Oblique Reviews #5

Oblique Reviews #1
Oblique Reviews #2
Oblique Reviews #3
Oblique Reviews #4
Oblique Reviews #5
Oblique Reviews #6
Oblique Reviews #7
Oblique Reviews #8
Oblique Reviews #9
Oblique Reviews #10
Oblique Reviews #11
SUMMARY

Another note from Aralias:

“It’s significant that Oblique Publications are (with the notable exception of Judith Proctor, who did something a bit different) the only Blake’s 7 publishing house that made everything they ever did available online for nothing. This happened around 2000-2002, and they still host that content to this day. As much as you and I may dislike what they published, they were hugely generous in doing this. They also understood, very early on, the power of the internet. I think that’s something else you can say about the pervasiveness of the style – Oblique fic was available when relatively little B/A fic was, and is still today almost the only older A/V stuff freely available on the web. No wonder the style has lasted.

Here’s some good stuff on Fanlore from a very cool interview: part of a very cool ‘oral histories of fandom’ project.”

STORY: Glass House
MUSE OF FIRE RESPONSIBLE: K. Thomas and D. D. M.
HAS POOR VILA BEEN DRAGOONED INTO THIS SHITSHOW? —
WHY ARE BLAKE AND AVON DOOMED THIS WEEK? They have been sold into prostitution for kind of believable plot reasons, but when Blake manages to get them out, they’re going to work together/very possibly be lovers.
EDITOR’S NOTE: just kind of confusing
PROSE: fine
OVERALL: This is a contained and strong execution of a fairly standard plot (unless it predates the cliche? but I don’t think so?). It’s not super ambitious, in a way, about what it asks you to believe of these characters/their relationship at this point. Avon’s reasoning is solid, not a lot of nonsense there, and Blake’s a sound Blake.

BUT: it’s also an allegory about fandom, a sort of sermon (albeit one that exists within the confines of this collection, that has its cake and eats it too and apparently isn’t intended to make you stop reading fic). Considered as a Moral Tale about the process of reading (consuming?) fic, it’s a Twilight Zone level twist!! founded on self-loathing. It’s interesting as a meta-document for research into fannish self-perception, but the strong hint of ‘or did I just blow your mind?’ makes the whole thing sophomoric. Which is interesting, because you could have a searching ethics discussion about this sort of fanfic, and this sits somewhere during The Blake’s 7 Wars, IRL. I might almost have expected more of it on that account? Because clearly those arguments were to some extent being staged contemporaneously in fannish circles.

STORY: Hauf Fun, ‘Hale Earnest
MUSE OF FIRE RESPONSIBLE: M. Fae Glasgow writing as Cally Donia
HAS POOR VILA BEEN DRAGOONED INTO THIS SHITSHOW? —
WHY ARE BLAKE AND AVON DOOMED THIS WEEK? Avon is Afraid To Feel, but mostly they actually work it out
EDITOR’S NOTE: nothing!
PROSE: ok
OVERALL: Right, so this would be a better story if someone else wrote it and included more comprehensible reasons for characters’ logistical decisions. The relationship and sex, when they come, are nice, actually, though not–stunning. The conclusion could come at the end of any fic, without this set-up. And neither Elviaprose nor I really dig the set-up.

I personally am weirded out that Avon is prepared to waste a lot of his own time on the crap joke of being better dressed than the others, when pissing their hosts off by wearing REALLY inappropriate clothing could make this mission all for nothing. I know Avon doesn’t care about the mission, but it’s his own time he’d waste/someone could EASILY get drunk and belligerent at this gathering and knife *any* of them over this, and if he’s choosing the joke over his time/that hardly-unheard-of possibility–I want at least to be in on the weighing process, in his pov or some later explanation.

And I FUNDAMENTALLY don’t believe Avon is good at that kind of thing and Blake isn’t. I do not believe for a hot second that if Avon knows about tartan, Blake does not. He’s the one who’d know the significance of tartan in the anti-imperial Jacobite struggle, etc., like, come on (even if Your Blake isn’t fucking Welsh). And even if he doesn’t know jack about tartan, if Blake’s been told it’s important to this diplomatic mission that you come in this unfamiliar form of ritual dress, he’s going to fucking ask his hosts for some specifics, or Zen-google that hard.

See also: 80s celtic fetishism. Sweet Mists of Avalon, Batman!

STORY: Head in Hands
MUSE OF FIRE RESPONSIBLE: M. Fae Glasgow
HAS POOR VILA BEEN DRAGOONED INTO THIS SHITSHOW? —
WHY ARE BLAKE AND AVON DOOMED THIS WEEK? Blake’s aged and lost all his vim, etc. Now, I was never in Star Gate, but one of their characterisation guides taught me something mighty important. It was about writing Jack/Daniel, and it said something along the lines of–Jack does not have an IMMENSE breakdown because Daniel cheated on him. The worst thing that can happen to Jack has already happened: his young son has shot himself with Jack’s own weapon, and his marriage, career/way of life and health have crumbled as a result. Jack has already been through his personal hell.

I like to bear this in mind for Blake. Because he does get worn as the series progresses, and there are betrayals, and things get bad. But even in “Blake”, Blake is still, when not in character as a bounty-hunter, largely himself: we see glints of humour, warmth and leadership. He is still animated by a deep sense of purpose. Else why all this? He doesn’t have to like it (did he ever?), but he is doing it. In part this is because the worst things that can happen to Blake have already happened. We’ve seen them happen. Blake’s lost his entire family, his friends, his well-performing Party, his job, his planet, his life, his sanity, and his very sense of self. He’s gone through torture and trauma. And after his mindwipe, Blake still recovered himself, starting to display signs of his old personality fairly quickly and then fully getting a grip after his PTSD was triggered.

So, do I particularly believe that S3 is going to be the thing to make Blake weary of rebellion, weary of life? You can make an argument for the sum total of bullshit starting to weigh him down, and another for needing a break, and another for ‘going to bounce back, but in a bad place right now’, but fundamentally: nah, I don’t. The WORST shit that can happen to Blake has happened a few times over, so probably he’s not going to hang it all up and need Avon to take the reigns and bully him back into rebellion/deal with his ennui. It’s also such an easy, dull fic trope, to rhyme with Mad Star One Blake. It throws Blake into an extreme mental state which it doesn’t much care about inhabiting in order to make Avon react, so we can focus on his feelings. It’s over-done, and it was always about producing the signature Oblique sense-of-doom rather than bringing about any given plot development or character relationship.

So yeah, Blake’s Done With Revolution, but also no, he has An Alternate Plan. This part of the story is a bit confused.

EDITOR’S NOTE: I do not wish for these chatty confessions, nor to be told the title is a Beatles lyric.
PROSE: In a way it feels more controlled and professional than I usually see from Glasgow. More–Target novelisation? Lots more setting description than is normal for her.

Needs a finer spag-edit. All those people who rave about the higher quality of zine proof-reading really are taking the dregs of FFN for a comparison-point. Being able to edit Ao3 forever is a damn blessing.

“Even Avon was seen to tuck into his meal with some enthusiasm, which was perhaps the pleasantest sight of all.”
Look I know YOU are Of Avonistan, but why are all the characters and indeed the disembodied narration?

Elviaprose and I briefly debated this turn of events:

Elviaprose: it is objectively pleasant to see Avon enjoying his meal, I’m sure. Right???
Me: …? They are all happily eating. Why is Avon’s eating more pleasing? He is grouchiest, sure, but like
Elviaprose: yeah, that’s why it’s the nicest
Me: … he’s a dick why do I care if he likes a salad. Surely Dayna, who has been pleasant and concerned about people all day, and who is far more objectively attractive, is a finer consumer of the ‘crisp vegetables’ she longs for?
Elviaprose: you HAVE to admit that seeing a grouchy person happy is especially good
Me: no, fuck em

OVERALL: There’s a Bryn Lantry fic this opening really reminds me of. I wonder which came first?

Sick and tired of all these shithole brothel planets like this galaxy is Gor and has no functioning economies. It’s so fucking #aesthetic. No one writing these knows a fucking thing about sex work, and it feels Glam and exploitative. It’s always so ‘DAAAAAMN PROSTITUTION!!’Wtf these really formal brothelsssss? You know what you want here? East End, circa turn of the century, where no one’s A Prostitute unless everyone is. Pretty much everyone is available for a bit of money, and solicitation is a verb, not a profession. You have another job where you can get it, a whole life in the community. If you’re going for like malaise and poverty and sex-work: there you go, that’s a great model.

I know there are a variety of forms of sex work, but as someone whose dad was a gay sex-worker during the AIDS crisis, I am consistently amused by slash-fandom’s PROSTITUTION! narratives. I know it’s kink, not realism, but the mind recoils as from a self-lubricating asshole. It is too much for me as a historian and as someone who knows a hawk from a Hampstead Heath. I cannot be alone in this. It’s always Moulin Rouge in these fics and never “Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis”.

Elviaprose: I think a variety of different things could work, but it never feels even a bit thought through as a scene for me. Even like—deciding something like ‘is a sensory ecstasy machine more or less valued than a person for this, and why’, ‘are the sex workers local or trafficked’, etc.”
Me: And all these fics have Blake down with the sex work, and if this is human trafficking, he is NOT.
Elviaprose: It’s also annoying when he’s anti-it, like in Avon at the Window.
Me: That one is RIDICULOUS, but born of the same issue, i.e. a Blake that knows and asks nothing about the socioeconomic contexts of the sex-work. If we know anything about Blake, we know that is his LAST problem.

I have some questions about the emotional arcs (though they’re interesting and not without satisfactions), but mostly this is a pretty good story. It’s decently written in prose terms, there’s a good verbal turn at the end, the dialogue’s okay, there’s a *point*  and pretty much all the characters fare well. Why can Glasgow do this well sometimes, and REALLY not others?

STORY: Heatstroke
MUSE OF FIRE RESPONSIBLE: M. Fae Glasgow writing as Gael X. Ile
HAS POOR VILA BEEN DRAGOONED INTO THIS SHITSHOW? no one else
WHY ARE BLAKE AND AVON DOOMED THIS WEEK? Avon makes it a bdsm thing, which Blake is fine with actually, but then Avon refuses to acknowledge it was A Big Deal, and Blake is pissed about Star One and being right
EDITOR’S NOTE: blessedly free
PROSE: florid but in a way I don’t hate tbh
OVERALL: Okay so this is actually a pretty good execution of some Not For Me well-worn fandom cliches, like ‘Blake is ka-raaazy circa/about Star One’, which I just don’t think holds up well with what we know about Control as a persistent rebel target in canon. The entry prose is way, way too into Avon’s Incredible Beauty, and the turn to bdsm stuff is a bit well-worn.

But also, I like the INTENSITY of desire in this fic, and find some of the ways of thinking about/having sex herein interesting and unusual. This is not quite Stupid Blake even as it’s a self-deluding Blake. Even though the Turn To Bad is so fucking typical and under-explained as per always in this fandom… I still like this fic, what can I say?

STORY: Hell
MUSE OF FIRE RESPONSIBLE: Adrian Alexander
HAS POOR VILA BEEN DRAGOONED INTO THIS SHITSHOW? no one else
WHY ARE BLAKE AND AVON DOOMED THIS WEEK? nope it’s fine
EDITOR’S NOTE: REALLY self-indulgent/in-jokey. Like. Really.
PROSE: good
OVERALL: Disappointingly short, because it feels like the start of a long fic/there’s some plot set-up, and then there’s no conflict? But fine.

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2 thoughts on “Oblique Reviews #5

  1. I’m not a slash fan, but I was grateful for your review of “Glass House” (as a meta-text about reading slash), as it compelled me to read the story, and I was pleasantly surprised.

    Is there any chance that you will write some reviews of B7 gen fiction as well? I would enjoy reading them.

  2. @Natasha Thanks! I may at some point write an essay on what smarm is doing in B7, but as for pure gen, I leave that to Aralias on livejournal, who does extensive zine reviews and has covered a lot of that ground (our opinions are generally close enough that I don’t think what I’d add would make it worth doing an independent project).

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