Feb. 1st, 2017

aryllian: (butterfly)
Ways in which this is very typical of a Connie Willis book:

1. Frenetic pace (although my favorite part was when the two main characters temporarily slow down and have some time together).

2. Quirky characters. (I also feel like it's typical of Connie Willis that the female lead was surrounded by quirky characters but was mostly quirky herself in trying to deal with them than in adding to the quirk factor herself. Also, the female lead was more socially connected than the male lead...though I may just be thinking about Bellwether as a comparison here.)

3. Mental constructs were treated as another form of reality, or as a setting with which the characters could interact. (See also Passage.)

4. No villains, just lots of people going at sometimes contradictory goals.

5. History has an important place in the worldbuilding. (It's not only in her time travel books that Willis looks at history, her books about other topics generally talk about a made up or not so made up history -- I'm never really sure exactly where the line is drawn, because I'm generally not an expert on the subjects.)

6. The characters argue a lot. (And it's not really serious arguing, it's exploring the world and trying to find patterns through argument, basically, not trying to hurt someone through arguing, not the kind of arguing that has negative personal repercussions, or that hurt relationships. The characters, even when feel overwhelmed by their relationships and the frenetic demands of everything going on in their lives, are careful about how they deal with other people.)

7. But history and worldbuilding are all very personal. No one talks about history because of an abstract interest in history (though they might have an abstract interest), it's because history is relevant to something that's going on in their life, or because they want to convince someone else of something using examples from history. (I'm also thinking about To Say Nothing of the Dog, and the way the problems of history and the timeline become personal because of the way the time travel and history work in Willis's universe, but really all the time travel books make history personal by setting historians down in history, and her other books generally use history in the same style as this book.)
aryllian: (Default)
The worldbuilding -- mostly the nomenclature -- didn't make sense to me in this one.

Usually when chaos is contrasted with something, it's contrasted with order, but in this book, chaos is equated with stories and chaos/stories are contrasted with nature/rule of natural law.

So chaos ends up being everything that is more dramatic or more ... well, not exactly mythological, but folk tale type stuff, such as vampires and the fae, most notably. And worlds (the story takes place in a multiverse) that are more chaotic tend to behave more like a dramas than like ... well, a scientific worldview, I suppose.

(I will admit that I can understand and agree with equating fae and chaos to some degree, and equating fae/vampires with folk tales and therefore with stories and drama, and I can also understand and agree with equating scientific worldview and natural order to some degree, so this worldbuilding/nomenclature isn't a deal-breaker for me, it's just that I think that it goes too far in both directions and ends up not making sense.)

The problem with this, for me, with my understanding of language and my understanding of stories, is that stories are the opposite of chaos. Stories are the way that we find order in a world that is extremely complex. And "natural order" is far more chaotic than stories...storytelling requires simplifying a lot of times, finding what's really absolutely relevant. You find this in the sorts of histories that try to tell stories too, vs. the kind of histories that try to be comprehensive. The first type are much more fun to read, but if you really need a specific detail, it will probably be more likely to be found in a comprehensive type of history.

Or look at the kind of book about science that tries to tell a story, vs. the kind of book about science that tries to tell you all about every detail of how the immune system works, ever molecule or protein or whatever that's involved.

The natural world might be orderly (though I'm reminded of Einstein saying that God does not play dice with the universe and subsequent scientists leaning more and more toward the view that actually, God does play dice with the universe), but the natural order looks a lot like chaos to the human mind, and we create stories and organizational systems and equations and theories and so on in order to deal with it. Order is a product of the human brain. The natural world just is, orderly or chaotic or whatever.

And stories are part of the order that the human brain produces out of the reality (chaotic reality, sometimes) that we're presented with.

At least, that's how I view the world. And every time this book talks about chaos, it causes a moment of cognitive dissonance because Genevieve Cogman's view of the world is clearly so different from mine.


I also wonder about the way the chaos/stories and the laws of stories seems to mean basically tropes, and whether Genevieve Cogman has thought about the role of culture in story tropes, but perhaps that will become clear in future books.


Re: existence of a "true" language that acts a bit like magic in that it must be obeyed: As a computer programmer, I would like to observe that natural language is not meant for creating commands that specify behavior exactly and can't be wiggled around by intelligent people (or other entities) intent on getting around it. I wonder if anyone has ever written a book that takes computer programming languages as the model for the language that must be obeyed, instead of natural language. Though that raises a number of philosophical questions that a "true" language based on natural language doesn't, somehow... it treats people much more like meat machines to have a magic that "programs" them. Not that commanding is any less icky, really, but commanding elevates things into people more than it demotes people into things.

(Having just read one of Max Gladstone's books, I will also note that legal language is meant for a similar purpose, binding entities to behave in certain ways, though this is because of contracts entered into more or less freely, not commands. But it also requires courts -- and the addition of a third party -- to adjudicate the meaning of the agreement, which is different from the simple command and obey model.)


And because my brain seems to want to pull up other books that are similar to this book:

The political situation reminds me a lot of Django Wexler's YA series (which also has libraries in it, and starts with the book The Forbidden Library).

The spectrum of magical and non-magical worlds in a multiverse reminds me of Diana Wynne Jones's Magid books.

And something about the style of this book reminds me of V. E. Schwab's Darker Shade of Magic, though I can't quite put my finger on it. That one is a bit darker in terms of content, this one comes across as a bit more gonzo and Darker Shade of Magic is more horror, but the two also share a multiverse concept and also the idea that some worlds in the multiverse don't make it in some way.

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Aryllian

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