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 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.
at 22:30 on 31-03-2015, Robinson L
My sisters and I watched Pride last night along with my dad and his significant other. I don't think I'll be able to write a review, as it would probably just consist of me gushing about the film. We all loved it. I mean, I'm a sucker for stories about oppressed groups coming together despite their differences in solidarity and mutual support (in this case, gay activists and striking mine workers in the 1980s). But it's also incredibly well-executed, with numerous touching and/or funny moments. And despite the grim nature of the context (which the film acknowledges), it's mostly positive and upbeat, which as one of my sisters pointed out, is very rare for a mainstream gay film.

... So yeah, all-in-all, great movie.
at 16:01 on 31-03-2015, Ibmiller
Oh, I should also add that there are several scenes of sexual violence, which a lot of reviewers have commented on (in a sadly biased fashion, I think - Sorry I forgot to mention that in the first post.
at 15:59 on 31-03-2015, Ibmiller
I just read Jo Walton's "The Just City," and really enjoyed it. Perhaps because my high school reading of "The Republic" was mostly me railing at how horrible the Noble Lie is and how annoying Plato's Socrates was with all his yes-men. Walton's Republic (on Atlantis!) (with robots and time travel and actual Greek gods!) is full of well-intentioned folk who are very much like the yes men in Plato's book, but then Sokrates (spelling in the book) is magically whisked there by Athene (ditto) and promptly sets about actually questioning the assumptions of the city. It does end extremely abruptly, plot-wise, though thematically I thought it was pretty great, and it's the first in a trilogy, so hopefully the dangling threads will be caught up in the summer.
at 15:12 on 29-03-2015, Arthur B
I guess some of those do straddle genre lines, but it's interesting how many people think that genres are a mutually exclusive one-label-only thing.

My rule of thumb in such situations is to tell people that picking a costume they like and are enthusiastic about is more important than strict adherence to theme anyway. :D
at 14:14 on 29-03-2015, Andy G
I've had a quite interesting experience in testing the limits of genre recently. I've invited friends to a "science fiction and fantasy" themed costume party, which I thought was fairly self-explanatory, but I've been surprised by how many people were completely flummoxed about what counts as sci-fi or fantasy and have been messaging me requesting clarification. Queries have included: Harry Potter? Peter Pan? Wizard of Oz? Power Rangers? Transformers? "Computer game characters"? X-Men? Ghostbusters? Frozen?
at 15:30 on 18-03-2015, Robinson L
Jules V.O.: This is the one that got me.

Yeah, that's good, too.

There's also this tribute from the other day: How to Tell You're in a Terry Pratchett novel. I particularly appreciate the Hogfather reference at the end - it's from the same snippet of the book that I used on my livejournal for my own tribute post.
at 16:07 on 17-03-2015, Jules V.O.
In more Pratchett memorial news, my sister Noria shared this picture with me recently, which she described as "the saddest adorable thing ever." I think it's an accurate description.

This is the one that got me.
at 15:30 on 16-03-2015, Robinson L
In more Pratchett memorial news, my sister Noria shared this picture with me recently, which she described as "the saddest adorable thing ever." I think it's an accurate description.

@Arthur: That's a beautiful sentiment, I hope you're right.

@Cheriola: That's sweet, thanks for sharing. And this part:

he must have been the most effective teacher of secular humanist ethics of our age

Totally agree. When I first went to undergrad and started studying philosophy (about seven years ago, now) my dad asked me at one point who my favorite philosopher was, and I can't remember which one of us said it anymore, but one put forward Terry Pratchett. I really do think he was a philosophical writer par excellence, even if I did find myself disagreeing with him on more and more points as time progressed. A couple years after that conversation with my dad, I was at a con panel on "The Philosophy of Discworld," where you had this guy talking about all this interesting philosophical ideas he found in the Discworld series, and I mostly remembering thinking just 'Yeah, that's about right.'

... And I also found his books immensely fun, which is hardly ever the case for me when it comes to Great Works of Literature.

Also interesting reading of "Bonnie & Clyde." I may have to check it out, for research on asexual characters if nothing else.

Re: Dust
Interesting: I agree that Perceval is definitely asexual, but I read Rein as emphatically not interested in male-bodied people at all, to the point where she only had sex with the intersex character in spite of their male-bodied characteristics. It has been a couple of years since I read the book, though.
at 20:27 on 15-03-2015, Arthur B
I don’t know if I should be glad that he passed peacefully and apparently before his condition got unbearable mentally, or be sad that he didn’t get to make his stand on the issue of assisted suicide as he had planned.

Unless we hear anything to the contrary I'm choosing to take that as a sign that, despite the struggles of his condition, it never quite hit the point where the "dignified exit" route outweighed what joys he still had in life.
at 21:53 on 14-03-2015, Cheriola
Argh, that's supposed to say "T.E. Lawrence", of course. I always get him mixed up with D.H. Lawrence...
at 21:49 on 14-03-2015, Cheriola
Also, weirdly, have a look at the 1967 movie “Bonnie and Clyde”, even if that movie apparently was considered very racy for its time.

Explanation, for the sake of not cluttering up the playpen even more, to be found here:
at 21:22 on 14-03-2015, Cheriola
Oh, by the way, as far as I remember, there were one or two other asexual people on this board. You might want to check out the novel “Dust” by Elizabeth Bear. It’s a kind of mash-up between “run-down generation ship populated by transhuman mutants” type scifi and Arthurian-style chivalrous romance. The characterizations and plot are a bit thin (in keeping with the style of medieval heroic questing epics, I suppose), but the interesting world building makes up for it. One of the two protagonists is asexual – and I don’t mean, “she doesn’t have a sex scene, so I can headcanon her that way”, I mean the character clearly states that she doesn’t want to have sex with her love interest because she’s “fallow” and no, she’s not going to change that part of her herself (she could - transhumanism) just because her beloved is horny. The other protagonist seems to be pansexual with a stated preference for cis women, though the only sex scene in the book is a brief “you’re hot, so why not?” kind of fling between her and an intersex person who identifies mostly as male. The asexuality of the first protagonist seems to be there partly to avoid squick (the protagonists who fall in love are genetically half-sisters, even if they never met before the beginning of the book), and partly for the sake of mythological allusion (the asexual character is a ‘knight errant’ named Ser Percival), but still, it’s the best intentional depiction of my sexuality / gender combination that I’ve ever seen. Not that there’s much competition, of course.
at 21:17 on 14-03-2015, Cheriola
I just read the news, and I actually shed a few tears. Never did that before for a person I’ve never met. But I’m one of those readers on whom his books had a lot of influence in terms of worldview and values, having gotten to them at an early teenage age, but at a point when the series had already moved on from the early fantasy parodies to social commentary. (I swear, he must have been the most effective teacher of secular humanist ethics of our age. I mean, how many people will read a dry philosophical treatise? But sneak it into an entertaining story and season it with humour, and you can reach a whole generation or two.) And like Robinson, I was still waiting for every new book, even if a few of the latest ones didn’t quite work for me. Still, “Good Omens”, “Small Gods” and “Monstrous Regiment” will always be among my Top 10 books, and I don’t remember actively disliking any of his books that I’ve read. It probably also doesn’t help that he always reminded me a bit of my father (passed away some 15 years ago), in both looks and general attitude. So it kind of feels like I lost a distant, but wise and entertaining uncle.

Though it wasn’t just the ethical education, or even the fact that listening to the audiobooks for the 5th time reliably helps me distract myself during phases of bad depression and anxiety, but also that he was so refreshingly uninterested in romance subplots. He may never have identified any of his characters as asexual / aromantic (or have any other non-hetero characters until rather recently), but there were quite a few major characters and protagonists who simply showed no interest, or were completely oblivious, or were just plain too busy for any kind of romance. And even the books with romance subplots kept that part to a minimum or snarked about it. In a world where all other authors apparently have to establish their male protagonists as NOT A VIRGIN and always ready to judge the attractiveness of any woman they meet, and books with female protagonists apparently can’t do without one or more love interests to swoon over, and where all the spares have to be paired up in the end, just breaking that mold on a regular basis is already worth a lot. I’m grateful that I had some 30-odd Discworld and other novels to go through as a teenager, long before I knew asexuality was a thing and that I wasn’t alone. His sheer productivity as an author managed to balance out everything else I read, and helped me feel… normal. (It’s not that I don’t enjoy a good romance subplot. I do. The problem of erasure comes in if there are never any teenage or adult characters who don’t fall in love or have a string of affairs.)

I don’t know if I should be glad that he passed peacefully and apparently before his condition got unbearable mentally, or be sad that he didn’t get to make his stand on the issue of assisted suicide as he had planned. (One of my grandmothers had Alzheimer’s – I don’t have any memories of her as anything but in a basically vegetative state. My mother has told me years ago that she’s planning on committing suicide if she ever gets diagnosed. That’s not legal in my country either, though.)

I’m mostly just sad that the world (and his family) was robbed of this brilliant human far too early.

“So much universe, and so little time,” indeed.
at 10:10 on 14-03-2015, Craverguy
I haven't read any Pratchett for years, but what I realised this week was that I've still read more books by him than any other author,

This is true for me as well, although I admit I haven't read nearly as many of his books as Andy.

Truthfully, I think the only other author whose works affected me as deeply as Pratchett's was Gore Vidal. Despite not having kept up with the Discworld of late, I'm very, very sad to see him go.
at 16:59 on 13-03-2015, Andy G
I feel very close to your own thoughts, Arthur. I haven't read any Pratchett for years, but what I realised this week was that I've still read more books by him than any other author, at least 40, maybe 50. What a lot of people have said, and I I feel exactly the same way, is that they were very strongly influenced by him in terms of their development of their reading tastes and ways of thinking about things. Personally, I always felt drawn mostly to the fantastical and wistful side to his writing rather than the humour, though he is mostly being remembered as a humourist. Even though it's been a while since I felt drawn to read him, I do feel really grateful for all the entertaining and thought-provoking reading he gave me over the years.
at 21:06 on 12-03-2015, Melanie
Sad news indeed. He'll be sorely missed.
at 18:36 on 12-03-2015, Robinson L
His final tweets are ... eminently appropriate.

I'll be posting a memorial piece on my livejournal later today, but I want to say here that I, for one, am still deeply immersed in my Pratchett phase more than a decade on, and most of my family are the same. I find his more recent works increasingly hit and miss, but that his hits were still top notch.

I don't have any "helped me through a dark place" stories relating to Pratchett, but I have a lot of fond memories reading him or listening to audiobooks together with family. And for myself - only a tiny handful of authors have managed to hook me into their stories to the same level as Pratchett, or even come close.

Many tears, and even more love.