Tropes: The Instant Expert

While working at home (on various home improvement projects), I’ve been half-heartedly watching Dollhouse.  I’ve never watched it before, and it’s free on Netflix…

Well, it’s thought provoking. There are a lot of things not to like about the setup. A lot.  That’s not necessarily bad, but I think that the results are far rosier than the setup allows. I would expect to see a lot more dead Actives than we’re shown, and a lot more permanently damaged physically.

All that said, I’m pretty much determined to watch through the end of the series.  I’m about halfway through Season 2 now, and have a fair idea where all of this is going.

But what bothers me most about the series is the heavy use of the Instant Expert Trope. 

The Instant Expert is where someone is made, instantly, into an expert in some field via a device (often alien in nature). Suddenly, they know astrophysics. Suddenly, they speak French. Suddenly they can fly a helicopter.

Oddly, I’m pretty much okay with all of those.  Those are skills and knowledge.  It’s this one that bothers me:

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Now, I will say that Chuck (the TV series) handles this better than Dollhouse does. Chuck makes an effort to acknowledge that he needs physical training to go along with his knowledge. (They do show him training from time to time.)

Here’s a simple example: If I have the knowledge of Olympic Weight Lifting uploaded into my mind, I might even be able to lift 500 lbs. Once. But I will hurt my body terribly in the effort. I have a bad elbow, arthritic shoulders, and questionable wrists.  Plus a lot of the skin will come off my hands.  My body is not conditioned to do that sort of activity.

In the same way, the Dollhouse dolls–who seem to do yoga a lot, but not much else–should be coming back from assignments where they use martial arts with torn muscles, strained and ruptured tendons, and broken bones. (Also, facial injuries should bleed a lot more.)

And while this won’t stop me from watching, it’s annoying enough to keep the series out of my list of ones to rewatch (such as the eminently realistic Stargate and Farscape.)

It’s one of those things.

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Tropes in Genre Fiction: Beyond the Beards – Deciphering the Surly Dwarf! by Josh Vogt

My guest today is Josh Vogt, novelist with Pathfinder Tales.  His new novel will be released June 9th, and is available for preorder just about everywhere. (click on the cover to go to Amazon.)

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But today, he’s here to talk about something he knows all too well…dwarves!

So take it away, Josh!

Tropes in Genre Fiction

Beyond the Beards – Deciphering the Surly Dwarf!

What could be more of a fantasy trope than angry, violence-prone dwarves? Even people who aren’t into fantasy at all can name familiar elements that define dwarves in our cultural mindset. These often include “short and stout,” “love of gold/mining,” “lots of ale,” beards, beards, and more beards,” and “never toss one.” Oh, and their penchant for swinging axes in the thick of battle.

In Forge of Ashes, my Pathfinder Tales sword and sorcery adventure set in the world of Golarion, my main character is Akina, a dwarven barbarian. While she lacks the beard, she definitely has the “battletude” dwarves are famous for, preferring to solve problems with a good whack of her maulaxe or laying into foes with her fists. On the surface, she exhibits a lot of the traditional dwarven characteristics (aside from the beard). However, one of my goals in the story was to dig deeper with her and discover what really drove her unique passions and what it really means to be a dwarf in this world.

Akina has a bit of a different perspective because, as the adventure begins, she’s just returning home from fighting abroad for a decade. She’s lost touch with her cultural identity to a degree and is wanting to reconnect with her family and rediscover a sense of purpose beyond just fighting to live beyond the next battle. Unfortunately, things hardly go as planned and she’s plunged into a quest to save those she cares about from a terrible fate.

And that’s the thing. She truly does care about others, though she certainly shows it in odd ways. In fact, one of the quickest ways to rouse her fury is to malign or threaten her companions or family. She’s willing to step into the breach for their sakes, even if they aren’t able or willing to return the gesture. Why? Because, while Akina might not say it outright, she sees other lives as holding inherent value. They’re worth protecting at all costs. She fights to defy all that’s wicked and vile, to preserve the rich legacy of her people, and to make the world just a little bit safer for those who aren’t always able to defend themselves.

This is where things go beyond “a dwarf fights because she’s a dwarf and dwarves fight…” It’s more than mercenary work, where it’s just a job with the promise of gold at the end. The dwarves of Golarion are a proud people, with a vibrant culture and infinite variety in their pursuits and passions. I enjoyed writing Forge of Ashes because I got to explore more unique facets of dwarven identity and culture, questioning the stereotypes while finding fresher approaches to how they’re represented. I got to write about dwarves as priests, as explorers, as lovers, as villains, as heroes, as artists, and more.

Yes, the axes and mugs of ale are still there but, once readers finish the story, my hope is they come away with a better understanding of how dwarves can remain relevant and fascinating despite how much they’ve been boxed-in over the years. There’s always new layers to uncover; we just have to be willing to delve deeper.

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Josh Vogt has been published in dozens of genre markets with work ranging from flash fiction to short stories to doorstopper novels that cover fantasy, science fiction, horror, humor, pulp, and more. His debut fantasy novel, Forge of Ashes, adds to the RPG Pathfinder Tales tie-in line. WordFire Press is also launching his urban fantasy series, The Cleaners, with Enter the Janitor (2015) and The Maids of Wrath (2016). You can find him at JRVogt.com or on Twitter @JRVogt. He’s a member of SFWA as well as the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers

Thanks for visiting, Josh!

#SFWAPro

Tropes: The Chosen One (Love it or Hate it?)

Last weekend a new movie came out, and I’m still waffling over whether to go see it.
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I have to admit, the main thing that has turned me away from this movie is not the over-the-top wackiness, it’s that whole “Chosen One” thing. A janitor who’s really the Queen of the Universe? Yeah, I’ve seen this trope a few times too many, and a lot of those times it was handled so clumsily that it made my teeth hurt.

This one was the worst for me (Let me specify that I’m talking about the movie, not the book. I haven’t read the book.)
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The whole idea of a young kid saving the world (kingdom) made me cringe.

But he’s the Chosen One, right?

Well, let’s look at that trope. Here’s a handy definition from–of all places–The Urban Dictionary.
A common cliche in sci-fi and fantasy. This individual, the “Chosen One” is the sole person chosen by destiny to stop an impending disaster that threatens all life, save the world from a super villian, stop corruption, etc. Basically, the only person who can save the day. Not their sidekick(s). Not mom. Not Dan. Only them.

TVTropes.org has a whole page of information about this trope…it’s that common.

My theory is that this trope is particularly popular with young adult readers (and younger). They would like to believe that they, too, can be snatched out of that horrible existence where they have a loving parent who gives them a nice safe place to live, a truck, and enough money that she doesn’t have to have a job but can still afford to go shopping with her friends….oh, the horror! Her life is so terrible! If only someone could make her life the magical life it should be….

Oh wait, that was a different rant altogether.

What I meant is that young people like to wonder if they could secretly be the Chosen One, too. It’s understandable. (It was not my thing, even then. I craved anonymity instead. If I had a superpower, it would be invisibleness.)

Handled well–or even overturned–this can be a great trope. My favorite example? Frodo.

Frodo’s not actually The Chosen One. It’s more a case that he’s stuck with the chore or getting rid of the one ring by the mere fact of possession. He keeps the ring only by the dint of Gandalf backing him up and, later, running from Boromir. And in the end? He doesn’t do it. He doesn’t destroy the ring. That falls, oddly enough, to Gollum.

Is he the Chosen One? We go through most of 3 books thinking he is. But in the end, he doesn’t carry out his task. Nor does he become a great leader. No, in the end he slips away quietly because he just can’t bear the weight of the world any longer.

Actually, in that story, I tend to think that Eowyn is the closest thing to a Chosen One…she even has a prophecy, and we seriously never saw it coming.  Boom, there she is, taking out the #2 bad guy.

But I almost feel like we’ve become overexposed to the Chosen One in the last few decades. Especially versions where the Chosen One is not quite believable.  (I am not going to list those here.)

Personally I prefer to see people working together to save the world.

 

What do you think?  Is there a version of The Chosen One that you particularly love? Or hate?

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