Fantasy, Humanism, and Improving Authors

Everyone likes different books. I tend to like books that speak to being human. I think that’s why I read so much fantasy literature. To blatantly steal a concept, they use the impossible to examine the probable. When you strip away the requirement to make the setting accurate you allow yourself the ability to more easily examine Truth.

Continue reading “Fantasy, Humanism, and Improving Authors”

Review of The Last Colony by John Scalzi

The Last Colony (Old Man's War, #3)The Last Colony by John Scalzi

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

A brilliant novel. The perfect way to wrap up the trilogy (yes, I know it continues, but it was originally the end of the trilogy). Scalzi has the perfect combination of military sci-fi mixed with bits of humor, political maneuvering, and all set against a backdrop of inter-species relations that impacts the story without ever coming across as being one-dimensional.

I haven’t enjoyed a sci-fi book this much since the Enders Game/Shadow series’ and before that Starship Troopers. Though Scalzi isn’t Heinlein he’s not that far behind and definitely gives Card a run for his money.

View all my reviews

Of Course It’s Derivative

I read a lot.  I know this because I keep track of it.  The first year I kept track was from summer 2007 to summer 2008.  I was taking the bus to UBC every day and had a lot of time to read.  I read 54 books that year.  Yes, I averaged over one a week.  In 2011 I started tracking again, this time starting January 1st.  I read 41 books in 2011.  So far in 2012 I’ve read 23 books.  We’re in week 26, so I’m doing pretty good.  I try to read at least 30 books a year.

Because I read so much I read a lot of bad books.  I read a lot of good books to, but I read a lot of crap.  Sturgeon said that “ninety percent of everything is crap”, and it’s true to a certain extent.  For example I no longer read books published only in e-book format, when three for three were terrible I gave up.  The lesson I took from this is that there’s a purpose to gatekeepers.

Why is any of this important?  Because I’m noticing a problem with peoples definitions of “bad”.  Too often I read a review of a book that talks about how derivative it is of previous books.  I’ve even made the same argument.  But there’s a difference between derivative and bad.  A derivative book is one that pulls a lot of concepts from previous works.  Because over 75% of my reading tends to be Fantasy I feel that I can accurately say that nearly all Fantasy novels have some derivative elements to them.

For example:

Tall elegant elf like creatures: Tolkien
God stand-in to guide the plot: Lewis
Super intelligent horse: Lackey
Long drawn out quest: Tolkien, and too many to count
Mass group of intertwining characters: Jordan (or GRRM)

But here’s the issue.  These writers were derivative as well.  Do you like George R. R. Martin?  Well I’m afraid that it comes down to a mixture of War of the Roses with a pretty standard fantasy setting, and some Mervyn Peake.  Try watching a Shakespeare history play, basically the same thing.

Robert Jordan?  Re-read Eye of the World. There is so little original in it that it’s almost laughable.

Mercedes Lackey?  cookie cutter fantasy with magical horses added in.

C.S. Lewis and Tolkien must be original!  Nope.  Lewis owes everything to George MacDonald, which he gladly admitted, and Tolkien has tied together Norse and Germanic fairy tales with Anglo-Saxon romances.

Ahh… but does taking things from further back in history make one less derivative?  No.  It just means that you have a broader education.  If I lift part of my song from Bach instead of the Beatles am I any less derivative?

This doesn’t mean any of those authors aren’t good.  I read and re-read all of their books (well except for GRMM, but I’ve never been a War of the Roses fan anyway).  What it means is that being derivative doesn’t matter.  Fantasy literature comes out of the Romances (traditional meaning, not modern one) of the Germans and Anglo-Saxons.  It comes out of the fairy tales and legends of the past.  And it comes out of a desire to reconnect with the Quest.

When we criticize Fantasy novels as being derivative we need to ask ourselves “Why does it matter?”  Because  everything is derivative.  Instead we need to look at the story by itself.  That’s what’s important.  How well does the author immerse you in their story?  How well constructed is it?  Not where s/he got this idea from or that idea from.  That should be a last refuge for when the story fails.  If the story doesn’t work then you can sit and pick it apart as being derivative.  But not before.

Look at stories as they are.  Read them for them.  You can recognize where some elements came from, but remember everyone is derivative.

The Mind of a Digital Native

I was reading Lowering Higher Education by James E. Côté and Anton L. Allahar recently and was intrigued by their chapter on Technologies.  In it they discuss the concept of Digital Natives and whether or not they require a different style of teaching or have a different understanding of learning.  Do Digital Natives require a more technologically oriented teaching method in order to be engaged? Côté and Allahar discuss the background of this idea and show how it is based in some misguided philosophy and assumptions, and then focus on results, showing that where universities have increased the amount of technology in their classes there is no proof of a corresponding increase in engagement.

That being said I wanted to discuss what it feels like being a Digital Native and going through, and working in the education system.

I actually dislike the term Digital Native, but as it is the one used in this discourse I’ll continue with it.

Continue reading “The Mind of a Digital Native”

Brief Review of “Lowering Higher Education” by James E. Côté & Anton L. Allahar

Lowering Higher Education: The Rise of Corporate Universities and the Fall of Liberal EducationLowering Higher Education: The Rise of Corporate Universities and the Fall of Liberal Education by James E. Côté

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

If you are at all interested or involved in Higher Education I recommend you read this book. If the government and schools were to implement even some of their recommendations I think that it would drastically improve the preparation of students for University.

One of the best points is that we need to remember that it’s OK for our students to be “average”. And average is the C range, not the B range. Too many schools have their grades clustered in the top third of the spectrum which doesn’t actually give students a good idea of how skillful they are at different subjects.

View all my reviews