The best of 2012 according to Flippy’s totally biased opinion.
HARRY POTTER AND THE METHODS OF RATIONALITY
This is the first fanfic I’ve ever read and I found out through an article that Julia Galef wrote. I had heard about fanfics for a while now and I thought it was time for me to lose my fanfic virginity and this was a good one to do so. Since I thought some of the reactions and decisions of the characters in the original were not that rational, it didn’t take much for me to convince myself to read this fanfic.
I am going to include spoilers in this post, so if you don’t want me to spoil the fanfic for you, just know that if you’re a fan of Harry Potter, science, rationality and moral discussion, this is the best read you’ll ever find. There, I’ll even put a pic of Didi’s Epic Boobs to distract you so that you don’t read any further.
Ok, so where was I? Oh yes, Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality.
Here’s how it goes: Petunia Evans, hated her Sister Lily for being pretty. Then, it turned out that Lily was a witch. Petunia then begged her sister to make her pretty, which Lily resisted. Until one day, after finishing university, Petunia wrote to her sister that the only boy that ever paid attention to her was some guy named Vernon Dursley who wanted to have a male baby and name him Dudley (who the hell names his child Dudley Dursley?). And if she didn’t help her, well…
That made Lily change her mind and help Petunia become pretty. She ditched Vernon and met and married a college professor: Michael Verres. They eventually adopted baby Harry Potter when his parents were killed. They didn’t have any children as they raised Harry James Potter-Evans-Verres as their own in a loving and educated environment.
Whether by genetic luck or by a result of his upbringing, Harry became a child prodigy. He would devour books and obtain deep knowledge of physics, chemistry, biology, psychology, history and many other subjects.
Then the letter came and Harry was sent to a the magical school of Hogwarts, where his view of the world was turned upside down, although the magical world was even less ready for Harry’s science and logic.
The fanfic is the best response you’ll get to the question “What if Harry had acted like a regular, normal student?” Many of the original situations from the original story are changed by this, most notably, Harry’s refusing of accepting undeserving abuse at the hands of Snape in his role as a teacher.
An interesting part of the fanfic is how Harry tries to use rationality and the scientific method to understand how magic works. How does the Sorting Hat sorts students? How is a magician turned into a cat able to think like a human with a cat’s brain? If the flight of a broom governed by Newtonian physics? (spoilers, it is not, it’s governed by Aristotelian physics)
Another part that I liked is how wizards are not terribly interesting or successful people. Harry calls them out on their inconsistencies. For example, why is catching the snitch worth so much to the point that all the other players are pretty much pointless in Quidditch? And why do Quidditch points translate to House points? What backs the value of Galleons? Why aren’t Time Turners and Healing Kits used in an actual useful manner? The answer is dissapointly true: because the vast majority wizards don’t care about learning how things work or how to improve them, they just know how to use them.
At the same time, you realize that for all the glamor and magic that wizards have, the muggles are actually a much more advanced and intelligent “civilization.” Ravenclaws, who are supposed to be the smartest of the students, can’t even do third degree equations. Wizards don’t know the basic periodic elements or have the simplest notion of genetics (in fact, Harry uses Gendel’s system to finally figure out if there’s such a thing as pureblood and mudblood wizards). Draco doesn’t even belive that muggles have made it to the moon.
In fact, there are many ways in which muggles could bring the magical wizard down without a fight. Right off my memory, I can name a plague and hyperinflation. If it comes to fighting, there’s obviously nuclear weapons, and in one-to-one battles, martial arts. Wizards are so open and vulnerable on many fronts.
Not all wizards are backwards, but the few ones who aren’t serve to confirm the rule. Snape understands what an atom is and Quirinus Quirrell knows martial arts, for example. On the other hand, Professor MacGonagall, while smart, is completely scientifically illiterate.
Speaking of characters, the difference between “good guys” and “bad guys” is completely thrown out the window. In fact, the only true evil character, Voldermort, hasn’t shown himself so far (I’m in the last 5 chapters or so). Arguably, every character tries to achieve good, but it is their ethical differences that create the main conflict of the story. In fact, I feel that the main theme is not magic vs science, but what is good and what is acceptable or not when trying to achieve good.
Case in point, was Lily’s choice of staying and protecting her son at the cost of her life a good choice? At the moment, Voldermort gave her the option to go away, so the choice wasn’t between her life and Harry’s, it was between her life and her death. You might say that by staying, her love protected Harry and defeated Voldermort, but she didn’t know that at the time.
Many difficult questions like this appear during the course of the story. Is a person who becomes a hero and then quits a bad person? Is he better or worse than the people who didn’t even try to become a hero? What makes a hero? When defending the people you love, should you defend them all equally, at the cost of thinning your defense and resources making them less effective? Or should you assign relative values to individuals? Is it ok to save someone just because you love him or her, even at the cost of your allies asking you to risk everything for a person they love? Are there limits on what you can or can’t do in the name of good, even if it limits you in the fight against evil? Or is it better to accept “everything goes” at the risk of becoming that which you are fighting against or making others think you’re the real evil? No character in this story makes a decision that doesn’t have a moral cost for him or herself, which is how life works in my humble opinion.
Anyway, this is why Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality is my fanfic of the year. I would like to know what is your fanfic of the year. Let me know in the comments.