Oblique Reviews #9

Oblique Reviews #1
Oblique Reviews #2
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Oblique Reviews #9
Oblique Reviews #10
Oblique Reviews #11
SUMMARY

STORY: Revolution
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? They used to fuck and now Avon’s mad that Blake wants to Star One. But maybe they stopped fucking before Blake started Star One-ing bc idk Avon was afraid of love, and also of how Blake was doing what Blake always said was his mo: drinking milkshakes and fighting Tories (and he’s all out of ice cream)
EDITOR’S NOTE: patronizing about something literally no one should get to be patronizing about
PROSE: everything about the way it is determined to use the Beetles makes me want to die
OVERALL:

This is a fic which is determined to ‘cleverly’ use Beatles quotes in every. goddamn. line. of. dialogue. Run. Save yourself. It is too late for Erin. She was like a blackbird, singing in the dead of night–

So Avon in this gets to be the moral voice of reason, which is interesting bc he said fuck all at Control. Also… man it’s awk when people give Avon this job. Like, what he does in the script is one thing, though Boucher’s attempt to seriously reframe what was /nothing/ in a Nation script is kind of ambivalent and unconvincing (and Avon isn’t objecting circa Albion, Gambit, etc.–no one is? This annoys me about the end of S2 a lot), but this more aggressive moral defence from Avon is REALLY another, and seems uncomfortably like giving Avon unearned moral authority. Now, I like a soft, sopping-wet knight-errant Avon. I can be sold on this with little effort. But you do have to like… set up a stall and offer merchandise. At least LET ME BUY IN to Moral Avon!!

As time passes, I grow to increasingly resent Oblique’s interest in very deliberately laying out pretentious/unusual words like choice dainties. ‘an expression that would have been ingenuous on a face less roué than Avon’s’ shit like this is what made me punchable in high school (this isn’t even–like, does he HAVE a ‘roué’ face??)

REALLY circular, and a lot of stuff that doesn’t–actually mean much, seemingly here to make the conceit work and/or because Glasgow always wants to write arguments and is amazingly bad at it.

An allusion that doesn’t come off is like egg whites that won’t froth: really fucking frustrating and pointless, leaving me hungry for the macaron of competence that never comes.

STORY: Rise…
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? Because Avon is with Vila
EDITOR’S NOTE: none
PROSE: eh, fine
OVERALL: This isn’t really… funny enough? And it doesn’t have enough of a point? I mean I am not its intended audience, this is an Avon/Vila fic that is kind of mislabeled, and that’s actively not my ship. But even granted that, this is 3 pages of ‘why have I read this, I don’t think I’d like this if I shipped it’. At least it was only 3 pages of that, though. Elsewhere, I cannot trust Oblique writers and editors not to pad.

STORY: Romancing the Stone
MUSE OF FIRE RESPONSIBLE: M. Fae Glasgow writing as Cally Fornia Donia
HAS POOR VILA BEEN DRAGOONED INTO THIS SHITSHOW? —
WHY ARE BLAKE AND AVON DOOMED THIS WEEK? Avon doesn’t want Blake and Blake is dumb as fuck.
EDITOR’S NOTE: written, by the, popular idea of, William Shatner (the rhythm is fucked)
PROSE: Tee-hee cutesey at times: ‘these demure pages’. And if there is a tone that causes me to kill swaths of men, it is…
OVERALL: I get bored of back-and-forth ‘he did x, but HE say it was y!! lololololol’ reeeeal fast. It’s like–a bad sketch routine. What it feels like, despite the ‘risqué’ (gag) content, is the sort of children’s show comedy you used to get in the 80s and 90s in America, that sort of unfunny standup for children? Like, if Avon doesn’t want to fuck Blake in this story, that’s all good in the hood, but this I DO NOT UNDERSTAND YOUR CARTOONISH OVERTURES?!?!? wouldn’t make sense in a hyper-Victorian social universe, much less in one that contains Toyes. Why would very-British Blake have a cowboy fixation? He’s not German. Why are they suddenly at a shit version of Big Cedar Lodge, when earlier they were going to the most expensive hotel on the planet–which seemed more to Avon’s taste? If Avon himself was off appreciating the luxury brothel market, how did he get into a /bar fight/? Page 7, Avon’s like, well Blake’s not thinking rn!! But he’s been on this track for like a literal week so… clearly Blake decided this while in sound-ish mind.

Disgusted Avon at some point held a position in academia. that The poor fucking MA students who had to suffer him… frankly, I’d have sued.

STORY: The Room
MUSE OF FIRE RESPONSIBLE: M. Fae Glasgow
HAS POOR VILA BEEN DRAGOONED INTO THIS SHITSHOW? —
WHY ARE BLAKE AND AVON DOOMED THIS WEEK? Avon won’t even talk to him about the sex they’re having and their relationship (it turns out because being with Blake is too much of an emotional and physical risk). The end is esp wanky re: this.
EDITOR’S NOTE: none
PROSE: at once better and worse than ususal
OVERALL: This is actually pretty fair to Blake for once, allowing him to have thoughts and emotions that matter and that are not ridiculous. It’s a fairy visual, evocative piece, and the emotions are kind of interesting (esp. because Blake is allowed to actually exist for once–I SWEAR fic is better, even just for Avon, when Blake is better). I like how long it takes Avon to piece himself back together afterwards. A no-dialogue fic: always annoying.

STORY: Rosetta Stone  *DIRE TRIGGER WARNING: DISCUSSIONS OF SEXUAL ASSAULT, UNDER AGE*
MUSE OF FIRE RESPONSIBLE: M. Fae Glasgow
HAS POOR VILA BEEN DRAGOONED INTO THIS SHITSHOW? —
WHY ARE BLAKE AND AVON DOOMED THIS WEEK? Maybe not, but even if they are, the reasons are fairly fucking convincing. More below. Because this is a good story, this can’t be summed up easily.
EDITOR’S NOTE: Strange triangle. A kerning error briefly made me believe women would in some way be important in this story. As ever in this zine: no. Alas, it was ‘two men’, but smushy. Story of my Oblique life.
PROSE: very acceptable
OVERALL: I almost find it hard to believe this is by the same Glasgow who wrote all the others. It feels more like a Sebastian fic (or Jane Barron? Vanessa Mullen?). Seriously, either this is someone else subbing covertly under Glasgow’s popular pen-name, possibly because of quite how controversial the material is, or Glasgow is capable of writing very, very well at times. She has some decently-crafted, mid-tier fics in with all the A/V/B, so it’s not out of the realm?

Right, so this story is very good for several reasons. Essentially, via a sympathetic but unsparing close Blake POV, we learn along with him that he actually does desire children (which of course picks up on the first episode’s accusations along those lines). He works out that, logistically, he can’t actually have hurt the children he was accused of hurting, but he still doesn’t really know whether his desires were created artificially, whether they’re the result of some trauma or  whether they derive from something innate in him. It ultimately doesn’t really matter: Blake is stuck dealing with this sexuality (and it is an entire, consuming sexuality rather than an isolated, controllable interest) regardless, left trying to retain his sanity, lead a moral life and take steps to protect any children they run across from himself.

I might have appreciated a couple lines where Blake thought about and dismissed his in-universe options for psychological intervention, but in general this is a really compelling treatment of his problem that lets you inhabit his discomfort and intense desire without working to sexualise and render acceptable the unmediated acts under consideration. It’s at times very hard to read because of this: pedophilia is generally disturbing and a vast personal squick for me, and I had to go through the story twice to be sure I was giving it a fair hearing.

The other risk of fic that foregrounds kink, making it the locus of a character’s or the story’s sexuality, is that the people involved and peculiarity of their relationship will be subsumed, and the story will become ‘any two guys, spanking’, etc. Not so here. This–and here we hit on the ‘why they are doomed this week’ stuff–feels intensely personal to these people, and if I don’t quite share the author’s characterisations (or at least the characterisations she employed to make the fic work), I nevertheless understand them as valid readings of the text. Despite the Blake-focus of the pov, this story nonetheless provides an unusual and convincing Avon who displays qualities I don’t normally associate with him, yet which are familiar. It’s charged and tense: Rosetta Stone doesn’t lose the frisson of this relationship within the altered structure of the kink dynamic. This is a story about the fulfilment or devastation these people might be able to bring one another, not just these sexual practices.

I love that I have no idea quite what Avon wants, here. Initially he presents himself to Blake as interested in BDSM, so willing to make a sort of ‘unusual sex’ tit-for-tat trade. He pressures Blake into it in this interesting, manipulative, topping from the bottom way. I’m not sure that claim was ever quite true, though, given that their later sex doesn’t fall into that pattern. Is Avon just interested in subbing? Was Avon abused as a child, sexually or otherwise, and is this a safe or accessible way of coping with/managing the desires those experiences left him with? Is it instead a remarkably compatible kink he happens to want or need independent of such a history? Does Avon simply desire/love Blake, and see this as a means of getting in there, of making himself indispensable and privy to the secret and giving Blake what he needs? A way of experiencing love while retaining control?To what extent is it a power thing? A way, as Blake hypothesises, of experiencing a love not easily compatible with who he thinks of himself as and presents himself as in the world? I can’t definitively say, but in a really productive way, I think.

So, will this accommodation, when they finally reach it, prove stable? Neither of them really know. Everything is complicated by the fact that they do love each other (the conclusion feels a bit like the end of the Sebastian fic with the virtual reality bdsm, there). Outside the fic, I wonder what happens as Avon ages or becomes harder, as per canon–the fic alludes a little to changes in him over time, but can’t nod to what it can’t yet see. I’m interested in how this plays out, in what can become of them in this universe, in whether they can find some way of sustaining both the theatre (and it is well-done, mutualistic performance) and their interpersonal dynamics outside of the bedroom (which are influenced by and connected to this kink-play, but not wholly reducible to or explained by it).

Essentially, this fic needed written at some point, by someone. There was a spectre haunting fandom: what if the Federation had had some starting point for their allegations? A few fics teased and abandoned this as one of a host of accusations tossed about in fights between Blake and his opponents, principally Avon, but none of them ever worked with and through the idea fully. I don’t want many more fics like this at all, but I think the idea deserved one principled exegesis, and this is it. It’s handled with remarkable sensitivity and skill. It doesn’t engage in either easy moralistic condemnation or even a shred of exculpation for the violation the acts Blake contemplates would be for their victims.

If this is Glasgow’s (and not to be a bitch, but I do question it because it’s such a tier above many of her fics, and I could see why you’d want not only to deny authorship but to actively deflect suspicion thereof in this case), then it’s not ‘so good it justifies all the badfic’, but I think it might well be far and away her best. It also almost makes sense of Oblique, in and of itself. All the camp Hot Topic pretend darknessss and edgelording here has a point: this is a story few other zines would or could have run. It answers a lingering question skilfully, and builds something powerful out of it. If more Oblique worked this well I wouldn’t begrudge the house-standard harshness and muck–but then I think the harshness of this story is expertly balanced by the feeling and vulnerability herein, and that it wouldn’t work half so well as a hit piece. THIS HAS BEEN THE MORAL OF ALL MY MOANING ABOUT CHARACTER-ASSASSINATION IN FAVOUR OF UPLIFTING YOUR WOOBIE, BTW. IN CASE YOU MISSED IT: SYMPATHY GETS YOU THERE BETTER.

All the background plot stuff also works well. (Except VILA is supposedly really coming on to Blake, as well as Jenna? ??? Also, a bit of crap Jealous Jenna in this.)

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