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 11:54 on 09-04-2014, Tamara
I gravitated to the premise of the Casual Vacancy because - while uninteresting in itself - it sounded totally like Rowling playing to her strengths, and that sharp eye she has for pettiness, hypocrisy and dark comedy...and it really lived up to it. I thought the wrap up ended up being a little neat, but getting there had some fantastically vicious moments. (I'd rank it above the Galbraith book, which is surprisingly nicer to its characters and setting. I'd have though she might have a few choice observations for the world of small-time celebs and papparazi, but she seems to hold back there.)
at 11:41 on 09-04-2014, Arthur B
I liked The Casual Vacancy too. Oddly (or not) neither of them are, like, totally brilliant, and neither are my usual thing, but I finished both books in one sitting, which isn't something i've done in a long, long time. There's just something intensely readable about her writing for me.

I gave The Casual Vacancy a miss because I just found it deeply uninteresting as a premise, but as I've said previously I'm a partisan for Galbraith and thought the first one was the best and most readable Rowling since Prisoner of Azkaban. Between that and TROLL MOUNTAIN the publishing world is making me very happy currently.
at 11:32 on 09-04-2014, Tamara
Valente/Deathless - I quite enjoyed it when I read it, but as time has passed I have an increasingly hard time in figuring out what it was exactly it was that I like about it. Valente is just such a skilled writer in a technical way, I think, that it kind of covers up the gaps in the actual contents. Did that story make any sense? Did it say anything interesting? I honestly just don't know, I just know it generated a whirl of thoughts and emotions, and that's not necessarily a mean feat at all.

Rowling - Oh, good, the new Galbraith book is coming out. I liked the first one. That's all i've got on that.(I liked The Casual Vacancy too. Oddly (or not) neither of them are, like, totally brilliant, and neither are my usual thing, but I finished both books in one sitting, which isn't something i've done in a long, long time. There's just something intensely readable about her writing for me.)
at 11:03 on 09-04-2014, Arthur B
Lynn Shepherd fires some point-missing smack talk in JK Rowlings' direction, heaps of angry rebuttals (including one from Anne Rice) miss the point as well.

I'm not getting into the debate about "oooh, you're so entitled" because that often descends into Randroid belittling of people on the grounds that they aren't billionaires and are pointing out the golden opportunities given to others but denied to them. But the question Shepherd's points prompt in me is: has Shepherd been in a brick-and-mortar bookshop lately? Because whilst Rowling does get a prominent push, she's far from a dominant presence in my local Waterstones, and you could forget her adult fiction even exists most of the time. (It's slightly different now because her next Robert Galbraith book is coming out soon, but even then the push consists of a number of prominent posters and a single display of the previous Galbraith book, which is about what you'd get if any other top dog author were bringing something out.)

It isn't as though Rowling is churning out volume after volume after volume of stuff; her pace of publication is, if anything, fairly modest. Unless half the authors on the shelves are other Rowling pseudonyms I'm not seeing that she's crowding anyone out from any publishing niche other than "current top-selling author", and by definition that's a niche only one author at a time can occupy and 99.99999% of all authors can never seriously expect to occupy.
at 21:14 on 08-04-2014, Michal
Speaking about conversation fodder, I would love to talk to someone about Deathless by Cat Valente, mostly because I still haven't sorted out whether I liked it or not and have some major reservations about certain aspects of the narrative. (It also occurs to me that this would also make great material for podcast, and I host one, so anyone interested can reach me here and we can possibly work something out).
at 09:27 on 08-04-2014, Tamara
Adrienne, would you talking a bit about what the issues are? Not with regard to Valentine in particular, just seems like good fodder for conversation :-)

With the Mechanique novel, at least (can't speak to the short stories) it is a collapsey sort of setting, but it's all so vague and kaleidescopic it didn't really feel like a post-apocalyptic novel to me. I'm not a huge fan of them, mostly because they always seem either terribly contrived (ala Hunger Games) or, to get back to Stephenson once more, a bad excuse for dumb, first-person-shooter aesthetics and תו לא.
at 08:51 on 08-04-2014, Adrienne
(I should clarify; when I say "have an issue with", in this case I mean "am likely to be traumatized by", not "find morally or otherwise problematic".)
at 08:41 on 08-04-2014, Adrienne

No, what I have serious issues with is post-apocalyptic settings of a particular sort, and as far as I can tell the Circus Tresaulti lives in one.
at 23:41 on 07-04-2014, Kit
Maybe I should try Reign...

If you are even slightly invested in historical accuracy or in period costumes, prepare for a staggering, brain-melting amount of utter WTF (think of it as Gossip Girl set in a sort of alternate history Valois court). But it's actually good fun to watch in a completely silly way, especially if you've got a Genevieve Valentine-esque mental voiceover running parallel to it, like I do :) And their Catherine de'Medici is excellent.
at 22:25 on 07-04-2014, Arthur B
Matthew Reilly is writing epic fantasy now.

Excellent, just have to shove him in the direction of Black Library and soon he will arrive at his natural home...
at 21:24 on 07-04-2014, Tamara
Sleepy Hollow is silly, frantic fun, but also has just enough built political subtexts to not exhaust my interest after three episodes the way this sort of thing usually does, although I did lose attention by the end of the season. Maybe I should try Reign...
at 17:21 on 07-04-2014, Kit
Genevieve Valentine singlehandedy got me to watch two incredibly cheesy shows (*mumblemumble*Sleepy Hollow*mumble*Reign), simply because her reviews were delightful and I wanted to know what was going on. I've read a couple of short stories and liked them, but maybe I should give Mechanique a try!
at 11:18 on 07-04-2014, Tamara
I'm sure it wouldn't traumatize you! Well, I think...I mean, it has a little bit of a horror aesthetic, I guess, but it's much more melancholy and surreal than anything really nasty. Unless you have serious issues with fear of falling or non-linear storytelling, possibly.
at 10:29 on 07-04-2014, Adrienne

I would love to read Mechanique, but unfortunately as far as I can tell (from reading a couple of Valentine's short stories set in the same milieu) it would traumatize me a LOT. I do point my friends who like steampunk at it, though. Agreed that she needs more love as a fiction writer.

But gawd, do I love her criticism, both the silly and the serious. (She does these fabulous bad movie reviews over at her blog that are pee-your-pants funny.)
at 08:48 on 07-04-2014, Tamara
Valentine seems to be writing good commentary stuff everywhere lately, but I wish she would get more love as an author - Mechanique is a strange, interesting novel that actually uses it's steampunk aesthetic in a critical, novel way. I wish there was more discussion of it around.
at 06:51 on 07-04-2014, James D
Re: Brian Cox vs. Anthony Hopkins as Hannibal, I agree completely. Hopkins is obviously more intense, but what makes Brian Cox better in my opinion is that he seems so innocuous at first, just a tubby middle-aged man of the sort you see dozens of every day. He sort of blusters with Will Graham for a while and then very casually asks for his address so he can write him, which seems like the most natural thing in the world - except of course he really just wants to pass it along to Dolarhyde so he can kill Graham and his family. It's that kind of dark intent behind seemingly harmless pleasantries that makes for a villain more in keeping with Hannibal's overall narrative, i.e. someone who for years fooled Will Graham, a highly successful hunter of serial killers.

In The Silence of the Lambs, just from the very first instant you see Hopkins standing there in his cell, he has this incredible intensity that makes for a compelling character but a very poor disguise. I guess you could argue that he hid his true nature before and now that he's caught, he no longer needs to maintain the charade, but that just feels flimsy to me.
at 04:49 on 07-04-2014, Kit
Oh, Genevieve Valentine is amazing - I've only skimmed that one article because I have yet to see the movie or the show and don't want to be spoiled too much, but the parts I read are excellent.

Also, this has nothing to do with the previous discussion, parts of which have been delighting my little anarcho-marxist heart, and have led to a few additions to my to-read list (thanks for that!); but, emboldened by the fact that I strangely enjoyed The Woman in White back when the TeXt Factor practically forced me to read it, I have decided to pick up No Name. Now that I'm halfway through, I'm steadily developing the same kind of weird fondness for it I had for its predecessor, and I'm starting to wonder what the ferretcrew would have had to say about it. The characters are weaker - it hasn't got its Marian, or Count Fosco, for that matter - but there's still plenty to latch on. So far it has delivered
sisterly love in spades (does Collins have a fetish for sisters fervently declaring their affection for one another?), an incredibly wet love interest (who gets constantly dismissed as a complete waste of space by none other than his own delightfully cynical father), another slightly-mannish-but-gorgeous protagonist, the creepiest housekeeper ever (who is made even creepier by the fact that she is incredibly normal and chillingly sane), lots and lots of ominous capitalisation ("He is a Scoundrel!" *gasp*), weird ninja-y infiltration schemes involving completely ludicrous disguises, a Victorian shopping addict (I'm serious), a page-long discussion on how to make omelettes (yup, still serious) and a Toad in an Aquarium (also randomly capitalised).
I'm kind of sad not to have a group of people I can discuss it with chapter by chapter.
at 04:37 on 07-04-2014, Arthur B
Clarice's story gets very problematic (and very silly, as does everyone else's plotlines) in the Lambs sequel but I always thought her story in Lambs was more interesting than Will Graham's in Manhunter precisely because, as Genevieve points out, she's an untested factor who spends the movie proving herself, whereas Will Graham put away Hannibal, and frankly next to Hannibal most of the other serial killers Harris offers up are rank amateurs so where's the challenge to the Guy Who Caught Lecter?

I think Manhunter is the better movie, but mostly because I'm a partisan for Brian Cox's interpretation of Lecter and Michael Mann's direction, both of which veer back from the horror movie melodrama that Hopkins/John Demme used for Lambs. Graham is an interesting character in that mainly because Michael Mann does a masterful job of playing with the idea of how psychological profiling and police procedure is just as much a form of manhunting as serial killing is, albeit from a position of insight and empathy and understanding and rationality as opposed to coming from an irrational place which doesn't understand why it's doing what it's doing and struggles to relate to the world outside of itself (see, for instance, Graham's ability to empathise with Dolarhyde and get inside his head whilst retaining his outrage at what he's done, compared with Dolarhyde's utter misinterpretation of a moment he witnesses with his girlfriend when he decides she's Like All The Others and needs to die and the way he doesn't actually give two shits about his victims because they're just a means to an end for him).

But Clarice has a better story arc and can basically do more or less anything Will does and I'm a little sad that Mann and Cox didn't come back for the sequel. If nothing else, it's slightly too easy for Clarice to retain her "don't trust Lecter 100% instincts" when he's Anthony Hopkins chewing the scenery to an extent where he may as well be dressed as Dracula with a DON'T TRUST ME sign about his neck, whereas if he were Brian Cox turning on the charm he uses to effortlessly steer Will Graham's family into mortal peril in Manhunter, well, that'd be something to see.
at 23:13 on 06-04-2014, Adrienne
Genevieve Valentine is over at Strange Horizons being very, very smart and engaging about a famous movie and a related TV show -- but not just about those things; also about how we think about female characters, and female virtues, and what's "interesting" to watch. Of probable interest to a lot of Ferretbrainers.
at 23:04 on 06-04-2014, Melanie
But on the other hand, you don't get that many books about the time period.

If you're up for some nonfiction, I found Newton and the Counterfeiter really gripping and enjoyable.
at 18:33 on 06-04-2014, Michal
But on the other hand, you don't get that many books about the time period. Hmm...

Try Salamander by Thomas Wharton instead. It's a heckuvalot shorter, and has automatons in it.
at 15:31 on 06-04-2014, Dan H
I have just started watching Starz' Treasure Island prequel Black Sails and when this inspired me to do some cursory pirate research, I was interested to note that in 2010 Forbes compiled a list of highest earning pirates.
at 08:33 on 06-04-2014, Janne Kirjasniemi
Hmm... based on this input, I think I'll go with either Snow Crash or Cryptonomicon. That Baroque cycle thing looks to be interesting for many good and bad reasons, but I'm afraid that reading historical fiction of a somewhat familiar time period might be either very rewarding or endlessly frustrating. I don't know whether I dare to take a chance. That feud setup between Newton and Leibniz and getting some random dude to settle it from the colonies sounds a bit of a stretch already. But on the other hand, you don't get that many books about the time period. Hmm...