Underlord Book Review

Underlord: Cradle Book 6
by Will Wight
Kindle Edition
Published by Hidden Gnome Publishing (March 1, 2019)
ASIN B07NJ3B6HN

If you have been following along with the Cradle series, you will have a pretty good idea of what to expect by now. Our young protagonist, Wei Shi Lindon Arelius, will have adventures, face insurmountable odds, and advance his Path. Wight has got a good thing going here, and he sticks to what works. I’ve said it before and I will say it again: these books are just fun. But I want to stop a moment and look at why it works. Indulge me.

And work it does. When Underlord released on March 1st, 2019, it rose at least as high as #5 on Amazon’s Kindle store, and maybe higher. Wight doesn’t run any sort of amazing social media campaign, his books mostly sell by word of mouth and through the praises of reviews like this one. His release schedule helps, you don’t have to wait years in between installments. But I think this is good evidence that Wight gives his readers what they want. What they [I] want is a good story, and Wight does that.

Fresh off of reading J. D. Cowan’s multi-part review of Sam J. Lundwell's Science Fiction: An Illustrated History, I have a new appreciation for just how good the Cradle series is, and new gratitude to Will Wight for writing the things I like to read. In particular, I learned something about just what it is I like about stories like this. Lindon needed insight into himself in order to advance, and in much the same way I needed insight in what makes a story good in order to be able to understand my own tastes.

One of the things I learned from Cowan’s review is that science fiction isn’t really a genre. In fact, debates about what is or isn’t science fiction tend to get bogged down, because the usual definitions don’t cut nature at the joints. By analogy, what is usually called fantasy isn’t a genre either. Cowan proposes instead that science fiction, fantasy, and horror are all subgenres of adventure fiction, which is meant to evoke the emotion of wonder in the reader.

Wonder is a trait from adventure fiction and its subgenres fantasy and horror. It is the adventure of exploring new lands, peoples, and possibilities.

This was the insight that I needed, because now I can understand what I like, and what I don’t. There is an irreducible element of personal taste in all of our entertainment, but I learned that adventure fiction is the kind that I like to read, precisely because the emotion of wonder is what I am after. There are lots of books labeled as sci fi or fantasy that I don’t like, but this is because genre, the emotion meant to be evoked, has been confused with milieu, or setting.

In the sense that I mean the term, setting a story in the future doesn’t make it science fiction. Swords and dragons don’t make a book fantasy either. If the emotion the author is trying to invoke in me is despair or rage, I don’t really want to read that book, no matter what trappings it has. I finally understand why Tolkien insisted that The Lord of the Rings was a romance. He was connecting his work with an older tradition, not inventing a new one.

Wight’s books work for me because he is taking me on an adventure! I see the remarkable world of Cradle: Iteration 110 though Lindon’s eyes, and I get to see him grow up as he learns about the marvelous world in which he finds himself. The speculative fiction element is subdued, but not wholly absent. The focus here is on Lindon and his journey, rather than exactly what kind of society you would get if we lived in a simulation and cheat codes were enabled. There is just enough thought given to the structure and sociology to make it plausible. Everything else is about fun.

My other book reviews | Reading Log

Other books by Will Wight

Cradle Series:

Unsouled: Cradle Book 1 Review

Soulsmith: Cradle Book 2 Review

Blackflame: Cradle Book 3 Review

Skysworn: Cradle Book 4 Review

Ghostwater: Cradle Book 5 Review


Traveler’s Gate series:

House of Blades: Traveler's Gate Book 1 Review

The Crimson Vault: Traveler's Gate Book 2 Review

City of Light: Traveler's Gate Book 3 Review

Traveler's Gate Chronicles Book Review

Linkfest 2018-06-11

I meant to get this one out last Friday. Ah well.


How we can learn from the history of protectionism

It is easy to find lots of economists who are down on protectionism, but the evidence turns out to be rather mixed on exactly what its effects are. There are countries that have done poorly with this policy, and countries that have done very well indeed.

It’s Time to Think for Yourself on Free Trade

Dani Rodrik is an interesting and thoughtful economist. This example from his article is illuminating:

In some sense we all know this. Consider another thought experiment: Suppose Harry and John own two companies that compete with each other. How do you feel about each of the following four cases?
  1. Harry works really hard, saves and invests a lot, comes up with new techniques, and outcompetes John, resulting in John and his employees losing their jobs.
  2. Harry gets a competitive edge over John by finding a cheaper supplier in Germany.
  3. Harry drives John out of business by outsourcing to a supplier in Bangladesh, which employs workers in 12-hour shifts and under extremely hazardous conditions.
  4. Harry “imports” Bangladeshi workers under temporary contracts and puts them to work under conditions that violate domestic labor, environmental, and safety laws.
From a purely economic standpoint, these scenarios are what economists call “isomorphic” — they are formally indistinguishable because each creates losers as well as winners in the process of expanding the economic pie in the national economy. (That is, Harry’s gains are larger than John’s losses.)

For economists to call these four situations in some sense identical is probably important for analysis, but it probably also warps the mind to do that too regularly.

JASP

JASP is an open-source project supported by the University of Amsterdam.

JASP is an open-source project supported by the University of Amsterdam.

I haven't used JASP myself, but I saw people talking about it on Twitter. I will give it a try, and perhaps report back. I am entirely in favor of easy to use stats tools.

Burying Your Father and “Return of the Jedi” (1983)

This was a fascinating reflection on fatherhood, spurred by the climax of Return of the Jedi.

Is Global Equality the Enemy of National Equality?

I like Dani Rodrik's work, but sometimes I also think he's nuts. This is a good example of why. I think really bad things would happen if we tried to implement this suggestion of globally free labor movement.

Tolkien 101: The Animated Tolkien Movies

A roundup of the animated Tolkien adaptions over the years. The author has a whole series on this subject. Ooh, and one on Conan!

Even Dead, The Expanded Universe Is Better Than Disney Star Wars. And That's A Good Thing

I have said my piece on Disney's decision to reboot the Star Wars universe, but in the time since, I have found the new novels pretty lackluster. There was some crap in the old EU, but the crap to good stuff ratio seems poor in the new canon. Thankfully, the animated series are making up for the deficit.

The Lifespan of a Lie

A retrospective of the famous Stanford Prison Experiment, that is a case study of the failures of social science that led to the replication crisis. The first person, and the last person, Philip Zimbardo lied to was himself.

Normalizing Trade Relations With China Was a Mistake

A perennial theme here at the blog: are we sure we really knew what we were doing?

Science Fiction and Philosophy

Mark Shea wrote a brief note at Catholic Exchange about the philosophical outlook of science fiction and fantasy works that mentions three of my favorite authors, Tim Powers, Michael Flynn, and John C. Wright.

I think I have a fondness for authors who are historically grounded, because it makes their works so much richer. For example, Michael Flynn's Eifelheim is set in a small European village just before the Black Death. You could probably learn a lot just by reading the book. Tim Powers' The Drawing of the Dark is set in Vienna in 1529 before and during the Turkish seige of the city. I make use of books like this to provide anchor points by which I can mentally situate people and events. Powers' book is how I keep the Battle of Vienna in 1683 and the Siege of Vienna in 1529 separate. This then gives the temporal and strategical framework to know the Battle of Lepanto in 1571 was all part of the attempt by the Ottoman Empire to extend their dominion over Europe. All that out of a book about magical beer.

h/t John C. Wright