#31 Harry Potter and The Methods of Rationality, by Eliezer Yudkowsky


Petunia married a biochemist, and Harry grew up reading science and science fiction. Then came the Hogwarts letter, and a world of intriguing new possibilities to exploit. And new friends, like Hermione Granger, and Professor McGonagall, and Professor Quirrell…

This is a fanfic. A Harry Potter fanfic, to be exact. For those who don’t know, a fanfic, or fanfiction, is basically other people playing around in an author’s world. Harry Potter has loads and loads of fanfics – over 700,000. That’s more than anything else out there. Most fanfiction is little more than romantic wish fulfillment, with cringe inducing stories about pairings from the normal – Harry/Hermione, Snape/Lily – to the bizarre – things like Fred/George, or Harry/Voldemort. Most of it is trash. But Harry Potter and The Methods of Rationality (a.k.a HPMOR) is not one of those.

Now, before going further, I must confess that this is less a review and more a “read this it’s awesome” type fanboy gushing.

The plot nominally follows that of Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone (yes, Philospher’s!) – in that a 11 year old Harry receives his Hogwarts letter and is off to discover a world full of magic and adventures and dangers. There’s two big differences though – Harry’s stepfather is a biochemist, and has raised Harry as his own son in a loving environment, while also exposing him to scientific and rationalist theories.

The other difference – and this is the big one – is that people in HPMOR are smart. Like, really smart. You’ll often find yourself going “Whoah! That’s genius!!” at the shenanigans of these people. The upshot of these two things is that the story, which starts off in a familiar place, soon diverges and becomes really interesting. Most of this is Harry, who is this time around both smart and stable, and a rationalist to the core. What’s rationalism you ask?

Rationalism is a philosophy in which a high regard is given to reason (specifically logic) and to empirical observation. Essentially, Harry is a stickler for the scientific method and logical thinking, which leads to situations that are sometimes funny  – as when Harry loses his shit on seeing McGonagall transform into a cat :

“You turned into a cat! A SMALL cat! You violated Conservation of Energy! That’s not just an arbitrary rule, it’s implied by the form of the quantum Hamiltonian! … And cats are COMPLICATED! A human mind can’t just visualize a whole cat’s anatomy and, and all the cat biochemistry, and what about the neurology? How can you go on thinking using a cat-sized brain?”

and sometimes dramatic, as when Harry refuses to accept Snape’s horrible treatment of students. And this is also a Harry who is really resourceful – with the Time Turner he acquires soon after his arrival in Hogwarts, he routinely manages to do things that seem impossible at first blush, yet make sense in retrospect.

HPMOR is also really long – at 660k words, it’s longer even than Harry Potter and The Order of The Phoenix. The reason is that the story is a sequence of several arcs that each last a few chapters and are semi-standalone. But the plot is so interesting and absorbing, the writing so fun and the pace so breakneck, you’ll find yourself devouring the pages as fast as possible. Also, there is indeed a large scale plot for the whole book, and that is just mind blowing. The climax, when it happens, is nothing short of awesome.

The writing is passable – Yudkowsky writes well, but he’s no Rowling, and has a tendency to include a bunch of obvious author rants. These are irritating to some people, though personally I found them reasonable and interesting.

So, honestly, there is no reason you should not read it right now. You owe it to yourself if ever you’ve facepalmed at some character’s obvious stupidity. Plus, the story’s last chapter was posted recently, so you won’t even have to wait for the chapters. And this is that rare work of fanfiction so good that it is worth reading for it’s own sake, and has spawned it’s own fanfiction. Plus, it’s totally free.

My Rating : 4.75/5


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