carolyn_claire: (Default)
[personal profile] carolyn_claire posting in [community profile] the_comfy_chair
This post is a sort of a hybrid thing--not really a story review, not as objective or extensive as an essay, and a little bit of both, maybe. As I was thinking about a couple of stories I might like to post about, it struck me that several of them have something in common--they have a SF element in them that really impressed me. But it's a Stargate show, you may say; the entire premise of the series is SF based. And you're right, it is, but that doesn't mean that all the stories written that are based on the series are SF themed, in and of themselves. There's romance, adventure, thrillers, porn, drama, humor, all sorts of foundations for the action and interaction of the stories that aren't SF based, even though the universe, itself, invites the use of wormholes, faster-than-light travel and knowledge of life on other plants as tools to advance those stories. The stories I'm talking about, the ones that give me a little thrill reminiscent of the way the SF stories I grew up on made me feel, have SF elements at their hearts--the stories are built around those elements, and they're extremely cool.

The stories I'm going to refer to are:
Synthesis by Thingswithwings
The Ones You Leave Behind by Leah
Whipping Boy by Skinscript
The Fourteenth of Green by Kanata
Dearest by Lavvyan

A podcast I was listening to, recently, by a group of SF and fantasy writers brought up issues of suspension of disbelief, particularly in regards to SF works (SF readers are a notoriously nit-picky lot.) They used a number of examples in text and in film, but one that was particularly entertaining to me was the Transformers movies and the way that an enormous, transforming alien robot was able to fold down to an object the size of a toaster. Several participants put forward the idea that, once you've bought into the existence of the enormous, transforming alien robots, it's not much of a stretch to swallow the folding down to toaster size, but it apparently is, for some people--they'll go for the Transformer, but certain things within the universe had better remain consistent with ours, such as the conservation of mass. That's the SF audience, that's the way they think and what writers might want to keep in mind when creating these stories. Other common SF tropes may begin to disappear for the reader, much like a "said" attribution does--no one watches Star Trek or Stargate regularly and harps on the impossibility of faster-than-light travel; it's accepted as a given. A lot of SF depends on being willing to accept and ignore the implausibility of some of the science it's based on--no trekking to the stars without warp drive, no planet-hopping without a Stargate. So the picky SF-loving brain can overlook some implausibilities but be unwilling to handwave others, perhaps, while there are tropes that can become so accepted that they lose some of their innovative impact and fade into the background.

A lot of the SGA stories I've read have had no SF-ish elements in them beyond the (to the reader) invisible science of the Stargates and the hyperdrives. Those have become the setting; the story, itself, often focuses on the characters (which is a good thing), even when those stories are episode-like in their execution. That the setting is a spaceship or a distant planet is less important to the story than who's there, what drives them, what trouble they get into and out of, who they love or want or miss, or who brought the lube. Stories that have a SF element as part of their focus, while still promoting the importance of the characters, their actions and interactions and growth, are created around an element that can't be easily translated without significantly changing the story--a spaceship could become a cruise ship, for instance, or another planet become another country, in many stories, and not significantly change what's essential to the story. The following stories, though, all contain elements that make the story true SF, for me, and especially appealing. (They all do a terrific job with the personal and interpersonal, too, which isn't the case with all SF stories, unfortunately.)

The first story I remember thinking, "SF! Cool!" about was Synthesis, a gorgeous story about how the technology the new Atlanteans discover seems to slowly draw them further from humankind as we know it (but not, necessarily, from their own humanity) and closer to the city and to each other. There's a sort of cool, clinical slide of a progression from the people they once were to the cyborgs they're becoming, built from the city, itself, with ever greater ease as time goes by; at the same time, there's a warm, lush humanity to the way they touch (themselves and each other), the way they ground themselves (in a greenhouse full of growing things or in someone's arms), the way they trace the edges of their scars (with their eyes and with their hands) without judgment or regret. When they finally begin to replace parts of themselves by choice, rather than out of necessity, a line has been crossed that the reader might finally balk at, hesitating and observing with uneasiness as the Atlantans recede further into the city, the way the new recruits seem to balk at it, and at them. Their future is uncertain, now, and, though it's a potentially hopeful one, it's possibly not someplace where we'd want to follow--you'd have to be of the first wave to understand, maybe, you'd have to be one of them. It's a beautiful, evocative, somewhat creepy story, as beautifully crafted as their increasingly artificial bodies are. Sooooo cool--I couldn't remember having read anything like it in SGA fandom, before, and I wanted more.

A more recent story with a tremendous SF element is The Ones You Leave Behind--also one of the most heartbreaking stories I've ever read, one that never fails to make me cry. This story has mecha--huge battle robots reminiscent of Gundams (for me, anyway--Gundam Wing is a favorite of mine) with a horrific surprise inside. Cloning is an element, too, and is used to more gruesome and disturbing ends that the series ever dreamed of. The robots are the SF body of the story, the structure around which it's built, while Rodney's love for John, and his repeated loss of John, is its human heart. It's an amazing fusion of science and drama, and its impact, for me, was enormous--I went from being excited about the mecha to disturbed and stricken by their truth, and by all the loss that happens because of them, in a whiplash sort of way that increased the impact of both, for me. It's the most incredibly moving, human story about science gone mad I can imagine.

Then there's The Whipping Boy, a story with no actual whipping but a lot of pain, and none of it fun for the recipients. It's a story about being in the wrong place at the wrong time, and going beyond survival, in the worst of circumstances, to defeat an unimaginably alien foe. These aliens are really alien, and the world-building here is superb, strange and sinister and frightening, while the mystery of what's happened to Rodney and those who were with him draws the reader in immediately--and draws John in, too. It's tense and exciting and really gripping as it unfolds and we discover, little by little, what they're up against and what they've decided to do about it. The technology plays an important role, too, both in their capture and imprisonment and in winning their freedom, and everyone else's. There's a horror element to what they discover and what they endure that's harrowing (though not too graphic for comfort), but it's the alien race that's the driving force behind this story, a very skillfully created and carefully wielded horror.

All of the above stories could have happened in canon, could be written into an episode; The Fourteenth of Green is an AU, appearing to take place on an alternate Earth, one where a plague and geological upheavals have created a semi-apocalyptic landscape. John is gone, but Rodney can fix it--he's so sure he can fix it, and he's not giving up, despite the urgings of his friends. There are bits of SF embedded all through this story, like the jacks embedded in Rodney and John's heads--the cryo-tech, in particular, that inspires and drives Rodney to keep trying, even if he's succeeding much better at destroying himself than he is at saving John. The dark hopelessness of a world trying to rebuild itself after horror is mirrored in Rodney as he and John slowly deteriorate, together; the confusion of the post-Wraith-virus world is also mirrored in the story's construction, which is somewhat obscure, at first, but filled with hints that bring the truth of what's going on in Rodney's lab hideaway into increasing focus as the story moves forward--or backward. I love apocafic, and creepy tech, and dismal, hopeless love, and this story really delivers.

And then there's Dearest, another AU and another of my favorite stories in the fandom. Far into the future of an alternate universe, people with the ATA gene are bred for its continuation and its use, through mind control and slavery. The neurotechnology is central to the story, to John's captivity, to Rodney's growing love and to his decision to change an entire society to free the man he loves and wants to love him back with his whole, right mind. As clearly drawn and thought provoking as the setting is, though, I have to admit that what really makes this story, for me, is the exquisite heartbreak of the ending--it's another one that never fails to bring tears (and I really seem to like that.)

As I look at what the above stories have in common, it does seem as if a darker tone, some horror and some heartbreak are as much a part of what appeals to me as the skillful use of the SF elements, which makes me wonder--is that tone common to SF-themed SGA stories? These are the ones that I love and that I thought of off the top of my head, but, as I think more about it, I can't come up with any happy-smiley SF-themed stories. Are they not out there, or am I just not remembering them because I like the horror and heartbreak better? I'm noticing, too, that Rodney seems to fare a lot better than John in most of these stories--John is often a victim of the technology while Rodney has more control. Is this a function of their roles in the series? I guess it would make sense that the scientist would have the upper hand in an SF-themed story. Or is John just the preferred whumpee, in general? Possibly a little of both? I'd be very interested to hear about more SF-themed stories that do or don't follow these patterns, whether I've never read them or am just not remembering them, at the moment. There can never be enough SF-inspired goodness! I'm in the fandom because I love the genre, as well as the characters; more of both, please!

Date: 2010-04-26 10:49 am (UTC)
noracharles: (Default)
From: [personal profile] noracharles
I love SF. I'm mostly drawn to SF and Fantasy fandoms, and I can't actually think of any fandom I've been actively involved it which didn't have SF/F elements.

But what I'm drawn to is not the gee whiz factor, and I don't care about mecha or cool space ships or awesome weapons. I do like science in and of itself, and learning about it through fiction can be fun, but that's not what most "science" fiction is actually about, and I don't particularly seek it out.

No, what interests me are new and different ethical dilemmas, relationships with the Other, and emo porn and kink. Lavvyan's fic Dearest is a good example of this.

I'm surprised that you would classify it as science fiction, since it did not explore either technology or society; it was straight up unapologetic cheesy kink melodrama, a slave fic at its finest.

Lavvyan is great at humorous kink fic (I'm not sure if it's strictly speaking id fic when it's so calculated) and in many ways signals that that is the genre she is going for. The SF/world-building scenes, the ones that would have moved the revolution and John-establishing-himself-as-a-free-man plots forward if they had been written out, are short summaries told by an impersonal narrator. I would love to read that novel, but this fic is not that novel.

The slave fic elements are explored in more detail, in close third person narrative, but while all the elements are there, they're not really expanded on. It's more of an affectionate list of favorite elements, calling the reader's knowledge to great effect. For example, I've read novel length fics about this:
For whatever reason, Rodney didn't allow them to play around very often, making every chance to take care of him even more… well, precious.

I'm in awe at the way Lavvyan has chosen to highlight just a few interactions between John and Rodney which perfectly convey the emotional atmosphere, and let most of the story unfold in the reader's mind using allusions to fanfic tropes and conventions.

And then of course there are the fandom in-jokes, which help make this a funny, light-hearted meta-ficcy love letter to melodrama, rather than hmm, a less funny and light-hearted meta-ficcy love letter to melodrama, strictly speaking, I guess? Though, not wanting to insult any reader's powers of observation and pattern recognition, I think the jokes are essential for the success of the fic beyond the humor value, because without them, it might easily have read as a rather superficial sketch of a fic.

There were many little phrases that pinged me, many well-worn perspectives on the characters, like the specific things the characters notice and find attractive about each other, especially the romanticized Rodney and the post-retro virus Rodney and the way the descriptions echo fan discussions, and of course, my favorite quote:
Dr. Weir tucked a strand of hair behind one ear. That was the third time in five minutes, and it was distracting.

LOL. Yeah, that phrase also started grating on me and distracting me, Lavvyan.

Oh, and the perfect ending, so satisfying and happy-making. It is a slave fic and post-Trinity fic mash-up! \o/
Rodney went to China because you didn't appreciate him enough, John. WHO'S SORRY NOW?!

Yes, I loled, and I cried a bit, and I spent many, many happy idle times imagining fix it endings for Dearest. The angst, it is delicious.

But back to SF SGA fic in general: I'm not very into apocafics or fics about losing one's humanity or man's inhumanity to man, or anything pessimistic or doom and gloom. I like my angst to be frothy melodrama with cheeky winks to the audience, and I like my SF elements to either be about actual science or to be mere set-up for kink.

I'm going to take a look at the other fics you mentioned and see if there are any of them that don't seem like they'd be more upsetting than enjoyable to read (for me, obvs). And I'm going to give you an example of the sort of SF I go looking for:
Attack Of The Giant Robot From Outer Space by [livejournal.com profile] skoosiepants
In this fic, John shares my appreciation for robots, not as mecha or gee whiz technology, but for the pure kink factor.

Date: 2010-04-26 02:41 pm (UTC)
noracharles: (Default)
From: [personal profile] noracharles
The Fourteenth of Green by Kanata is more what I would call SF. Science plays a central role in the plot, not just as set-up for the plot, and there is world building shown in dialogue, in the news cast, and in Rodney's technical means and limits.

There is also an ethical dilemma at the heart of the fic which is not only valuable for character insight, but which (more importantly perhaps) is relevant to the interests of people in developed countries.

After I wrote the comment above about Lavvyan's Dearest, I've thought some more about how best to explain what SF is to me/what I look for in SF (overlapping but not identical concepts). I don't think I explained it well at all.

The science in SF for me is not just hard science or the natural sciences. It is very much science ethics and history, sociology and anthropology. If SF is not a commentary on the real world and an exploration of tendencies in the real world, then it's not genuine SF to me. I don't consider space operas or fantastic fiction with improbable or impossible "science" that might as well be magic to be real SF.

Lavvyan's Dearest was not SF to me because it was a different genre, it explored an ethical dilemma that does not have much to do with science or social trends, but it did at least allude to a plot full of science and world building, so I can accept calling it SF.

Kanata's The Fourteenth of Green is what I would call SF.

I don't think this level of true SF-ness is common in SGA fics at all, like you also point out Cathy. I'm not really surprised by that, because the canon itself is not true SF according to my definition - I think The Fourteenth of Green is a genre shift, and a difficult to accomplish genre shift at that. Romantic dramas are far easier to construct, and unlike SF which must say something new to be good, romance is good when it tells the same story over and over again with small variations.

I am reminded of another fanwork with genre shift, but this one had a more obvious connection to canon that Kanata's sifting out of the transformation and infection themes in the show:
Open Secrets of the Pegasus Galaxy by [livejournal.com profile] yevgenie

I don't mean obvious in the sense of more people able to come up with the concept or it being easier to come up with, I mean more obvious in the sense of me being able to understand the connection to canon better.

I've read more meta about atrocities of war in SGA than I have about transformation and identity, and that is probably a large part of why. It's a bit strange to me, now that I think about it:
Ford → Wraith juice Ford
Sheppard → Bug Sheppard
Teyla → Wraith hybrid Teyla and later Wraith queen Teyla
Weir → Asuran Weir
Carson → clone Carson
McKay → ascending McKay and later brain squid McKay

And on and on. Transformation fics, doppelgänger fics (robots, alternate timelines, clones, AIs) and ascension fics are popular, mostly for kink and melodrama, less commonly for ethical examinations of loss, grief, obsession and quality of life.

Hmm, and it's also interesting to me that Kanata mentions infection but makes a point of dismissing it as a theme for The Fourteenth of Green. I like that! It's actually one of the more tiresome themes in SGA. I hate that whole paranoid fear of the political or religious extremists among us and the way it ties in with the cultural influence of racial and sexual minorities.

Date: 2010-04-26 10:18 pm (UTC)
sholio: (Who-Rose)
From: [personal profile] sholio
Random drive-by comment on pronouns - Kanata's actually a guy, just FYI.

Anyway, interesting discussion. My own definition of SF is pretty broad - I'm a lumper, not a splitter *g* - but while I do include space opera and similar things in my personal definition of SF, I also really appreciate seeing SGA stories tackle more "hard" SF or social SF elements, as opposed to the usual handwavium, which could just as easily be, say, magic swords and wizards in terms of its effects on the story. (And this is making me think about my own use of SF elements vs. handwavium in my own stories as well.)

Date: 2010-04-27 02:46 am (UTC)
mrshamill: (Default)
From: [personal profile] mrshamill
This is a wonderful topic, and were I not so completely exhausted from the past month, I would love to discuss it at length with you. My biggest problem is that I can't not have hard science in anything I write -- well, anything with a plot, anyway (which is more than three-quarters of my stories) -- and if I write science, it has to be as accurate as I can make it. This has led to some really incredible migraines when trying to reconcile (for example) Stargate wink-wink-nudge-nudge science with actual astrophysics (and don't get me started with the language) or George Lucas' playing fast and loose with stellar distances.

I cut my teeth on Analog and learned to read with Clarke and Heinlein and Niven so technobabble comes easy, but if it isn't as accurate as I can make it, then as far as I'm concerned, it's not worth writing.

There are stories with hard SF themes that end 'happily', though I can't at the moment name names, it's too late and I'm too tired. The best ones are the ones that integrate the science into the story so it becomes the background, the expected, so you're not reading the story for the SF, but the SF is almost another character in the story, a background red shirt, if you will; essential but unobtrusive. Well, unless the story is about the science, of course.

I'm rambling, sorry. Must go to bed, it's been a Monday. Thanks for the topic, though!

Date: 2010-04-27 02:16 pm (UTC)
torachan: (Default)
From: [personal profile] torachan
Hmm, I'm trying to think of happy SF stories and it is hard, but like you, that could just be my preferences influencing things. I should go through my SGA recs and see what's there.

Off the top of my head, two sci-fi stories I remember off the top of my head were [personal profile] lavvyan's Match fic from a couple years ago, Blink, and [livejournal.com profile] samdonne's Your Cowboy Days Are Over (Mammas, Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys), both of which are pretty dark.

Edited Date: 2010-04-27 02:16 pm (UTC)

Date: 2010-04-28 08:47 pm (UTC)
thingswithwings: dear teevee: I want to crawl inside you (a dude crawls inside a tv) (Default)
From: [personal profile] thingswithwings
cool post! for me, no discussion of SGA scifi is complete without reference to Mirabile Dictu's I Am Your Image Dressed As the World, which I think is one of the most scifi-y scifi stories I've ever read (plus, gorgeously written). I (sadly!) don't have the time at the moment to really get involved in this conversation, but I thought I'd drop in and offer a plug for that one which, if you haven't read it, I think you might love. :)

Date: 2010-04-29 02:32 pm (UTC)
kass: John and Rodney find home in each other! (home)
From: [personal profile] kass
Does [personal profile] cesperanza's OK Computer have the SF feel you're looking for? To my sensibilities, the central plot devices (virtual reality, time travel) are quintessentially SF.

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