Welcome, Nonexistent Reader!

Well, it seems I have a blog now. Not that I expect anyone to read it, except perhaps close friends, but it seemed a good way to organize my thoughts.

I could keep a diary but I prefer to type, and I'm enough of an exhibitionist to enjoy the idea that people I'll never meet could read my scribblings - not that they will in all likelihood, but it's an interesting thought.

So my dear nonexistent reader, this is where I shall record my thoughts on whatever is passing through my head, from sex to fandom to philosophy to all the points between. I'm not going to talk about my life on here. I know all of that, and that's boring. Instead, this is where I work out my own thoughts on life, the universe, and everything.

On the off-chance that someone's actually reading this, enjoy!

Why are good stories so hard to describe?

I've said before that what makes a story good (or bad) isn't precisely its content. It's not about the plot or the concept, it's about the quality of the execution.

This is not to say that the basic idea of a story doesn't matter - the more far-fetched a concept, the harder it is to do well, and the better it needs to be done to overcome the reader's suspension of disbelief - but it isn't the most important thing.

If it's well-written and the characters are interesting, I'll read just about anything. I do have a few caveats to that, mostly involving situations and concepts that I don't want to see made credible, or just don't want in my head, but the point is that I love strange stories. I like things that push the limits, or play with the established tropes, or make me think.

That's part of why I enjoy fanfiction - I like seeing familiar characters in new lights.

All this is lovely, but it does have the side effect of making many stories that I love - and would love to recommend to people - rather difficult to accurately describe.

Fanfiction is a great example of this, because the very concept of people writing in other writers' worlds sounds odd, even before you get to the things they've written, which generally offer a whole new level of weird.

For another example, the following are genuine descriptions of a few of my favorite stories. If they sound cool (I hope they do), it's because I've had time to edit the examples. When discussing them, I never know where to start.

Kushiel's Legacy: Alternate History/Fantasy/Romance/Adventure
In an alternate France called Terre d'Ange, which was visited by fallen angels around the first century AD, sex is a huge part of the culture - in fact, the primary commandment of their religion is "Love as thou wilt." In a culture where all pleasure is permitted, pain (BDSM, basically) is still somewhat taboo. The story centers around Phedre, a courtesan who feels pain as pleasure, a gift rare enough to make her very valuable. She uses her talents as a courtesan and spy to become involved in the political intrigues of Terre d'Ange and its neighbours. Very sexy, but an amazing story even without the sex.

Black Jewels: Dark Fantasy/Romance
Black Jewels is set in a fantasy realm that bears an odd resemblance to the Hell of Christian myth - it isn't, quite, but it does contain several undead characters, a character named Saetan and his sons Daemon and Lucivar, and some fascinating imagery that treats darkness as warm and powerful and good (light isn't evil, merely weak). In this world, society is traditionally matriarchal but balanced - the Queen holds the ultimate authority, but is expected to listen to her Consorts and other powerful males to keep order in her court. For the last few thousand years (some characters have incredible lifespans), a pair of particularly nasty High Priestesses have ruled the realm of Tereille with iron fists, warping tradition and Protocol to give themselves more power. Then comes Jaenelle, who is Witch - a powerful prophesied queen - to set the realms aright once more. Also, it's really dark - rape and torture and general pain abound, especially for the characters you like. It is not inaccurate to say that the first book breaks all the major characters, and they spend the rest of the trilogy trying to put themselves (and their world) back together.

City of Angles: Fantasy/Mystery/Horror
The City of Angles is a twisted alternate America, into which people (and buildings) from actual America are pulled seemingly at random, forcing them to survive in an odd new environment. No one knows why they were transported there, or how real the city is, or why people who go crazy or lose hope turn into twisted, reality-bending monsters called Picassos. Penelope Yates, teenage explorer of the Sideways (the edges of the city, at which reality is even more flexible than usual), intends to find out. Could be described as "The World Ends With You meets the works of H.P. Lovecraft."

I love all of those stories, but I'm never sure where to start talking about them - especially the first two. "It's about a twisted city that's sort of Earth-adjacent" sounds rather cool. "It's about sex - but there's more to it than that!" and "It's set in Hell, but not really," are rather awkward.

I think I understand the nature of my difficulty now, if not how to alleviate it.

I keep describing stories based on their plots and worlds, because that's what people tend to think a story is - the plot. That isn't really what makes them worth reading, though - or not just that, anyway. Great stories aren't just series of events. They're the lives of their characters, and it is the characters that make the events relatable and the ideas real. The best stories are populated by people - vivid and flawed and funny and dancing right off the page, because you've met or can imagine someone like them and whose stories you grow to care about as you get to know them.

(There are a few exceptions to this rule - stories where the characters are somewhat bland because they're vehicles for ideas. A fair bit of old science fiction works this way, including a lot of Isaac Asimov's work, and he's one of my favorite authors. If you look closer, though, you see that Asimov's greatest, most moving works are those like Bicentennial Man, where he's focused on a particular character and used their story to communicate the idea. Ideas are important, but people react most strongly to other people, and good storytellers know that.)

Kushiel's Legacy has a beautifully vivid world and sharply drawn characters, and the central romance is painful and powerful and wonderfully drawn. It also does a great job of portraying BDSM realistically (insofar as I can tell, given my lack of practical experience), and makes it very clear that "That which yields is not always weak." Phedre is awesome. But the moment that really made me fall in love with it, the one that made me laugh and that I had to read aloud, was the war song of Phedre's boys, the regiment dedicated to the (sexually submissive courtesan) main character:

"Whip us till we're on the floor,
We turn around and ask for more!
We're Phedre's boys, Phedre's boys!

We like to hurt, we like to bleed,
Daily floggings do we need,
We're Phedre's boys, Phedre's boys!

Man or woman we don't care,
Give us twins we'll take the pair!
We're Phedre's boys, Phedre's boys!

Just because we let you beat us,
Doesn't mean you can defeat us!
We're Phedre's boys, Phedre's boys! "

Black Jewels toys with and inverts a lot of the tropes of traditional fantasy, and parts of it are incredibly dark, but it also has great characters, and it is at times very funny and surprisingly sweet. It also does a great job of dealing with powerful characters without making anything easy for them - Jaenelle is stronger magically than anyone else in the series by an order of magnitude, but she can't manage the precision for the simplest of magical tasks - she moved an entire castle one inch to the side when she tried to summon her shoes. My favorite parts are still those involving the Scelties - small, cute, intelligent, magical, and very determined dogs who see their duty as herding people.

City of Angles contains some amazing descriptions of insanity and of the best subtle, psychological horror I've read since Lovecraft, and again is very much about the people trying to survive in the city - Penelope is technically the main character, but the cast is quite large, and she sometimes won't show up for chapters at a time while the others have their say. One of the other main characters is Dave Smith - which sounds bland, because he is bland. Outwardly. Then you learn that he's incredibly calm because he had terrible anxiety as a child, and eventually became so terrified of everything that he snapped and ended up on the other side, unfazed by absolutely everything (including ending up in the City of Angles). Dave withstands a full attack by Bedlam, who essentially is insanity and fear, and barely bats an eye (He's somewhat less unruffled when dealing with more mundane concerns, though).

People are hard to describe, though. Which is why I keep talking about characters in terms of worlds and plots, instead of worlds and plots in terms of characters. And why I keep having trouble describing the best strange stories.

I'm Not Actually a Cynic

I'm a rationalist. I believe in overcoming biases and trying to find the truth (or at least be a bit less wrong about it). I'm analytical by nature, and I tend to analyze things to oblivion - to the point, I'm told, of "taking the fun out of it." Which is a stupid idea, but I'll come back to that. I'm an atheist because I have found no compelling evidence of a deity, and a humanist because I see no need for one. I also tend somewhat strongly towards sarcasm, mostly because it amuses me, and consider most of the human race to be imbeciles.

So I suppose I can see why I might come off as cynical, or as pessimistic. Which is entirely wrong - pessimists have a negative bias, and I do try to overcome both positive and negative bias. The world isn't crap, but it also isn't roses. The world just is.

Anyway, being thought cynical isn't usually the problem, since I'm happy enough by nature to not give that impression. (Except when I laugh at the sappiest scenes of movies, but come on - they're ridiculous!)

The problem is that when I do stop and analyze something, people assume I don't like it. I try to couch criticism in constructive terms, and to praise what's worthwhile, but there is a horribly pervasive assumption that any argument criticizing an idea is a weapon against you (the very metaphor of arguments treats them as battles that can be "won").

It probably doesn't help that I tend not to get excited enough to step in and say something if I don't have something of substance (i.e., analytical/negative/not just gushing) to say. Not that gushing isn't fun - I have to let my inner fangirl off the leash sometimes. But there are limits.

The point is, I analyze the world around me because it's fascinating, and criticize things because I think they can be better - and that they're worth the effort to make them so. There's little point in criticizing something irredeemably bad - it may be fun, but there's nothing in there to save. I tear things apart to get at the parts I value, and because to me, that's half the fun. It's not "taking the fun out" - I enjoy my analysis, and no one actually has to listen to me.

Come to think of it, this is probably why I love Doctor Who so much - none of it makes sense, so I get to see people argue and theorize and try to make it sensical, then join in the battle with my own pet theories.

On Communication

Communication has always been a bit of an issue for me.

For one thing, I talk very fast when I don't stop myself, and I stutter. It's not a classic stutter - it's called cluttering, which essentially means that I think faster than I talk, and when my mouth tries to keep up I trip over my own words. I can speak clearly when I focus, but it isn't always easy, and it's harder when I'm excited - which is, of course, when I most want to get my point across.

I'm better at communicating with people (in terms of social skills as well as simple speech) than I used to be, but part of getting better at it has involved becoming aware of my difficulties, and it is incredibly frustrating. It's practicing twice as long for a big presentation, because the words won't come out right if I don't know them well enough. It's taking an extra moment to start speaking, because the words are in my head, but they simply won't come out. It's having to repeat myself several times just to be understood.

And yet, I love words. I'm very good with them, especially if I have the time to think things through and edit myself. I like to text or email, when I can get away from it, and though I have little flair for fiction I quite like to write. I've loved to read for as long as I can remember. I like to memorize interesting quotes and bits of doggerel, and to steal and reuse perfect turns of phrase. I'm love poetry and verse - for a little bit after I saw King Lear I spoke in iambic pentameter, just because the language had invaded my head. The way words flow is important to me, and the fact that I can't always make them flow properly is intensely frustrating.

I'm good at compensating. I'm loquacious when I want to be (it's easier once I get going), but I'm also an excellent listener. I'm good at nonverbal cues, like a wave or a grin - if I can make a minor phrase unnecessary with a gesture or expression, I generally do. I also tend to gesticulate. I get my messages across when I need to do so. But I do sometimes hate that it requires compensation.

Communication is an essential part of being human - very few people do well in total isolation, and therefore we find ways to bridge the gap. My ways are my own. They're how I interact with the world, and they've shaped who I am and how people see me. One of the most offensive things anyone's ever said to me was that one day God would "cure" my stutter (presumably in a mystic lightning bolt, after which I would fall to my knees and believe absolutely). It's my own issue, and I can and do deal with it.

On Rationalism

Since I've started college, my views on religion have become rather harsher, for a couple of reasons.

Though I was raised Christian, my exposure was mainly to what I call "sane Christianity" - people who believed in God and saw that as a basis for morality, but didn't deny science or use their beliefs as a basis for bigotry. This has given me a relatively relaxed view on religion. I disagree with it because I don't personally find it rational to believe, but I've never had reason to hate theists, or think them irrational or stupid solely because they believed.

My first encounters with real bigotry have been at college. A group of truly terrible fundamentalist preachers came to my school during Pride Week, and the vitriol they shouted was so cartoonishly awful as to be funny (We played Bigot Bingo.) I'd heard about people like that in theory, but the direct realization that people actually believed that bull was stark and deeply off-putting.

I've also been reading a lot more about rationality - about Occam's Razor, and Privileging the Hypothesis - there is little reason to believe a theory without having evidence to bring it to your attention, and Mysterious Answers to Mysterious Questions - if you answer a question and it is still mysterious, then something is wrong.

I've discovered that "you can't prove me wrong," isn't a valid argument, that there needs to be significant cause to believe in the highly unlikely, and that it really, truly irritates me when someone assumes that the elimination of the supernatural also removes meaning and wonder - yes, I believe that my consciousness is purely a product of neurons, but I'm not "mere meat." Nothing is 'mere." Besides, finding out the actual reasons for existence is much more interesting than closing questions with "God said." There need not be any special mystical significance to my existence or my consciousness for me to exist and to enjoy existing.

I still don't hate religion, and I refuse to become so militant that I must always argue my point - I'd never stop arguing. I still have religious friends and relatives, and I know that they're neither stupid people nor bad ones. I prefer to think of religious belief as a logical error, not a personality flaw or a moral issue. But I do see it as an error.

On Determinism

One issue I've been wrestling with lately is the concept of conscious free will - the idea that we actively make our own choices and define our own lives - in conjunction with determinism, which holds that there are conditions under which certain outcomes are assured (gravity is an example - barring extreme circumstance, what comes up must come down).

In some interpretations of determinism, free will is considered an impossibility, because all of your actions - including the choice to change your mind - come from existing states of your brain. Choice, then, would be an illusion.

On the other hand, conscious thought continues after the instant of decision, and gives us the chance to change our minds, or to change our goals so that the next time a decision has been called for, we will make a different choice. This level of control over our own actions could be labeled free will, even if it's somewhat delayed from the initial choice.

Determinism also complicates the question of moral responsibility, the dilemma being as follows:
1. Either causal determinism is true, or it is false.
2. If it is true, then I am compelled to act as I do, and am not morally responsible for my actions.
3. If it is false, then how I act is random, and I am again not morally responsible for my acts.

I want to believe in moral responsibility. And on a practical level, arguing philosophy with the judge won't get you off a murder charge.

I am unwilling to believe that the future is wholly set, or that I have no freedom to choose.

I am inclined to see causal determinism as a series of if-then statements - an understanding of certain systems (like physics, or people) allows you to predict the outcomes of certain situations, but it is not certain which situations will arise.

I believe that I make my choices based on my experiences, my motives and my own view of my situation, and as such they can never be wholly random, but that I make them nonetheless.

I believe that my actions have consequences, and that questioning the sources of my decisions, while not unimportant, will not change the fact that I have to go out and live my life as if I had some measure of control.

I am also highly suspicious of the level of comfort that this belief gives me, and as such will do more research, but it seems consistent enough for the moment.

On Gnosticism

If asked about my religious beliefs, I call myself an agnostic atheist.

If I say humanist (more properly secular humanist), I generally have to explain it, so it is a bit easier to say atheist first.

Agnostic means unknowing or uncertain - basically, I'm saying that I do not believe in God but I'm not certain about it.

Thinking on it. though, I'm reasonably certain (insofar as I can be certain about anything).

I believe that there is no God, and that there are scientific proofs of this. It's not just the unfairness and suffering that every theologian tackles at some point. A double-blind medical study was once used to disprove the healing power of prayer. The concept of brain damage (and consequent loss of an essential part of yourself) seems to preclude the existence of the soul (an indestructible, essential parts of you). Evolutionary biology offers a logical alternative to the concept of a supernatural creator, and a study of biology turns up numerous dead ends, left over bits, and inefficiencies that seem to contradict the idea of a grand planner. Studies of human psychology have turned up inherent urges to seek causes for events and to look for fairness in the universe - needs that are satisfied by the concept of a supernatural deity.

None of this is conclusive, of course, but I find it reasonably compelling.

So why am I so hesitant to call myself gnostic (certain)?

There are several reasons, I suppose.

For one, to announce absolute certainty on such a contested issue seems horribly arrogant.

Also, at least some of my certainty comes from being 18 and clever and more certain than I probably have any right to be about how the world works, and I'd prefer to mitigate that particular brand of fallacy if I can.

For another, I don't want to associate myself with the militant atheists, nor call every theist of my acquaintance (a sizable group including some wonderful, intelligent people) an idiot. I respect Richard Dawkins as a scientist, and he obviously has the right to speak his mind about his own beliefs, but I don't think he's going about it the right way.

Atheists are a minority in modern society, and that will not change in the immediate future. Moreover, we are a distrusted minority, and every militant gnostic atheist who labels religion 'delusion' or 'superstition' only digs the hole farther. Advocating rational thinking is important and that people should be encouraged to question their own beliefs, but most people stop listening if called idiots.

Besides, to call theists idiots is to ignore the way the human mind works - we compartmentalize. Arthur Conan Doyle believed in fairies. Isaac Newton wrote on alchemy as well as math and physics. Thomas Bayes believed in a deterministic divine plan. Theists aren't idiots, they're people, and people I have to get along with an a regular basis. Why would I make it harder on myself?

Finally, I find absolute certainty in general to be worrisome, indicative of fanaticism, and detrimental to free discussion.

I call myself agnostic, I suppose, because it's more in line with how I want to act with other people. I find it arrogant to proclaim certainty on such a significant issue, and I don't want to say that I'm right and everyone else is wrong. I am as skeptical of gnostic atheists as gnostic theists, and as unwilling to count myself among them.

Besides, at the end of it all, if I am right, then death is cessation and people, theists included, should believe whatever makes them happy and induces them to help people. If I am wrong (which is always a possibility), then I reserve the right to quote Isaac Asimov, a particular hero of mine:

“If I were not an atheist, I would believe in a God who would choose to save people on the basis of the totality of their lives and not the pattern of their words. I think he would prefer an honest and righteous atheist to a TV preacher whose every word is God, God, God and whose every deed is foul, foul, foul.”

I will live my life to the fullest because I don't believe there's anything else, and help other people because it's the right thing to do. Anything else is negotiable.

Sherlock Character Analysis

Among my obsessions at the moment is Sherlock Holmes - in particular, Conan Doyle's original stories and the BBC modern adaptation. Because I am obsessed, I'm writing all this down in the hopes that it will then stop revolving inside my head.

Anyway, I'm fond of both versions, but one of the things that I find most interesting is how different the modern and Victorian versions of the characters - especially Sherlock Holmes - are from each other.

I'm borrowing some of my analysis of Holmes from icarus-chained's brilliant posts on the subject, not to mention far too much fanfic and character analysis, but the comparison remains my own.

For purposes of clarity, John, Sherlock, and Jim refer to the modern incarnations of the characters, whereas Watson, Holmes, and Moriarty are the originals.

Names and professions aside, Holmes and Sherlock are quite different people. Much of the framework is the same - observational genius, manic and lethargic fits, dread of boredom and need for intellectual stimulation, emotional detachment and antisocial tendencies - but their characters still differ.

One of the main differences is how abominably rude Sherlock tends to be. He is outright disdainful to everyone, including the victims, and blatantly and unapologetically states his admiration for clever criminals, being obviously more interested in the crime than in the person. In "Reichenbach Fall," he verbally attacks an innocent woman so that she'll give him an answer a bit faster. He blatantly admires Moriarty for creating clever crime. Moreover, his deductions are in given the manner of an attack, throwing at people every secret they would rather hide (his treatment of Sally and Anderson in "Study in Pink" exemplifies this, as does his reaction to 'Jim from IT' in "The Great Game").

By contrast, Holmes has a decent grasp of social niceties that Sherlock seems to entirely lack. Some of this can be attributed to a Victorian emphasis on propriety, but it's also a quite different approach to people in general. Moreover, Holmes honestly cares for the plight of his clients. In "The Beryl Coronet," a client comes in who is so agitated that be begins to beat his head against the wall, and it is Holmes, not Watson, who stops him and calms him enough to tell his story. Holmes is kind to the people who come to him for help, and saves his disdain for the criminals. At one point, he remarks outright on how awful it is when a clever person turns to crime, because of the harm done - a far cry from Sherlock's callous fascination.
This is not to say that Holmes is a paragon - he is aloof, patronizing, and can be cutting when pushed (in "The Noble Bachelor", he is obviously displeased at his noble client's obvious arrogance, and he outright laughs at Jabez Wilson for having been incredibly gullible in "The Red-Headed League").
Also, though Holmes does of course deduce those around him, he is nowhere near so aggressive about it as Sherlock - the tone is more "You cannot hide anything from me, so do not try," than Sherlock's "You idiot! Of course I know everything, now piss off!"

The two detectives are also different in their emotional reserve.

Sherlock is a misanthrope. He seems to actively believe the vast majority of humanity to be tedious fools, and is primarily interested in them insofar as they provide entertainment. He calls himself a "high-functioning sociopath," which is very telling. I've been hard on Sherlock here, because he is an ass, but he isn't a sociopath. For one thing, he does clearly care about John and Mrs. Hudson. He has chosen to help the police, when being a criminal would probably also provide intellectual stimulation. Sherlock cares more than he likes to admit, especially since his false self-diagnosis suggests that he wants to be a sociopath, because he finds it easier not to care. He's been hurt before (Sebastian Wilkes serves as evidence that Sherlock's always been an outsider), and he's lonely, but he refuses to admit it, and he's built his armor high enough that only John manages to make any progress in breaking through it.

Holmes, by contrast, doesn't hate people. He doesn't really notice them unless they bring him cases or enter his life spectacularly enough that he must take notice (Victor Trevor's dog bites his ankle, Watson moves in and helps him on cases), but he doesn't hate them. Where Sherlock's reserve is armor against a world that likely hasn't been kind to him, Holmes is just naturally aloof. He's never had many friends ("Adventure of the Gloria Scott"), but it doesn't seem to bother him. Holmes has chosen an intellectual life over a social one, and seems to be comfortable with his choices.

Another disparity is the arrogance of both characters, and the way they handle defeat.

Holmes is justly proud of his intelligence (and arrogant enough about it that he tends to patronize others), but he also knows his limits. He makes mistakes or is beaten on occasion ("A Scandal in Bohemia," "The Adventure of The Yellow Face," "The Adventure of the Devil's Foot Root") but learns from his mistakes. At the end of "The Adventure of The Yellow Face," Holmes tells Watson to remind him of his failure of deduction if he ever gets too full of himself. Holmes only becomes angry at a mistake if he has accidentally harmed another, as in "The Five Orange Pips," where Holmes inadvertently sends a man to his death with his advice. In that case, Holmes' response is to rectify the error by catching the culprits and bringing them to justice.

Sherlock is much more arrogant, enough so that he clearly loathes failure ("It was your sister!"). His self-esteem seems to be entirely wrapped up in his intelligence - Sherlock does not think himself a good man, nor does he seem to care much for his own well-being (he was going to take that poison pill before John shot the cabbie). Holmes is equally careless with himself in terms of irregular eating and sleeping habits when caught up in a case, not to mention the cocaine, but he also does not risk his life so lightly - once he has deduced the answers, he is willing to leave the actual arrest to the police ("The Adventure of the Cardboard Box"), or to obtain backup when needed ("The Red-Headed League").

One similarity between the two is that both care deeply for their respective John Watsons, though it takes significant duress ("The Great Game" and "The Three Garridebs," respectively) for them to show it."

Both detectives also have the same essential drive - to find out the truth, at any cost.

Sherlock Holmes is not the only character to have changed in adaptation - Mycroft is also quite different, changing in relation to his brother.

In the original canon, Mycroft is smarter than Holmes (by Holmes' admission), but far lazier, content to watch the world from the comfort of his armchair in the Diogenes Club. He and his brother are cordial but not especially close, though Mycroft does occasionally provide Sherlock with an interesting case. His specialty is apparently omniscience - he makes a point of knowing everything, serving the British government as a sort of living computer.

The modern Mycroft cares deeply about his little brother, but he's awful at showing it. He is more active than his counterpart, often interfering directly to control Sherlock's life and protect his brother from behind the scenes, because he "worries constantly." Giving Sherlock's childish recklessness, this worry is understandable. Holmes prefers Watson's company, but is self-sufficient and seems to do fine on his own when Watson move out to get married. I am really not sure how Sherlock survived before meeting John, nor can I imagine him letting John go with any equanimity. Given Mycroft's manipulations and Sherlock's fierce independence, the resulting relationship is far more contentious than in canon.

John is more similar to Watson than Sherlock is to Holmes, though not identical.

Both are intelligent, loyal, compassionate, occasionally sarcastic, and devoted to and fascinated by their respective detectives (though not too in awe to remind them when they go too far).

What differences there are between them come into light in contrast with a changed Sherlock, much like the two Mycrofts. Mostly, John is dependent on Sherlock (and vice-versa), much more than Watson is on Holmes (though their friendship is still very close).

Though both versions of John Watson enjoy the excitement of the cases, having latched onto Sherlock Holmes as a source of excitement and purpose after returning from the war, John is more of a danger junkie. Watson loves the mystery and the intrigue, but the tremor and the limp in particular show John's dependence on danger, and by extension on Sherlock.

John and Sherlock's codependency comes into particular light in terms of John's interactions with his girlfriends, as opposed to Watson's wife.
(I should note at this point that I don't actually see either John and Sherlock or Watson and Holmes as a romantic pairing. I've read some excellent fic exploring that and have nothing against that interpretation, but I don't personally believe in it, especially not in the context of the original stories.)

John loses his girlfriend in "Scandal in Belgravia" because he prioritizes Sherlock over her, going so far as to confuse her with a previous one. He has difficulty maintaining attachments outside of Sherlock (at the Christmas party in that same episode, the only other guests are Lestrade, Molly, and Mrs. Hudson - all friends of Sherlock.

Watson manages a more normal social life, getting engaged to Mary Morstan at the end of "Sign of Four" and seeming quite happy in his marriage, though he does always join Holmes on cases when asked.

John also serves as apologist and caretaker for Sherlock because he seems incapable of being polite or dealing with 'tedious' ordinary concerns like food and sleep. Watson cares for Holmes - and reminds him to have a care for his health - but Holmes is more mature than Sherlock. He doesn't need the help quite as much, so Watson doesn't give it.

Like Mycroft, John is different mostly in relation to a reinterpretation of Sherlock, on whom the whole show turns. Sherlock is less mature than Holmes, and less self-sufficient despite the way he values his independence. He relies on John, and the reverse is equally true.

Lestrade also differs between the two versions, again in relation to Sherlock.

In the original stories, he is the most reliable of several detectives who help Holmes in his investigations. He is determined and dedicated once put on the right path, and though Holmes doesn't think much of his intelligence or imagination, he does trust Lestrade to take the right action when given the solution to a mystery - in "The Adventure of the Cardboard Box," as I mentioned earlier, Holmes solves the case and lets Lestrade go arrest the culprit, expecting him to tell Holmes the ultimate solution when he's done.

Their working relationship is different in Sherlock, especially since Sherlock, though brilliant, is such an ass. Greg Lestrade apparently knew Sherlock as a junkie, and in my headcanon he helped him get clean via a conditional offer of cases. He reacts to Sherlock with resignation, and lets him work cases because he needs the results (and he knows Sherlock needs the distraction). The relationship is closer than in the books, especially because Sherlock is so much more difficult to work with than Holmes, and as such only has the one DI who willingly works with him.

In bringing him closer to Sherlock, Lestrade gains extra detail of characterization that he didn't get in the original - mostly a bit of the stereotypical workaholic cop, complete with cheating wife presumably related to his overwork.

Other than Sherlock Holmes, the character who is most changed between versions is probably James Moriarty. (Interestingly, despite his appearances in nearly every adaptation, the original Professor Moriarty only appears in one short story: "The Final Problem.")

The original Moriarty was a mathematics professor as well as a criminal genius. He was dignified and controlled, and he warned Holmes off only once he got too close. He comes unarmed to Baker Street to meet Holmes, knowing that Holmes won't attack him (it would leave Moriarty's organization intact and therefore be counterproductive), and warns him that his investigations are getting too close and that any attempt to destroy Moriarty will destroy Holmes as well. (Holmes' reply is that as long as he can be sure of beating Moriarty, he will, "in the interests of the public," cheerfully accept his own death). Had Holmes actually listened to the Professor's warning, he probably would have been left alone thereafter, because Moriarty saw him mainly as an an obstacle.

By contrast, Jim is a psychopath. He is obsessed with Sherlock, and sets out to gain his attention - not the most practical course of action for a criminal mastermind. He threatens everything Sherlock cares about, and systematically sets out to destroy him, going so far to kill himself because his life doesn't matter as long as he wins. Unlike Moriarty, Jim's concern is not for whatever threat Sherlock's investigations pose to him and his organization - all he really wants is to stop being bored.

Jim is a fanatic, where Moriarty is a specialist - they're both excellent villains, but for different reasons.

Moriarty was scary because he was subtle as well as evil. He didn't need threaten Holmes with bombs or snipers, because they were both clever enough to know exactly what was at stake.

Jim is clever, but he isn't nearly so subtle - he's scary because he's completely and entirely unhinged.

If Moriarty is the Napoleon of Crime, then Jim is Emperor Nero.

I've been harsh here, so I would like to clarify that I like BBC Sherlock quite a lot. It does something new with the characters. It isn't just a rewriting or a transplant of setting - it takes names and ideas from the original and throws in a thousand extra references, but it tells its own story, and it's amazing. Sherlock is not really the same person as Holmes, and he's all the more interesting for that.

On reflection, the updated versions of the characters (childish Sherlock, broken John, insane Moriarty, controlling Mycroft, overworked Lestrade) seem to be noticeably more damaged than their counterparts (even Mrs. Hudson, in gaining more detailed characterization, received a presumably abusive, murderous husband). Is it because we're more cynical now, or because they didn't discuss these things in the Victorian Era? Both? I'm not sure why "doing something new with the characters" has made them all a bit less put-together, but I do enjoy the results.

It's an awesome show, based on awesome stories. That said, if I had to choose one Sherlock Holmes to meet, it would definitely be Holmes that I'd choose.

On Doctor Who and Sexism

There has been a lot of controversy recently about sexism in Moffat's Doctor Who.

I love the show dearly, but I am also a feminist (egalitarian, really), and looking at it objectively, I can see the point.

These articles offer an excellent explication of the case against Moffat - essentially that the female characters' lives tend to revolve around the Doctor, and their stories end in marriage and children often enough to imply that that is the 'correct' path. There is also a very definite tendency for the female companion to emote with the local victim (often also female) while the Doctor finds a technological solution to the problem.

On the other hand, this is a feminist defense of Moffat's work, and makes a number of equally valid points. It holds that Moffat's women are defined by relationships with men because all fictional characters are to some extent defined by relationships with the central character, that the sexy women he writes are in control of their own sexuality and that this is not misogynistic, and that they are all individual enough to not be generic, as they are accused of being.

In my opinion, Moffat isn't a misogynist. I do think that his female characters tend to be somewhat similar and that the repetition of stories that end in marriage and children is problematic, but I don't find the show to be too egregiously sexist.

Anyway, my primary point here is not whether or not Doctor Who is sexist. I want to talk about sexism in media in general - and why I choose to forgive it to some extent.

If I really looked for sexism in everything I read or watched, and tried to avoid sexist works, I would find myself with a rather significant dearth in entertainment. I would also cut myself off from a number of genuine classics - the works of Lovecraft, Asimov, Tolkien, Dickens, Dumas, Doyle, and far too many other great authors come to mind, as do Star Trek, Star Wars, and innumerable others.

I refuse to become so mired in a state of perpetual offence that I miss out on excellent storytelling.

I may be a feminist, but I am secure enough in my knowledge of my own agency to enjoy works that are less than politically correct, and to understand that any creative work is a product of its own time - even if that time is our own.

The fact is that our society is still in a state of flux, as the last 50 years have seen a very great deal of societal change, and a vast increase in rights for a number of different groups, women among them. We are still sorting out the ramifications of that change, and the result is a society that is nowhere near as equal or as free as we like to think it is. This applies every bit as much to racism, classism, heteronormativity, and ableism as it does to sexism.

So I can forgive imperfections, because if I could not then there would be very little left for me to enjoy. I can accept that people are complicated and imperfect, and the things that they create are even more so. I can interpret works in ways that have meaning to me. I can watch the Princess Bride and focus on love and heroism and humor, and not be offended by Buttercup's naivete and role as "damsel in distress." (I can also ignore the antitechnological implications of a life-sucking "Machine.")

This forgiveness is for the sake of my own sanity, but it does not mean that I believe feminism to be a lost cause. It doesn't mean that I don't love the works (Buffy comes to mind) that actually get it right. It doesn't mean that I don't notice when Buffy is lauded for having "strong female characters" as if that is exceptional (males are implied to be inherently strong).

I've merely decided to pick my battles, to attack the truly egregious, and in other ways to support feminism less by attacking every example of inequality and more by being a "strong female character" in my own right.

Even when something truly is egregious, I can enjoy what merits it does have before I gleefully analyze it into oblivion.

I will also note that there are limits to my forgiveness, which are based on the quality of the work and on the egregiousness of the sexism. Twilight fails on both counts.


I love poetry. I love the sound of it, love rhyme and meter and symmetry, love the way it flows. I generally memorize my favorites. After all, I like to memorize things, and though I really can't sing, I can recite. Hence, poetry. This post is mostly practice, to make sure I still remember them all.

This one just amuses me. I like doggerel. It's fun.

The Man From Leeds

There was a man who came from Leeds,
He filled his garden full of seeds.
And when the seeds began to grow,
It was like a garden in the snow.
And when the snow began to melt,
It was like a ship without a belt.
And when the ship began to sail,
It was like a bird without a tail.
And when the bird began to fly,
It was like a tiger in the sky.
And when the sky began to roar,
It was like a lion at my door.
And when my door began to crack,
It was like a penknife in my back.
And when my back began to bleed,
I was dead, dead, dead indeed!

This, also, is just fun. And it added 3 words to the English language - chortled, vorpal, and galumphing.

Jabberwocky, by Lewis Carroll

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
Did gyre and gimble in the wabe:
All mimsy were the borogoves,
And the mome raths outgrabe.

"Beware the Jabberwock, my son!
The jaws that bite, the claws that catch!
Beware the Jubjub bird, and shun
The frumious Bandersnatch!"

He took his vorpal sword in hand:
Long time the manxsome foe he sought -
So rested he by the Tumtum tree,
And stood awhile in thought.

And, as in uffish thought he stood,
The Jabberwock, with eyes of flame,
Came whiffling through the tulgey wood,
And burbled as it came!

One, two! One, two! And through and through
The vorpal blade went snicker-snack!
He left it dead, and with its head
He went galumphing back.

"And hast thou slain the Jabberwock?
Come to my arms, my beamish boy!
Oh frabjous day! Callooh! Callay!"
He chortled in his joy.

'Twas brillig, and the slithy toves
did gyre and gimble in the wabe;
All mimsy were the borogoves,
and the mome raths outgrabe.

This I simply find hilarious, and I absolutely know the feeling that it describes.

Where There's a Will, There's Velleity, by Ogden Nash

Seated one day at the dictionary, I was pretty weary and also pretty ill at ease,
Because a word I had always liked had turned out not to be a word at all, and suddenly I found myself among the v's.
And suddenly among the v's I found a new word which was a word called velleity,
So the new word I found was better than the old word I lost, for which I thank my tutelary deity,
Because velleity is a word which gives me great satisfaction,
Because do you know what it means, it means low degree of volition not prompting to action,
And I always knew I had something holding me back but I didn't know what,
And it's quite a relief to know it isn't a conspiracy, it's only velleity that I've got.
Because to be wonderful at everything has always been my ambition,
Yes, indeed, I am simply teeming with volition.
So why I was never wonderful at anything was something I couldn't see,
While all this time, of course, my volition was merely volition of a low degree,
Which is the kind of volition that you are better off without it,
Because it puts an idea in your head but doesn't prompt you to do anything about it.
So you think it would be nice to be a great pianist, but why bother with practicing for hours at the keyboard,
Or you would like to be the romantic captain of a romantic ship but can't find the time to study navigation of charts of the ocean of the seaboard;
You want a lot of money but you are not prepared to work for it,
Or a book to read in bed, but you do not care to go out into the nocturnal cold and murk for it;
And now if you have any such symptoms you can identify your malady with accurate spontaneity:
It's velleity,
So don't forget to remember that you're velleitious, and if anyone says you're just lazy,
Why, they're crazy.

This one does speak to me, and I think its message is mostly correct. I do question a few lines - "If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you / If all men count with you, but none too much"? But it's still lovely.

If-, by Rudyard Kipling
If you can keep your head when all about you
Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
Or being lied about, don't deal in lies,
Or being hated, don't give way to hating,
And yet don't look to good nor talk too wise;

If you can dream, and not make dreams your master;
If you can think, and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
And treat those two impostors just the same,
If you can bear to hear the truth you've spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or see the things you gave your life to, broken,
And stoop and build 'em up with worn-out tools:

If you can make on heap of all your winnings
And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
Except the Will which says to them "Hold on!"

If you can walk with crowds and keep your virtue,
Or talk with kings - nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
If all men count with you - but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
With sixty seconds' worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that's in it,
And - which is more - you'll be a man, my son!

I read this one in a story today, and loved it immediately.

#602, by Emily Dickinson

Much madness is divinest sense
To a discerning eye;
Much sense the starkest madness
'Tis the majority
In this, as all, prevails,
Agree, and you are sane;
Demur, - you're straightway dangerous
And handled with a chain.

I found this in a My Little Pony fanfic, of all places. It's still one of my favorite philosophical poems.

A Verb Called Self, by Chatoyance

I am the playing, but not the pause.

I am the effect, but not the cause.

I am the living, but not the cells.

I am the ringing, but not the bells.

I am the animal, but not the meat.

I am the walking, but not the feet.

I am the pattern, but not the clothes.

I am the smelling, but not the rose.

I am the waves, but not the sea

Whatever my substrate, my me is still me.

I am the sparks in the dark that exist as a dream -

I am the process, but not the machine.

This last one I simply enjoyed the message of.

Don't Quit, by Anonymous

When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you're trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high
And you want to smile but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest, if you must, but don't you quit.

Life is queer with its twists and turns,
As every one of us sometimes learns,
And many a failure turns about
When he might have won, had he stuck it out.
Don't give up though the pace seems slow -
You may succeed with another blow.

Often the goal is nearer than
It seems to the faint and faltering man;
Often the struggler has given up
When he might have captured the victor's cup,
And learned too late, when the night slipped down,
How close he was to the golden crown.

Success is failure turned inside out,
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt,
And you can never tell how close you are -
It may be near, when it seems so far.
So stick to the fight when you're hardest hit,
It's when things seem worst that you mustn't quit.

I did look all of these up, to ensure that I had the punctuation and other minor details correct. But I typed them all before I read them. Anything else would be cheating.