Oblique Reviews #6

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

I only have four more Oblique fics left to read, and I can TASTE the light at the end of the tunnel. It tastes like freedom.

I got an email from a friend that I think it meet to respond to here:

“I have been really enjoying this Oblique reads thing you’re doing.  I had some vague notion that I sort of understood the basics of fandom/fanwriting, and I’m enjoying finding out how wrong I was!”

I winced, because I felt a bit shanda fur die goyem (and man, I do not exactly think it’s an accident that the semi-closed interpretive communities of fandom have had me running into so many other Jewish women and people with graduate degrees (often overlapping categories, but either way we’re talking seriously disproportionate demographics here): femme talmudic commentary and kibbitzing ahoy–it’s always been a major issue in Jewish communities that you culturally (genetically, if you’re wanky) select for a set of traits for all children, and give men a way of using those to the fullest and women… less so).

Oblique isn’t the picture of fandom I’d want him or anyone to take away for several reasons. While it’s super typical of its era of fic cliches in a way, or at least of one major school of that era (contrasted with the afore-referenced Floods of Tears), it’s very of its moment, and doesn’t necessarily speak  well of current or overall production. Fandom, both in B/A terms and considered as a gestalt, has really inherited traits from Oblique, but these have been counterbalanced, not just by Floods-descendants or a compromise between the schools but also by alternate and discrete sources of influence and traditions.

If I were to say ‘why is fandom worth doing?’ or \what truly great work has this subsection thereof produced?’, you could do worse than Katy and Molly’s 77+ Favourite A/B and A-B Stories. I don’t agree with every choice they’ve made and the list hasn’t been updated to reflect the last few years of production, but it recs a lot of valuable stories.

There’s a real challenge here in thinking about audience. A successful fanfic is not necessarily outward-facing, interesting for people outside a fandom or even outside a pairing. That is not at all the definitive yardstick of its success: so much of a given fic’s intellectual and affective work can only be engaged in once you ‘buy in’ to its premisses. We lose so much in other genres by not appreciating similar contexts: people talk about Taming of the Shrew or Titus Andronicus like they’re wholly Shakespeare’s ideas rather than engaging with them as examples of the Shrew Tamed and Revenge Tragedy genres. The lack of these frames so impoverishes conversations about these plays. I wrote my MA thesis in part on the textual strategies fanfiction and pro-fic can employ by virtue of their status: the commentaries on the textual products and their ideological assumptions they enable, the leapfrog effect they can employ, the positive virtues of polyvocality and offering, by their nature, a multiplicity of possibilities. I firmly believe that it’s facile to consider fanfic solely a stepping stone. That is a function it can at times serve, as can any literary production, but a fic is a literary production in and of itself, and the community is no ‘pretend’ literary community either.

For outward-facing fic I might recommend, per that recs list, Suzan Lovett or Judith Proctor’s work. I know I loved Vanessa Mullen’s Touching Life as a teen, and on an adult re-read it’s still strong, but without a knowledge of torture-fic as a mode I’m not sure you’ll understand how much better and more necessary this piece is than any of that. Executrix is technically uncompromising and skilled, but I’m not sure her work would give you a great idea of how the generality of fic works, of the tropes employed and affective beats being hit. I think people in the fandom should read Corngold, Elviaprose, Hafren and Aralias, but will you get how fucking great they are if you’re not aware of how fic can work, or will it miss you and come off as pap because you don’t buy-in and because we’re taught to dismiss feminine, emotional, and/or sexual work as sentimental and unnecessary, or sub-literary?

It would feel like defending Elizabeth Gaskell to people who expected to read Arthur Conan Doyle or maybe Mathew Arnold. I could get there with an Austen, Eliot or Dickens fan, maybe a Hardy person, but it’d still take degrees of translation, and the selection of an appropriate way in/means of comprehending her value. I remember reading Consolations of Philosophy (Boethius) and thinking, why the fuck did people describe this as charming? How ‘consoling’? What did charm even mean as an affective relation to someone who could say that? Immediate and recognizable, transhistorical, transcultural, uncontextualized ‘genius’ is not a real thing. Some structures, via canonicity and kyriarchy, are just so common that it is possible for idiots (again, Arnold) to believe and to rigorously defend a proposition that defies history and sense and claim otherwise. ‘Communicable and universal’ appreciation is certainly not an artistic goal to overshadow all others. Unpack the Empire, there. (We have not even touched on the narrative strategies employed by some fic and fiction authors to bring you into a world and emotional reality, and a cost/benefit analysis thereof: what a rich question for a rhetorical analysis conducted under the auspices of fan studies!)

It is enough that a thing is good, in its moment. In its place. To do well, to be neat and exact and full in thought and effort (understanding that any such effort is imperfect and contingent, but making it nonetheless), and to give that to another, even one person, is enough. It is all one can do.

I have an ambivalent relationship with Nova, whose work I often enjoy, but who I can sometimes find a little ripe for my taste, and who can foreground her work’s cleverness in a way I’m not sure its substance always fully rewards. I have deeply enjoyed Willa Shakespeare and Shimere in my time, and could write a nuanced defence of both and what they’re doing, but that’s the trouble–I feel they’d need defending, and that what they do that works is almost incomprehensible to outsiders, and sometimes even within this community. Aralias isn’t a big Shimere person, for example, whereas Elviaprose just GETS her. They have a similar Aline divide. This was, if I recall, a source of some debate between the two writers when they were putting the rec list together (well, as much ‘debate’ as Elviaprose ever offers, which is to say: mildest principled disagreement, Aralias being mule-stubborn, both comparatively and as a general fact).

So yes, with a nod to the fanlore B/A page as context, that’s what I might say to someone looking in from outside about Oblique as a representation of this pairing or fandom. It’s interesting–people not involved often have the idea that fandom is small beer, that it works, textually and culturally, something like the ‘make your own Star Trek crew’ drafts they passed between friends back in the day. To an extent there’s a kinship there, but actually, fandom is fairly vast, and is frankly a far bigger and more active scene than SFF publishing, now. The annual small-fandom Yuletide challenge, one of many such festivals, has been running 13 years and easily pulls in tens of thousands of views. A popular fic in a megafandom might get 396,307 (Marvel Avengers), 501,867 (Teenwolf), or even 883,743 (Supernatural–often taken as a sort of exemplary fandom because a disproportionate number of fan studies scholars come from it, but in many ways a very atypical fandom) hits. Fandom gets covered like it’s new or small: this is a little like if magazines annually ‘discovered’ football. There are lots of histories and subcultures and geographic differences to account for–translation is a big deal and active practice, for example, I primarily work in smaller fandoms and even I’ve been translated like a dozen times that I know about. There’s FFN, Wattpad, Ao3, etc., all with their own cultures. “It was announced on 31 October 2016 that AO3 [alone] had 1 million registered users, 2,615,000 works spread across 22,970 fandoms. [29]” So what we can say about Oblique as representational is thus limited: it was perhaps more important stylistically than a lot of people not interested in the trajectory out of zine era realise, and gives us some of the current skillsets we use when we encounter and begin to ‘fanfictionalise’ a text (for better and for worse), but it is simultaneously a drop in this wide-reaching, varied ocean.

***

STORY: If Only I Could
MUSE OF FIRE RESPONSIBLE: A. L. Hughes
HAS POOR VILA BEEN DRAGOONED INTO THIS SHITSHOW? actually a b/a fic, just via other people
WHY ARE BLAKE AND AVON DOOMED THIS WEEK? Blake has no penis
EDITOR’S NOTE: tee-hee jokes about Blake’s having no penis
PROSE: not the problem is it
OVERALL:

Ways I can imagine to emotionally and sexually satisfy someone and yourself without a penis: millions, I am lesbian.
How seriously I take the VERY SERIOUS PROBLEM!! of this fic: …
My tolerance for people not including discussions of advanced future medicine in their B7 Disability As Narrative Punishment/Relationship Obstacle fic: growing less with the years

STORY: Incipit
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 Blake is deluded and dangerous and Avon is TOO COOL FOR SCHOOL (eugh) but also a woob but also ICE COLD but also god you know what fuck it
EDITOR’S NOTE: feels like beginning of Torchwood or something
PROSE: oh god the Vila dialogue
OVERALL: In someone else’s hands I’d describe this as three intelligent people who think REALLY differently, but I don’t think we’re supposed to see this Blake as anything but a deluded moron Avon might well fall for despite the blazing rightness of his contempt for Blake. I think probably Glasgow believes Vila is allowed to be The Voice of Reason here, and to be righter than Avon, but not in any ways that actually–threaten Avon, as Blake is casually threatened here? I hate sort of–false conditions to call people on, it’s like that Davros ‘you make people killersssssss, Doctor!!’ shit when actually that is a false flag, or at best a THOUSANDTH part of the structural issues with the show/character at that point. I’ve talked about the False Call-Out before. And actually Vila here ‘undermines’ Avon in ways that only serve to highlight Avon’s Specialness? Also, sometimes Glasgow does this thing with Blake pining after Avon that I like in a guilty pleasure way, but it often goes on too long?

STORY: In Medias Res
MUSE OF FIRE RESPONSIBLE: M. Fae Glasgow
HAS POOR VILA BEEN DRAGOONED INTO THIS SHITSHOW? Vila
WHY ARE BLAKE AND AVON DOOMED THIS WEEK? Vila loves Avon, who apparently loves Blake, and Blake loves Avon, but like. Politics. Machismo. Side-hos. I don’t fucking know.
EDITOR’S NOTE: pointless/like bad ad copy
PROSE: ‘carefully, with such carefilled caution’; not sure about caressing skin in sweet gyres; Avon is tired of Vila’s ‘crap’; ‘that vague compliment hardened under the danger of Vila’s youth’ what?/have we time-traveled, then? Friend ain’t young. ‘saying the dirty taboos that made Vila shiver in his arms’ I don’t think you can use taboos like that; I hate ‘cum’ as a spelling
OVERALL: Being dumped into the start of this sex scene with no run-up, as per the title, only serves to remind me forcibly of how similar all the fics with this dynamic (Blake foolishly wishes to give Avon love he does not need, or love he does not need from him) are. In being perpetually frustrated with these stories and frustrated with Avon, their guiding emotional light (even if this is a fairly unfair representation of him), I suppose I as a reader am perpetually stuck in a sort of ‘Blakeish’ reception position, wondering why the story and the character won’t just do something sensible and productive, something I want. The stories are particularly unsympathetic to Blake, and perhaps also to that urge: I feel them arrayed against me as reader.

For all the anti-fluff ‘pragmatism’ of these stories and their occasional gestures at pros of staying/cons of leaving, they never really provide a good explanation as to why Avon stays, and they especially don’t accomplish their objective of making that blameless, of having Blake be enormously in the wrong and Avon totally not culpable.

‘Play with me and you shall be running a higher risk than anything Servalan could ever dream of.’ Leaving aside for a moment that this sentence doesn’t really work, it’s weird that all these Oblique fics think this is like, True? Listen. Blake’s been through a mindwipe and the Federation does genocide. No amount of Avon’s bitch-needs-psychoanalysis Grindr fuckery is ‘worse’ or ‘darker’ than Space Nazis. Thank you, good day.

More bs bants, just staaahp, this is some cheeky Nandos level shit.

Blake is like, a child who’s never heard of dating in this (and fics like it) for some reason, and is the prototype for all the ‘he’s just not that into you’ women. He also is comically silly!! in this for thinking Avon had an abuse background when really he had a loving childhood, but given that that’s true in EVERY OTHER OBLIQUE FIC WITH THE SAME CHARACTERISATION, this feels like a cheap trick. Again, the reader and Blake are both ridiculous!! for falling into the trap!! of reading this like… we’re expected to read fucking everything else.

AGAIN Avon and Vila have known each other for years, Vila having been Avon’s servant during university. That relationship never shows through in the canon narrative, but oh well. (I’d take it as a one-off with some explanation, but as an easy reoccurring trope it’s maddening.) This romantic relationship is so fucking unhealthy for Vila, but all the narratives where Avon’s using Vila as a cuddly cumbucket don’t think Avon’s a bad person for using him (while definitely wanting that moral charge for Blake), or that Vila should get a life and the fuck out. I don’t need characters to be nice people or for narratives to lay a moralistic judgment on the wicked, but I do need these narratives not to exercise moral judgment within and upon the text in wildly incoherent, variable, unethical ways. The Author needs to die like woah.

The author, on the other hand, obviously likes Vila much better than Blake, which is cool, whatvevs, but the way Vila is treated in all these is just abjectly disrespectful–he embodies his kicked dog class position whole-heartedly, venerating this example of Alpha bullshit before him. Any criticality he displays is thoroughly undercut by the fact that he’s always driven by this need to slavishly love Avon with little or no fucking gumption or real criticality. He can occasionally be like, my opinion of him is not perfect, I love him warts and all, but ffs he’s never going to DO anything about this unrelenting demeaning treatment, so it’s just that Bakhtin model of the carnivalesque actually sustaining the oppressive regime. It’s all show-criticism, there to be subdued.

There’s not enough of a marker of the passage of time between the two sex scenes.

We get a little Vila end section, where he Knows All. I hate this shit. It’s meant to build Vila into a credible authority with a different perspective who’s Actually Wiser than the Others, but it all feels like Paul Darrow’s awful ‘cover the series’ novels, where someone’s like ‘BUT DID BLAKE KNOW THERE WERE WOMEN AND CHILDREN IN THAT SAURIAN MAJOR BASE? HMMMM??’ and it’s like… that’s explicitly said not to be the case in-show, you can’t invent extra shit out of whole cloth in order for the others to be wrong (while ‘your’ character remains Somehow Blameless), you have to in some way engage with this universe as it’s presented to us. Vila talks here about how destroying Star One will literally blow up Earth. Well… it doesn’t. In the show. So. ???? Also WHY does Vila ‘know’ this shit and not them? And if he knows and doesn’t object, or if ‘they wouldn’t listen’ (??), and he doesn’t act to obstruct or sabotage what he alone knows will be or sees as a genocide… that’s on him. Perhaps MORESO than on the people who did not have this information? ??????????

Why does this fic have to justify Avon stealing money by saying the Federation Wronged Him Out Of His Inheritance?? Sweet mother of god, as if capital in this universe wasn’t going to be suspect in its acquisition however it was come into, and as if c/ping Victorian or protestant rhetorics of Good Nobility/the Good Wealthy wasn’t dodgy and awkward in this setting.

I don’t know why they have Wagner in this century, but it’s fucking fitting that an Oblique Avon would listen to it, innit.

This structure works so EXACTLY like Glasgow’s other A/V/B set on the London with this POV split down to the micro-arguments, which unfortunately is: the one listed immediately above, now this shit’s in alphabetical order.

STORY: In Vino Veritas
MUSE OF FIRE RESPONSIBLE: M. Fae Glasgow writing as Cally Donia
HAS POOR VILA BEEN DRAGOONED INTO THIS SHITSHOW? Vila
WHY ARE BLAKE AND AVON DOOMED THIS WEEK? Avon is ‘terrifyingly, frighteningly’ attracted to Blake, but Blake’s Cause, and Vila is easier. Blake is a player, and maybe straight, as well?
EDITOR’S NOTE: freedom
PROSE: I find these all really hard to get through. Like, my brain slides off them and I have to MAKE MYSELF read. They also do real, kind of lasting damage to my love for/interest in this pairing. They make me not want to write, that’s for sure, and they make me question fandom as an enterprise, even though I can muster logical defences for it.

Is ‘not by a long chalk’ Avon-appropriate? I feel like it’s not, quite. Vila’s miles too cockney in this one.

OVERALL: So this is an ‘I wake up–what did I do last night?! Was it Blake?? Oh, it’s Vila next to me! *they shag again*’ story. It ought to have been two pages; it was 12. Poor man’s Sherlock Hammered tries to figure out what he did whilst wasted. This wasn’t interesting when I was in uni and it was my best friends doing the sussing. It is not more interesting eight years on.

STORY: Lovers and Madmen: Ravelment
MUSE OF FIRE RESPONSIBLE: M. Fae Glasgow writing as Gael X. Ile
HAS POOR VILA BEEN DRAGOONED INTO THIS SHITSHOW? Vila
WHY ARE BLAKE AND AVON DOOMED THIS WEEK? Vila is afraid Avon might love Blake more and they both think Blake is crazy so Vila (already shagging Avon) decides to head both problems off by manoeuvring them into a threesome of sexual healing and relationship management, possibly into an ongoing triangulation.
EDITOR’S NOTE: none
PROSE: Not bad
OVERALL: I dislike how body hair features in these. I know in part this is just my strong lesbian aversion to manchebs, and that it’s weird that slash-bodies right now are vv hair-light (again, we need a collective rethinking of Joanna Russ’s claims that slash is always about m/f or f/f, in terms even of the figurations of bodies therein), but even so.

What the hell happened to the watch? They’ve ALL just left. Hope they don’t get killed while fucking.

Yet another ‘Star One is Crazy Talk!!’, which always seems like such a weak out to me.

This is a fairly okay one? I don’t precisely savour the knee-jerk undertones of impending catastrophe which seemingly MUST accompany any Oblique fic (shades of Zim: doom, doooooooom!), but no one is colossally insulted here. There’s a companion fic up next, which I’m sure will remedy that, though.s

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