I came back to work this week feeling quite refreshed. Having a break last week was good.
This week we launched single-page notifications. There are now a couple of pages on GOV.UK you can sign up to receive emails about: previously, you could only sign up to broad topics, but we believe that there’s a distinct user-group who would use this. We’ll be keeping an eye on how it performs in analytics, and gradually roll it out to more pages.
This week I read:
1177 B.C.: The Year Civilization Collapsed by Eric Cline
This has been on my radar for a while. I find ancient history really interesting: I’ve previously read books about Sumer, and once upon a time I had a nice collection of Horrible Histories books. The rise and fall of civilisations is also interesting. So are mysteries. So a book about all four of those things: the collapse of the major civilisations of the Late Bronze Age, and the rise of the Iron Age powers, in part caused by a mysterious group of “sea peoples”, is definitely the sort of thing I’m into.
The book was very approachable, introducing all the major individuals and civilisations without assuming much prior knowledge. The version I read is the second edition, which had been updated based on new discoveries, so it was especially nice to see parts where the author had written “in the previous edition I said X, but actually new evidence instead suggests Y”. There’s always more to discover, even after thousands of years.
I started watching the new Wheel of Time TV series this week. It’s… ok. I’m not convinced by some of the changes they’ve made; none of the characters look like how I imagined them; the acting of channeling the One Power looks kind of silly; and some of the made-up words from the book have been given very weird pronunciations which don’t sound much like real words to me (but that’s always a risk with fantasy).
One bit which particularly stood out to me though was the use of the One Power as a weapon. In the second episode, when Moiraine uses the Power to sink a boat, the ferryman dies because he swims after it and gets caught up on the whirlpool. Egwene says that she thought Aes Sedai couldn’t use the Power to kill, and Moiraine explains that they can’t: they swear a magical oath which prevents them from doing so. What happened there was that she used the Power to sink the boat, and after she had started that going the ferryman swam into it himself. She didn’t kill him, she just summoned a whirlpool which he chose to swim into.
That’s fair enough. The actual wording of the oath from the books is:
Never to use the One Power as a weapon except against Darkfriends or Shadowspawn, or in the last extreme defense of her life, the life of her Warder, or another Aes Sedai.
But then in episode four, some troops attack the Aes Sedai camp. A volley of arrows is fired, and an Aes Sedai uses the One Power to hold the arrows still in the air. When the enemy troops charge, she uses the Power again to fling the arrows at the troops, many of whom fall to the ground dead or injured.
But that doesn’t fit the oath at all! Let’s look at the exceptions:
“against Darkfriends or Shadowspawn”
These people weren’t Darkfriends. Unless all it takes is for the Aes Sedai in question to say to herself “well, these people are probably Darkfriends, so it’s ok to kill them.” They also weren’t Shadowspawn, as Shadowspawn are magically created non-human monsters.
“or in the last extreme defense of her life, the life of her Warder, or another Aes Sedai”
The troops were charging at the Aes Sedai in question. But she had time to run away. I’d always interpreted this to mean that they could only use the Power to kill someone if there was no other option: if escape or distraction wasn’t possible. But shooting them was her first action, not last!
This just felt like sloppy writing. In the books, the oaths were a big deal. There’s a whole subplot around evil Aes Sedai finding a way to break out of the restraint of the oaths, so that they can do things like use the Power as a weapon. But in the show, being a little afraid is apparently enough to let an Aes Sedai kill people with the Power.
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