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 18:54 on 10-04-2017, Ibmiller
As someone who sorta follows Marvel comics these days (not nearly as closely as DC), I think the real problem isn't diversity, but crummy comics and overreliance on events that have had two serious problems in the last two years. Not to mention the shock jock approach to storylines that led to Hydra Captain America.

I mean, the real problems in comic book creation culture could really only be fixed with the death of the direct market (local comic shops) model, but that would (or will, if you think it's inevitable) be catastrophic and lead to a comic book landscape I don't think anyone can really predict.

That being said, printed media in general has a tiny, tiny market share compared to television and film. Books generally sell in the tens of thousands if they are top ten level books, and comic books I think have a maximum audience of about 200,000 buyers, based on the top selling comics. A poorly rated television show has something like a million viewers (unless it's HBO), so the amount of vitriol being spewed about comics and books always frustrates me. It's just obvious proof that the smaller the pie a group is fighting for, the more vicious and pointless the fights over the pieces.
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at 13:16 on 07-04-2017, Arthur B
The Hugo nominations are out, and it looks like the Rabid Puppies/Sad Puppies more or less entirely failed to shit all over them this year. So far as I can find out, the Sad Puppies didn't even put out a slate. The Rabid Puppies did, but it was of limited effect: several categories have no Rapid finalists at all, and there's no category which is dominated by Rabid Pups, so there'll be healthy competition all round even after people have duly placed the pup candidates beneath "NO AWARD".

In the Best Novelette category they seem to have managed to get in a Chuck Tingle parody by a Mr. Stix Hiscock. Chuck has also got a nomination in Best Fan Writer and will be facing off against, amongst others, the Puppy candidate (one of the two posters on Vox Day's Castalia House blog who were on the Puppy slate), and to be honest I have good feelings about his chances to win. "Fan writer" is an appropriate category for him, after all, and the way he handled last year's Rabid Puppy spite-nomination was a net positive for the community as a whole.

In response, Chuck's issued a Tingler themed around his second nomination pounding him like the first nomination used to... but more importantly, he's noticed that Stix Hiscock didn't register their own website, and so has dealt with that with a warning about evil twins.
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at 16:10 on 05-04-2017, Arthur B
Where I could see the anthology model working is if they churned out a monthly Gotham/Bat Family anthology, Tales from the Green Lantern Corps anthology, mutants anthology, Spider Family anthology, Asgard anthology, Atlantis anthology, etc. I imagine some of the others would be a bit more difficult to categorize, but I'm sure you could do it with a bit of creativity, and the many team books (Justice League, Avengers, Titans ...) could easily be geared to supporting this model.

If only at least one of the major comic publishers had well-regarded comics in their portfolio with titles like Action Comics or Detective Comics, the sort of thing which could nicely signal the sort of content involved in a particular book...
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at 15:15 on 05-04-2017, Robinson L
I haven't followed this particular controversy too closely - I read about the "diversity is destroying the franchise" comment and that's about it.

That said, I think you've laid out the bind Marvel and DC find themselves in quite neatly. Unfortunately, barring a huge internal shake-up, I don't see the model changing any time soon. We live in an economic climate where comic book publishers, like movie studios, are compelled to be incredibly risk averse, and to prioritize immediate gains over long term ones. So if they try something new and it isn't an instant success, they're going to retreat back into what they already know than stick it out and see if the new project wins people over or brings in a new audience over time.

I like your idea about treating the iconic heroes as back bench celebrity players who are there in the background but only come out to play in the spotlight one or two games per season.

I could see going to an anthology model if the anthologies were closely tied together by theme. The Marvel and DC universes are already pretty broad in terms of the style and tone of the stories they tell, and personally, I wouldn't necessarily pick up an anthology that had a mutants story, a SHIELD story, a Hulk family story, a Swamp Thing story, and a Punisher story, because I'm inevitably going to be more interested in some of those things than others.

Where I could see the anthology model working is if they churned out a monthly Gotham/Bat Family anthology, Tales from the Green Lantern Corps anthology, mutants anthology, Spider Family anthology, Asgard anthology, Atlantis anthology, etc. I imagine some of the others would be a bit more difficult to categorize, but I'm sure you could do it with a bit of creativity, and the many team books (Justice League, Avengers, Titans ...) could easily be geared to supporting this model.

... Unfortunately, because of the risk aversion and focus on short term losses and gains mentioned above, I agree that this scenario would almost certainly result in ~80% stories starring straight white guys with a token "diversity" story thrown in to show "see, we're not still living in the 50s, honest."
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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at 23:38 on 01-03-2017, Arthur B
Thanks!
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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.


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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.


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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.
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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.
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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.
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at 08:43 on 20-01-2017, Arthur B
That all sounds interesting!
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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.
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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.
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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?
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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).
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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.
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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.
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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.
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