Thursday, 31 January 2008

"Time Travel?? Yes!!"

I spend an inordinate amount of time thinking about time travel and the rest of my time trying to hide from people the amount of time I spend thinking about time travel. As such it annoys me when TV programmes don’t get it right. ‘Doctor Who’ is the worst offender (apart from Steven Moffat’s brilliant “Blink” episode) closely followed by its “gritty” spin-off ‘Torchwood’. In a way it’s worse with ‘Torchwood’ since that’s supposed to be more grown-up, which in actuality just means that the characters spend much of their time in pansexual liaisons. Last night’s episode “To The Last Man” was completely logically incoherent and it thoroughly offended my geeky sensibilities (it’s probably available for a week on BBC iPlayer (‘iPlayer’: what a lazy name!)).

My philosophy of time travel is that, setting the physical practicalities aside, it should at least be logically consistent. With that in mind, the only sensible stance to adopt is that of the Novikov self-consistency principle. This is also the view taken by philosopher David Lewis. Basically if something happens during time travel then it was always going to happen. You can go backwards in time and shoot your own grandfather but obviously you don’t because you exist. If you go back in time to investigate the Great Fire of London then accidentally knock over a lamp and start the fire, that’s fine because the fact that you knew the fire happened in the future shows that you were always going to knock over the lamp in the past. This requires a fixed timeline, past and future, as well as a degree of fatalism and lack of free will but frankly I’m OK with that. Robbing myself of the idea of free will is a small price to pay for a logically consistent universe. The Novikov principle therefore excludes any story that involves ‘changing the past’, creating a temporal paradox, or creating a parallel timeline (I’m looking at you, ‘Back to the Future’!). ‘Futurama’ may actually be the only show in recent years to get this right and the Professor sums it up succinctly: You mustn't interfere with the past. Don't do anything that affects anything, unless it turns out you were supposed to do it. In which case, for the love of God, don't not do it!”

What the writers of ‘Torchwood’ got wrong was infusing the whole episode with a sense of pointless urgency. Sure, it makes for more interesting television when the characters rush around to save spacetime from tearing without knowing if they’re going to do it: logically, however, it was unwarranted. There was no need to rush about like headless alien-chickens and no need to persuade the 1918 dude to do his duty. The very fact that the events happened and time still existed precludes the possibility of them not saving time. Had time ceased to exist, that would have been it; the events of the episode would never happen. Then at the end it just got silly as the events of the past produced a real-time effect on present-day Cardiff and they introduced without warning a complete deus ex machina: essentially a subjective time machine that tore plot-holes open all over the place.

I hereby decree that all entertainment writers who want to write about time travel need to track down a copy of Robert A. Heinlein’s short story ‘All You Zombies—’ and read it. Most of the American writers have time to do it now what with being on strike and all...

Monday, 28 January 2008

"Which just leaves the question of where the story's going..."

Apophenia is the human experience of seeing patterns or uniformities where none exist: seeing connections between arbitrary items in random data. Alfred North Whitehead said that philosophy is the search for the pattern in the universe: searching for “the ultimate nature of things [lying] together in a harmony which excludes mere arbitrariness.” Which is right? The scientist or the philosopher? Does the universe have an underlying pattern behind it or would such a perception be nothing more than the fruit of a faulty syna
pse? Note however that this does not represent an absolute dichotomy; there could both be wrong or both be right or one could occupy a grey shade in between the two (like the following does).

To a certain extent the difference lies in one’s perception of coincidence. Some people view coincidences as random happenings, a few of which are inevitable in a system of such extraordinary complexity as the planet Earth. These things happen. One of the quotes of the day on my Quotations Page widget was Sir. Arthur Eddington. He wrote “We are bits of stellar matter that got cold by accident, bits of a star gone wrong.” This represents the scientific view that human existence is a cosmic coincidence. As such, in this universe of blank valueless matter, any pattern seen would have to be human-imposed or the result of a faulty human perception.

However in writing this I notice just such a coincidence: on a day when I intended to blog about the characterisation of existence as either random or meaningful, the first thing I saw when I opened Firefox was that quote by Arthur Eddington, which perfectly correlates with the patternless viewpoint. It could easily be apophenia which leads me to posit a connection between myself and a quote which doubtless thousands of people will also read today. On the other hand it could be evidence of something else.

Some people view coincidences as meaningful. Coincidence is a prevalent theme in Charles Dickens’ work but the important thing that this is not true coincidence of course. He specifically wrote the stories so that the character’s lives would intertwine and follow a certain pattern. John Forster wrote On the coincidences, resemblances, and surprises of life, Dickens liked especially to dwell, and few things moved his fancy so pleasantly. The world, he would say, was so much smaller than we thought; we were all so connected by fate without knowing it; people supposed to be far apart were so constantly elbowing each other; and tomorrow bore so close a resemblance to nothing half so much as yesterday.”

Dickens felt that we were all connected in some way. As an aficionado of literature and the world of writing, what I would say I experience is a distinct narrative structure. Life seems to flow so perfectly, complete with tragedy, ironic twists, coincidence, and connections between seemingly unrelated ‘characters’, so much so that it seems there must be an underlying narrative structure. This again could be categorised as apophenia but amidst the turmoil and randomness of life, events seems to happen for a reason which may not become apparent until later. The world seems to flow along a path of destiny. Fate.

Like all truth however this is subjective: where one sees consequence, another sees coincidence. The best one can hope for is to strike the desired balance between logic and intuition in the truths one clings to. Maybe any pattern we search for beneath the universe is subject to Blue Car Syndrome. Maybe philosophers see patterns because they want to see patterns. Maybe all philosophers or writers suffer from apophenia or some related mental disorder.

And, believe me, that would not surprise me in the least.

Tuesday, 22 January 2008

"Show me a young Conservative and I'll show you someone with no heart. Show me an old Liberal and I'll show you someone with no brains." - Churchill

There’s been a lot of controversy about the game ‘Mass Effect’ recently in the States; a pretty standard science-fiction RPG with gameplay that is not nearly as good as the plot. The controversy comes hot on the heels of the game’s release... two months ago. What this sudden influx of attention by American conservative institutions shows is that they are simply following a trend.

The controversy stems from a trite little article on a website by Kevin McCullough (who incidentally bears a striking resemblance to Daily Show alumni Rob Corddry). Unfortunately I can’t find the offending article anymore so I assume it’s been taken down or buried beneath the crushing weight of thousands of gamers descending on the site. Here however is one of his few rebuttals. What I found most ironic about the post was that, despite rallying the troops against the exploitation of women and sex, there was an ad directly to the left for conservative T-shirts which shamelessly used an attractive young woman as a selling device. Anyway the upshot of his argument was that ‘Mass Effect’ is a game being marketed to teenagers that contains gratuitous and vivid scenes of sex where the player can control everything from breast size to “sodomy”.

I played ‘Mass Effect’ over my Christmas break and, if you check my Gamercard, you’ll see that I unlocked the Paramour achievement which means I finished the romance sub-plot (with the character Liara T’Soni). I dare say that many of the commentators on TV and in newspapers can’t say the same thing. Reams could be written about the misrepresentation of the game in the media, the outright lies that are being churned out to Middle American households, and how the game is not a “sex simulator”. Instead a macro approach is required; examining the true position of this controversy in the span of human civilisation.

In the 19th Century ‘Penny Dreadfuls’ were heralded as corrupting the youth and bringing about the downfall of moral society. In the 1960s comic books were said to desensitise young people to violence. This kind of controversy is absolutely typical of the emergence of a new media format. The conservatives that cry out that video games are corrupt are simply playing their part in a cycle that has gone on and will go on as long as humanity creates forms of entertainment. All this has happened before and all this will happen again. Conservatives rallying out against video games is part of a trend, a trend which shows these sensationalists' lack of autonomy and deference to social confirmation/authority. None of these people would think of calling for the censorship of books: but can’t a child walk into a bookshop and buy a gratuitously explicit ‘Mills and Boon’ book? The fantasy series ‘A Song of Ice and Fire’ features outrageous sex scenes in parts but no-one is calling for a government body to rate books. With the right degree of imagination, are these not as or more immersive than video games? The difference is that video games are in the public spotlight and that “moral commentators” don’t care about sex or violence in other formats because no-one around them cares.

In a decade or two, video game controversy will be a thing of the past. New conservatives will find some other medium to find objectionable and people will long for a return to the good old moral climate of the early 21st Century.

Tuesday, 15 January 2008

"Three stories, three subtexts."

There are three major US drama series’ that I have an avid interest in. It’s interesting that these shows should bear such marked similarities even though the essential themes are different and they come from separate networks. All of them fall into the category of 45 minute dramas and all of them are at present between their third and fourth seasons (at least in the UK). It’s also interesting that these three dramas should perfectly correlate in terms of subtext to the three pillars which I believe individuals should build their lives upon and are key to understanding humanity.

These three pillars are philosophy, spirituality, and psychology. This idea is taken from the philosopher John Cottingham who I’m most familiar with as an expert on Descartes but who elaborates on these three tenets in this podcast about the rather grandiose subject, the meaning of life.

The first show is ‘Lost’. ‘Lost’ is overtly philosophical most obviously in the naming of important characters. John Locke, Desmond David Hume, Mikhail Bakunin, Rousseau, Boone Carlyle, Richard Alpert, and Ben Linus (this is a tenuous one: Linus was the quasi-philosophical character in ‘Peanuts’). And rumour has it that next series there’s a new character; a brilliant mathematician called Russell. These names all match up to eminent philosophers and the show deals with diverse elements such as morality, human politics, faith vs. science, duality, Pascal’s Wager (pushing the button), the nature of existence, time travel, causality, and the existential notion of ‘the absurd’. The subtext of ‘Lost’ is mostly concerned with defining oneself anew in circumstances beyond one’s control; coming to terms with an existence that is absurd albeit in an exaggerated way. It’s a classic story of existentialism where every character strives to move past the major constraint they all share ie. their pasts which the writers elaborate on using the flashback narrative device (even though they’re now moving partially to flash-forwards which will certainly change the dynamic).

The second show is ‘Battlestar Galactica’. Somewhat surprisingly for a sci-fi show, this correlates with spirituality/religion. Gaius Baltar’s struggle to accept God and reconcile that with his logic is a big story point in the first season. The war between humanity and Cylon is essentially a holy war since the Cylons believe unwaveringly (almost unwaveringly, some of them are atheist) in the Judeo-Christian tradition of God. Struggles with spirituality and morality are present through the entire show as well as the ramifications of destiny and the nature of God/gods. This also overlaps with philosophy somewhat as there are questions about what it means to be human and deeper concerns about the morality of war, suicide bombing, and genocide. It also happens to be far better scripted and directed than ‘Lost’; plus Edward James Olmos, Mary McDonnell, and James Callis can act rings around most of the main cast of ‘Lost’ which makes ‘Battlestar Galactica’ one of the most undeservedly under-rated dramas on TV.

The third show is ‘House MD’ and this deals largely with the last pillar; psychology, which can be taken as enveloping science and biology as well. While it may not focus as overtly on psychology as ‘The Sopranos’ apparently does, it fits well enough into the psychology mould and I’ve never watched ‘The Sopranos’. Gregory House is a genius doctor who struggles against the egoism and tormented nature of his damaged psyche. The show deals with the seemingly inconsistent psychology of Dr. House as he solves medical mysteries and carries out his day-to-day relationships. It touches on human motivation, the power of delusion, the effects of drugs on human functioning, the limits of friendship, and the difficulty of reconciling one’s mind to a world in a perceived context of logical scientific empiricism. He’s also sarcastic and funny.

Three great shows, three meaningful subtexts. And all the shows will be entering their fourth seasons when they return to British screens. Strange coincidence.

Friday, 11 January 2008

"I Don't ♥ Huckabee."

The other day Hillary Clinton won the New Hampshire Primaries for the Democrats while John McCain won for the Republicans. While Jon Stewart’s ‘Daily Show’ has been off the air due to the writer’s strike, my knowledge of American current affairs has dwindled considerably and as such I have no idea what this win means for Clinton (Stewart is now back on the air sans writers: it’s not bad). All the news networks seemed shocked by Clinton’s victory though and say that she’s “back in the race” which just means that they were wrong and now they have to reassess their projections.

Since this year a new President will take control of the greatest superpower on the planet and will be able to hover their finger over the button deploying the world’s largest store of ‘WMDs’, this ongoing campaign affects the whole world. It’s therefore important to understand the ramifications and policy agendas of each presidential candidate. But, lacking the inclination to do detailed research (mostly because I will not be voting; just observing, thankfully from far far away), I’ve assessed the candidates in the most superficial manner possible: by the first impressions of their respective websites.

First Senator Clinton, or rather ‘Hillary’. Evidently in an effort to downplay her last name and maybe even her relationship to her husband, there is only one mention of the name ‘Clinton’ on her home page. Like Cher, Trisha, and Bono, she has just one name: ‘Hillary’. There’s not that much about her policies on the entry page but there are links to buy merchandise. There are hats, T-shirts, buttons, and jackets, all of which will get you beat up if you go to a red state wearing one. Still, she seems like a strong person, she has close experience of real presidential leadership, and she’s against the War.

Next up for the Democrats is Senator Barack Obama who apparently uses a lot of rhetoric in his speeches. It seems to have struck a chord with the voters though and, after their current President, anyone who can read must seem like a genius. His website is more ‘stream-lined’ than Clinton’s: his focus is on getting followers actively involved rather than selling them merchandise. Obama’s policies focus on universal health care, ending the War, and using diplomacy in the Middle East. While he does use a lot of rhetoric (haphazardly throwing around the words ‘believe’ and ‘change’) at least he’s not using religious rhetoric.

The last Democratic candidate (that I’m familiar with) is John Edwards. At first sight, Edwards has nothing unique. He’s a white male which frankly makes him too similar to what we’ve seen in Presidents before, 43 times before in fact. Despite his plainness and his forgettable face, his website is not too bad. It’s much the same layout as Clinton but slightly less flashy. There’s a bit too much information in a small amount of space towards the bottom of the home page. The site seems to suit his personality though.

One of the main Republican candidates is Mike Huckabee whose defining characteristic is that he’s friends with Chuck Norris. His website is elegant and functional. Unfortunately he’s a raging extremist: he doesn’t believe in evolution, he thinks homosexuality is sinful and “not normal”, he credits ‘divine intervention’ with his political success, he opposes abortion, he supports the War and the death penalty, and he opposes gun control. Put simply, he’s from the Middle Ages and has a moderately funny name. I respect his right to hold all those views but I think he’s dead wrong on every single one of them and could probably be shown to be rationally/logically inconsistent. Undoubtedly America would not allow a fundamentalist Muslim to run for office yet this Christian extremist is not only allowed but supported.

A perhaps more reliable Republican is former mayor of New York, Rudy Giuliani, or since he’s taken ‘Hillary’s’ route, ‘Rudy’. “Join Rudy 2008”, his website proudly proclaims. Giuliani is a respected man and an established leader of people because of his sterling and heroic work protecting and rebuilding New York City after the 9/11 attacks. While he’s certainly a great man, his TV ad is mystifying. It plays out like a movie trailer rather than a campaign video, complete with deep-voiced narrator and a script made up of sentence fragments. Is he running for President or making the next series of 24? It’s bizarre. Maybe that’s what it takes to get the US public’s reaction though; that and mentioning 9/11 a lot. Apart from that rampant sensationalism, he appears to be an intelligent man and, as far as the Republicans are concerned, the best of a bad bunch.

Despite what the networks might say, none of the leading Presidential candidates could be called ‘liberal’ probably because the moniker ‘liberal’ is generally spat with unrestrained venom in the States and true liberal Americans are too afraid to publicly declare themselves lest they incur the wrath of someone like the odious Ann Coulter (you can read about her here – if you must). My personal prediction is on a win for the Democrats and I really don’t care who represents them. Admittedly it would be cool, not to mention historically significant, to have either a female or a black President but ultimately it doesn’t matter: the important thing is that the mad and barely literate Texan cowboy will soon be thrown out of the White House and, if there’s any justice in the world, brought before The Hague for war crimes.

Tuesday, 8 January 2008

"How would the film end anyway?"

This sickens me.

Apparently, as of the 30th October 2007, £1,095,000 ($2,157,478.50) had been given to the Madeleine Fund. UNICEF is able to feed a starving person for 50 cents a day. This means that had that money not been given towards finding one little middle-class white girl, 4,314,957 people could have had something to eat for one day. Since $320,000 can keep 10 people who would otherwise starve to death alive for 40 years, the money that has been spent on Madeleine McCann could have saved at the very least 60 people’s lives. Maybe it's easier to empathise with a little British girl than a crowd of emaciated Third-World children.

It’s a bloody disgrace that a. this money is “rapidly running out” or rather has been wasted, b. the money was given in the first place, and c. she hasn’t been ‘missing’ a year and the parents already want a book/movie deal.

This whole sordid affair is sick and the McCanns have gone from being negligent parents to outright manipulators of the British public's all-too-emotional response.

Sunday, 6 January 2008

"The truth is out there but is actually quite dull."

The Government are releasing an archive of files into the public domain. Not terribly interesting on its own but once every newspaper adds the term ‘X-Files’ into the headline it’s enough to attract geeks like me. Due to the persistence of UFOlogist David Clarke and his merry band, the shadowy DI55 branch of the Ministry of Defence is releasing all its inquiries made into British UFO sightings, close encounters, and alleged reports of alien presence on Earth.

Frankly I can’t decide if this news is brilliant or depressing.

While I could be wrong, I sincerely doubt that these files will release news of a world-spanning inter-governmental conspiracy to keep the existence of extra-terrestrials under wraps. Perhaps, bent to the malevolent will of the Pope, governments have been forced to hide this information from their people by constructing top secret facilities, brainwashing the multitudes using subliminal messages during ‘X-Factor’, and secretly securing all the alien shape shifters/clones away in Guantanamo Bay to keep the populous safe from their destructive extraterrestrial influence. Perhaps, the invasion of Iraq was a cover to justify the extermination of Saddam who, collaborating with the alien forces, created an assimilated army of alien/human hybrid clones; Codename – ‘Weapons of Mass Destruction’. But I doubt it.

It’s bound to a bevy of unsubstantial evidence collected by a multitude of inconsequential people. Even more likely it’ll turn out that most of the sightings have been explained away through natural or military applications. The last time Dr. David Clarke of Sheffield Hallam got this kind of information forced into public light, was known as Project Condign and, to drastically paraphrase Dr. Clarke, it resulted in bugger all.

All this news shows is that our governmental departments have been conducting large-scale research and investigation into UFO sightings and possible paranormal activity. They even went so far as to create a department; the mysterious DI55, who (shock and horror!) don’t even have a Wikipedia entry. Or they did, but it’s been deleted. Still, reading Dr. Clarke’s account of all this seems to reveal that the department were actually quite accommodating and ultimately bowed to the pressure of someone who kept bugging them.

Despite all that cynicism as to the existence (or rather, presence) of actual aliens, I would give my right arm to work in that department. The life of a DI55 agent: jetting around Britain to investigate paranormal phenomena, talking to paranoid locals, fending off rabid UFOlogists. A man can dream...

Friday, 4 January 2008

"'Assassin's Creed' will not make anyone into an 11th Century assassin..."

Video games get a lot of bad press. When they’re not being touted as an illegitimate art form, they’re being blamed for society’s ills. Video games are held accountable for many things (usually by the same one person) from low cognitive development in today’s youth to any random act of violence that occurs, usually State-side. Games like Manhunt 2 and the Grand Theft Auto series are labelled as “murder simulators” which is frankly absurd. Although I’ve never killed anyone, I’m fairly sure it doesn’t involve pressing the right trigger at the same time as the X button. Whenever someone does something horrendous or there’s a sudden, seemingly inexplicable, act of violence, the press are always quick to find a scapegoat; video games, movies, drugs, or social alienation. Anything that avoids holding people personally responsible for their own actions. After the Columbine shootings, people pointed to violent video games that the killers played such as ‘Doom’. Is it more comforting to think that video games can make people into murderers than to think that it just happens? Is it easier to have a pariah to harass rather than the murderers themselves?

Video games are also discredited as not being a legitimate art form. Roger Ebert spoke out about this subject claiming that video games can never be “high art” whatever that means. This is a man who devoted his life to fawning over Scorsese’s camera angles and the symbolism in pretentious independent ‘Oscar-films’. This inability to accept the subtle writing and art direction of modern video games is nothing more than a cultural prejudice left over from the days where the height of gaming culture was ‘Pac-Man’ and ‘Space Invaders’. These media experts in the public spotlight look at video games as a pursuit for the youth or those without the patience to appreciate a great novel. Maybe they even lack the spatial reasoning or hand-eye co-ordination to enjoy video games appropriately. Akin to something like wine-tasting, it takes time and a measure of grown skill to appreciate the artistry of a video game.

I think video games can most definitely be art. Anything can be art. Although I haven’t studied the philosophy of art, it seems to me that art’s function is either to move someone or provide even one moment of aesthetic appreciation. When people from without the video game community look in, they see a plethora of vacuous and meaningless titles like ‘Halo’ or ‘World of Warcraft’ or stuff on the Wii console which has become oh so popular as a fashion item. Admittedly a great deal of games are crap and finding a good one is a matter of learning about the industry and refining one’s tastes.

People say video games are entering a renaissance period. From the philosophical meanderings of ‘Bioshock’, to the humorously black writing of ‘Portal’, to the cinematic grandeur of ‘Mass Effect’, games are certainly approaching a degree of nuance and immersion that hasn’t been seen before. If a movie or novel can be art then ‘Mass Effect’ can definitely be placed in that category. It is basically an interactive sci-fi movie where the immersion of a console allows one to choose the character’s path and shoot through action scenes (although the dialogue portions are vastly superior to the poor shooting gameplay). The Wii has enjoyed unprecedented sales over the holiday period and while a lot is down to its status as 'the hip item' to own akin to a fashionable piece of furniture, it may also serve to introduce the public to serious appreciation of video games. From the brilliant (if a little easy) ‘Super Mario Galaxy’, it’s only a small step to the harder stuff like ‘Zelda’ and ‘Metroid’.

Video games can be art. They offer a degree of immersion that a movie can never have. They offer more cognitive brain activity than watching the most high-brow television documentary. They increase problem-solving ability and hand-eye co-ordination. They can be breathtakingly beautiful; a gorgeous vista in a movie is momentary whereas a wide open space in a video game like ‘Shadow of the Colossus’ lasts for as long as the player desires. Whereas movies are static, video games are dynamic.

Wednesday, 2 January 2008

Review - The Prince of Nothing Series

Comprising ‘The Darkness That Comes Before’, ‘The Warrior Prophet’, and ‘The Thousandfold Thought’.

The Prince of Nothing Series by R. Scott Bakker is the fantasy trilogy that was made for people like me to read. Deftly combining elegant fantasy writing with deep philosophical ideas against a beautifully imagined backdrop of epic proportions.

Bakker tells a story of a Holy War parallel to our First Crusade but with sorcery and apocalypse in the background. This is a world where the great battle of good vs. evil in the heroic fantasy tradition has already happened a thousand years ago. Onto this stage steps a man who is fundamentally different; a man of an order called the Dûnyain. With his arrival, everything changes and ultimately “death comes swirling down”.

The philosophy in the book is astonishing for a piece of literature. Bakker shows his PhD in Philosophy to be well deserved as he sets up each character with a separate school of thought and then shows how they conflict. From the gripping and practical existentialism of the Dûnyain to the pure religious faith of the Inrithi as exemplified in the character of Nersei Proyas. One point against this is that nothing is particularly original; it’s fairly easy to see every faction’s ‘real life’ counterpart. Ajencis the ancient philosopher is Socrates, Inri Sejenus is Jesus Christ, the prophet Fane is the prophet Muhammad. While it adds to the reality of the books and it is interesting to read, it would have been nice to have some original philosophy or at least more thoroughly veiled allusions. Nonetheless, the principle of the Logos and the Dûnyain’s existential thought is fascinating as it is: easily the best thing that the novels offer.

For the most part it’s brilliantly written. The battle scenes are some of the best in the business. Most fantasy writers, when writing an epic battle, choose a character perspective and show the battle through that character’s eyes. What that technique gains in immersion it loses in depicting the entirety of the scene since naturally one character can’t see the entire battle. Bakker adopts an omniscient perspective when narrating battle, as if we read of the fight in the great annals of Eärwa’s history. This allows for a grand sweeping view of both armies as well as specific character scuffles on both sides. It works fantastically well particularly in the Battle of the Mengedda Plains in the second book. Bakker also writes some lines that are pure poetry. They’re scattered about the books but it’s like finding diamonds in a pile of manure. Not that I mean the rest of the writing is manure but it wouldn’t be wrong to term it ‘gritty’: violence, sex, and some terrible depictions of women are prevalent all the way through (both the main female characters are whores, kind-hearted but whores nonetheless). The occasional passage can be confusingly ambiguous as a consequence of Bakker’s effort to accurately capture the human thought process. Even more annoyingly these generally cover key character and plot moments so some bits do need a second reading to thoroughly take in.

The series is not perfect: brilliant, but not perfect. From the second book right up until halfway through the third, the pacing was off; the Holy War didn’t so much march towards Shimeh as crawl. The balance between dialogue and introspection also become skewed as the start of the third book was chapter after chapter of character introspection. Bakker is so good at writing meaningful dialogue and it’s a shame that most of the great conversations were contained to the first book and the end of the third. Maybe in an effort to avoid ‘Tolkien-syndrome’, Bakker didn’t write much preliminary description either and some parts could have benefitted from more.

Generally speaking though; wonderful. It is by far the best modern fantasy series out there (excluding George R. R. Martin’s ‘Song of Ice and Fire’ which isn’t finished yet. Plus I couldn’t even finish ‘A Feast For Crows’ which wasn’t up to the author’s set standard.). The Prince of Nothing Series serves as both raw intelligent entertainment and as an introduction to thinking philosophically. It’s masterful and all the more impressive since it represents R. Scott Bakker’s fantasy debut. As much as I hate the term, this is a ‘genre writer’ to look out for and I can’t write for his next series, The Aspect-Emperor.