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 01:27 on 17-03-2012, Alasdair Czyrnyj
Wow, I never thought this would ever be released in North America.

Probably should explain, shouldn't I? A few years back, I found out about The Company of the Dead though AlternateHistory.com, and I was so intrigued with the premise that I had to read it. Naturally, while it'd won a few awards in Australia, there was no news of it ever coming out overseas, so I had to shake down a copy from an Australian bookstore.

To summarize briefly, everything gets set into motion by an American neurologist who gets shanghaied into some research work on a damaged time machine excavated out in the Nevada desert. Naturally, he ends up getting sucked back in time to the 1900s, and with no way back, he decides he's going to dedicate his life to fixing the 20th century up. Unfortunately, he only gets as far as 1912 before he dies on the Titanic, but he does make a few critical changes. The bulk of the book is set in an altered version of 2012, when the planet has been divided for decades by the armed standoff between the world-spanning empires/alliance systems of Hohenzollern Germany and Showa Japan, and where America itself has split into two nations permanently divided by the cold war. As for the plot, the book is a spy caper/thriller involving a bunch of Americans (including an alternate Kennedy scion) trying to come up with a way to avert the coming apocalyptic war between the superpowers through a search for that buried time machine.

Now, I read this years ago, and I kind of liked it then, but I do have to admit that the criticisms on that Tor page are on base. It's bloody long, but it's thriller-style so it usually doesn't feel like a slog. (The author mentioned that it originally started out as a short story he worked on for years that just snowballed, and it really does show.) When I read it, I always got the feeling that while it was a thriller at heart, it had some aspirations towards "art" that it was never quite brave enough to follow through on. It's really a book that's more for enthusiastic teenagers that older people.

That said, I do remember it fondly. Some of the allohistorical speculation amusingly out-there (particularly the idea about a seperatist Texas convincing a fair chunk of the other southern states to leave the union with it by wrapping itself in the mantle of the Confederacy), and I am a sucker for any premise that involves a German victory in WWI. (I still don't know why more people don't use this idea; Nazi victories are so overplayed, and letting Wilhelmite Germany win means you could get a pretty strange alternate version of Europe that would probably be more enduring than anything the Third Reich could've done.) And, yes, even the thriller bits are kind of fun.

Oh, and the original site built to promote the book is still up after all these years.
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at 01:05 on 17-03-2012, Melissa G.
Oops, I formatted that wrong. O.o My bad.
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at 01:00 on 17-03-2012, Melissa G.
>but I don't know what the appeal for women (mostly because the vast majority of this stuff seems to be male-to-female

My guess would be that because almost all the complex and interesting characters tend to be male while female characters are often tokenesque and under developed, that girls like to swap the genders around to see themselves better represented. In a sort of, "Why couldn't this character have been a girl" kind of way.
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at 00:48 on 17-03-2012, Alasdair Czyrnyj
Awww - look gender-swapped Harry Potter! Part one and part 2. Hot sneering girl Draco is particularly delightful.

Wait...Rule 63 drawings that don't give you an overpowering need to bathe in Lysol? What madness is this?

Still, having encountered stuff like this in the past, it does leave me wondering. I can figure out the male motivations for creating/viewing this sort of material easy enough (curiosity, fetish, control, what have you), but I don't know what the appeal for women (mostly because the vast majority of this stuff seems to be male-to-female, rather than an equal split between the two).

Finally, on a tangentially related note, I thought this picture of a dragonified Isaac Clarke from Dead Space was pretty sweet. It's a dragon in an EVA suit; what more could you want?
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at 00:36 on 17-03-2012, Michal
Juneau wrote something about rape.

Ow. My eyes.

This looked like just another unpublished-author-gives-advice-to-other-unpublished-authors-on-how-to-stay-unpublished blog, but... this...? :-/

Am not going to waste breath on 'im. Not worth it.
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at 21:13 on 16-03-2012, Arthur B
Oh god he uses the Devil's Advocate excuse.

Sometimes, I really wish the Catholic Church had decided to call the person responsible for calling a prospective Saint's claims to saintliness into question (before then grovelling and apologising to the Saint should they be canonised) as the Pretentious and Aggravating Arsehole Who Should Be Fucking Ignored Forever. Then people would stop claiming to do that.
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at 21:01 on 16-03-2012, James D
Holy shit. That is one of the most offensive things I've ever read. I can only imagine how angry a rape victim would be after reading that. I'll hold this Juneau guy while you work him over, valse.
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at 20:40 on 16-03-2012, valse de la lune
Wait wait wait.

Juneau wrote something about rape.

It is rock-bottom horrific and this man has a daughter. Extreme trigger warnings.
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at 19:00 on 16-03-2012, James D
Honestly the fact that it was written by an (apparently) relatively successful shlock fantasy writer makes a lot more sense. He's not telling aspiring authors how to write *good* female characters, he's telling them how to mass-produce female-like characters that will satisfy readers and publishers of fantasy shlock. Not that that excuses him of misogyny, but it's more a symptom of the industry and readership than just him being a dickbag.
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at 18:51 on 16-03-2012, valse de la lune
Juneau takes what a bunch of women supposedly said as god's own truth and--contrary to his stated aim to lecture the world that women! are all! different! come in many shapes and sizes!!!--sets up rigid definitions of womanhood. He makes the errors of interpreting anecdotes as absolutes, and anecdotes were probably all that they were meant to be. He doesn't think women are people with vastly differing ideas, he thinks we're a hivemind.

Having said that, I wouldn't be happy with hearing those things from women either, like "I think 99.9% of all women are bitchy-some more so than others of course" or "Females are nurturers. Men are fixers [...] When a woman lays out a problem, often she is not asking for it to be fixed, but is asking for sympathy" or "One last thing: women have a tendency to be passive aggressive." Indeed, were I interacting with women who say such things--again, assuming these women exist--I'd have told them to fuck right off, because these are stated as absolutes and reek of internalized misogyny. That's not even getting started on the repulsive heteronormativity in several of them.

On the other hand, things like this strike me as an anecdote about men being sexist fucks than a "this is how to write women":

I once told a male friend that while some men may have a constant sex drive, for women who are tuned in to their bodies and their husbands, ovulation can be like mating season. I swear I could see the mental wheels turning as he plotted to go home and figure out how to track his wife's cycle and take advantage of it.

My final point is that women are extremely sensitive, insecure about their looks, and slow to forgive and forget when someone makes us feel unattractive, stupid, masculine, or any other undesirable thing. I was a late bloomer and I still remember every person that teased me about my flat chest. I remember when I hit a growth spurt and a man told me I was getting "big". (I was 15...wrong word!) I remember the male coworker that told me I had big hands, and the boy in high school who told me my butt was getting jiggly after the end of basketball season (and I wasn't exercising enough, apparently).


...and interpreting it as "this is how women are, so write women like so" speaks of obliviousness whose level cannot be measured in either words or numbers.
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at 18:30 on 16-03-2012, Robinson L
Re: Eric Juneau's Twisted Philosophy on Writing Women

The first part read to me like a guy with a fairly reasonable outlook and a fairly immature grasp of feminist issues which might conceivably improve with guidance (aside from the occasional tasteless joke, I could imagine my younger self writing something quite similar).

... and then the bullet list. After about point three, I'm sitting their with my mouth hanging open thinking 'Are you SHITTING me?' And the it gets worse. So much worse.

Girls are stupid, women are smart. Teenage girls think about boys and sex a lot.

Okay, you know what, fuck you. That's my sisters you're talking about right there; and most of my best friends, not too long ago. I think I just threw up a little in my mouth.

James D: You know who I'd take advice on writing female chararacters from? A fucking female author. I hear those exist now.

I see nothing wrong in taking some advice on writing female characters from a male author. Taking most-to-all of your advice from a male author? That's another story.

I'm not sure when he posted it, but Juneau has added an update clarifying that 1) it's Farland's list, not his (so why the fuck are you hosting it unless you endorse it?), and 2) Farland "is directly quoting other women."

The post Juneau "condensed and simplified" most of his bullet points from is available here. To me, the fact that the context of these women's remarks makes a huge difference in interpretation. (Contrast: "I am told by older female friends that menopause is very freeing, because they don't experience the emotional ups and downs that younger women do" from the original with Juneau's "condensed and simplified": "Menopause can be very freeing, because they won't have the emotional ups and downs.") I haven't been through all of Farland's post yet, but what I'm seeing so far strikes me as much less problematic. Do other folks here agree, or is there something I'm still missing?

Re: David Farland
Axiomatic: He's one of the worst fantasy authors I know. He doesn't even have the benefit of sucking due to being exceptionally offensive, he is just REALLY, REALLY bad at writing.

Oh, huh. It's been a while since I read Courtship of Princess Leia but I remember quite enjoying it, despite all the dodgy gender stuff. Hmm.
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at 16:18 on 16-03-2012, Axiomatic
Ye gods, the "other author" whose tips this guy is using? It's DAVID FARLAND.

He's one of the worst fantasy authors I know. He doesn't even have the beneift of sucking due to being exceptionally offensive, he is just REALLY, REALLY bad at writing.

No wonder I bought his "something something Runelords" for 2.99 euros. I don't mean used, or having it marked down by the store, this book was published with "ONLY 2.99!!!" on the FRONT COVER.
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at 16:03 on 16-03-2012, James D
Yeah, I get he was supposed to be the 'untried youth' type of character, but in order for those sorts to not be frustrating, you have to really like them and their bumbling has to culminate in an eventual success at *something*, and that usually parallels their maturing into adults. Dill wasn't bad at the start, but we never had much reason to like him; he never had a clear motivation, except maybe wanting to walk in his father's footsteps and become a heroic Archon (but that's never really emphasized). Anyway all his sucking just culminated in
getting his ass killed, then getting resurrected, then doing absolutely nothing important for the rest of the book.
Ugh.

Anyway the whole notion of a "how to write a non-straight/white/cismale character" article is flawed at the outset, unless the thrust of it is "how to write about people whose life experiences are very, very different from yours can't be summed up in a brief blog post, read books written by them and ask people you know who belong to these groups (and take them out to dinner to make your incessant stupid questions worth their while)."
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at 15:36 on 16-03-2012, valse de la lune
Told you so. >:) Dill's the kind of character, I imagine, that aggravates you the longer you spend time with him in-text. Long after you've finished the book, even if you remember almost nothing else about it, you'll probably remember that Dill was incredibly annoying. He is distressingly central to the second book, too, though fortunately
he doesn't talk much in Iron Angel.


A friend's speculated that perhaps Juneau will embark on a "how to write people of color" guide next. It could begin with "first I start off with a white person, and layer a thin veneer of brown, black or yellow on top..."
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at 14:49 on 16-03-2012, James D
Hahaha I took note of the 'personal slave' part too. He'd really like his wife to be a personal slave, but she won't do it, and she's not any good at doing his laundry anyway, so he's got to settle for this equality crap. Oh well, that's life!

And those bullet points, ugh. You know who I'd take advice on writing female chararacters from? A fucking female author. I hear those exist now.

By the way valse de la lune, I just finished Scar Night, and the second half of the book made me more or less agree with your estimation. The setup was good but it utterly failed to make me care about any of the characters before just throwing a lot of plot at me, so all of it was happening to people whose motivations weren't properly built up and whose continued existence was utterly irrelevant. They make this Ulcis guy seem like a real threat and then he's dead within like 2 pages of meeting him. It was a big mistake to try to stuff *six* POV characters into a book that wasn't even 600 pages long. I did appreciate his staying away from cliche fantasy characters (no big strong manly hero types at all, surprisingly), but it's like they were all just outlines of characters rather than real people. Also fuck Dill. The book should've been about Mr. Nettle and Rachael and focused way more on them as people, rather than just launching right into a subpar plot. Perdido Street Station, for all its faults, was very good at making the characters feel like real people and making you care about what happened to them.
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at 14:23 on 16-03-2012, valse de la lune
He insists the bullet points are sourced thirdhand from another male writer who conducted some kind of shitty anecdotal non-survey, but even then...

Then I layer a thin sheet of woman on it -- a little more emotional intensity, a little more nurturing, more connectivity with people. She's not aggressive and violent, she's not a linear thinker, not a constant crier, not so goal-focused (though goals are important and necessary, they are less tangible). A Barb Wire, high-heeled, cold warrior bitch is not a woman. It is a woman doing an impression of a man doing an impression of a woman. It's a fantasy -- unrealistic and implausible.


This is why sometimes I'm obliged to tell "feminist" men that I'd like to put on an iron-toed boot and kick them in the cock.

It's stupid to think that woman are there just to make laundry or sandwiches. As much as I'd like a personal slave, marriage doesn't work that way.


We're meant to give him a standing ovation here, I think. Such a nice guy!
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at 10:29 on 16-03-2012, Arthur B
At first I thought you were talking about the illustration at the top, which tries to counter people's fantasies about gamer girls with slut shaming (not to mention perpetuating a whole different set of stereotypes about women who play games).

Then I realised there was an article and it kept getting worse. D:

(This is probably terrible of me but when he says "Then I layer a thin sheet of woman on it" I start hearing Goodbye Horses - you know, the Buffalo Bill song from The Silence of the Lambs.)
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at 10:19 on 16-03-2012, valse de la lune
So Arthur and Robinson were talking about being a Minority Warrior in the Conan article... well, this is a textbook example of how to be the worst kind possible.
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at 10:13 on 16-03-2012, Arthur B
On Kickstarter: this one is about half done and isn't going so well, having only got a quarter of the way to the target.

I guess the big difference there is that the market as a whole probably isn't desperate for yet another FPS - it's hardly a genre abandoned by publishers like point and click adventures and isometric RPGs. Granted, the project's supposed to address gripes people have with the general tendency away from realism of current FPS games, but I guess that isn't a widespread enough gripe for people to put their hands in their pockets.
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at 19:29 on 15-03-2012, Arthur B
Oooh, I wonder if they'll implement that mod which ties all the games together into one big megagame?
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at 19:23 on 15-03-2012, James D
Or maybe it will be Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance 3!

It's an 'enhanced edition' of Baldur's Gate, apparently. Sounds interesting, especially if it's on Steam.
http://www.beamdog.com/files/newsletters/BGEE/bgannounce.jpg
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at 19:18 on 15-03-2012, Arthur B
I like Miss Longbottom and acolytes charging forth to be the real hero of book 7.
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at 19:14 on 15-03-2012, Wardog
Yes, and super-cute! :D
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at 18:56 on 15-03-2012, Dan H
Dude Hermione is kinda cool too, as are the Twins.
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