So, for the record, this is what my star ratings mean:
5 stars = FREAKING EPIC, gigantic story, everything works well, my mind is blown that a human being thought this up.
4 stars = love this book, it's just not as humongous in scope as a 5. But it's totally awesome and everyone should read it, it's a keeper.
3 stars = mixed feelings (this is where the "I think others might like it, it's just not for me" reviews are likely to go). Not that bad, but has some issues, or it's an okay story but nothing really stands out to me as being memorable. It was a pleasant enough read for a few days, but I'll probably just end up giving the book away rather than rereading it again.
2 stars = generally pretty terrible, but not 100% so. There was at least one thing in this book that made it not totally horrible. This book isn't really recommended to all and sundry, but you might get some value out of the one thing if you try.
1 star (rarely seen here): It's a wallbanger. Nothing is redeemable about this book, it's utter crap, and I probably only finished reading it so I could do an awesome bitchrant about it and I can't justify doing that to books I didn't finish.
Yup, it's another oral history of an improv theater! Because I just can't stop reading these things until I clean the entire library out on the subject! (Not joking.) This is an INCREDIBLY juicy and comprehensive one, covering from 1959 to book publication in 2009. Probably almost all of your (still living) favorite actors have quotes in here. Did you know Hugh Hefner was involved in Second City? I did not, so that was delightfully surprising to hear that he practically lived there.
"There was more of a willingness to fail then, because we all knew that was the only way you were going to find the good stuff." --Sheldon Patinkin.
"First and most important, Second City gave me a place to go; it gave me a place to function. That was the main thing. And the second most important thing, which was very, very close to the first, was that it gave us a place to fail. Which doesn't exist in this civilization anymore. There is no place to fail anymore. And failing at something is crucial. You don't learn from anything unless you fail. And we were not only allowed to fail, but almost encouraged to take chances every night onstage. We knew that twenty, thirty, sometimes forty percent of what we were doing wasn't going to work, and Sills never said anything about it, Bernie never said anything about it, and the audience didn't mind. They knew that two things would fail and the next thing would be glorious." --Alan Arkin
Like Something Wonderful Right Away, there's plenty of commentary about how weird Severn was, how much of a chair-throwing jerk Paul Sills was (there's a lot of chair-throwing stories at the start of this book, more than I thought!), how Joan Rivers didn't really fit in, how David Steinberg was a stage hog, the various power battles and stories of EVERYONE getting wasted and several people overdosing to death. It sounds like folks had a lot of fun at Playboy parties, huh huh huh. However, despite having steady jobs, not everybody was happy all the time. John Kapelos said, "You're forging alliances on one hand, but it's also a bunch of baby sharks," and Shelley Long pointed out that working there was some of the most demanding work she'd ever done.
Regarding the sexism of the earlier days, the usual gender requirement was five men and two women, and according to Roberta Maguire, "and the women always had to wear dresses. So give that the people are seated below the stage, mostly what we had to do was remember to keep our legs together. It was like binding our feet or something. Oh God! I just couldn't believe it. And when I tell people that, they're just stunned. "Oh, we thought Second City was this great place where everybody had fun, and everybody hung out together, and there was all this camaraderie." And there was that, too." Women had to play wives, secretaries, and girlfriends. Some of the griping about that is directed at Bernard Sahlins, who's called out for seeing women as accoutrements, and Barbara Wallace says that Bernie held a bake-off for a spot on the mainstage with the women--doesn't sound like it was an actual one, mind you, but it was called that because it was women-only. Barbara Wallace, in addition to mentioning the bake-off, said that Bernie always said that women weren't funny, and he'd go and get coffee (and call that out publicly) if there was a scene with two women. Though she did say that her co-stars on stage were great.
Bernard Sahlins replied back, "How could anyone work with Barbara Harris, Gilda Radner, Mina Kolb, Andrea Martin, Catherine O'Hara, Shelley Long, and others and maintain that women aren't funny? Quite the opposite. I wasn't that stupid. It must have been a joke. What is true is that we got in the mind-set that a cast consisted of two women and four men, and we kept that notion for some years. It didn't quite rise to the level of chauvinism, but it was unthinking." And also: "I think what happened was that the women took a more prominent role in the work and asserted themselves in a way they hadn't asserted before. Even though they were bright and emancipated, they were still a bit handicapped by the times."
I liked finding out about other characters I hadn't heard about so much before, like Betty Thomas, who actually made guys show them their dicks and walked around naked backstage and generally had a lot of fun. Betty herself thought the "two women, five guys" thing was messed up and you would end up being what the men wanted to make you. Her method of coping was to get into scenes with powerful men. "And I think Debbie Harmon took over at that point, and Debbie said, "Do you want to try a two-girl scene?" And I said, "No, Deb, I don't. Not until I have power! When I have power, I will come back to you and we will be doing two-women scenes. And I'll see you when that happens!" Pretty fucked up. But it worked for me." Later on, Mick Napier said that when he started directing at Second City, he was the one to implement the first gender-equal cast there, and things have stayed equal since.
Regarding having a more integrated cast, folks call them out for being originally very white--Angela V. Shelton called them out as having "a sorrier history of integration than the Catholic Church" (OUCH), but later said the cast got a lot more integrated--but hardly anyone who was gay was in the show. I liked Aaron Freeman's commentary on his experience: "Because I was a Negro, and they didn't have too many of those at Second City, I got a lot of leeway. People didn't bust my chops as much as maybe they should have. Although the whole skin color thing was pretty goofy at the time. For a while there I was not allowed to do any scenes where I was anyone's blood relative, because it wasn't credible. I wasn't gonna be anybody's father or son. They didn't think the audiences would buy it. But then Bernie found out about it and said, "No, I will not be a party to this blatant racism." That was it." (Go Bernie.)
You get to find out some fun things about celebrities Before They Were Stars, such as Bill Murray's self-written biography for Second City: "Bill Murray, the fifth of nine children, is currently casting to replace himself in his family. Bill has lots of personal problems, most typically with his employer at The Second City....Basically insincere, he hopes his experience in theatre, movies, and television can perhaps get him work as a Playgirl centerfold." Hah. Steven Kampmann recalls a scene where Martin Short was playing a guy with no arms that was so obnoxious that people would WANT him to get beaten up. "To Marty's credit, if you can get an audience to not like you and you have no arms, you're doing something pretty good."
Danny Breen tells the story of Jim Belushi (presumably) smacking a drunk obnoxious guy in the front with a big cowboy hat when the lights were out. "Jim, did you hit somebody in the head with a hat?" We just played dumb." Jim Belushi: "The lights came up, and I don't know, somebody must have hit the kid on the head with a hat or something. If there was anyone who got hit in the head, which I don't think happened, it was the guy."
Nia Vardalos had a cool one that I didn't expect: "Mine is one of those insane stories that you hear about in folklore, and it actually happened to be true." She auditioned and couldn't even get a callback, and someone told her if she got a job there she could get a shot in a touring company and take classes for free. So she got a job in the box office, and one night an actress is sick and they can't find the understudy. And Nia's watched the show for free for weeks and says she knows the show. At first she'd told "get out," but then the lady asks her if she knows it, and she says yes, so she starts reciting the lines...and so she literally walked on and got in the show and was hired the next day. Nia also told off a heckler commenting on her thunder thighs by making him stand up, pointing out his love handles, patting him on the back and moving on. "You just grow up and you go, "I'm in control, I can handle this. I am a woman today."
There's some discussion of the Second City television show (SCTV), but the best talk about it was from Conan O'Brien: "What was so compelling about SCTV, which you can't create anymore, is that these guys invented something that was perfect out of whole cloth. These men and women invented this thing that literally came from the north and came to us to complete. It made me believe that God is in the details, that it's the Field of Dreams idea. "If you build it, they will come." They created this show that had no reason to exist, and nobody was particularly looking for it, and it arrived. I know it had a profound effect on me, and I'm sure a lot of people in my generation. It would be hard to do that again." Wow. That's powerful. Yes, this show is in my infinitely long Netflix rental queue.
The book also does a great job of memorializing the dead, both their good points and bad points, and how the crazy drug culture was going there for awhile. Of course, Del Close and Chris Farley have the best, most hideous stories about them.
Regarding Del (note: this book says the skull's a fake), there's plenty of stories:
A typical day in the life of Del: he calls people announcing that he's killing himself and then answering the door to banging firemen saying he's all better now, let's go rehearse. (Michael Gellman)
Robin Williams wanted to meet him and when he did, Del fell down drunk and stoned and "we were like, "There's your genius." (Tim Kazurinksy.)
Del fell off a stage on the first day of class and then yelled at everyone that he thought they were going to catch him (Lance Kinsey).
A quote from Del: "It's either the ham and cheese sandwich I had at the Roach Coach or the two-thousand year old opium I shot up last night."
The time Jim Belushi told Del he trusted him and then Del kicked him in the balls. With no restraint.
He forced women to strip during class and then took pictures."They thought they were in safe hands, but from that story I did not feel they were, on that day."(Mary Gross)
"Del was into his witch thing at the time, so he had workshops doing voodoo against the four of us. People were coming up to me after shows, going, "I'm in Del's workshop, and we're putting curses on you." (Danny Breen)
And then there's the Chris Farley stories:
"Throwing up over your shoulder and walking is not a neat ability to have in life." (Joel Murray, reminding me way too much of "Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son.")
"That was a nightmare when Chris met Del. That was gasoline meeting the match. That's the worst possible thing. We were out of control, but this kid was just impossible to control." (Tim O'Malley)
Tom Gianas told the charming story about how Chris would wipe his ass with socks when he was out of TP and then wear them to the show. "He had that same look again that he would always have, where he knew he was going to get in trouble, and you would love him for it. He would do something wrong, and you'd always love him for it."
"But I will tell you this: a nicer guy you would never meet. Really an incredible guy. He just happened to have the worst case of self-loathing I have ever witnessed in a human being." (John Rubano)
"I remember meeting Chris, and he wanted to have the same fate as John [Belushi]. And it was horrifically shocking to me that that was actually his career goal. That is how badly the Second City thing had morphed in my opinion. It's one thing for me to come to Second City and want to be like Alan Arkin and Harold Ramis and so-and-so. It's a different thing to literally want to flame out." (John Kapelos)
"But he was kind of a lost boy at the time he was here. He had a lot of issues. He kind of made you sad, ultimately, at the end of the day. Because you saw how talented he was and you saw where it was going and you didn't feel that you could stop him or rein him in. ... I think that Chris could never feel and accept all the love that was around him. He just couldn't feel it and he couldn't absorb it in any way, which is just tremendously sad, because people truly cared about him." (Alison Riley)
"Seeing that life-changing moment [getting SNL] happen really left an impression. I often think of Chris as I watch my own clients get their first high-profile jobs. That moment generally happens once. Few things are as memorable as seeing someone's life suddenly change direction like that. I like to call it "the moment before." It's one of the last pure moments in an artist's life." (David Miner)
According to Kelly Leonard, the drug culture that existed when he first started there started to die off as people did. Angela V. Shelton commented later that "There was a time when people would be getting drunk or finding hookers--living life on the edge. And we're doing Tae Bo. We should be shooting up and having sex with each other!" On a more serious note, Andrew Alexander said, "[With Del and Chris], you're talking about people who have decided to live a life of "Am I going to die tomorrow?" That becomes their thing. That's implicit in their life. So you combine the Del Close story with the stories of his drug abuse and being in insane asylums, and it just blows the guy up to another proportion. And that's what we do in our society. Does that diminish Steve Carell, who is very levelheaded, funny, didn't kill his mother or hasn't got a needle stuck in his arm?" Good point, sir. Anyway, later folks in the chronology liked to point out that you don't have to be wasted to be talented.
Now that this review is starting to go to the bummer place, let's go back to other fun stories! Early on, Harold Ramis cites John Belushi as introducing the f-word to Second City, "or at least he was the first to utter it in supremely funny fashion." Later, Ali Farahnakian said they were doing prom shows for kids and were told they couldn't say the f-word. "So I was the one opening up the show, and I went out there and said, "Just so you guys know, we can't use the f-word in front of you, but that doesn't mean you can't." And all of a sudden they started yelling, "F-this! F-that!" [Second City] said I incited them to riot."
On the heartwarming side, Tim Kazurinsky tells a story about how on a Wednesday there were two people in the audience and they decided to cancel the performance and give them a refund. Turns out they were there from Wisconsin for their 25th wedding anniversary, they had a sitter, they had to be back at seven...so they did "one of the best shows we ever did."
Joshua Funk talked about a night when a bunch of 9/11 New York City firemen came to watch. "And they came to the show and they laughed their asses off and came backstage with tears in their eyes and just said, "I cannot tell you guys how much we needed to laugh about this, because we spend twenty hours a day digging out bodies and digging through this horrific thing, and to be able to get out of New York and to see this show has brought us new life and made us feel so good." So they told other firemen and they all kept coming to Chicago for a weekend. "Finally in my life I felt like what we do is important. And it's so easy to think of comedy as that jester in the king's court, where this useless goofball is making people laugh and that's his whole existence. And I get that feeling sometimes when I look at myself in the big perspective. Is making people laugh really a valuable role in society, or am I just a joke? Especially in times like that, when you see people who are firemen and people who are going to war and people who are doctors and lawyers and saving lives and making huge differences. You second-guess it. Before 9/11, the shows had degenerated into a bunch of poop and fart jokes and just silly scene work. We were livin' life high on the hog. There was nothing that was pissing us off. We didn't feel the importance of social commentary. We were just going for laughs. And then when 9/11 happened, I think the paradigm of Second City finally went back to where it was when JFK got assassinated and when the Vietnam War happened and when the civil rights era happened. And that is why Second City is what it is."
Awwww. And finally to close out the review, here's the touching quotes on Second City, acting, etc.
"If you want to get anywhere, you have to have some kind of faith in your own ability, and ambition is a part of it." (Dan Ackroyd)
"It's got to be felt. It's got to be real. It's got to be acted and true before it can be funny. The audience could read you. They can see you in the moment, and you can't fight that, how you're feeling onstage. You have to use it for a scene. And that's what Sheldon taught me, to recognize what I was feeling onstage." (Robin Duke)
"Sue Gillan [a cast mate] told me something amazing. She said Second City forces you to really be the person you are. You're put through some tests with other people, you have to question who you are, you have to create something. You have to both work and create with other people, you have to share, you have to be part of an entire building's business. You really have to go through a lot. And who everybody is really comes out, because while the stakes aren't that high, the amount of stuff you have to do is very personal and very interactive and it really runs the whole gamut of your personality. It puts you through a personality ringer. The nice thing about Second City is, it's just enough pressure to make you creative and to fuel your engines, but it's not so much that you start being a dick. A real hard-core, Hollywood, smacking-lattes-out-of-your-assistant's-hand dick." (Peter Grosz)
"I think anybody who goes to Second City because they want to advance their career is both a fool and a jerk. If you don't give a hundred percent to your work and only your work and use it as a stepping stone, I think you're doing yourself not only a disservice, but I think you'll find that you're not getting all that you can out of it. The one thing that I like to say is "Enjoy the journey." When you go on your road to stardom or fame in this business, the journey turns out to be a lot more fun than you ever think it will be. That's only in retrospect, but the journey is a blast. Take your journey at Second City, enjoy it, stay with it. They'll be the best years of your life." (Richard Kind)
"Second City was a dream realized. Not only did I feel like I was in a family, but I had purpose and meaning in this family, and there's been no other family like it since--including the one I was raised in. I was connected, I was alive, I was needed, I was wanted. It was at one hundred percent every show. I had a place among this family of misfits. We were no longer misfits--we were powerful and funny and we belonged and were recognized for our worth." (Jim Belushi)
That last quote might be the best one for me, even trumping thousands of year old opium. Sounds lovely.
I'm giving it four and a half stars, because this book is close to epic. Hell, I think I typed up notes from this longer than it took me to read the original book. Not to mention how long it took to write this review, which I think I've been doing for three weeks or something.
Charlene Dugan thought she had a pretty good life. She's very independent, happily divorced for 20ish years but still on good terms with her cop ex, Jake, her daughter Stephanie's grown up and employed, and she's got a nice boyfriend, Dennis, who she sees a few times a week but has no interest in marrying. And she kicks ass at being a divorce lawyer.
Then Charlene has a really shitty day. One in which her daughter bitches that she doesn't want to end up like Charlene. One in which her mother is showing signs of dementia and it can't be ignored any more. One in which she sees her boyfriend having a tete-a-tete with a hot young doctor. One in which her tire goes flat and she's rescued by her ex-husband, who makes a crack about her fear of commitment. By the time she staggers in home, exhausted, realizing that Dennis is a totally good guy and the only stable thing in her life...she proposes, feeling like she'd better lock that down.
That's pretty much where everything goes to hell. Because Dennis, a widower of 20+ years, starts having doubts and hitting it off way too well with the widowed wedding planner--especially since Charlene ends up being way too busy at work to ever make a planning meeting. Because Stephanie, who everyone tells us is nice but super spoiled, is kinda feeling bratty over the fact that her live-in boyfriend Grant is way too busy at school and at his bartender job to spend much time with her ever, and probably never will be able to since he wants to be a cop. And she kind of takes a dubious dude up on his offer a few times and then he starts stalking her. And Charlene's mother Peaches is going all kinds of downhill fast, so what are they going to do to take care of her? And Jake (who's quite the do-gooder cop and he and all of his buddies are working to protect various down-on-their-luck women) recruits Charlene to help a young mother whose ex is now trying to get custody of their daughter out of the blue, so Charlene is way too occupied to even see Dennis.
You probably get where this is going. Heck, halfway through the book Dennis has moved on emotionally, he just can't get a hold of Charlene long enough to break up with her. Meanwhile, Charlene has been off and on hooking up with Jake and does it again...
This is an interesting book because for a romance, I didn't find it all that romantic. (And this review felt similarly.) It's far more of a book about breakups, in a way. Dennis and Charlene are kind of "two rights make a wrong" a la Sleepless in Seattle-- two folks who happily settled and didn't really think too much about it, but once they actually deal with the idea of formal commitment, the relationship peters away. Charlene and Jake seem to be a match sexually and have a similar passion for saving women, but do they match otherwise? Or was it just Charlene's own flaky dad issues that made her throw Jake away? They're both nice enough people, but I can't say I was sold that those two are made for each other either as life partners either. More as FWB's, in some respects.
As for Stephanie, while she comes off as pretty dang bratty at the start (neither of her parents can even mention her for the first half of the book without being all, "she's really sweet, she's just...being a princess, AGAIN" or "God, I wish she'd stop complaining about her boyfriend."), it isn't totally awful of her to want a dude around that she can actually see and hang out with. Grant straight up isn't going to be available for her to see almost all of the time if she works days and he works nights and when he has free time, he's in class, and that's never going to change once he becomes a cop (which Stephanie, as a cop's kid, will be aware of). Maybe she would be better off finding a guy with a day job, and Grant finding a woman who's okay with him being gone most of the time. Even if he's a super nice guy, maybe they're not a match when it comes to how they want to live their lives. So when Grant eventually hits his limit on this, I was relieved. But what was awesome was that Stephanie realized that she's also kind of a wreck in her own way, and starts cleaning up her act and becoming a grown-up--NOT as a way to get Grant back, she doesn't even tell him she's doing that--but just for herself. I was really impressed.
As for the romances, I wasn't too into Dennis's whirlwind relationship with Agatha the wedding planner. It was okay, not objectionable, but...okay. It was bland, except for the well, cheating aspect of it (ugh). For a "decent guy," Dennis sure doesn't seem to think too badly about getting physical with Agatha before becoming single again, so that's a bit fishy about him. Charlene's assistant Pam's developing interest in another man is nice, but we don't see much of that to get invested in it or the guy. And while I don't really have objections to Charlene with Jake, I don't necessarily think they would need to remarry either.
But in the end, this is a book where nobody gets married, and heck, nobody even lives with each other by the end as far as I can tell. Grant and Stephanie seem to be in a tentative "we'll see" sort of situation--which is probably fine-- and Charlene and Jake give me the impression that they'll be together in the same way she was with Dennis, i.e. independently. That might be the best way to handle a relationship between them, actually.
And I'll give the author props for drastically turning the custody situation on its head--would not have expected it to go there, I'll put it that way! (There's also a case involving a goose...well, let's just say that ends INTERESTINGLY.)
Overall, I'm going to give it three and a half stars. I enjoyed the read, but I wouldn't say I was super sold on any of the love relationships being all MFEO for each other. I kinda think that's okay--but maybe others won't. So I give fair warning.
This is a comprehensive book that covers comedic structure, screenwriting, fiction and nonfiction, aspects of writing like themes, character, dialogue, etc., with bits on writing for TV, playwriting, and audio, and digital marketing.
I did not really find myself bookmarking chapters in this one like I've been doing in a lot of books I'm reading lately (I think I'm feeling tired of that, because I have six other books to review right now and lots of notes I made on them, jeez), but it was interesting enough. The author gives a lot of examples of funny writing and his own stories of dumbassery. He covers screenwriting tips and how it's okay to not necessarily "write what you know," and how to create worlds. He talks about different kinds of jokes, and different methods of writing nonfiction. He uses good examples from fiction to illustrate his points, and gives very interesting writing exercises if you want to try them.
...honestly, I'm really exhausted right now as I'm writing this and I'm just trying to get it done so I can return it to the library. It's a good book overall, but nothing super stood out to me about it. It's a good writing manual, but maybe I'm not in the best mental place to savor it right now?
"I must say, all things considered, the results you've produced have been most encouraging." "By 'all things considered,"" said Lee, "you mean, except for the part where we were almost killed by Nazis and a killer robot disguised like a tour guide, right?"
I recently (okay, by the time this review goes up, it'll have been 2 weeks after I saw it, I am so behind on writing/posting things) saw the movie Tomorrowland and just loved the hell out of it and thought it was awesome. So the night after I saw the show, I made my mother (we were in her car) rush off to the nearest Barnes and Noble to us get the prequel book, Before Tomorrowland, even in the midst of a power outage. Thanks be to the diehard Barnes and Noble employees who were still forced to work in the dark and both (a) find the book, wherever the hell they had it hidden in the dark, and (b) ringing it up for me so I could haul it to Disneyland...where uh, I could have bought it there two days later. So yeah.
Anyway, I was... well, it's a weird book and I wasn't nearly as into it as I was the movie, mostly because the plot is just odd. Much as I'm pleased that the original movie folks worked out and/or wrote the story and even included a comic book (it's part of the plot) inside, part of me wonders what the heck they were thinking when they came up with this. Here's a good writeup of the book with the authors.
This prequel takes place in 1939, around the start of July, when a stressed-out Lee Brackett is escorting his artist mom, Clara, on a trip to New York City. His mother's dying of cancer, which makes everything quite rocky. They basically head off to a sci-fi convention of some sort, where Clara (and Lee by proxy) seems to be being invited to join the secret Plus Ultra group of dreamers and inventors who have discovered some alternate universe where they can all set up a utopian science collective. Why are they inviting a dying woman into this? Who's an artist? Uh....I guess I'm not sure about the logic of this from their POV. Also, why is the point of view character her son Lee, who's not really into this stuff, rather than Clara, who seems like a cool lady? Anyway, Lee and Clara are basically in the right/wrong place at the right/wrong time to get dragged into some whomping weird drama. You'd think someone would stash them in a quiet corner and keep them out of the loop of these things, but nope, that doesn't happen.
Once upon a time, there was a kid named Henry Stevens, whose dad worked for Plus Ultra and got him introduced to the nope-not-dead Amelia Earhart. Unfortunately, Henry had a whoppingly weird fatal accident some years ago and ended up with his brain (more or less) downloaded into a robot body. This was done by the super creepy/dubious/Nazi Werner Rotwang, who got kicked out of Plus Ultra. He designed the robot body for himself to save him from the ravages of age, but after getting the boot from Plus Ultra, he ended up with a creepy new patron, Lohmann, who wants the robot body for his own age-related issues. However, Henry the robot--who's been pretty brainwashed against Plus Ultra by now--escapes and everyone's chasing after him, and the Bracketts and Amelia end up in the chase too.
Also, supposedly "The New Frontier" (er, Tomorrowland) has been discovered and Plus Ultra wants to reveal it to the world, except, well....if you've seen the movie, you know that doesn't exactly happen and gets called off more than once. Though I'm not sure why they'd want to reveal it in 1939 if they haven't even built much in the place yet. Heck, you barely see it at all until the end of this. Or for that matter, why do they give Clara a vote on whether or not to reveal the place when she's barely found out about it? I mean, that's nice of them, but it doesn't really make sense for their business practices either!
I rather like Clara--she is awesome--and I wish she'd been a viewpoint character instead of her son because well, she talks like this when asked whether or not to wait on a reveal:
"Well, I understand all the reasons to wait. I wanted to be an artist, before I got married. Then I had a kid, a good kid, raised him, and then I thought, 'Okay, now I'll try it. Now I'll have time.' Cancer changed my plans, again. When I'm better, then I"ll get on with my life, I thought. But not long ago, my husband sent home his wages, and there wasn't enough to cover my medication. It work me up. In more ways than one. I just don't have time to wait on this cancer, or my husband, or anything. The best excuse is still an excuse. So I started drawing again. Lee's helped me so much...I can't give him back the time and energy he's spent on me, and I can't force him to be hopeful. I can say that in the time we've been with you, I've seen him brighten, and I love seeing that. So if you want my opinion, there it is. Bring out your signs and wonders and your hopeful future, for God's sake, for everyone: the young people, the cynics, the dreamers. This world you've all seen has moved you to do amazing things. Let us be moved by it, too. And who knows what more amazing things will come of it."
Well, that'll make you cry when reading it in a prequel, doesn't it? Anyway, after the Nazi drama...you can understand why that doesn't happen. And it seems to take awhile for the Tomorrowland project to start up again. The ending is touching, I'll say that, and surprising in a sense. But the plot overall is kind of strange and makes me wonder why this was the important thing that the movie writers wanted us to know about the back history of Tomorrowland--what there is of it, anyway--and why in some cases these were the important people to talk about. This isn't all that much of a story about Tomorrowland* more than it is about the middle-ish period(?) of Plus Ultra, which has some awesome scientific developments going like freaking robots all over, but still no cure for cancer. And the plotline is kinda more "crazy robot Nazi chase scenes" than anything else. Which is fun if you're into that, but for whatever reason I wasn't feeling that so much--maybe because it was both kinda ridiculous and just horribly sad at the same time.
* To be fair, the title is literally BEFORE Tomorrowland, so it's not like I wasn't warned, so I shouldn't be all bitchy wishing they'd have said more about Tomorrowland.
Anyway...I can't make up my mind on what to give it. Three and a quarter stars, I guess? Not as awesome as the movie, really awkward in spots, but has its moments.
Previous section here. Excerpt sample of this one here. Excerpt from the next one here.
The followup book to The Human Division is being released in four novella-esque chunks. Once again I'm gonna read them as they come out and do reviews here. Tor also is doing the same here. The author also has some book discussion going on over here.
"What are we doing here, Lieutenant? We're running around putting out fires. And fine, we're the fire brigade. Our job is putting out the fires. Not worrying about how they got started, just putting them out. But at some point even the fire brigade has to start asking who is starting all these fires, and why it's being left to us to continually put them out."
Episode Three, "Can Long Endure" follows up on the Colonial Union soldiers, and the chapter "The Sound of Rebellion." Our narrator is Lieutenant Heather Lee, from that chapter. In this book, she and her platoon no longer have the option of retirement--instead they are being sent around to put out various rebellions happening on Colonial Union planets. The book starts out, after having a tedious argument over pizza vs. tacos in the mess hall, by Heather parachuting into the middle of a meeting about whether or not to vote for independence and informing everyone there they will be instantly murdered if they vote for it. Fun job there, eh? And everything else they're doing of late is along those lines. Ugh. Well, we're fire fighters, that's our job even if we didn't knowingly sign up for it, Heather and her troops say...but seriously, what's going on here?
Then their ship gets shot up on another mission, and Heather loses some friends and finds out some information, and she once again meets up with Lieutenant Harry Wilson (very briefly), who will be questioning the Rraey that Heather got a hold of.
I'll admit this wasn't my favorite chapter. Partly because I'm starting to have the same kind of panic moments that I've had while reading Curtsies and Conspiracies, in that I keep thinking, "dude, you're almost done and I feel like there's still so much more to cover! There's only one novella left! Shit!"* I also kinda miss Harry, Hart, Abumwe, and company and they've been side characters (if they are mentioned at all all) in everything so far. And while I like Heather Lee, the cool stuff she gets up to in this one isn't quite so cool when she's well....threatening to kill people for wanting out of a bad Colonial Union situation. Okay, so she isn't super thrilled at doing that--enough to hit her own personal "fuck it" point. But ...
* Updated to add the author's response to this type of commentary: "Oh, ye of little faith."Of course, then some smartasses pointed out it could all end in explosions.
I dunno, I guess I kind of felt like "Yeah, I figured the Colonial Union would be getting shittier and putting their boots on everyone's necks, this isn't all that much of a surprise other than how extreme it's getting." I was reminded of a few other books I've read (the Sleepless series by Nancy Kress has a similar argument) about how nobody can secede once they're in a union. To be fair, seceding from the CU probably does mean in this universe that people are more likely to be killed when other species attack, they can't afford to lose anyone really, etc. But either way, shit's ugly, and that's not a shocking surprise by now.
Ilse Powell, Heather's super cranky squadmate who's working out decades of rage from teaching eighth grade algebra on almost everybody, is surprised civil war hasn't been happening sooner. Powell's attitude pretty much boils down to "well, I don't have control over this situation and while the CU sucks, it's the only game we got, so thinking about it too hard isn't going to help me and I'm just going to do my job and keep things as stable as possible at the moment." Powell's a pragmatist, and hah, probably the character closest to me in demeanor in this series because I'd be thinking the same.
Not much goes on regarding Equilibrium, though it finally does get a mention. Heather does figure out that her ship being attacked was part of a trap--and it turns out that was because the planet of Khartoum has made a deal with them for protection.
Anyway, the ending was...well, as Powell points out, Heather's likely to get herself shot very quickly. Which makes me sad.
"Well," said Albus Dumbledore. "I do feel stupid."
Don't we all around here.
"I should hope so," Professor Quirrell said easily; if he had been at all shocked himself at being caught, it did not show. A casual wave of his hand changed his robes back to a Professor's clothing.
Dumbledore's grimness had returned and redoubled. "There I am, searching so hard for Voldemort's shade, never noticing that the Defense Professor of Hogwarts is a sickly, half-dead victim possessed by a spirit far more powerful than himself. I would call it senility, if so many others had not missed it as well."
"Quite," said Professor Quirrell. He lifted his eyebrows. "Really, am I that hard to recognize without the glowing red eyes?"
Hah, yeah, in retrospect everyone else really is stupid around here!
"Oh, yes indeed," Albus Dumbledore said in level tones. "Your acting was perfect; I confess myself utterly deceived. Quirinus Quirrell seemed - what is the term I am looking for? Ah yes, that is the word. He seemed sane."
*laughs some more*
Professor Quirrell chuckled; he looked for all the world as though the two of them were just having a casual conversation. "I never was insane, you know. Lord Voldemort was just another game for me, the same as Professor Quirrell."
Albus Dumbledore did not look like he was enjoying a casual chat. "I thought you might say that. I regret to inform you, Tom, that anyone who can bring himself to act the part of Voldemort is Voldemort."
Won't argue that.
"Ah," said Professor Quirrell, raising an admonishing finger. "There is a loophole in that reasoning, old man. Anyone who acts the part of Voldemort must be what moralists call 'evil', on this we agree. But perhaps the real me is completely, utterly, irredeemably evil in an interestingly different fashion from what I was pretending with Voldemort -"
"I find," Albus Dumbledore ground out, "that I do not care."
Hm, yeah, pretty much, evil is evil is evil is killing any random person who pisses you off on sight, dude.
"Then you must think yourself to be rid of me very soon," said Professor Quirrell. "How interesting. My immortal existence must depend on discovering what trap you have set, and finding a way to escape from it, as soon as possible."
Or not, given the hundred-plus horcruxes floating around space and time. Good luck with that!
Professor Quirrell paused. "But let us pointlessly delay to talk of other matters first. How did you come to be waiting inside the Mirror? I thought you would be elsewhere."
"I am there," Albus Dumbledore said, "and also inside the Mirror, unfortunately for you. I have always been here, all along."
Because Dumbledore haunts everything.
"Ah," said Professor Quirrell, and sighed. "I suppose my little distraction was for naught, then."
And the rage of Albus Dumbledore was no longer leashed. "Distraction? " roared Dumbledore, his sapphire eyes tight with fury. "You killed Master Flamel for a distraction? "
Professor Quirrell looked dismayed. "I am wounded by the injustice of your accusation. I did not kill the one you know as Flamel. I simply commanded another to do so."
"How could you? Even you, how could you? He was the library of all our lore! Secrets you have forever lost to wizardry! "
There was an edge to Professor Quirrell's smile, now. "You know, I still do not comprehend how your twisted mind can consider it acceptable for Flamel to be immortal, but when I try for the same it makes me a monster."
Hmmmm, technically that's a good point. Other than as far as Dumbledore knows, "Flamel" didn't off anyone.
"Master Flamel never descended into immortality! He -" Dumbledore choked. "He only stayed awake past his evening, for our sakes, through his long, long day -"
Uh....that's just a weird way of describing it. Also, I don't think so.
"I don't know if you recall this," Professor Quirrell said, his voice airy, "but do you recall that day in your office with Tom Riddle? The one where I begged you, where I went down on my knees and begged you, to introduce me to Nicholas Flamel so that I could ask to become his apprentice, to someday make for myself the Philosopher's Stone? That was my last attempt to be a good person, if you are curious."
"You told me no, and gave me a lecture on how unvirtuous it was to be afraid of death."
Which, as you'll recall from Harry/Tom II's screeds on this, is a bad thing! Explains a lot now, doesn't it.
"I went from your office in bitterness and in fury. I reasoned that if I was to be called evil in any case, just for not wanting to die, then I might as well be evil; and one month later I killed Abigail Myrtle to pursue immortality by other means."
Well, there's a certain kind of logic to that.
Okay, less smartass responses and more recapping: "Quirrell" tormented Dumbledore even more than he normally would have done (uh, what's the difference, you're still evil?) and thought he ought to know, Dumbledore says he doesn't accept any responsibility for "Quirrell's" life decisions, "Quirrell" isn't surprised and wonders what guilt he does accept and was Dumbledore forewarned about his prior vanquishment--yes, D was and yes, he's responsible for that, and setting up Snape to overhear. "Quirrell" says Dumbledore sacrificed his pawns merely to banish him for a few years, and Dumbledore claims they would have died willingly if they had known. Yeah, but what about the baby?
You could scarcely see the flinch. "The Boy-Who-Lived came out of it well enough. Tried to turn him into you, did you? Instead you turned yourself into a corpse, and Harry Potter became the wizard you should have been." Now there was something like the usual Dumbledore behind the half-moon glasses, a tiny twinkle in those eyes. "All of Tom Riddle's icy brilliance, tamed to the service of James and Lily's warmth and love. I wonder how you felt when you saw what Tom Riddle could have become, if he had grown up in a loving family?"
Ooooh. Well. Point to Dumbledore for that one.
Professor Quirrell's lips quirked. "I was surprised, even shocked, by the abyssal depths of Mr. Potter's naivete."
Naivete, love, what's the difference?
"How I laughed when I realised it! When I saw you had made a Good Voldemort to oppose the evil one - ah, how I laughed!"
I concur with that laughter, or at least snickering.
"I never had the steel for my role, but Harry Potter shall be more than equal to it, when he comes into his power." Albus Dumbledore's smile disappeared. "Though I suppose Harry shall have to find some other Dark Lord to vanquish for it, since you will not be there."
Oh, gee, what a bummer.
"You have refused death," said Dumbledore, "and if I destroyed your body, your spirit would only wander back, like a dumb animal that cannot understand it is being sent away. So I am sending you outside Time, to a frozen instant from which neither I nor any other can return you. Perhaps Harry Potter will be able to retrieve you someday, if prophecy speaks true. He may wish to discuss with you just who is at fault for the deaths of his parents. For you it will only be an instant - if you ever return at all. Either way, Tom, I wish you the best of it."
"Hm," said Professor Quirrell. The Defense Professor had paced past where Harry stood, watching mute and with something like horror, only to halt again at the other edge of the mirror. "As I suspected. You are using Merlin's old method of sealing, what the tale of Topherius Chang names as the Process of the Timeless. If legend speaks true, not even you can stop the process, now that it has been in motion this long."
"Indeed," said Albus Dumbledore. But his eyes were suddenly wary.
Oooooooh. Well, that's a kewl way to vanquish the immortal.
"But you could still reverse the effect, if Chang's account is true," said Professor Quirrell. "Most powers of the Mirror are double-sided, according to legend. So you could banish what is on the other side of the Mirror instead. Send yourself, instead of me, into that frozen instant. If you wanted to, that is."
"And why would I do that?" Albus Dumbledore's voice was tight. "I suppose you are going to tell me that you have taken hostages? That was futile, Tom, you fool! You utter fool! You should have known that I would give you nothing for any hostages you had taken."
"You always were one step too slow," said Professor Quirrell. "Allow me to introduce you to my hostage."
At which point there goes the cloak on Harry. Well, duh as to who his hostage is. "Quirrell" snags the cloak for himself and disappears.
"It's my fault," Harry said in a tiny voice, from whatever part of him had taken over his throat in the final extremity. "I was stupid. I've always been stupid. You mustn't rescue me. Goodbye."
"Why, look at that," sang out Professor Quirrell's voice from the empty air, "I don't seem to have a reflection any more."
"No," said Albus Dumbledore. "No, no, NO! "
Into the hand of the Albus Dumbledore flew from his sleeve his long, dark-grey wand, and in his other hand, as though from nowhere, appeared a short rod of dark stone.
Albus Dumbledore threw these both violently aside, just as the building sense of power rose to an unbearable peak, and then disappeared.
The Mirror returned to showing the ordinary reflection of a gold-lit room of white stone, without any trace of where Albus Dumbledore had been.
you just flushed Albus Dumbledore into space and time gone forever, damn.
Through the mirror of my mind Time after time I see reflections of you and me
Reflections of The way life used to be Reflections of The love you took from me
As I peer through the window Of lost time Looking over my yesterdays And all the love I gave all in vain
Anyway, thought this chapter needed some theme music to run through your head at this point in time.
Even the greatest artifact can be defeated by a counter-artifact that is lesser, but specialized.
That was what the Defense Professor had told Harry, after dropping the True Cloak of Invisibility to pool in fuliginous folds near Harry's shoes.
The Mirror of Perfect Reflection has power over what is reflected within it, and that power is said to be unchallengeable. But since the True Cloak of Invisibility produces a perfect absence of image, it should evade this principle rather than challenging it.
There had followed a series of questions in Parseltongue establishing that Harry currently did not intend to do anything stupid or try to run away, and further reminders that Professor Quirrell could sense him and had spells to detect the Cloak and was holding hostage hundreds of lives plus Hermione.
Then Harry was told to don the Cloak, open the door that lay beyond the quenched fires, and advance through the door into the final chamber; as Professor Quirrell stood well back, outside of that door's sight.
Ooookay then. Harry approaches the big ol' floating mirror, which is still in the air. He's told to check the back of it, nothing exciting going on there either. Take off your cloak and see if it does anything. Nope. Here comes "Quirrell" and the creepy phoenix, then. "Quirrell" will think of ways to get the Stone out and Harry will test them. The phoenix has no effect on it when it flies through, other than to disappear. Harry reads the runes on it. Do you know what they mean? Nope.
"The Mirror's most characteristic power is to create alternate realms of existence, though these realms are only as large in size as what can be seen within the Mirror; it is known that people and other objects can be stored therein. It is claimed by several authorities that the Mirror alone of all magics possesses a true moral orientation, though I am not sure what that could mean in practical terms. I would expect moralists to call the Cruciatus Curse by their name of 'evil' and the Patronus Charm by their name of 'good'; I cannot guess what a moralist would think was any more moral than that. But it is claimed, for example, that phoenixes came into our world from a realm that was evoked inside this Mirror."
Words like Jeepers and what his parents would have termed inappropriate language were all running through Harry's head, none very coherently, as he stared at the golden back of the Mirror.
Heh, "Jeepers" followed by actual swearing?!
Anyway, that explains the phoenix, all right.
"Quirrell" says he found a story claiming that some Atlanteans foresaw their world's end and created something to avert it. Or tried to. Anyway, the part he found interesting was that most of the population just ignored the whole thing and didn't help, and the island was destroyed before the object was finished.
"You perceive, however, the echo of Merlin's statement about the Mirror's creators shaping it to not destroy the world. Most importantly for our purposes, it may explain why the Mirror would have the previously unknown capability that Dumbledore or Perenelle seems to have evoked, of showing any person who steps before it an illusion of a world in which one of their desires has been fulfilled. It is the sort of sensible precaution you can imagine someone building into a wish-granting creation meant to not go horribly wrong."
At least someone's got one on there.
"Wow," Harry whispered, and meant it. This was Magic with a capital M, the sort of Magic that appeared in So You Want To Be A Wizard, not just a collection of random physics-violating things you could do with a wand.
"The final property upon which most tales agree, is that whatever the unknown means of commanding the Mirror - of that Key there are no plausible accounts - the Mirror's instructions cannot be shaped to react to individual people. So it is not possible for Perenelle to command this Mirror, 'only give the Stone to Perenelle'. Dumbledore cannot state, 'Only give the Stone to one who wishes to give it to Nicholas Flamel'. There is in the Mirror a blindness such as philosophers have attributed to ideal justice; it must treat all who come before it by the same rule, whatever rule may be in force. Thus, there must be some rule for reaching the Stone's hiding-place which anyone can invoke. And now you see why you, called the Boy-Who-Lived, shall implement whatever strategies the two of us devise. For it was said that this thing possesses a moral orientation, and it may have been given commands reflecting the same. I am well aware that on conventional terms you are said to be Good, just as I am said to be Evil." Professor Quirrell smiled, rather darkly. "So as our first attempt - though not our last, rest assured-let us see what this Mirror makes of your attempt to retrieve the Stone in order to save the life of Hermione Granger and hundreds of your fellow students."
Hmmmmmmmmmmm. "Quirrell" thinks it's a trap, one way or another.
"Well, on the first Thursday of this year, the mad Headmaster Dumbledore, who I'd just seen incinerate a chicken, told me that I had no chance whatsoever of getting into his forbidden corridor, since I didn't know the spell Alohomora."
"I see," said Professor Quirrell. "Oh, dear. I wish you had thought to mention this to me a good deal earlier."
Neither of them needed to state aloud the obvious, that this bit of reverse reverse psychology had successfully ensured that Harry would stay the heck away from Dumbledore's forbidden corridor.
Harry was still concentrating. "Do you think Dumbledore suspects that I am, in his terms, a horcrux of Lord Voldemort, or more generally, that some aspects of my personality were copied off Lord Voldemort?" Even as Harry asked this aloud, he realized what a dumb question it was, and how much completely blatant evidence he'd already seen that -
"Dumbledore cannot possibly have missed it," said Professor Quirrell. "It is not exactly subtle. What else is Dumbledore to think, that you are an actor in a play whose stupid author has never met a real eleven-year-old? Only a gibbering dullard would believe that - ah, never mind."
Hahahahahahah. Anyway, realizing his mistake, "Quirrell" can't send Harry in as a representative of Good either. He thinks he'll have to command Sprout to undo some Obliviations on Theodore and Daphne, which I guess the Mirror ignores. You have to go in on your own idea, I guess. "Quirrell" promises in Parseltongue that anyone Harry sends in as a pawn will not be harmed by him, ever. Harry thinks the hypotheses about someone needing the Stone for good purposes is mistaken because Dumbledore knows all about the road to hell being paved in good intentions, how easy it is to believe you're doing the right thing, etc. So how would Dumbledore guard this thing, then? Maybe he thinks there's an afterlife, so he'd see himself reunited with his family in death? Well, that's one idea. Let's think of another one.
Harry suggests that maybe Perenelle was the one who put the Stone in there and keyed it to something, like her/himself. Maybe not... Anyway, "Quirrell" thinks it'll be something that he can't set up in a pawn or something Voldemort doesn't understand, like death.
Then Harry had an idea.
He was not sure if it was a good idea.
...it wasn't like Harry had a lot of choice here.
"Arguendo," Harry said. "We're not sure what's necessary to retrieve the Stone. But a sufficient condition should involve Albus Dumbledore, or maybe someone else, in a state of mind where they believe that the Dark Lord has been defeated, that the threat is over, and that it is time to take out the Stone and give it back to Nicholas Flamel. We aren't sure which part of that person's state of mind, let's say Dumbledore's, will be the necessary part that he thinks Lord Voldemort can't understand or duplicate; but under those conditions Dumbledore's entire state of mind will be sufficient."
"Reasonable," said Professor Quirrell. "So?"
"The corresponding strategy," Harry said carefully, "is to mimic Dumbledore's state of mind under those conditions, in as much detail as possible, while standing in front of the mirror. And this state of mind must have been produced by internal forces, not external ones."
"But how are we to get that without Legilimency or the Confundus Charm, both of which would certainly be external - ha. I see." Professor Quirrell's ice-pale eyes were suddenly piercing. "You suggest that I Confund myself, as you cast that hex upon yourself during your first day in Battle Magic. So that it is an internal force and not an external one, a state of mind that comes about through only my own choices. Say to me whether you have made this suggestion with the intention of trapping me, boy. Say it to me in Parseltongue."
"My mind that you assked to devisse sstrategy may perhapss have been influenced by ssuch an intent - who knowss? Knew you would be ssusspiciouss, assk thiss very question. Decission is up to you, teacher. I know nothing you do not know, about whether thiss iss likely to trap you. Do not call it betrayal by me if you choosse thiss for yoursself, and it failss." Harry felt a strong impulse to smile, and suppressed it.
"Lovely," said Professor Quirrell, who was smiling. "I suppose there are some threats from an inventive mind that even questioning in Parseltongue cannot neutralize."
Oh, you two. Anyway, Harry puts the Cloak back on but will stand in range of the Mirror.
For all of Harry's good intentions, he'd mostly shown himself so far to be an idiot, and the returned Lord Voldemort was a threat to the entire world.
"Quirrell" sets up a circle of concealment and warns Harry there will be explosions and death if he touches it, and Parseltongues him into compliance. He casts Confundus on himself and....
"Ariana," breathed the man. "Mother, father. And you, my brother, it is done."
The man stood still, as if listening.
"Yes, done," the man said. "Voldemort came before this mirror, and was trapped by Merlin's method. He is only one more sealed horror now."
Again the listening stillness.
"I would that I could obey you, my brother, but it is better this way." The man bowed his head. "He is denied his death, forever; that vengeance is terrible enough."
Harry felt a twinge, watching this, a sense that this was not what Dumbledore would have said, it seemed more like a strawman, a shallow stereotype... but then this wasn't the real Aberforth's spirit either, this was who Professor Quirrell imagined Dumbledore imagined Aberforth was, and that doubly-reflected image of Aberforth wouldn't notice anything amiss...
"It is time to give back the Philosopher's Stone," said the man who thought he was Dumbledore. "It must go back into Master Flamel's keeping, now."
"No," said the man, "Master Flamel has kept it safe these many years from all who would seek immortality, and I think it will be safest in his hands... no, Aberforth, I do think his intentions are good."
Harry couldn't control the tension that was running through him like a live wire; he was having trouble breathing. Imperfect, Professor Quirrell's Confundus Charm had been imperfect. The underlying personality of Professor Quirrell was leaking through and seeing the obvious question, why it was okay for Nicholas Flamel himself to have the Stone if immortality was so awful. Even if Professor Quirrell conceptualized Dumbledore as being blind to the question, Professor Quirrell hadn't included a clause in the Confundus saying that Dumbledore's image of Aberforth wouldn't think of it; and all of this was ultimately a reflection of Professor Quirrell's own mind, an image from within the intelligence of Tom Riddle...
"Destroy it?" said the man. "Maybe. I am not sure it can be destroyed, or Master Flamel would have done it long since. I think, many times, that he has regretted making it... Aberforth, I promised him, and we are not so ancient or so wise ourselves. The Philosopher's Stone must go back into the keeping of the one who made it."
And Harry's breath stopped.
The man was holding an irregular chunk of scarlet glass in his left hand, the size perhaps of Harry's thumb from fingernail to the first joint. The sheened surface of the scarlet glass made it seem wet; the appearance was of blood, suspended in time and made into a jagged surface.
"Thank you, my brother," the man said quietly.
SHIT, IT WORKED. Anyway, Harry starts to get A Bad Feeling About This as whoever "Dumbledore" is talking to inside the Mirror wants him to come in, and he can't really explain why he needs to go.... But oh well, ain't nothing Harry can do about it, so be it. Chatting happens, and then the Confundus wears off, and the Mirror changes, and... Uh-oh, there's the real Dumbledore. Hello, Tom!
Okay, I'm giving that four stars for a surprising ending! Woot!
"Quirrell" starts his brewing while keeping an eye on Harry.
"Why, Professor Quirrell, why, why must you be this way, why make yourself the monster, why Lord Voldemort, I know you might not want the same things I do, but I can't imagine what you want that makes this the best way to get it...
That was what Harry's brain wanted to know.
What Harry needed to know was... some way out of what was going to happen next. But the Defense Professor had said that he wouldn't talk about his future plans. It was strange enough that the Defense Professor was willing to talk about anything, that had to contradict one of his Rules..."
I'm going to skip ahead on the entirety of Harry's mental processes and his various House sides arguing again.
"I ask my first question," Harry said. "What really happened on the night of October 31st, 1981?" Why was that night different from all other nights... "I would like the entire story, please."
The question of how and why Lord Voldemort had survived his apparent death seemed likely to matter for future planning.
"Quirrell" talks about how he made his first book/Myrtle horcrux at age 15, but eventually thought that he could create a better spell. Now he has full immortality instead of his previous idea of "just make another horcrux every year." This is so much more evil than the original books, eh? Harry asks how to cast it and is denied.
"There are still physical anchors for your immortality," Harry said aloud. "It resembles the old horcrux spell by that much, which is another reason you still call them horcruxes." It was dangerous to say aloud, but Harry needed to know. "If I'm wrong, you can always deny it in Parseltongue."
Professor Quirrell was smiling evilly. "Your guesss iss right, boy, for all the good it doess you."
Unfortunately, that wasn't a difficult vulnerability to cover if the Enemy was smart. Harry wouldn't ordinarily have made the suggestion, just in case the Enemy hadn't thought of it for themselves, but in this case he'd already made it. "One horcux dropped into an active volcano, weighted so it would sink into the Earth's mantle," Harry said heavily. "The same place I thought of dropping the Dementor if I couldn't destroy it. And then you asked me where else I would hide something if I didn't want anyone to find it ever again. One horcrux buried kilometers down, in an anonymous cubic meter of the Earth's crust. One horcrux you dropped into the Mariana Trench. One horcrux floating high in the stratosphere, transparent. Even you don't know where they are, because you Obliviated the exact details from your memory. And the last horcrux is the Pioneer 11 plaque that you snuck into NASA and modified. It's where you get your image of the stars, when you cast the spell of starlight. Fire, earth, water, air, void." Something of a riddle, the Defense Professor had called it, and therefore Harry had remembered it. Something of a Riddle.
Hah, something of a Riddle. Punny name use. Either way, they're out of all of their reaches now. Harry thinks that NASA could probably track Pioneer 11 though.
"and it was probably a lot more reachable if you could use magic to tell the Tsiolkovsky rocket equation to bugger off...
Harry asks in Parseltongue if destroying all five would kill him. Yup, or at least render him mortal. How many anchors did you make? Beats me, I stopped counting somewhere around one hundred and seven.
"Ssimply made a habit of it each time I murdered ssomeone in private."
Keep it classy, Voldie. (But seriously, EEEEEEEEEEEVIL) Also, your spell still requires human death? Yes, because that's how his life is maintained--by taking someone else's. A billion times over, apparently. Again, JK Rowling never thought this hard about this. Wowza.
Harry wasn't sure why the Defense Professor was giving him all this vital information, but there had to be a reason, and that was making him nervous. "So you really are a disembodied spirit possessing Quirinus Quirrell."
"Yess. I sshall return sswiftly, if thiss body iss killed. Will be greatly annoyed, and vengeful. I am telling you this, boy, so that you do not try anything stupid."
So, let's go back to October 31.... You tried to turn me into a horcrux, so what did you do and why? Trelawney's prophecy.
"I was fascinated by the prophecy's assertion that someone would be my equal, because it might mean that person could hold up the other end of an intelligent conversation. After fifty years of being surrounded by gibbering stupidity, I no longer cared whether my reaction might be considered a literary cliche. I was not about to pass up on that opportunity without thinking about it first. And then, you see, I had a clever idea." Professor Quirrell sighed. "It occurred to me how I might fulfill the Prophecy my own way, to my own benefit. I would mark the baby as my equal by casting the old horcrux spell in such fashion as to imprint my own spirit onto the baby's blank slate; it would be a purer copy of myself, since there would be no old self to mix with the new. In some years, when I had become bored with ruling Britain and moved on to other things, I would arrange with the other Tom Riddle that he should appear to vanquish me, and he would rule over the Britain he had saved. We would play the game against each other forever, keeping our lives interesting amid a world of fools."
WOWZA. Damn, Voldie. Damn.
I knew a dramatist would predict that the two of us would end by destroying each other; but I pondered long upon it, and decided that both of us would simply decline to play out the drama. That was my decision and I was confident that it would remain so; both Tom Riddles, I thought, would be too intelligent to truly go down that road. The prophecy seemed to hint that if I destroyed all but a remnant of Harry Potter, then our spirits would not be so different, and we could exist in the same world."
"Something went wrong," Harry said. "Something that blew off the top of the Potters' home in Godric's Hollow, gave me the scar on my forehead, and left your burnt body behind."
Professor Quirrell nodded. His hands had slowed in their Potions work. "The resonance in our magic," Professor Quirrell said quietly. "When I had shaped the baby's spirit to be like my own..."
Harry remembered the moment in Azkaban when Professor Quirrell's Killing Curse had collided with his Patronus. The burning, tearing agony in his forehead, like his head had been about to split in half.
"Quirrell" has thought for years about what went wrong. He picked the wrong thing to do and his body was destroyed even as he overwrote infant Harry's mind. When he regained consciousness inside his other horcruxes, he should have been able to float free and possess anyone he could. Oops.
As with the original horcrux spell, I would only be able to enter a victim who contacted the physical horcrux... and I had hidden my unnumbered horcruxes in places where nobody would ever find them. Your instinct is correct, boy, this would not be a good time to laugh."
Harry stayed very quiet.
I'm going to laugh. MUAHAHAHAHAHAHAHAH SCREWED YERSELF THERE BUDDYBOY.
Hey, he can't hurt me. I'm a Muggle...ish... living in another universe.
Anyway, essentially "Quirrell" had nothing to do but think a lot, rehash the past, design new rituals, contemplate riddles, and wait around for somebody to discover one of his random horcruxes somewhere. Nine years later, Quirrell found one and there ya go.
And now, boy, you may say what we both know you are thinking."
"Um," Harry said. "It doesn't seem like a very smart thing to say -"
"Indeed, Mr. Potter. It is not a clever thing to say to me. Not even a little. Not in the slightest. But I know you're thinking it, and you will go on thinking it and I will go on knowing that until you say it. So speak."
"So. Um. I realise that this is something that is more obvious in hindsight than in foresight, and I'm certainly not suggesting that you try to correct the error now, but if you are a Dark Lord and you happen to hear about a child who has been prophesied to defeat you, there is a certain spell which is unblockable, unstoppable, and works every single time on anything with a brain -"
"Yes thank you Mr. Potter that thought occurred to me several times over the next nine years."
Yeah, he had a looooooooooot of time to figure that one out, bro. That's why he designed his Battle Magic curriculum in the way that he did.
In retrospect it would have been better if I had sent Bellatrix to the Potters' home in my place; but I had a Rule telling me that for such matters I must go myself and not try sending a trusted lieutenant. Yes, I considered the Killing Curse; but I wondered if casting the Killing Curse at an infant would somehow cause the curse to bounce off and hit me, thus fulfilling the prophecy. How was I to know?"
"So use an axe, it's hard to get a prophecy-fulfilling spell backfire out of an axe," Harry said and then shut up.
"I decided the safest path was to try to fulfill the prophecy on my own terms," Professor Quirrell said. "Needless to say, the next time I hear a prophecy I do not like, I will tear it apart at every possible point of intervention, rather than trying to play along."
And also, he'll check the Evil Overlord List. Did that exist in 1992, though? (Wikipedia says yes.) Hell, at this point he could write it. He had a long time to think of that stuff.
"Quirrell" grumbles that everyone thinks Harry's immune to the Killing Curse because it hasn't occurred to them that Voldemort would ever use some other spell. It's occurred to Harry that there was another way to avoid it, more Muggle-ish, but should he tell? "Quirrell" is all, I put the horcruxes in better places now, it's not gonna take me another nine years to come back this time, AND I know where the Resurrection Stone is and I'm it's master because I defeated death and it'll do as I say.
The problem of defeating Professor Quirrell was looking increasingly difficult, even by the standards of the sort of impossible problems that Harry had solved already. If communicating that difficulty was what Professor Quirrell was trying to do, he was succeeding. Harry was starting to seriously consider the possibility that it might be better to offer to rule Britain as Voldemort's nonhomicidal delegate, if Professor Quirrell himself would just agree to stop killing people all the time. Even mostly.
But that wasn't likely to happen.
Harry moves on to asking about the Philosopher's Stone, such as "does it do anything else" and "can we make more" and "why is it hard to make more." "Quirrell" says its only power is to make something temporary permanent, which ordinary spells can't do. He mentions that Flamel has been around for six centuries--ask your next obvious question, boy.
"Was there some other very long-lived wizard who disappeared at around the same time Nicholas Flamel showed up?"
Heeeeeey! That is fishy! Well, have you ever heard of Baba Yaga? (Oh shit, I say.) She agreed to teach Battle Magic at Hogwarts one year, but since nobody trusted her, a curse was invoked to keep her from not shedding student blood or taking anything of theirs, and vice versa applied to students too. The Goblet of Fire was invoked. And then came along an evil sixth year named Perenelle, who pitched woo to Baba Yaga and they got it on, and then, well, she talked Baba Yaga into using the stone for kinky shape-shifting purposes, so Baba Yaga turned into a guy...and Perenelle was an old school, non-tampon-using virgin...OOPS THERE WENT THE BLOOD. So Perenelle offed Baba Yaga and there went the pact.
OUCH. Seriously, just ouch. I feel sorry for Baba Yaga, of all people. Perenelle nabbed the stone, changed herself into a new guy, Nicholas Flamel, and also posed as herself as his wife. Yes, there was some magical way for them to be seen together in public. She faked how the Stone was made to others.
"Another lie. Perenelle was making it appear as though 'Nicholas Flamel' had earned the right to live forever by completing a great magic that any could attempt. And she was giving others a false path to pursue, instead of seeking the one true Stone as Perenelle had sought Baba Yaga's." Professor Quirrell looked rather sour. "It should come as no surprise that I spent years trying to master that false recipe. Next you will ask why I did not kidnap, torture, and kill Perenelle after I learned the truth."
This had not in fact been a question that had come into Harry's mind.
I dunno, it sure came to mine. Maybe I have a dark side.
Anyway, "Nicholas Flamel" took Unbreakable Vows to not give up the rock, and throughout the years she took the occasional wizard and gave them longer life in exchange for various things.
"By my own generation, the centuries had given Perenelle enough of an advantage that she could raise up Albus Dumbledore as a counterweight to the Dark Lord Grindelwald. When I appeared as Lord Voldemort, Perenelle raised up Dumbledore yet further, parceling out another drop of her hoarded lore whenever Lord Voldemort seemed to gain an advantage. I felt like I ought to be able to figure out something clever to do with that situation, but I never did."
Wow, you were un-clevered by a six hundred year old witch, dude. That must have been a crushing blow to your mighty ego. Anyway, now he's awesome enough to just go after it by force. Harry asks for a Parseltongue verification and he hedges with:
"None of it iss known to me to be falsse," said Professor Quirrell. "Telling a tale implies filling in certain gaps; I was not present to observe when Perenelle seduced Baba Yaga. The bassicss sshould be mosstly correct, I think."
Harry had noticed a trace of confusion. "Then I don't understand why the Stone is here in Hogwarts. Wouldn't the best defense just be hiding it under an anonymous rock in Greenland?"
"Perhaps she respected my abilities as a particularly good finder," said the Defense Professor.
Hey, remember all those horcruxes you've littered all over the world and in space? Most of which you said you couldn't find? Just wondering! Also, nobody has some kind of Finding Charm spell? Just wondering! Anyway, Harry deduces that "Quirrell" made everyone think he had a way of finding it so that she'd stash it in Hogwarts, and got himself a job there.
"What's the truth behind this entire school year? All the plots you ran, all the plots you know about."
"Hm," said Professor Quirrell, dropping another bellflower into the potion, accompanied by a plant-shape like a tiny cross. "Let me see... the most shocking twist is that the Defense Professor turns out to be secretly Voldemort."
"Well, obviously," Harry said, with a good deal of self-directed bitterness.
*laughs* If we call that a twist. Well, kinda. It is and it isn't in this story, you know? Anyway, why did you kill Hermione? "Quirrell" grumbles that it should be obvious--to improve his position with Draco, so Draco wouldn't have as much leverage over him.
"That's after your failed attempt to frame Hermione for the attempted murder of Draco and send her to Azkaban because of why? Because you didn't like the influence she was having on me?"
"Don't be ridiculous," Professor Quirrell said. "If I had only wished to remove Miss Granger, I would not have brought the Malfoys into it. I observed your game with Draco Malfoy and found it amusing, but I knew it could not continue for very long before Lucius learned and intervened; and then your folly would have brought you great trouble, for Lucius would not take it lightly. Had you just been able to lose during the Wizengamot trial, lose as I had taught you, then in only two more weeks, ironclad evidence would have shown that Lucius Malfoy, after discovering his son's seeming perfidy, had Imperiused Professor Sprout into using the Blood-Cooling Charm on Mr. Malfoy and casting the False Memory Charm on Miss Granger. Lucius would have been swept off the political gameboard, sent to exile if not Azkaban; Draco Malfoy would have inherited the wealth of House Malfoy, and your influence over him would have been unchallenged. Instead I had to abort that plot in mid-course. You managed to completely disrupt the real plan in the course of sacrificing double your entire fortune, by giving Lucius Malfoy the perfect opportunity to prove his true concern for his son. You have an incredible anti-talent for meddling, I must say."
Oops? Anyhoo, "Quirrell" was hoping to recast Hermione as another Bellatrix. (Which sounds even worse the farther you get into this story, btw.)
"That particular outcome would also have provided you with a constant reminder of how much respect was due the law, and helped you develop appropriate attitudes toward the Ministry."
The snark, it burns!
"Your plot was stupidly complicated and had no chance of working." Harry knew he ought to be more tactful, that he was engaging in more of what Professor Quirrell called folly, but in that instant he could not bring himself to care.
"It was less complicated than Dumbledore's plot to have the three armies tie in the Christmas Battle, and not much more complicated than my own plot to make you think Dumbledore had blackmailed Mr. Zabini. The insight you are missing, Mr. Potter, is that these were not plots that needed to succeed." Professor Quirrell continued to casually stir the potion, smiling. "There are plots that must succeed, where you keep the core idea as simple as possible and take every precaution. There are also plots where it is acceptable to fail, and with those you can indulge yourself, or test the limits of your ability to handle complications. It was not as if something going wrong with any of those plots would have killed me."
Well, there's plot thinking in a nutshell."Quirrell" was less amused at Harry's "antics" in Azkaban. What did he do to Hermione? Obliviations and False Memory Charms.
"I came to Miss Granger in the hallways wearing the appearance of Professor Sprout, to offer her a conspiracy. My first attempt at suasion failed. I Obliviated her and tried again with a new presentation. The second bait failed. The third bait failed. The tenth bait failed. I was so frustrated that I began going through my entire library of guises, including those more appropriate to Mr. Zabini. Still nothing worked. The child would not violate her childish code."
In retrospect: go Hermione.
"You do not get to call her childish, Professor." Harry's voice sounded strange in his own ears. "Her code worked. It prevented you from tricking her. The whole point of having deontological ethical injunctions is that arguments for violating them are often much less trustworthy than they look. You don't get to criticize her rules when they worked exactly as intended." After they resurrected Hermione, Harry would tell her that Lord Voldemort himself hadn't been able to tempt her into doing wrong, and that was why he'd killed her.
Awww. I still don't think that's gonna happen, but awwwww.
"Fair enough, I suppose," said Professor Quirrell. "There is a saying that even a stopped clock is right twice a day, and I do not think Miss Granger was actually being reasonable. Still, Rule Ten: one must not rant about the opposition's unworthiness after they have foiled you.
OVERLORD LIST! Anyway, after two hours, he gave up, went back to his original plan, and "wore the mountain troll as a false tooth" (say what?!) while Dumbledore was identifying him to the wards as "Defense Professor." "Quirrell" wants to know what gave him away and Harry says he figured out that everyone's arrival had to be coordinated and--
"The laws governing what constitutes a good explanation don't talk about plausible excuses you hear afterward. They talk about the probabilities we assign in advance. That's why science makes people do advance predictions, instead of trusting explanations people come up with afterward. And I wouldn't have predicted in advance for you to follow Snape and show up like that. Even if I'd known in advance that you could put a trace on Snape's wand, I wouldn't have expected you to do it and follow him just then. Since your explanation didn't make me feel like I would have predicted the outcome in advance, it remained an improbability. I started to wonder if Sprout's mastermind might have arranged for you to show up, too. And then I realised the note to myself hadn't really come from future-me, and that gave it away completely."
Booyah. Harry says the whole thing was weird and what was he trying to do anyway? "Quirrell" says that Daphne showed up too early so it looked a bit ridiculous, but still worked.
Oh, and what did you do to the twins? Grabbed their map and Obliviated them, duh, you had to ask?
"He was also an utter fool to leave the Hogwarts Map in the possession of those two idiots. I had an unpleasant shock after I recovered the Map; it showed my name and yours correctly! The Weasley idiots had thought it a mere malfunction, especially after you received your Cloak and your Time-Turner. If Dumbledore had kept the Map himself - if the Weasleys had ever spoken of it to Dumbledore - but they did not, thankfully."
Showed my name and yours correctly -
"I would like to see that," Harry said.
Ooooh. For the record, their names are BOTH Tom M. Riddle.
It was one thing to hear Lord Voldemort claim that your name was Tom Riddle; it was another thing to find that Hogwarts's magic agreed. "Did you tamper with thiss map to achieve thiss ressult, or did it appear before you by ssurprisse?"
"Wass ssurprisse," replied Professor Quirrell, with an overtone of hissing laughter. "No trickss."
"Quirrell" (or shall we say Tom I?) mentions that Snape was guiding Hermione and co. towards bullies. "Harry" (or shall we say Tom II?) knew that. Did Dumbledore? Not as far as he knows. "Quirrell" says that Snape was secretly working against Dumbledore's plot. Why was Snape head of Slytherin anyway?
"Surely it occurred to you that this could not have good effects upon the Slytherins, according to Dumbledore's moral pretenses?"
Or like, in general. Harry still doesn't get it, and "Quirrell" Parseltongues that Dumbledore was deliberately sabotaging Slytherin House. Well, that explains a lot. "Quirrell" grumbles that basically Snape is a lazy-ass useless slacker. Keep it up long enough and nobody will want to be in the house, they'll drop the House from school (cool!).
"and if the Hat kept calling the name, it would become a mark of ignominy among children who would afterward be distributed among the other three Houses. From that day on, Hogwarts would have three upstanding Houses of courage and scholarship and industry, with no House of Bad Children added to the mix; just as if the three Founders of Hogwarts had been wise enough in the beginning to refuse Salazar Slytherin their company. That, I expect, was Dumbledore's intended end-game; a short-term sacrifice for the greater good."
Sounds sensible to me. Seriously, why would you have a House of Bad Children, anyway? That's occurred to me from like, day one of reading the series. Three nice houses and a house of jerkwads. I guess you're always stuck with some and you might as well corral them to one area, but then they gang up on everyone else...
Harry asks the truth about Bellatrix. "Quirrell" says she was broken before he met her, he realized how easy it would be to make her fall in love with him, so she was the only one he could almost trust.
Oh yeah, and "I had no intention of giving her what she wanted from me; so I commended her to the Lestrange brothers for their use, and the three of them were happy in their own special way."
So you gave her away to be gangraped?! How very Gatlin Boys of you. Also, gaaaaaaaah. Then again, what did I expect of Mr. Evil, eh? Harry mutters that if she'd been happy about it, she wouldn't have remembered them in Azkaban. I don't think "Quirrell" cares. Of course. What were we doing there? Finding where she stashed my wand, because I told her to take it to a certain graveyard where I'd pick it up. "Quirrell" has stashed her somewhere peaceful and won't say anything more beyond that he has a use remaining for her..."or rather a certain portion of her."
Oh god, does he mean her womb?!
Harry asks about any other secret plots this school year. A fair number, but not too many that concern you. He did set up the Dementor thing with Harry--"Wass no malice in it, only hopess that you would recover ssome of your true memoriess."
If that's a good thing or not. Also, he intended no malice during the little rooftop episode, he arranged some of the bully attacks on SPHEW so they could be defeated, because he rather dislikes bullies.
Uh, you're like, the biggest bully of all time by now, dude. Just saying. Anyway, that's all for now!
Life lesson learned, said his Hufflepart. Try to resist the temptation to randomly meddle in other people's lives. Like, you know, Padma Patil's life. If you don't want to end up like this, that is.
Harry asks what the point of the Wizarding War was. So "Quirrell" killed the original Monroe and played both parts and wiped out anyone who could tell the difference, planned to control both sides, but why did one have to be Voldemort? "Quirrell" grumbles that he intended Voldemort to lose to "Monroe," but.... Anyway, he wanted political power to stop the Muggles from destroying the world/making war on wizards, whatever, and since he was already immortal, he thought that would make a great new ambition. He figured he'd do what Dumbledore did with Grindelwald, Monroe was "an annoyance" so what the hell anyway, but..... he hadn't gone full fledged Dark Lord with minions, had no experience, and also:
"I was mindful of the story of Dark Evangel and the disaster of her first public appearance. According to what she said afterward, she had meant to call herself the Walking Catastrophe and the Apostle of Darkness, but in the excitement of the moment she introduced herself as the Apostrophe of Darkness instead. After that she had to ruin two entire villages before anyone took her seriously."
Apostrophe of Darkness would make a great name for a rock band!
Anyway, "Quirrell" created Voldemort as a small scale experiment first.
"I wanted it to be an anagram of my name, but that would only have worked if I'd conveniently been given the middle name of 'Marvolo', and then it would have been a stretch. Our actual middle name is Morfin, if you're curious."
*snerk* Also, what, not Merlin? I'm surprised it's not Merlin, somehow. Anyway, he thought Voldemort would be easily defeated, but he "vastly overestimated my competition." Also, he couldn't quite bring himself to torture the underlings and argue for blood purity and otherwise be super evil. After Bellatrix and Lucius joined up, "I sighed, gave up all hope for wizardkind, and began as David Monroe to oppose this fearsome Lord Voldemort."
"And then what happened -"
A snarl contorted Professor Quirrell's face. "The absolute inadequacy of every single institution in the civilization of magical Britain is what happened! You cannot comprehend it, boy! I cannot comprehend it! It has to be seen and even then it cannot be believed! You will have observed, perhaps, that of your fellow students who speak of their family's occupations, three in four seem to mention jobs in some part or another of the Ministry. You will wonder how a country can manage to employ three of its four citizens in bureaucracy. The answer is that if they did not all prevent each other from doing their jobs, none of them would have any work left to do!"
The author really really really hates bureaucracy, apparently. Not that I'm thrilled with it either, mind you. Anyway, long rant short, magical Britain law enforcement was easily defeated because everyone is a mook who thought they could cut a side deal. So he realized that Lord Voldemort was "the least annoying role I have ever played. If Lord Voldemort says that something is to be done, people obey him and do not argue. I did not have to suppress my impulse to Cruciate people being idiots; for once it was all part of the role. If someone was making the game less pleasant for me, I just said Avadakedavra regardless of whether that was strategically wise, and they never bothered me again."
Life sounds nice when you put it that way, doesn't it?
Of course, if we all did this the entire planet would be dead in fifteen minutes.
But maybe that's all for the best, because people are terrible.
Anyway, one day he snapped and started prying through the mind of a Ministry clerk to try to figure out his stupidity. What did he get out of that? Well, "Quirrell" says that even if Dumbledore is supposed to be the top guy, how come people rag on him to his face in a way they'd never do with Lucius? Because the clerk paid attention to who had dominance, and the good guys don't have it. They're unthreatening. How many stories have you read, Harry, where someone asks for a ton of money before saving the world? Well, Han Solo.... Okay, that's Muggle drama, not magical drama.
"It is the fantasy of the powerful slave who will never truly rise above you, never demand your respect, never even ask you for pay. Do you understand now?"
Erm......Well. I can't say I've ever thought of the concept of "powerful slave" before. That doesn't really make sense to me. But I guess it works for what he's going for: that someone is too nice to be scary and if you're not scary (or at least don't have the intent to harm someone), nobody *has* to obey you.
I'm kinda reminded of the Luidaeg from one of my favorite series, the October Daye series by Seanan McGuire. Her title means "sea-witch" and she has a scary badass reputation from her younger days...but during the course of the series, she's mostly just super cranky and somewhat magically restricted as to what she can or cannot do. However, she generally has good intentions and I suspect one of the reasons why she's good buddies with Toby is that Toby isn't afraid of her, generally speaking. Why? Because despite the grumbling, and their relationship starting out kinda Dread Pirate Roberts-ish, you can figure out that her intentions aren't usually lethal. That said, I still wouldn't want to tick her off, though. But I still love that character like nobody's business.
Anyway, wandering off topic, moving on... Harry thinks that the Hogwarts students don't think of Dumbledore as a hobbit. Well, at school he does dole out some punishments, but outside of it, everyone thinks he's nuts.
"Step into the role of a savior out of plays, and people see you as a slave to whose services they are entitled and whom it is their enjoyment to criticize; for it is the privilege of masters to sit back and call forth helpful corrections while the slaves labor."
Okay, good point. Why am I reminded of the Batsignal now? Anyway, "Quirrell" only respects the Greek high heroes who asked for money and nobody got mad about it. Anyway, when Voldemort conquered everyone, he'd get true respect and no one would take his goodwill for granted. Even you, Harry, knew it might hurt you to mock me, but not Dumbledore. Harry thinks that the Tom Riddle part of his brain probably was what lashed out at Dumbledore and not, say, McGonagall.
Why did the war last so long--and why didn't you just Imperius everyone and take over in three days? Long wandering explanation and navel-gazing short, maybe he was too accustomed to playing against Dumbledore. He enjoyed having an opponent, so that's when he got the idea to make a Tom Riddle II."
"Yes, in retrospect that sounds stupid, but sometimes our emotions are more foolish than we can bring our reason to admit. I would never have espoused such a policy deliberately. It would have violated Rules Nine, Sixteen, Twenty, and Twenty-two and that is too much even if you are enjoying yourself. But to repeatedly decide that there was one more thing left to be done, one more advantage left to be gained, one more piece that I simply had to move into place, before abandoning an enjoyable time in my life and moving on to the more tedious rulership of Britain... well, even I am not immune to a mistake like that, if I do not realize that I am making it."
And that was when Harry knew what was going to happen at the end of this, after the Philosopher's Stone had been retrieved.
At the end of this, Professor Quirrell was going to kill him.
Professor Quirrell didn't want to kill him. It was possible that Harry was the only person in the world against whom Professor Quirrell wouldn't be able to use a Killing Curse. But Professor Quirrell thought he had to do it, for whatever reason.
That was why Professor Quirrell had decided that it was necessary to brew the potion of effulgence the long way. That was why Professor Quirrell had been so easily negotiated into answering these questions, into finally talking about his life with someone who might understand. Just like Lord Voldemort had delayed the end of the Wizarding War to play longer against Dumbledore.
I'm not sure what to say to that, other than "that's kinda sad" and "of course he has to kill you, but he set it up like that."
There had been too many things said here that Professor Quirrell would not reveal to anyone with an expected lifespan measured in more than hours. The overwhelming isolation and loneliness of the life Professor Quirrell had described might explain why he was willing to violate his Rules and talk with Harry, given that Harry was going to die soon and that the world did not actually work like a play where the villain disclosing his plans would always fail to kill the hero afterward. But Harry's death certainly had to be in those future plans somewhere.
Harry asks if he'll get punished for pointing out Voldemort's mistakes. Not if it's a real one. He won't curse out a bearer of bad news or a subordinate who makes an honest attempt. So Harry tries to teach him a lesson-- why didn't you test the horcrux system before you had to use it? Uh, because the only way to test it was to die first! Harry points out in Parseltongue that yes, there was a way to do it without dying. Do you see it now? Yes, by testing it on someone else. Friends.
"You have a blind spot around strategies that involve doing nice things for other people, to the point where it stops you from achieving your selfish values. You think... it's not your style, I suppose. That... particular part of your self-image... is what cost you those nine years."
Ouch, I'm thinking of Hermione again. Anyway, "Quirrell" acknowledges this.
"You don't see nice ways to do the things you want to do," Harry said. His ears heard a note of desperation in his own voice. "Even when a nice strategy would be more effective you don't see it because you have a self-image of not being nice."
"That is a fair observation," said Professor Quirrell. "Indeed, now that you have pointed it out, I have just now thought of some nice things I can do this very day, to further my agenda."
Harry just looked at him.
"Quirrell" says he'll try to do good deeds, which gives Harry the chills because Voldemort is certain he can't be redeemed. Any other lessons to teach me, boy?
"Yes," Harry said, his voice almost breaking. "If your goal is to obtain happiness, then doing nice things for other people feels better than doing them for yourself-"
"Do you really think I never thought of that, boy?" The smile had vanished. "Do you think I am stupid? After graduating Hogwarts I wandered the world for years, before I returned to Britain as Lord Voldemort. I have put on more faces than I bothered counting. Do you think I never tried to play the hero, just to see how it would feel? Have you come across the name of Alexander Chernyshov? Under that guise, I sought out a forlorn hellhole ruled over by a Dark Wizard, and I freed the wretched inhabitants from their bondage. They wept tears of gratitude for me. It did not feel like anything in particular. I even stayed about and killed the next five Dark Wizards to try taking command of the place. I spent my own Galleons - well, not my own Galleons, but the same principle applies - to prettify their little country and introduce a semblance of order. They groveled all the more, and named one in three of their infants Alexander. I still felt nothing, so I nodded to myself, wrote it off as a fair try, and went upon my way."
I kinda relate in a bit. I'm in a service industry and do not get happy from serving, fixing, and helping in the way that it's apparently supposed to please me. Guess I won't be taking up hero-ness, then?
Anyway, why be Voldemort if it didn't make you happy?
"I'm you, I'm based on you, so I know that Professor Quirrell isn't just a mask! I know he's somebody you really could have been! Why not just stay that way? Take your curse off the Defense Position and just stay here, use the Philosopher's Stone to take David Monroe's shape and let the real Quirinus Quirrell go free, if you say you'll stop killing people I'll swear not to tell anyone who you really are, just be Professor Quirrell, for always! Your students would appreciate you, my father's students appreciate him -"
Professor Quirrell was chuckling over the cauldron as he stirred it. "There are perhaps fifteen thousand wizards living in magical Britain, child. There used to be more. There's a reason they're afraid to speak my name. You'd forgive me that because you liked my Battle Magic lessons?"
Seconded, said Harry's inner Hufflepuff. Seriously, what the hell?
....yeah. Anyway, Harry thinks it'd beat another war. "Quirrell" is all, let me know if you find a Time-Turner that goes back forty years and tell Dumbledore that before I got rejected for DADA instructor. But that wouldn't have worked either because....
"Because I still would've been surrounded by idiots, and I wouldn't have been able to kill them," Professor Quirrell said mildly. "Killing idiots is my great joy in life, and I'll thank you not to speak ill of it until you've tried it for yourself."
*wish fulfillment for all*
Isn't there something else that could make you happy? Uh....what? Uh... no idea.
"And you," said Professor Quirrell, "have no right to speak of happiness either. Happiness is not what you hold precious above all. You decided that in the beginning, all the way back in the beginning of this year, when the Sorting Hat offered you Hufflepuff. Which I know about, because I received a similar offer and warning all those years ago, and I refused it just as you did. Beyond this there is little more to say, between Tom Riddles." The Defense Professor turned back to the cauldron.
Before Harry could think of any way to reply, Professor Quirrell dropped in the last bellflower, and a burst of glowing bubbles boiled up from the cauldron.
"I believe we are done here," Professor Quirrell said. "If you have further questions, they must wait."
DUM DUM DUMMMMMMMMMMMMMMMM. "Quirrell" pours out the potion on the fire and puts it out, and pulls out the Invisibility Cloak.
I feel like I've been reading that chapter for weeks. Wait, actually I have been reading it for weeks. Eh, I'm just going to give it four stars for covering a lot of territory.
"I existed. If they forget, tell them." -Del Close
"As we filed out of class, Mike, Jackie and I discussed the brilliance Del had bestowed on us. The two most important rules being: Del does not breathe water! Improv ceases for Del's bowel movements! We had learned our lessons from the master."
In the late 90's, Jeff Griggs got hired by Charna Halpern to be Del Close's personal errand boy--or at least to drive him around Chicago so he could do his personal errands. He gets free classes in exchange. This book is about Jeff's time spent with Del at the end of his life, with a few biographical chapters about Del's life prior to Jeff here and there. Del pretty obviously considered Jeff one of his best friends--and one of his few lasting since others of his had died or moved on with their lives. (Awww.) Jeff found this pretty odd since they spent most of their time together antagonizing each other--but then again, I think that was part of the fun. Jeff was chosen because he was less likely to be scared of Del and was prone to making wisecracks right back, and Del appreciated that.
When he first walks into Del's apartment, it's amazingly disgusting--clearly the maid she hired as well hasn't come in yet. But they hit it off in a smartass manner. Jeff tolerates his new nicknames of "Firecracker" and "my retarded friend"*, Del tolerates being called "grandpa." There's plenty of amusing yet horrifying scenes that Jeff describes like they happened yesterday--I'm guessing he took good notes at the time because hoo boy, they are amazing and vivid. For example:
* please, please excuse me and don't kill me for using the r-word, I'm quoting here, and Del was a dude who liked offending.
While Jeff waits in an illegal spot (at Del's insistence) while Del hits a bank, he says loudly, "This is the worst bank robbery ever." Del yells back, "You gave it away, you fucking twit. Now I'm going to have to shoot somebody."
Del gets mad at Jeff and leaves him a bunch of angry voice mails while high, getting more and more foul with the second and third one...and by the fourth voice mail, "I may have overreacted. Call me. This is Del."
Del buys a clown painting done by John Wayne Gacy. "He was mystified that I wasn't more excited about the fact that he had this painting from the "Killer Clown."
"It used to be that you would share a roach clip or a bowl with someone and that would cement a bond that would last forever."
Del giving an eulogy at a funeral: "Before we continue canonizing Saint Depollo, I'd like to say that I find it interesting that no one has mentioned the hookers or the cocaine."
And then there's the time Jeff's truck gets towed and it takes them five+ hours to do anything about it. Del enjoys the entire thing, saying that it reminds him of a "The Day Something Happens" scene in which a decision is made that alters how someone exists (see quote below). He's been living boring "Slice of Life" scenes, but these trips with Jeff have been otherwise. Also, "when was the last time I had to scream "cocksucker" at someone in a crowded room?" Not to mention that by the time they leave, Del pees on the building. And after all that effort, the truck gets pulverized pretty soon after that, leading Del to offer to buy him a new car and remark, "I can't believe the truck is dead. Surely I'm next." Foreshadowing...
I give the author major props for re-creating the scenes of hanging out with Del so well. You definitely get the genius when he reports back on what Del said during classes (both good and bad) on improv--and the madness with well, everything else. (He loved being called "the Ted Kaczynski of modern comedy.") Del's thoughts on theater and improv were really gems, and as someone who will never be there doing that, I appreciated getting to hear his thoughts. Such as:
"They're expecting us to elevate our intelligence to provide them an ecstatic religious experience."
"There is, in effect, this whole industry dedicated to turning you into your public image. The thing that bothers me is that they assume making a lot of money is going to compensate for this. In the meantime there are tremendous psychic and physical dues to pay. All celebrities and certainly comedians tend to wind up being public sacrifices, and I'm getting tired of it."
"All of these big, broad, ridiculous characters have to stop. You should wear your character like a thin veil. It should be an extension of you. We're interested in creating honest and sincere characters. Those characters will certainly have quirks and blemishes, but we're here to celebrate those, not ridicule the people for having them."
"Laughter is a response to a gestalt formation where two previously incompatible or dissimilar ideas suddenly form into a new piece of understanding. The energy release during that reaction comes out in laughter."
"People work at jobs they hate. Are married to people they don't like. Have children they wish they never had. Why do you think they want to go to an improv club and watch you fight and argue more than they do? They're coming here for an escape, not to be reminded how fucked up and miserable they are."
"The relationship is the cornerstone of the Harold. Plot just gets in the way."
"Mr. Griggs and I had an interesting discussion about degrees of status in improv and how it relates to my penis...."
Referring to an improv scene in which a guy tried to have sex with a cat: "He thought it was pretty cute to stand up there and fuck a cat. That in itself I'm not averse to. I've had to sexually satisfy a cat or two while they were in heat, but this twit thought it would be cute to pretend like he was doing it with his dick. A dick won't fit in a cat's asshole. You have to use your pinky finger.... If you're going to fuck a cat, fuck a cat. But he was doing it because he thought it was cute and would get a laugh. I don't have time for cuteness." Jeff's comment: "It was interesting to see exactly what would offend Del. He could find the vilest and most contemptible actions appropriate as long as they respected his art form."
"I'm better than Jesus. What I say makes sense."
"I always preach that there are two types of scenes in improv. There are "Slice of Life" scenes and then there are "The Day Something Happens" scenes. In "Slice of Life" scenes we see the normal routine of normal people and watch how they operate in a slice of their day. In "The Day Something Happens" we see the same normal people in the same routine, but today a decision has been made that alters how they exist. It feels like the last few years I've settled into a "Slice of Life" routine. These trips with you have launched me back into "The Day Something Happens"--and for that, I thank you, Firecracker."
It sounds like a bizarre yet fun time, and I was sad to have the book end. Four stars for sheer awesome entertainment with a true character--and a guy who was good at writing about it and shooting right back.
One more thing: the epilogue is written by Charna Halpern, and she specifically says that (a) yes, she got his skull preserved and handed off to the Goodman Theatre, and (b) yes, his ashes are in the I/O theater, and (c) yes, a girl ate a vial of his ashes on television--all of this per Del's request. I keep seeing various references in the books I've been reading either saying that yes, this happened, or no, that didn't. The final authority, Wikipedia, says that she bought a fake skull. Darn it. Though she tried!
“After Del died, I asked the hospital people if they would help me by taking off the head, and they just laughed,” she said recently. “They suggested I call the Illinois Society of Pathologists. I told the pathologists, ‘I will give you Del’s body, and it’s a great body, because you can study the effects of smoking, alcohol, cocaine, and heroin on the brain. All I need is the skull.’ They thought about it, and then said, ‘There’s a fine line between research and art, and we’re concerned about our funding.’ I called labs, researchers, anatomy shops, and it was ‘No, no, no.’ ”
Previous section here. Excerpt sample of this one here. Excerpt from the next one here.
The followup book to The Human Division is being released in four novella-esque chunks. Once again I'm gonna read them as they come out and do reviews here. Tor also is doing the same here. The author also has some book discussion going on over here.
"I'm the advisor. I'm the councilor. I'm occasionally the knife you slide into someone's side. You use me well, Tarsem, but you use me."
Episode Two, "This Hollow Union," follows up on the Conclave, and the chapter "The Back Channel." Our narrator is Hafte Sorvalh, second-in-command to General Gau, who's subtly feeling out the various dramas going on in the Conclave with regards to the Colonial Union and Gau's presumed intent to bring Earth into the Conclave. There's also plenty of debate as to whether or not the Conclave will survive without Gau, despite Gau's intention that it should survive him. Hafte's a great strategist, but her well thought out plans on how to handle everything socially may not pan out.
And then here comes our ambassadorial team, and their new pilot pal Rafe Daquin, to inform them of the frame-up job and potential assassination of Gau. Ambassador Abumwe comes off as a major hardass in this one, admitting straight up that a lot of the Ocampo information they've brought to be released to the Conclave is true--but some things aren't. Also along on the mission is Ambassador Danielle Lowen of Earth--though we don't see too much of her and Harry together, there's yet more space drama going on and Harry ah...repeats certain aspects of Earth Below, Sky Above. I'm not sure how Danielle's off Earth, but I'm happy to briefly see her. Rafe also does a spectacular job of piloting, and refutes a hack job with an amusing video.
However...things don't go well, and the enemy gets their way. Well, at least for now. Without doing major spoilage, I'll just say that Hafte ends up having to make some major decisions that won't please any faction of humans, despite the information she has and her human sympathies--but she'll keep her back channel open. Hafte also ends up being the only person privy to a certain decision, which is both sad and a giant yikes. This is getting ugly, folks. (Like it wasn't already?! I know, I know.) There's also a callback to a chilling-ish scene earlier in which Hafte and Gau hang out in a Lalan park and Hafte explains the "survival of the fittest" aspect of her culture. Without having to fight for your life, you don't develop wisdom. Without a catalyst, the Conclave won't start working together as one nation....
"Thank you for not being offended that I know your business." "Thank you for not pretending to be offended that I would suggest you know my business." -Oi and Hafte
"This is not what I was expecting when I suggested we meet here. I just thought it was a pretty place to talk." "It is a pretty place. It's just not nice." --Gau and Hafte.
"I don't know who that pilot is, but I am going to buy that shit-eater all the drinks it wants." --Aul
"Tell your pilot friend I accept, in theory. The actual drinking part will have to wait." --Rafe
"It's not the first time this one's tossed me out into space." "I was with you the whole way the last time, too." "You were. That doesn't mean we have to keep doing it." "I will keep that in mind." --Danielle and Harry Followed up with by Hafte: "The two of you have an interesting history, clearly."
This is the book written by a fellow previously mentioned in Something Wonderful Right Away--one of the original founders. His actual memoir of the place is about a hundred words long, and the rest of this slim book is dedicated to well, his notes on staging theater. Sahlins was always fascinated with theater, but only got into it in his mid-thirties after selling his share in a tape-recorder factory and "retiring" from that business. He notes that he was the only one involved who had not committed to the theater as a vocation--he'd always dabbled in it, but never totally. After finally committing to it with Second City, he says that it took him a decade to feel comfortable with that new life. He gives brief rundowns of the first cast and what they were like, such as these folks:
"There is a reason that successful talk-show hosts command such high salaries. The ability to speak to an audience about everyday things in one's own person seems easy but is difficult, and rare. In all my years at The Second City there have been only three or four actors who could master this feat. Andrew [Duncan] was the first and perhaps the best."
On Severn Darden: "In his personal life too, Severn was the stuff of legends. The most famous concerns the night when he, together with his date, managed to enter the great gothic Rockefeller Chapel on the campus of the University of Chicago. Alerted by the sound of unauthorized organ playing, the campus police, advancing down the aisles, were treated to the sight of Severn throwing himself across the altar and screaming, "Sanctuary! Sanctuary!"
He also comments that "I learned to direct from watching Paul Sills. I was never able to match the total effectiveness of his incoherence, but I did learn to detect what I now call "the awful fiction." This is when a character ins a play does not notice, or pretends not to notice, something that is happening on stage until long after that character should have noticed and the audience already has." Sounds like the original idea for "playing to the top of your intelligence" or not playing dumb, eh?
Sahlins also wants you to know that even though Second City is/was perceived as an improvising theatre, he says they almost never did improvisational shows in performance--they were used as a technique for writing scenes before performance, and was faster and more equitable. So that's his perspective on the "is it an art form" argument between him and Del Close--to Sahlins it's a technique, and he only concurred to Del for one night when he was dying. ("Whereupon someone said, "You're standing on his air tube." It was like a bad Second City improvisation.") He says they stumbled on a form and formula that had a lower cost base--no set, few costumes, small cast and crew--so that helped a lot for keeping their prices down and keeping the theater surviving. "That is the sum of it. We appeared at the right time with a great format, a viable financial venture, a great director, and marvelous actors." Why do so many famous actors come from Second City? Well, they learned how to write their own material, work as an ensemble, and play tons of shows a week for years. They also learn to make their costars look good.
There was also the time Sir Edmund Hillary and his Sherpa companion Tenzing Norgay (who spoke no English) attended the show. Despite having no English, the latter apparently enjoyed the show a lot and he told an interpreter afterward he'd figured out that the plot of the scene was along the lines of King Lear.
Anyway, eventually Sahlins got bored with his current stage cast at the end of the 1960's and got far more interested in the people in the touring company--let's just say they had plenty of names you've heard of there. How do you deal with the incumbents? Well, Sahlins calls it "an intervention just short of divine" when they got an offer to appear in New York. He denies fervently that this wasn't a ploy on his part to get rid of the old cast-- just fortunate coincidence. He briefly covers the theater experience in Canada and in making SCTV, which he got bored of after the first thirty shows. He mentions that an actor told him once that unless it gets new blood, the creative life of a theater is over in 20 years--and that sort of thing is why he eventually left. It became a job rather than a vocation. He got exhausted as a director (he says he doesn't have a large enough ego of his own to distribute pieces of it out to others), and brought in Del Close to direct instead...and of course there were some issues with that too. Del did the genius stuff and Sahlins did the "journeyman's job" of the actual cleaning up of the show. But eventually Sahlins sold his interest in the theater in 1985 and left.
(Note: he says that Del willed his skull to the Goodman Theatre to be used in the gravedigging scene in Hamlet. We'll get back to this later in another review...)
As for the other half of the book, it's on review--which he defines as "a stage presentation that uses short scenes of varying lengths." (Didn't know that had a formal name.) He has a technical index for this section, discussing the elements that make up scenes; writing, props and costumes; the use of actors, how to develop scenes, how to audition and how to cast, and acting mistakes.
What stood out to me in that section was the discussion of parody, specifically nailing it down as that the parody needs to be about something other than itself. There needs to be an organic connection between the form and the new subject matter, so that they will illuminate each other. For example, if the Chicago aldermen act like pirates, it's easy to do a parody of them using The Pirates of Penzance. He also is a big believer in telling the truth, but not sticking to certain beliefs, and trying to understand others. And then there's cutting material that doesn't work: "And if you say the song should stay because it's interesting, I say they could drop their pants and it would be interesting." And as for finding the ending of a scene, he says to look at the beginning of the scene and trace the progress of it from opening to closing--connect the dots and you'll find an ending. Things don't have to be solved, maybe the lack of resolution is the point.
He also talks about stage presence--how does one get that? He says all great personalities have focus and live in the moment, ignoring any self-doubts or questions as to what they're doing. He thinks focus can be learned--heck, eve the plainest of brides is beautiful on her wedding day. "Each of us must find the key to whatever it is that brings us to the point of total concentration and belief in ourselves. If we do so we will become brides--that is, we will command the stage."
I also liked what he said about acting as a vocation. "Point out to your actors that in the theatre we find a vocation, in the priestly sense of that word. Your life and work are not separated as you serve your community. Your existence does not divide into a nine-to-five working day split off from the rest of your life. In the theatre these are seamlessly joined."
Overall I'm going to give it three and a half stars--the memoir bit is short and skimmy-feeling, but the theater notes are great.
The spiraling leaves of the gigantic dieffenbachia felt like forest loam beneath Harry's shoes, not as unyielding as concrete, but supporting his weight.
I'm just going to take a brief detour to grumble at the use of "dieffenbachia," because hoo boy, does that ever sound pretentious. Also reminds me of what I hate about descriptions usually. Yeah, this is me just being bitchy, really. Ignore it and carry on. Anyway, Harry eyes the tendrils warily, which pays off when they grab him at the end. He goes limp.
"Interesting," said Professor Quirrell, as he floated down from above, not touching any of the plant's leaves or tendrils. "I notice that you seem to have no trouble losing to a plant."
Grrrrrrrrrr. (Also: "I fought the plant and the plant won...") Harry deduces that Voldemort was actually ill, even if he's walking around and talking like Quirrell. Harry plays along, saying that you let me walk into this trap and if it were up to me, I'd have used my broomstick. "Quirrell" (okay, fine, roles, masks, I'll go back to saying "Quirrell" again) asks how an ordinary first year would have solved this (like I care by now?), Harry replies that since he guesses it's a Devil's Snare plant, he could use light on it. Or uh, "Quirrell" could just like, incinerate right now or something. That works too.
"Now it is afraid of light, heat, acid, and me."
I feel like I'm supposed to applaud or something?
"I thought we were on a mission, Professor. I can't stop you, but is it smart to spend this much time on messing with me?"
Hahahahahahahah. "Quirrell" is all, oh, we have time. Geez, dude, I thought you were dying and in a rush here, Mr. Unicorn Huffer.
And even so... even so it seemed to Harry that if he stood in Professor Quirrell's shoes, he would not be having leisurely conversations and playing mind games. Professor Quirrell was gaining something by taking his time here. But what? Was there some other process that had to run to completion?
"By the by, have you betrayed me yet?" said Professor Quirrell.
"Have not betrayed you yet," Harry hissed.
Um....yeah. Next chamber, please. It's filled with flying winged keys. GEE, HARRY, I BET YOU WISH YOU HUNTED SNITCHES NOW, DON'T YOU? (Also because the game is still going on and nobody's noticed jack.) Harry notices that one key is actually Snitch-colored gold, but is moving slower than an actual Snitch. And lo and behold, there's a broomstick and keyhole! Harry thinks this is a bit weaksauce.
"If you think you've secured a door so that it won't open without a key, you keep the key in a safe place and only give a copy to authorized entrants. You don't give the key wings and then leave a broomstick propped against the wall. "
"Quirrell" posits that "Dumbledore's way is to do a dozen things which seem mad, and then only eight of them, or perhaps nine, conceal an inner meaning." Anyway, he snarks that Dumbledore's not a natural plotter, but he has to try, and since he has no talent at it, it makes him hard to predict. Huh?
"My guess is that the intended solution for first-years is to ignore the broomstick and use Wingardium Leviosa to grab the key, since this isn't a Quidditch game and there are no rules forbidding that. So what absurdly overpowered spell are you going to unleash on this one, then?"
I'm enjoying the bitter snark here.
"I probably shouldn't have said that, should I."
"Oh, no," Professor Quirrell said. "I think that is a quite reasonable thing to say to the most powerful Dark Wizard in the world when he is standing not a dozen paces from you."
Har. "Quirrell" pulls out what looks like a fake tooth, which transforms into a wand (somewhere Q or R or whoever is handling James Bond's tech wishes he could do that), and Harry recognizes it as his wand's mate. (Ew, incidentally, wands mate?) He casts a flaming rune in the air and things get ominous. It turns into a black phoenix--
"And something told Harry with a terrible certainty that if that black burning phoenix met Fawkes, the true phoenix would die and never be reborn."
Ouch. They head on through.
Harry stepped over the glowing edges of the remaining part of the door, and gazed at a chessboard of ruined huge chess-pieces. The alternating tiles of black and white marble on the floor started five meters after the ruined doorway, and extended from wall to wall, but stopped five meters short of the next door on the opposite side of the room. The ceiling was significantly higher than any of the statues should have been able to reach.
"I would guess," Harry said, and his dark side's cognitive patterns kept his voice calm, "that the intended solution is to fly over the statues using the broomstick from the previous room, since it wasn't actually needed to get the key?"
From behind, Professor Quirrell laughed, and it was Lord Voldemort's laugh. "Proceed," said a voice grown colder and higher. "Go to the next room. I wish to see what you will make of what is there."
Arranged by Dumbledore for first-years, Harry reminded himself, it WILL be safe, and he walked across the ruined chessboard, laid his hand upon that door's handle, and pushed it inward.
Half a second later, Harry slammed the door and leapt back.
Just as I was about to say, "it's Dumbledore, you think it'll be safe?" Harry coldly posits that
"since Dumbledore would hardly put a real mountain troll in there, the next challenge is an illusion of my worst memories. Like a Dementor, with the memory projected into the outside world. Very amusing, Professor."
Yeah, we're all chuckling. "Quirrell" checks it and is all disappointed that not only is it not a troll, it's just a plain ol' boggart that manifests your fears. "Quirrell" zaps it and they move on. Next room is a potions room with purple fire at the end.
Harry's suspension of disbelief had already checked out on vacation at this point, so he didn't say anything about how real-world security systems had the goal of distinguishing authorized from unauthorized personnel, which meant issuing challenges that behaved differently around people who were or weren't supposed to be there. For example, a good security challenge would be testing whether the entrant knew a lock combination that only authorized people had been told, and a bad security challenge would be testing whether the entrant could brew a potion according to written instructions that had been helpfully included.
Then again, it's magic. And Hogwarts. And they don't seem that great at it. I'm not even gonna attempt to summarize the next bit.
"Testing whether the entrant can solve a ridiculously straightforward logic puzzle about the order of the ingredients is still not a challenge that behaves differently for authorized and unauthorized personnel. It doesn't matter if you use a more interesting logic puzzle about three idols or a line of people wearing colored hats, you're still completely missing the point."
"Look at the other side," said Professor Quirrell.
Harry turned over the two-foot parchment.
On the other side, written in tiny letters, was the longest list of brewing instructions Harry had ever seen. "What on Earth-"
Anyway, Snape drummed up a long-ass list of stuff to make a potion of effulgence to put out the fire. He may not be that smart by "Quirrell" standards, but he is murderous.
"Fire can't beat fire?"
"It can," said Professor Quirrell. "I am not sure it should. Suppose this room is trapped?"
Anyway, Harry posits that lots of first years must have made it through, but "Quirrell" notes a lack of triggers around there.
"Consider this matter from Snape's perspective: it is the Potions Master of Hogwarts telling Lord Voldemort to be patient and follow instructions if he wants to enter, as though Lord Voldemort were a mere schoolboy. I would find it easy to comply, smiling the while, and take my vengeance later. But Snape does not know that Lord Voldemort finds it easy to think this way."
Oooookay. "Quirrell" asks about the time Harry saw him levitating, which is supposed to be impossible according to the Charms textbook. But how can Voldemort do it? Harry makes some attempts at figuring this out.
"You had someone cast broomstick enchantments on your bones?"
I ...guess that was it. "Quirrell" asks for Harry's analysis of the room, and says if you knowingly allow me to fail, that counts as betrayal. Harry thinks of something but isn't sure if he should say it. "Quirrell" demands a Parseltongue answer.
"I think... I think he might expect Voldemort to believe that Severus wouldn't believe that Voldemort could pass his test of patience, but Severus would expect Voldemort to pass it."
Professor Quirrell nodded. "That is a plausible theory. Do you believe it yourself? Answer in Parseltongue."
"Yess," Harry hissed. It might not be safe to withhold information, not even thoughts and ideas... "Therefore, the point of this room is to delay Lord Voldemort for an hour. And if I wanted to kill you, believing what Dumbledore believes, the obvious thing to try would be a Dementor's Kiss."
"Quirrell" thinks Snape might have thought of that. He asks if Harry senses any Dementors, and answer in Parseltongue. Nope. Were you honest with me just now? Yes.Would you protect me from the Dementors if any came? Harry answers honestly that he doesn't know.
"Life-eaterss cannot desstroy me, I think," hissed Professor Quirrell. "And I will ssimply abandon thiss body if they approach too closse. Sshall return sswiftly thiss time, and then there will be no sstopping me. Will torture your parentss for yearss, to punissh you for balking me. Hundredss of hosstage sstudentss die, including thosse you call friendss. Now I assk again. Will you usse power over life-eaterss to protect me, if life-eaterss come? "
"Yess," Harry whispered. The sadness and horror that Harry had pushed down flared up again, and his dark side had no stored patterns for handling the emotions. Why, Professor Quirrell, why are you like this...
Professor Quirrell smiled. "That reminds me. Have you betrayed me yet?"
"Have not betrayed you yet."
Professor Quirrell went over to the Potions equipment, and began chopping a root one-handed, the knife moving almost invisibly fast and with no apparent effort. The Fiendfyre phoenix drifted over to the opposite corner of the room and waited there. "All matters considered in their uncertainty, it seems wiser to expend the time to pass this room as a first-year would," said the Defense Professor. "We may as well talk while we are waiting. You had questions, boy? I said that I would answer them, so ask."
Well. That sounds...fun. Hanging with the devil for an hour of questions and potions. Whee academia!
Uh...three and a half stars, I guess. It's a weird chapter.
"I intend this book to contribute to scholarship in two ways: as a study of improv theater in its own right, and as a contribution to the study of conversation more generally."
On the one hand, this one sounded promising because it's written by a fellow who started taking improv classs in the 90's and then got a gig doing jazz piano playing for improv. However, he's also an academic, and this book is at least half of the time, a sociology book. Which is to say: sociology to me is taking an interesting subject and then proceeding to study/intellectualize it INTO THE GROUND, until I can't comprehend what they're saying, until I start drooling in boredom. I wish I liked sociology, but I literally cannot get through sociology-style writing. So...this was problematic to me as a non-sociology academic, and I will admit that certain chapters of this book were skimmed with great force.
The author decided to study the improvised dialogues done onstage in Chicago theater, using analytic techniques that are usually only used on everyday conversation. When he discusses actual acting, and theater/improv techniques, and specifically how the games are played (the few games he covers here are thoroughly detailed, in a way I wish the theatresports book had!),
it's very good. The chapter "Don't Shoot The Piano Player" at the beginning is quite lively, and gave me a false impression of what I was going to read. But when the sociology talk kicks in, it was...not to my taste. The conversational analysis was just not something I could follow. There's several diagrams of conversation that I wish I comprehended because they looked interesting, but clearly I'm not the audience for that. The most followable yet analyzing chapters were the ones on games, particularly the freeze games and improv games. I also enjoyed the recaps and discussions of handling the "Jazz Freddy" and "The Movie" long-form improv styles. And I did appreciate that the author wrote out all of the improv conversations in detail. The conversational statistics charts got ...tedious--I guess I don't really get the significance of measuring pauses in conversation.
This is definitely more of a library read than a "buy this" read, unless you are a sociologist. Which is to say that there's some good material in it, but unless you're an academic you may not be into the rest of it. Three stars.
Previous book here. Excerpt sample of this one here. Excerpt sample of the next one here.
The followup book to The Human Division is being released in four novella-esque chunks. Once again I'm gonna read them as they come out and do reviews here. Tor also is doing the same here. The author also has some book discussion going on over here.
Episode 1, "The Life Of The Mind," follows up on the horrors of being a brain in a box, and the chapter "A Problem Of Proportion" As the author himself points out on his site, he immediately tells you who's doing it this go-round, so as not be killed by his readers.
"You're pretty ambitious for a disembodied brain. I've got nothing else to do."
The narrator of the chapter, Rafe Daquin, is a college friend of Hart's. He was a programmer who decided to become a pilot, and he's been blackballed by his previous employer within the last year because said employer was a total bastard and his mom's a labor lawyer and heh heh heh. So in order to stop living off his parents, Hart hooks him up with what sounds like it'll be the world's dullest cargo haul: just being third pilot going back and forth between three trade planets. Rafe's happy to take it (and since his employer's also dealt with his previous employer, he understands).
And then he meets Assistant Secretary of State Tyson Ocampo, a guy that Hart and Harry think is a fatuous gasbag. By coincidence, Ocampo's booked a berth on Rafe's new boat, supposedly to go hiking in the mountains, in winter. And then Ocampo--and his new friends the Rraey--hijack the ship, start killing people or shoving them into lifeboats (making it clear to Rafe they're all going to die), but they need the pilot....
And eighteen days later, Rafe is a brain in a box, being forced to operate the ship in a new way via simulator, and he can figure out that he's doomed for death as well even beyond that. Someone calling themselves "Control" gives him orders and tells him how to train up for his mission. However, Rafe's previous knowledge of programming--and his familiarity with the program--gives him a secret advantage (which, as you'll guess from the narration taking place after his survival of the situation, works out) in finding out what Ocampo and his new alien friends are up to. He has sneaky snooping skills and creates a secret overlay system in the simulator so he's got more control than anyone thinks. Even though he doesn't know where the reference comes from, he calls it "blue pill."
HERE COMETH THE BIG WHO'S DOING IT SPOILERS. BE FOREWARNED. I AM GOING TO START TALKING ABOUT THAT RIGHT AFTER THE ALL CAPS END. IF THIS BOTHERS YOU, STOP NOW.
(Seriously, spoiler spacing this is just going to screw up all reviewing after this, so I'm not bothering here.)
Anyway, while you could deduce from the previous book that there has to be some third party involved trying to frame the Colonial Union and/or fuck with the Conclave...well, yes, there is. It's called the Equilibrium and they hate the CU and they aren't too happy with Conclave membership/General Gau either, so they're looking to break everything up and make it all even again, you know? Sounds great, right, except for the massive loss of life involved and general ruthless behavior. Ocampo's plan is get Gau assassinated and make it look like the CU did it. Since loyalty to Gau holds the Conclave together, that'll kill the Conclave. So long, space superpowers! But as to what Ocampo's personal endgame as a traitor is....well, hmmm, we still don't know.
At any rate, Rafe does some secret thrilling heroics, and gets offered a reward that fixes everything in a few months...but in the meantime, Harry could use him on another job...you know, convincing everyone who hates us of what's really going on. I look forward to their teaming up in future novellas!
Oh, and for the record, another quote from the book: "I noted that sarcasm was a near-universal trait of intelligent species." For those of you wondering why even aliens (well, not certain species of them, anyway, the ones with zero sense of humor sure don't) are snarky in this universe, that's why! :)
Four stars. I deeply enjoyed it and it started answering questions and I'm looking forward to more, please!
In the grand tradition of Something Wonderful Right Away, this book from 1995 covers the creation of the impro(v) style known as theatresports, originated by the British Keith Johnstone, author of Impro (nope, haven't read it yet) by interviewing Johnstone, some of the original participants, and people who created spinoff groups--and this has gone very, very international. Amusingly enough, like in SWRA, Johnstone got a few chapters worth of book, which he "extensively" re-edited himself. Ahem.
Anyway, the book starts out with Keith Johnstone was thinking that (a) theater in the seventies were really boring, and (b) "Why is it that there's no difficulty filling the seats at a sporting event, but the theatres are always trying for attendance?" Interestingly enough, he mentions that theatresports were inspired by watching professional wrestling in the 1950's. "We thought of replacing wrestlers with improvisors, but every word and gesture on the stage had to be approved ahead of time by the Lord Chamberlain, a palace official. Because it's impossible to sue the Queen, there was nothing we could do, so theatresports was just a way to liven up my impro classes."
Anyway, after teaching acting classes at the University of Calgary, Johnstone decided to form a theater company and handpicked students to join it, and it was named the Loose Moose. (Love this name.) There's definitely different perspectives on impro as a sport--is it more theatre or sport, is the audience more of a movie/video game audience than a theater audience, that it's a fake competition, etc. I appreciated how the book emphasized that having an accountant on board (both in performing and in doing the finances) is why theatresports has stayed alive.
There are different varieties of the two-team games that are described, depending on whether or not there are judges and how the winner is determined, and some of these are briefly covered in the narrative, though I kind of wished the authors had described some games more because as a noob I was unfamiliar with them and they weren't clarified. Then again, I'm probably not their audience, eh? And then there's moments like this:
"It seems impossible to persuade theatresports groups that even people who make the suggestions don't want to see them acted out. If you ask "Who are we? Where are we? What are we doing?" you may end up with two knights in armour tickling a nun who's swimming in a bowl of Jell-O. The audience will laugh at the suggestion, but may of them would pay money not to see that scene acted out." -Keith Johnstone
Rebecca Stockley of San Francisco said: "It's a place where people can gather and just share their energy. We no longer go around the campfire and tell stories, and very few people go to church or whatever it is that brings a community of people together....So a theatresports team in every city provides people with a place to go and experience being human. We need a "Fool" so desperately." She says that there's so much fear in city streets and seeing scared improvisers on stage with their adrenaline going, and then they survive...she thinks it's something we need in our society. I thought that was pretty cool.
There's very little mention of "why don't non-white people play" in this one, though I did like the interview with Jay Laga'aia, a Samoan living in New Zealand: "When you talk about "theatre" to a Polynesian, performing is something that just comes naturally because it is part of your lifestyle. Dance is a form of language because language is by word of mouth, by hand action and by song. That's how stories and legends are passed on, so performing is just something that comes natural to you. The object for Polynesians and indigenous people of this country is to get a proper job. So when you talk about theatre they say, "That's fine, but you know, what do you do for a living?' I'm the only person from my community that has claimed theatresports that I know of. I play regularly. I enjoy it and I encourage a lot of my relations and a lot of the brown race to get into it. Especially with my young people. I do workshops, and it becomes very acceptable with the parents if you can relate things to the bible. That's the whole trust thing, like in the bible, "Ask and it shall be given; seek and you shall find." And you know, Polynesians--they're a work of art. They're just dying of laughter. They will laugh at anything. It is always a sense of community. Always a sense of humour, because what else is there?" I uh...now want to do improv in Hawaii after reading that. (Then again, I pretty much want to do everything in Hawaii.)
There is, however, an entire chapter dedicated to the problem of a lack of women in theatresports, and it was really comprehensive. I was reminded of reading Beyond Second City and their mention of how the ComedySportz culture was very heavily male-oriented, so I was curious to see what the opinions of regular performers in that tradition would say about it. There's opinions from women saying that they can't get dates, and male players saying they certainly can. The theatresports culture and games have a lot of interrupting in them, which leans towards men's preferences and tendencies. Some folks mentioned that team sport experience was a factor, as well as trying to get over having to act like a typical woman does. Paul Bernardo pointed out that there's a lot of dick jokes and sex jokes around men that women will get fed up with. And also, somehow if there's only one woman around, she ends up playing stereotypical roles. He mentions a lone female cast member saying, "Hey, I'm sick and tired of being your fucking girlfriend, your fucking mother and your fucking wife, you know. Give me a break! Did you know that tonight I was a whore twice, a housewife, a mother and a nurse?" Then she demanded that men start playing the whore. Bwahahahah, lovely. And then they did it!
Linda Rosenfield said: "It is very much a boy's game. There's all this male energy, an overwhelming sense of desire to control and drive a scene. There's a real lack of trust in women's choices and a lack of trust in women's talent. So what happens is you get kneed and elbowed out of scenes, you get killed a lot, asked to exit, sent out. You rarely get called into a scene unless they need a bimbo, a counter girl or some minor part where you'll end up leaving. I have learned to survive in my league by playing stereotypical roles--because you get squelched for playing a really strong female role."
Gary Campbell commented that none of the good female improvisors he knows are assholes, but some of the men, well... Ellen Idelsson thinks that the cities in Canada that she's performed in were more sexist, but in LA they strive for and enforce equality. "We have women in our group in Los Angeles who would get on the stage with a sexist man and immediately he's wearing a Teddy, on his knees and barking like a dog." Tony Totino said he thinks there are equal numbers of men and women who sign up for theatresports, but there's some element of the process that weeds them out--maybe the competitive atmosphere. Rebecca Northan said at one point that literally all she was doing in any scene was offering men tea and coffee. "And they should have gotten the message after that, but you, know...." She said that the majority of improvisors in Europe are women and have a hard time getting men! And Patti Atfield said that all the guys hit on you and you get pegged into certain roles.
Anyway, there's a lot of comparisons in this book: not just about gender, but different countries and their differences in having the same games going on. They finish up with a glossary of theatresports terms, a quick timeline of the oral history, and a brief letter from the authors on their process.
Overall, I'm going to give it four stars, though that is probably biased more on the book having the best chapter on why women have issues in theatresports, because otherwise I'd want to dock it a bit for not describing the games themselves as well.