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Oblique Reviews #11
The following story and how nasty I feel compelled to be in reviewing it makes me think that there’s REALLY something to Don’t Like Don’t Read, and that as someone this story isn’t ‘for’, I have no business commenting on it. This may be an unfamiliar argument to you if you’re not in fandom, but it often has a lot to say to the individualistic, emotionally-driven genre, which relies on and speaks to desire and affect, and doesn’t necessarily work if you don’t share its assumptions, knowledges, pleasures and value scales. This doesn’t necessarily make it Bad Literature. Think of the point about how you’d read Macbeth if you didn’t know of it as MACBETH in Macbeth Murder Mystery, or the dated but interesting arguments about cultural contexts in Shakespeare in the Bush.
But this story and other’s like its’ influence are all over this pairing, including in fics that speak a lot more to me, so ultimately I feel I do have to slog through “The Field of Human Conflict” and think about why I ‘Don’t Like’ this to the moon and back. Plus, I’m sure that in its day it got a lot of positive feedback from people it did work for: just look at how many fics share its core misapprehensions and affect. There are certainly imitators! So one very angry review can’t really erase the effect it had in its moment, in its conversation, and thus I’m gonna be a bitch because I think, on balance, it’s necessary and forgivable to publicly be so now. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
STORY: The Field of Human Conflict
MUSE OF FIRE RESPONSIBLE: M. Fae Glasgow
HAS POOR VILA BEEN DRAGOONED INTO THIS SHITSHOW? Vila. SO MUCH Vila.
WHY ARE BLAKE AND AVON DOOMED THIS WEEK? Avon is from a hideous BDSM aristocrat family out of a Nova fic and loves Vila, really. Blake likes submission, and maybe also did it in his unremembered past, and is Crazy for the Cause. Anytime you see that capital C in narration, you in danger girl.
EDITOR’S NOTE: none
PROSE: This story is WAY too long for what it is. If you like what it’s doing, perhaps dwelling in the story is pleasure rather than pain, but I also think this one’s just formally lax, tortured by tons of epicycles of retrograde motion. Vila thinks Avon’s listing like a ship in the Sargasso Sea. Bitch what? This dome-bred dudesman thinks in nautical metaphors in his POV? Why the Sargasso exactly? This is like that time we roasted poor Tara in writer’s workshop for ‘like a Prufrock mermaid’. Never has a ‘how so?’ been so brutal.
Good line about ‘light spilling in with him like a chuckling friend’. Undercut, however, by two uses of the word ‘light’ in immediately successive sentences. Unnecessary word repetitions are little doors that let the devil in.
I rolled my eyes so hard at ‘who gets to pay [for dinner]?’/ ‘I’ll pay the price, Vila. I ALWAYS PAY!!’ that I have done myself an injury.
… ‘in prevention of whatever noose that was slowly strangling Avon.’ ??? Also that is a weird use of ‘canker’. Hiccoughs is the fruitiest possible spelling of that word, like foetus. ‘Making mountains out of molehills’, but the molehills are nipples. … ‘Pap’. Fingers ‘paddle in the faint dewing of moisture beading Avon’s chest.’ I’m stopping this now. The paragraph continues horrifying, but I shan’t.
OVERALL: Once again we get the collective hallucination that Blake is OBSESSED with Star One, rather than perhaps overly keen on this plan and reckless, but still pursuing a wide variety of tactics and canonically willing to be swayed at the very pitch and moment of his action by the sudden appearance of a greater threat. I blame
1) the bad BBC compilation tapes with their mad editing for rather compressing Blake, and
2) group-think (more people knew the canon via zines than via the canon, and rewatching could be hard given the availability of the material–but even so, you don’t see Suzan Lovett playing off-key!).
Boucher does try to retcon a little of this obsession theme in with Star One, but nothing can erase how the Liberator crew had few objections to the plan circa Pressure Point, and indeed even in the lead-up to the finale. Avon’s random flail for a different version of the plan circa Goth could not possibly have been more poorly-delivered if he wished to convince Blake, and doesn’t amount to a staunch and developed humanitarian Anti-Star One argument, no matter how much of an Avon partisan you are.
Plus, I don’t think we can understand the episode Star One’s claims that many people will die due to this action in isolation from the rest of the series. Why would we? We know the Federation has planet-killing weaponry and is happy to use it on Albion. Fuck-tons of people are dying under the Federation, and will continue to do so, perhaps at advancing rates as stuff like the Albion bomb gets more widely distributed. It’s telling that ‘well-informed about space shit’ Blake, Avon and Jenna haven’t heard of this one before. That and some of the dialogue in Countdown imply it’s recent, and there’s no reason it shouldn’t spread. Later the Federation will also marshal seriously threatening biochemical weapons, which we must presume to be in development as early as S1, given the time-table of large-scale Federation technical projects–think the unsuccessful Aquitar and the several abandoned research initiatives they run across. Elviaprose points out that as early as Project Avalon the Federation is also testing a vicious, lethal, short-range biochemical weapon that could feasibly scale up.
Therefore the choice to destroy Star One is a balancing act, and a gamble we’re explicitly told by Travis in Control that countless rebel cells have tried to take: THIS IS NOT EVEN BLAKE’S PERSONAL IDEA. People will also die from the Liberator crew NOT doing this. We know that: it’s the foundational, establishing, perpetually-reinforced core of the text.
And in the end, it doesn’t even matter (as the song goes). As Toby Hadoke says ought to always happen in Who in DWM, the script saves the Doctor. Star One was already breaking down, and in Aftermath we learn aliens finished it off. Ergo, Blake and co. bear no personal responsibility in the destruction of the computer system, and in fact ultimately acted to prevent it.
THIS is why every. fucking. fic. that wants to LAMBAST Blake over his terrrrrible failureeeeeee, morally and practically (which… you’re going to have to give me some fucking canon evidence of, given that Rumors of Death explicitly does not support the reading that the world fell apart after Star One was destroyed–Avon LAMPSHADES that shit for you), in re: Star One is fundamentally stupid. Or rather–such a fic is a marked AU, and I want that fic to do the decent thing and acknowledge this, and to be thoughtful about this choice, and to be doing it for a reason and getting something out of it. Because as ‘just a reading’, Blame Blake Alone For Star One And Apocalyptic Fallout, Cite Insane Megalomania is conspiracy-theory levels of mmmmmkay. I know this is, again, a mass hallucination like a decade of fic writers subscribed to, but it’s patently incorrect in like eight fucking ways and I’m not entertaining it seriously, sorry. If fanon was my freshman I’d fail it and not even feel bad.
Plus it’s boring as a fic-topic. B O R I N G. ‘You’re so craaaaaazy and baaaaaad, Blake, you’re such a baaaaad mannnnnnnn!! You have Gone! Too! Far! Why couldn’t you just be like, a Liberal and l dunno, sad about Mutoids? 😦 😦 ‘ Gag me with a spoon like it’s 1992 and Oblique is still coming out.
It’s not that I don’t want morally ambivalent protagonists doing morally ambivalent things. But that can be done well–like Bryn Lantry’s Puppeteer, perhaps, or some Vanessa Mullen fic– or poorly, and as an angst source Star One is a disease-ridden cow that’s been milked until her teats have cracked, bled and ultimately dried up.
It’s not even as if this fic is unfairly bearing the brunt of my disdain. This is always what I feel about this Mad Blake subgenre, and this is a fairly egregious example thereof. I had to fight through this fic like I was in fucking Things They Carried. Now I’m out but there’s a necklace of skulls around my throat and I’ve *changed*.
The material could stand to be substantially compressed. This entire fic is a tense battle of witlessness that thinks it’s more morally and politically engaging than it is. God it’s exhausting. It’s like watching Death Note, basically. Actually all Oblique is a bit Death Note.
The circular arguments go on and ON, without new ground being covered–I don’t feel the frisson, but maybe this fic is staging argument as kink? Because we’re just lavishly dwelling on these nonfrontations. It’s not working as banter for me, if that’s what’s supposed to be happening–there’s not enough propulsive movement or enough variation in subtopic, and there aren’t any jokes. The story sometimes lets its characters voice frustration with these endless, static arguments, but the plot never rescues the cast from them. Some Dante’s Inferno shit there.
DarkPast child sexual abuse again. The way this gets used in Oblique fics as decoration/woobification material/an Explanation for Avon consistently skeeves me. This is, not unrelatedly, also an Alpha Elite story by any other name.
YET ANOTHER random whiplashy ‘Avon and Vila have fucked for years, you don’t need evidence, they’ve known each other significantly before both turning up on the London’ production from Glasgow! HONESTLY!! You can’t just surprise party that??
God the unsexiness of Vila rolling this tube of lube down his body through his chest hair. LETTING IT COME TO REST IN THE LUSHNESS OF HIS PUBIC HAIR. Stop fandom, I want to get off.
Some foreskin description–I thank G-d every day that as an American Jewish woman I have never known this horror. Truly we are a chosen people.
I just–think this fic honestly believes that Blake canonically treats Vila worse than others do and worse than he treats others, and that Avon canonically treats Vila particularly well. I do not know how it has come to this conclusion. Over the series Avon and Vila indeed become friends, to the point that Orbit represents an important and meaningful betrayal of their relationship and Avon’s character growth alike. But Avon does demonstrate and negotiate with class prejudice, which can conflict with but is not wholly and automatically negated by his developing respect and affection for Vila. Making him out to be some kind of gruff Pollyanna who never truly gave Vila shit is just odd as fuck.
Blake’s arc is reactive and unbodied in this: he has no emotional through-line beyond doing what’s necessary to evoke Avon-feelings.
Oblique is so so big on associating sex with shame and sin. That’s like, its underlying premise. You have to take it very seriously for a lot of the florid ‘oh no, I mustn’t!’ plots to cohere. But if that’s just not your paradigm, what could be erotic becomes ridiculous, and these fics aren’t willing to do the work to bring you into that eroticism, or to do what it takes to be self-justifying as narratives in the absence of that kink-effect. Obviously I have not escaped Western Culture, right, and so I do In Some Way associate sex with these things. But you can’t just say SHAME!! to have me rolling on the floor in unbridled lust, it’s not RIGHT THERE for me as a kink. I’d need a story that worked on its own merits, even if that was not MY KINK, and like, an access ramp into its emotional realities.
Instead I get: OH NO WOULD AVON AGAIN BE SUCKED DOWN INTO THE MIASMA OF GENETICALLY TAINTING EVIL SEX BY THIS SESSION OF SPANKING???? Man spanking is vanilla ice cream with maaaaybe chocolate sprinkles and wholly disassociated with this epic Miltonian struggle for the soul you’re staging. The murder of millions and fucking *spanking* are butt-cheek by jowl in this fic, as though there is any commonality whatever between them. I must be Charlie Brown because I can’t stand it.
It’s also a bit–bdsm/kink practice as moral judgement on person? And kink does say things about your psychology, sure, but those things are varied and complex. I really don’t think the story means to so directly associate liking hard subbing or the reverse with weakness or moral failure–that it does so is just a sort of a side-effect of this era of fandom’s exploration of kink? Kink must be made, here, to function in the story as significant, and I admit there’s a power to kink in this era that ‘casual bdsm is just a part of my lifestyle’ modern Thorki or whatever lacks. It’s a little like the POWER and menace of queerness in Hitchcock versus the mundanity of queerness in “Stonewall” (film, not event). Yet the meaning people assign kink in Oblique really only falls into a few kind of reductive camps, and as there is modern fic that uses bdsm to serious and exploratory character effect and gets good results doing so, I’m not really ultimately missing the PITCH of even the better Oblique BDSM?
In some ways the fixation on bloodlines in this fic is really 19th century gothic. A genre I like. But not here.
Avon totally doesn’t consider pragmatic responses to his situation. We don’t even hear why he thinks he can’t tell Vila about his secret evil sexpast. A friend says, “I think in a way the pragmatism would heighten the sense of potential terror or helplessness”. She mentioned the part of Dombey and Son when Carker’s about to die. That sounds right to me: when you’re FREAKED OUT your planning becomes weaker, but incessant, impossible to shut down. You have to keep feeling the walls of your cage.
‘the voice dropping to the caste-less urchinese of the Service grades’ So I know Glasgow thinks A/V is purer than B/A or whatever because it’s like, surpassing class boundaries and healing the characters’ (but especially Avon’s) darkpasts and shit. But there is all kinds of fetishising of poverty up in here. I don’t know QUITE what to say about all this because obviously I read a fuck ton of Dickens and that gives you a lot of Down Amongst the Poors, and I’m sure that his work sometimes functioned and functions in reception as a kind of voyeuristic class tourism. And we should totally care what lower-class existence is like in imagined futures, and not obsess over elite subjectivity at its expense. But at the same time I feel this doesn’t actually depart from obsessing over elite subjectivity, it just cathects class as kink and burns the candle at both ends. While this is an annoying way to depict poshness, it’s also an annoying and possibly reprehensible way to depict lower-class subjects.
STORY: Flow Gently, Sweet Afton
MUSE OF FIRE RESPONSIBLE: Leigh Graham
HAS POOR VILA BEEN DRAGOONED INTO THIS SHITSHOW? Soolin
WHY ARE BLAKE AND AVON DOOMED THIS WEEK? Blake is a manipulative rebel with no feelings, unable or unwilling to make provision for his lover/a scientist he wants to recruit’s children, because he’s Gotten Hard, even though Avon doesn’t seem to have liked him better softer in days of yore/softness also seems like a thing Avon would bitch about. Avon wants to protect himself and children from Blake and have access to Orac for protection. No one has any feelings I particularly understand. Reactions seem a bit unreal.
EDITOR’S NOTE: none
PROSE: not bad
OVERALL: What is the fucking point? This story could and would have been a lot better if the emotional through-line were allowed to shape it and give its consequences and choices weight. As-is there are like 4 separate bits of story and I want each of them to be doing something more than they are. And mind-wipe plots are not in and of themselves clever and high-consequences in this canon: you can’t just say that and accrue gravitas.
STORY: For A’ That
MUSE OF FIRE RESPONSIBLE: M. Fae Glasgow
HAS POOR VILA BEEN DRAGOONED INTO THIS SHITSHOW? Vila
WHY ARE BLAKE AND AVON DOOMED THIS WEEK? Because Avon has some on-going thing with Vila and Blake is too posh for life–yes, the same Blake that every other fucking fic in this nice of the fandom wants to call a rough simpleton compared to shining, classy Avon, because Oblique wants to have its cake and eat it too like it’s a fucking human centipede. It always feels so opportunistic and convenient when Oblique fics decide that Blake is posh and out of touch with Real America, given that this isn’t their normal reading at all, they just used it as yet another damn thing to be annoyed with Blake about. It’s like idiot manchild/Machiavelli Blake: the inconsistent yet persistent dichotomy all over again.
EDITOR’S NOTE: cutesey/every time this zine mentions the Incredible Scottishness of Author (who I think may be like, Californian irl), I think about Celtic Fetishism as an 80s/90s wave and how inherently dodgy it is
PROSE: well–better than usual with Glasgow, maybe, but I can’t shake the feeling that the way it wants to use dialect is classist (and of course when Blake shows up he speaks NOTHING like himself)
OVERALL: * Right, so this is part II (the earlier part had no Blake, but I read it) of a novel, basically. I read the first half of p1 and skimmed the rest, and then I skimmed this, because I–was not having much fun with it. This temporal set-up is actually GREAT? Post-Control, stuck on earth–very unusual! We end up with Avon and Vila hiding out in Vila’s family/hood, pretending to be married. The Celebration of Delta Life actually feels classist?You get INCREDIBLE DELTAN FIDELITY, which, ok–how does the commonality of prostitution interact with marriage respectability? Not saying this can’t be a cohesive social system, more–I’d like to see that. Sometimes you can feel narrative kink, and I feel like this is sort of–getting off on the Dickensian shambles-ness? Idk, IS that any ideologically creepier than Revisiting Brideshead with all this fandom’s Alpha fetishism? But it does feel odd, like reading The Chimes as kink. And Avon and Blake are from the Edwardian era.
* Some good points: Avon makes houses look dirty, hah. Old people should pat Avon on the butt more often.
* In this part I can feel a ‘Blake sucks’ coming in the air tonight, oh lord, but like, if Deltas are routinely harvested for organs the system must burn and I’m pretty much 10000% pro-Blake in that case. Idk, these fic twist themselves in /knots/ trying to have their cake and eat it too–incredibly oppressed Vila, incredibly sympathetic woobie Avon, incredibly wrong Blake. A lot of the time these preconditions render the other state impossible? You can’t have these things co-exist by WANTING them all. SURE ENOUGH, later Blake is like, omg fucking up the Great Planned Delta Revolution… somehow. And yes there are conflicting factions in any revolution, and yes class, intersectionality, etc etc. But this doesn’t feel like a story that’s actually interested in that interplay, so much as a story willing to use pretty much anything to construct Blake as clueless and shit. Which is a bit equivalent to Chosen Savior-ing, in that it renders the underclass merely a means of proving a point about the outsider? Here a negative one, which makes the gesture potentially less toxic, but.
* That said: this is at least a fairly committed story, in general. The OCs, atmosphere and arc all do more work than a lot of these. I respect that effort. HOWEVER, Avon generally Knows Shit about how the Federation works (‘These are crack troops’ on Albion–how the *fuck* would he know? ‘Le Grande is one of the honest ones’ –what’d you do, read the wiki?). You could claim that’s unearned, but it is canon. I’d need the lacunae in his knowledge better-defined herein in order to believe that, given his otherwise being well-informed, he doesn’t know the basics of Delta living conditions.
* ‘The burning rain and the poisonous mists out-Dome’–but we SEE rebels drinking the water in Way Back? This isn’t how a water system works? Maybe there’s some localized Silent Spring bs. And why is Vila so surprised about organ-harvesting in S3 if it’s really common where he’s from? Does this fic generally suffer from having little access to the canon?
* The great Moral Moment of Vila lecturing on p9 could be carried off better. Idk, it can feel like bullying to ask Glasgow why she’s not Lovett or something. Avon’s not sufficiently conscious in this story of how a lot more people are dying because there are more raids, so thus because of him. He’s responsible, indirectly, for the child’s death, and he’s strangely–unaware of that? No feelings/thoughts on that score? He’s not stupid, so idk why. It’s like the story fails to quite follow through here. There ARE arguments to be made that his life IS more important because of what capturing him would result in (the Federation having access to two new kinds of tech, for example), but they’re not being made.
* Avon’s weirdly passive in P1. Sure, that’s his situation, but also I feel like he’d be /doing something/. I guess that happens so that he can buck the trend a bit in this installment, but even so. All through P1, though, I wondered who the fuck do Deltas steal FROM in this arrangement, and how? (Why’s the *ship* described as Alpha?) Gamma privilege? What? Also–we have not seen any Deltas employed in work thus far? Idfk. This wants to be a story about class and economy, but this economy ultimately works about as well as the one in Harry Potter, so maybe choose a different focus, because I have so many questions.
* The end with Blake is kind of–simultaneously extra crap and weirdly nice.
STORY: Fugue, Parts 1 & 2
MUSE OF FIRE RESPONSIBLE: Jane Baron
HAS POOR VILA BEEN DRAGOONED INTO THIS SHITSHOW? —
WHY ARE BLAKE AND AVON DOOMED THIS WEEK? ultimately they can and should be together and understanding that they need one another’s full personality and intelligence as well as just comfort/someone to love/each other for sex is the whole point of the fic. I KNOW. IN OBLIQUE!!
EDITOR’S NOTE: almost just–informational??
PROSE: I’m fine with it.
OVERALL: fuck it I think Fugue’s great I’m sorry
STORY: Fugue, Part 3
MUSE OF FIRE RESPONSIBLE: Jane Baron
HAS POOR VILA BEEN DRAGOONED INTO THIS SHITSHOW? —
WHY ARE BLAKE AND AVON DOOMED THIS WEEK? ditto
EDITOR’S NOTE: fruity as fuck, back on form
PROSE: I’m fine with it.
OVERALL: I’m really sorry
(I’m not talking about this in DETAIL because I’d need a whole post that’s just—what I think Fugue is doing and why it’s working when it could SO not)