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 03:31 on 11-06-2015, Alasdair Czyrnyj
Oh, Arthur...this is the 21st century. "Too big to fail" is the creed of our era. Nothing actually collapses anymore; it just gets bigger and bigger and worse and worse until we all wish we were dead. Fun times!

That article reminded me of something I found a few weeks back: The Writer Will Do Something, a short bit of interactive fiction where you play as the lead writer on the third installment of a triple-A franchise that is shaping up to be a major shitshow. The story is set in a staff meeting with the lead developers, about six months from release, where the topic of the hour is What Is To Be Done. As it turns out, the fact that you never played the first two games is the least of your problems.

There's a lot of interesting stuff going on in this story. It's a slight exaggeration of how messed up triple-A development can be. The creator, Matthew Burns, has done his time on multiple Halo and CoD titles, and was a freelancer on the the debacle that was Destiny, so there's a lot of disguised personal experience in there. On a more basic level, the story's about the problem of being creative in an working environment that is inimically hostile to the luxuries creativity needs to flourish.

(Oh, and by the by, I found this while I was browsing the discussion for a Let's Play of Watch_Dogs.)
at 12:18 on 10-06-2015, Arthur B
Open question: given that AAA games now need to sell entirely absurd numbers to be deemed profitable enough by their publishers, and given that this article manages to look like outrageous satire when in fact the timeline presented appears entirely reasonable, how long do people give it before AAA game development crashes entirely, leaving only indie developers scrabbling about in the ruins?
at 16:42 on 06-06-2015, Janne Kirjasniemi
This Hugo nonsense was noted on in the Finnish press as well, as it came out that the owner of Castalia House, a publisher of conservative scifi, is some guy from Kouvola running it from his home, fuming at left wing message fiction.

Make's one proud to be Finnish I guess, our boy making a mark on the world in such an insignificant way. Almost as great as when Lordi won the Eurovision, or when we became the champions of the whole world in 1995(in ice hockey). The Lordi thing was kinda cool though. And the 1995 thing did offer an excuse for underage drinking and missing school.
at 20:12 on 05-06-2015, Arthur B
Ladies and gentlemen: Hatebeak, a grindcore band whose lead singer is a parrot.
at 19:16 on 04-06-2015, Michal
Ancillary Sword made it past the rabid/sad puppy slates, and Three Body Problem sneaked in because a puppy candidate declined his nomination on the grounds of "I don't want to be associated with this mess". I think that's also the case for Goblin Emperor since Correia declined his nomination as well.

The quality of work on the ballot this year in the short form categories has taken a huge dive from the usual mix of mediocre and not-so-mediocre right into "hang your head in shame for ever liking this" territory. It's straight-up embarrassing, and makes all those complaints about "The Leviathan that thou hast Made" a few years back look positively quaint in comparison .
at 13:23 on 04-06-2015, Chris A
@James D - I have to admit that while I'd never thought of myself as caring much about the Hugos, I was caught off guard by how irritating I found it to see the process shut down by the Puppy slate this year. As it turns out, I like following the nominee discussion and ritual complaining about how terrible the winners are, and look forward to seeing my favorites nominated. This year, I was hoping for a nod for Elizabeth Bear's final Eternal Sky book and to see Abigail Nussbaum nominated for best fanwriter again. Instead we get Jim Butcher's umpteenth Dresden Files novel and a collection of rightwing chain e-mails from "Patriarchy Press." It's also the only time I ever read any SFF short stories, and this year the crop of nominated stories is truly dire.

I agree that the Hugo voters do seem have their perennial darlings - Neil Gaiman, Lois McMaster Bujold, Connie Willis, China Mieville - but would point out that a set of awards given on the basis of sales figures and advertising dollars would probably look very different. Neither Robert Jordan nor George RR Martin have ever won, after all, and the only (?) non-Puppy novel to receive enough nominations to make it past the Puppies this year is Katherine Addison's (nee Sarah Monette) Goblin Emperor, which can't be much of a blockbuster. (I also would never have read Sofia Samatar's A Stranger in Olondria if it hadn't been nominated for a Hugo a couple years back, and it was a really wonderful book from a small press.)
at 02:42 on 03-06-2015, Sunnyskywalker
Thought this might be of interest based on some past articles and discussion here... SF Signal posted a short video (under 2 minutes) in which various authors attempt to define steampunk. It's elegant furnishings and steampower! It's also a costuming movement! It's history-ish but focusing on all the neat bits! It can sometimes unthinkingly celebrate imperialism and colonialism but can also be used to critique them!
at 04:50 on 01-06-2015, Michal
The Hugo nonsense has done a wonderful job of telling me whom to avoid in the sff community in the foreseeable future.
at 22:36 on 31-05-2015, James D
The Hugo drama has died down a bit I think, as there's not much more to be discussed until voting closes on July 31st and the awards are announced later on.

Personally, I never really cared much about the Hugos; they're a popularity contest which hasn't represented my own taste in sci-fi in the slightest since sometime in the 70s (Ender's Game won best novel in 1986, nuff said). Reading what some well-meaning people have written about this "assault on the sanctity of the Hugos" or however they characterize it just seems ridiculous to me, as what gets on the ballot is already massively skewed by numerous industry factors such as advertising, size/distribution network of the publisher, how established a fanbase the author has, and of course the general commercial viability of the writing itself. Granted, occasionally the awards do give publicity to smaller authors from less represented groups, which is probably due in part to the restriction of voting to WorldCon attendees/membership holders. So, there's a bit more of a control when compared to, say, raw sales figures, as the average voter is probably more literate than the average sci-fi reader. But only a bit.

Honestly I can't help but feel incredibly dismissive of large awards circuses of any sort, and I can't bring myself to observe this fiasco with anything other than faint amusement.
at 20:02 on 31-05-2015, Arthur B
What's the latest news? Last I heard Sad Puppies got onto the voting slate, large numbers of people decided to No Award the pups.

"The Hugo nonsense" is the best term for it, if only to suggest it occupies a bleak Thomas Ligotti universe in which the Puppies' insistence on reactionary-flavoured escapism is exposed for the risible denial of cosmic nothingness it is.
at 18:58 on 31-05-2015, Adrienne
I'm wondering if the 'Kyra' who's been posting on the File770 threads about the Hugo nonsense is our very own Ferretbrain editor.

(Oh, the Hugo nonsense. Any other Ferretneurons following along? It's like a trainwreck i can't look away from...)
at 18:02 on 19-05-2015, Robinson L
I recently got put onto this Kickstarter, and it looks pretty cool, and like the sort of thing some Ferretneurons may want to back.

It's a 74-page graphic novel about a young woman going to Comic Con who witnesses a murder, and hides out from the killer at the convention. Seems like a promising premise to me, and I absolutely adore the artwork.

(If you're interested in backing, you'll have to hurry - the Kickstarter closes on Saturday.)
at 18:00 on 01-05-2015, Robinson L
Happy May Day, Ferretbrain; hope you're all having fun and/or kicking up some well-deserved trouble.
at 14:20 on 17-04-2015, Ibmiller
I've been watching iZombie, and quite enjoying it, in large part because it feels so tonally similar to Veronica Mars season 1. I also enjoyed the film and the two novels that were tacked onto Veronica Mars, to give context.
at 18:00 on 16-04-2015, Robinson L
Having done a tiny bit of research on iZombie, I note that the show was developed (whatever that means) by Rob Thomas, which, welllll ...

Pros: He's responsible for the first season of Veronica Mars.
Cons: He's responsible for the third season of Veronica Mars.
Bit of a mix: He's responsible for the second season of Veronica Mars.
(I still haven't seen the film.)
at 15:15 on 14-04-2015, Robinson L
Re: Dust
I only ever read the first book, and that one only once, and I wasn't paying super close attention. I remember Rien saying something about a parental figure telling her "how do you know for sure you don't like it if you haven't tried it?" and the way Rien talked about it and reacted to the idea of sex with cismen in other parts of the story made me think she tried it, and got confirmation she didn't like it. I was a bit surprised about her receptivity to Mallory's male sexual parts for that very reason, but I just chalked it up to one of the things I, as a straight male raised in a heterosexist culture, don't understand about other people's sexual orientations. Again, though, I wasn't paying incredibly close attention the one time I read the book, so I can believe I misunderstood somewhere.

Yeah, I've heard about Aliette de Bodard's Aztec-based fantasy, and I like the idea precisely because it's not "yet another Medieval Europe-based setting." I've even read one of her short stories, and I didn't find it great, but it was quite good. (I also think she's written sci-fi where the two dominant powers are Amerindian and I want to say Chinese? That sounds cool, too.)

I've been meaning to get around to her books at some point - I have a long reading list though, and I'm a slow reader. It's really too bad her books don't appear to be available on audio.

(The author is French, and doesn't appear to have South American ancestry.)

Yeah, I believe her ancestry is Vietnamese. I remember she was interviewed on a podcast, talking about the dangers of writing another culture and having to be very careful not to do something offensive - I can believe she doesn't %100 succeed.

Re: iZombie
That does sound interesting - thanks for the recommendation, Cheriola.

@Adrienne: So sorry to hear about your crappy year+. I'm glad if I was able to cheer you up some, and I hope things continue to improve for you.
at 17:05 on 13-04-2015, Adrienne
Robinson L: I just now saw your good wishes from all the way back in January. *sheepish* (I haven't been around much on account of having been having a depressive episode all winter.) 2014 was actually a pretty shitty year, and the first couple months of 2015 weren't so hot either, but things are improving at this point -- and it made me really happy to be catching up on Playpen posts and see your kind words. :) So thanks! <3
at 21:52 on 12-04-2015, Cheriola
Oh! And I wanted to recommend the new series iZombie. It's kind of Veronica Mars crossed with Pushing Daisies. The protagonist is a cute and snarky zombie who has to eat brains and who for that purpose works at the morgue. The brains temporarily give her personality traits and skills of the previous owner, as well as visions of their lives / deaths. The other main characters are her boss and only confidant, who is adorably geeky and super supportive, and a police detective who thinks she's just psychic and who snarks with the best of them. Together, they solve murders. Two thirds of this main cast are PoC, the protagonist might be bisexual (we're not sure yet), and except for the last episode (which featured uncriticised slut-shaming, a teenage boy being a total creep about an absent woman as 'comedy', and weirdly stereotyped East Asian gang members), the show's writing has been remarkably progressive so far. As in: the episodes usually feature a character making intersectionally feminist statements for no plot-relevant reason. (For example a neighbor trying to protect an immigrant sex worker from potential police harassment, or the police character commenting on the racism and sexism of the exclusively White audience in a cop bar that had some I Dream of Jeanie inspired live entertainment.)

But what I find most remarkable is that, aside maybe from the protagonist's family and roommate, I really like every recurring character so far. I don't think I've ever seen a show where that was the case before. Even the villain is entertaining and even charming sometimes, for all he is a sociopathic, manipulative user.

Note, though, that I don't generally watch zombie movies or shows (I think zombies as villains are very boring), so if you're a fan of those, this might feel somewhat sacrilegious to you.
at 20:28 on 12-04-2015, Cheriola
@Robinson: Re: Dust
Yes, Rien said that she was definetly more into cis women, but she also said that she has had sex with cis boys "to be sure" (which I don't really think a 16-year-old lesbian would do, at least not in a society that really doesn't judge about these things), and her reaction to intersex Mallory offering to adjust his genitals for her convenience is basically "don't be silly". Besides, while someone in the third book judges Mallory to be transgender and somewhat feminine (which may be a change from the first book, since he's now together with Tristan who previously had a wife), everyone uses male pronouns for Mallory (there is a minor character for whom alternative agender pronouns are used, so it's not like the author just didn't want to deal with the writing inconvenience), and well... people can get rather upset if you judge their sexual orientation from their genderqueer partner's body instead of their gender identity. (Example: ) So I'm wary of calling Rien as purely lesbian. She is homoromantic for sure, though. Or well, as far as you can tell with a teenager who never got beyond her first love.

By the way, I seem to remember someone on this site reviewing a truly offensive / atrocious fantasy novel set in pre-columbian South America? I recently read "Servant of the Underworld" by Aliette De Bodard. (Because the TV Tropes site listed the protagonist as asexual - this turned out to be a misinterpretation by someone who can't distinguish between celibacy / low libido and lack of sexual attraction, or by someone who straight up remembered things wrong. Still, there's very little sexual content in the book for something featuring a sex goddess banished to Earth and a plot that hinges a lot on adultery. The protagonist is a Holmes expy in some ways, though not really in terms of personality. ) Despite this disappointment, the book turned out quite interesting for its setting of non-European-middle-ages-based fantasy. It's basically "what if the Aztec religious beliefs and magic were actually true", with a lot of work put into the details of Aztek life and worldview, and the plot is a murder mystery that eventually involves the gods and the end of the world. There were some issues with repetitive phrasing and hard-to-remember names, the author is a little overly fond of describing the details of people's clothing and interior decoration, and it is a rather sexist and gender-segregated society so major female characters somewhat scarce (the author actually invented an non-historical priesthood just to have a female character powerful enough to have political influence). I was also raising my eyebrows at various characters being described as "pale as chalk" or similarly when scared/sick/drowned/etc., since I don't think that's how it works for people who are normally quite brown. (The author is French, and doesn't appear to have South American ancestry.)
But overall, I found it quite enjoyable and overall inoffensive. There is a lot of blood sacrifice going on, but it's mostly just animals or small amounts of the priests' own blood. (All the characters are completely okay with human sacrifices in general, but the author shied away from making her "good guys" actually take part in them, by falsely claiming that their particular gods don't want any, as she admits in the "How accurate is all this?" essay at the end.)
The plot really isn't anything special, and the character development drags rather too long, but if you want the whole "the past is a different country" experience, this is probably as alien to the modern, Western enculturation as it gets while still being based on the experience, needs and wants of humans.
at 18:48 on 12-04-2015, Arthur B
Chuck Tingle is our greatest living Amazon troll but with these two stories (1, 2) he may have outdone himself. Magnificent.
at 14:56 on 09-04-2015, Ibmiller
That's a really great video, Alasdair, thanks for linking! I personally don't really like the FPS genre, but the video is thoughtful, interesting, and well presented (only complaint is that it feels more like a really nice radio lecture than a video, since I watched while doing other things, and whenever I would pay more attention to the video itself, it rarely had anything but a tangential connection to the words I was hearing. But that's a really tiny complaint, since as a radio lecture, it's phenomenal).
at 02:54 on 07-04-2015, Alasdair Czyrnyj
When I woke up this morning, I never thought I'd end the day by saying "boy, that was an insightful and compelling two-hour video about the evolution of the Call of Duty franchise that actually has me reconsidering some of my prejudices."

And yet, here we are.
at 15:30 on 01-04-2015, Robinson L
Right, I didn't want to suggest I think it's unproblematic, and you raise some excellent points; but as you say, it was affecting and powerful, despite the problems. I agree with you that the ending was especially moving - personally, I spent at least the last 10 minutes or so wondering how they were going to pull off a conclusion which felt appropriate to the tone, and I wasn't expecting anything on the order of what it delivered.
at 11:36 on 01-04-2015, Andy G
I also found Pride to be affecting and it's certainly a powerful story, but I did have some reservations. I found the heart-warming British comedy style to be slightly by-the-numbers and also sat uncomfortably with the radical nature of the story; I thought the generic teenage coming-out-story character they invented was superfluous and would have preferred to see more of Mark Ashton; it seemed to spend a lot more time establishing how homophobic the miners were rather than concentrating on the politics (this central conflict was not historically grounded); and for a film about gay pride there was an almost total absence of sexuality or sexual desire. I should stress that I did somehow still find it powerful, especially the end, despite these problems.