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 10:39 on 11-11-2011, Janne Kirjasniemi
Well, I suppose so. But then, since the motives for people doing so are no doubt varied and mostly not accessible to us, I might argue that regardless of motivation or feelings of shame, these acts could just as well be seen as performative challenges to the controlling discourse that tries to enforce the rules of who can do and what. Is the term community as it describes such a large market as romantic novels even accurate(I know I used it myself)? In the end isn't it more of a marketing ploy to appeal to an age old gender assumption and also to tell people how they should be and what they should write? In that case people changing their identity would be welcome to, if it helped them express themselves without people questioning their motives or gender rights in doing so.

But I suppose that is reaching a bit. Do you think that men as individuals can be categorically treated prima facie "unfairly" because of their gender, or just in this particular case or cases resembling it?
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at 09:39 on 11-11-2011, valse de la lune
If some male writer's feel that it is impossible for them to get published or any sort of attention if they use their own name writing romantic novels, it seems unfair to deny them the possibility, if they really like the genre and want to write in it.


Tbh I don't really give much of a shit how it might be ~unfair~ to male writers; being dudes already gives you huge perks in every other area of life, so men will just have to put up with whatever disadvantages they perceive in writing romance under their own names--and frankly, I suspect the pseudonym has more to do with them being ashamed of what they write. With regards to women using male pseudonyms to write M/M wankfodder, I only care insofar as straight women pretending to be gay men--emphasis on "straight pretending to be gay" (sometimes even going so far as blogging about their "coming out" experiences or having to deal with homophobia) because that's gross. By itself, a woman using a male pseudonym doesn't necessarily invade or exploit because men aren't marginalized, nor require a safe space/community.
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at 09:21 on 11-11-2011, Janne Kirjasniemi
On the subject of Russians or slavs, I would guess that a Russian ultra-nationalist is an easy villain to make. Recognizably stereotypic and the thing you do when you run out of options. The germans can't be taken seriously, Middle Eastern is more controversial and pretty used, game companies actually might care about the Chinese market... Russians were good villain fodder for sixty years, so they still have that certain thing. Plus people still think they're hardcore and you get a funny accent too! Whether this is anti-slav, I do not know. Did it have Checks and Russians co-operating merely out of a sense of a shared racial identity(that really does not seem to exist in real life)?

While 90's russian nationalism was no doubt a paper tiger, with the blustering Zhirinovsky and all, people are starting to get worried again, when Russia is finally standing up again. And I would argue that nationalism is much more potent in Russia now, when they're getting stronger again than it was before. There's Nashi that worries some as well as the rather aggressive way Russia handles its politics around its borders(like Baltics and the Ukraine). Now people are worried that they're updating their military(after 20 years). Although in that case I guess its mostly the army types making noise who are worried about cuts in military spending(in Finland).
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at 08:36 on 11-11-2011, Janne Kirjasniemi
Valse: That seems an issue with many possibilities. If some male writer's feel that it is impossible for them to get published or any sort of attention if they use their own name writing romantic novels, it seems unfair to deny them the possibility, if they really like the genre and want to write in it. On the other hand it might just be a way for some hack to figure that the only way to get their greedy hands on the sweet sweet money that is the romantic market, is to use a pseudonym since it is expected. But in both cases the reason for this seems to be the gender roles the market and perhaps the reading public sets on writers of certain kind of literature. This is a problem, but I don't know why women writing gay erotica or men writing romance novels should be the only ones responsible for changing these attitudes and perhaps risk obscurity for their work. Of course at the same the readers and writers not faking their identity do have a right to their community so I guess it is invasive to infiltrate it by lying about oneself. And exploitative sure, if they're making money from it.
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at 07:06 on 11-11-2011, valse de la lune
Something different: there's some brouhaha surrounding female M/M authors who pretend to be men to write gay erotica, but more to the point how does everyone feel about dudes who use female pseudonyms to write romance? I've always found it invasive and borderline exploitative (even if you're upfront about being a man, when people glance at your name in a store they aren't going to immediately cotton onto "oh, this is a dude pretending to be a woman").
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at 06:29 on 11-11-2011, valse de la lune
@Alasdair:
Even stranger, after realizing this, I started wondering how much Pierce/Soap (two long-standing Brit characters from the series you play as/with) slashfic is floating around online.


I googled. CoD slash does, indeed, exist. "During a mission Ghost has a very close encounter with death. Light Soap/Ghost slash. rated for F-bombs" is one, apparently. Whoever Ghost is.

@TryCatcher:
Well, Russian villains are easy. Also, a lot of people (this place included) would whine a lot if videogames (except maybe hidden indie games) reflected current politics.


Is whining something like "criticism I disagree with" over there?
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at 03:02 on 11-11-2011, Arthur B
I read "assimetry" and immediately thought of "the measurement and study of rumps" and now I am giggling.
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at 02:42 on 11-11-2011, TryCatcher
Well, you need a cutting-edge and modern computer to run the game. Dunno if that counts.

People tend to have a, let's call it, romantiziced view of war. Fact is, Warsaw Pact slugfests are only on history books. Now the way is "assimetrical warfare", which looks less like wargames and more like a large-scale Mexican Drug War.
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at 02:10 on 11-11-2011, Michal
Oh, and because I'm a masochist, I watched a playthrough of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Wednesday night.

Well, Alasdair, I found listening to this song always makes my frustration at anti-Slav sentiments wash away in a wave of Soviet Nostalgia.

Anyway, back on the fun/theme false dichotomy...this discussion takes me back to something Guy Gavriel Kay's repeated in a few interviews: that people consistently seem to say that you can have well-developed characters but plots that go nowhere (literature), or else page-turning plots but shallow characters (genre) on both sides, and that the whole thing was silly. His stated goal is to write about "interesting things happening to interesting people", which seems a worthy enough cause. Of course, I know a great many people think Kay's books are slow (including one reviewer who was a big fan of The Wheel of Time, to which I ask: What?) but at least he's trying, and it would do some good if his attitude were more widespread.
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at 01:16 on 11-11-2011, Arthur B
For my part I'm not poking the fact that it doesn't reflect current politics, I'm poking fun at the fact that it reflects comically out of date politics and yet makes a big deal of being totally cutting-edge and modern.
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at 01:10 on 11-11-2011, TryCatcher
Well, Russian villains are easy. Also, a lot of people (this place included) would whine a lot if videogames (except maybe hidden indie games) reflected current politics.
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at 00:36 on 11-11-2011, Arthur B
- Russian ultranationalists kind of scary and threatening.
- Sierra Leone a war zone.
- US willingly sends troops into Somalia.

Based on the above I'd say that, according to Call of Duty, "modern warfare" was something which took place in the 1990s.
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at 23:36 on 10-11-2011, Alasdair Czyrnyj
Oh, and because I'm a masochist, I watched a playthrough of Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 Wednesday night.

My thoughts:

* "Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3" is nowhere near as catchy as my preferred titles, "Studies in Slav Hatred 3: And By The Way, Fuck You, Ukraine!" and "Call of Cutie: Modern Warmare 3" (Yes, I like the ponies.)

* The whole series seems to run on melodrama. One of the key objectives of the game, I shit you not, is to rescue the [Russian] president's daughter. Curiously, there's no clichéd romance with her; as a matter of fact I think the only other woman in the game is the voice of an A-130 pilot. Even stranger, after realizing this, I started wondering how much Pierce/Soap (two long-standing Brit characters from the series you play as/with) slashfic is floating around online.

* I still can't believe games are pushing this "Russian ultranationalist" angle for their villains. That shit was played out back in 1998, and to be honest I think it overstates the impact of nationalist thought in post-Soviet space. To me, the nationalisms of the former Soviet Union and the Warsaw Pact seem less like expressions of confidence and more like desperate attempts at reconsolidation. With glasnost basically killing the socetial basis on which Marxism-Leninism was based (to put it crudely) in the late 1980s, the nationalisms we saw emerge were semiconsciously cynical attempts to salvage some new type of national unity out of the suddenly unviable Soviet state. There's no imperial project here; just a whole lotta little cruelties.

* CoD still knows how to keep it classy. You get to shoot the crap out of Westminster Station on the Tube, and there's a lovely cutscene where you get to see a guy on vacation in London tape his family as they're blown up by an exploding truck full of nerve gas. You also get to run around Sierra Leone and Somalia and shoot a whole lotta black people. (Oh, and apparently there's a genocide going on in Sierra Leone while you're there, because I guess there's nothing else to do in Sierra Leone after 4 PM.)

* If this video is something to judge society as a whole by (and why not? That's Slavoj Zisek's whoe schtick, isn't it?), there seems to be a subconscious desire among a lot of people to fight WWII again. This seems kind of weird to me, considering a) that was 66 years ago, and b) we are not the people our grandfathers were, and our societies are not their societies. If something like a war of that scale actually happened, I imagine it would go vaguely like that WWII H.G. Wells imagined in The Shape of Things to Come: no one fighting it has any enthusiasm for it, our precision-instrument modern militaries find themselves taking sacrifices they're not built for, our fancy technology starts to disappear once we lose the ability to maintain and reproduce it, and the whole thing just sputters out as the planetary economy fails and civilization crumbles back into another dark age.

* I'm finding CoD's habit of switching your viewpoint character around every level or two rather fascinating. Unlike most games, which allow you to slowly inhabit your character and either engender some small amount of empathy or allow you to buy into the world being presented around you, CoD seems to prefer to keep you as alienated as possible, even going so far as to have every NPC yell at you to do something every three seconds. By contrast, the game seems to take great pleasure in allowing you to mete out a fairly cruel death for the main baddie.

And finally, I think the funniest part of the game is right at the end, when you and a guy who was you earlier in the game decide to take out the big bad in his hiding spot by storming an Arabian casino in what appears to be modern-day Big Daddy armor.
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at 22:56 on 10-11-2011, Alasdair Czyrnyj
There's no incentive for writers producing such things to write well; the editors don't appreciate it, the fans don't appreciate it, and the goal is to milk money from a franchise, not experiment with narrative styles, delve into thoughtful themes, or play with language. They can excrete utter dreck and will be paid handsomely for it, so why put in any effort? And the really good writers realize that if they go into this they will be greatly limited by having to keep continuity with other writers' dreck, the source material (generally also dreck), and possibly commercial concerns like "keep this at a middle-grade reading level please."

Yeah, that's something I've noticed in Trek novelizations too. I remember coming across a review of one of Diane Duane's TNG books that complained that her writing was "too poetical". Just reading that made me very sad. Then there's the DS9 novel Warped, which K. W. Jeter wrote as a sort of Dickian story involving technology that generates addictive illusions set in the Trek universe which Trek fans seem to universally hate. (To be honest, when I first read it, I had never heard of PKD, so I just reacted to the rather disturbing violence and declared Warped "Stephen King's Star Trek novel".) Ironically, now that I think about it, DS9 is the only Trek setting where you could try something like Jeter did and actually have a hope of making it work.

I think the last tie-in I read was for the Resistance series of FPSes. I admit, I have a soft spot for this series; I like the concept and art design of the series, and it appears the developers actually read a history book before they started making it. Hell, I'd go so far as to say that Resistance: Fall of Man is the best adaptation of War of the Worlds of the past decade (Not much competition there, I know). The tie-in, on the other hand...

I suppose it was my fault, really. I came into it expecting a gripping portrayal of an alternate America in the grip of apocalyptic anxiety as it sacrificed everything to fight an enemy it could not hope to defeat, and all I got was machismo and plot contrivances. Oh, and the image of one of these things (which in the games basically come across as angry carpenter ants with guns) driving a truck. Sigh.
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at 22:30 on 10-11-2011, Robinson L
Oh, the pep talks are a standard feature of NaNoWriMo, and a lot of them are pretty great (people trying to write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days can do with a bit of encouragement every now and then). It's just that this particular writer is ... um.

Apparently I didn't read the e-mail carefully enough, though. He's not writing a pep talk, he's going to be on NaNoVideo where, according to the notification I got:

Author Jonathan Lethem will also be sharing his approach to keeping it interesting in novel town.

Uh-huh.
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at 21:50 on 10-11-2011, Janne Kirjasniemi
I guess I'll just have to check out that Thrawn stuff. As it comes to kicking the pep-talk boy, I would imagine the sheer annoyance of getting a pep talk would be horrible and in the middle of such an effort doubly so. And combined to this what I imagine are some very volatile people in their hatred(I'm referring to the teeming masses of the internet in general) it sounds pretty risky for anyone to do this sort of extreme annoyance. I guess a way would be to focus negativity on Lethem on the instant you receive the email. The combined negative energy of the participants will no doubt channel itself through the negative astral plane and mess his aura's and maybe give him an equally annoying head-ache too.

Rock, Paper Shotgun had a review of Skyrim there which seems promising. I hope it's something to write something positive about when I do get around to playing it(Estimation: 2013).
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at 20:36 on 10-11-2011, Robinson L
I'd be glad to oblige, but I'm not sure how I'd go about it.
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at 15:45 on 10-11-2011, valse de la lune
Can you kick Lethem in the face for me? Figuratively obviously. Nothing serious, just apply, I don't know, metaphorical iron-shod toes to the general vicinity of his metaphorical teeth. It'll all be very abstract!
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at 15:30 on 10-11-2011, Robinson L
First up, new business:

According to the official NaNoWriMo official website, in a little while I'm going to receive an e-mail pep talk from Jonathan Lethem. I can't decide whether to be bemused our discouraged.

And now the old business:

valse: I've read Zahn. The one where Admiral Whatshisface deduces all military tactics and everything about a culture ever from viewing art pieces. That's never stopped being funny to me and unfortunately it's the only thing that stuck with me years after having read it.

Yeah, that is pretty silly. Zahn does a lot of other things which I really like, but I can see why he wouldn't appeal to everybody, and it sounds like he doesn't appeal to you. Fair enough.

Ibmiller: But the general idea of a military scifi author who likes twisty plots and writes workmanlike and not spectacular prose is the point, I think.

I wouldn't call Zahn a "military scifi" author - more a "hard scifi" author, though of course he does deal in some decidedly non-"hard" scifi concepts. His plotting as an author is consistently well ahead of my speculating as a reader - a rare trait which I prize highly when I discover it. I also find his characterization deeply enthralling. He's extremely white-centric, heterocentric, and often pretty male-centric, too, and he's not much into experimenting with styles or making profound statements or the like - his stuff isn't Great Writing, but it's what I would consider good writing. Which is to say that it may be essentially fluff, but by the gods, it's well-written fluff.

(I've never read Clancy, but I've read a couple of Crichton's works, and I agree he's not a very good comparison. Nowhere near Zahn's league.)

Janne: As it is, I've been considering the Star Wars EU for a while, because Grand Admiral Thrawn seems to crop up everywhere as some special class of awesome villain. I believe it's written by this Zahn person

Yeah, Zahn wrote the Thrawn trilogy and the Hand of Thrawn duology. The great thing about the former is that it doesn't rely on any source material other than the original trilogy. (Thrawn is definitely a special class of awesome villain as far as the Star Wars franchise goes, even with the silliness. He's a pretty good villain anyway, but "a special class of awesome" may be over-hyping him - it's been too long since I've read the books for me to tell for sure.)

I'd be a little more hesitant to recommend Hand of Thrawn and Aaron Allston's stuff, because they rely more heavily on a lot of other Expanded Universe material, and I'm not sure how accessible they'll be to people who aren't familiar with that material.

Ibmiller: Stover is, depending on taste, possibly the most "literary" of the Star Wars authors...though in my reading he's more pretentious and "dark, man, dark," not to mention a bit hypermasculine and sadistic

Stover does like to experiment with narrative style, which (in my view) sometimes works very well. Bizarrely enough, I'd say his most successful use of narrative experimentation is in the Revenge of the Sith novelization. He also tries to engage with some pretty interesting/complex ideas, but I dunno how well he succeeds there. (He also doesn't have much to brag about when it comes to his depiction of women, people of color, queer people, etc.)

You can probably appreciate, though, that the metrics of fun vary widely and--there's the false dichotomy again--that fun isn't something diametrically opposed to depth and substance.

Absolutely, and I'm sorry if I came across as perpetuating the false dichotomy. What I meant was that a lot of the books which I recognize to be deep and substantial, or are generally perceived to be deep and substantial (including The Tombs of Atuan, I'm sorry to say) struck me as quite dull; the ones which I did enjoy I would still rank considerably lower on my own personal fun/engaging scale than a good number of tie-in works and other "superficial" stuff.

So as I said earlier, I guess I either haven't read enough genuinely deep and substantial literature, or I'm just severely lacking in taste.
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at 15:24 on 10-11-2011, valse de la lune
Dragonlance had an achingly unoriginal (and largely uninteresting) setting, as most role-playing properties do: sure, it's fun to to role-play in a mashup environment gleefully ripped from a bunch of earlier sources, but actually reading about it as it's own thing was never all that appealing, since now you're stuck in an achingingly unoriginal world and you don't get to fuck it up by derailing the GM's campaign or doing something "OMG Awesome!" and feeling all proud of yourself.


Very much so. Tie-ins tend to be for properties that are already, themselves, derivative. Or mediocre. Or shit. Or all three. Star Wars I've always never thought much of, Dragon Age is beneath contempt, just about every D&D setting is copypasta of Moorcock and Tolkien, Warcraft and Starcraft are derived from derivatives. It's not much surprise that any fiction based on them is going to be firmly at fanfic-level, barely publishable. The likes of Karpyshyn and Gaider would likely never have seen print if they weren't writing ME/SW:TOR/DA fiction.

@Ibmiller: took a look at Doc Sidhe. It seems entertaining enough. :)
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at 02:20 on 10-11-2011, Michal
My experience with tie-in fiction lines up pretty well with Valse de la lune's--I haven't read any that's been all that good, and after a Dragonlance binge in early youth I've come to avoid the things. I vaguely remember the Twins trilogy thing behind the best of the lot, but considering that I didn't even read the middle book and ended up missing, well, nothing, as far as I could tell, I might end up reassessing that opinion. The problem, for me, is that the source material is often a watered-down copy of stuff I've already read before. I'm still a bit annoyed at Dragon Age and the tie-in announcement because it's a pretty good example of this sort o' thing. Dragonlance had an achingly unoriginal (and largely uninteresting) setting, as most role-playing properties do: sure, it's fun to to role-play in a mashup environment gleefully ripped from a bunch of earlier sources, but actually reading about it as it's own thing was never all that appealing, since now you're stuck in an achingingly unoriginal world and you don't get to fuck it up by derailing the GM's campaign or doing something "OMG Awesome!" and feeling all proud of yourself. Ditto for video games...barring Thief, most of the ones I've played had settings and characters that felt shallow, but it didn't matter because the gameplay was fun.

Then again, I've never read the Warhammer material that Arthur keeps reviewing (I couldn't afford those figures back in the day, so I never did do the Warhams thing, and thus have remained essentially uninterested in it) or various other books recommended/mentioned here, so my prejudices could very well be ill-founded. But I'm just not a really big fan of Michael "I can write a novel in 20 days!" Stackpole (Dude, Michael Moorcock could write faster than that when he was really in the mood to produce some crap, but I don't think it's something to aspire to) or Matt Stover's original work, so I'd be disinclined to seek out their Star Wars stuff. What little I've read of R.A. Salvadore hasn't been all that encouraging, either.

However, I would certainly read a Gene Wolfe Warhammer tie-in (as suggested by Arthur), if ever such a thing were to occur. And Thief is one of those few cases where I'm actually intrigued what writers would do with the setting.

Yeah, have to agree on the whole themes vs. fun false dichotomy: there's no reason a book can't have well-rounded characters and explore interesting ideas/important issues and not also be fun and exciting. I mean, The Tombs of Atuan, people!
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at 22:47 on 09-11-2011, Ibmiller
Well, I would recommend Zahn's original trilogy and his two-book follow-up, as well as Allston's X-wing books to most scifi fans, regardless of whether they like tie-ins or not. And Thrawn, in the original three novels, is pretty cool (though not perfect, as valse points out).
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at 22:10 on 09-11-2011, Janne Kirjasniemi
Of course a question would be whether one would recommend any tie in novels or stories to someone else. As it is, I've been considering the Star Wars EU for a while, because Grand Admiral Thrawn seems to crop up everywhere as some special class of awesome villain. I believe it's written by this Zahn person, so would it be worth the effort to tangle one self in that or would it be more prudent to stick to something properly "good". I always thought that Drizzt was pretty cool when it was just action motivated by some of Drizzt's idiot friends getting into trouble. Don't know how it's going on nowadays.

There was a thing on N. K. Jemisin and David Anthony Durham in Salon today. Perhaps I'll read Jemisin instead seeing as she's nominated for an award and I can get contemporariness points reading that.
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at 18:52 on 09-11-2011, Ibmiller
It is kind of funny - but in a Sherlock Holmesian way, which tickles my fancy. Plus, I liked the kickass redheaded assassin chick. I generally agree about Clancy and Crichton - though I've only read one each. But the general idea of a military scifi author who likes twisty plots and writes workmanlike and not spectacular prose is the point, I think. I don't think I'd class Zahn as trashy at all, so maybe those two weren't good comparisons.

Here's the Allston story: http://www.baen.com/library/0671876627/0671876627.htm Hopefully the fact that it's published by Baen won't put you off.

"interesting/complex ideas" sounds good - though to me, it's the characters who sell it or not.
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