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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!
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