Monday, May 28, 2012

Weird and Wonderful Books: Fan Fiction, WTF and OMG

            Ah fan fiction, where would we be without you.  You can partially attribute fan fiction to the creation of Bizarre Internet (we finally have a name, I’m glad) since our first post was about a crossover fan fiction dealing with Dragonball Z and The Diary of Anne Frank.  But fan fiction is more then bizarre ideas and slash fan fiction that demonizes female characters.  Only most fan fiction is this bizarre, but I do kid.  Fan fiction, as a medium, is much more complex then this and is indeed worthy of some inspection.

            Firstly, it is impossible to discuss fan fiction in general without bringing up the sexually charged elephant in the room.  Yes, a lot (I mean a lot) of fan fiction is not safe for work and usually in the most bizarre ways.  Also a good chunk of such stories are usually homoerotic in nature because they are written with either female or male gay fans in mind.  These stories are categorized as slash and it’s quite easy to avoid them. It’s best to think of these NSFW stories as the loud, radical minority not unlike what the Tea Party or the Occupy movement represent for their respective political views.  That being said, an even greater portion of the fan fiction community has a strange fascination with relationships in the series that they enjoy.  While not as bizarre as those who write the dreaded erotic fan fiction, these stories can get pretty bizarre.  Instead of radicals, think of these stories as those politically minded friends that bring up divisive topics at inopportune moments.  They’re bad but they could be worse and most of the time they mean well in their own sick and twisted way.  That doesn’t keep such stories from being really weird but I wouldn’t recommend such stories myself.
            So why did I start out this article with a description of the very worst or at the least, the oddest, in fan fiction?  Because in order to find the truly excellent, we must first sift through truly horrible, any seasoned spelunker of the depths of fan fiction can tell you that.  And trust me, there is some damn fine fan fiction out there, and finding it makes it all the sweeter.  But what makes fan fiction good?  Well it’s hard to quantify but it’s apparent that there are a few factors at work.  Firstly, it’s all about the ideas.  Many stories separate themselves from their original canon with dramatic and often audacious ideas while others are subtler, changing things slowly and in clever ways.  In fact it’s not that far of a stretch to say that most fan fiction writers are better at the initial execution of good ideas then they are at consistently good writing.  And that’s where the second factor comes into play, execution.  A lot of fan fiction authors are genuinely good writers and in some rare cases I’ve wondered why they are squandering their talents creating work that, while excellent, is so derivative.
Writing good fan fiction is a balancing act.  It’s all about dealing with characters and settings that the vast majority of your readers are already familiar with.  Do you take the characters and write them from your own perspective?  Or do you adhere to the canon as much as possible, only making adjustments based upon your own original standards.  It’s difficult and I’ve only read a few fan fiction pieces that actually get it right.  But on the off chance that they do succeed in this trapeze act the results are really good.  I would even so far as to say that there is fan fiction out there that is better then the source material.  Hell you don’t even need to look that far.  One of my favorite comic stories and one of the most renowned works in the medium is Kingdom Come by Alex Ross and Mark Waid, a what if story that deals with the hypothetical future of the DC universe of superheroes.  Waid was inspired to write the story as a response to the “grim and gritty” style of writing that had grown in popularity back in the 90’s.  The story is under DC Comic’s Elseworlds imprint, meaning that despite the current state of the DC universe, Kingdom Come will generally be considered to be non-canon and is effectively just fan fiction in the eyes of the DC big wigs.  But that’s cheating isn’t it?  You guys don’t want me to discuss fan fiction in regards to such things as Elseworlds, Amalgam Comics (which I would write about in a heartbeat if this were a comic-centric column) or any number of “what-if” scenarios produced by professional storytellers.  You want the stuff made by fans and for fans.  Well in that regard, I’m happy to oblige.  Most of these pieces are on but I’ll indicate the ones that aren’t.  I’ll also organize them into tiers in order to separate the truly good from the cheesy fun and the “so bad it’s good.”  I also recommend hitting up the TV Tropes pages for these stories if they have them to see a basic break down of the type of tale that you have to look forward to.

Tier 3: So bad it’s good:

My Immortal:  If you’ve ever looked into bad fan fiction, than you’ve heard of My Immortal.  While ostensibly based in the Harry Potter universe, My Immortal is the story of Ebony, a vampire and student at Hogwarts who gets every male character to fall in love with her.  The writing is atrocious, the author was (probably) a 14-year-old girl and the fun never stops, I give this one a hearty recommendation.  The author’s notes alone are worth the read.  Or you could try to find one of the numerous dramatic readings for extra hilarity.

Half-Life: Full Life Consequences: I feel bad, both of the entries in this category were apparently written by minors.  HL:FLC is the poorly written story of Gordon Freeman’s older brother John, the only man who can be kill people faster with fists then he can with bullets.  It’s actually best to watch HL:FLC as it has been adapted hilariously through Gary’s Mod on youtube.  Just look it up, trust me.

Tier 2: Cheesy schlock that’s still fun to read:

Connecting the Dots: A crossover between by least favorite intellectual property and my favorite animated series wasn’t guaranteed to work but it does.  Connecting the Dots is a crossover between Justice League Unlimited (my favorite cartoon ever) and Naruto (I want to kill the protagonist with a spork).  The series takes place in a sort of custom variant on the DC universe that is ostensibly the DCAU but with elements, chosen by the author, from the extended DC universe.  The story is fun, the characters develop in a few interesting ways and it continues the JLU tradition of focusing on lesser known but just as cool members of the DC universe.  And there’s a bit where Batman beats the crap out of Sasuke from Naruto.  That’ll do Afalstein, that’ll do.

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality:  What happens when an advanced AI theorist writes the Harry Potter series? Well, it’s interesting I’ll give it that.  Methods of Rationality is one of those “what-if” stories and like many fan fictions based upon Harry Potter, it involves the titular character coming from a different background.  In this case, Aunt Petunia ended up marrying an Oxford scientist and Harry actually loves his stepparents, particularly his stepfather.  To this end, Harry enters the world of magic as a nigh-religious rationalist.  The result is a strange blend of awesomeness and bits that point out the inherent flaws involved with Mrs. Rowling’s magical world.  It’s an enjoyable read but it’s not without its flaws, particularly in the main character.

Thinking in Little Green Boxes:  This one is absolutely glorious.  It’s another Harry Potter fanfic, and like Methods it involves the protagonist coming from a new background.  But instead of a loving family headed by a scientist, Harry’s guardian is Deadpool, the merc with a mouth.  Those of you who are fans of the Marvel universe are either raising an eyebrow or laugh your asses off by now but there is some substance to this joke story.  The story eventually makes itself out as a crossover between the Marvel universe and Harry Potter where the jokes are all at the expense of the later.  Harry has inherited his foster father’s insanity but also his skills to a degree.  By the 22nd chapter, he has a superhero alter ego, extensive self-defense training, a degree of skill with magic and is a “semi X-Man.”  The series is pretty sloppy at times but it’s always a joy to read.  Thinking isn’t on, instead you can find it here:

Harry Potter and the Nightmares of Future Past:  While it may seem like there is a lot of Harry Potter on this list let me clarify something.  Harry Potter is one of the most written about series ever, and a lot of talented writers like to pay homage to it.  Add to that the fact that J K Rowling really supports most non-disgusting fan fiction and you’ve got a lot going for the fandom.  HP:NoFP is what we called a Peggy Sue fic.  Peggy Sue is a variant on the concept of the Mary Sue, the theoretically flawless character.  Peggy Sue gains their skill from being a time travelers from the future.  In HP:NoFP, an adult Harry Potter defeats Voldomort at the age of 30.  Broken and with nothing to live for in the current time, Harry is able to travel back in time to the first book in the series.  From here we are treated to an exceptionally well-written story starring an insanely competent Harry.  This one comes pretty highly recommended.

Tier 1:  Truly excellent:

Soul’s Light:  Soul’s Light is awesome because it perfectly encapsulates what great fan fiction is.  It takes a crazy crossover, in this case the Dresden Files, and Neon Genesis Evangelion two IP’s that by all rights shouldn’t go together.  One is an action-packed urban fantasy about a charismatic wizard/investigator, while the other is a grim, post-apocalyptic mecha anime starring an emotionally broken young man who “must not run away.”  But Soul’s Light is like a Reese’s Cup, two great flavors that taste great together.
            The strange thing is that there are two Dresden/Evangelion crossovers worthy of mention.  Harry Dresden: Agent of NERV, the other story, is crazy and good enough to be a Tier 2, but I felt that I should only mention one.  So what makes Soul’s Light so good?  It effortlessly blends the two series together and actually makes it work, a difficult task for two so divergent series.  Still, characters are written exceptionally well rounded and the story moves at a good pace.  If you are a fan of either series then I heartily recommend this one.

Team 8: Earlier in this same article I indicated that I hate the Naruto franchise.  Perhaps hate is too strong a word.  I disagree with it.  The series is kind of to stupid for its subject matter in my own opinion.  But I used to like the series a lot when I watched the anime on the late, great (not so much anymore) Toonami.  So it’s only partially surprising that Team 8 is my favorite fan fiction to date.  The thing is, Team 8 is better then the franchise that it was spawn from.  It’s smarter, it has more of an emotional punch and it has enough awesome moments to fill an encyclopedia on the matter.  The key is, in my opinion, the fact that Team 8 is sensible.  The original series is many things, but possessing any amount of common sense is not one of them.
            Anyway, the story is a clever variant on the nail concept.  For those of you unfamiliar, a nail story takes its name from the old proverb, you know “for want of a nail the horse was lost, etc.”  Anyway, ostensibly the nail moment for this series is that Kurenia, a minor character from the original series and the head of the titular Team 8, scouts out the main characters of the series as they are about to graduate from basic training (by the way, the main characters are meant to be ninjas in the series, Team 8 is much better about the characters actually being ninjas.)  This leads to the main character, Naruto, being placed on Team 8 instead of Team 7 as in the series.  The series is highly divergent from here but it also sticks rather close to canon events, it just does them better.  But here’s the kicker, the “nail” moment is actually something that we haven’t even seen, but it’s effects lead to story that we are reading.  Even if you hate the series that it’s based on or are ambivalent to it, and especially if you’re a fan, then I heartily encourage you to read Team 8.  Hell, I’ll probably come back to it in the near future for a full piece outlining the key differences between western and anime sensibilities in my opinion.

            And that’s all that I have to say on the subject for the moment.  I hope that it’s enough for those out there reading this to more readily appreciate the world of fan fiction.  Next time, we’ll be discussing one of the longest running fantasy series in modern literature and how very misogynistic it is.

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