As promised in my last post, here is the first of my reviews on philosophical sci-fi and fantasy – stories to make you think. I would have posted sooner, but I went and did Inktober (you can see the results on my other blog).
The Dresden Files by Jim Butcher
Key concepts – power, responsibility, choices, consequences
Currently standing at 15 novels and a bunch of short stories, this series is far from finished. The premise is that the supernatural world exists under our nose, and as the only advertising wizard in Chicago, Harry Dresden does his best to keep us safe from it. Power and responsibility are major themes in these books. The author is a martial arts enthusiast, and this seems to inform some of the philosophy of the main characters – not least the kick-ass martial arts-trained policewoman whom Harry regularly teams up with. There are many forms of power evident, from Harry’s own magical powers, to the power of faith as demonstrated by Knight of the Cross Michael Carpenter, to the power of not-so-legitimate businessman Johnny Marcone. And all have consequences if misused. Even Marcone has some pretty major regrets.
Harry often has to make tough choices and live with the consequences. He repeatedly ends up going down some rather dark paths, but with the forces against him it’s hard to see what other choices he could have made. He does have a tendency to beat himself up about all the people he couldn’t save, but at the end of the day he buckles on his shield bracelet, picks up his blasting rod and goes out to get the job done. He faces his responsibilities, and he makes other people do the same (later in the series he gets an apprentice, which leads to all sorts of fun).
Told exclusively from Harry’s perspective, with his endearing blend of arrogance and self-doubt, it’s easy to understand his motivations even if you don’t always agree with the conclusions he comes to. There are numerous shades of grey; some of the bad guys are more likeable than others. Some are so alien that their motives are completely inscrutable; others have very human reasons for their unsavoury actions.
All in all there are plenty of opportunities to think, “What would I have done?”. Well, “screamed and run away” probably applies in most of these situations, but that’s why we like reading about heroes. They magnify the qualities we hope we have on a smaller scale, and perhaps help us recognise and appreciate them in ourselves and others.