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 11:59 on 05-04-2017, Arthur B
What are people's thoughts on this Marvel executive talking like diversity is killing their franchise?

Obviously, the comment itself is dreadful, but it kind of reflects this deadful bind that Marvel are in here. The problem is that the stock-in-trade of a superhero franchise is iconic characters, and modifying a large roster of iconic characters puts you in a catch-22.

On the one hand, if they take an existing character and change them up to introduce more diversity, then they end up losing a character people have already become used to and loved. The existing audience would inevitably resent it, and people who want diversity don't necessarily want "it's the exact same character as previously, except we are using a darker ink for their skin tone and we're drawing them with boobs" - if the writing doesn't adapt then it's a token gesture, and there'll always be the sense that the character is only popular because they got over as a white dude before the character trappings were passed over to someone else. And inevitably neither DC nor Marvel ever, ever stick to their guns with this sort of thing: the original character always ends up coming back, if only for the inevitable burst of goodwill from their fans when they return.

On the other hand, if they invent new characters, that's great, but it sets an impossibly high bar to expect a new character to instantly hit the level of popularity of an old favourite, especially if that old favourite is still available in fresh new adventures in their own line. It's even worse if you are trying to maintain a consistent fictional universe, because in that context anyone new you invent is going to struggle to both have a distinctive niche of their own and not feel like a second banana in a cosmos where the big favourites are always active and are likely to show up in any major crisis situation.

Modest proposal: superheroes should retire, or at least go on hiatuses. It would be much, much easier to give new characters the space they need to get over with the audience if the previous generation of characters weren't constantly there having their own adventures all the time. If Marvel and DC were bold enough to dial it back and treat characters like Spiderman or Batman a bit like WWE has treated the Undertaker in recent years - someone who is used sparingly because they almost always overshadow the newer heroes when they show up, and who can have one big major event storyline per year - whilst the week-in-week-out storylines focus mostly on new characters, then they could perhaps get over a new range of characters.

Of course, that would involve changing the model of publishing comic books where each hero has their own line of books. I know that if I could buy one comic book per week or one fat one per month and it was the Marvel Universe comic book, and all the different storylines unfolded just in that book, and it worked on a sort of 2000 AD model where you had multiple stories with different characters per book and characters would go on hiatuses between their storylines and so on, that would make it far more likely I'd follow Marvel comics than this current bizarre plethora of a billion billion different books.

But then I probably wouldn't buy an all-in-one-book Marvel Universe line if it weren't diverse enough, and I just know that if Marvel did such a thing, your average issue would probably be five stories about the existing iconic characters and one token diversity story. It's infuriating.
at 21:45 on 04-04-2017, Adrienne
OMG OMG EVERYONE. Ruthanna Emrys' first novel is out. It's a follow-up to a novella she wrote for Tor, "Litany of Earth", which is one of the finest pieces of fiction I've ever read. It's Mythos fiction informed by the Holocaust, and the Jewish diaspora in general, and it is amazing.

The book is called Winter Tide and i don't actually know if it's released in the UK yet. Anyway, read Litany if nothing else.
at 22:15 on 31-03-2017, Robinson L
I finally caught The Three-Body Problem, by Liu Cixin on audiobook recently. I like how it presents a very familiar sci-fi scenario (one of the biggest staples of the genre) in an utterly unique way and style. I also found the storytelling style highly engaging and immersive, which is always a concern I have reading hard SF by a new (to me) author. Even the really technical scientific stuff which mostly went over my ahead was presented in such a way that I usually found it exciting rather than dull and confusing.

All in all, I think I can see why it merited a Hugo Award, as it's very well put together and tackles some pretty complex issues and ideas, and it also happens to be (in my case) quite a fun read. Looking forward to listening to the two sequels (Death's End and The Dark Forest) over the summer.
at 00:18 on 02-03-2017, Adrienne
I'm kind of a compulsive proofreader, i'm afraid. If Arthur or any of the rest of you ever want a quick proof of something pre-posting, let me know, i'm always happy to help if i have the time.
at 23:48 on 01-03-2017, Ichneumon
I was going to mention that in a comment, but I was too engaged with reading the article and it totally slipped my mind.

Incidentally, the detail of a frog scraping its own eyes out on hearing the cursed bell in that Kuttner tale is something I'd put out of my mind until you mentioned it. I wasn't crazy about that story, but that image is incredibly unnerving.
at 23:38 on 01-03-2017, Arthur B
at 23:33 on 01-03-2017, Adrienne
There's a couple other errors in there too, including that i think you mean Kuttner in this sentence:

This is the first of Price’s stories of the alien city-state of Bel Yarnak.

at 23:29 on 01-03-2017, Adrienne
Hey Arthur, i'm just catching up on the last couple months of FB stuff, and i noticed you seem to have accidentally a word in the Bloch/Kuttner review. Specifically, you're missing a verb somewhere in here:

...though the strange hybrid creatures that a renegade Egyptian priesthood supposedly do seem to riff on some of the monsters seen in Lovecraft’s Under the Pyramids.

at 02:40 on 29-01-2017, James D
For me, "The Trains", "The Inner Room", and especially "Growing Boys" trump anything in Cold Hand in Mine,, but I did find some of the others to be somewhat weak, especially "Your Tiny Hand Is Frozen".

If you like audiobooks, there are great audio versions of a few of Aickman's collections for sale on Audible, and I highly recommend them.
at 17:15 on 28-01-2017, Ichneumon
I actually have a copy of The Wine-Dark Sea in paperback, although it is unfortunately the American edition which misses "The Stains", among others. I have found Cold Hand in Mine a degree stronger overall, but that's less a consequence of the weakness of the other collection than the strength of stories like "The Same Dog"—which I finished quite recently and was utterly blown away by. Such a nasty little tale.

I've also read stray tales from the others: "The Unsettled Dust", "The School Friend", "Mark Ingestre: The Customer's Tale", maybe one or two more.

On the subject of odd horror writers, any thoughts on William Sansom? I've been meaning to get a few volumes of his short stories, but the most noted, Fireman Flower, is basically impossible to find.
at 15:21 on 24-01-2017, James D
Aickman's Cold Hand in Mine, in particular, is basically front to back gems of slow-burning Freudian morbidity in marginally genteel trappings

Have you read any of his other collections? Robert Aickman is always amazing, but honestly I found Cold Hand in Mine to be the weakest of the four major collections I've read. Painted Devils, The Wine-Dark Sea, and The Unsettled Dust are all much better in my opinion, but then again horror is probably the most subjective genre.
at 08:43 on 20-01-2017, Arthur B
That all sounds interesting!
at 06:06 on 20-01-2017, Ichneumon
Bit apropos of nothing, but I think that my recent reading may be of interest to the greater Ferretbrain community, such as it is: James Blaylock's understated, lightly satirical supernatural thriller All the Bells on Earth, as well as short story collections by three late horror-ish greats and one still living: Paul Bowles, Robert Aickman, Joel Lane and Steve Rasnic Tem.

I know I've been threatening to write something for ages, and have perpetually backed out due to cold feet, but these may be worth some in-depth analysis for public delectation. Aickman's Cold Hand in Mine, in particular, is basically front to back gems of slow-burning Freudian morbidity in marginally genteel trappings, "The Swords" and "Pages from a Young Girl's Journal" presaging Ligotti and almost channelling Angela Carter respectively, and "Niemandswasser" ending with the most devastating punchline and reversal which must be read and reread to be fully appreciated. I also think that Lane's even more scathing and mournful approach to mixing political commentary with weird fiction and character study in the Campbellian vein would be of serious interest to those not already familiar with his work here.
at 16:48 on 07-01-2017, Arthur B
I don't know - setting aside Anna Foerster's butt preferences, there may well have been orders from on high to ensure a certain level of butt shots. The Underworld folk know their audience, after all.

But if you don't remember that many, then there probably aren't any as blatant as "Selene strides through a door whilst the camera crawls along behind her at butt level" from the first movie or "Selene crawls through a duct whilst the camera crawls along behind her at butt level" from Awakening.
at 02:45 on 07-01-2017, Ibmiller
The one thing I'm not sure about was the number of Beckinsale seat shots. Since the director is Anna Foerster, maybe fewer?
at 17:25 on 06-01-2017, Arthur B
I need to see when it's coming out here so I can indulge my secret shame (which very much isn't secret and I'm not really ashamed of).
at 17:04 on 06-01-2017, Ibmiller
So, I saw Underworld 5: Someone Discovered New Vampire Superpowers Rules in the Cupboard Back There last night, and it was hilarious. The director was clearly not really a fan of the last film, so they pretty much ignore or yank offstage everything from that film, and try to go for the tone of the first film, except now Selene is trying to show more emotions, and has a tiny bit of an arc from the beginning of the movie, where she wants to die. The vamps and woofles have many scuffles, and they stopped trying to pretend the vamps aren't elves with the Nordic coven of vamps, who are all peaceful and archery-happy, and have super, super long white hair.
at 15:00 on 31-12-2016, Robinson L
So, I presume most everybody knows this by now, but I feel it's worth commenting here that Carrie Fisher died on Tuesday, and her mother Debbie Reynolds the day after, at the ages of 60 and 84 respectively.

I haven't followed much of Fisher's career outside of Star Wars, but from what I've picked up second- and third-hand, it sounds like she was a pretty amazing person, even if she wasn't actually taking on Galactic Empires in her late teens.
at 13:46 on 23-12-2016, Arthur B
It is a possibility. I may wait until he's done with it and moved on to some new hobby horse so I can do the whole lot at once.
at 22:45 on 22-12-2016, Bill

Any plans to discuss Alan Moore's Lovecraftian work?
at 03:36 on 15-12-2016, Robinson L
Ichneumon: They, too, are victims of modern capitalism and patriarchy, but they fail to understand that women and minorities and poor people and immigrants and young people and queer people are not taking something away from them when they gain rights because every attempt to explain to them that the economy isn't a zero-sum game has been pushing a neoliberal agenda that screws them, and the people with the easiest answers are who else but crypto-fascists and reactionaries.

I absolutely agree. The anger and frustration and fear is justified; the choices of target are not.

Is it really mostly men? I always thought so, but I heard somewhere that a majority of the white women who voted backed Trump, which is it's own kind of disturbing.

Ichneumon: Yet the response is either the kind of defiance that confuses ignorance with real malice, or a kind of condescending pity that only makes people whose better angels might be appealed to with the right education feel belittled. There has to be a better way here.

There always are. Whether or not we'll find one or more of them in time is another question.

I won't pretend I have any of the answers, but I have some ideas. Two weeks ago I was listening to a live stream of the final plenary of a Moral Economy Conference held by a Quaker conference center in Philadelphia. One point which struck me was when they talked about healthcare. The panelists claim that according to opinion polling, a majority of Americans support the idea of a universal healthcare program in the US (that thing every other rich country and several not-so-rich countries have), despite all the Republican and Tea Party scare-mongering. The panelists speculated that a movement for universal healthcare - as opposed to the misnamed mediocre improvement that is the Affordable Care Act - would separate Trump from a lot of his less fanatical supporters by forcing him to demonstrate he really doesn't have their best interests at heart.

It sounded to me like a plausible enough tactic, and there are probably other examples where the left demonstrably has better solutions that what Trump will support, if we can organize effectively around them.

Janne: How to combat hateful rhetoric by actually succeeding to turn people back to believing that progressive ideals are actually a good idea for everybody and for society as a whole?

Perhaps by enacting achievable but far-reaching progressive change whose benefits will be immediately obvious.

One thing I am sure of is that here in the US, the Democratic Party won't get us out of this mess - they played too big a role in getting us into it. Like the Republicans, they are and always have been the War party and the Financial Sector party. They're not going to support policies which would severely undermine the financial and ideological interests of their top members and donors. At best, like FDR, they'll implement major reforms to stabilize the system - but he was only able to do that because the amount of civil unrest was so great that the ruling elite were afraid the country might go the same way as Russia. A similar dynamic was at work in the 60s and early 70s.

Which is not to say the Democrats don't have any part to play in creating positive change. But I think it's best not to look to them for leadership but to view them as, at best, a group of useful but exceptionally skittish and unruly followers.

And now for something completely different:

In more classic Ferretbrain-related news, my little sister Noria recently saw Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, and, being a fan of magical creatures and well-meaning, slightly doofy British boys both being adorable, she greatly enjoyed it. The ending was undermined for her by the obligatory Rowling Angst - which wasn't even that well executed according to her - but she gave it a strong recommendation overall.
at 22:08 on 12-12-2016, Ichneumon
To be fair to Trump's quasi-reactionary supporters, I do think that the true roots of their grievances and the emotions that arise from them are not inherently invalid: A lot of these guys, while far from poor, have worse jobs than they expected for less pay, have less of a connection to their community than the generations before them, feel cheated by the increasing educational demands of jobs which actually matter, and are battling feelings of loneliness and hopelessness and general anxiety which society tells them are unmanly and should be denied. They, too, are victims of modern capitalism and patriarchy, but they fail to understand that women and minorities and poor people and immigrants and young people and queer people are not taking something away from them when they gain rights because every attempt to explain to them that the economy isn't a zero-sum game has been pushing a neoliberal agenda that screws them, and the people with the easiest answers are who else but crypto-fascists and reactionaries. These poisonous individuals tell them that they are having their rights and privileges stolen from them and that they have all the answers, that they will give them power, freedom, strength, security, prosperity, a return to a Golden Age and victory to the righteous. But of course this is snake-oil, meant to empower violent and hateful people, and of course it refuses to confront these men (mostly) with anything they might genuinely have done wrong, and in fact plays on those flaws in character as any good confidence artist does, to cheat and despoil. Yet the response is either the kind of defiance that confuses ignorance with real malice, or a kind of condescending pity that only makes people whose better angels might be appealed to with the right education feel belittled. There has to be a better way here. I think Elizabeth Warren will be able to do it, and maybe even make some real changes in the system insofar as it is possible from within, but I'm really frustrated by the American left and centre-left at the moment. And we still have years to contend with this smarmy, amoral mobster.
at 19:50 on 12-12-2016, Janne Kirjasniemi
My apologies as well for being patronizing, I tried to think on a very general level and on the phenomenon of populism as such. Although I'm not an american(but finnish), we do have our own crop of populism here, which is eerily similar to populism in other places, which is not surprising, given that we've always imported most of our ideas, in good and in bad.

For example, our populist party's, the True Finns(although Base Finns would be both more literal and descriptive of them) leader Timo Soini has blathered on about how the media and everyone opposed to them are cultural marxists, an umbrella term which seems to include everything progressive or leftist or green or cosmopolitan or educated. I had thought he came up with the term himself and merely wondered what a relatively obscure out of academic circles German intellectual movement from the 1930s has to do with anything.

But then I happened to look into it and it seems that cultural marxism has been taken into the American alt-right lingo , where it is claimed that everything progressive since the 1930s, including sexual liberation, the women's rights movement and the civil rights movement is a dire commie plot using social constructivism to destroy America(or insert your society here). And Soini has described himself and his party being the only republican(in the american sense) party in Finland. So it seems that he is as callously reactionary as he pretended to be. Because I had had some doubts whether he was just totally ruthless and pragmatic in his tendency to feed every negative and angry feeling in the dissatisfied parts of the electorate, or whether he was just nuts. It appears that he is both.

But point being, just like climate denialism and rock music, American ideas do have a large influence here in the European perifery, so we are kinda interested what you're up to over there. But coming back to the discussion at hand, the sentiment that something is wrong and disgust at the political system and how things were going was seething under the seemingly calm waters of Finnish society and in many ways they had a good reason to be dissatisfied and they were mostly ignored. So when the financial crisis happened and just continued and when Nokia went down(mostly through their own fault, but still), the challenge to the current political balance came from the fringes and all the racism and red-baiting and general idiotism became a force in its own way, actually converting people to nasty and hateful ideas through appealing to their negative emotions and mostly distracting them away from the complex real issues at hand into the strange atavistic illusion that everything will be just fine if we regress back to some idyllic Finnish society of the forties, when everyone was happy and women knew their place and people with darker complexions were safe and exotic oddities seen on tv and in schoolbooks and generally existed as some people that the missionaries could work with. And confusing aspects of the human sexuality(other than straight male that is) were properly shunned and kept quiet about.

But I don't think that all of those people started out as atavistic and paranoid. Their feelings and anxieties were tapped into and that hateful rhetoric proved stronger, when it was even noticed. And surely there were prejudices there, dormant like, but prejudices can wane as well, if they are not enforced and fed. Kind of like with any ideology, you become convinced by one thing that seems reasonable, but every ideology is a package deal, and once you accept one thing, other things associated with that one thing become more reasonable, because you've started to trust the source, which in populist politics is just the thing. After that, cognitive dissonance and all the assorted fallacies start their inevitable work in all of us and it is hard for anyone to not fall prey to wrongful reasoning, even more so if one doesn't even admit its happening, except in other people, of course.

So I guess the big question is the following: Given that this sentiment and that segment of the electorate exists, here as well as in the US, what is the strategy to counter the people who will happily use and exploit those existing and dormant prejudices for political gain, quite often against the benefit of those same people who voted for them once they get into office (and really I don't believe that people benefit from wronging others. The wronging just makes them worse and more miserable when they have to explain their prejudices away by blaming the victims. Of course the victims are hurt much more, but still, even financial gains are limited in the end). Of course those prejudices shouldn't be accepted, much less fed and nourished, but in a democracy there will be someone who will do that if they can gain something from it. So what can be done? From a pragmatic point of view it seems to me that wile direct confrontation might be needed in many cases, it can't go too far, since direct conflict is always dangerous, damaging and very uncertain in its outcomes. But the situation has to be diffused somehow, since it can get so much worse.

I don't really know myself. Here it seems that since we have a multi-party system and every administration is a coalition, the Base Finns have lost support since thay accepetd to enter into a coalition and proceeded to betray every promise they made and seem to have ost the support of everyone except the real hardcore supporters. On the other hand I'm not very hopeful, since the next election is two and a half years away and the current Council of State has been very ineffective in doing much anything, which means that things are very much in the air.

It seems to have emptied some of the air from the balloon, though. But that is not really an option in the US, or in many other countries. How to combat hateful rhetoric by actually succeeding to turn people back to believing that progressive ideals are actually a good idea for everybody and for society as a whole?