melannen: Commander Valentine of Alpha Squad Seven, a red-haired female Nick Fury in space, smoking contemplatively (Default)
melannen ([personal profile] melannen) wrote2014-12-15 04:56 pm

Saving the World and So On


Leave Us Time To Waste (5457 words) by melannen
Chapters: 1/1
Fandom: Pacific Rim (2013)
Rating: Mature
Warnings: No Archive Warnings Apply
Relationships: Newton Geiszler/Hermann Gottlieb, Raleigh Becket & Mako Mori, Newton Geiszler/Kaiju
Characters: Newton Geiszler, Hermann Gottlieb, Tendo Choi, Raleigh Becket, Mako Mori
Additional Tags: Aliens make them not have sex, Post-Canon, Drift Side Effects, Platonic Relationships, Sleepy/Unconscious Sex, Dubious Consent

One of the side-effects of Drifting is that Drift partners are no longer capable of being sexually attracted to each other. At all. Dr. Newton Geiszler is not happy about this.

Look, look, I finished a fic!

2. For the talky meme, [personal profile] alasse_irena asked for: Tell me something (or somethings, if you like) you would like to see more of in the fantasy genre.

Well, first, I have a confession to make: I don't read a lot of fantasy these days. (And don't watch much TV or movies, either.) There are a lot of fantasy novels I read back in the day that are still very dear to my heart, but in the last twelve months, I have read a total of six grown-up fantasy novels for grown-ups - if reading a five-book series about Edwardian vampires and one book about She-Hulk counts. (If you add in kids' novels and comics it's a little better but not much.) So it's possible they're already doing all the things I like and I just haven't noticed... but hey, when did not knowing what I'm talking about ever stop me?

My first version of this post was going to be "things fantasy novels could do to make me more likely to read them", but that really quickly turned into "reasons I enjoy fanfic more than published novels". Which was actually really interesting to write out, but not really the question I wanted to answer here, so I may post it later (I do still have slots open for the last week of meme....)

So instead I am going to talk about one thing that I would like to see less of in all the stories I consume, but especially in fantasy novels: the good guys only winning because they find the Cheat Codes of Destiny.

Back when I read a lot of fantasy, I really liked your basic high fantasy/quest fantasy stories: a small band of misfits, outcasts, and ordinary people discover that the evil that is oppressing the land can no longer be borne, they set out to defeat it, some plot happens, in the end Our Heroes are victorious and justice is returned to the land.

I still really like that story. But eventually it started to bother me that in nearly every version of that story, one of our heroes turns out to be a Chosen One. Or a Secret Heir to Power. Or they find a Prophecy that's on their side, or suddenly become best friends with the Magic Isolationist People. Or they get a McGuffin of Victory, or unlock a Power That Has Been Hidden From the World. Or it turns out the bad guys have a Single Weak Spot or a Terrible Secret That Will Destroy Them.

And it's appealing in the same way that soulbondy romances are appealing - it's good to know 100% for sure that you are the people who are meant for this. And of course a lot of fantasy uses the Chosen One sort of storyline as a way of talking about personal growth, and being the hero of one's own life, blown up to an epic scale so it's easier to examine. And I, too, understand the joy of getting to watch Sudden Soulbonded Dragons swoop out of the sky and burn the assholes to the ground, or whatever.

That story happens a lot because it's a powerful story, and it's always been a powerful story. But I start making sad-eyes when I can't find any versions of the Let's Overthrow the Evil Overlords story that don't have some sort of Chosen One or Magical McGuffin or Deus Ex Dragonfire that's the only path to victory.

First because it gets monotonous and because it's usually taking the easy way out of the plot.

But mostly because - because people get their scripts for the world via their stories. Stories teach us how the world works, and what to do to make the world work better. And when all the stories say "The only way to take down the assholes in charge is to wait for the Chosen One to show up or the Magic Whatsit to be discovered" - well, that's a problem. Because in the real world, the Chosen One is never going to show up and take down the Assholes in Charge.

And we've got generations of people right now who grew up on stories of Wait for the Chosen One To Save Us. And that leads to Problems:

It leads to a population that's primed to go wild for anyone who might plausibly be the Chosen One (see: the 2008 US presidential election)

It leads to a population who thinks that the only way to take down the Assholes In Power is to wait for the Chosen One to fix it for us (see: what started happening directly after the 2008 US presidential election)

And when the population finally realizes that the Chosen One can't actually fix anything and that script doesn't actually work, we're left flailing around wildly, because Wait For The Prophecies To Be Fulfilled is the only script we've got for how to fix the world (see: Tumblr, right now.)

It's not just fantasy novels that do this - I first articulated my discomfort to myself around the time I read the graphic novel Birth of a Nation, by Aaron McGruder, which is about what happens when the poor black citizens of East St. Louis decide they're not going to take it any more and secede from the United States. It's a really good comic, by the way, if kinda depressing and probably somewhat dated at this point. But I went into it expecting What Happens When The Citizens of East St. Louis Secede, and what I got what What Happens When The Citizens of East St. Louis Secede And Also Incidentally Have Control Over A Brand-New Source Of Unlimited Energy That Will Make Oil Obsolete.

Which you will acknowledge is not exactly the same story.

Also I read that the same week I read Speranza's Written By the Victors, which is an also very good SGA fanfic about What Happens When Atlantis Secedes From Earth, except it's actually about What Happens When Atlantis Secedes From Earth And Also They Have Sole Control Over A Brand-New Source of Unlimited Energy. So you can see why the pattern became unavoidable.

And they are both great stories that I would recommend! But I don't need a script for how to defeat the Overlords when I have access to a magic power source; if I had that I feel like things would probably fall into place eventually. I need to know how to do it without that.

And ever since then, I can't stop seeing the ubiquity of the pattern. And whenever I read a story that purports to be about Overthrowing the Evil Overlords, I live in dread of the page where it is revealed that one of our heroes is the Chosen One, or that they have suddenly discovered the Fountain of All Power, or whatever.

I want to still enjoy those stories but the little voice in the back of my head that keeps saying "this is why nobody has overthrown the assholes yet. this is unwitting propaganda for the oppressor, placating the masses with the promise of a savior. this story is part of the problem" sort of sucks the joy out of it. And since the Chosen One storyline traditionally starts with "They Were An Ordinary Person of Ordinary Ordinariness Who Just Wanted To Change The World", I keep hoping this is the story where they get to stay Ordinary but the inevitable prophecy shows up sooner or later, and I'm so tired of bait-and-switch that I've mostly stopped bothering.

Also, I would kind of like to have a new script for how to take down the bad guys who have taken over the world. It would be nice.

What would that script look like? Well, I don't know, if I did somebody would have probably take down the Evil Overlords by now. And I suspect part of the reason nobody writes this is because they don't know what that story would look like either. But I bet if our storysmiths had spent as much energy writing as many variations on the "There Is No Chosen One, There's Just Us" as they have on the "Just Endure It Until The Prophecy Is Fulfilled" story, we would be a lot closer to finding the one that works.

There are some stories out there that do a good job with this - Discworld consistently subverts the Chosen One tropes, which is probably why it's one of the long fantasy series I'm still trying to keep up with. Pacific Rim cancels the apocalypse with just a bunch of normal schmucks who are too stubborn to give up. Um. Probably there are others? That I could think of if I thought really hard?

I can certainly list plenty of books that looked like they were going to do it but then the writer got stuck and threw in some Destiny Powers at the last minute. And I could list you some series that looked like they were going there for several installments and then decided they definitely needed to level up their protagonists in Special. And I can name you some that have no Chosen Ones because everything is shit and there are no good guys, but those are hardly better in terms of reshaping the cultural narrative.

This is probably part of why I have fallen so hard for Les Mis fandom, because despite the occasional epic-level Pontmercying, it at least tries to lay out a script for change that does not require having a McGuffin or a Chosen One on your side. Of course its script is "you're gonna die but you have to fight anyway and don't worry things will get better eventually." I would rather we had some narratives to aspire to that ended in victory and everybody not dying, to be honest.

And I don't think you need to go for depressing, gritty realism in order to write the story I want. You can have ordinary people having a total, joyful victory over absolute evil. It doesn't have to be realistic, and I don't want it to be depressing. I just want it to push a message other than "you have no hope of winning unless you have the Cheat Codes of Destiny on your side, so just keep your head down and don't bother."

Also I would like more diversity in characters and worldbuilding, obviously. And less heteronormativity and gender essentialism. And for it to be exactly like fanfic in every way. And more Capital Letters of Emphasis, obviously.

But mostly I would like a ban on using Cheat Codes of Destiny to take out the Assholes In Charge, and more of whatever we come up with instead.
beatrice_otter: 1633--knight and ironclad (1633)

[personal profile] beatrice_otter 2014-12-15 10:32 pm (UTC)(link)
You might be interested in the 1632 alternate history series by Eric Flint and lots of other people. A town of ordinary West Virginians from 2000 is plopped down in the middle of Germany in the 30 Years War. And, yes, there's a Magical Macguffin to start out with: the town getting sent back in time in the first place. But that's the only one in the series. The Flint picked an actual town to use--geography, demographics, businesses in town, contents of the library--and that's it. No convenient FBI crime lab in town for the week; no Air Force jets that just happened to be flying by overhead and got swept up with the town, nothing. Just ordinary rural West Virginians and the sorts of things they would realistically have in their homes and schools and shops.
skygiants: Hikaru from Ouran walking straight into Tamaki's hand (talk to the hand)

[personal profile] skygiants 2014-12-15 10:39 pm (UTC)(link)
I TOO am tired of Chosen Ones and Moments of Destiny. So tired! I wanted to like China Mieville's UnLunDun, the book that explicitly says f-you to the whole Chosen One trope, much more than I did, but I'm still glad it exists.
snickfic: "Nobody can explain a dragon" (Le Guin quotation) (dragon)

[personal profile] snickfic 2014-12-16 03:31 am (UTC)(link)
Oh man, yes, you should try some Mieville. He's one of my very favorite authors. The Bas-Lag novels are great for worldbuilding, but really dark. I'd recommend Railsea for an introduction to Mieville's worldbuilding + fun with language, and The City and The City for a brain bender that is not actually much like other Mieville.
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[personal profile] snickfic 2014-12-16 03:28 am (UTC)(link)
Very interesting stuff! I do feel that having sole control of a new energy source would in some ways make your secession more complicated; it would definitely introduce its own problems. But I take your point. :)

I, for one, would be most interested to read about why you like fanfic better than profic. That isn't true for me across the board, but certainly there are many instances where fic is much likelier to give me the story I want than profic is.
Edited 2014-12-16 03:29 (UTC)
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[personal profile] snickfic 2014-12-16 03:41 am (UTC)(link)
Hi! *waves* You picked an excellent time to friend, as I am in the middle of a storm of renewed Saga feellings. :D

I see what you mean about fanfic. One of the things I appreciate about it is how it tell a complete story in 1 or 2k, just because of the huge weight of canon it can draw upon. Fanfic can afford a brevity that original fic cannot, generally. But my reasons also have to do with things like "science fiction but also feelings," and other ways that fandom is just often interested in different things than original fic seems to be.
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[personal profile] snickfic 2014-12-16 07:46 pm (UTC)(link)

It's true, I do definitely have better luck reading SFF recced by fannish people rather than the SF community at large. A lot of my dissatisfaction with profic is holdover from the years when I took the "serious SF" people seriously. :P

redsnake05: Two beautiful cups of tea (General: two cups of tea)

[personal profile] redsnake05 2014-12-16 08:07 am (UTC)(link)
I spent a bit of time, after reading this, to have a think about whether I know of any texts that don't rely on Chosen Ones and Destinies, and I'm having a real blank when it comes to fantasy novels. I've read a few contemporary, post-colonial NZ novels that approach how to change the world, though none show final success, just the struggle. I like that, though, and I really should hunt out more of them.
zellieh: Black African American Superwoman (DCU Superwoman African)

[personal profile] zellieh 2014-12-20 06:53 pm (UTC)(link)
Thinking about this, I'm drawing a blank on adult fantasy novels. I've had more luck thinking of examples in YA fantasy than in the adult stuff.

Mercedes Lackey's Valdemar books have lots of Destiny, Chosen Ones, and McGuffins, but they also have lost of people working and training for years to be able to handle the Destiny/McGuffin, and using common sense and the law to defeat the various Great Evils, so I feel like it works overall? There's also often a counter-balance where Great Destined Power is to be avoided because 'May you live in Interesting Times' is a curse, after all.

Tamora Pierce's 'Protector of the Small' series (four or five books?) is about a young woman who has no magic special powers except a very determined personality, who trains to become the second Lady Knight of Tortall (after the first Lady Knight, Alanna the Lioness, snuck in by pretending to be a boy, and then turned out to be a Magical Destined Chosen One with Special Powers of Awesomeness). I think it's the only one I can think of right now that wholly embodies what you were looking for.

Oh, and Mairelon the Magician and the sequel Magican's Ward, both by Patricia Wrede, comes close to this. It has a young woman with magic in a sort-of-Regency Europe where magic's unusual, but not exceptional. The real world-saving comes from personal decisions and team-work, not McGuffins. The real problem that has to be overcome has more to do with classism and sexism than anything else, since magical teaching and accreditation is mainly run by privileged men to suit other privileged men, so women and the lower classes are ignored unless they need to be arrested.

Some of Mercedes Lackey's Tales of The Five Hundred Kingdoms rely on ordinary people trying to fight free of Great Destined Whatevers. They're stories about fairytale tropes as a force of nature/system of magic that is sometimes oppressive and harmful, and the heroes are the people who can look at these tropes and find loopholes to subvert them. Magic and McGuffins are everywhere, obviously, but the point of Destiny in these books is that people want to set their own destiny, and they mostly do it by hard work and team work.
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[personal profile] neotoma 2014-12-16 10:37 am (UTC)(link)
Have you read Ursula Vernon's Digger? The main character can't be the Chosen One (a family blessing) and just has to muddle through on her own.
alasse_irena: Photo of the back of my head, hair elaborately braided (Default)

[personal profile] alasse_irena 2014-12-16 12:29 pm (UTC)(link)
For the record, I would be totally interested in why you prefer fanfiction to published novels.

There are many interesting thoughts in here - and I agree with you in many ways. I am often tempted to put down books that say "X is just an ordinary Y" on the blurb, because it's almost always setting you up for the SHOCK TWIST that X is in fact not an ordinary Y, and it's not even surprising...

Also - with regard to Les Mis. Yes, I think this is one the things that I really liked about the book. I find it really hard to articulate what I like about Les Mis, because of the everybody dies issue, and the spectacular Pontmercying, and Victor Hugo's utter confusion about how Cosette should operate as a pretty young woman, but I think you may be right - there's a "keep trying, things will get somewhere slowly" message there.

Unfortunately, the fandom seems to lean away from the how-do-we-fix-the-world part of things, and more towards the pretty-revolutionaries-hook-up side, which is totally okay, but I would be delighted to see more modern AUs that addressed the same issues as the novel but in a 21st setting, rather than just doing character relationships.
alasse_irena: Photo of the back of my head, hair elaborately braided (Default)

[personal profile] alasse_irena 2014-12-17 08:45 am (UTC)(link)
That is true, actually. I think people are very wary of addressing the social justice aspect of Les Mis in modern AU, because we honestly have no idea how to fix the world, and yes - it would seem to trivialise a fight for justice if it only provided the backdrop to pretty boys hooking up...

Not that I have anything against pretty boys hooking up - it's just not what I'm looking for in the Les Mis fandom. But I suppose I am also yet to be brave enough to attempt anything like the fic I wish I was seeing, so I can't complain.

I did see somebody request Dallas Mis fic in Yuletide. If I recall correctly, they requested Eponine/Valjean, which - I don't know - probably makes sense if you've seen the whole production, and I have not. But there was something particularly powerful about seeing those characters in modern costume, even without being able to see the whole show...
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[personal profile] schneefink 2014-12-16 03:08 pm (UTC)(link)
Yes, fully agreed. I'm especially annoyed by series where the heroes seem like ordinary people in the first book and the second book reveals they're Special. It can be done well, of course, but there's just so much of it.

Adding a Cheat Code of Destiny (I like that term!) makes things so much easier for the writer: you don't need to worry about the remaining huge orc armies because the ring is destroyed and they all magically disappear! If their leader is a normal guy, and the heroes assassinate them the old-fashioned way, and then you still have to deal with a huge army of orcs, suddenly it's more difficult. But more interesting!

At first I thought I'd read at least a couple of stories about ordinary people, but I think many of them were fic... Plus Discworld, of course. And I once read a book where a girl fakes being the Destined Heir so she can conquer a country, and in the end one of her trusted sidekicks finds out about it and is very concerned, but has to admit that the country is much better off under her rule. I remember what the cover looked like, but not the title. (I also remember on which shelf it stands in the local library, I should maybe check it out again.)
metanewsmods: Abed wearing goggles (Default)

[personal profile] metanewsmods 2014-12-16 03:31 pm (UTC)(link)
May we link this on [community profile] metanews?
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[personal profile] dhampyresa 2014-12-16 11:08 pm (UTC)(link)
This is a very interesting read. You've put a bunch of my feelings in words better than I could have.
zellieh: Text: FEMINAZI. Because wanting to be treated like a human being is just like invading Poland. (activism: sexism feminazi)

[personal profile] zellieh 2014-12-20 07:02 pm (UTC)(link)
I love your meta. It always summarises a problem I've noticed, but you do it so well. I'm trying to fix this in a Harry Potter wip I'm writing, and I keep having to go back and re-write, taking powers and skills away from my few fave characters and spreading them out more logically among others, so I can understand the writers weaknesses, it does add extra work.

But like you, I got so tired of stories that magically fixed everything by killing Voldemort, and did nothing about the corrupt Ministry, bad laws, and systematic slavery and oppression.

Where are the stories with Nuremberg Trials and Truth and Reconciliation hearings? Where are the stories where victory comes from changing the laws, and enforcing them? Where are the negotiations and the peace treaties? I mean, that is how most wars are won, in the end.

Real lasting revolutions come from things like the Magna Carta, the Geneva Conventions, the US Constitution, or Rwanda's legal requirement for a minimum percentage of women in government.
zellieh: Text: The CANON! Ensuring the popularity of dead white guys since 1876 (writing: sexist canon dead white guys)

[personal profile] zellieh 2014-12-30 05:24 pm (UTC)(link)
Ahhh, I see the distinction you're making. Thinking on it, you're right. We do get to see more 'how to win the peace' stories than we do stories that avoid relying on Destiny and Deus Ex McGuffins.

Re-reading the comment I left, I think I phrased it badly. I was thinking about stories that rely on Destiny and McGuffins to win the victory, and then continue relying on quick fixes to resolve everything even after the victory. The wizarding world needs fixing after Harry defeats Voldie? Oh look: Harry just happens to be High Lord Duke McSpecialPowers!

I mean, I like those sort of Prophesied High Mage Harry stories, don't get me wrong, but they do ignore all the real work that would be required in favour of Harry being so special (or having so much money or ancient feudal powers) that he can (sometimes literally) handwave all the problems away.

Which, thinking on that aspect, is even more worrying: your saviour will be a lone power who overrides the rule of law and democratic structures in favour of backroom deals and divine right of kings? Really? It's a great escapist power fantasy, but it's become bizarrely ubiquitous.

So there's a problem not just in teaching people to wait for the Chosen One, but in the way that we think our Chosen One will use their position and power, that it's not just acceptable, but admirable or even necessary for them to be unfettered by limits of law, democracy, or any kind of oversight. Because 'Daddy Knows Best' and 'The Ends Justify The Means'. It's bizarre how many stories about heroically ensuring a liberal future end up advocating this sort of benevolent dictatorship.