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 13:34 on 21-07-2009, Dan H
To be fair, I think that was part of the pint of their criticism of Capitalist Meritocracy - that it's frequently not very meritocratic and that it concentrates power in the hands of the few, and it's then very hard to get power out of their hands.

What's interesting about *that* however, is how spectacularly that demonstration failed. The kids who had been given an unfair advantage immediately used their power to try to level the playing field.
at 11:36 on 21-07-2009, Arthur B
It is, in fact, an example of what the Objectivists blather about when they talk about the jealous small-minded have-nots holding back bold industrialists. :)

But yeah, these teachers are quite disturbingly politicised. In particular, the trading exercise was meant to show up the failings of "meritocracy", when I don't see anything meritocratic about controlling the world because you happened to pick the green bricks. If anything, being given a large amount of wealth through a sheer twist of fate that had nothing to do with any real effort on your part is more like aristocracy.

The thing which got me is the conformity that resulted. All buildings in Legograd are the same size, built from the same number of bricks, comrade. How depressing would it be to live in such a place?
at 11:31 on 21-07-2009, Dan H
It's not just you.

Things I immediately notice from the Lego article:

- They took a project that the students had created spontaneously and turned it into something with an externally imposed structure.

- They behaved, throughout, with a clear, politicised motive that in my personal opinion goes well beyond the remit of a teacher.

- The new "equal" system they wound up with was only "fair" by a relatively narrow definition of "fairness" which I had, until recently, assumed was a straw man created by the right. It enforced fairness by eliminating variety.

- They basically took a system they didn't like, replaced it with a system they did like, and declared it "better".

I spent most of my time reading that article thinking "Jesus Christ, this is exactly what American Conservatives and Daily Mail readers are always complaining about, and what I was fairly sure didn't happen".

Most telling, I think, is the line at the start about the kid whose part of the original Legotown was bigger than everybody else's "because it was the fire station". Now I don't know about you, but I actually think that's a pretty good reason to have a bigger house than other people. Same with the airstrip. I kind of feel that the kids were learning much more about society from the original Legotown than from the sanitized "fruit stalls only" version.
at 18:43 on 20-07-2009, Jamie Johnston
Got to say, I find the behaviour of the teachers in that Lego article deeply troubling for reasons I can't put my finger on. Is it just me?
at 04:45 on 20-07-2009, Arthur B
Let's see... I'm going to assume you don't want to make the investment to get the Vance Integral Editions, which are gorgeous but horrifyingly expensive.

- You will want the Dying Earth stories, obviously. They originally came out in The Dying Earth, The Eyes of the Overworld, Cugel's Saga, and Rhialto the Marvellous. Various collections exist; anything which contains the four volumes mentioned should set you up nicely.
- His other major fantasy work is the Lyonesse series, set in a forgotten island and replete with Arthurian and other references and recently reprinted in two volumes by the Fantasy Masterworks guys. The individual volumes are Suldrun's Garden (sometimes just known as Lyonesse), The Green Pearl, and Madouc.
- In terms of SF his most significant series is The Demon Princes, the saga of one man's obsessive interstellar quest to kill the men responsible for the destruction of his home. A two-volume reprint is available.
- Planet of Adventure is the story of a crashed spaceman's interactions with four bizarre alien races competing for control of the planet Tschai, and is available in a one-volume omnibus. The second book has the fantastic title of Servants of the Wankh.
- The Alastor trilogy is barely a trilogy, more three standalones set in the same system of worlds, and is also available in an omnibus.
- The Dragon Masters and The Last Castle are two standalone novellas that recently got reprinted as one volume by iBooks.
- Other great standalones include Big Planet, The Blue World, Emphyrio, The Grey Prince, To Live Forever, The Languages of Pao, Maske: Thaery, and Night Lamp.
- In terms of short stories, there are maddeningly few in-print collections I'm aware of, aside from the obvious example of The Dying Earth. Someone really needs to start doing The Complete Short Fiction of Jack Vance, volumes 1-whatever.

Of the above, my favourites are probably the Dying Earth series, The Demon Princes, Emphyrio, and Night Lamp. Night Lamp, in particular, is achingly beautiful, quite recent, and to my mind (since he's decided to stop writing fiction) is his swansong, coming as it does before the forgettable Ports of Call duology.
at 02:31 on 20-07-2009, Rami
Interestingly, while I have regrettably read very little Vance, I have read the exact story that Times writer gushes about, and it is indeed fantastic. I need to start assembling a fresh book-pile anyway ;-) Are there any Vance collections you'd recommend?
at 20:03 on 19-07-2009, Arthur B
Jack Vance is on the verge of retirement (he's said he's going to write his memoirs and then call it quits), and the New York Times has done a beautiful tribute to him. Read it, and then read The Dying Earth, because the man is a God.
at 19:02 on 19-07-2009, Rude Cyrus
Okay, never mind, it was satire -- still, considering the crazy shit some parents do, it was easy for me to believe it was real.
at 17:30 on 19-07-2009, Arthur B
It's adorable, though I'm a bit sad all the buildings had to be a standard size; couldn't multiple teams band together for major projects?
at 16:58 on 19-07-2009, Shim
Ooh, that's really interesting. Cheers Sonia!
at 15:00 on 19-07-2009, Sonia Mitchell
Aside from the misleading title, Why We Banned Legos is actually an interesting look at the use of power and ownership in groups. Is there anything Lego can't help one understand?
at 03:43 on 19-07-2009, Arthur B
That's incredible; I think it's from the same recut-the-trailer contest that yielded this classic.

Similar theme: sequels that shouldn't exist (and might perhaps completely miss the point of the original film).
at 03:32 on 19-07-2009, Viorica
Aside from Shakespeare&Co, I'm afraid I can't.

West Side Story- Zmbified! Considering that Richard Beymer emotes approximately as well as a zombie, it seems oddly appropriate.
at 22:58 on 17-07-2009, Jamie Johnston
And, at the risk of lowering the tone, can anyone suggest (1) a decent biography of Marlowe and (2) a good general survey of his use of language, verse, and other stylistic stuff like that? Preferably not so obscure as to be obtainable only in copyright libraries.
at 22:55 on 17-07-2009, Jamie Johnston
Tee hee. But it still doesn't quite beat my favourite misogyny song (go to 03:35 for the most relevant part).
at 16:36 on 17-07-2009, Wardog
Ahahaa, I saw a link to this on Smart Bitches Trashy Books. It's a song from Jupiter's Darling, an old MGM musical starring the swoonalicious Howard Keel. First of all, it's just darling and makes me giggle. Secondly holy crap look at Howard Keel's legs. And thirdly I like to think of it as the misogyny song (in a joking way, of course).
at 09:18 on 17-07-2009, Arthur B
That just makes it ring even more hollow to me; it comes across as the guy saying "No, no you guys, we didn't make a mistake with Too Human! You just didn't understand what we were trying to do!"
at 22:41 on 16-07-2009, Rude Cyrus
To be fair, Silicon Knights also developed Eternal Darkness, which was a genuinely creepy and fun game.

I understand what he's saying: developers should make the story and characters as equally important as gameplay, but the way he says it makes him come off as an elitist snob.
at 21:31 on 16-07-2009, Arthur B
Yeah, this sort of rhetoric never comes across well unless it's delivered by someone who has a decent track record as far as gameplay goes. Otherwise it's like someone who is miserable at composition complaining that classical music isn't all about composition, it's also about the conductor and the musicians and the instruments and the acoustics of the hall. It might be true, but the best musicians in the world couldn't save a lousy symphony from itself.
at 18:00 on 16-07-2009, Rude Cyrus
What's funny is that this is the same guy that produced Too Human, a game that was almost universally bashed because of awful gameplay and a confusing narrative.
at 16:52 on 16-07-2009, Arthur B
Oh, fuck you, Denis Dyack. Whether or not you believe computer games can be art, you're not going to develop their unique and important qualities by downplaying the one thing that distinguishes them from everything else.
at 11:55 on 16-07-2009, Wardog
Although, speaking of booktrailers, this is made of win.