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 17:57 on 04-06-2011, Michal
Sorry if I'm jumping in here, but I've found something somewhat abominable in the Robert E. Howard fan community that might be worth comment - there's a whole lot of hate for the new Conan movie coming out, and some fans thought they could do better:


"The Hunt for Gollum" this ain't.
at 22:02 on 03-06-2011, Robinson L
Andy: Actually, the old series was pretty bloodthirsty with its companions - they could and did die, and when they died they were really dead.

Except Perri! But if we're referring to Companions as "people who traveled with Doctor/appeared in multiple stories" (as I was), then that's only what, half a dozen in 26 years?

They sometimes made a Big Thing of it when someone important died, but they didn't make a Big Thing of it that someone was going to die, let alone making a Big Thing of it that someone is going to die even when they transparently aren't.
at 19:24 on 03-06-2011, Melissa G.
I'm a little annoyed about the reset, personally, because I just got all caught up on Teen Titans, and the team consists of people I really like right now, and I don't want that to get messed up. But on the other hand, I hate the crossovers too since I don't follow anything but Teen Titans in DC. I'm just hoping that Tim, Bart, Kon, Cassie, and Rose stay on my Titans team, and I'll be fine.

Marvel's Ultimates universe was a great restart/way to get new fans, but now that's been going on so long that you can't really jump into it easily either. Though they did a whole big reboot as well and now they only have the one ongoing title and a bunch of short miniseries type deals. Which is pretty doable.

The downloads sound cool. But I honestly can't really see them throwing away years of continuity. If they did, I'd be kind of pissed considering how long I've invested getting to know these people. So...yeah...I'm not so sure how I feel about the reboot....
at 10:24 on 03-06-2011, Arthur B
So, DC are claiming they're totally revamping their range, honest. I know deep down that it's most likely just going to be a cosmetic thing and their comics are still most likely going to be continuity-burdened, crossover-infested nonsense... but I keep catching myself thinking that this time is going to be different.

The fact that they're offering same-day downloads of their stuff is a big plus to me because it's a sign that they want to cater to people who don't regularly go to comic shops, which I know sounds awful, but I always wanted to get into superhero comics but I never managed it because even when I was a kid in the 1980s they seemed to be catering mainly to people who'd been reading the things for decades, and it's only got worse since. And if the renumbering is actually accompanied by a proper scorched earth approach to continuity, and if they shepherd the series such that if you just want to follow Batman or whoever you don't need to buy a bunch of crossover titles just to make Batman's core series make sense, they might actually come up with something I'd want to follow.

But then on the other hand the first title is going to be a Justice League one so crossovers will still be on the cards. But then on the other other hand the cover to their first Wonder Woman issue looks awesome.

I dunno guys, tell me that they've done this before and it was all cosmetic a few times and it'd be stupid of me to go back for yet another shot, otherwise I might actually dip into the new series and see if they're any good.
at 00:55 on 03-06-2011, Andy G
"@Andy: I was just talking about that with my sisters earlier today, actually. We agreed that on the old show (1963-1989) the emphasis was on "how is the Doctor/Companion going to get out of this deadly situation?"

Actually, the old series was pretty bloodthirsty with its companions - they could and did die, and when they died they were really dead.
at 00:30 on 03-06-2011, Robinson L
@Arthur, re: Flesh people:
Either Miranda's or Jennifer's 'ganger specifically mentioned non-independent 'gangers dying horribly and always asking 'why?' and I think we're supposed to feel horror at the sight of the discarded (presumably) non-independent 'gangers which Jennifer and Rory find.
I'm pretty sure they're supposed to be people either way.

Re: putting hands up: You could be right, though I'm cynical enough to think it's more likely
they'll kill the copy, instead
. But my point being that
I'm certain some version of the Doctor which is "close enough" to the original will survive

@Andy: I was just talking about that with my sisters earlier today, actually. We agreed that on the old show (1963-1989) the emphasis was on "how is the Doctor/Companion going to get out of this deadly situation?", whereas the tone of the new show is more often "Oh God, the Doctor/Companion is going to DIE, isn't that so, so sad?" and I'm sitting there saying, "No, they're not, please stop wasting my time and do something interesting already." The Big Bang
wasted several minutes angsting over how sad it was that the Doctor was about to die rather than addressing the question "so, how's the Doctor going to survive this one, eh?" Similarly, The Impossible Astronaut and Day of the Moon both wasted several minutes angsting over how tragic it is that the Doctor died/is going to die rather than getting on with how the Doctor is going to get out of it.
at 23:25 on 02-06-2011, Andy G
Well, Rami's exams are finished now, so he has plenty of free time to code something up ;)
at 22:16 on 02-06-2011, Arthur B
We use so many spoiler tags for these Doctor Who conversations we ought to have a <doctorwho> tag which is exactly like the usual spoiler tags except it makes the TARDIS sound when the hidden text appears and disappears.
at 21:32 on 02-06-2011, Andy G
@Robinson L (Doctor Who spoiler)
But of course he won't really die. The suspense comes from finding out exactly how he is going to cheat death.

And it involves considerably less suspension of disbelief than every time the Daleks come back from complete destruction *again*.
at 21:14 on 02-06-2011, Arthur B
I would actually put my hand up for the thing you ask people to raise hands for on the grounds that
the Doctor went a long way in the most recent episode to ascertain whether Amy could accept a duplicate of himself as having just as much right to be the Doctor as he does.
at 20:30 on 02-06-2011, Robinson L
Watchable, I grant, but most of the episodes so far have left at best, a mixed taste in my mouth.

The very beginning of the season went a long way to put me off, what with the massive dose of melodrama and the excruciatingly awful
rehash of the "Oh my God, the Doctor is going to diiiiiie!" nonsense from The Big Bang
. Hands up, everybody who believes there's a nonzero chance that will actually happen. That's what I thought. But after that, The Impossible Astronaut/Day of the Moon just puts me in mind of a Russell T. Davies finale: high on spectacle, low on substance.

The pirate episode was enjoyable fluff, but there were so many gaping plot holes by the end, not to mention the one plot point which required the Captain to be suicidally stupid ("Gee, I wonder if he's going to try to save that highly reflective shiny crown?"). Plus even more melodrama with the whole
"Oh no, Rory is going to diiiiiie! (again)"

The Rebel Flesh/The Almost People made a good point about the way human beings often take a bad but survivable situation and make it worse through our own petty fears and prejudices, but it felt incredibly heavy-handed. The guest cast felt less like flawed human beings
and Flesh beings
and more like just a bunch of idiots, and the characterization for Miranda Cleaves and Jennifer was incoherent ("Oh she's evil, wait no she's not, wait yes she is"). And as Andy points out, the meta-plot bit at the end completely clashes with the moral the past two episodes kept hammering in.
at 19:49 on 02-06-2011, Arthur B
I don't think there's as much of an inconsistency with the end of the previous episode because
as I understand it there's supposed to be a distinction between Flesh who are operating independently, with their own minds and thoughts and feelings, and Flesh that are being directed remotely by someone else, where there's no independent personhood there because they have no mind separate from that of the person directing them.
Though I do agree that the writers of the main episode seemed to lose sight of that, and then Moffatt seemed unwilling to go back and tweak their script himself to bring things into sync.

Then again, it might all suddenly make sense within the first five minutes of next episode, not least because
I fully expect the first words out of Rory's mouth to be "WHAT THE HELL DID YOU JUST DO???"
at 18:48 on 02-06-2011, Andy G
"I almost think Moffatt would be better off abandoning the episodic structure entirely, since he does seem to struggle sometimes to make it work."

There is a joke in the second episode about this: the Doctor says something like "Well, we could investigate this further, or we could just go off and have random adventures".

I think it is still pretty episodic - in the sense that most episodes function in their own right - but the difference is that they also contribute in some way to the overall arc. Time will tell I guess.
at 18:45 on 02-06-2011, Andy G
It's probably about par for the course - of the six episodes so far, only the first two were by Moffat, and were naturally pretty damned good. As in other seasons, the filler-y episodes haven't been as good, but have certainly been watchable (of those, Gaiman's has certainly been the best). I thought the recent two-parter was not quite as good as it should have been - the writing/directing were a little obvious, and it would have worked better as a one-parter, and also the ending (part of Moffat's overall story) was internally inconsistent because
the Doctor kills one of the Flesh after spending two episodes telling people not to.

I will say that I am *really* looking forward to next week's episode (by Moffat).
at 17:41 on 02-06-2011, Arthur B
I found Neil Gaiman's episode a bit Gaimany. Oh look, an anthropomorphic personification of a thing you don't normally see walking around in human form. Not seen you do that before, Neil. But even then it was a pretty good episode and most of the ones this season have kept me entertained (though the pirate one was almost all fluff).

The main difference I'm seeing this season is that it's very much written as a season to be watched beginning to end, even more so than last time (which was comparatively continuity-heavy itself), and it's pandering more to the geek audience by being clever and being conscious about being clever. Not to an extent that I'm not enjoying it (the first couple of episodes and the latest two-parter were great), but I do see that people might find it hard to get into, and I might retroactively end up hating the season if the way Moffatt pulls all the various strands together turns out to be rubbish. I almost think Moffatt would be better off abandoning the episodic structure entirely, since he does seem to struggle sometimes to make it work.
at 15:30 on 02-06-2011, Robinson L
Okay, I've now seen all the episodes of Doctor Who series six which have have been aired so far. And I must say ... it's pretty shit, isn't it? (Neil Gaiman excepted, but even his episode I felt was good, rather than great.)
at 23:45 on 01-06-2011, Arthur B
I'm ashamed to admit I only got the first author you alluded to in that premise (Moorcock...right?!?)

Yep. Second is M. John Harrison, lost in Viriconium (which includes such locales as the Proton Way and the Bistro Californium, which has led me to believe that the place is meant to be built in the ruins of a particle accelerator). Third one is Ballard himself, confronted with the many-named protagonist of The Atrocity Exhibition and a couple of the ghosts haunting said protagonist.
at 22:40 on 01-06-2011, Alasdair Czyrnyj
I'm ashamed to admit I only got the first author you alluded to in that premise (Moorcock...right?!?)

For what it's worth, I do like some of Brian Aldiss' later stuff, mostly HARM and Somewhere East of Life, the latter of which I praise mostly because it's one of the few books out there that actually tried to come to grips with the end of the Cold War. (I also did like that one of the main signs that Western civilization was headed down the crapper was the fact that Not The Wheel of Time has become a top-grossing film franchise. [It also ties nicely into one of Aldiss' themes in Trillion Year Spree about SF's eternal struggle between seriously dealing with Humanity's Place In Industrialized Society and escapist adventure.])
at 07:56 on 01-06-2011, Arthur B
Reading the synopsis I'd thought I had, but on reflection I think I'd read Super-Cannes instead. The later Ballards do seem to all blend into each other a bit, and not quite in a cool Atrocity Exhibition style where the differing, apparently incoherent narratives all blend into each other until you begin to get something coherent emerging from them and more in a rehashy sort of way.

Idea for a late Ballardian story: a fanzine writer investigates a spate of madness, strokes, and sudden heart attacks amongst a commune of New Wave SF authors, and discovers that these symptoms are all a consequence of real life catching up with their early works. The resultant failure of the comforting veil of fiction to protect them from their own prophecies inevitably leads the writers to fear that sooner or later their wilder, stranger predictions will also come to pass, leading to the psychological and psychosomatic maladies that caught the fanzine writer's attention. One author is convinced an assassin called Jerry is going to kill him as part of an extended terrorist campaign against history. Another is found wandering the coils of a particle accelerator, asserting that it is a city more real than 21st Century London. A third suffers a massive heart attack when he encounters three people attending a costume party as Marilyn Monroe, a psychiatrist and a bomber pilot.
at 06:14 on 01-06-2011, Alasdair Czyrnyj
I'm just gonna throw this to the wind: has anyone here read J. G. Ballard's Millenium People? I read it a few months back, and I'm still not entirely sure to make of it. I sort of feel like I would have understood it better if I was more familiar with British society (and perhaps had previously read one of those "Introducing Existentialism" books that infest university bookstores). As it is, I bounce between thinking that Ballard was out of touch and that he was just rehashing himself, and thinking that the book was an important reminder that all the stuff he wrote about in the '60s and '70s is still going on under different labels, and that we might be finally within sight of the breaking point.
at 15:02 on 30-05-2011, Robinson L
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom was my first Cory Doctorow read – and nearly my last. I finished the whole thing, but I didn't enjoy it much at all. I owe Pyrofennec much thanks for her review of For the Win, which convinced me to give the book a try.

I ask because gold farming is a major feature of the book, and several of the characters are Chinese gold farmers. One of them even gets imprisoned for several months because of his union activism. Reading that article so soon after reading For the Win felt pretty surreal for me, and I imagine it must be several times stranger for Doctorow.

Claire: I see a business opportunity here...Ethically Farmed Wowgold, anyone?

Fair Trade Wowgold … sounds good to me!

I've also just listened to Kyra's guest spot on Read it and Weep. It was muchly entertaining, though I still prefer the TeXt Factor and other Ferretcasts.

Alasdair: And now, the pure terror that is Lou Reed.

Content-blocked in the US. Grr.
at 19:18 on 29-05-2011, Alasdair Czyrnyj
Wow, she's fallen into the uncanny valley and actually climbed halfway up the other side! I thought only Brent Spiner could do that.

And now, the pure terror that is Lou Reed.
at 18:54 on 29-05-2011, Melissa G.
All this talk of AI and SF reminded me of this video I saw a while back, which simultaneous creeped me out and utterly impressed me. Also, who's surprised that Japan's got mad robot skills? Oh, no one? Really. Hmm.
at 11:52 on 29-05-2011, Dan H
Singularity theory always reminded me of those old pictures of perpetual motion machines. At a cursory glance, the idea of running a water wheel using water pumped into position by the same water wheel is a revolutionary idea of fantastic genius, except for the part where it violates conservation of energy.

A lot of it seems to be based on this (itself not unproblematic) assumption that "intelligence" is a single, measurable quality and that there is, in essence, a magic level of IQ or whatever at which you can work out how to make yourself smarter, thereby attaining infinite smartness. The problem is that there's no reason at all to assume that this is even partially true.

As for Artifical Intelligence in general, that remains a philosophical issue as much as anything else. It's not immediately clear how you prove that you've actually got an AI, rather than a sophisticated video game NPC.