An Ersatz Answer to All.

Science is a funny way to waste time. Like many disciplines it sometimes appears to advance through a form scientific Oedipus complex. One often advances by attacking the thought of the mentor who taught one. As soon as the top is reached and one trains the next generation, the trainee begins the climb to supplant the teacher.

One of the sure methods is to build on the mentor's work to come up with a hypothesis that better describes an observed phenomenon than that of the teacher's. Hopefully, the hypothesis works well enough to be accepted by most of one's fellows and take on the status of a theory. If the theory is perceived to provide a lasting solution to a question, it can become a "law," often named for its originator.

Like a parent, the originator of a theory can fall in love with the fruit of their loins--er, mind. Their wondrous idea can be "The Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything!" It is tried as the answer to any number of problems, whether it has anything in common or not. As the old saw goes, "If one has a hammer, all things look like nails."

What results is the one-size-fits-nobody sort of answer--rather like the cheap one-size-fits-nobody baseball-style caps the Koreans flooded the market with back in the early 80s. While billed as one-size-fits-all, these sartorial disasters must have been wrongly transshipped to Earth instead of their proper destination of Tau Ceti IV as they were apparently designed to fit no human head. At the very best, the over-high crown tended to make those wearing them look like noted sportsman Elmer Fudd.

The search for the "Unified Law" so far has been science's version of that for the Holy Grail or, more probably, the philosopher's stone. Who says science isn't a matter of faith? Stay tuned.

Review: (Note to FTC: I bought this danged book myself!)

Storm Front: a Novel of the Dresden Files. Jim Butcher. New york: ROC, 2000.

Coming up with a consistent magic system is one of the things that separates the better fantasy from the good. One of the joys of Harry Dresden's art is that there is a feel of consistency as he works through his incantations and uses his ingredients. Rather than the occasional shift of the method that appears in Rowling for instance, Butcher has, so far, stuck to one apparent system in the two volumes I've read (according to the ladies of the house, this holds true throughout his series).

Harry Dresden, based in a less corrupt Chicago (obviously a different dimension), has the charm of the eternal schlub. No matter what happens to this spell-slinging Sam Spade, you know for him, just getting out with a mostly intact skin is victory. It's a cinch he'll never make the big score and retire to Orlando.

While eeking out a living as a wizard for hire (okay, a "consulting" wizard then), he gets to work on the City's tab just enough to keep from starving. His contact, Sgt. Karrin Murphy, head of the Chicago Police Department's Special Investigations Division (think of a "file 13" for anything that doesn't add up on a material plane) is a tough cop's tough cop and, unlike Agent Scully, admits there are things going on she doesn't understand. Harry's version of the Encyclopedia Arkainia, Bob, is an spirit of the air who resides in a human skull (the previous owner doesn't need it anymore) and when not reeling off lists of ingredients, cooking times, and health warnings--generally about Harry's--is a thorough going letch (as opposed to a litch).

I've only read the first two volumes of the series, Storm Front and Fool Moon, but can say, so far, these are keepers. In fact, I'm a little impatient to get through Lee's Lieutenants [mentioned last time] so I can start on number 3, Grave Peril, which awaits on my Kindle (as of this writing, Harry's lamentable effect on technology newer than 1231 A.D. hasn't manifested itself with my Kindle).

A word about Harry's moral place in the world; like most protagonists in mainline fiction, he is vaguely good to neutral. While Murphy is mostly a believer, Harry is controlled more by a fear of the White Council's reaction to him doing anything untoward magically. In fact, Morgan, their slightly mad enforcer, lusts for the day Harry puts a foot wrong and he gets to execute him (it's hard to not to like a guy who enjoys his work so). Comparing him to the evil he fights, Harry is--to use a phrase of an actor/anthropologist from Betelgeuse--"Mostly harmless."

Catholic Writers Conference Online: 26 February to 5 March 2010

A wise gentleman dressed in green once explained to me that if one wants to do something well, one must learn the drill. Here is a free chance to learn the manual of arms for writers--logical construction, plot, characterization, dialogue, grammar, voice, marketing, making contacts, and pitching--and meet and have fun with fellow writers. All of good will are welcome. Here's the link: .

I'll save you a virtual seat.

12 January 2010: Feast of St. Zoticus of Africa Proconsularis, Basiliscus crowned Byzantine Emperor 475, Royal Aeronautical Society founded in London 1866, Hattie W. Caraway first female U.S. Senator 1932, Biafra surrenders 1970.

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