Now that my father and his beard are safely home, I decided the time was ripe to take a mini-vacation of my own, and so I am away this week, visiting my sister. (How many sisters does this person have, you may be asking. The answer is many. So many.) As a side-effect, I am also visiting two of the now grown-up kittens we rescued last Halloween: Jack Sepikitten and little Danny Sexkitten. Jack was stand-offish at first, but Danny recognized me right away and came hunching over, hissing and purring with pleasure.
Hmm. That may need explanation. See, when we rescued the kittens, their eyes weren’t open yet and both Jack and Danny, the smallest of the four, had eye infections that delayed their opening almost a week after the other two. So we humans were the first things they had ever seen and humans make lousy cats.
Also during this time and for about a month afterward, we kept them separated from the other cats of the household, in part because eye infections are crazy contagious and also because they were small and vulnerable and my sister’s cat, Bird, is a shameless bully whose favorite game is beating up my blind cat, Waffles. No way were we going to put the kittens at the mercy of that furry bitch. In essence, they had no visual basis for cat behavior during their most impressionable days.
So it was a month or more before we opened the doors between them and the kittens met the cats. As I say, Waffles is blind and although he wasn’t sure who they were, he also wasn’t sure they hadn’t always been there, so he was cool with them and they were cool with him. Bird was not invited to the kitten-meeting party at all. So it was my father’s cat, Socks, who came prancing down the hall to gain entry to the coveted back room only to come face to unexpected face with a whole conspiracy of strange cats.
Man, if that’s not the real word for a group of cats, it should be.
Socks, as long-time readers may remember, was kept and perhaps born in a cat-hoarding situation and has been wary of strangers of all kinds ever since. Upon seeing the kittens, she arched her back instantly, hissed and sprinted away.
The kittens watched her go with the same wondering astonishment that is every kitten’s default setting. Then Jack turned to Mark and arched her back and hissed. He hissed. Soon they were all hissing happily. When Socks plucked up her courage and ventured back into the room, she was met by four hissing kittens. Jack arched so high, she actually rose up on her hind legs and went staggering over on two feet to say hello.
Suffice to say, Socks spent the remainder of the kittens’ time in our care in another part of the house.
My sister’s husband’s cat is neither as flighty as Socks nor as mean as Bird and has taught the kittens much about normal cat behavior, but it was strangely comforting to see that little back arch as Danny ran toward me and hear those bizarrely harmonious hisses and purrs as she rubbed her fuzzy chin on my wrist brace. It just goes to show that nonconformity isn’t necessarily confrontational and shouldn’t necessarily provoke adversity. A good life lesson and particularly apt when today’s post is…
Fans Who Fic
Alternate Universes: Just Like The Real Thing, Only Everything’s Different!
This is it, the one I’ve been dreading. How to stay objective? How to say something positive or at the very least constructively critical of that seamy underbelly of the fanfic set known as AU? I’m sure there are good ones out there, but I’ve never read one. Admittedly, I haven’t looked too hard either. I lack the fortitude to plow through “It’s Star Trek, only they’re teenagers and the Enterprise is their high school” or “It’s Harry Potter, only Hogwarts is a coffee shop and Ron, Harry and Hermoine are all baristas” or “It’s FNAF, only they’re all human and also teenagers and also girls, except Mike and he has to bang them all before 6 am.”
One might argue that my own series, Everything Is All Right, is technically AU. In fact, I myself made that argument last week. To a purist, any story that deviates to any degree from canon lore or includes original characters could be considered Alternative. I personally don’t take it that far. Any fandom that allows for a serial storyline has already admitted plenty of one-off characters and situational plots, so one more isn’t going to break the world. The crew of the Serenity encountering a hot, sassy bounty hunter on her way to kick ass through a nest of reavers isn’t a Mary-Sueism as much as it is a rejected episode outline. In fact, having a main character fall in love with a beautiful stranger who dominates the plotline that week and is never seen again is pretty much half the episodes of all franchises ever.
Wow, this is turning into a Mary Sue post, so I’m going to delete the rest of that rant and save it for next week. These week, we’re talking about Alternate Universes, as I (loosely) define the term, which is less of a single definition and more of a spectrum. On one end, we have stories that may include new characters or substitute fan-theories for in-world facts or even moves characters into different roles or relationships, while at the other end there are stories where canon lore, characters and often physics do not apply. Between the two extremes are infinite universes where canon elements are either adopted or discarded as the author pleases. There are no rules. It’s pure anarchy. Dogs and cats, living together…mass hysteria!
However, even I don’t put every story that colors outside the known lines on the AU spectrum. It’s difficult to explain just what my criteria are. The best example I can give of the purely arbitrary line I’ve drawn is this: Any fanfic where the main characters demonstrate a…shall we say…shift in sexuality is what I’d consider an alternate storyline, since sexuality is on a spectrum all its own and I never assume I know the full history of any character’s relationships. However, certain ships and all Mpreg and Fempreg are AU. That still doesn’t automatically make them a bad story, but I’d be lying if I said they didn’t have a hell of a handicap to overcome to win me over.
However, since a spectrum is a difficult thing to sum up, I’ma go ahead and break it down into four sweeping generalizations.
Alternate Universe. When I see the AU tag, this is what I think of: The fandom I know and love, altered in some fundamental way that would make it impossible for the source material to have occurred at all. For example, Harry Potter, but without magic. The author might substitute technology, but even super-advanced technology cannot take the place of magic, since the idea of magic being a genetic trait in Rowling’s books was essential to the entire universe. Harry was not a kid with a magic wand; he was a wizard.
Alternate Reality. This is when the fundamental rules remain the same, but major plot points/character roles are changed. Rolling along (get it?) with the Harry Potter example, an AR story would be one in which Hermione was the Chosen One and the main character, while Harry was just another kid at school (or absent entirely).
Alternate Timeline. These stories can take place entirely within the established universe, but just at a different time. Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them can be thought of as a Harry Potter AT, as can James Potter and the Cursed Child.
All Human. And this is my personal least-favorite of the fanfiction genres, the one that strips supernatural or otherwise non-human characters of their non-human qualities and presents them as just a bunch of boring people. Plenty of great stories are written about ordinary humans, but Harry Potter was not one of them. True, he has a lot of ordinary problems to which even a Muggle could relate, but his story needs magic to be told. It just doesn’t work without it.
Heck, now that I’m looking at it like this, I can use those four categories to break AUs down even further: ARs and ATs have at least the potential for good. AUs and AHs do not.
And yet, I feel obligated to remind the reader that my antipathy toward AUs is really more of a ‘me’-thing and I’m biased to boot. I don’t like them and the reason I don’t like them, in true Marvel Universe ideology, is because I don’t understand them. I don’t understand why they even exist. I especially don’t understand the thought processes of the people writing them. “I love this show! I love everything about it! I love it so much, I want there to be more stories so I can love them too! In fact, I want that so much, I’m going to write my own stories! But first, I’m going to change everything, until the characters and settings are utterly unrecognizable by anyone’s standards! Because I love this series! So much.”
I don’t get it.
So I don’t read it, which is the only reasonable response, in my opinion. You will never hear me say that AUs shouldn’t exist or that the people who write them should stop (or, given that this is the internet, kill themselves. No exaggeration, I’ve seen that in the comment section of fanfics before and it never fails to gobsmack me. Like, holy shit, people, grow a sense of proportion. It’s a story). But I don’t read them, so by my own rule, I’m not qualified to write about them.
Hmm, and yet I have all this white space to fill…
So okay. Just as an exercise, let me do my best to wipe away my prejudices, just for today, and try to come up with some positive things to say about AUs.
This is harder than I thought.
Well, okay, here’s one. They are easily the most creative form of fanfiction. In fact, I’ve read many where the author made up absolutely everything except the names and general descriptions of the characters. If it’s well-written, there’s no reason I can think of why the author shouldn’t change that too and then publish it. In fact, I think a lot of my irritation when reading certain stories stems from the fact that the author is using the fandom as training wheels. If your story is strong enough to support itself, then let it (I’m told this is called ‘filing off the serial numbers’ or ’50-Shading’). You’re only holding yourself back by forcing your story onto someone else’s universe.
Huh. That wasn’t so hard. That wasn’t so positive either, but baby steps, baby steps.
Since I brought up Mpreg/Fempreg earlier, let me take a moment to express my genuine appreciation for how well, how consistently and especially how normally unisexual reproduction is portrayed. I don’t particularly think it should be the whole plot of a story, but I don’t believe any romance should be the whole point of any story. The gender of the participants and the mechanics of their DNA-exchange hardly signify. Fanfiction is leaps and bounds beyond the mainstream when it comes to positive representation of LGBTQIA relationships. Honestly, while the part of me that took Biology in school finds Mpreg stories ridiculous, they still inspire me to experiment with what sex is and what sexy means.
Hmm, one more. Gotta round this out with the Rule of Three…
Okay, well, I’m sure this is going to sound insincere, given my initial stated aversion to flamefics and parodies, but I’ve found AUs to be the funniest fanfics. Granted, the comedy wasn’t always intentional, but as MST3K has proven time and time and time again, sometimes comedy is in the eye of the beholder. I got a little bitchy a few weeks ago when I talked about certain fanfic writers lacking respect for the source material, but I have since had a Snickers and now I can admit that a lot of the time, what an outsider might mistake for sneering contempt is just a little gentle teasing between friends. And not to make myself out to be a total hypocrite, but back in my Marvel comic collecting days, two of my sure-fire-buy-’em titles were What If? and What The? It doesn’t get any AU-er than that.
I guess if there’s one thing you–and I–should take away from today’s post, it’s that good stories can be anywhere. You should never judge a book by its cover or a fanfic by its tags.