Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Passion and Power

I was told today that when I present about my research, I have "Power" and that that "Protects me from people like Steve Kron." I find this greatly amusing, especially since I am reading the second book of the Night Watch series, Day Watch, in which that would take on a very specific meaning. I imagined myself casting some sort of shield spell to protect me from Steve's criticism.

What Elisabet meant was that when I present for PCBio I am obviously enthusiastic and excited about my research, and Steve sees that and appreciates that and so he won't find fault with what I do because the important things - learning about how to do research and how to discuss research - are two things that I am obviously enthusiastic about. Also that when Steve does make sarcastic comments or nitpick, I can rebuff or answer him succinctly and confidently, possibly because I am in presenter mode. (I go into presenter mode a lot. It is the mode I go into when I explain science to people. I enjoy explaining science to people.)

All the same, it would be much more awesome if I was really an Other going into the Twilight and casting awesome shielding spells or something.

Speaking of which, if you have not read Night Watch or its sequels by Sergei Lukyanenko, you should. Now. Or possibly yesterday. They are awesome. And I had a thought about them today that will not ruin them for anyone, so I will expound upon it here!

The premise of the books is that there are magically adept people among us, called Others. They are human in the biological sense that they are the children of humans and give birth to humans, but they are not human in the sense that they can do magic, live for much longer, and can access an alternate reality world called "the twilight". (of course it's more complicated than that, but I'm explaining very broadly here). They're witches and wizards and enchantresses and warlocks and magicians and werewolves and vampires and shapeshifters and so on and so forth, and there are Light Others and Dark Others.

Every Other gets his or her power from the emotions of the humans he or she comes into contact with. However, one principle difference is that Light Others feed on happiness while Dark Others feed on unhappiness. Which brings up an interesting point: when a Dark Other takes Power from a human's unhappiness, he or she takes away that human's unhappiness as well, leaving the person happier than previously. And vice versa for a Light Other: taking Power from people's happiness leaves them unhappy. Which brings up an interesting point, in my opinion, because if Light Others (who are, of course, supposed to be "good"), get power by making people less happy, and Dark Others (who are, of course, supposed to be "bad"), get power by making people more happy, then why are our classifications of "good" and "bad" set up the way they are? Possibly because if there were no misery in the world, Dark Others could not get any power, and hence they could not exist, and therefore Dark Others want there to be misery, while Light Others by the same logic want people to be happy.

But it's an interesting point, and merges nicely into another key difference between Light and Dark Others; that Light Others need to validate what they do constantly as "for the greater good" and so forth, while Dark Others just do whatever they please and don't care. Which makes sense if Light Others are basically making people less happy - people would get upset about that! - and Dark Others are basically making people more happy - people would not get upset about that.

In any case, some of the things that Lukyanenko does are obvious from the beginning; Light Others are obviously not all good and Dark Others obviously not all bad. Some of them are moralistic and preachy, but in general he does a good job of keeping you on your toes and the plots are amazingly intricate and well-woven. I can't talk about that without giving anything away, obviously, so you'll have to take my word on it.

Finally, and perhaps most awesomely, is this. Because you really wanted to know how to knit a Dalek.

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