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 21:22 on 14-03-2015, Cheriola
Oh, by the way, as far as I remember, there were one or two other asexual people on this board. You might want to check out the novel “Dust” by Elizabeth Bear. It’s a kind of mash-up between “run-down generation ship populated by transhuman mutants” type scifi and Arthurian-style chivalrous romance. The characterizations and plot are a bit thin (in keeping with the style of medieval heroic questing epics, I suppose), but the interesting world building makes up for it. One of the two protagonists is asexual – and I don’t mean, “she doesn’t have a sex scene, so I can headcanon her that way”, I mean the character clearly states that she doesn’t want to have sex with her love interest because she’s “fallow” and no, she’s not going to change that part of her herself (she could - transhumanism) just because her beloved is horny. The other protagonist seems to be pansexual with a stated preference for cis women, though the only sex scene in the book is a brief “you’re hot, so why not?” kind of fling between her and an intersex person who identifies mostly as male. The asexuality of the first protagonist seems to be there partly to avoid squick (the protagonists who fall in love are genetically half-sisters, even if they never met before the beginning of the book), and partly for the sake of mythological allusion (the asexual character is a ‘knight errant’ named Ser Percival), but still, it’s the best intentional depiction of my sexuality / gender combination that I’ve ever seen. Not that there’s much competition, of course.
at 21:17 on 14-03-2015, Cheriola
I just read the news, and I actually shed a few tears. Never did that before for a person I’ve never met. But I’m one of those readers on whom his books had a lot of influence in terms of worldview and values, having gotten to them at an early teenage age, but at a point when the series had already moved on from the early fantasy parodies to social commentary. (I swear, he must have been the most effective teacher of secular humanist ethics of our age. I mean, how many people will read a dry philosophical treatise? But sneak it into an entertaining story and season it with humour, and you can reach a whole generation or two.) And like Robinson, I was still waiting for every new book, even if a few of the latest ones didn’t quite work for me. Still, “Good Omens”, “Small Gods” and “Monstrous Regiment” will always be among my Top 10 books, and I don’t remember actively disliking any of his books that I’ve read. It probably also doesn’t help that he always reminded me a bit of my father (passed away some 15 years ago), in both looks and general attitude. So it kind of feels like I lost a distant, but wise and entertaining uncle.

Though it wasn’t just the ethical education, or even the fact that listening to the audiobooks for the 5th time reliably helps me distract myself during phases of bad depression and anxiety, but also that he was so refreshingly uninterested in romance subplots. He may never have identified any of his characters as asexual / aromantic (or have any other non-hetero characters until rather recently), but there were quite a few major characters and protagonists who simply showed no interest, or were completely oblivious, or were just plain too busy for any kind of romance. And even the books with romance subplots kept that part to a minimum or snarked about it. In a world where all other authors apparently have to establish their male protagonists as NOT A VIRGIN and always ready to judge the attractiveness of any woman they meet, and books with female protagonists apparently can’t do without one or more love interests to swoon over, and where all the spares have to be paired up in the end, just breaking that mold on a regular basis is already worth a lot. I’m grateful that I had some 30-odd Discworld and other novels to go through as a teenager, long before I knew asexuality was a thing and that I wasn’t alone. His sheer productivity as an author managed to balance out everything else I read, and helped me feel… normal. (It’s not that I don’t enjoy a good romance subplot. I do. The problem of erasure comes in if there are never any teenage or adult characters who don’t fall in love or have a string of affairs.)

I don’t know if I should be glad that he passed peacefully and apparently before his condition got unbearable mentally, or be sad that he didn’t get to make his stand on the issue of assisted suicide as he had planned. (One of my grandmothers had Alzheimer’s – I don’t have any memories of her as anything but in a basically vegetative state. My mother has told me years ago that she’s planning on committing suicide if she ever gets diagnosed. That’s not legal in my country either, though.)

I’m mostly just sad that the world (and his family) was robbed of this brilliant human far too early.

“So much universe, and so little time,” indeed.
at 10:10 on 14-03-2015, Craverguy
I haven't read any Pratchett for years, but what I realised this week was that I've still read more books by him than any other author,

This is true for me as well, although I admit I haven't read nearly as many of his books as Andy.

Truthfully, I think the only other author whose works affected me as deeply as Pratchett's was Gore Vidal. Despite not having kept up with the Discworld of late, I'm very, very sad to see him go.
at 16:59 on 13-03-2015, Andy G
I feel very close to your own thoughts, Arthur. I haven't read any Pratchett for years, but what I realised this week was that I've still read more books by him than any other author, at least 40, maybe 50. What a lot of people have said, and I I feel exactly the same way, is that they were very strongly influenced by him in terms of their development of their reading tastes and ways of thinking about things. Personally, I always felt drawn mostly to the fantastical and wistful side to his writing rather than the humour, though he is mostly being remembered as a humourist. Even though it's been a while since I felt drawn to read him, I do feel really grateful for all the entertaining and thought-provoking reading he gave me over the years.
at 21:06 on 12-03-2015, Melanie
Sad news indeed. He'll be sorely missed.
at 18:36 on 12-03-2015, Robinson L
His final tweets are ... eminently appropriate.

I'll be posting a memorial piece on my livejournal later today, but I want to say here that I, for one, am still deeply immersed in my Pratchett phase more than a decade on, and most of my family are the same. I find his more recent works increasingly hit and miss, but that his hits were still top notch.

I don't have any "helped me through a dark place" stories relating to Pratchett, but I have a lot of fond memories reading him or listening to audiobooks together with family. And for myself - only a tiny handful of authors have managed to hook me into their stories to the same level as Pratchett, or even come close.

Many tears, and even more love.
at 16:46 on 12-03-2015, Arthur B
Terry Pratchett is dead. My thoughts as posted elsewhere:

Confession: It's been a long time since I've actually read any Pratchett. Was avidly, deeply into his work during my teenage years though and they helped me get through that with my sanity intact.

What I find impressive about his work in retrospect, though, is how everyone has their own cross-section of Pratchett: I have my own idea of when his work really starts to grip me, which my favourite of his books are, and when I found things starting to get over-worn and repetitive. So do most people who've read him.

At the same time, exactly where we put those markers varies immensely, and I'm sure there's readers out there who and there'll be people who think Pratchett only really started speaking to them in the last few years. The only conclusion is that it isn't a matter of Pratchett declining as an author so much as individuals getting what they needed from him as readers, and then growing apart, because neither author nor reader were standing still.

I don't have a single regret for my Pratchett phase - I don't even regret that it ended, because it was time. But I do envy those who are still going through theirs, and those who have yet to begin them.

RIP Terry, and sorry for bringing so many books to the signing.
at 22:32 on 11-03-2015, Arthur B
GamerGate is objectively, verifiably bad for videogames in general, but here's some truly grim unintended consequences.
at 23:37 on 05-03-2015, Jamie Johnston
Could be because the axes on the graphs didn't have proper values marked. Lack of scientific rigour is severely punished round here. ;)
at 23:15 on 05-03-2015, Craverguy
Hey, does anyone know why this article has disappeared from the site?
at 15:00 on 26-02-2015, Robinson L
All right, Arthur. That sounds fair, thanks.
at 10:26 on 26-02-2015, Arthur B
Tell you what, since you have a heap of articles there and they've sat there for a while I'll set them all to "draft" so you have a chance to reread and make sure your opinions on the things in question haven't evolved (and revise accordingly if you have) and then you can set things to "ready" for my review in the order if your choice (one at a time, please, I'm not exactly idle at this end myself).
at 03:00 on 26-02-2015, Robinson L
Well, the Bollywood article ("The disco crowd had better move over") and "Chaos Sucking" are probably the ones I would want addressed first - mainly, though, I just wanted assurance that they haven't slipped through the cracks.
at 23:01 on 25-02-2015, Arthur B
The editor remains busy and I have been sort of stringing things out slowly so as to keep up a gentle trickle of material. Which articles did you particularly want feedback on?
at 18:00 on 25-02-2015, Robinson L
So, uh, a little while ago I posted about a couple of articles I've submitted which have yet to be either published or rejected - is there any word on those?
at 18:37 on 23-02-2015, Orion
Honestly, I feel like you could have cut the entire interview and just posted this exchange:

RPS: Do you think you wanted them to be true rather than believed they were true?

Peter Molyneux: I think a lot of times, especially a few years ago, I would say things almost as I thought things, and the team used to really get aggressive, that they would say, ‘Oh god Peter, this is the first time we know that we’re going to have this feature in the game.’
at 01:43 on 23-02-2015, Melanie
if Molyneux had just kept his mouth shut

I think I found the fatal flaw in that scenario.
at 23:23 on 22-02-2015, Arthur B
What I think's really sad is that apparently the big deal about Godus is the land sculpting feature, but from what I've been able to find out about it (from the game's wiki) it seems pretty lackluster. You can... flatten land and pull land levels out a la the "level terrain" tool in Sims 2, and it sounds like that's it?

And that, of course, was a feature of Populous and a cornerstone of its gameplay.

That's part of what makes Godus such a shame: if Molyneux had just kept his mouth shut and delivered a straight update of Populous for modern systems with modern graphics, everyone would have been happy.
at 22:37 on 22-02-2015, Alice
Wow, you're not wrong about Jim Sterling's aesthetic, Arthur. o_O

Definitely a useful overview, though, thanks!
at 20:48 on 22-02-2015, Melanie
That was a glorious trainwreck of an interview, for sure. I mean, this part:
RPS: Do you think you can make a great game?
Peter Molyneux: I think I can try.
RPS: But do you think you can achieve it?
Peter Molyneux: You’ve gotta try, man!

Have you read this fictional interview with him? With the room and the horse?

What I think's really sad is that apparently the big deal about Godus is the land sculpting feature, but from what I've been able to find out about it (from the game's wiki) it seems pretty lackluster. You can... flatten land and pull land levels out a la the "level terrain" tool in Sims 2, and it sounds like that's it? And houses can only be on flat land, so your goal is basically to level as much as possible? There's so much potential when you put "god game" and "terraforming abilities" together! Like having your people live on the mountains, and then raising mountain ranges that lead wherever you want them to go. Or digging vast cave systems for defensibility. Or having a city built into the side of a cliff. Or growing an enormous forest and having them live in treehouses. Or, since you have supernatural powers, having them live underwater in a huge faith-sustained bubble, or in a floating city or what have you. Instead... leveling stuff.
at 14:23 on 20-02-2015, Arthur B
Jim Sterling presents an aesthetic somewhere between "hang on, that man's who's forgotten his fedora" and "hang on, that man's forgotten his swastika armband" in his videos, but he's good at the facts and has a comparatively fair-handed overview of the context to all this.
at 23:03 on 19-02-2015, Alice
I'm not a gamer, so this was my first exposure to the story, and wow. That was... quite something.

at 12:07 on 19-02-2015, Arthur B
Forget ethics in games journalism - give me more brutality like this.