Reviews: Harry Potter And The Methods Of Rationality
Ruthlessly intellectual, a celebration of intellect and logic like none before it
As a kid, I was a huge, huge fan of Rowling's Harry Potter. As I grew slightly older and read the final book, I got disillusioned with Rowling's emotional writing style and some aspects and premises of the story struck me as glaring faults. The whole "love" thing, Harry's utter incorruptibility and Snape's ultimate motivation to name but a few. Also, I couldn't stand justifying Voldemort's evil with the fact that "he doesn't love" and portraying that as a bad thing. I take personal offense to that and I don't feel that's an adequate explanation for the atrocities Voldemort has committed. The book also carries a deathist message about the acceptance of death, which does hold true in Rowling's universe, but not necessarily in the real world. Thanks to the advancement of science. Which brings us to Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality - an amazing response to all of those shortcomings of the original story. I have read until Chapter 17 so far, but I haven't felt so intellectually stimulated for a long time when reading something. Harry is a frighteningly smart child prodigy with a Machiavellian disposition and a lust for power which is only surpassed by his lust for knowledge. Ron is discarded like the worthless distraction he is and Harry enters a rivalry with Hermione, which he seems to be winning without even trying, while not for the reasons for which he would like to be winning it - which sets the stage for some amazingly hilarious moments. While the lack of an overbearing moral message from the book is certainly a welcome change from the original, the insolent, ruthless glorification of pragmatism can come off as shocking to those endeared to Rowling's do-gooder writing style. Harry cultivating a friendship with Malfoy rather than turning him off for the asshole he is was but one example. Needless to say, I love every bit of it. Watching heroes spiral into evil while still be perfectly capable of getting away with all that comes second to none as far as reading is concerned. I'm definitely going to read the remaining chapters and hope for even more to be written. Hail Science!
Decent, but with glaring flaws (And I didn't even get into Quirrell with the lack of space)
I don't normally read fanfiction, for many reasons. Some are that the authors miss the point of the original story, that they misinterpret the characters or that the whole thing becomes a mouthpiece for how the authors think the story should have gone. I made an exception for this one after a recommendation from my husband. First off, what the story did right: It was well-written, from a technical standpoint. The author is capable of building dramatic tension, point of no return, blah, blah, all the basic stuff. The story can be funny, very funny, when it wants to be. And it contains some interesting interpretations of characters like Mc Gonagall and Dumbledore that aren't changed too much. Finally, it does make some changes that I found more interesting, such as delving into the toll it really took on Dumbledore to lead a war. All that stuff was good. So. The bad stuff. There's quite a lot. First off is the fact that Harry, Hermione and Draco, but especially Harry just don't act like kids. I'm not talking about Harry's "dark side" here either. Again and again, the author puts words, concepts and explanations into their mouths which simply don't fit into those of 11 and 12 year old children. This makes them feel less like characters and more like mouthpieces for the author to express his dissatisfaction or love of this and that with. It's fairly grating too, because the characters can go from acting fairly normally for intelligent children at one point, to soapboxing with the author's words the next. On this page, you will also see a fair amount of accusations that Harry in this is a Mary Sue. There's absolutely no denying this. Mo R Harry basically achieves in one year, at age 11 (I had to repeat both of these things to myself repeatedly as a reminder) everything that canon Harry achieved throughout the entire series, and more. Here, he is just way too perfect. Occasionally we will be reminded that he does have limits and is only a kid, but these moments ring rather hollow when Harry manages to do things that have been deemed impossible by every wizard until now. I mean, I get what the story is, I get what it's trying to do. It's not a deconstruction as much as it is the author's alternate take on the universe. But it just feels contrived how all this stuff happens in just one year, and how Harry is such an incredible prodigy.
I Hated It
It was impossible to understand, sanctimonious, and depressing. Impossible to understand: every theory, fact, rationale, and argument the characters make is half-explained, at best. You have to study the author's personal website as if it were a class you were taking to get the fic. And even there the author doesn't do a good job of explaining it. Sanctimonious: if you don't agree with the Author Avatar, excuse me, I mean Harry, then you are a waste of space and resources. Depressing: I like my heroes to be heroes, damn it.
Hamstrung by its Own Premise
The biggest problem with Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality is the words "Harry Potter". By making the story about a rational Harry, rather than someone else, the story is hampered from the get-go by putting incredibly complicated concepts into the mouth of an eleven-year-old who isn't who the story claims he is. There's no reason it couldn't be about, say, a Muggleborn prodigy whose parents insisted he earn his GCSE before heading off to Hogwarts at the equivalent of fifth year or something. If you're going to stray so far from the source characters, why bother including them at all? As a story, it flips between pretty good and implausible. Good when the wizarding world is examined with a logical eye of common sense. Implausible when eleven-year-olds casually talk about wanting to rape someone they don't like and Hamiltonians. I know all the advanced science is the point, but why use prepubescents to spout it? It doesn't make a whole lot of sense in the real world — particularly jarring since "the real world" is one of the fic's major themes. Just because you're writing a novel about science doesn't mean you get a free pass on the non-science parts; if anything, the not-science should be good enough to build a reasonable framework for the science to exist in. There also doesn't seem to be much of a plot in the first twenty chapters, which is around where I gave up. This was kind of the case with Sorcerer's Stone, but that book made up for it with worldbuilding. Here, it's assumed the world's already been built for us and frequently skips over that. What's left is a series of events that happen chronologically with very little significant things connecting them, and everything ends up being kind of bland. The scientific examinations of magic serve as a kind of worldbuilding, but they're either too lengthy or don't fit well with the narration. Maybe this could be rewritten as a series of vignettes. I can easily see Methods of Rationality working for me, but not like this. The not-tracts get in the way of the tracts, which are themselves only interesting about half the time. The characters are generally too far from their originals to justify using the originals and don't act their age. If you're going to write "a story for grownups", make sure it's something grownups can swallow.
Good, but slightly annoying.
I apologise for this disjointed review. I have problems with structure, due to my aspergers. I absolutely love this fanfic, but there have been times I had to pace around my bedroom because I was so miffed that I couldn't hold it in. Specifically, the part where Lily is called shallow and the part where Hermione is talking about feminism. I disagree with Hermione on what feminism is, because in my version a woman should have the choice to do things. Imagine there is a pie. Society gives you one slice, and won't let you have the rest, despite it being your pie. Certain people, would give you a different slice, or maybe every slice except the one society gives you, and would have negative thoughts if you touched a slice they didn't give you. I believe men and women should get the whole pie. It's completely okay to want to impress a boy you like. It's not unfeminist. You don't have to be a strong independent woman to be a feminist. So, on to Lily. Imagine there is a black woman, and her friend joins the KKK. Said friend then proceeds to call her the N word. Unless she was a saint, or he stopped hanging out with the KKK, I really don't see how this could end with them staying friends. James at that point had probably grown up a little, and wasn't part of a group that hated her. Maybe he apologised. He was childish, and a bully, but he was getting better. Snape was not. I like the sense of humour, apart from the joke involving rape near the beginning. I found that distasteful. Otherwise, it is quite amusing. I can understand why some people don't like it, but it works for me. If you've not read it, you should give it a try, because if you enjoy Methods, then it will be a lot of fun, if slightly irritating at some points.
It has a target audiance. If you're not a part of it, you might not enjoy it.
HP:Mo R is a deep examination into the illogical workings of the HP-verse, the application of science to the 'verse, and the changes caused by it. It is, essentially, Harry Potter: Let's Have a Renaissance. If you are not a fan of intellectual discourse, you will not like this. If you want playful student hijinks, the same applies. And if you want your hero to be heroic, mindlessly so, keep looking. This fic does challenge cannon, a great deal, and in some cases, deliberately alters or ignores it when the sheer illogical stupidity of it gets in the way of the core concept of the story. Professor Quirrel is a central character, and if you know the HP-verse, you can assume what's up with him... except you cannot, because the nature of the story changes everyone involved over time. The story is also big into the concept of morality as a social construct, and alt!Harry is not the supremely pure good guy many would expect. He does have emotions and they do make him human, sometimes uncomfortably so. I have seen accusations of Marty Stu, and for a short while, the story feels that way, as the entire thing transitions from the HP-style "Magic is Hard" adventure story to the Mo R-style "Thinking is Hard" moral quandary and mystery. This story is not a parody, and should not be approached as such. This is not "What if Magic was Science," it is "What if Science came to Magic," which is quite different. Harry enters the magical world with modern sensibilities and advanced knowledge, and sees it for what it is, a backwards and dreadful place that runs exactly like medieval times, with all of the terrible social inhumanities you would expect. This story is not "fun," beyond a certain point. It is deliberately not-fun, and while it has a fair amount of humor, it tends to be dry, intellectual humor, especially as the series matures. If you read this, read it for the fascinating concept, not to go "Oh, them Weasly's, lulz." If I want that, I can go re-read the originals. The story is also heavy handed in the intellectual stuff, and that is rather what makes this great. It is written from the view of a highly educated CHILD, and like any such child, it does play out as very heavy handed, deliberately so. Remember, most of the story is filtered through his point of view. All in all, a great read... IF you are that kind of person.
I gave this series a try because the illogical parts of the original bugged me, and thought some fun poking would be fun. Was I disappointed. Rather than a clever satire in which the flaws of the original are humorously examined, it is instead a pulpit in which an unabashed Author Avatar sits there and spouts off a whole bunch of sermons about how science is totes great, and anyone who isn't aggressively and narrow-mindedly rigid in their application of empiricism is completely stupid and ineffective. Everyone who hears this Golden Child speak of the One True Path is immediately swayed and blown away by his eloquence and clear superiority, or refuses to be because they're wilfully evil or stupid, often both. This does get partial points in that there are some characters that seem aware of some of his ideas, but because they aren't as arrogant and pushy with them, they're portrayed as secondary at best. The character may not technically be a Marty Sue, but he's certainly Marty Sue-ish. He has some flaws, but they rarely actually result in harming him in the middle or long term, and have helped him so far. He spouts off a bunch of isolated 'facts' from cognitive psychology and philosophy, hardly ever explaining the important context of these ideas. How's this for a 'fact': the Dunning-Kruger effect, which means those who aren't capable think they're great, while those who are more competent tend to rate themselves lower since they're aware of the flaws in their knowledge. While B does not necessarily imply A, it certainly waggles its eyebrows suggestively. Throw in some superiority bias, selective attention and confirmation bias, and I'm more inclined to believe that this Harry is a giant toss-pot who knows a few things, rather than being 'wise', as he's supposed to be. While defining ‘wise’ is problematic, it is clearly different from being able to spout facts and sermonise ad infinitum. And just because it works doesn't make it any better. It works because the writer makes it work, not because of any believable logic or natural flow of the plot. If I wanted to read a textbook, I've got bookcases full. If I wanted to be lectured, I'd take a physics class. If I want to be entertained, I read something with more entertainment value than arrogant lecturing sermons about how Harry's the cleverest of them all.
It's like eating a snickers bar embedded with gravel
First off, I really love HPMoR. I really do. I love the science. I love the humor. I love watching the main character turning so deliciously evil. The vast majority of HPMoR is well-written, clever, and appeals to me in particular because I just fall all over this stuff anyway. And obviously, a lot of people agree with me. But like all books, it has its flaws: pretentiousness, euro-centricity, sexism and an overwhelmingly ooc Harry Sue, to name some of the most annoying. But unlike some books, the flaws in HPMoR aren't just parts of the story that fall flat. They are actively in your face annoying. They're distracting while you're trying to enjoy the good parts. As i suggested in my title, its like trying to enjoy a snickers bar that's embedded with very tiny pieces of gravel. I find myself struggling to enjoy the story and ignore the flaws, even though i usually have no trouble at all only remembering the good. Overall, HPMoR is unique, wonderfully written, and exceedingly annoying to read. I love this fanfic, but I hate reading it. —- Of course, that only applies if you like the good stuff in the first place. If the stuff I love falls flat for you (I know some people don't enjoy reading about evil people, for example) then no way in hell will you enjoy it at all. In fact, I fully understand the people who hate this story. For instance. I cant stand the Hermione in this fic. She refuses to listen to reason, shes unambigously good, and she whines a lot. Plus, she argues in favor of objective morality, which is awful. spoliers (note cause my spoilers tag isnt working for some reason) I also despise James, and think Lily should have been with Snape. HPMoR supports my feelings on the matter. Neville is awesome. The main character is turning evil, possibly my favorite part of the story, but I know some people prefer their heroes to be, well, heroic. In general, I may be biased because the fic appeals to me personally. But I still feel that if you enjoy morally ambigious heroes, logic, and really really funny characters, and you can stand sexism and egocentric writers, this is the fic for you. Prepare to be amused and irritated.
Obvious Author Avatar but still funny.
So many reviews on the fanfic page but no actual reviews? For shame! Harry Potter obviously isn't Harry Potter in this fanfic. He's Eliezer Yudkowsky in an 11-year-old British boy's body. He can quote scientific papers and other things, but despite the major OOC it's still fun. The entire point of this story is an Author Tract, and given how silly wizards and magic already seem to some of us, throwing a hyper-intelligent Rationalist at them makes things even more absurd. YMMV because he gets preachy at times, but he does make good points a lot of the time with his point of view. Also, the villains aren't stupid.
It's A Downhill Ride
I enjoyed this fic in the beginning. However, I got about halfway through and had to stop, particularly with what I'd seen on the Tv Tropes page. I came to this fic looking for a nice For Want Of A Nail fic. Instead, I ended up finding a story that was chock full with the kinds of logic I usually like, but taken in all the wrong ways. Some issues I had:
- Harry's anger problems. Sorry, but... really? Is he really going to be angrier because he grew up in a nicer home? Not to mention how that anger works...
- The Pioneer Plaque. This came out of nowhere, and was definitely NOT a result of For Want Ofa Nail.
- Bellatrix. Yeah... no. I like her to be an evil b**** a la canon. The way she is here... I mean, really?
- The faulty logic. Yes, it's normally sound. But occasionally it starts using theories that I could poke holes through way back when I was eleven, like the chromosomal theory for magic.
The Cons can outweigh the Pros.
The story has interesting points and it pokes at many holes in the magical world, it has entertaining humour on occasion, and brings some concepts down to earth from the idealized stand they are in on the books. It makes good arguments, and has accurate science, but... Harry is an obnoxious child whose emotionality and sense of empathy have been developed very little. Growing in a supposedly loving home, one is hard pressed to understand this lack of empathy and respect for other's emotions. Also, his anger management issues. He attempts to see everything as a science experiment, forgetting that life isn't a science experiment. I find many of his actions cruel, and while some people do need a metaphorical slap on the head, the way he goes about it is the most desensitized possible. While this is something that wouldn't be implausible to happen to a child prodigy in a home where neither parent understands him, this is not the case: His father is a scientist and would likely be almost an intellectual par with his child, though given how condescending he can appear, he probably doesn't take Harry as seriously as he should, and any attempts from intellectually-inferior Petunia are unlikely to be taken into account; this probably explains his anger issues, but not his lack of empathy toward others. Quite honestly, while part of this bothers me for personal reasons, it's also wildly out-of-character, and there isn't enough of actual storytelling to make this worthwhile for me. For a manifesto, it's quite more entertaining than many, but for a story it leaves quite a bit to be desired. That's just me, though.
Terrible from beggining to end.
The worst part about Methods is it's NOT A STORY. Rowling may have her flaws, but she told a STORY. Yudkowsky basically went into it, selected a few bits, and started using them as masturbation gel over his brilliance. Hence it's basically 100 chapters of no one getting anywhere because the things that make it a story have been chopped out and are dismissed as unneeded, but Yudkowsky doesn't care, because to him it's just all about the jerking off. I mean, forget about the horrifying stuff like Razorwired said, the main issue is you're just going to be deathly bored: it'll be like listening to some rear end in a top hat drone away at a party for 72 hours straight while you're tied up in Clockwork Orange style restraints. Really, stuff like this is why I've begun to realize that anyone who can balance indulgence in writing with the better parts is ahead of 95 percent of the rest of the group.
Witty, Sarcastic, Clever, Smart, and very Fun
I did warily go into this story. After all, the internet had called it pretentious and ivory tower and a mockery of Harry Potter. Well certain parts of the internet anyway. How could it possibly be so bad? I had been forced to wonder. And as I read the story, I can see why people said that. I can also see why they're wrong. Methods is the story of Harry-James-Potter-Evans-Verres, a loud-mouthed, sarcastic, hopelessly smart boy who tries his best to be the hero of whatever magical world he's dropped into. He confuses adults and argues with them and most certain deconstructs certain beloved aspects of the Potter universe. The snitch? Doesn't work, get rid of it. A ghost teaching class? Where's the real teachers? A bully of a teacher? I refuse to continue at school until he's fired. All the while being friends with Hermione, in Ravenclaw, and Draco in Slytherin. It is funny how these are his two friends instead of Ron and Hermione. Discarding Ron removes the emotional side, the id if you will. That is actually something of the point. By trying to discard his emotions, Harry is trying to be a better scientist, investigating how the laws of magic work. At the same time, as the Sorting Hat warns, this increases his "coldness" towards others. This Harry's potential for being a dark wizard is higher than book Harry because of his inability to look past his own rationality. Harry talks about trying to take over the world many times, and he's not kidding. World "optimization" he calls it. This is a very interesting Harry, and one we haven't seen before. Yes, it's very different from J.K.'s Potter, but that's not a bad thing. Sometimes we do need to move past our own assumptions of what things should be and look at them for what they are. Method's Harry is a deeply flawed human being, and a very interesting one. The story itself is very interesting, but some of the best parts come from the humor. I've laughed more at this fic than a lot of things in the past while. I don't want to give much of it away, but it is worth a read just for that. The science is very interesting, as well, and quite accessible, even for someone not knowledgeable about the topics addressed. All in all, do yourself a favor and pick this up. You won't regret it.
Great interpretations of various characters
I'm a big, big fan of this work. The portrayals of Dumbledore (a tortured soul whose whimsical manipulations are all that can get him through the day without breaking down in despair) and Quirrell (one of the most seductively convincing yet utterly evil villains you will ever meet) are particularly powerful. Some parts of the story I found a little corny, and the Self-Actualization arc seemed pretty silly. None the less, it's a brilliant lesson in how to read a story: don't wait for the author's big reveals, think it all through yourself as you go along, think about what we know that the characters don't (for example, we know things about canon that aren't known to Harry or Dumbledore here), and think about what the author is trying to express. If you do all that, it's a heck of a story.
Reminds me of Pilgram's Progress
By which I mean, if you approach it as "The author trying to present concepts and points of view, but dressing it up to make it more interesting," it works. If you try to look at it as "Actual characters and plot designed to tell an interesting story" it starts to fall apart. The biggest problem for me is the characters. Harry is a sanctimonious brat from the start, who, despite supposedly coming from a loving home, shows very little capacity for empathy. The "My better understanding of rational thinking makes me a more worthwhile person" stance works if Harry and his father are simple stand-ins for concepts, but if they're meant to actual characters and a representation of people, it's disturbing. Another example is Petunia. Instead of a person made bitter by disappointment, we're told she was highly insecure about her appearance, and a magical makeover prevented her from becoming as ugly on the inside as she thought herself on the outside. The Unfortunate Implications are carried further by the fact that Harry's father treats her in a very condescending manner. Personally, I'm looking for a story, not a lecture, so I say "Skip this one."
Not For Everyone
I had initially heard of Methods of Rationality touted as THE Harry Potter fanfic, but had never checked it out myself until recently. I immediately fell in love with the concept — combining science and magic while approaching problems from a rational and logical standpoint. Unfortunately, the execution left, well, something to be desired. It's not that HP Mo R is bad by any means (I found it well written and paced), but I just can't buy the radical character re-imaginings. Centrally, the problem lies with Harry. Harry, even supposing he's extraordinarily gifted (which he isn't in canon), simply never comes across as a realistic interpretation of the character — instead, he very much feels like an Author Avatar. Granted, Harry was raised in a different environment, but that alone can't account for the extreme changes in personality and intellect. Other characters — such as Dumbledore and Draco Malfoy — also seem rather off, with no variance in upbringing to really account for this. Truthfully, I suppose that my biggest problem with this fic is that I feel it would work much better with Tom Riddle as the central protagonist. It would be pathetically easy to make up an explanation for Tom's altered life circumstances. And given that Tom is noted to be one of the most brilliant students to pass through Hogwarts (with sociopathic tendencies to boot that could be curbed or more powerfully expressed at the author's discretion), I feel that he would have been the natural choice to head up such a fanfiction. Harry frequently posits on "world optimization" and this would fit neatly into Riddle's characterization. Moreover, existing characters would not necessarily need their personalities to be so warped to fit into this framework since Rowling provided a few names from Tom's era but little in the way of characterization. Simply replace Draco with his grandfather Abraxas, for example. Full disclosure: I haven't read this fic in its entirety. I read a few chapters and skipped ahead a bit so to get an accurate feel for the rest of the story once I became disenchanted. Is that fair? Perhaps not, but at this point, I've clearly realized it's not for me. Check it out, but also be wary of the hype. As for me, I'll hold out and see if Less Wrong is ever willing to consider a spin-off: Tom Riddle and the Methods of Rationality.
Part of the premise of the fic is to make Harry "rational" and to treat his increased intelligent realistically. Sadly, like many stories involving attempting to increase realism, it gets a bit pessimistic. I've seen people complain that the story has Harry succeeding far too often, and too easily, but to me, part of the problem is that he never seems to really win. Every small victory leads to enormous consequences, or to him simply getting overwhelmed at how much is yet to be done. Overall, it paints a bleak picture of the world that all of the wonder of science can't redeem. I read through many chapters of the fic, but I just can't get through more. No matter how hard this Harry tries, he can't win, because the universe is "realistic" and thus arrayed against him.
I have no idea how this story is so popular. It's well written sure, but the number of times I find myself facepalming over the actions of Harry and Co... well, let's just say it's more often than I'd like. I don't particularly think this story would have done well as an original work; too much of the plot revolves around canon themes. However, I do think the Authour would do better writing original fiction because he has a lot of really good ideas.
Interesting, but isn't what most people look for in a fanfic.
This troper can't help but feel that the complex ideas expressed by young "Potter" would be better expressed on the author's own website. The fic is written competently, and can be quite humorous. That said, the fic's main purpose is that of a soapbox for Eliezer to preach from, and it shows at times. If you are interested in Eliezer's ideas, go to his site. If you want Harry Potter fanfiction that actually has anything to do with canon Harry Potter, read something else. That said, the fic is not a waste of time and won't hurt you to read it.