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 22:45 on 22-12-2017, Robinson L
Ha. Ha, Arthur. I admit, it took me an embarrassingly long time to figure out what you were doing there.

@Ibmiller: I'm sorry you were so disappointed by the movie. Unless I'm mistaken, that puts the Disney canon at 0 for 3 in terms of films you've enjoyed. Tough break.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, my own thoughts on the movie are many and varied. I could probably write my longest article yet on the subject, but that would require gathering them up into some sort of coherent order, and I don't intend to go to that much effort.

For now, I'll just give my broad impression, and add a follow-up post where I go into excruciating detail after the holiday weekend.

Overall, I thought The Last Jedi was a good movie, and I mostly enjoyed it for what it was. I'll likely go to see at again in the theater, perhaps multiple times.

That said, something about it felt seriously off to me. On reflection, I believe what's going on is that the tone is unlike pretty much any other Star Wars movie. Everything is dark and brooding, and apart from Rey and Luke's interludes on island planet, it's all shot through with this underlying feeling of desperation as the First Order slowly blasts the survivors of the Resistance down to what looks like fewer than two dozen people by the end. Even with the (substantial) victories the heroes score over the course of the film, the overall tone is incredibly bleak.

Despite my reservations, I came out of The Force Awakens excited and energized. I came out of The Last Jedi feeling emotionally drained. I still don't know if I think that's inappropriate for a Star Wars movie, but I get why it would put fans off.

I had a few other major reservations - continuing lack of Billy Dee Williams; continuing inability to take Adam Driver remotely seriously; putting Finn in a romantic subplot with a character who 1) isn't Rey, and 2) isn't Rey or Poe; and some of the stuff with Luke - but for the most part, I thought the plot was good, the characterization was good, the humor was good, the story was thrilling when it tried to be and somber when it tried to be, and there were a number of well-executed surprises.

(And even if it wasn't good Star Wars, I've seen the saga done far worse: Lookin' at you, Legacy of the Force.)

Sadly, it doesn't surprise me about your co-worker; I've had the misfortune to encounter people who have even more creepily revisionist ideas about Stalin. However, you can tell this person from me that claiming Stalin as a conservative is just as ridiculous as Vox Day claiming Richard Spencer is a leftist.
at 10:55 on 20-12-2017, Arthur B
While we wait for Robinson to weigh in, here's my thoughts on this year's Star Wars holiday season offering:

- Luke's looking a bit different. I'm really not sure about the makeup job and the hair.

- Everyone loves Chewbacca but it remains to be seen whether the other fuzzy friends we get this time really endear themselves to people.

- We get surprisingly little R2, but what we do get is effective.

- They do some interesting worldbuilding here. Less lightsaber fights than expected.

- Of course there's a hacking sequence, there always is.

- That mercantile guy is an interesting addition, though his ultimate loyalties are a bit obvious.

- That particular pairing of characters - you know the one - will cause controversy.

- Attentive fans will appreciate the new details on Kashykk.

- The acrobatics sequence was pretty odd.

- Can Jefferson Starship please just drop the "Jefferson" and just call themselves "Starship" already? They're so distant from the Jefferson Airplane days now I bet they can't even remember how to play White Rabbit.

- I could have done without the blackface cooking segment. And the electronics lesson. And most of the variety act stuff, to be honest.

- I could have really done without Itchy getting off on erotic VR modules in his sleazy chair.

- Why did Bea Arthur need to sing a song to get all those people to leave her bar? "It's an Imperial curfew, they will kill you and me and all of our families for good measure if they find you here" should have been enough.

- The guy with the crater head should fuck off and learn to respect boundaries.

- Life Day is weird. Why are Leia and Luke and Han there in the interdimensional pocket realm if only the Wookies are celebrating it? Han even makes the point of leaving so the wookies can enjoy it by themselves, but then he shows up there. Are these just the wookies' conception of those characters?

- Why is there no wookie-language TV on Kashyyk?

- At least Carrie Fisher seemed to be having a good time.
at 16:14 on 19-12-2017, Ibmiller
Curious to know what Robinson thinks of The Last Jedi (I, personally, think it is terrible, but I also hated The Force Awakens, so I'm not representative of many people, I think).

Also, regarding your comment about "You don't see me going around trying to claim Stalin, Mao, and Castro were all actually conservatives, do you?" - I have had the misfortune of working with a fellow who did claim that Stalin was a conservative. So while I did assume that you were more honest than him, such folk do exist, sadly.
at 03:30 on 11-11-2017, Robinson L
Oh yeah, two other minor points I really liked, the first one a minor spoiler.

It turns out that Loki
stashed Odin in some sort of building that was subsequently torn down, and to me it looked like some sort of care facility. I've no idea if this was deliberate, but it reminded me of The Long Dark Tea-Time of the Soul, where Odin spends all his time in an elder care institution

The second thing I really liked was the little bits of subversive social commentary sprinkled here and there, such as Hela's remarks about Odin papering over the more unpleasant parts of Asgardian history (much of which he actively participated in), or her asking Thor, when they're in Odin's throne room, where he thinks all the gold came from.
at 00:36 on 10-11-2017, Robinson L
Saw Thor Ragnarok with some of my family earlier today (as my stepmother pointed out, there was no colon in the credits; maybe it's their family name). There are many aspects to it I really liked and appreciated, but I could also write an entire thesis about the many and oh so varied ways it stumbles and sometimes outright fails, both on its own terms and as a concluding sequel to the original film and The Dark World. And it's really interesting, because on most of these points, Ragnarok isn't flat out bad, it just fails to synthesize parts which are mostly well handled on their own, or it has a good build up and almost lands the payoff. It's like an entire masterclass in how a series of mostly good parts can yield a whole which is less than its sum.

Special shout-outs go to disrespecting most of the characters, new and old, at some point or other, especially Heimdall.

That said, I did really like the character Thor, and the way it handled his arc with Loki, and some other pieces of the film. It's a really odd feeling overall.
at 20:00 on 08-11-2017, Robinson L
So, just to be clear, Arthur, when you answered "Yes" to my post from a month ago, I take it you were responding to the question

Was whatever magic you worked last year to stave off the annual blackout ... more of a one-shot?

In other news, I recently saw a screencap where Theo "Vox Day" Beale tried to disavow Richard Spencer by claiming that he's a leftist and no alt-right at all.

... Yeah, that's right Mr. Beale, as soon as one of your fellow-travelers starts getting a little too controversial for you, just go ahead and try to foist him onto your political opposition. You don't see me going around trying to claim Stalin, Mao, and Castro were all actually conservatives, do you?
at 13:36 on 29-10-2017, Arthur B
I've not run into any of those - will have to keep an eye open.
at 18:13 on 28-10-2017, Alasdair Czyrnyj
Arthur, I suspect that it is far, far too late in the season, but a director has come to my attention I think you might be interested in. A few weeks ago, I was reading Kier-La Janisse's House of Psychotic Women, which I have since discussed on my blog, and one of the things she talked about was the work of British director Andrew Parkinson. From what I've gathered he's only made three movies: I, Zombie (1998), Dead Creatures (2001), and Venus Drowning (2006). Janisse spoke very highly of the last two films (and I have since watched Dead Creatures myself), so I was wondering if you've ever heard of Parkinson or sampled his work before.
at 22:11 on 02-10-2017, Arthur B
at 22:02 on 02-10-2017, Robinson L
Oh hey, it's October again already. And that being the case, I think it's important that we know:

Was whatever magic you worked last year to stave off the annual blackout a continuous effect spell or more of a one-shot?
at 09:58 on 12-09-2017, Arthur B
Were anyone to write one, I'd be glad to publish.
at 18:39 on 11-09-2017, Ichneumon
I would love to see a Kiernan retrospective, personally. Very interesting author.
at 03:33 on 11-09-2017, Arthur B
I am working towards Kiernan in my coverage of Mythos stuff but it may be a while.
at 02:08 on 11-09-2017, Alasdair Czyrnyj
Hello everyone. It's been a very long time, but I was looking at the current discussion, and it brought to mind an old question that's been rattling around in my head for ages but I've never been able to have answered satisfactory, and I was wondering if some of you might be able to help.

My question is simple: why don't people read or discuss Caitlín R. Kiernan? On the surface, it seems like she would would be ideal for the current sf/f/h community. She got her start with Neil Gaiman in the late 1990s, but quickly branched out with her own particular take on Lovecraftian horror and "dark fantasy." She can depict the terrifying nature of "deep geological time" along with sympathetic portraits of alternative sexualities and mental illness that I never would have thought you could do while working in a Lovecraftian framework. She's been critically acclaimed numerous times, and is even in the process of having her papers archived at Brown University. And yet, no matter where I've gone online, no one talks about her work, and I've never been able to understand why.

And yes, I am doing well. Well, well enough, for the most part.
at 10:36 on 08-09-2017, Arthur B
I haven't actually read any Copper to my recollection - might have to look into that.

My understanding of Price's place in Lovecraft fandom is as follows:

Phase 1: Fanzine/journal editor. Price produces Crypt of Cthulhu, presenting a mixture of fan essays and fiction. It is a useful early forum for Lovecraft scholarship.

Phase 2: Anthology editor. Price lands a series of significant gigs editing Cthulhu Mythos anthologies. His encyclopedic knowledge of the field allows him to reprint some real gems, but equally his comparative lack of discernment also means he dredges up some utter trash - still, at the time the field was pretty thin and his contributions were welcomed by a hungry fandom. He played a particularly important role in kicking off Chaosium's line of Cthulhu Mythos anthologies, and his two-volume set of Tales of the Lovecraft Mythos/The New Lovecraft Circle, conceived as a sort of alternate take on the iconic Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos anthology, got the honour of being reprinted by Ballantine as part of their Lovecraft/Mythos range. By this point S.T. Joshi has emerged as the major figure in Lovecraft scholarship, with Price's contributions seeming rather tenuous in comparison, but Price's occasional discovery of long-forgotten lost gems of the field help keep him relevant.

Phase 3: More people turn their hands to producing Mythos anthologies. The shortcomings of Price's approach becomes apparent in comparison: in particular, his tendency to pontificate (to the point of putting in mini-essays about each of the stories he includes in his Chaosium collections) and trumpet his own interpretations of the stories before readers get to look over them themselves seems especially grating, and his appetite for pulpy pastiche is a turn-off for readers who want something more polished. The jig is pretty much up once S.T. Joshi turns his hand to compiling Mythos anthologies himself; as it turns out, not only is Joshi more interesting and less prone to going out on odd limbs when it comes to Lovecraft scholarship, but he also has excellent taste in horror fiction and as much of a knack for finding lost gems as Price does.

I'm preparing a series of articles on major Cthulhu Mythos anthologies and the tussle to be the successor to Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos which is going to tease out bits of phase 2 and 3, but spoiler alert: it turns out when S.T. Joshi decides to compile a "best of the Cthulhu Mythos" anthology, it blows Price's attempts out of the water. Joshi is far from perfect, but he fills Price's niche in fandom far better than Price ever did.
at 05:37 on 08-09-2017, Ichneumon
(I am, of course, speaking of Copper's horror fiction rather than his detective fiction, an area in which he was far more prolific, although the fact that he actually wrote quite a few Solar Pons stories is surreal enough to at least mention in passing.)
at 05:33 on 08-09-2017, Ichneumon
Robert Price was, at one point, not unlike Derleth in his better moments, an extremely important figure in Lovecraft fandom who cultivated and championed many talented young writers through the small press. This time has since passed. He is a relic of a bygone era at this point in a way that many of his contemporaries aren't, and it's been getting increasingly embarrassing. (He is also, bizarrely, a big proponent of the theory that there was no historical Jesus, which would be far more interesting if it didn't seem to dovetail with his more odious beliefs.)

On an entirely different note: I'm watching the episode of Night Gallery which adapts "Camera Obscura" this evening, and I was wondering if Arthur might be interested in doing a little retrospective on Basil Copper. He strikes me as one of those authors much praised but little read or significantly discussed.
at 20:06 on 29-08-2017, Janne Kirjasniemi
I know there is not much point in picking out one idiotic utterance from a stream of them, but this somehow shines out:

Our centers of learning have converted to power politics and an affirmative action epistemology cynically redefining truth as ideology. Logic is undermined by the new axiom of the ad hominem. If white males formulated logic, then logic must be regarded as an instrument of oppression.

I mean this way of peppering the text with philosophical concepts to make the writer sound somehow intellectual while at the same time demonstarting that the writer clearly has little idea of the very concepts he is brandishing seems so emblematic of this sort of pontificating in general. Like what on earth does he think logic is? Or truth for that matter? This use of philosophical and scientific terms to mask one's prejudice as somehow objective and rational seems to be especially prevalent with this sort of pontificating. That they somehow are a beacon of "truth" or whatever. Kinda reminds me of that ex-Google employee. Who perhaps wasn't as sordid as this Price fellow, but the rhetoric is similar.
at 18:15 on 28-08-2017, Robinson L
Ichneumon: The Ellen Datlow thing is particularly paranoid-sounding.

Yeah, I found that jarring as well. His argument for why Datlow is not a True Lovecraft Fan consists of 1) her participation in the movement to change the World Fantasy Award from Lovecraft’s likeness to something else, and 2) her statement at one point that Lovecraft’s “prose was often clumsy and overblown.” The latter of these two points reads like something cherry-picked out of what could have easily been a largely positive assessment of Lovecraft’s work. This is what critics do: even when they’re showering praise on an author or their work, they’ll generally make at least a passing nod to the flaws, as well.

The two biggest criticisms of Lovecraft’s work that I’ve heard, from people who generally admire it, are racism; and shaky prose. I believe Stephen King once characterized Lovecraft as having “a tin ear for dialogue.” That hardly counts as an overall dismissal of Lovecraft or his work as a whole. And yet this is the implication I get from Joshi’s analysis of Datlow’s suitability as a special guest.

It seems like he’s saying that anyone who 1) doesn’t hold Lovecraft himself in reverential awe despite his racist attitudes and writings and other reprehensible aspects to his character, and 2) strongly criticizes any given facet of his writing as less than technically brilliant, obviously doesn’t truly respect Lovecraft’s work and has nothing insightful or relevant to say about it. Which is a pretty hard line stance to take.

Arthur: in taking sanctions against a keynote speaker who'd been so offensive to a cross-section of the audience, NecronomiCon is arguably following the example of Lovecraft when he told off fellow amateur press contributors for piling in on an antisemitic harassment campaign.

Yeah, as I was reading through Joshi’s rant, I found myself wondering what Lovecraft himself would have thought of the whole controversy, given your description of his experiences with the UAPA and NAPA.
at 15:45 on 27-08-2017, Arthur B
Joshi's reaction now is particularly odd given his reaction to Price's comments back in 2015:

Well, NecronomiCon Providence (August 20–23) has come and gone, and it was a tremendous event. I fear, however, that it didn’t get off on a very good start, as the opening ceremonies featured a surprisingly lifeless and mechanical summary by Leslie Klinger of the basic facts of Lovecraft’s biography (do we really need such a recitation at such an event?), followed by a rather windy and confused polemic by Robert M. Price in which he suggested that Lovecraft would by some miracle be aligned with contemporary conservative thought and be opposed to affirmative action and political correctness! Whatever the validity of Price’s remarks (and to my mind they don’t have much validity, given that Lovecraft had become a socialist by the end of his life), this was surely the wrong place and time to air them.

Let us unpack Joshi's logic here:

- Price has a track record of giving "windy and confused" talks.
- Price's analysis is clearly flawed and nonsensical.
- Price crowbars his personal politics into talks where they don't belong.
- Price's keynote address was basically a disaster.
- The convention organiser was as unhappy as many of the rest of us about all that, and said as much.
- Price demanded an apology and didn't get one.
- The organiser said that Price was welcome to come along to the next convention, but wouldn't be allowed on any panels.
- It's tremendously important that a confused windbag who packs his talks with irrelevant, offensive nonsense be allowed on panels at NecronomiCon because ?????
- It's especially offensive that a bunch of people that Joshi disagrees with are not also barred from panels, despite the fact that they don't have the same track record of utterly shitting up keynote addresses at the con and the like, because ????????????

The post overall makes it sound like he is grumpy that some of his friends didn't get as much publicity as he wanted, and some people who are not his friends got publicity at all. In other words, the petulant rant of a thwarted gatekeeper. One could imagine a reanimated August Derleth issuing a similarly huffy missive about the excessive exposure given to people who don't buy the idea that Nyarlathotep is an Earth elemental.
at 15:29 on 27-08-2017, Arthur B
That Price said some obnoxious stuff that made him unwelcome as a convention speaker is not much of a surprise to me. The man is on the record as a hardcore Trumpist (a Shining Trumpezohedron, if you will) with nuclear-level Islamophobia.

I've done a little digging and found the comments which got him banned; note that Joshi doesn't quote them in his post, mostly because if he did then it'd completely torpedo his point.

If we can manage to look past [Lovecraft’s] racism, we will manage to see something deeper and quite valid. Lovecraft envisioned not only the threat that science posed to our anthropomorphic smugness, but also the ineluctable advance of the hordes on non-western anti-rationalism to consume a decadent, euro-centric west.

Superstition, barbarism and fanaticism would sooner or later devour us. It appears now that we’re in the midst of this very assault. The blood lust of jihadists threatens Western Civilization and the effete senescent West seems all too eager to go gently into that endless night. Our centers of learning have converted to power politics and an affirmative action epistemology cynically redefining truth as ideology. Logic is undermined by the new axiom of the ad hominem. If white males formulated logic, then logic must be regarded as an instrument of oppression.

Lovecraft was wrong about many things, but not, I think, this one. It’s the real life horror of Red Hook.

That Joshi is chasing him down this rabbithole is disappointing (and arguably, given Joshi's own status as an immigrant, very much against the best interests of himself and his loved ones). Unfortunately, it's not surprising given his comments on the World Fantasy Award no longer using Lovecraft's likeness. Joshi ends up in a curious rhetorical position here where he, as arguably the producer of the best and most comprehensive biography on Lovecraft, can't really claim that Lovecraft wasn't a deeply problematic figure because he's extensively documented all that. At the same time, he seems to want Lovecraft to retain exactly the same level of esteem he has in fandom, if not gaining more, because... well, because of some flailing appeal to tradition and a sense of history. But that implies that Lovecraft represents a pinnacle unattained before his own work and unattainable afterwards, which I don't agree with.

The appeal to his own authority and Price's as Lovecraft scholars tends to gloss over the fact that they tend not to agree on much. For instance, Joshi is on the side of good and light in terms of regarding August Derleth's material as appalling trash; Price is on the side of the slimy, crawling things that feast on corpses and offal in that he believes that Derleth's Mythos writing has actual occasional merit.

The irony here is that in setting himself and Price up as the unquestionable god-kings of Lovecraft criticism, Joshi is engaging in exactly the same sort of gatekepeer behaviour that Derleth attempted with the Mythos - whereas conversely, in taking sanctions against a keynote speaker who'd been so offensive to a cross-section of the audience, NecronomiCon is arguably following the example of Lovecraft when he told off fellow amateur press contributors for piling in on an antisemitic harassment campaign.
at 06:35 on 27-08-2017, Ichneumon
Joshi has always been prickly, to put it mildly, but of late he has become remarkably defensive and snotty, to the point of espousing some peculiar quasi-reactionary views in the service of shadowboxing with perceived cultural ills and supposed enemies in the literary world. The Ellen Datlow thing is particularly paranoid-sounding.
at 23:05 on 26-08-2017, Shim
Not sure if people have run across this yet. In a slightly bizarre development, S.T. Joshi not only pulled out of the biannual Lovecratian con NecronomiCon, but posted up some weirdly childish rantings about it, full of personal attacks. I'd already got the impression he was rather self-important, but this just further confirms my view that I wouldn't like him.
at 20:36 on 18-08-2017, Robinson L
Recently came across this Washington Post article about gender harassment in online gaming, claiming that it's generally supbar male players who aim abusive comments at female gamers.

I actually skimmed the comments' section, and sprinkled amongst the clueless misogyny there was some decent and semi-decent commentary. Some of the criticism which wasn't patently inane on its face included the fact that the researchers only looked at a single gaming event and the claim (I couldn't tell from the article) that they were only looking at male-female interactions between team members and not directed at opposing players - not being a gamer myself, I don't know how to weight this latter point.

I did find it odd that the article claims "no matter their skill level, or how the game went — men tended to be pretty cordial to each other." Again, I have no direct experience to speak from, but I was always under the impression that guys who make abusive gendered comments are also pretty harsh with other male players - it's just that in those interactions, there's no systemic oppression behind their vitriol.

Mainly, though, I'm wondering what the folks more experienced in online gaming think of the article's conclusions. Does this track with your experiences? Does it fit with your understandings?