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 11:51 on 05-11-2013, Janne Kirjasniemi
Adrienne:
It's such an "abnormal" position to take that he has to heavily stack the deck, as it were.

I suppose that's true. It is a precarious balance to keep, but perhaps for me personally, the sentiment: "incest is not only alright and good, it is also the cure for cancer", which, when I think about it now is not actually offensive as such, but comes off with a sort of comical outrageousness. So perhaps there is a slight balance problem there? I think the brother-sister thing was present in the story as well. But he did leave the mother and son angle unexplored for some reason. Oh well, the story works quite well in its way, if not for the cancer thing.

Yes, thank you.#dontexplainthejoke /affected affront

Aww, fiddlesticks. What use is trivia, if you can't dish it around feeling smart at every turn.

However, I have heard somewhere that siblings raised separately will often experience sexual attraction towards one another if they first meet as adults.

Huh. Is that a sort of narcissistic thing, because they perhaps resemble each other(credible couch theory)? And conversely, totally unrelated people growing up together as children might develop the Westermarck effect(you learn something new every day!). In any case, this might be a case of where a law prohibiting such things(brother-sister, I mean) is not necessarily justified. Apparently such relationships have existed outside situations of political expediency.
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at 03:00 on 05-11-2013, Robinson L
Janne: Is it not rare for people who have grown together from an early childhood to have sexual attraction towards one another?

I dunno, maybe. However, I have heard somewhere that siblings raised separately will often experience sexual attraction towards one another if they first meet as adults.

Apparently, he was citing Bhagavad Gita there

Yes, thank you.#dontexplainthejoke /affected affront

(I may be confusing Oppenheimer with somebody else, but I also seem to remember that the context in which he said it was along the lines of "My God, what have I done?" or at least that he turned against nuclear weapons later on. But again, that's part of the joke.)

Adrienne: it is a story that is supposed to be squicky and call the entire foundation of one's belief in an idea into question, and I like those.

Same here (not that I can think of too many that I've read lately.

It sounds like Sturgeon's stuff is far from perfect (go figure), but that alone is enough of a recommendation to get me to try it. Well, that and this:

Sturgeon's writing has a profound compassion for human beings -- even weird and creepy and downright broken ones

I need more of that in my life. Most of my favorite authors/authors whose writing I admire will often reach a point where they essentially go "you know what, to hell with you" with one or more of their own characters, and it always makes me cringe a little.

Re: Sleepy Hollow
Alice: "you only came to me because I'm the only Indian you know, why would I be a shaman, piss off"

Oh, I interpreted Abbie's previous scene to mean she does know (of) other American Indians, and this guy is the only one of them who might qualify as a shaman. But that's probably wishful thinking on my part, and even if it isn't, the fact that American Indians only make it into the show to do the magic stuff and so the writers can off-handedly acknowledge the whole, um, genocide thing is kinda sketchy.

I apologise if I sound like I've been yelling at you, I'm afraid my frustration with the show (magnified by otherwise liking/enjoying it!) got away with me a bit...

Oh, not at all, I just wanted to engage a bit with your point. I also have frustrations with the show in that the writers seem to share Ichabod's hero-worship of Washington (who, from what I've learned, was kind of a bastard and not actually a very good general, even if he was a good at being a leader), and generally cleave to the accepted patriotic narrative of the War of Independence, even when that narrative is at odds with the historical record.

I actually find it pretty amusing when the "Yanks = good; Brits: bad" sensibility collides with the Christian-inspired cosmology, as in the episode where it turns out the Boston Tea Party was a distraction for Ichabod to locate and neutralize a demonic weapon that the English were holding. Let's step back and take a look at who the actors were in this conflict: on the one hand, you had the proper, God-fearing British; on the other, you had the American revolutionaries, many of whose leaders were Deists and free-thinkers. Now, when propositioned for an alliance by a demon literally right out of the book of Revelation, which side is more likely to say "Interesting, go on" and which to immediately break out the crosses and holy water?
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at 23:35 on 04-11-2013, Adrienne
Janne -- I do also remember there being brother-sister incest in the story. I definitely didn't come away with the idea that the father-daughter thing was mandatory, or that other sorts of incest were somehow less-OK or even less-common -- but that may be my own reading into the text, rather than something that is contained in the text.
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at 23:33 on 04-11-2013, Adrienne
Janne -- It's complicated here in the US, for SFF stuff, because usually people talk about works of fiction in terms of their award eligibility categories. So it's not "short story" versus "novel", it's "short story" versus "novelette" versus "novella" versus "novel". I think the Sturgeon is a novelette but i don't actually remember.

And yeah, the story is absolutely problematic from a gender standpoint, and I also grant that the father/daughter incest thing is a whole 'nother layer on top of the "incest isn't terrible" idea. (Power imbalances, especially of a parent-child sort, are pretty yucky when you're talking about sexual relationships. One does get the idea that in the world of the story there is significantly less imbalance than there is in contemporary culture, at least? But yeah, very much granted that it's kind of wtf.)

I nonetheless have a soft spot for it because it is a story that is supposed to be squicky and call the entire foundation of one's belief in an idea into question, and I like those. And honestly, I don't think presenting the culture as superior in every way "tips his hand" about anything regarding himself-as-the-author; I believe it to be entirely manipulative, in service of the "oh shit" moment he's guiding the reader to. It's such an "abnormal" position to take that he has to heavily stack the deck, as it were. It's interesting, because if it were a Heinlein story, I would absolutely be reading the whole "absolute sexual freedom = superior culture" thing as an authorial insertion, but I do not read it as such in the Sturgeon story. Perhaps because despite the ways in which Sturgeon has Issues, I have never read in him a tendency to be didactic or manipulative in the way that Heinlein usually is.
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at 22:57 on 04-11-2013, Alice
On an unrelated note: a friend recently emailed Kyra to get a Ferretbrain account, but since Kyra's been out of commission lately, she (my friend) hasn't heard anything back yet. Is there anyone else who can set up Ferretbrain accounts who my friend could email instead?
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at 22:35 on 04-11-2013, Alice
Re: Sleepy Hollow, Robinson's point:

After the Native American episode, a couple of us tried to work out whether their representation was faily or not, but we didn't know enough to come to a conclusion one way or another.

Well, I'm not really (really not?) better qualified to comment on this than any other non-Native person. But it struck me that when you include Native characters solely to fulfill the role of Mystical Native American Shaman to cure our heroes, that's a racist stereotype, not a character.
And having the Native character lampshade this by saying (more or less) "you only came to me because I'm the only Indian you know, why would I be a shaman, piss off" but then almost immediately do an about face and invite them in for the Secret Sacred Scorpion Ritual Of Whatever*, because: surprise! of course he is in fact a shaman! is... a touch head-desky.

(Also: New York State. Mohawk people. So why is there a war bonnet -- as in, worn by Plains Indians, not Mohawks -- on Wistaron's wall? Other of course than the fact that it's a really lazy visual shorthand for "Native American" in the popular imagination?)

I guess when there's a serious question about whether such a representation is racefail or not, the safe assumption would be that it is.

Yeah, that's pretty much my standard assumption, sadly. :-/

And I apologise if I sound like I've been yelling at you, I'm afraid my frustration with the show (magnified by otherwise liking/enjoying it!) got away with me a bit...

----

*Err, flippancy directed at the writers' imagined version of Mohawk spirituality, not at the beliefs & practices of real-life Mohawk communities past and present.
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at 21:42 on 04-11-2013, Janne Kirjasniemi
Adrienne: Yes that's the one I'm talking about. It is an interesting novella(or short story, here we say novelli for a short story and romaani for a novel; sometimes it's hard to make sense of these weird affectations of foreign languages) so perhaps my outline was a bit too strict. After reading your answer, it does make me realize that I too have a sort of normative emotional reaction to the issue, which of course is not a sound basis for anything. I guess Sturgeon does point out successfully the faults of such outright condemnation of strange mores, of which sexuality is of course one. This is especially clear in the main character's strong emotional reaction at first and in the universal condemnation and vilification of the issue by the main character's culture.

There are several things in the story which are problematic, I think. If Sturgeon had presented the issue purely from an anthropological point of view, by challenging the given doxa of thinking about the issue, or focused on the shaky grounds of the moral condemnation of the issue, that would be fine. He does tip his hand when he presents the other culture in such superior terms and then claims that the cure to cancer is to have total sexual freedom, which is exemplified by incest. There is also some shoddy evolutionary handwaving done with reference to herd animals, which was a bit suspect.

But the outline of the society in question does raise some further questions in connection with the issue. The female characters, for example are purely sexual objects and are defined only by their physical attributes, which of course can be a very subtle take on the main characters male view point. But they aren't depicted doing anything, really. And in connection to this, the question posed by the title is would you let a brother marry your sister. But the biggest taboo in the story, by issue and by context of the story is not the question of brothers and sisters. It was the question of fathers and daughters. Apart from the plethora of blessings of the other society we do not find out much about it, so we do not really know of its egalitarianism in gender roles, but in any society there are questions of power at issue and brother-sister incest in that context is far less problematic than a father-daughter situation. Especially as there is scant mention of any mothers in the story and I did remember thinking: were there any mother-son relations then? Is it a filial duty for all sons and daughters? What of different sexual orientations? What of favouritism between siblings? &c.

It is kinda unfair to put so many questions on a short story, but I do think too, that the novel could have avoided this through acknowledgement of these questions in some way. Perhaps by not claiming that the paradise in question was a paradise and cancer free because fathers and daughters have a special relationship. Because that is no longer anthropological relativism, but something else.

On the other hand, the dynamic of the story is built so that the question can be made between two extreme viewpoints and of which the other is clearly wrong and even evil and the other purely right and even beneficial and good. It makes for a good contrast, but it sidetracks the issue, if it is meant to merely challenge the conventional wisdom on it. Well, it got me thinking, at least.

Going by memory alone, it does seem, at least from the examples of Europe, ancient Egypt and the Mayans, that the incestual unions in those societies were a fixture of aristocracy or royalty, which raises the question whether this was actually something that the individuals in question would have preferred, or circumstances brought about by politics. Is it not rare for people who have grown together from an early childhood to have sexual attraction towards one another? This at least is the given wisdom on the issue, but is it culturally enforced only?

Sturgeon is streets ahead of Heinlein in almost any respect, I agree with that completely. His work in general seems to address more compassionate and humane issues.

Well, when a guy goes around saying stuff like "I am become the destroyer of worlds," you do start to wonder ...

Apparently, he was citing Bhagavad Gita there, so if evil, he was very cultured, at least. Which I suppose is a bonus of sorts.
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at 21:25 on 04-11-2013, Adrienne
Robinson L: Yeah, Sturgeon deals pretty handily with the "inbreeding" objection alongside several others. It's a really heavy-handed story, and definitely not one of Sturgeon's better ones considered as a work of art, but I really do have a soft spot for it. :)
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at 20:02 on 04-11-2013, Robinson L
Re: Sleepy Hollow

Alice: there's been some pretty cringeworthy racial stuff (~evil gypsy witch~ in the second or third episode, faily representation of Native Americans the episode after that)

Oh yeah, I'd forgotten about the evil gypsy witch - that was pretty terrible. After the Native American episode, a couple of us tried to work out whether their representation was faily or not, but we didn't know enough to come to a conclusion one way or another. I guess when there's a serious question about whether such a representation is racefail or not, the safe assumption would be that it is.

Re: Manhattan Projects (y'know, when I write that, it sounds like a low-income residential area in Manhattan)

Alasdair: the financial Illuminati that rule the Earth (who include amongst their number a 500-pound Samoan, a luchadore, Emperor Palpatine, and a 2500-year-old devotee of Set)

Emperor Palpatine? Wait? - what? - how?

I think I may have to check this thing out.

It's also convinced me that Oppenheimer is the most terrifying man who ever lived.

Well, when a guy goes around saying stuff like "I am become the destroyer of worlds," you do start to wonder ...

Re: Stranger in a Strange Land

I started reading that book in my teens, got bored with it pretty quickly, and just sort of stopped. I've never felt particularly compelled to revisit it, but now I think it's safe to say I shan't ever bother.

I am planning to reread Shockwave Rider immediately afterward as a palate-cleanser, to remind myself that there were SF authors in the 60s and 70s who were NOT reactionary, sexist, gender-essentialist assholes. In the process I'll make notes for the review of said novel that I threatened Arthur B with ages ago, and write it and send it to Kyra. :)

Oh yeah, I'm looking forward to that.

Adrienne: I have a degree in anthropology, and it pisses me off to no end when people spout the old canard that "incest is SOOOO GROSS that all cultures have an incest taboo."

Yeah, that's one that's always kind of bothered me in a challenging-preconceptions what-other-than-the-fact-that-our-society-views-this-particular-thing-as-wrong-makes-this-particular-thing-wrong sort of way (the answer in this case is of course inbreeding, but that's a separate though sometimes related issue, no pun intended). Perhaps I should give that story a look sometime.
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at 19:04 on 04-11-2013, Adrienne
James D: Yeah, the first time I read it I was maybe fifteen and had less awareness of sexism, racism, homophobia, etc. Even so I found it largely boring. I really didn't want to reread it. (There is a guy involved. There usually is, for my stupider choices. I am at least self-aware enough to realize it.)

Having finished it, honestly, the thing that got me the most about it was the utter contempt for most of humanity that shone through everywhere -- even in the behavior of Smith. (Or, as a Facebook friend aptly calls him, Polyamorous Martian Jesus.) The sexism and the homophobia pissed me off a lot, but the dripping contempt for "marks" (and the relegation of most of humanity to the status of "marks") was the real nadir. (Tangentially, I mentioned in my previous post that Sturgeon's writing has a profound compassion for human beings -- even weird and creepy and downright broken ones. It suddenly strikes me that Heinlein is in many ways the anti-Sturgeon. If you are not an Ubermensch, Heinlein has no respect for you, and neither do any of his characters.)

I do have to say, though, that it takes a master of propaganda to do what Heinlein has done with Stranger, which is take a bunch of ideas i basically agree with and present them in a way that makes me want to vomit and/or scream. I am, in fact, polyamorous (although I in no way regard it as some sort of evolved moral state), and there are a number of things about the way that the Nesters run their affairs that strike me as idyllic and worth striving for. (Albeit not the screaming heteronormativity.) But it's so wrapped up in such a terrible creepy matrix of awful that I can't actually manage to be even sane about it, at least not at twelve hours' remove.

(I have started the reread of Shockwave Rider. I had to, to chase off the disgust and the incandescent fury.)
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at 18:54 on 04-11-2013, Adrienne
Janne -- The story you're thinking of is in fact by Ted Sturgeon; it's entitled "If All Men Were Brothers, Would You Let One Marry Your Sister?" It's a novella rather than a novel, and I confess to having a soft spot for it -- it's very readable, and Sturgeon has real compassion for weird-ass human beings that comes across in almost all his work. Plus, it really does blow most of the standard incest taboo reasoning out of the water in a charmingly direct way, and I love things that challenge people's preconceptions, even if they do it with a two-by-four.

(I have a degree in anthropology, and it pisses me off to no end when people spout the old canard that "incest is SOOOO GROSS that all cultures have an incest taboo." I mean, yes, they do, sort of? But it's a completely useless statement, like "all cultures eat food." The definition of "incest" is incredibly variable from culture to culture; in some cases it allows -- or even requires -- you to fuck someone you are closely related to, while disallowing you from fucking lots of people you are much LESS closely related to. You don't even have to go far afield for that -- the royal families of Europe have been a spectacularly good example for the bulk of the last millennium.)
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at 18:39 on 04-11-2013, Melanie
since I've heard Lazarus Long got busy with his mother, so I guess the man was comprehensive with his distractions.


You heard right! Time travel was involved. It would be glib to say he went back in time so he could get busy with his mother [while she was pregnant and couldn't conceive, because otherwise it would just be weird] but that's not far off. There was even one incident where they were going to possibly get busy, but they're interrupted by the child-aged Lazarus before they can.

There's also the bit where Lazarus was raised in some kind of eugenics commune where they sort of... bribed people to, to reproduce in accordance with their breeding program (they were trying to breed longer-lived humans, why do I remember all this).
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at 17:55 on 04-11-2013, James D
Yeah, I tried to read Stranger in a Strange land years ago and couldn't even finish it. The ridiculous attention paid to how AWESOME the Martian guy was at kissing, the ludicrously out-of-date "hip" dialog from the Heinlein stand-in guy, and the fucking boring & uninteresting story were just too much for me. I'm the type of reader who hates not finishing a book once I've started, and I can count the books I haven't finished on my fingers. Stranger in a Strange Land is my right thumb.

If you really want some decent Heinlein, Starship Troopers is entertaining as a character-driven war adventure story, provided you ignore the weird, fascist politics. If you read it as a guy just trying to make his way in a fucked-up militaristic WH40k-style dystopia, it works pretty well (at least I think, it's been 7 years). Also, it actually has a hispanic protagonist, so that's something.
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at 16:33 on 04-11-2013, Janne Kirjasniemi
Heinlein and incest was of course a thing and The Number is not, I understand, the worst of it. But it seems to have been a thing in sixties scifi. I read Dangerous Visions a while back, and there was this novel by Theodore Sturgeon, IIRC, that was about an utopic planet, which was ultra high-tech, rural and nice and also had no cancer or any other problems, because of incest. Weirdly there was no mention of Oedipal relations in the novel, but even for a "dangerous vision" which apparently no one else would publish, it was ridiculous. At the very least the cancer thing was hilarious, I mean, who knew! But are there a lot of others? Is this a thing with that bunch, Sexual revolution, yay? I suppose Heinlein should get a pass on the oedipal thing, since I've heard Lazarus Long got busy with his mother, so I guess the man was comprehensive with his distractions.
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at 11:46 on 04-11-2013, Arthur B
That particular one was just soul-crushing. It had the nipples as emotional barometers, weird incest vibes and what not, but the worst thing was that in addition, it was so boring, I just couldn't go on even to find out what the next stupid thing would be.

Yeah, that's what killed me before I got a fraction of the way into the book. It isn't even worth snagging a cheap second hand copy for the lols because it's just so deathly boring. It's sort of like Battlefield Earth in that sense.

I remember reading some good Heinlein from back in the day when he just wrote space adventure stories with slightly more hard SF sensibilities than most space adventure stories. But it's been ages since I've looked at my copies of Citizen of the Galaxy or Between Planets or whatever and it's entirely possible there's horrifying shit I've forgotten. Still, they were at least readable.
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at 11:30 on 04-11-2013, Adrienne
I have avoided most of his work very deliberately. I'd read Stranger, years ago; I've also read The Number of the Beast, Job, and several of his short stories. Of all of it, a few of his earlier short stories are the only things i can really tolerate.

And of course the most infuriating thing about his oeuvre, to me personally, is the astonishing number of people who crawl out of the woodwork to insist that he wasn't sexist or racist at ALL, no REALLY!
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at 11:29 on 04-11-2013, Janne Kirjasniemi
Gnomes? Please, Janne, this is science fiction.

B-b-b-but they're real? Oh, yeah science fiction. I should not go blabbering about secrets.

It could be The Number of the Beast, with its facile, ridiculous cosmology

A few years ago I decided to try and read something from Heinlein, since he was considered such an important figure in the genre and I had never done so. I didn't really do anything to find out what to read, so when I stumbled on <en>The Number of The Beast in a flea market, I just thought that it was a bit of a silly name but showed some promise. I haven't tried reading Heinlein after that anymore. I suppose he has some good books? That particular one was just soul-crushing. It had the nipples as emotional barometers, weird incest vibes and what not, but the worst thing was that in addition, it was so boring, I just couldn't go on even to find out what the next stupid thing would be.
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at 10:49 on 04-11-2013, Arthur B
It could be worse. It could be Farnham's Freehold, with its fear of a black planet and the wittering about "lifeboat rules" (which translate to "in a survivalist situation you need a violent strongman dictator running the show")! It could be The Number of the Beast, with its facile, ridiculous cosmology and its characters whose emotional states are tracked based on their hyperactive nipples! It could be Time Enough For Love, in which the immortal Lazarus Long adopts a small child so that when she gets old enough she can marry him! It could be To Sail Beyond the Sunset, in which Lazarus Long's mother has a really alarming parent/child incest fetish running through her entire life!

Early Heinlein was enough of a minefield but from Stranger on his bibliography becomes this absolutely bizarre disaster area, I don't envy you the experience of revisiting.
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at 08:53 on 04-11-2013, Adrienne
Arthur B: Yeah, that'd be the one. Trust me, I would NOT have picked it up again if not for having someone specifically request that I do. Really at this point I am only getting through it by bribing myself with promises of John Brunner.
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at 03:35 on 04-11-2013, Arthur B
Ah yes, Stranger In a Strange Land: also known as Whaddya Mean You Girls Won't Have a Threesome With Me, Are You Prudes Or Squares Or Something, I Thought We Were Meant To Be All Liberated Now Thanks To The Pill, Need I Remind You That I Am Robert Heinlein?
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at 22:46 on 03-11-2013, Adrienne
In other news, I'm rereading Stranger in a Strange Land (at someone's specific request, not because I actually wanted to). And it's a good thing I'm reading an ebook, because I'd've thrown it across the room several times by now if I were reading a paper copy. Seriously, SMH.

I am planning to reread Shockwave Rider immediately afterward as a palate-cleanser, to remind myself that there were SF authors in the 60s and 70s who were NOT reactionary, sexist, gender-essentialist assholes. In the process I'll make notes for the review of said novel that I threatened Arthur B with ages ago, and write it and send it to Kyra. :)
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at 16:55 on 03-11-2013, Alasdair Czyrnyj
Gnomes? Please, Janne, this is science fiction.

It's very. serious.
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at 11:35 on 03-11-2013, Janne Kirjasniemi
Given how Truman is also a member of the financial Illuminati that rule the Earth (who include amongst their number a 500-pound Samoan, a luchadore, Emperor Palpatine, and a 2500-year-old devotee of Set)

Are the Swiss bank gnomes a part of illuminati as well!?
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at 00:39 on 03-11-2013, Alasdair Czyrnyj
In the post-War economy it would have been a wasteful extravagance when the Washington DC Masonic Temple has a perfectly good sex dungeon.

That actually shows up in the comic too. Given how Truman is also a member of the financial Illuminati that rule the Earth (who include amongst their number a 500-pound Samoan, a luchadore, Emperor Palpatine, and a 2500-year-old devotee of Set), he probably figured he could have two.

One of the best things about this comic is that I don't have to make anything up to get across how nuts it is.
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