Playpen

Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.

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at 00:37 on 21-05-2018, Raymond H
Happy belated greeting! (It's been a busy weekend)
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at 08:13 on 20-05-2018, Ichneumon
I kept thinking I should check back in and missed the place but always got distracted. Maybe once I get my power back on I can finally write you some articles; I still have that major quibble with “Games Are Not Art”, and we’re lacking any articles on the late Joel Lane, Steve Rasnic Tem, the Leviathan anthologies from Ministry of Whimsy...
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at 10:21 on 18-05-2018, Arthur B
Welcome back. :D
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at 03:36 on 18-05-2018, Ichneumon
Hey y'all. It's been a while.
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at 13:49 on 25-04-2018, Raymond H
Okay. Thanks! Argh, cherish the fact that you live in a country where you don't have to pay exorbitant shipping fees for a single English paperback. You don't know how good it is until it's gone.
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at 08:40 on 25-04-2018, Arthur B
I'd personally go with Midnight Sun or Ancient Images out of that lot. Or possibly The Count of Eleven if you're up for something with a really dark sense of humour.
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at 22:58 on 24-04-2018, Raymond H
@Robinson: Thank you! I'm happy to be here.

@Arthur: I have a question about Ramsey Campbell. I'm interested in reading him, but don't quite know which of his works is a good introduction. The works of his that are available on Archive.org are
Ancient Images
Midnight Sun
Ghosts and Grisly Things
Obsession
Night of the Claw
The Count of Eleven
The Long Lost
Nazareth Hill
The Overnight
The Last Voice They Hear
Pact of the Fathers
The One Safe Place
Silent Children
Scared Stiff
I know you've written reviews for several of these, but there are also some titles I don't recognize. I think Obsession seems as good a place as any to start, but do you have any higher recommendations?
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at 15:30 on 24-04-2018, Robinson L
Welcome to the site.

@Arthur: thanks for sharing the Kickstopper link; I found it comparably interesting and enjoyable to your other Kickstopper articles.
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at 12:33 on 24-04-2018, Raymond H
Uh, hello. I'm Raymond, and I'm new here. Just thought I'd say hi.
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at 19:32 on 02-04-2018, Arthur B
Kickstopper fans may like to know I've put another one up on my RPG-related blog, since the subject matter (a third-party supplement for a less-popular setting for Call of Cthulhu) is niche enough that I don't think the article belongs here.
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at 22:30 on 10-03-2018, Robinson L
I did wonder if the narration is holding the book back for me. The problem is that as slow as I am with audiobooks, I'm a speed demon with those as opposed to printout. It was either the audio, or wait another 5-10 years, if not more.

Fortunately, I'm also incredibly stubborn, and it takes a lot worse than this to get me to abandon a project (including an audiobook) midway through, so no worries about my putting Annihilation down.

It's just that, so far, I don't have a whole lot of interest. I listened to another chunk yesterday, and so far, the only part I've felt an emotional connection to the story is when the narrator (
talks about her husband's decline and eventual death after his own excursion into Area X
. Even
the death of the anthropologist

didn't affect me, because 1) I'd been forewarned by the narrator, and 2) I hadn't seen enough of her character to feel anything.

I'll carry on with the book regardless, I'm just hoping I get more reason to care about the story and/or the characters.
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at 01:10 on 10-03-2018, Adrienne
Robinson L - well, there's never a surfeit of plot in the books; things do happen, of course, but the atmosphere and the mystery and the language are more salient to what the books are trying to do.

I'm not sure whether audiobook is a good way to read them, either - the beauty of the prose seems like it might get lost with a bad narrator? (But i don't like audiobooks all that well to start with, so i'm definitely not necessarily a great judge.)

But in any case - yeah, i expected to hate them and then thought they were fantastic; at least give it another few chapters. :)
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at 15:30 on 09-03-2018, Robinson L
Er, well, I only just started on Annihilation yesterday, and I'm pretty slow when it comes to books. I got it on audio, and I've only listened to the first chapter (which is apparently the first seventh of the book). So far, I'm not thrilled about the narrator - I'm pretty sure she's the same one who narrated the Hunger Games, and oddly, I think her voice felt more natural to those books, despite the fact that she doesn't remotely make a believable teenager. I also haven't emotionally connected with any of the characters yet, and the mystery of Area X is mildly interesting, but not particularly exciting yet.

Your post makes me hopeful that things will indeed pick up at some point. But I'm afraid it's going to take me a while before I'm able to talk about the substance of the book, let alone the whole trilogy.
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at 02:58 on 09-03-2018, Adrienne
Holy shit, i just finished Jeff Vandermeer's Southern Reach trilogy and i am dying for people to talk about it with. I didn't even expect to like the books, but they were amazing. I feel broken open by the experience.
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at 20:41 on 27-02-2018, Adrienne
As someone who loves basically all the Hainish novels, despite their myriad flaws -- i am all for there to be more stuff about them here, Arthur, and i look forward to your reviews!

(I haven't been around much recently for many reasons, but one is that i think Star Wars is fashy and terrible. But i'm glad y'all are having fun discussing it here!)
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at 18:01 on 24-02-2018, Robinson L
I have not, I'm afraid. A while ago, my sisters and my stepmother expressed some interest in going to see it, but then they looked up a spoiler that apparently a pet dies, somewhat gruesomely, and they decided "No, thank you." I probably would've tagged along, but I'm not so interested as to go out and see it on my own initiative.
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at 16:00 on 20-02-2018, Alice
Anyone seen The Shape of Water? Thoughts?
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at 15:30 on 15-02-2018, Robinson L
It took a while, but I've now seen The Last Jedi again twice in theaters. The first rewatch in particular brought up a number of fresh points, as well as new perspectives on some old ones.

First and biggest is that I think I previously overestimated the somberness of the film. It's still probably the broodiest Star Wars movie so far, with the fewest big action set pieces, but scene by scene, it's still more focused on the adventure dimension of the story than the Heavy Dramas. So I'm leaning more towards the side of it being a good Star Wars movie, as well as a good movie. (My sisters disagree on both counts, as do other members of the discussion, I realize, but I gotta call 'em as I see 'em.)

I also found it easier to accept a lot of parts of the movie which either rubbed me the wrong way or just felt out of place on first viewing. There's still stuff which made me cringe (like the bad comedy with Finn when he first meets Rose), or just angry (like the lack of Lando), but overall, it went down much smoother the second and third times. I've since listened to multiple podcasts where they talked about how a lot of people have said it's a better viewing experience if you know what to expect going in, so apparently mine was far from an isolated experience.

On the subject of podcasts, and before I get into my follow-up thoughts on the movie, I have to acknowledge the 9-point representation list compiled by Meg of Far, Far Away Radio. She raised a lot of points I hadn't considered and many that I have to agree with: the observation about deaths of female vs male characters in the movie was particularly striking, and not something I really noticed - even on the third viewing, which was after I listened to that particular podcast episode.

In terms of specific stuff I noticed:

- The soundtrack was incredible. This was especially noticeable to me in the big evacuation scene at the beginning, and really set the adventurous mood for me. I know The Force Awakens' score has been accused of being lackluster and unmemorable, and I think this movie's music really kicked things back up to standard.

- Likewise, the cintematography. This is a visually incredible movie, with so many rich, vivid shots - Rey on that rock on Jedi Island Planet, and Luke with his robes flowing around him on the same rock at night when he reopens himself to the Force and contacts Leia. (And yes, there's also the extreme silliness of Leia flying through space back into the Resistance command ship, but that's only one shot, and it's still an awesome moment.)

- I know Poe's clowning around with General Hux is controversial, with a lot of people finding that kind of humor out of place (like how a lot of the humor of Thor Ragnarok didn't really fit the tone of the movies and was more appropriate for Guardians of the Galaxy). This time around, I realized the reason it works for me is specifically because it takes the wind out of Hux's pontificating. To me, Hux's over-the-top speechifying was one of the most unintentionally hilarious aspects of The Force Awakens - second only to any time Adam Driver was out of mask - so I appreciated having it mocked so mercilessly in this one.

- I know the bombing run on the First Order dreadnought was supposed to be a mistake on Poe's part, but I wonder if, in hindsight, it might actually have saved all their lives. If they'd known the First Order could track them through hyperspace, would Leia have approved the bombing run? Poe calls it a "fleet-killer" - so perhaps if the First Order had had it with them when the Resistance first jumped through hyperspace, it would have wiped out all their ships in the first few minutes, before they could get out of its range. Hard to be sure, but an interesting thought.

- While I'm on the subject of Poe, I know Ibmiller didn't think much of Admiral Holdo's plan, but I thought the handling of Finn, Rose, and Poe's scheme was actually downright brilliant. Yes, the plan was ludicrous - but it was exactly the kind of ludicrous stunt the heroes in Star Wars stories pull on a regular basis, and it always, always works. Until The Last Jedi. It's a really neat bit of subverting the standard Star Wars narrative.

- The other thing I like about it is that the movie orchestrates things in such a way that it genuinely comes across as a good idea. That's an accomplishment, considering we've already had Poe's character arc for this movie established in his conversation with Leia. Too often in books and movies, when one of the protagonists makes a mistake, it's so heavily foreshadowed as such that I get frustrated waiting around for the inevitable disaster (Claudia Gray's otherwise excellent Bloodline was a major offender in this regard, and it was even largely justified in-story). But the "take out their tracking capability" plan doesn't feel like a mistake until the point where everything goes wrong, so there's no excruciating wait for the catastrophe to arrive.

- Rose's moral from the secondary climax on Crait, victory comes not from destroying what they hate but saving what they love, is neatly foreshadowed at the end of the Canto Bight sequence. After they've rampaged through the city on the freed herd of fathiers, Finn and Rose are about to be taken back into custody by the traffic cops. Finn comforts himself that it was worth it to stick it to the rich war profiteers in the city; Rose doesn't directly confront him on this idea, but just lets the last fathier free and says, "Now it's worth it." The execution is admittedly a bit twee (hey, it's Star Wars), but again, the resolution of the arc is set up in such a way that it only becomes obvious in hindsight.

- Artoo bringing out the famous Leia hologram from the very first movie to make a point to Luke is pretty shameless, but it works so well in-story that I can't fault it.

- I'm sure I mentioned this before, but I love Luke's first lesson to Rey about the Force. The merciless mocking as hilarious of course, but the montage of dichotomies ("life," and "death which feeds new life"; "warmth," "cold"; "peace," "violence"; and the Force between them all) is spectacular. I thought it was particularly clever how "violence" is not depicted by standard images like a predator attacking prey or two rival animals fighting, but a nest full of broken eggs being crashed around by waves.

- Something which only occurred to me on my third viewing was that even if everything Kylo Ren says about Rey's parents is right, there's still a mystery about her background: why has she been dreaming about Jedi Island Planet all her life? Unfortunately, the most I expect out of Abrams is "because she's a potential Jedi, I guess" - or, given his reputation, just ignore that question entirely. But it's a potentially interesting point.

- For the most part, I find Daisy Ridley's portrayal of Rey to be outstanding. She's strong, and she's kind, and she's loveable and she's smart and she's competent and so many other things. However, one weakness I did identify in her portrayal was her delivery of shouting accusations. Specifically, lines like, "Did you try to murder him?" come out pretty silly.

- Also, she never apologizes to the Keepers for constantly breaking their shit. Not so much as a simple "Sorry." What's up with that?

- Also, also, were we supposed to think there was really a possibility Rey would decide to join Kylo Ren? Because even with stuff like her going into the cave, I never for a moment believed there was a chance of Rey turning evil.

- Before the movie came out, there were theories flying around that Kylo would be redeemed and Rey would fall to the dark side. On paper, I think that would've been a great direction to take the story. But I'm so deeply invested in Rey's character and so deeply uninvested in Kylo Ren's that I'm relieved they didn't go that direction. (And I'm pretty sure I would still be uninvested in Kylo Ren even if he was played by a more suitable actor.)

- (On which note, brief tangent time: the second - and, unfortunately, final - season of The Shannara Chronicles is on Netflix here in the US, and it occurs to me that the guy who plays Bandon would've been a better fit for Kylo Ren. He'd have to play it a bit more incompetent while still being convincingly dangerous, but I'm sure he could pull it off.)

- Getting back to the movie: I think Leia's farewell scene with Holdo is fantastic. They only share, like, a minute of conversation, but by the time they part I was absolutely convinced these two people were old friends and colleagues with decades of history behind them. That's a big accomplishment. (I heard on a podcast that apparently, Carrie Fisher and Laura Dern basically wrote that scene together, which doesn't surprise me.)

- There was also an incident, just after Poe stages his mutiny and runs to prepare the Resistance flagship for a hyperspace jump; the movie cut to the next scene, and after seeing what was on the screen, my mother and I turned to each other and said, "Well that ship just looks like a clothing iron"; and I, for one, was disappointed because up to then the production values were more creative than that. Then the camera pulls back to reveal that it actually is a clothing iron, which was a great pull-the-rug-out-from-under-you moment; but the best part was, of course, that I'd had the exact same reaction on my first viewing, and then completely forgotten about it until after it had already yanked the rug out a second time.

- Benicio del Toro's character was another beneficiary of the second and third viewings. I wasn't already a fan of the actor, and the first time around he seemed like just another boring male human character cluttering up the film. Second time around, I appreciated him a bit more for what he was, and his role developing Finn's character arc, especially towards the end where he provokes Finn into realizing the Resistance is worth fighting for.

- Despite how derivative the Prime Climax in the Throne Room was, I appreciate the way Snoke, Rey, and Kylo all go into that scene with foresight of what's going to happen which makes them confident. All of them saw truly, but none of them saw completely, causing each of them to have incorrect expectations. It's like that ableist parable of the blind guys trying to figure out what an elephant is. Or maybe it's a demonstration of how it's possible to have foresight of future events without negating free will.

- I still think the Prime Climax works very well despite being derivative, but it's unfortunate. Something which really hit me on second viewing was how dangerous Snoke is built up to be at the beginning of the scene. Those communications between Rey and Kylo Ren all through the movie? Snoke arranged them. The moral turmoil Rey felt in Kylo Ren? Snoke did that, too. If you haven't seen or don't remember Return of the Jedi (my mom was in the latter camp), you could seriously be asking yourself at this point, 'How the hell is Rey going to get out of this one?' If you remember Return of the Jedi, though, the answer is almost painfully obvious, which undermines the impact of Snoke's revelations.

- Something I only noticed the third time around is that once you accept Snoke is an unambiguous Palpatine Clone, he's a pretty okay character. If anything, he's more theatrical than Palpatine, and has more of a sense of humor - a nasty sense of humor, granted, but it's there nonetheless. About one third of his dialogue with Rey is taunting and mocking her, or delighting in her apparently useless attempts to resist him. There's also the time she tries to call her lightsaber to her, and he takes it over and pulls it back, having it bonk her on the back of the head in the process. And he's constantly levitating people or knocking them to the floor and turning them around, or tossing them away with a blast of lightning. At the end of the day, he's still a derivative character, who's undone by the exact same weakness as his template, but at least he's got some pizazz.

- I still dislike the part where Leia and the other Resistance members are in the command center on Crait, and they learn no one's responded to their call for help, because, according to Leia's diagnosis, they've lost hope. Throughout the movie, people like Rey and Snoke identify hope with Luke Skywalker, and others with the survivors of the Resistance. The implication being that the willingness of the entire rest of the galaxy to stand up against the First Order's oppression is largely dependent on this tiny, tiny number of people who are heroes of the Resistance. If the rest of the galaxy's will is that fragile and fickle, then freedom is probably a lost cause, anyway.

- I may have overstated the extent to which the build up to Luke's death goes over the top at yanking on the old heart strings. It's still mawkish, but perhaps not as much as I previously implied.

- I know people have complained that, say, Threepio and Chewbacca were barely in the movie. And while this may be true, when they are on screen, they're used to brilliant effect. (Well, that scene where Chewie's getting guilted out of eating roast porg is kind of inane - is he just supposed to let it go to waste? - but otherwise, I really like their roles.)

So yeah, three viewings later, and notwithstanding its real and serious flaws, I really enjoy The Last Jedi, and I think it's a solid entry in the series.


Coming up next for me: Black Panther.
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at 20:00 on 26-01-2018, Robinson L
@Ibmiller: Okay, I'll keep The Telling in mind for future reference.

The book in question is The Fifth Sacred Thing (1993) by pagan activist Starhawk, and, if you want to read a book with the title scheme [optional-preposition]-[number]-[positive-adjective-with-some-degree-of-mystical-connotation]-"Thing", definitely the one I'd recommend. The author spoke in an interview about The Dispossessed being one of her favorite books, and rereading it when she was working on the recent sequel she wrote. And I could easily believe there was an influence in terms of imagining a stateless, noncapitalist society. But where The Dispossessed dwells with questions of how an anarchic society could go wrong, the main question of The Fifth Sacred Thing is how such a society could defend itself from a fascist invasion without becoming as warlike as its' enemies.

The book obviously appeals to me because of my politics - indeed, it could've been practically tailor-made for me on that score - but I also fell in love with the characters and their struggles and their story arcs. I really appreciate the way the characters learn important lessons that feel true to their arcs, without it being telegraphed ahead of time that this is what they need to learn.

I was also blown away by the author's use of language, imagery, and symbolism - and I say this as someone who usually passes over rich, beautiful, vivid prose without much notice (*cough*God of Small Things*cough*). And it's one of the most emotionally intense books I've ever read, right up there with On the Jellicoe Road, containing so much joy and so much sadness. On the latter count, while the book ultimately has a happy ending, there's a lot of tragedy along the way, and the author pulls no punches in depicting the depredations of the fascist villains. But unlike grimdark literature, the point is not to revel in the depravity, or make a pseudo-insightful statement about "the real way the world works, man," but as part of the contrast the book sets up between humanity's worst side and it's best (as the author sees it). And, again, ultimately it's the best side which wins out.

I also appreciate how none of the deaths in the book feel manipulative, or like cheap shots, or so heartbreaking that they threw me out of the story. (Sadly, the same can't be said for the recent sequel novel, which did a lot of neat and interesting things, but overall, I didn't enjoy nearly as much as the original.)
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at 16:53 on 26-01-2018, Ibmiller
Arthur - I would LOVE to read a review of the Hainish books that don't get read as much. The Dispossessed is one of the most beautiful books I've ever read, and I really enjoyed The Telling, Rocannon's World, Planet of Exile, and City of Illusion. In honor of Le Guin's life, I'm reading Left Hand of Darkness for the first time (which review on ferretbrain prompted me to think that the ferret response was mixed), and plan to also read The Word for World is Forest. I may also reread The Dispossessed, since I love it so much. :)

My hesitance to read Left Hand so far has been my aversion to tragedy - though I did listen to the 2-hour BBC Radio 4 drama a couple of years ago, and loved that. But because of her death, I've finally gotten off my duff and am going through the book itself - and so far, it's very much Le Guin. Slow, thoughtful, painful, and beautiful.

Robinson - I think you would appreciate The Telling (2000). I find it a lesser Le Guin work, but it's still quite lovely, and the explorations of culture and religion I think you might appreciate. I'm curious which books The Dispossessed inspired - was that the book by Delany?
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at 05:15 on 26-01-2018, Robinson L
Good to know. As I said, I have deep respect for her contributions to the genre, and I always appreciate ferretbrain reviews of topics I have some interest in, but can't be arsed to go into blind (see: Moorcock, Lovecraft, and many more). So far, The Dispossessed and The Left Hand of Darkness are the only Hainish stories I've read so far. Who know, perhaps your review will inspire me to give some others a chance.
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at 21:10 on 25-01-2018, Arthur B
I am absolutely pro-Le Guin. I've been working my way slowly towards doing a review of the lesser-known Hainish materials and should probably shunt that up the priority list.
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at 18:00 on 25-01-2018, Robinson L
Actually, I suspect I'm an outlier on the site for not being hugely impressed by le Guin's fiction. I revisited the first three Earthsea books a few years back, and I just found them okay. Tried The Left Hand of Darkness once, and only sheer stubbornness got me all the way through, because I was so incredibly bored by it. The Dispossessed is easily my favorite of her stuff that I've read, and that's at least as much for the exploration of political ideas as any interest I had in the characters or plot. (It also apparently helped inspire one of my new absolute favorite books, so there's that.) But I still recognize and respect the enormous contributions she made to the genre. I suspect most of my fellow neurons would be much quicker to praise her works.
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at 22:00 on 24-01-2018, Ibmiller
So, Ursula Le Guin has passed away. I know she has kind of a mixed ferretbrain response, but I think she's a true great in science fiction and fantasy - not just politically, but from the sheer beauty and power of her prose and stories.
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