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siduri comments on Three Worlds Collide (0/8) - Less Wrong

48 Post author: Eliezer_Yudkowsky 30 January 2009 12:07PM

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Comment author: [deleted] 01 July 2013 03:06:41AM 7 points [-]

I like fanfic.

I don't, in general, post even constructive criticism on fanfic unless I'm specifically asked to (as a beta reader or something) and even then I will sandwich the con-crit between the most heaping helpings of praise that I can come up with for the work as a whole. The reason for this is that most fanfic writers are motivated by praise. They're not getting paid, after all: the praise is all the reward they get, so the praise had better be good. If I like a piece of fanfic, if I want more of it, I try to provide praise, and the more effusive the better.

I think most fanfic readers intuitively do this, and I worry that EY is taking comments like "HPMOR is the best thing I ever read!!!" literally, when a lot of that sort of stuff is just characteristically enthusiastic fan-feedback. (I'm willing to accept that JohnWittle means it literally, although, seriously? You'd trade Shakespeare and James Joyce--Neil Gaiman and Tolkien and Ursula K. Le Guin--for HPMOR? It's pretty hard for me to wrap my head around that.)

But in general, the reasons that I don't think HPMOR is as good as TWC have to do not with sentence-level construction but with plot momentum, tightness of theme, efficiency/consistency of characterization etc. It's obviously not really "fair" to critique HPMOR on these grounds since we're mostly seeing stuff that EY is posting as he completes, rather than a revised and polished final version, and because HPMOR is huge and rambling while TWC is a short story. But I was impressed that TWC had such focus, consistency, and drive because it's something that I've felt lacking in HPMOR.

I'm speaking generally but that's as critical as I want to get. I really don't want to trash HPMOR--it's just the "best thing in all of literature" comments that make me boggle a little. What I actually wanted to do was praise TWC, which I think is a truly excellent story.

Comment author: wedrifid 01 July 2013 03:58:11AM *  1 point [-]

'm willing to accept that JohnWittle means it literally, although, seriously? You'd trade Shakespeare and James Joyce--Neil Gaiman and Tolkien and Ursula K. Le Guin--for HPMOR? It's pretty hard for me to wrap my head around that.

  • Shakespeare I would trade for those weeks of my highschool life back, to spend on learning something more valuable.
  • James Joyce is an author I have heard of and have an intuition that I would experience social pressure against me if I did not assign him high status. From the reviews I read of Ulysses I would pay money to not have to read it. I don't object to other people reading it or enjoying the sophistication.
  • Tolkien's stories I would trade for MoR. His stories are rather dull. I wouldn't trade his world or, especially, the overwhelming influence he had on fantasy fiction in general and elves in particular.
  • Neil Gaiman's work I would trade, but reluctantly. I enjoyed Stardust. But Gaiman's work is more typical and substitutes more easily found. Extreme Rational characters and worlds are overwhelmingly rare.
  • Ursula K. Le Guin? Haven't read. Is her work closer in style and significance to Joyce, Shakespeare, Gaiman or MoR? If one of the last two I'd add her to my to read list.

I'm not sure "You'd trade?" is the right comparison to make. Perhaps "you would assign higher status to" or "you believe is more sophisticated and polished artwork" would give you the answer desired.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 July 2013 04:15:29AM 1 point [-]

Le Guin is a genre writer, like Tolkien and Gaiman. For the most part she's not stylistically difficult as Shakespeare or Joyce can be, although Always Coming Home is experimental in form.

I think she's wonderful. Her Earthsea books (A Wizard of Earthsea is the first) are a good accessible jumping-on point if you're interested in checking her out. Or The Dispossessed if you prefer science fiction. Or one of her short story collections, maybe The Wind's Twelve Quarters or The Compass Rose.

I would only advise you to stay away from The Left Hand of Darkness--that one won both the Hugo and the Nebula and is the book of hers most likely to be taught in college courses, but she regards it as something of a failed experiment and personally I tend to agree.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 July 2013 04:41:33AM 1 point [-]

Le Guin is a death worshipper. The major theme of the Earthsea is the folly of the quest for immortality or even survival, and the naturalness of death.

Comment author: Prismattic 01 July 2013 04:50:03AM 0 points [-]

Are you making an argument for aesthetic Stalinism?

Whether a work of art or literature is good is not necessarily related to whether it conveys lessons one agrees with.

Comment author: wedrifid 01 July 2013 05:22:00AM *  1 point [-]

Are you making an argument for aesthetic Stalinism?

No, quite clearly not. That being the case it is disingenuous to ask for rhetorical purposes.

Whether a work of art or literature is good is not necessarily related to whether it conveys lessons one agrees with.

Not necessarily, but it is a particularly strong reason. If a piece of fiction has the inferred purpose of conveying a lesson and that lesson is a bad lesson then the value of the piece of fiction could easily be negative. This is different to a non-fiction work that accurately conveys reality. Reality isn't something that we get to choose, lessons and values are.

Comment author: Prismattic 02 July 2013 04:52:35AM *  0 points [-]

I was asking it ingenuously and straightforwardly, actually.

If a piece of fiction has the inferred purpose of conveying a lesson

HPMOR is clearly didactic in this way; it's not at all clear to me that Le Guin's writing is (with the exception of Omelas).

Comment author: wedrifid 01 July 2013 05:19:39AM 2 points [-]

Le Guin is a death worshipper. The major theme of the Earthsea is the folly of the quest for immortality or even survival, and the naturalness of death.

Thankyou. That is the kind of attitude that at times makes me abandon a book in disgust. If I don't identify with the goals or decisions of the protagonist I tend to be either disinterested in or repulsed by the work. I'll avoid the author.

Comment author: RichardKennaway 01 July 2013 08:21:23AM *  0 points [-]

I agree about the deathism of Earthsea. And it has other faults, such as the fourth volume (Tehanu) being her turning against (although not entirely) the misogyny of the whole setup of the first three, and with the zeal of the newly enlightened retconning "men evil, women good" onto it. Always Coming Home is full of fluffy woo.

But she also wrote the short story The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas, which is worth finding, because it's about a standard utilitarian problem. I'm sure some philosopher posed it in exactly the form in which her story presents it, but I've not been able to track that down. Imagine a utopia — whatever utopia you like — except that it must be sustained by the suffering of a little girl confined in a cell and tortured for ever. It is part of the thought experiment that the utopia and the suffering are necessarily connected: the little girl can only be freed at the cost of ending the utopia. It is alluded to in HPMOR.

Comment author: [deleted] 01 July 2013 05:41:48AM 0 points [-]

I don't agree with your characterization. I would say that the major theme of the first book is attaining self-knowledge, while the major theme of the second and fourth books is overcoming abuse.

The major theme of the third book is confronting mortality. In that book the land of the dead is portrayed as a terrible place, and the heroes of the book struggle with everything they have and are to escape it. But it's true that there's a villain whose quest for immortality is portrayed as selfish and dangerous.

The major theme of the fifth and final book is looking outside the self and understanding others. There's some business with the land of the dead involved in this one too, but there's an answer given that I don't think boils down to death-worship.

Comment author: NancyLebovitz 01 July 2013 06:00:42AM 0 points [-]

As I recall, the especially miserable but obligatory afterlife in the first three books got revised in the last (fifth?) book. The initial state turned out to be a magical working which seemed like a good idea at the time. Anyone remember the details?

Comment author: Vaniver 02 July 2013 08:59:01PM 1 point [-]

Ursula K. Le Guin? Haven't read. Is her work closer in style and significance to Joyce, Shakespeare, Gaiman or MoR? If one of the last two I'd add her to my to read list.

I thought that A Wizard of Earthsea was a good counterpoint to a lot of the other fantasy books that I read as a child; I think that MoR!Harry would have made a few less mistakes if he had read and grokked it.

Comment author: Prismattic 01 July 2013 04:47:51AM 0 points [-]

Interesting choices to represent better literature.

Personally, I think James Joyce's work is the Sokal hoax of highbrow literature, but YMMV. (I'm not kidding.)

Comment author: [deleted] 07 August 2013 10:55:14PM *  2 points [-]

I don't think you're kidding, but my response to this will vary depending on whether you have made an honest effort to read Joyce. Have you actually sat down with any of his books? Which ones, and how long did you give it?

Personally, I feel that Ulysses delivered one of the single most transporting experiences I've ever had as a reader. However, the book is deliberately hard in places. It's kind of like "The Neverending Story" -- Joyce is writing about The Hero's Journey but he aims to make you, the reader, experience that journey on a visceral level along with the protagonist of the book. So when things are hardest for the protagonist, the book also becomes difficult to decode and to read.

My opinion is that this trick pays off in the end, when I as a reader experienced a sense of relief and homecoming just as the protagonist did. The last line of Ulysses can be endlessly quoted ("yes I said yes I will Yes") but the sweetness and the power of it is something that has to be experienced, by going on the journey.

Comment author: TheOtherDave 01 July 2013 01:48:09PM *  0 points [-]

I have absolutely no idea why this is a response to my comment; it seems entirely unrelated.
Just to be clear, I am not defending the quality of HPMoR, and I'm fairly certain I've never done so, though I've recommended it to several friends to whom I think it would appeal... not for the adequacy of its writing, but for the rarity and audience-appropriateness of its themes.

Comment author: [deleted] 06 July 2013 05:02:19AM 0 points [-]

Misclick on my part. I meant to reply to JohnWittle (the grandparent of your comment). Sorry for the confusion!