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ReReadable Books

January 2012

"Justice: Part 1 - Gaming for Keeps"


Jacqueline Lichtenberg



 To send books for review in this column email Jacqueline Lichtenberg,jl@simegen.com  for snailing instructions or send an attached RTF file.  
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Ghost Story by Jim Butcher, RoC HC, August 2011


“With great power comes great responsibility.”  All geeks know that quote.  If you don’t, quick run to Amazon and get the Spiderman movies, all of them. 

Our “action heroes” generally illustrate the use and abuse of physical power.  But you and I know that the real power in this world, and in life, is not at all material, physical, or even financial. 

The power that directs the course of events in a single life, a family’s or community’s life, or the whole civilization’s life, is unseen and unseeable.  It is a force that comes from outside physical reality, and yet is an integral part of it. 

That is the force which drives the “plot” of all movies and stories.  A “plot” is the sequence of events that starts with a decision or inadvertent but decisive action, which causes the reaction, that causes the next event.  It’s a cause-effect chain, and it works in stories because it is a portrait of real life.

In life, you flounder among hundreds maybe thousands of cause-effect chains, some started thousands of years ago, some started yesterday, some by you, mostly by others, or groups of others.  Life is a pea soup of independent and interlaced cause-effect chains.

Your life had a “start” point, (a natal chart) and has an “end” point – though the natal chart doesn’t register it usually.  Any life is dotted with traumas, spiritual deaths and rebirths, mine fields you walk through without an explosion, and explosions that throw you into a new life or beyond life.  The traumas are scheduled in the natal chart, but don’t always happen, and the odds of the outcomes are pretty clear in a natal chart, but the exact outcome is as elusive as the ubiquitous Higgs Boson.

Your freewill choices may affect outcomes, but not the next monster to come crashing through your living room wall directed by something with a much freer will! 

Does that sound like a videogame you’ve played recently?  The reason videogames are so popular is the way they mirror real life, making the unseen visible. 

But in a videogame as in a novel or film, we look for that satisfying ending where “justice” is served up, sometimes cold and sometimes warm and cuddly.  That payoff moment in a story delivers the poetic justice that reaffirms our belief that justice is built into the fabric of reality.  Most of us need that belief to continue on the path of the white magician.

But how can you sustain that belief in the face of what comes in the news every day?  How is it that some people get so rich, while others get splashed with a face full of muddy snow as a reward for walking to work every day, trying to live “Green?”

There are lots of books written on that, but check out this short online article with a geek’s answer:


That article describes the world as a game system, a MUD, that’s been hacked, and how we’re the techs who have to fix that so the users can keep playing.  And yes, I remember Captain Kirk and the Kobayashi Maru.

Keep Why Do Great Things Happen To Rotten People? in mind as you read Jim Butcher’s latest Dresden Files novel, Ghost Story.

Ghost Story is the 13th novel in the Dresden files, each of which is a very tight, direct sequel. 

Dresden is a “Professional Wizard” using Magick to do the work of a “Private Eye” in Chicago, in our modern times but in a very slightly alternate world where Magic, Demons, Vampires of various habits, White Magicians and gray all vie for control of Chicago.  The barrier between worlds is thin there, and beings from Nevernever interact with us.  Dresden has a real fairy godmother, second in command to Mab who wants Dresden to be her Knight of Winter, which would be selling his soul, which he treasures.

Harry Dresden tells his hard-boiled Chicago Private Eye first-person story in his own words.  This gives us an inside view of his step by step application of a White Magician’s morality.  In each novel, Harry’s narrowly targeted actions produce larger-than-life results. 

I reviewed #11, Turncoat, in my October 2009 column titled The Mystery of Magic: The Magician’s Apprentice.  And #12, Changes, in November 2010 in a column titled The Science of Magic: Part V, Scalability.  Dresden Files is in e-book now: the TV Series on DVD.

I urge you to study, not just read, these novels.  If you have, the following won’t seem like a spoiler. 

Butcher has outdone himself with Ghost Story, and set up a springboard into more Dresden Files stories.  Dresden, though touched early in life by Black Magic and since tainted deeply by it, lives the life of the White Magician, guardian of Excalibur and other Archangel Swords.  The article I pointed you to above explains why Dresden’s initiation into the Dark makes him more qualified to handle vast White Power, not less qualified as the White Council believes.

As I read that article, I see Dresden is a MUD hacker turned security consultant for the game designer.  And as pointed out at the end of the article, it’s all a setup. 

The hacker-turned-consultant is an archetype that you see in some TV shows like White Collar.  So you need to study The Dresden Files if you have any interest in how Magick and Justice intertwine in this world. 

In the direct prequel to Ghost Story, Changes, Dresden sets out to rescue his daughter (a 6 yr. old child he didn’t know existed) from the most evil killer Vampires.  Simple, little, limited objective, perfectly righteous. 

In the course of helping other people along the way, and always doing the “right” thing with the huge magical power he commands (great power but without much fine control), he ends up with a broken back, absolutely helpless while his daughter is going to be sacrificed in a magical ritual to give the bad Vampires vast command in the world–with far reaching inter-world consequences.

He concocts a plan, though we don’t know all of it.  Dresden has his apprentice erase his memory so it can’t be read by Mab, with whom he makes a trade, a deal to become her Knight if she’ll give him the power to rescue his daughter.  He thinks he’s “playing” her. 

In the course of rescuing the daughter, he has to slit the throat of the daughter’s mother (whom he loves), to trigger the bad Vampire group’s spell and make it backfire, wiping out (nearly) all the killer Vampires.

He uses his occult knowledge and magick to do an Evil Deed to accomplish a Righteous Objective, after he’s sold his soul to a dark and dangerous power.  In the last scene, he’s shot in the chest and falls into Lake Michigan.  There’s no doubt he’s dead.  That’s justice, right? 

We’ve admired him through 11 novels, but how can Dresden be admirable now?  Why am I reviewing this series, demanding that you read it carefully? 

Because this series, more than any other that’s come across my desk the last few years, can bring you to conscious knowledge of your own concept of Justice.  To wield your own power righteously, you must know where Justice comes from, why we treasure it, what the Tarot Card Justice really means, what it means to acquire and wield Power, what morality has to do with Justice, how we come by our notions of right, wrong, the value of life, and the meaning of success, wealth, possessions, Relationships.  Where does personal sovereignty and individual responsibility lie athwart Justice, divine or poetic?

Ghost Story sends Dresden’s ghost on a mission to find his killer in order to protect 3 of those he loves most from terrible damage, or so he’s told, and believes. It draws on all 12 prior novels (and some of the short stories) to illustrate (with gorgeous gamesmanship) the structure of the universe we live in, the meaning of free will and individual power in the context of a group, and reveals what you might call the Higgs Boson of Justice. 

Even if you know what the Higgs Boson, called the God Particle, is, watch this from Fermi Labs:


Dresden’s conversation with the archangel Uriel reminded me of that video. 

Having found his killer by discovering what he’d had his apprentice wipe from his memory, Dresden must choose between two “doors” into his future–one dark, the other light.  He chooses to confront the consequences of his actions head on, and ends up in the biggest, deepest, sourest pickle he has yet been in.  But if you’ve read all 12 previous books carefully, you know he knows this is Justice. 

As readers, though, we also know he’ll hack the MUD and change the world-game.

To send books for review in this column email Jacqueline Lichtenberg,  jl@simegen.com for snailing instructions or send an attached RTF file.  



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