I read ages ago but really feel like writing about. You get the idea.

At the time I wrote that post, I was rereading some of Benedict Jacka’s Alex Verus series; I’ve actually moved on to some other stuff since then, but this series is a big favourite of mine so I’m going to go ahead and write about it as planned. This post will be about the series generally, rather than the specific books I was rereading; because there are a lot of interesting points that I want to write about, it has ended up being very long, which I’ve tried to mitigate by throwing in some subheadings at what seemed like vaguely appropriate points. It should, however, be pretty much spoiler-free other than some very general points, so I won’t put it behind a cut.


General stuff about the novels

The Alex Verus novels are, as I’ve said, an urban fantasy series; they’re set in modern-day London. The book titles are all past participles; Fated, Cursed, and so on. The series currently numbers six, but No. 7, Burned, is coming out next month. They are told in first-person narration by the protagonist.

I’ve already mentioned two things that I like about these books; that they’re urban fantasy, and that they describe a world in which a magical subculture exists within the normal-day culture, and all participants take both for granted as part of normal life. A third feature I like is that the mages each have only one specific type of magic that they can use (in the sixth book there’s a mention of someone having two, but this is clearly the exception rather than the rule) and, although they may become incredibly powerful and skilled with anything that can be done with that type of magic, they are limited to whatever type happens to be theirs. This trope of the magical beings having fairly specific limitations on their powers probably has an official name (if so, and if anyone knows it, do please fill me in), but I always think of it as The Goldenrod Effect, after a book I read as a child. The converse, for me, is The Superman Effect, which is the explanation of why Superman comic books held a limited appeal for me in my childhood; sure, they were readable, but it seemed that everything got solved by Superman being able to produce ridiculously unlimited super-everyskill on tap, and even as a nine-year-old I recognised that this wasn’t very good writing. I prefer books in which the protagonists have well-defined and particular abilities and have to figure out how to use these to get the end they want or need to achieve, which may not be altogether obvious. It’s even better when participants have different abilities and have to figure out how to work together, or work round each other’s strengths or weaknesses, and the Alex Verus novels definitely fall into that category.

The magic world is divided into the Light and Dark factions. Dark mages are a nasty lot of self-interested bastards who will do whatever suits them as long as they’re powerful enough to get away with it, and who are primarily interested in being powerful enough to get away with as much as possible. Light mages are…. pretty much the same thing, only with a lot more bureaucracy. For the most part, anyway. There are exceptions who are helpful to the protagonist throughout the series.


Our protagonist and what he can do

Our protagonist, as you have probably guessed from my description of these as ‘the Alex Verus series’, is called Alex Verus. I assumed for the first five books that Verus was his surname, but in Book 6 it was mentioned that it’s actually his mage name; which makes sense, since almost every mage in the book has an obviously-invented name, like Talisid or Deleo. In any case, he normally goes by Alex to his friends (of whom he starts out without very many, for a reason which will become clear later on – he does, however, acquire more as the series goes on).

Alex’s mage ability is divination. That may not be quite the right term for it, since it doesn’t involve doing anything mystical with rabbit entrails, but it’s the one most commonly used throughout the books. Simply enough, what Alex can do is see every possible short-term future of every action he might take and of any actions that anyone around him is planning. This has a lot of interesting possibilities as a plot device, and Jacka does a great job of developing them.

One fairly obvious implication of this is that it is virtually impossible to assassinate Alex. When his immediate future contains a bullet/bomb/knife wound, he sees this, and he also sees exactly which way he has to dive or leap or dodge to avoid it. (Unfortunately for him, this all involves him seeing the results of not taking evasive action; in other words, he gets to see just how he would be killed/shredded/mutilated if he doesn’t dodge. The books don’t go into any sort of icky detail about this, but it’s made clear that it happens and that it is somewhat unsettling for our protagonist at times. Still, better than the alternative.) Alex is also great at dodging in fights; which is good, because he frequently finds himself up against people who have the magical ability to drain his life with a touch or to char him to the bone, so he needs to do quite a lot of dodging over the course of the books. He can see what actions will lead to walking into a trap, and avoid those. (For this reason, he’s often called in as a security consultant by other mages when something potentially dangerous is going on; this is where several of the book plots arise from.)

There are less obvious implications, one of which is that he can crack any password. The trick is to look into every possible future of him trying every possible combination of characters; since only one of these will lead to the phone or computer being unlocked, that future will stand out as the only different one amongst the millions of different options of possible passwords, and thus he can fairly easily pick it out and thereby pick out what he types in to lead to that future. He can also run safely in pitch darkness, because he can see exactly which futures will or won’t lead to him tripping and how he has to place his feet to avoid tripping or bumping into things. For this reason, one of his tricks when he wants to escape from people trying to attack him is to use a magical item called a condenser, which is a sort of marble you break to release a temporary fog; he can run through this safely while his enemies are slowed down.


Magical limitations

Because, of course, he has these. Alex can’t see any future resulting from a decision by someone else that hasn’t yet been made. In a situation where chance can play a huge part in the outcome, it’s extremely difficult for him to see ahead; so, while he can see how to dodge his way through a fight from moment to moment, he can’t see ahead of time who’s going to win. Similarly, conversations are normally too unpredictable for him to see how they’ll go, because there are so many different things that the other person might potentially choose to say at each point. (On the other hand, when someone has a specific plan to tell or ask him something, he can see that. There’s one humorous scene when he’s in a hurry to get rid of two persistent customers at the shop that he runs for his day job and does so by simply going back and forth between them, answering every question each one is going to ask before he asks it. He can also save himself the trouble of asking for someone’s name or ID; he looks into the future in which he asks it and sees what the person says/does.)

A  less obvious drawback is that Alex can’t use gate magic, which is the ability to make portals between one place and another. This is a general ability that’s available to anyone in the magic world whose magical speciality is any form of physical stuff; earth, water, fire, whatever. Alex’s isn’t, so of course he can’t make gates. Mages in that category do have the option of using gate stones, which are magical items created and sold by other mages and will let him create a gate between two particular spots; but that only works if he has the right gate stone with him at the right time. (There are a lot of magical items that can do one-off, limited but useful things like this, the aforementioned condenser being another example; Alex tends to leave home with a lot of stuff in his pockets.)


Aaaaand the messy past…

Alex has a somewhat clouded past. Specifically, he used to be apprenticed to a Dark mage. He eventually saw the error of his ways and (with considerable difficulty and trauma) escaped; however, this original ghastly choice on his part has cast a long and complex shadow over his life.

For starters, Light mages don’t really want to associate with someone who has that sort of a past. (Except when they need him for jobs. But they’ll still turn up their noses at him.) The feeling is entirely mutual, by the way; when Alex was on the run from his former master and feeling desperate, he appealed to the Light mages for help, and they didn’t want to get involved. So on the whole Alex doesn’t have a lot of time for them, either. But there is also the unpleasant fact that Alex has done some genuinely bad stuff – and, later in the series, that’s going to come back to bite him, creating a major moral dilemma for him in the process. On top of all that, there’s the very scary question of Richard Drakh, Alex’s former Dark master. Richard disappeared mysteriously not long after Alex’s escape, but Alex has no doubt that at some point he’s going to be back and that he is not going to be happy with Alex for rebelling and jumping ship. Richard is one of those beautifully, chillingly written villains who is unfailingly and impeccably polite, calm, and ready to torture someone to death without a second thought if it’ll suit his purposes; and, while Alex does deal with a few of that ilk over the course of the series to date, he’s terrified of Richard in the way you can only be terrified of someone who scared you at enough of a formative stage in your life to be forever under your skin. So, although Alex tries not to think about it, that’s a very nasty nightmare always looming in his background.


General thoughts

All of that, as you can see, makes for a lot of very promising plot devices to work with; and Benedict Jacka’s books live up to that promise. Plots that drag me along from page to page; great characters, including lots of great female/minority characters; excellently-written conversations; plenty of dry humour; and great treatments of important moral themes, such as the ways in which people drift into doing evil by a series of seemingly-rationalisable decisions. This is a brilliant series, and, as you can probably tell, I’m very much looking forward to the imminent publication of the next book.

Yay! Questions!

OK… I know I promised you guys a post on Benedict Jacka’s Alex Verus series, but then Trav found this list of questions for atheists (which Great American Satan has also answered, if you’re interested) and, as I like these question list thingies, I couldn’t resist. Here are my answers to Today Christian’s list of 10 Questions For Atheists.

(Edited to add: Oh, look. Apparently it isn’t their list at all. Apart from the ‘And there is a HELL!’ line in question 3, which the Today Christian author seems to have added, this list comes verbatim from a post by an atheist. The actual author is Robert Neilsen at the Whistling in the Wind blog, who wrote it as a summary of some of the main questions he runs across. And wrote answers. Which Today Christian did not include. Which tells you quite a bit about their morality. Maybe because God didn’t actually tell ’em not to republish other people’s work as their own, they think it’s quite OK? Although even then, surely that ‘shalt not lie’ thing becomes a bit of a problem when you’re claiming that these are questions that atheists cannot answer despite having got them from a post in which an atheist was answering them??)


1.       How Did You Become an Atheist?

I assume this one wasn’t meant to be one of the ‘Some Questions Atheist Cannot Truly and Honestly REALLY Answer!’. Unless the author thinks atheists somehow suffer from amnesia, or something.

Anyway, I’ve already written about this, in a four-part series on my previous blog. Part 1 is about my background in terms of religion, and my early interest in the question. Part 2, which is not that important a part of the series but might be interesting, is about my childhood/adolescent impressions of different religions and why I ended up not joining any. Part 3 tells how I came to consider myself an agnostic, and Part 4 tells how, in response to a key question from the man who would become my husband, I took the step to atheism.


2.       What happens when we die?

If it’s in this society, someone has quite a bit of paperwork to do. Especially if you’re being cremated.


3.       What if you’re wrong? And there is a Heaven? And there is a HELL!

If they’re the versions traditionally preached by Christianity, then a very great many good, decent people will be suffering eternal torture due to not being the officially approved-of religion.


4.       Without God, where do you get your morality from?

Same place you do, I hope – from my understanding that other people have feelings like mine, that they are distressed by pain or harm and have far greater chance for happiness when life’s necessities are available, and that it is therefore far better to aim to help others, or as a minimum to avoid hurting them where feasible. Then there are virtues such as justice, and honesty (which promotes trust), and respect for the rights of others to make decisions about that which affects their own lives and bodies.


5.       If there is no God, can we do what we want? Are we free to murder and rape? While good deeds are unrewarded?

Obviously not; if you try committing murder, you’re likely to find yourself arrested, tried, and imprisoned. The same may apply if you commit rape, although, horribly, we still live in a society where you’re a lot more likely to get away with that if you play your cards right. However, there do seem to be several important further questions that arise from this for the author of this meme:

  • Do you feel that the only thing holding you back from rape or murder is your fear of being sent to hell? If you have other reasons for feeling that rape and murder are wrong (such as, say, the horrendous distress and heartbreak that these actions cause to other people), why should you believe that an atheist wouldn’t also have such reasons?
  • Given that this meme was on a Christian site, there seems to be a high likelihood that you hold the traditional Christian belief that God forgives sins in Jesus’s name, yet sends non-believers to hell. If not, then disregard this question as irrelevant to you; but wouldn’t these beliefs also imply a belief that any murderer or rapist who sincerely asks Jesus for forgiveness would go unpunished in the hereafter, whereas the good deeds of a non-believer would go unrewarded?
  • What about the times when God allegedly commands murder, or explicitly or implicity permits rape? In fact, what is there in the entire Bible to tell us that rape has any moral impact beyond that of using a vagina that was supposed to be reserved for another man’s use?


6.       If there is no god, how does your life have any meaning?

My life has meaning because it’s wonderful. I live in a world filled with good things, and I’m lucky enough to have the health and working senses to be able to enjoy them – music, beautiful sights, delicious food, walks, fascinating books. I do a job I love, which carries the satisfaction of helping others. I have two lovely children. This world is full of people I can get to know and joyful experiences I can have. I’m genuinely baffled by the claim that life is somehow meaningless without a god in it.


7.       Where did the universe come from?

No-one knows for sure at this point, although scientists have many theories. If you’re honestly interested in finding out more about this, you can probably find out quite a lot by googling. Of course, if you’re just asking this as a ‘gotcha’ then that doesn’t apply.


8.       What about miracles? What all the people who claim to have a connection with Jesus? What about those who claim to have seen saints or angels?

Since these stories come from and appear to bolster many different religious traditions, either multiple gods exist, or natural non-god-related explanations exist for such phenomena. I believe in the latter (obviously, or I’d be a polytheist and not an atheist), but neither looks that good for the Christian god.


9.       What’s your view of Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris?

My view of Dawkins would require the kind of language I try to avoid using on a blog that’s read by my mother. Hmmm…. let’s go for ‘toerag’.

I don’t know much about the other two. I found Hitchens’ exposé of Mother Theresa useful, and Sam Harris apparently said some dubious stuff about racial profiling, but that’s as far as my knowledge goes.


10.   If there is no God, then why does every society have a religion?

That’s not actually quite true; the Piraha people don’t (unless you count a belief in animal spirits, but that seems to be more akin to a belief in fairies than to religion as we’d understand it). As for the reason most societies have religions, I think it’s because it’s a natural human trait to try to come up with explanations for the world around us, and, when you don’t know anything about cosmology or how evolution or the laws of physics work, it’s natural to start attributing the world’s existence and current form to some kind of nonhuman power or powers. A much better question, I think, is ‘If there is a God who really wants to communicate personally with every single human being and who wants every single human to believe in him and have a relationship from him, why has such a huge proportion of humanity throughout history had no apparent knowledge at all of such a God, instead holding irreconcilably different beliefs such as pantheons or animism?’

There you go. Hope that helped and enjoy your day!

Urban Fantasy

One thing I’m planning to start on here is to write reviews of whatever book/series/author I’m currently reading. Since what I’m reading at the moment is the Alex Verus mage series, an urban fantasy series by Benedict Jacka, I’m planning to start with a post on that; however, it was getting pretty long as I planned it out, and this was partly because it started with an explanation of what urban fantasy actually is and why I love it as a genre. Since this is no doubt a subject I’ll be referring back to, I decided it was worth setting this up as a separate post.

(I am now going to burble on somewhat in trying to express all this, so consider yourself warned.)

Urban fantasy, simply enough, is a term for fantasy set in this world. The converse (as I discovered when I googled ‘urban fantasy’ to make sure I was actually getting the definition right before I started writing posts about it) is high fantasy, which is fantasy set in a fictitious world. They aren’t set-in-stone or exclusive categories, but, as a fantasy fan, I can vouch for them being useful concepts for thinking about fantasy.

Urban fantasy and high fantasy, of course, are both very broad categories which cover a multitude, and genre is only one factor among many that go into making a book good or bad, so I don’t think I could quite come out and say anything as categorical as ‘I prefer urban fantasy’. After all, there are plenty of high fantasy books out there which I love – Terry Pratchett’s ‘Discworld’ series, Mercedes Lackey’s ‘500 Kingdom’ and ‘Valdemar’ series (serieses?), and Tamora Pierce’s various Tortall and Circle series(es), to name some key ones.

What is inherently awesome about urban fantasy, however, is the contrast between the astounding magical stuff that’s going on and the normal, everyday setting within which it takes place. There is just so much potential there for subtle humour and bathos and weirdness and… and messages about what it means to be human. Great fantasy is fantasy in which the characters are believable people whom you could imagine meeting. People dealing with/struggling with/enjoying all the things we know so well in day-to-day life. Friendship, rejection, bureaucracy, profound moral dilemmas, irritations. And a good urban fantasy series can use that backdrop of the magic/normal life contrast to highlight those things, because it shows us that, even if people did have magical powers or vampires to battle or whatnot, they would still be fundamentally people in all their ordinariness and messiness and glory.

Which is, of course, not to say that I’m going to enjoy every urban fantasy automatically, because, again, so much else plays into what makes a book good or bad. The kind of urban fantasy I particularly enjoy (although, again, this is hardly going to be a blanket rule) is the kind in which there’s a magical subculture within the ordinary day-to-day culture that’s around us, which has its own rules and customs in much the same way that normal life does, which the various participants all understand and automatically deal within, just as we do in day-to-day life. So you have this kind of double contrast; the contrast between the weird and fantastical and day-to-day human issues, and the contrast between the magic subculture and, all round it, the normal culture we know – with the characters taking both these cultures for granted in much the same way.

The Alex Verus series are a great example of this. Patricia Briggs’ Mercy Thompson series are another, and very nearly ended up being the topic of my first post in this series, but it so happened that last Saturday I was returning some other library books and thought, hmmm, let’s just see if there’s anything by Benedict Jacka on the shelves, and lo and behold there were ‘Taken’ and ‘Chosen’, and some rereading began. So, that series is what I’m reading right now, and thus, if I do get a book review post up any time soon, that’ll be the one I most likely review.

Any other fantasy fans here? Any other fans of anything I’ve mentioned so far?