I’m reading The Wise Man’s Fear by Patrick Rothfuss, only on page 150 of about 1000, so this will take a while. Unfortunately it’s due back at the library soon, so I might just have to buy it because I doubt I’d be willing to stop reading once it’s due. It’s an addicting book.

Anyway, I just want to make some comments about a couple passages… I’m only on page 150, so I doubt there’ll be any drastic spoilers, but if you’re planning on reading the novel yourself and don’t want anything at all revealed to you, go away now.

So there’s this crazy professor teacher in the novel named Elodin, and as class starts he makes his students tell him an interesting fact. If he already knows it or finds it boring, they have to keep going until they come up with something interesting, or admit defeat. This sounds like a pretty fun game, but only really if you’re the teacher and get to be the “interesting decider.” If I ever had a teacher that really did that, I wouldn’t like it… I’d feel used and abused! And I’m somewhat wary of these romanticized student-teacher relationships that crop up so much in fiction.

Anyway, here’s one of the students’ facts, from page 132:

“You can divide infinity an infinite number of times, and the resulting pieces will still be infinitely large,” Uresh said in his odd Lenatti accent. “But if you divide a non-infinite number an infinite number of times, the resulting pieces are non-infinitely small. Since they are non-infinitely small, but there are an infinite number of them, if you add them back together, their sum is infinite. This implies any number is, in fact, infinite.”

“Wow,” Elodin said after a long pause.

Um… what? Elodin shouldn’t be impressed by such foolish logic! It sounds like a middle-schooler who just discovered the concept of infinity. Infinity is not a number, you cannot do math with it. There’s no such thing as “an infinite number.” Fool! Elodin should reprimand him!

Later on, some characters are trying to explain to another character how the novel’s magic system works (a certain magic called “sympathy”), on page 148:

“Heat, light, and motion are all just energy,” I said. “We can’t create energy or make it disappear. But sympathy lets us move it around or change if from one type into another.”

Is motion really energy? Doesn’t he mean acceleration? I guess you could still say something in motion has kinetic energy, but that implies that it was accelerated at some point. Perhaps, since we live in a frictionful gravity world, motion and acceleration can be thought to be same, since if you’re not constantly accelerating, friction due to gravity will bring you to a stop. Anyway, this magic system seems to obey the first law of thermodynamics; good enough for me.

But then…

“I can see how heat and light are related,” [Denna] said thoughtfully. “The sun is bright and warm. Same with a candle.” She frowned. “But motion doesn’t fit into it. A fire can’t push something.”

“Think about friction,” Sim chimed in. “When you rub something it gets hot.”

[Kvothe talking:] “It’s a good example. The hub of a wagon wheel will be warm to the touch. That heat comes from the motion of the wheel. A sympathist can make the energe go the other way, from heat into motion.”

So a sympathist can basically break the second law of thermodynamics? That’s fine, I don’t quite believe in it anyway. But… why explain the relationship between heat and motion with friction? The heat from friction isn’t really directly caused by motion, it’s caused by countless atomic collisions from opposing electromagnetic forces. (You’re not going to get much heat from static friction, are you?) I would explain heat and motion more thermodynamically: heat is motion, the non-uniform motion of countless particles. Of course the heat from a fire can push something, it’s just hard (if not thermodynamically impossible) to get enough energy directed at something specific to make that possible, so we tend to use it’s energy more indirectly, like using it to create steam, or taking advantage of the potential difference in density between the heated material and the surroundings (like the heated air in hot air balloons).

Then again, I’m not a scientist… and on page 149 a character says:

“There’s a special kind of thinking called Alar,” Wilem said. “You believe something so strongly that it becomes so.”

So I can’t be too picky. All is fair in fiction.


2 Comments

Chinedum Richard Ofoegbu · May 8, 2011 at 6:25 PM

Liked your review but I must object to this:

Anyway, here’s one of the students’ facts, from page 132:

“Wow,” Elodin said after a long pause.

Did you quote this from Google Book Search or did you actually read the book? I ask because you conveniently left out the next thing Elodin said:

He leveled a serious finger at the Lenatti man. “Uresh. Your next assignment is to have sex. If you do not know how to do this, see me after class.” He turned to look at Inyssa.

Was this deliberate?

S P Hannifin · May 8, 2011 at 6:54 PM

Yes, got the book… bookmark has been sitting behind page 154 (chapter 19) for a while now as I’ve gotten caught up in reading other stuff…

Yes, I left out that next piece of dialog deliberately. When Elodin says “Your next assignment is to have sex” I read that as more of a humorous remark, not an indication that Elodin thought that Uresh was just flat out wrong in his attempted mathematical reasoning.

Plus, I would not want someone making that remark to me for arguing with Uresh!

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