Oblique Reviews #11

Oblique Reviews #1
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Oblique Reviews #10
Oblique Reviews #11

STORY: The Things We Do for Love
HAS POOR VILA BEEN DRAGOONED INTO THIS SHITSHOW? Vila, but almost as a prop? He’s so not psychologically important to this story.
WHY ARE BLAKE AND AVON DOOMED THIS WEEK? Avon has been too sex-abused, Blake is too stupid for life.
EDITOR’S NOTE: a weird dare to leave this section alone I wish I could take
PROSE: In the initial section she can’t reconcile herself to the fact that the voyeuristic POV she’s chosen means giving up on some experiential details of the sex. She wants the frisson and surprise of the having the telling given over to an observer, but also to give readers all the details of the porn. Which–undercuts both modes, to be honest? It could have been better managed with a more omniscient narrator, capable of dipping into the three people in the room.

We’re in ‘the big rebel’ lands.

The descriptions are at times quite competent, if businesslike. ‘Cream’ and ‘lifeseed’ though. ‘The timbre of his voice was indigo velvet’. Cause with a capital C.
OVERALL: This story loses me at ‘hello’ with something about Blake, in Avon’s room prying on legit business, hiding in the closet when Avon comes in. Metaphorically it’s very slightly amusing, but come the fuck on, Roj Blake lifestyle revolutionary doesn’t hide in the closet when he believes himself to be Right and on Necessary Business. Duh. Duh! ALL THIS IN THE FIRST PARAGRAPH. WHICH IS NOT YET DONE!

Cod Freud Cally–my old nemesis. We meet again! She is here to provide a Womanly Explanation of All This. WHY IS ALIEN CALLY THE DOYEN OF THE BIG BAD UNDERBELLY OF FEDERATION SOCIETY??

Apparently Avon is SO FREE with information about his life, but Blake just won’t ask, he won’t SEE!! It’s fucking ridiculous I’m sorry. Why do such violence to Blake and Avon alike to make this story work? Key traits Blake has to lose for this story to function: perceptiveness, emotional intelligence (inconsistent but definitely something he has a lot of at times), assertiveness, pragmatism, concern for his ship/work/life/lives of his friends, resourcefulness, experience of the world, intelligence, sense of humour. BLAKE responds to Cally informing him that Vila was abandoned as a child with “but the social services–“, as if Blake has any reason whatever to trust the state. As if he doesn’t know the shit the state gets up to, and as if his entire life is not dedicated to unseating it. Even if Blake were unaware of this detail of their fuckery, it would never, ever surprise him. Glasgow brings it back a little with ‘oh he’d heard shit like this before’, but you can’t have Blake be a rube and an arse in this sense and then back-read in plausibility and THEN strip Blake’s experience out again for the next paragraph. Where was her beta??

Key traits Avon has to lose to make the story function include his general reserve or guardedness. He also wobbles between being a Metatron speaking with the Voice of God, tuned in to the authorial fiat re: how psychology works in this story, and randomly utterly unwilling to act on his own insights of a moment ago. How good was this story, that the writer wanted to strip down the characters this completely to get here? Could it have been told about anyone, really, so long as class distinctions and the bdsm frame were preserved?

It most annoys me that this fic makes awkward little stabs towards thinking seriously about Blake as a subject, and indeed marshals them into its greater project of dehumanising Blake in order to tell a story about the self-help book sexual psychology it’s so invested in. Is this really elitist of me? It’s not necessary that someone have done a lot of work on psychoanalysis to write a fucking fanfic, and what I’m demanding from them is a treatment of the subject that satisfies someone who’s read up on it to a grad school level. The demographics of earlier and current fandom have shifted, there–this education level is more common in fandom now, and in part it’s due to larger cultural shifts in the discourse and the availability of higher ed to women (the primary readers and writers in this field). I guess what I’d ask is that the stories, regardless of their era of composition, not FOCUS on this if they’re going to do it really badly: not come out swinging and didactic and complacent in their knowledge, offering one absolute solution and interpretation of people and their actions within the world they’ve created, and having that solution be this facile.

‘Somehow, it seemed worse for Avon.’ And therein lies the poisonous strain of ‘imperial woobie’ that has fucked this fandom more thoroughly than any other single thing. Vila’s been orphaned and made a child prostitute. And yet, ‘somehow’, Avon’s porcelain-throated pain is more important, don’t you see? Sadder, sexier. He’s like a poor suffering Edwardian mite, simultaneously feminised into a towered princess and in full retention of the rights and privileges of a class-coded masculine subjectivity. This may seem a stretch, but as a friend pointed out, “I think that “somehow it seemed worse” is like at the core of SO MUCH racist discourse now etc”. Exactly?

In this particular story, the ‘abuse by someone he trusted and loved’ being uniquely bad makes a kind of sense, sure. But we can’t divorce this from the whole territory of Avonistan, a land in which it is always, ‘somehow’, worse when things happen to a character cathected in these particular ways.

I just can’t fucking stand stories that take Blake elaborately to task for objectifying and using the others and leave the rest of the crew’s motivations untouched. They are all on a prison ship to start with. They collectively escape. They are collectively on the run. They collectively choose to stay here rather than run off, either because they don’t wish to or don’t feel it would be safe. They don’t have to do as Blake says–really, they physically do not. Cally isn’t shooting Vila for mutiny. They are all using each other, and that’s both interesting if you’re going to get into it and boring because it’s normal. In your job, in your social circle, everyone is similarly entwined. Calling Blake out here!! Is not provocative, it’s a slightly awkward stubborn misreading of the spirit of the text to no certain purpose. It’s also the. dumbest. double standard.

This is one of the MANY stories of this era that thinks a history of sexual abuse is like, a cool dark past character enhancer, and to be honest that fic trope is as dull as it’s disgusting. Because it is a fetishising of Avon’s woobie status, as constructed by assault–it’s glamorising and voyeuristic and frankly wholly unlike dealing with real child sexual assault victims, while the story’s off lauding itself on its dark grittiness. And yes, romance and fic aren’t always realistic and hard-hitting, and that’s not even necessarily a bad thing, and yes, fic should be able to explore anything, but I’m also calling shenanigans on this whole trend of fic that locates character and its own authority as a story in this very real issue and then handles that issue in this cack-handed way, while assuming a tone of smug lecturing superiority and/or racking up Gritty Coolness Points on these terms.

STORY: The Truth Will Out
WHY ARE BLAKE AND AVON DOOMED THIS WEEK? because they knew each other before and Blake didn’t tell him about the rebellion and Avon got interrogated and raped a lot because of him and has internalized homophobia and Anna Angst and also now Blake’s a bitch for poorly-explained reasons. Also Avon is cross about having been forgotten. It’s been a Time.
EDITOR’S NOTE: stupid but short (like Vila, Avon sneered)
PROSE: awkward
OVERALL: Is this a Wila fic? Because it wants to be several different stories and throws out too many lures and idk where I am now even (but, as Aralias points out, if this were a Wila fic, Blake would be cleverer and nicer, and the ending wouldn’t be a stupid GAUDA PRIME IS COMING!! wink wink bullshit thing (Aralias didn’t say that last, that was me)).

STORY: Virtual Reality
WHY ARE BLAKE AND AVON DOOMED THIS WEEK? The ending is a bit ???, but they are deeply (and damagingly–it makes both of them do unwise, risky, morally dubious things) in love with one another, and even though it can be a very bad idea Blake seems to get that there’s no back-button on this, it’s something they have to work with (I kind of wonder whether they’ll try some of Avon’s Things now, and whether that’ll make Avon, at least in the moment, SUPER pleased–though was it the VR that was losing its charm versus Actual Blake, or was it *being* the sadist in the equation?)
EDITOR’S NOTE: ‘Here is a chain of events, of interlocking actions that, once begun, lead to a promised ultimate doom’ ahahah oh Oblique, that’s everything you do p much/same
PROSE: actually very good
OVERALL: So Avon’s sadistic and makes himself virtual-reality fan videos about Blake, who he’s kind of obsessed with. Vila finds out and there’s social awkwardness/tension.

I really like Avon’s reaction to Vila finding out, that’s consistently well done.

Nice writing. Especially great physicality for Avon.

One saving grace of this fic is that it doesn’t think Blake’s dumb. That just FORCES the fic to go better directions. Interestingly the narrative voice is unusually loud, and unusually with Blake.

Time/event-flow is a bit awkward in this. How long have they been fooling around before Blake watches the tape?

I don’t really have a problem with Blake watching the disc–they’re dating, he’s been told it’s About Him, he’s expected here, he wants to watch it to make Avon happy–feels like an honest mistake. Though I have real trouble with the idea of Avon’s pornography as equivalent to a physical violation? The fic takes that contention fairly seriously.

I really like ‘I was supposed to be enjoying it, was I?’/’Didn’t it look as if you were?’ There’s a sort of–wistfulness to that. All along the back of this fic I sort of feel an intense emotional craving, maybe two-way: it works for me. The whole axis of ‘normal’ sexuality is interesting here, as is Avon’s comment about inadequacy, and the fact that he’d *say* it. The closing conversations end up being really powerful, even if I do think–everyone in this fic acts like fairly hardcore sadism is CRAZY RARE, rather than… something within the compass of imagination/practice?

I could do with a bit more thought/emotional arc from them re: WHY they are crazy in love.

I enjoy this story and think it does valuable things in the fandom even if it’s not *exactly* my cuppa.

STORY: The Warm Patch
WHY ARE BLAKE AND AVON DOOMED THIS WEEK? They had sex once and Avon is afraid to sex again because the Feelings will come for him. Then they do sex again. And Avon’s like ‘oh I can’t love you, there is no love within me!!’ and the story seems to think this is a factual statement, rather than in direct contradiction with the immediately-preceding motives and events. Then they’re not going to have sex again because Avon thinks it’ll only hurt them both. Even though there is no love within him. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
EDITOR’S NOTE: baffling
PROSE: fine
OVERALL: Avon ‘killed and cooked a bird’ for them. Series 1 Avon. … ……….if you fucking. say so.

God I’m so tired of under-explained It Can Never Be. The through-line here needs work. Perhaps the story needs a stronger editorial hand? This is something I often think about Oblique, but I’m not sure where beta tradition was then.

STORY: Witness
WHY ARE BLAKE AND AVON DOOMED THIS WEEK? They can be together! Good for them. Bad for Vila. Oh well, so long as someone’s made miserable! ****Oblique****
PROSE: good
OVERALL: I don’t think this does Vila any favours, and I think he’s cooler than this, but it’s NICE sex writing and kind of unusual for the pairing/an interesting outsider perspective. It’s decent to Blake even while being too SPECIAL SPECIAL AVON!!

This feels like it COULD be post-Fugue? Possibly?

STORY: You’re It: A Game of Tag, Part I
WHY ARE BLAKE AND AVON DOOMED THIS WEEK? They can be together, but also with other people. It’s nice, but casual and low stakes

Screen Shot 2017-01-23 at 06.28.40.png

fuck you specifically, this editor’s note

PROSE: fine
OVERALL: It’s fine, but a bit–what’s the point/90s ‘everyone is having casual sex with everyone for no reason really, just de facto and without consequences’. The sex is all right?


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