Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, by Eliezer Yudkowsky (Books 2020, 3)

Harry Potter fan fiction, by Merlin’s beard! I heard of this book — HPMOR, as it’s known — from my son, a couple of years ago. Didn’t think about it for a while, and then recently I saw a tweet from a friend-of-friends, @ciphergoth:

The fact that it was a quote from Harry Potter, and that I didn’t recognise it — indeed, it didn’t seem like something Harry would say — intrigued me, so I clicked through.

And then I shortly found myself downloading the ebook and reading it for the next… actually, month or so.

Because this book is looooooong! It’s a retelling of just the first Harry Potter book, along with much more, and it’s about half as long as all seven of the JKR originals.

In fact, it could have done with an editor. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but it has some weaknesses.

First, the strengths, though. Yudkowsky can write a page-turner almost as well as Rowling. What we have here is an alternative universe in which Petunia Evans marries someone else, not Vernon Dursley. They adopt Harry, and bring him up in a loving home. Harry’s adoptive father is a scientist, which is where he learns his rationality. So his first thought when he discovers that magic exists is to try experiments to understand its capabilities and limits. Experimentation soon gets overwhelmed by events, though, as the plot gets going.

There are other differences from the original, of course, and the end result is very different.

Part of what Yudkowsky does is takes the literal translation of Voldemort’s name — “flees from death,” essentially — recognises the rationality of that feeling — who wouldn’t prefer going on living, to dying? — and builds from there.

The major flaws are wordiness and couple of authorial tics that get repetitive and mildly annoying. He has a tendency to refer to people by their role, rather than their name: “The Defence Professor,” rather than “Quirrell,” for example. Which is fine if used sparingly, for variety. But he has people referring to other people like that, when they just wouldn’t.

There’s also overuse of scenes that start like, “The boy stood in the forest…” and only slowly revealing which boy. Again, fine occasionally, but he overdoes it.

And a few Americanisms creep in: like calling the staff of Hogwarts the “faculty.” And anachronisms: nobody apologised for their snarkiness in 1992, since the word hadn’t been coined yet. Well, I could be wrong there: this site says it goes back to 1906 or earlier. No-one in Britain, then.

But I shouldn’t complain. It’s an astonishingly well-constructed work, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The Clash On Display

My favourite band have become a museum piece.

Or at least, some of their instruments, clothing, lyrics, and memorabilia are in an exhibition which the Museum of London1 has been running since the fortieth anniversary of London Calling in December. I popped along today.

It’s small, but pretty good. The centrepiece is Paul Simenon’s smashed bass from the famous cover photo. It lies under glass on a red velvet cushion, like a fallen warrior lying in state (see above).

It’s actually kind of gruesome. “That’s no way to treat an expensive musical instrument,” as someone once said.

I didn’t learn anything I didn’t already know, I don’t think. Except maybe that Joe had a backup white Telecaster, that I don’t think I’ve ever seen him use, either live, in video, or in photos. His iconic black one is in the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, I believe. Or another museum.

Oh, and see the poster in that shot? “Two for a fiver”? When I bought London Calling it was only Β£3.99. Both times, as I’ve written about before.

Anyway, worth checking out, especially since it’s free. My main complaint: there are a lot of songs that could have been playing, even if they kept it to the relevant album. Instead they had a loop of just three (“London Calling,” “Train in Vain,” and “Clampdown,” the latter two live versions).

  1. Which I had never before visited, in thirty-two years living here. 

Glen Matlock Remembers How to Rock, but Nearly Forgets the Songs That Put Him Where He Is

Glen Matlock doesn’t seem to have much time for the past, except the past as he sees it. Cover versions of the New York Dolls, or one or other size of The Faces, are fine. But the songs that he co-wrote? The songs that are responsible for what fame he has — for 200 people being out on a cold, virus-infested night, to see him?

Those songs — that single song, in fact 1 — is relegated to the encore.

Glen Matlock and his band at the Red Lion Ballroom in Leytonstone
Glen Matlock and his band at the Red Lion Ballroom in Leytonstone

There’s nothing wrong with keeping your best-known songs for the encore, of course. But when the ticket site said “Curfew: 10:30,” and it’s 10:27 and there hasn’t been a single Pistols song, you can start to get a bit twitchy.

On the plus side, he did introduce “Pretty Vacant” by saying, “This is ‘SOS’,” referring to his borrowing of the intro riff from the Abba song.

It was a good night, though. His originals and the covers were all fine. It’s just that, if you heard a no-name pub band playing those songs — well, you wouldn’t bother going out specially for it.

The night was billed as “Glen Matlock + Earl Slick.” I’m embarrassed to admit I had to look up who Slick was. Turns out he only replaced Mick Ronson in Bowie’s band, and worked with John & Yoko! And now he’s playing lead guitar in Glen Matlock’s band. Oh well.

  1. There’s no point in asking what that is. You’ll get no reply. 

It’s filling up a bit. And the DJ’s playing the 101ers, so that’s good.

Fighting with My Family, 2019 – β˜…β˜…β˜…Β½

I didn’t expect to be watching a film about wrestling, much less one made in association with the WWE. I mean, if had been about the old British wrestling matches they used to show on Sundays on ITV — Big Daddy, Giant Haystacks, Kendo Nagasaki — then maybe.

But this turned out to be a lot of fun. Written and directed by Stephen Merchant, it’s based on the true story of a wrestling-mad family in Norwich, and how they try to get into the giant American wrestling entertainment business.

Not bad at all.

from Letterboxd – devilgate

The Grand Budapest Hotel, 2014 – β˜…β˜…β˜…

I note that I gave this three-and-a-half stars when I added it to Letterboxd, some time last year. Watched it again last night, for, I think, the third time. My inclination is to reduce its number of stars. I don’t dislike it, by any means, but I don’t love it the way the test of my family do.Β 

Last night I was more puzzled by it than I recall being before. Why the three layers of story? I’m not sure that adds anything. I like the look, and I originally loved the weirdness, but… in the end it just feels kind of shallow.

from Letterboxd – devilgate