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.

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