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 17:58 on 08-08-2017, Cheriola
Thanks for the new password, Arthur. I wasn't aware before that your system allowed me to change it. I've changed it now to something I won't forget again.
at 18:02 on 20-06-2017, Robinson L
A couple of my sisters and I watched the movie again with our dad and his second wife this weekend. My father's second wife grew up reading Wonder Woman comics in the 50s, and she wasn't very enamored of this film's interpretation of the character. My sister ptolemaeus, who's read a lot of comics from the 80s and 90s, has also come to dislike the film's version of Wonder Woman - thought she was portrayed as too youthful and immature, and was upset that the character's idealism was treated as naivete which she needed to grow out of. My sister said it's still a decent film, and she's glad so many other people are enjoying it and finding it meaningful, but to her it's not a good Wonder Woman film.

My dad also brought up an interesting point, which hadn't occurred to the rest of us. About a fortnight ago, before we'd seen the film, we were talking about the controversy in the Middle East over the protagonist being portrayed by an Israeli woman who vocally supported the 2014 war on Gaza. ptolemaeus' view was that there's more to Gal Gadot than Zionism, and more to the movie than Gal Gadot. After seeing it, though, my dad said he thought there was more substance to the criticism of the movie than he'd originally thought, because the depiction of Young Diana as innocent and peaceful and just paralleled the myth of Israel he'd grown up with.

The above issues notwithstanding, my dad still enjoyed the movie, and I in my ignorance of the character's comic book history, enjoyed it on second viewing as well, despite my misgivings about its politics. I feel like the humor doesn't always work, but when it does, it's great, and also there are a few points where a scene is in danger of becoming too sappy, but is saved by the insertion of a good joke: the scene where Steve proves he's telling Diana the truth about taking her to the front by wrapping her golden lasso around his hand, then goes on a tangent about how it's an incredibly bad plan, springs particularly to mind.

I also initially thought that the plan at the end for disposing of Dr. Maru's gas was the biggest plot hole of the film, but in our post-viewing dissection this weekend it was pointed out to me that
if the gas is burned up, it won't disperse all over the countryside, as I originally thought
. Fair play, movie.

Two last observations from second viewing, one a correction to my previous comment. I said that the gas was intended for use against a military target (in contrast to the atomic bombs dropped on Japanese civilian centers), and, indeed, when it's first discussed it's in the context of Ludendorff and Maru releasing the gas at the front. Later in the movie, however, when they're actually preparing to deploy the gas, we see briefly that their actual target is, indeed, a primarily civilian center (though, again, of more military significance than Hiroshima and Nagasaki).

Secondly, I wonder if Amazons in this universe are naturally less hairy than humans; the only other possibility I can think of is that they shave their legs and armpits, which I find even less credible.
at 15:30 on 12-06-2017, Robinson L
Went to see it with my mom and all three of my sisters on Saturday. It's rare for us to all go to a movie together these days, though because it was evening and on a weekend, we had to take separate seats, and my mom and I wound up craning our necks in the third row.

This was my first DC superhero movie since The Dark Knight Rises, and my first in the theater since ... possibly ever, come to think. I haven't seen the previous DC movie 'verse films, partially because I'm less of a DC fan to begin with, partially because my siblings haven't been particularly interested either, and partially because of the negative press they get. However, we were all eager to support a rare female-headed superhero movie, and it didn't hurt that Wonder Woman actually got positive buzz.

Overall, I thought the characters were good, with the exception of General Ludendorff, who was a walking cliche. Diana/Wonder Woman was suitably heroic, and Gadot handled the "fish out of water" comedic sequences very well, also. Oh, and Young Diana with her posh accent and her desperate wish to be a badass Amazon warrior was adorable. For some reason, I had low expectations of Chris Pine's Steve Trevor going in, but he was good, too. In fact, I was genuinely impressed by the scene where Wonder Woman has her little moment of disillusionment, and after trying to get her help, he finally says, "fine, you stay here, I'm going to go take care of the gas." Not often a sidekick has that much independence from the hero. Ares also turned out to be a more interesting character than I expected (low bar, admittedly), and he really came across as someone convinced he was doing the right thing. However, his decision to kill all the other gods makes no sense to me, either with the motivations Hippolyta ascribes to him or the motivations he claims to be working under.

The character arcs were pretty good, too, and carried the movie most of the way. Good enough to paper over some weak points in the plot, which itself mostly holds together if you don't look too hard.

The cinematography and set design were great (though my sisters all complained about the low lighting and inability to see a lot of the action). It's too bad that after the lustrous beauty of Themyscria, most of the film takes place in grungy locations, but the sets and the costumes were still terrifically well-realized.

Overall, my sister Noria put it best; she liked Wonder Woman, but what she really wants to see is the Winter Soldier to this movie's The First Avenger.

Thematically, though, I feel the movie tried to have its cake and eat it, too. Sorry, but I'm bringing back political stuff. If you still want to avoid it, scroll down to my last paragraph.

As I was saying, there's the whole thing at the end about there being good and bad on both sides and among all humans, and stuff like that. But at the same time, the Brits and Americans are portrayed as basically the good guys, and the Germans as the bad guys. (Trevor outright says as much when he first meets Diana, and while parts of the film undermine that dichotomy, other parts reinforce it.)

We had an argument about this in the car on the way home, with my sisters pointing out all the times the shortcomings of the Americans and the English are brought up, which to be fair is a lot. But my answer would be that the treatment of the Americans and English on the one hand in Wonder Woman as opposed to the Germans is basically like how the police are depicted vis-a-vis criminals in the better sort of cop show. A good cop show will acknowledge that the police are flawed, and sometimes authority figures within the police system are corrupt and murderous; but the baseline assumption is that the police force is an inherently noble institution, and this assumption is reinforced by treating those contrary elements as deviations from the norm. A few bad apples, if you will.

Similarly, the better sort of cop show will acknowledge that not everyone who commits criminal acts is necessarily a bad person, and that sometimes, their story is downright tragic. But again, the baseline assumption is that criminals are bad, and the ones who commit crimes for truly sympathetic reasons are exceptions to the rule.

Okay, I realize that's a dodgy comparison, but I hope it provides a useful framework to explain how I read the treatment of the two sides in the conflict. Somehow, I just can't imagine the film being so blase about depicting American or British soldiers slaughtering Amazons (
including Diana's aunt
) or enslaving a village of Belgian civilians, or depicting our heroes laying waste to battalions of American or British soldiers to get to the villains. (Well, come to think of it, maybe British soldiers, though probably not in a WWI setting.)

Speaking of the setting, I know this isn't the reason the film is set in the first rather than the second World War, but I find it cynically hilarious that General Ludendorff and his killer gas are basically a scaled down version of Harry Truman with the A-Bomb. Except that Ludendorff, if I'm remembering correctly, intended to attack a military target to help his side win a war they were losing, whereas Truman used his superweapon to attack two civilian targets when he was pretty sure of winning sooner or later anyway, and at least partly to get the upper hand in his ongoing dick-waving contest with his ally of circumstance, the Soviet Union. Again, I realize there were more pressing reasons not to set this movie during the second World War, but it also would have been really hard to paper over that parallel if they'd done so.

My sister KorraWP brought up her appreciation that the movie acknowledges the genocide of American Indigenous peoples by White American invaders in a conversation between Diana and the Chief, but that scene frustrated me because there was zero follow-up. Apart from downplaying the villainous potential of the Americans/British by not dwelling on iniquity when it's committed by "our" side, this felt very weird to me in terms of Diana's character arc. By this point in the film, she's come to trust and respect and maybe even idolize Steve Trevor, and though she's already seen things which give her pause, this is the first time she's directly confronted with something truly vile in which he is complicit. It should come as a major revelation to her, but it's just sort of passed over, without even a short scene between her and Trevor discussing it. I would have expected a cop-out: Trevor says "yeah, my people have done some bad shit, too, and I don't feel entirely okay about it"; Diana accepts it, and they move on. And I probably would have accepted it also, even though it's a cop out, but it doesn't visibly effect their relationship at all, which I find baffling from a character perspective.
at 20:33 on 10-06-2017, Alice
[skips right past all the recent political... Stuff]

Wonder Woman! What did people think?
at 13:25 on 07-06-2017, Arthur B
We had a bit of downtime there due to a server upgrade - please poke if you notice any issues.
at 11:36 on 23-05-2017, Arthur B
It definitely has that "newly made antique" look that was so inspirational to The Man In the High Castle.
at 07:14 on 23-05-2017, Adrienne
Yeah, i thought it was a good obit, and shed a lot of light on how difficult shit was for her. I wish she were better-known in her own right (i haven't read her writing at all, but her jewelry is also spectacular).
at 10:28 on 22-05-2017, Arthur B
I raised an eyebrow when the headline called her Dick's "muse", given that he put a lot of energy into demonising her. But then I saw that the text of the obituary acknowledges that, and she used the term herself, which I guess shows who took the high road there.
at 08:20 on 22-05-2017, Adrienne
Anne Dick has died. She was a writer in her own right, as well as having been Philip K.'s badly-mistreated third wife.
at 15:00 on 12-05-2017, Robinson L
Hey, whatever works for you.

Personally, I haven't switched over to Dreamwidth yet, because I've been busy with other projects. However, I have read up on it, and now I'm asking myself what's taken me so long to make the change.
at 06:44 on 11-05-2017, Ibmiller
Huh, I must have missed the TOS. I have enough affection for the LJ platform, and only use it for a couple of communities (I've moved entirely to Tumblr for blogging, much as I hate the platform), so...YOLO? :)
at 18:06 on 19-04-2017, Robinson L
Thanks for the advice, Arthur; I'd completely forgotten about the Dreamwidth option.

I mean, if I'm reading the "Account Termination" (6th point) accurately, they say they're going to hold onto all the journal information for a year even if someone deletes their account, and potentially share it "upon the lawful request of the competent authorities" (such a delightfully vague description). But as you say, I'm not living in Russia, nor do I have any plans to visit it in the near future, and switching to Dreamwidth then shutting down the account seems probably the best option under the circumstances. I'll look into it after I get back home next month, and probably just stay off the site until then.

(I also can't help thinking, as chilling and obnoxious as the Russian government's data collection policy is, at least they're up front about their draconian tactics, unlike certain other governmental bodies I could name a bit closer to home.)

On an unrelated subject, I wonder if folks in the greater London area are aware of the Bare Lit 2017 Festival taking place this weekend. It's an annual literary festival organized around writers of color - who often get overlooked in mainstream literary festivals, or pigeonholed into being the token person of color talking on a diversity panel.

One of the organizers is a buddy of mine from grad school (who invited me to attend, but sadly, I can't make the trip across the pond); and it seems like the kind of event that would potential appeal to a lot of Ferretneurons.
at 11:12 on 19-04-2017, Arthur B
(It has been noted that to log in and migrate to Dreamwidth you need to accept the new TOS. However, consider the following:

- If you're just logging in to migrate your account and then delete it from LJ, then boom, job done. The new TOS can only be used to police what you post on LJ's own service, once you've migrated away from there then that's that.

- Although worrying about the authorities in Russia poking about in your LJ is a genuine risk, let's be realistic: even if the FSB were interested in your specific LJ, they wouldn't wait for your permission to take a peep inside the servers anyway.

- It is Russian users of the service and those who expect to travel to Russia or areas under its sphere of influence who bear the brunt of the risk here. The extent of enforcement of the new TOS against people who don't live there will most likely amount to account deletion of people who break the new TOS - not really an issue if you've migrated to Dreamwidth anyway.

tl;dr: the new LiveJournal TOS are appalling and malevolent, but I don't think there's much of an issue momentarily signing up for them for the sake of vacuuming up your LJ presence to Dreamwidth and burning your old LJ homestead. Arguably, one of the best ways to protest this is for content and communities to migrate elsewhere.)
at 20:40 on 18-04-2017, Arthur B
Yeah, the people I know who have Livejournals all seem to be migrating them to Dreamwidth.
at 20:00 on 18-04-2017, Robinson L
@Ibmiller: Just wanted to let you know that I've been meaning to respond to your latest comments on livejournal but, 1) I'm traveling again right now and kinda busy, but more importantly, 2) I'm intimidated by the new user agreements and haven't dared venture onto the site ever since the announcement.
at 18:54 on 10-04-2017, Ibmiller
As someone who sorta follows Marvel comics these days (not nearly as closely as DC), I think the real problem isn't diversity, but crummy comics and overreliance on events that have had two serious problems in the last two years. Not to mention the shock jock approach to storylines that led to Hydra Captain America.

I mean, the real problems in comic book creation culture could really only be fixed with the death of the direct market (local comic shops) model, but that would (or will, if you think it's inevitable) be catastrophic and lead to a comic book landscape I don't think anyone can really predict.

That being said, printed media in general has a tiny, tiny market share compared to television and film. Books generally sell in the tens of thousands if they are top ten level books, and comic books I think have a maximum audience of about 200,000 buyers, based on the top selling comics. A poorly rated television show has something like a million viewers (unless it's HBO), so the amount of vitriol being spewed about comics and books always frustrates me. It's just obvious proof that the smaller the pie a group is fighting for, the more vicious and pointless the fights over the pieces.
at 13:16 on 07-04-2017, Arthur B
The Hugo nominations are out, and it looks like the Rabid Puppies/Sad Puppies more or less entirely failed to shit all over them this year. So far as I can find out, the Sad Puppies didn't even put out a slate. The Rabid Puppies did, but it was of limited effect: several categories have no Rapid finalists at all, and there's no category which is dominated by Rabid Pups, so there'll be healthy competition all round even after people have duly placed the pup candidates beneath "NO AWARD".

In the Best Novelette category they seem to have managed to get in a Chuck Tingle parody by a Mr. Stix Hiscock. Chuck has also got a nomination in Best Fan Writer and will be facing off against, amongst others, the Puppy candidate (one of the two posters on Vox Day's Castalia House blog who were on the Puppy slate), and to be honest I have good feelings about his chances to win. "Fan writer" is an appropriate category for him, after all, and the way he handled last year's Rabid Puppy spite-nomination was a net positive for the community as a whole.

In response, Chuck's issued a Tingler themed around his second nomination pounding him like the first nomination used to... but more importantly, he's noticed that Stix Hiscock didn't register their own website, and so has dealt with that with a warning about evil twins.
at 16:10 on 05-04-2017, Arthur B
Where I could see the anthology model working is if they churned out a monthly Gotham/Bat Family anthology, Tales from the Green Lantern Corps anthology, mutants anthology, Spider Family anthology, Asgard anthology, Atlantis anthology, etc. I imagine some of the others would be a bit more difficult to categorize, but I'm sure you could do it with a bit of creativity, and the many team books (Justice League, Avengers, Titans ...) could easily be geared to supporting this model.

If only at least one of the major comic publishers had well-regarded comics in their portfolio with titles like Action Comics or Detective Comics, the sort of thing which could nicely signal the sort of content involved in a particular book...
at 15:15 on 05-04-2017, Robinson L
I haven't followed this particular controversy too closely - I read about the "diversity is destroying the franchise" comment and that's about it.

That said, I think you've laid out the bind Marvel and DC find themselves in quite neatly. Unfortunately, barring a huge internal shake-up, I don't see the model changing any time soon. We live in an economic climate where comic book publishers, like movie studios, are compelled to be incredibly risk averse, and to prioritize immediate gains over long term ones. So if they try something new and it isn't an instant success, they're going to retreat back into what they already know than stick it out and see if the new project wins people over or brings in a new audience over time.

I like your idea about treating the iconic heroes as back bench celebrity players who are there in the background but only come out to play in the spotlight one or two games per season.

I could see going to an anthology model if the anthologies were closely tied together by theme. The Marvel and DC universes are already pretty broad in terms of the style and tone of the stories they tell, and personally, I wouldn't necessarily pick up an anthology that had a mutants story, a SHIELD story, a Hulk family story, a Swamp Thing story, and a Punisher story, because I'm inevitably going to be more interested in some of those things than others.

Where I could see the anthology model working is if they churned out a monthly Gotham/Bat Family anthology, Tales from the Green Lantern Corps anthology, mutants anthology, Spider Family anthology, Asgard anthology, Atlantis anthology, etc. I imagine some of the others would be a bit more difficult to categorize, but I'm sure you could do it with a bit of creativity, and the many team books (Justice League, Avengers, Titans ...) could easily be geared to supporting this model.

... Unfortunately, because of the risk aversion and focus on short term losses and gains mentioned above, I agree that this scenario would almost certainly result in ~80% stories starring straight white guys with a token "diversity" story thrown in to show "see, we're not still living in the 50s, honest."
at 11:59 on 05-04-2017, Arthur B
What are people's thoughts on this Marvel executive talking like diversity is killing their franchise?

Obviously, the comment itself is dreadful, but it kind of reflects this deadful bind that Marvel are in here. The problem is that the stock-in-trade of a superhero franchise is iconic characters, and modifying a large roster of iconic characters puts you in a catch-22.

On the one hand, if they take an existing character and change them up to introduce more diversity, then they end up losing a character people have already become used to and loved. The existing audience would inevitably resent it, and people who want diversity don't necessarily want "it's the exact same character as previously, except we are using a darker ink for their skin tone and we're drawing them with boobs" - if the writing doesn't adapt then it's a token gesture, and there'll always be the sense that the character is only popular because they got over as a white dude before the character trappings were passed over to someone else. And inevitably neither DC nor Marvel ever, ever stick to their guns with this sort of thing: the original character always ends up coming back, if only for the inevitable burst of goodwill from their fans when they return.

On the other hand, if they invent new characters, that's great, but it sets an impossibly high bar to expect a new character to instantly hit the level of popularity of an old favourite, especially if that old favourite is still available in fresh new adventures in their own line. It's even worse if you are trying to maintain a consistent fictional universe, because in that context anyone new you invent is going to struggle to both have a distinctive niche of their own and not feel like a second banana in a cosmos where the big favourites are always active and are likely to show up in any major crisis situation.

Modest proposal: superheroes should retire, or at least go on hiatuses. It would be much, much easier to give new characters the space they need to get over with the audience if the previous generation of characters weren't constantly there having their own adventures all the time. If Marvel and DC were bold enough to dial it back and treat characters like Spiderman or Batman a bit like WWE has treated the Undertaker in recent years - someone who is used sparingly because they almost always overshadow the newer heroes when they show up, and who can have one big major event storyline per year - whilst the week-in-week-out storylines focus mostly on new characters, then they could perhaps get over a new range of characters.

Of course, that would involve changing the model of publishing comic books where each hero has their own line of books. I know that if I could buy one comic book per week or one fat one per month and it was the Marvel Universe comic book, and all the different storylines unfolded just in that book, and it worked on a sort of 2000 AD model where you had multiple stories with different characters per book and characters would go on hiatuses between their storylines and so on, that would make it far more likely I'd follow Marvel comics than this current bizarre plethora of a billion billion different books.

But then I probably wouldn't buy an all-in-one-book Marvel Universe line if it weren't diverse enough, and I just know that if Marvel did such a thing, your average issue would probably be five stories about the existing iconic characters and one token diversity story. It's infuriating.
at 21:45 on 04-04-2017, Adrienne
OMG OMG EVERYONE. Ruthanna Emrys' first novel is out. It's a follow-up to a novella she wrote for Tor, "Litany of Earth", which is one of the finest pieces of fiction I've ever read. It's Mythos fiction informed by the Holocaust, and the Jewish diaspora in general, and it is amazing.

The book is called Winter Tide and i don't actually know if it's released in the UK yet. Anyway, read Litany if nothing else.
at 22:15 on 31-03-2017, Robinson L
I finally caught The Three-Body Problem, by Liu Cixin on audiobook recently. I like how it presents a very familiar sci-fi scenario (one of the biggest staples of the genre) in an utterly unique way and style. I also found the storytelling style highly engaging and immersive, which is always a concern I have reading hard SF by a new (to me) author. Even the really technical scientific stuff which mostly went over my ahead was presented in such a way that I usually found it exciting rather than dull and confusing.

All in all, I think I can see why it merited a Hugo Award, as it's very well put together and tackles some pretty complex issues and ideas, and it also happens to be (in my case) quite a fun read. Looking forward to listening to the two sequels (Death's End and The Dark Forest) over the summer.
at 00:18 on 02-03-2017, Adrienne
I'm kind of a compulsive proofreader, i'm afraid. If Arthur or any of the rest of you ever want a quick proof of something pre-posting, let me know, i'm always happy to help if i have the time.
at 23:48 on 01-03-2017, Ichneumon
I was going to mention that in a comment, but I was too engaged with reading the article and it totally slipped my mind.

Incidentally, the detail of a frog scraping its own eyes out on hearing the cursed bell in that Kuttner tale is something I'd put out of my mind until you mentioned it. I wasn't crazy about that story, but that image is incredibly unnerving.