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I’m so amazed and delighted you have come through, traveler–that you have kept up your strength through all 56 Oblique B/A fic reviews! In a way, the activity would be pointless without our pausing here to draw some conclusions. So, here are some notes. (Please feel free to comment with your own.)
Almost immediately, we can pick up on Oblique’s House Style. Edgelordy, with shades of But Of Course It Can Never Be. Inevitable Doom, Mandatory 90s Promiscuity (see also: 90s comics). Darkness is Adult (see also: 90s comics–these trends aren’t developing in isolation from the culture). Glasgow writes a significant amount of these fics. She gives us a lot of ‘Avon and Vila have known each other a long while’ (totally undeveloped in these stories in question as an reading of the source text) and a significant number of B/A/V triangles. I would say that overall, Oblique is no better written than your average zine. Out of this run of 57 stories there are perhaps 5 really exceptional works and 10 additional pieces of respectable competence. That’s not–a good average. It’s significantly worse than some, and the monotony of the ways the house can displease exerts extra wear and tear on your correspondent, who positively fought through her way through some of these stories.
What it is is ‘gritty’, in that way that often passes for ‘harder-hitting, more thoughtful, riskier and more skilful’ than more sentimental offerings. In case it needs saying, the artistic capital and seriousness we afford to Darkness!! is bullshit. There is nothing a priori better written, more thoughtful, or even more IC/truer to this text about an Oblique fic versus a piece of fluff. ‘Grimdarkness’ has its own ideology and purposes: it’s not simply ‘more realistic’ than other fiction traditions. In fact it’s quite marked, loud in its biases and at times obvious in its objectives. ‘Realism’ is itself a mode, and not the end-all be-all goal of fiction, but don’t let anyone tell you Grittiness has a unique claim to access and represent art or life. There is nothing sexier or more morally necessary or more intellectually challenging or more fun about that register, per se. Oblique’s sort of shared-world is not a particularly reliable or authoritative interpretation of the characters and canon.
I hope I’ve shown at a few points that a lot of what Oblique takes as read is actually not terribly established fanon, which we accept unblinkingly because it’s been said so many times, with such complacent knowledge. A wider diversity of readings and tones and an interaction with the source-text less fettered by this not particularly great aspect of our fic tradition is both possible and desirable. There is good stuff to be gleaned from Oblique, but to have let it dominate fandom to the extent it has, for as long as it has (and don’t make the mistake of thinking it vanished when Judith, Nova and Willa turned up: it was still alive in that era’s work, and is still with us now) is frankly silly. We’re not exactly at ‘de-colonise your mind’ levels of seriousness here, but do try and think of where you’re impacted by this, and about what it would be to relate to canon without these frames, without readers trained to expect and writers trained to recapitulate them. It’s HARD for me, personally, but one has to start somewhere.
- B/A/V is almost always really unkind and damaging to all three characters. It can but rarely come to any good. Perhaps it could be balanced better, but I do not care to discover if this three-way is salvageable. I think Good A/V and Good B/A (no point talking about B/V: a non-thing) operate on too different of registers, perhaps, for that mingling to be particularly successful (or possibly in different genres–they might each hinge on very different readings of the text).
- Editor’s notes are difficult to do well, and before engaging in any such thing you should ask questions about audience and intent. Who is this for, what do you wish it to do, and will it accomplish that? Editor’s notes are a feature of the publication or era, though, and you don’t have to worry about them (in fandom, at least) much anymore. (SFF, maybe.)
- It’s kind of odd how little variation there is in Oblique: it feels like there are relatively few story types. For the most part these aren’t plot-heavy fics, and the emotional arcs fall into only a few camps. The team knew what they liked and what they wanted to read and publish (again, and again, and again).
- It’s interesting how many one-offs there are, and how many people have only a few appearance within these pages (at least under these pen names). Even someone great like Jane Baron has so few fics!
- The way zines came out must have REALLY exerted a strong influence over your development as a fic writer. It must really have really affected your ability to hit your stride, to expand out, to shake up your typical schtick, etc. I don’t know that I’d want to be judged on my first three fics in the fandom. It’s also very odd to think that I’ve easily written more even than Nova, who I think of as a Big Name, and in a shorter time, in part probably just because I can hit ‘post’ and she couldn’t. TBH I’m obviously Me off the bat in my first B7 fics, showing some indication that I’d come to write the sort of stuff I’m writing now, but that’s also BECAUSE I was in Who first, and this was not my first rodeo. The way I thought about and wrote the pairing developed immensely over the course of multiple publishing opportunities. Not so much via feedback, here, outside of immediate conversations with friends, but that was certainly true of my time in Who.
- It’s easy to see that Oblique has a house style, but we can similarly detect and discuss the house style and operating assumptions of lj comms, lj as a platform, Ao3, given fandoms, given pairings, etc. And perhaps we ought to? They shape fics and trends, and merit analysis.
- Even as the ghost of Oblique haunts us still, it’s in some ways almost unfair to say there’s a continuity between what this magazine was doing and us now. We received a tradition, sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly, via reading, but we’re not in the same spaces or the same medium. We don’t share the same level of access to material (this is the elephant in the room when talking about Oblique: did they have good access to visual copies and transcripts?), the same assumptions, the same social moment of queerness or the same social conditions of fandom: are we the same pairing? There are a few people knocking around who remember these people, but they aren’t them, and I have no such direct contact. Is there a meaningful sense in which we’re equally ‘the B/A community’, or the SAME B/A community? Or are we into the realm of imagined affective trans-historical queer communities?
- The serious weirdness of Americans looking at Britain and the Edwardian class-fetishism of these fics has me in my ‘write a paper’ feelings, but no one needs ‘Britpickier: Figurations of British Class in Fanfic’.
- I’m really uncomfortable with what a lot of these fics, Glasgow’s in particular, want to do with Vila’s class position. It gives me deep cringe, and I’m about as sure as I can be that that’s down to the feeling of exoticism/fetish than a straightforward manifestation of classism on my part.
- You cannot have your cake and eat it too. You cannot make Avon victimised and blameless and cool and really in control and a moral authority and amoral!sexy. You have to, for the sake and duration of the fic, choose your Avon and also your (tyrant vs manchild vs canon) Blake. This can be complicated or, if you’re careful, ambivalent or uncertain, but that shit’s for advanced players who’ve mastered the basics. What you can’t be is: serving a pizza topped with cake topped with sushi topped with thai green curry because you wanted to eat out and you wanted the best of EVERYTHING at once and you have a primitive desire for fusion cuisine. I don’t want to eat that, no one does.
- Likewise, you cannot have Blake ALWAYS be wrong so Avon is ALWAYS right, or whatever it is you want. You can’t bend the plot and the moral weight thereof around how you want a character to come off: you can write a plot that facilitates what you want, but you can’t just assign meaning where you want it to fall.
- THIS SHIT IS NOT EVEN HEALTHY FOR YOUR BELOVED WOOB, WHO YOU ARE TRYING TO USE IT TO VENERATE. When you impoverish a character in the fic via bashing, every action and decision connected to that character is dragged in a different direction accordingly. This is true anywhere: you can’t have awful cunt Buffy and ‘loving refugees from her awfulness’ Spander without raising questions as to why Xander is friends with Buffy, and Spike obsessed with her. You are saying things about the characters you like, their circumstances and persons and relationships, in saying something about other figures in the story who their lives are intertwined with. The more weight you want that bashed character to bear, the more distorting the effects of this decision. It does less to the story to be mean to Tarrant in an S3 fic than it does to be mean to Blake in an S2 fic, if the focus of your relationship is Avon’s Choices, because Avon’s S3 choices and actions are less involved with Tarrant than his S2 choices and actions were with Blake. Also, being mean is sour and distasteful, potentially alienating some readers and limiting your reading of the text/impoverishing your own story: do it with caution. On the other hand, however, to some extent a rising tide does lift all boats. Avon looks better when Blake looks better. Mutually-constructed competence is a neat plot mechanic and also a great character mechanic. It’s also canon, not just in that both these characters ARE competent but also in that Boucher does this trick all the time (Redemption has some good examples).
- Trying to scrub out all your beloved woob’s faults and to consistently locate the sympathy of the whole moral universe with him evacuates and deranges said woob as surely as the worst character bashing. It is really violent?
- For an example of what Oblique-hangover has done to fandom: You cannot post the MOST candy-ass Nice Blake without people rolling up to say they loved how Blake was dark and terrible and probably beating a puppy in this one. Meanwhile THERE IS LITERALLY NOTHING YOU CAN WRITE AVON DOING THAT ANYONE WILL ASCRIBE EVEN AN INSTANT’S BLAME TO. If Oblique has one lasting legacy, it is these particular bad B, A and B/A characterisations and dynamics, which are now hard-wired in reception. I am exhausted by this weaksauce meme that constantly crops up in what I read and in responses to my own work. The emperor is nude. Kirk doesn’t actually fuck that many women. Ferrero Rocher aren’t even really fancy. THAT THING ABOUT LEAVING FOOD TO COOL BEFORE REFRIGERATING IT IS AN URBAN LEGEND!!
- We think of plot as determining the course of a story’s possibilities, and also about genre doing this, to some extent. We’re also willing to discuss the writer in this capacity: Bob Holmes wouldn’t do X, Nova would do Y. But we don’t necessarily account similarly for mood. There’s an Indian theory of aesthetics wherein ‘mood’ is the fundamental interpretive category, the thing announced and appreciated. I’m thinking about that in re: Oblique fic. The house mood of the venue/the pieces is perhaps THE THING determining where these plots can go and what stuff will mean, and sympathy with this house mood is perhaps the chief factor and deciding whether you as a reader will ‘Buy In’ and successfully engage with a fic. In Oblique fic, whatever happens will be constrained by that pervasive But It Can Never Be. Even ostensibly happy Oblique fics almost seem to need to nod to this.
Perhaps more could be said about mood as determinative in other art expressions?