The Thrawn Trilogy

Today, I finished the Thrawn Trilogy by Timothy Zahn. Overall, I really enjoyed the books and feel like it was a great introduction to the Extended Universe/Legends. I like the Star Wars Universe, but I’m coming to realize that it isn’t really a sci-fi series, it is more like a religious fantasy series than anything. Instead of swords, magic, and dragons you have lightsabers, the Force, and aliens. The Force plays a dual role; it is both the source of magical powers for some people as well as an independent omnipotent(?) being that seems to guide the action.

It is the latter part of the Force that kind of bothers me. I’m not big on a god-like being interfering in the character’s lives. Within the trilogy there were several Deus Ex Machina moments that could all just be blamed on the Force. People were so often “coincidentally” (thanks to the Force) in the right place at the right time in a way to stop Thrawn’s plans that is started to bug me. I started to realize the good guys would win no matter what, even if they didn’t deserve to.

I think that is part of why I started to like Thrawn. He was certainly a bad person in a lot of ways, particularly the way he handled some of the incompetence in his ranks and the way he dealt with the Noghri people, but he was also an incredible tactician and not evil like Vader or the Emperor. Thrawn worked hard at studying his opponents and coming up with unique battle plans, he was an incredible leader who his soldiers trusted and he worked to minimize casualties. Without any Force powers of his own he was more of a character out of a Tom Clancy novel than fantasy.

Much of his hard work and intelligence was a waste because he wasn’t defeated by a superior tactician or someone who worked harder, he was mostly defeated because the Force wanted him to be. Sure, many of the final events were a result of his mistakes (the Noghri and handling The Mad Jedi), but the New Republic wouldn’t have had a chance without a long string of coincidences that the Force put into play. I guess I would have rather seen the groups that combine creativity, hard work, perseverance, and ingenuity have a chance of winning instead of knowing ahead of time that the “good guys” will be victorious by the end of the series.

I know it sounds like I am bitching about the series, but I actually really did enjoy it. Maybe I just need to get used to the Star Wars Universe, read more, or stop taking things so damn seriously. If you haven’t read this book you really should, it is enjoyable fiction and the audiobook version on Audible is phenomenal.

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Harry Potter’s Universe

I watched Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince for the first time last night. During the last couple of weeks I’ve been watching the films for the first time. I haven’t read the books yet, but I had some random thoughts about the universe that has been created:

If a school similar to Hogwarts existed in the Muggle-world, or in our own reality, it would be terrifying. What you have is essentially a secret organization that trains children based on their innate skills. The training is incredibly violent. What happens at Hogwarts would be like normal humans learning to use military grade weapons, make poisons, learn to seduce people, make bombs, hot-wire and drive cars, etc.

In addition, there does not to be any formal education on ethics. I haven’t seen any evidence in the movies that the professors really explain the value of life, how to appropriately use your powers, a duty to protect those who can’t defend themselves, or how to use only the minimum force necessary when using power. Also, they do not seem to learn any non-magic skills. There are no math, reading, language, social sciences, or computer classes. They are being raised purely to use magic in such a way that it is impossible for them to succeed in the muggle world. If an organization did that with children in our world it would be horrifying and rightfully condemned.

Others have pointed this next point out as well, but where are the sex ed classes and discussions of consent. You have dozens (hundreds?) of students living in a castle for nine months with minimal supervision from adults. The professors can’t stop students from sneaking around and you know there is some banging going on in the off hours. So, do they have a class that discusses birth control spells? And, more importantly, why are they given several tools that could easily be used to rape? Both the magic potion and the spell where they change form could be used to trick someone into thinking they are consenting. You would think those two spells would be forbidden or something for new students, or at least appropriate counters-spells and potions would be available.

Now, despite the criticisms of the universe that JK has created, I am really enjoying the films and I’m sure I will enjoy the books. It violates my cardinal rule of fantasy* but I have enjoyed the characters (especially Luna) and adventures they get on. I can easily suspend my disbelief or issues with a universe and enjoy it, and this is one of those cases. I do find it fun to think about and analyze though.

* In fantasy the magic should have some sort of internal consistency and make sense in its use. The Kingkiller Chronicle by Patrick Rothfuss does a phenomenal job of creating a universe where the use of magic is internally consistent and believable.

Who’s Been Sleeping in Your Head? The Secret World of Sexual Fantasies

As is often the case on road trips and long flights I was able to get some good reading and writing done… maybe I need to find a way to do this more. Anyway, I finished reading “Who’s Been Sleeping in Your Head?” by Brett Kahr. This 400-page book is the culmination of a multi-year study conducted primarily in the UK (though there are some US participants) about people’s sexual fantasies. These fantasies are what goes through a person’s head during masturbation and sex with a partner. The research was conducted through online surveys completed by over 23,000 people and 122 intensive face-to-face interviews with volunteers. It appears to be the most comprehensive attempt to catalog and interpret human sexual fantasies that anyone has ever done.

While I found the intentions of the study and premise of the book fascinating my feelings towards the book are bitter-sweet. As a Freudian psychotherapist Kahr spent much of his time focusing, analyzing, and, in my opinion, unjustifiably fishing or hoping for childhood trauma to explain sexual fantasies that people had. He mentions alternative approaches like evolutionary psychology only twice and only in passing. I understand that he is a Freudian but if his attempt was to objectively or comprehensively attempt to look into sexual fantasies and their foundation (if one exists) he should have brought in some alternative view points. To him humans seem to be born as a blank slate with no genetic predispositions or tendencies in place from evolution.

Kahr often at times come off as a bit judgemental and sex-negative, and even a bit LGBTphobic. He focuses several times on homosexuality possibly being linked to childhood trauma and child rearing but little acknowledgement of a biological aspect. He also seems to see all cross-dressers as “transvestites”. It also seemed like a negative judgement when he penned the term “intra-marital affair” to describe thinking about someone other than your spouse, as if thinking of another is a form of cheating. Some may agree that fantasies are cheating (but if they really are based in trauma or evolution it is cheating we have little to no control over) not everyone does and I think it weakens the betrayal of true affairs if we attach that phrase to a passing thought during masturbation.

Clearly, I have some problems with Kahr’s approach, but I want to give him some benefit of the doubt, it is possible that there is a generational gap and cultural one between he and I. He is British and a bit older than I, while Americans and our friends across the pond are similar in many ways I can’t help but wonder if the stereotypes about prudish non-sexual Brits might have some truth to it. It has also been almost a decade since this project started and a lot has changed in sexual research and views on fantasies in the last 10 years, particularly with the exponential growth of internet access and the pornography that comes with it.

There were also some wonderful things within the book though, and I actually very highly recommend it. Kahr’s analysis later in the book provides a lot of great information and provides some support to his hypothesis in some of the cases. There clearly can be a trauma at the foundation of sexual fantasies, and many of these trauma fantasies are causing great distress and harm to the individuals. In cases where people can’t live the lives they want or have the relationships they desire it is a problem, such as the case of “Julius” who has only been able to masturbate to mental images of a girl who tormented him in his adolescence and he has not had a long-term relationship in nearly 50 years.

I would have loved to see more research and questions about the ramifications of opening up about your fantasies to your significant others. Kahr mentions a few in one chapter but for the most part glosses over any potential benefits and instead focuses on trauma and harm. In my experience being open and honest with your partner about desires and what goes on in your head can have a bonding effect and open the door for new real life experiences. If we decide to enter into a partnership something as intimate and important as sex should not be a taboo subject. Much of the negative aspects seem to come from our social stigmas against sexuality as much as childhood events. As a culture if we can admit that sex is a healthy and enjoyable part of the human experience we can reduce the pain, suffering, and shame that seems to accompany so many fantasies.

Kahr does admit that this is just a beginning, and like a good scientist he hopes others will dive into the data, conduct their own studies, and come up with alternative hypothesis. I would love to see a larger sample size of humans from more diverse backgrounds. What is true for Brits (and in this case a few Americans) may not be true for Australians, Italians, Russians, Kenyans, Colombians, Thai, Egyptians, etc. The more information the better and it looks like this is a field ripe for research and exploration.

I definitely recommend this book for many different people. If you just have an interest in sexuality there is a lot to love about this book, as well if you are interested in seeing how a Freudian interprets things, though I would recommend skipping or skimming Section II if you get bored with it. You can only read poorly written erotica for pages and pages for so long before it becomes a blur. It is also a good resource for people who have anxiety about what goes on in their own heads. It will become quickly clear that “normal” fantasies don’t exist, and because of that there is really nothing that is “weird” or “abnormal”. Some people don’t fantasize at all, some think only about their spouse, some focus more on feelings while others have elaborate situations they play in their head, some people think of college professors, siblings, strangers, movie stars, and inanimate objects. Some people like to be raped, piss on people while they are shitting, or change genders. Some like to be whipped while others like to be bought a nice romantic dinner followed by a massage and some cunnilingus. The limits to human sexual fantasies are only restricted by the combined imagination of billions of people.