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.

at 15:30 on 20-03-2016, Michal
For a brief space of time I was willing to give the latest sad puppy effort the benefit of the doubt, then I saw how nasty its proponents are being to authors who want off of their it's-not-a-slate, and I think Rachael Acks put it best:

"Please, someone explain to me how I should see this as anything but transparently manipulative, wanky shit."
permalink
at 11:59 on 19-03-2016, Arthur B
Also, wasn't part of the complaint that the types of fiction allegedly being snubbed were conservative stories by conservative authors? If so, then nominating Ancillary Mercy makes even less sense to me.

In some respects it's curiously effective as a wrecking strategy, in the sense of attempting to force anti-Puppies to either deny their real favourites the prize or vote for a Puppy candidate.

On the other hand, Guardians of the Galaxy was a Puppy candidate last year, so the Hugo voters have already demonstrated that being nominated by the Puppies isn't the mark of Cain.
permalink
at 00:36 on 19-03-2016, Robinson L
@Alice: I've talked a bit about my experience reading Ancillary Justice and Sword before, and I'll probably make another update when I read Mercy later this summer.

I like the series, but I don't love it - the characters are good, but I can't get as deeply invested in them as I do in some others. The first part of the first book was actually a struggle, because so much of Breq's goals and motivations were kept deliberately obscure that it I couldn't get into her character at all. I actually liked the sequel better for that reason, as I was already there with Breq from page one - although I've heard that it's generally considered a weaker follow-up to Justice.

I really like Jamie's assessment of her internal struggle, but only having read the first two books, I don't really see her being in denial about her emotions and feelings: perhaps it was too subtle for me.

I guess I also agree that the review may have been unfair to the series: okay, perhaps it's not groundbreaking, fair enough, but I think it still does a good job at what it sets out to accomplish. Also, this bit:

the ideas contained in Ancillary Justice seem disappointingly simple: empires are evil, class systems are oppressive, absolute power corrupts absolutely

Huh, I dunno. I mean, yeah, obviously, those are ideas which the book explores, but aren't most ideas in books simple when you boil them down to their core? At the risk of hyperbole, couldn't you make similar claims about, say, 1984? Obviously, I don't mean to imply Ancillary Justice is anywhere in the league of 1984 in terms of exploring ideas of freedom and oppression - on the other hand, I think Ancillary Justice is much better at telling an engaging story. (Also, a lot of the more successful parts of 1984 as I recall involved telling rather than showing.)

And as long as there are empires, class systems, and--if not absolute, then extremely high concentrations of power--these are themes it will be important to explore.


Arthur: So the new Sad Puppies nomination slate came out today and so far as I can tell their genius plan to retake the Hugos seems to involve nominating so much popular stuff that is likely to get nominated anyway that they can then turn around and claim that stuff like Mad Max: Fury Road, Star Wars 7, and the latest Ancillary novel represents the Sad Puppies.

Huh. I thought the whole point of the Sad Puppy phenomenon was protesting that certain types of fiction were allegedly being snubbed by the Hugo voters, so nominating mainstream hits does seem exceedingly odd.

Also, wasn't part of the complaint that the types of fiction allegedly being snubbed were conservative stories by conservative authors? If so, then nominating Ancillary Mercy makes even less sense to me.
permalink
at 17:25 on 18-03-2016, Arthur B
So the new Sad Puppies nomination slate came out today and so far as I can tell their genius plan to retake the Hugos seems to involve nominating so much popular stuff that is likely to get nominated anyway that they can then turn around and claim that stuff like Mad Max: Fury Road, Star Wars 7, and the latest Ancillary novel represents the Sad Puppies.
permalink
at 21:25 on 17-03-2016, Shim
@Ichneumon: I think it makes sense even though I don't know quite what you're doing. One of the things holding up my writing is that I need to read/reread a couple of books first, and I might need to look through some comparators as well depending how my article develops.
permalink
at 21:13 on 17-03-2016, Ichneumon
@Arthur: I need to finish something that I could either use as an example in my argument, or simply mention in passing. I cannot do that at the moment.

That was excessively cryptic, but it will make sense later.
permalink
at 09:35 on 17-03-2016, Jamie Johnston
@Alice: I like the 'Ancillary' books a lot and am maybe just being a bit defensive about them, but I feel like that review is mainly criticising 'Ancillary Justice' for not doing things that it has no interest in doing (and that, by Allan's own account, other people have already done anyway). Like, I don't think the reader is meant to spend much time grappling with whether conquering planets or turning people into ancillaries or having rigid class hierarchies are Good Things or Bad Things: the starting-point is that we all agree they're bad, and the point of interest is what is it that enables Breq to recognize and act on that when other people don't?

And yes I can see the potential in a story about a human who gets turned into a computer but remains psychologically the same person, but that would defeat the psychological point of 'Ancillary Justice' -- which is to explore what it's like to be a sentient and intelligent being who doesn't think of themself as human or as having inherent value because nobody else does, and who has enormous understanding of and consideration for other people's emotions and thoughts while being so alienated from their own humanity that they don't really recognize that they have any emotions of their own or that anyone else has any about them.

I think the thing about the other characters being flat is again a bit of a misunderstanding. It has some truth, but also I don't think it properly takes into account that we encounter the other characters through a quasi-omniscient first-person narrator whose ability to interpret and understand them is limited and distorted in certain ways -- so you have to do some reading between the lines to find the parts of their personalities that Breq misses or misunderstands.
permalink
at 08:33 on 17-03-2016, Arthur B
Why would that require you to wait to do something important?
permalink
at 04:52 on 17-03-2016, Ichneumon
...I just had quite an article idea, but I think that I am going to have to wait until I do something important to actually write it; to whit, the subject, while not *particularly* controversial, may be amusingly contentious for some folks here.
permalink
at 11:23 on 16-03-2016, Alice
@Jamie: That does look shiny, thanks for sharing!

And speaking of shiny things, I've just finished Ann Leckie's Ancillary Justice (gender and AI and consciousness, oh my!) and am about to start the sequel, Ancillary Sword. From the number of prizes the first book won, I can only imagine most of you heard of it well before I did, but I'm a fairly haphazard reader of sff, so I've only recently come across it.

I enjoyed it a lot, though I definitely take the criticisms expressed in this review on board. (Though again, being a haphazard reader of sff, I didn't have the same sense of making comparisons to other sff works that deal with the same themes while reading the book: I still buy the criticisms, though.)
permalink
at 10:48 on 16-03-2016, Shim
I think it's a good idea, previously as so many of us are inclined to long-therefore-none writing. It could keep things flowing and be less intimidating for new people.

One thing I don't know is what that content might look like... interested to see what emerges.

I am currently working on an article where I am entirely positive about something (I know, who are you and what have you done with the real Shim), but it's long.
permalink
at 10:23 on 16-03-2016, Arthur B
I, for one, am a font of concise, dubious opinions on things nobody else cares about. Ask away.

/watches editor at ferretbrain dot com inbox avidly...

In all seriousness, though, we must be careful to avoid turning this into Hot Take Theatre. We're not Vice columnists, nor should we aspire to be.

I think the last thing anyone wants is for this place to become a farm for #content.
permalink
at 08:49 on 16-03-2016, Jamie Johnston
Here's a shiny thing: Spooky action at a distance is a new review blog with an interesting premise and an interesting format. The premise is that interactive fiction (as a medium) and sci-fi / fantasy (as a genre cluster) have a lot to say to each other but those conversations aren't happening much at the moment. The format is that Cat Manning, who writes IF (some of which I've played and can recommend), recommends narrative games to Arkady Martine, and Arkady, who writes SFF, recommends non-interactive SFF works to Cat; then each picks something the other has recommended and reviews it.
permalink
at 04:28 on 16-03-2016, Ichneumon
I, for one, am a font of concise, dubious opinions on things nobody else cares about. Ask away.

(In all seriousness, though, we must be careful to avoid turning this into Hot Take Theatre. We're not Vice columnists, nor should we aspire to be. That said, if this can be done well, it could be fun.)
permalink
at 15:01 on 15-03-2016, Robinson L
I fear I may be an irredeemable write-at-great-length-or-not-at-all sort of person (mainly on the not-at-all side in recent years, because of lacking time / energy to write-at-great-length).

I fear I may be an irredeemable write-at-great-length-or-not-at-all sort of person (mainly on the not-at-all side in recent years, because of lacking time / energy to write-at-great-length).
permalink
at 15:38 on 13-03-2016, Arthur B
That'd be a good way to expedite publishing a FerretNibble pile if there's something time-critical in there.
permalink
at 11:41 on 13-03-2016, Jamie Johnston
A slight variant of the idea (though I'm not sure whether this would make it more or less work for you) would be to have a sort of semi-regular round-up / digest, which could include nibbles never before seen but could also mention and link to or collate other notable recent stuff from the site, such as already-posted articles that have generated interesting discussion in the comments, substantial recent playpen conversations, unusual events (like if there were a new podcast or something). That would give more flexibility on timing than if you had to wait for a sufficient number of nibbles alone, and might also encourage the idea that there don't have to be rigid boundaries between different types of content and something that starts as one thing can turn into another.

Having typed it out, though, I now suspect that would be quite a bit more work for perhaps not much more benefit.

Whatever the exact format, there's no harm in having a go with something new to encourage more / different contributions. No doubt it would develop over time. I'd certainly have a go at writing the odd nibble, though I fear I may be an irredeemable write-at-great-length-or-not-at-all sort of person (mainly on the not-at-all side in recent years, because of lacking time / energy to write-at-great-length).
permalink
at 22:51 on 12-03-2016, Arthur B
Typically, though if people have an idea for something topical/time-sensitive I could see what could be done to ensure it came out in a broadly timely manner (or just run it as a brief article if it's especially time-critical).
permalink
at 21:57 on 12-03-2016, Alice
Seconding support for the FerretNibble idea! Would the idea be that people submit mini-articles as inspired, and you wait till you have enough to fill out an article slot, Arthur? (i.e. perhaps not anything too topical/time-sensitive?)
permalink
at 11:14 on 11-03-2016, Arthur B
Yeah, I've been trying to post a few shorter ones (like today's Earth vs. the Flying Saucers review) to try and counter that impression but having a way to encourage which takes up less than a couple of sides of A4 but is longer than the typical PlayPen post would probably help too.
permalink
at 03:21 on 11-03-2016, James D
Whaddya think, guys?

Sounds like a good idea. "Articles" have kind of been typecast at this point as being lengthy and rigorous looks at big serious things, so something between that and random conversation in the Playpen could be a good venue for things that don't quite fit either extreme.
permalink
at 10:38 on 09-03-2016, Arthur B
When I first heard about this weird Pottermore worldbuilding project I thought that at best it would be kind of pointless. Rowling transparently didn't think through how wizarding society works and what its origins are on a global scale for Harry Potter, and for a series revolving around one particular school that's fine, just as you don't need to research traditional Native American educational methods for a school story set in a mundane school. Going back after the series was done and trying to retcon in a global wizarding society that barely existed save for some Quiddich teams and a few visitors during Goblet of Fire was always, at best, a doomed attempt to build more rigorous worldbuilding on foundations that didn't really support it.

The fact that the earlier bits seemed to assume that magic worked in every culture more or less exactly the same way (and in a way which riffed on very European assumptions about magic to boot) only increased my uneasiness. I am unsurprised that disaster has unfolded.
permalink
at 08:30 on 09-03-2016, Shim
I'd gradually adjusted my thinking again, so that JK Rowling (having gone from "fun children's author" to "overrated, self-important, desperately-in-need-of-editing-children's auteur") was someone I vaguely respected for speaking out on issues and trying to forge a non-Potter writing career with reasonable success.

And now she's crapped all over Native Americans so I'm back to scratch here.
permalink
at 12:50 on 08-03-2016, Arthur B
Oh, and one more thing: if you'd prefer to post stuff to the Playpen even though it's of a length where it could conceivably be a suitable FerretNibble, you should go right ahead and do it - this is an additional option, not a replacement.
permalink