Rather than try to nail the perfect first comment straight off, I'm going to make a little one, and I plan to come back and add more thoughts later (I too have a deadline right now).
The think I found most interesting about [shift] reality was how it inverted a fanfic cliche. There are a lot of stories in which the protagonist ends up in another world, and it gives him a new insight on his own -- and usually on a key romantic relationship within his own. But in this story, I love the inversion. That the other world is an escape, that the character fears having an insight into the real relationship he's having; and I love how tragic that makes this story. I love how the crazy danger of SGA canon is the fantasy escape from Rodney's dull life, where he's too scared to even take a chance on real John. And I love how there's a happy ending lurking right there just out of reach, and how the ship pairing we all know and love is actually the unhappy ending.
Such a clever story.
I have things to say about the remixes too, but that will have to wait.
Ooooh, what fascinating insights to [shift]. It *is* inherently a tragic story and Rodney gives up on anything "real" in favor of his fantasy world. Awesome stuff.
I want first to comment on each story individually, as separate entities from each other and then to comment on the way that each works in terms of remix.
[shift] Reality is not a story I'd read before this discussion, so I wasn't entirely sure what to expect. The title led me to believe it would probably be some version of the quantum mirror story. When I clicked the link, the first thing I noticed was the graphic of the shift key which I think is incredibly well done and adds another layer to the story. Many stories don't have a graphic component at all and many of the ones that do don't use them to their full potential. Before I saw the graphic, I was thinking of the title in terms of the verb shift--moving from one place to another. I don't think I would have envisioned the shift key on a keyboard all on my lonesome and the shift key is actually a much more apt image for the piece. Rodney is electing to shift between these realities; he is "pushing a button" that allows him to move from one place to another. That image takes the story from being simply a product of the vagaries of the universe to something Rodney is controlling (even if he doesn't know how or why exactly).
When I first began reading the story, I thought it was going to be a traditional AU. I like that the Rodney here is still canon Rodney, just a Rodney who never found the courage to open his mouth. I completely believe that a canon Rodney with these life experiences and who made these decisions could end up as this version. And then the fic sneakily stops being an AU. LOL That surprised me, pleasantly. I really enjoy that the more time Rodney spends in the "dream world," the more he becomes the canon Rodney we know. When he first gets there he is still Starlight!Rodney and he doesn't know where he is and what's going on and over time he makes an effort to learn what he needs and then by the story's end, it's as if he doesn't even remember having been Starlight!Rodney. This is done so gradually and imperceptibly that at first the reader doesn't realize it's happened, which is very masterful I think.
I also really like that it's never quite clear just how much of a dick John is being, just how involved he is with Elizabeth and how much he's leading Rodney on.
Shifting Reality is also an AU, but not the same kind that I orginally assumed [shift] was.
I think the author's explanation for John's ability to shift between realities is exquisite--simple and elegant and with enough of the ring of the kind of science we're used to from the show to make a plausible theory:
When he goes back to this John's house (he knows the way without thinking), there's a paper fan above his bed, just like at home. He made it in fifth grade. Not every him did, but this one is close, just one fold over. That's what he decided the universe is like, folded up like a fan, and you can spread it out or close it up, and when it's closed that's when you can shift. Jump, slide, whatever. One minute you're you, the next you're getting head.
I think this story is really excellent commentary on fandom and fanfic itself. To quote my earlier rec of this story: This is meta fic at its finest; this is who we are and what we do as fans distilled into this version of John Sheppard. These are the characters that we strip away to their very bones just to see what makes them tick. These are the characters that we move like pieces in a chess game, sometimes sweeping the board with one hand and playing a different game entirely. And this story--this story is something like the fallout. (Some of my tutoring students recently read "Six Characters in Search of an Author" and this piece reminds me muchly of that.)
And here's a quote that sums it all up nicely:
But now it's almost always the same people, everywhere he goes. It's weird to meet someone and think I fucked you, you dumped me, you died. But it's familiar. He likes these people
The end is just amazing, because contrary to the John we know and love from canon and the John we see in the other two stories, this is a John who most definitely leaves people behind. Really powerful and heartbreaking.
Reality Organization is also an AU and more of a traditional AU than any of the other stories. I think this fic doesn't function very well as a standalone because the AU-ness of it is not really set up within the confines of this story. I think you really have to have read the original story in order to enjoy this remix to its fullest potential (which is not a criticism, as the majority of remixes function that way; Shifting Reality is one of those rare remixes that does function well as a standalone).
I love the title and the section titles; some people have a real gift for using songs and poetry to title their work and this piece is a really fine example of that working extremely well.
I really like the dream that John has where Rodney and Holland are conflated. Not only because what happened to him in Afghanistan has powerful resonance for him as a character, but also because if John is able to dream himself into Rodney's Atlantis, we are left to wonder if this dream is another kind of truth.
Because this is a more traditional AU and we don't get any hints of the supernatural or superscientifical until the very end, John announcing his multiplicity theory seems a little abrupt and out of place to me:
I didn't share it with Rodney, but I had been thinking about my theory of life off and on all that day. My theory - well, more like an idea, really - was that life was a stack of realities organized in a pattern, like a Fibonacci sequence or the math required for a successful landing. In one reality, there's nothing but me, the plane and the sky. In another, there's blood and desperation in the desert. And on and on, from Lorne arguing about the Orion account numbers to my mom feeding me tomato soup when I'm eight and feverish. As the lights dimmed for the last show, I was thinking about this and looking at Rodney when he turned around
I think the fic might have been better served by deleting this part.
These lines, however, work incredibly well for me:
I want to stay here forever. Rodney tilted his head and slid his mouth along mine. I don't know if I was breathing. This slice of time and space. This reality. Yes.
The fic ends with John and Rodney able to share in the dream of Atlantis, although in this version, it's a little ambiguous whether Starlight!John is actually entering Starlight!Rodney's dreams or if he is dreaming something based on what he read in Heightmeyer's notes and Rodney isn't really there at all.
Edited at 2008-06-01 05:55 pm (UTC)
And now a note on how I think these two remixes work in terms of the original.
Shifting reality doesn’t just change the POV of the story; we aren’t reading the same story from John’s perspective. We’re reading the same *kind* of story from John’s perspective. This is a what-if-John-was-the-shifter-instead-of-Rodney story. This is also the rare remix that can be read (and read to its full potential) as a standalone and without benefit from the original story. There are multiplicty of Johns in this story in a way that I don't get from the original. I think you could extrapolate from the original (as Grace clearly does) that there must be multitudes of Rodneys if these two are interacting in this way and I like that her remix takes what is hinted at in the original and turns it into a riff on fandom itself.
Reality organization gives us essentially the same story as the original except we have a POV change from Rodney to John and the story is also told in first person. This story clarifies a lot of the ambiguities in the original--we understand more fully John and Elizabeth's relationship and we get to see Rodney's friends caring about him in a way that [shift]'s Rodney doesn't. We also get to see the aftermath of Rodney's decision in the Starlight universe--that choosing Atlantis leaves him a vegetable in that world. I think what is really interesting about this remix is that in the original, when Rodney is given the choice to go to Atlantis, he willingly allows himself to atrophy in Starlight!verse for the chance to be with a John who loves him back. In Reality Organization, John wants to dream of Atlantis, but he's able to scale back his participation into something like a vacation. He's able to leave.
Edited at 2008-06-01 06:07 pm (UTC)
2008-06-04 04:28 am (UTC)
Re: Comment Part 3
I am one of those people for whom a first person fanfic usually garners an "Eh" but this one didn't do so for me. I had no issues with the POV.
And yes on the ambiguities.
I wrote my own remix much as you wrote yours--because I was unwilling to accept any script for these characters as verboten. It is, I think, the quintessential notion of remix to do so.
2008-06-04 04:00 am (UTC)
Re: Comment Part 1
That adds an extra layer of coolness to know that the graphic isn't something that gblvr
thought up on hir own.
2008-06-04 04:05 am (UTC)
Re: Comment Part 1
2008-06-06 02:25 am (UTC)
Re: Comment Part 1
I really enjoy ambiguity as a narrative technique. I think that AS Byatt's Translation really taught me to appreciate that writing choice.
I can see how Shifting Reality comments and reflects on fandom, but really I thought the original story did so even more. How many fans can identify with Rodney's boring humdrum life and yearn for a more meaningful existence doing something exciting and important in a place like Atlantis? What happens when the fascination with fandom causes a fan to neglect and withdraw from real life, spending more and more time immersed in a fantasy world at the expense of building any face to face relationships?
In a way, this story is wish fulfillment; the idea that we could close our eyes and wake up in Atlantis for real is a little creepy to me.
You are absolutely right. I hadn't been thinking of the original in those terms, but it is a really interesting corollary to fandom.
(And duh! One of my favorite fantasies is that I do wake up in Atlantis for real, so I should have seen that one already. LOL Although, yes, I do admit it is a wacky fantasy)
Well not to be too TMI-y (and everybody laughs, cause really, when has such applied to Lorraine) my level of involvement in fandom fluctuates with my depression; I often use it as an escape and the more time I spend reading fic, the more depressed I usually am. The amount of time I spend *writing* fic has no corrollation.
And as I say in my comment, I often imagine I am thrown into world of X. How do I get along with the characters? Who falls madly in love with me? Who forges my driver's license? LOL
And then there is the thing where just about everything I write is about me to some extent whether it's the character's favorite color or the music she likes or the books she read as a kid. I believe strongly in canon compliance so most of what I write is so, but still heavily flavored with Lorraine.
Yeah, I sort of hate this John also, but I find him strangely canon-consistent. Almost all the characters on the show are written inconsistently, and John's character is no exception. He has at times seemed callous, withdrawn, and self-centered to me in the show, also he had no problem leaving and pretty much renouncing his family on earth. So, this take on John seems believable. It's just that I sometimes go to fanfiction to get a wish fulfillment type of improvement on the characters, and this story takes the worst of John and extrapolates how this ability would shape him.
Again, this is a bite-sized comment; I intend to come back and talk about the final remix later. Sorry if this is a bit incoherent; I'm tired, but if I don't comment now, time will get away from me.
Shifting Reality by kyuuketsukirui is one of my favourite remixes. It's clever in so many ways -- both as a story in its own right, but especially as a remix of [shift]Reality.
It works so well as a remix because of all the echoes: this John is running from his own life; he's scared of taking a risk with 'real' Rodney; he's deluding himself he can find a better happy ending on the next fold over. It even has a tragic ending that hits you harder the more you think about it. In short, it's a clever mirror of [s]R Rodney's story.
However, it's a brilliant story in its own right as well. It's gorgeously told -- not a spare word anywhere -- and the premise is strong and well developed. There's just enough information for us to see what John's ability means for him, but never enough for us to really engage with any of the AUs -- just as John doesn't really engage with them. That's such a clever mirroring of form and content, which is superior storytelling. But I think perhaps the best part is that John is kind of unlikable here; he's so ruthless about using the gift to escape anything difficult in his life, and it's made him spoiled and entitled just as much as it's broken him. At the same time, it started when he was six and there was no one to tell him to be careful or teach him about the rights and wrongs of what he was doing -- so I find myself feeling for him even though I don't like him much. And then, despite myself, I started to ache for him when it became clear that Rodney was the only person he was really invested in, and had been since he was six, even as inarticulate and barely hinted at as that obsession is (oh, John).
For all that the plot stands alone, it's the return to the echoes of [s]R that really gives the ending its sucker punch quality. John looks for Rodney in every world, and takes chances with those Rodneys that he can't risk with his own. When he comes back to find his own Rodney broken (the Rodney we recognise from [s]R), he can't cope with it. He does what he always does and runs away, thinking, 'there's always another Rodney'. He's never learned how to stay and stick it out when things are tough.
And this is where kyuuketsukirui hits us with the final, glorious irony. In the very act of running away to another fold, John loses the one thing he seems to have ever wanted, because we know that in John's original world (the [s]R world, it's strongly implied), John and Rodney get their happily ever after. But... John's run away. It's some other John that gets that happily ever after with Rodney.
Of course, it's not the original Rodney either -- it's [s]R Rodney who wakes up from the coma. So the happily ever after is not actually won by either the John or the Rodney who were originally born into that fold.
That's just delicious! It makes me shiver every time I follow the thread of logic implied in that final scene. There's so much packed into such a short space. I love this story.
Agree totally with what you've said here; it's not a bit incoherent. I haven't been able to explain to myself why Shifting Reality packs such a punch and stays in my mind so well. Thanks for explaining it so perfectly.
Reality Organization is the hardest of the three remixes to talk about. Not because I don't love it; I do. But because I think it's the least successful remix.
Reality Organization in some ways is a traditional remix, in that it flips the point of view, but follows a similar story arc. It still adds something new, in that John is so much more broken than we get a sense of in [s]R; so much so that his obsession with Rodney makes a tragic kind of sense. This is definitely the kindest take on John, and I'm more than a little in love with him. The way he justifies his instant attraction to Rodney is heartbreaking: the hints, through the Daniel backstory, that John and Rodney could have met before, in another life, are a lovely echo of [s]R, but spun cleverly into an entirely realist frame. They also speak of a very lonely man, who is desperate to reconnect with life.
Anyway, for all these reasons, Reality Organization is a perfectly fine remix -- it fills all the technical criteria. However, given the multi-AU pyrotechnics of both [s]R and Shifting Reality, Reality Organization ends up feeling like it falls short in comparison -- it's a less flashy story, more mundane. And the comparison is especially unkind if it is read third (as I did), and the other two are freshly in mind.
This is a very unfortunate thing, as Reality Organization is actually a gobsmackingly good story in its own right.
Both times that I've re-read Reality Organization as a stand-alone story, I've been blown away by the deep, melancholy sadness of it. Without the baggage of the other two stories, this is one of the best tragedies I've read in SGA fandom. It's that good.
There isn't even the chimera of a happy ending in this story, but it's the kind of everyday heartbreak that makes me put my hand over my mouth as I read and hold back sobs so my housemate won't hear them. At the start of the story, we get a sense that John has been living in the cage of PTSD and depression for a long, long time -- so deeply repressed that he is walking through the world like a robot. And then he finds Rodney -- this kindred spirit, also trapped in a life bounded by limits on all sides. Of course he becomes obsessed -- Rodney is a mirror image of himself. As John's heart slowly wakes up and he starts to feel the world again, Rodney's wakes too. Their connection is a fragile, tentative moment of sunshine, this one brief chime of happiness in which it looks like John and Rodney will find a happy ending despite all the odds against it (in every world, in every fluttering now, now, now of branching time).
And then it's snatched away; broken apart because John was letting himself reach out to other people again, letting himself be teased, letting himself love and live... and then -- BAM! -- every tentative hope is broken and gone.
At the end of this story, I'm left with this terrible feeling that John is dead in all but name -- look at the way he sits at Rodney's feet with that peacefulness that comes when even hope is gone. Assuming he doesn't just eat his gun one sunny day, what will happen? Years will go by and John will slowly drift away from visiting Rodney every week, with the push and pull of work and deadlines and Elizabeth nagging him; but he'll never move on. No one will ever be his mirror image again, or hold him through the nightmares. He might as well be dead, because he's been gutted and hollowed out one too many times by life, and there's nothing left of him to rescue.
God, it kills me every time I think of it.
Oh, how I love this story. And oh, how unfair it is that it's the odd, left out child of this trio of stories.
I am so grateful for your comment because you have articulated the way I feel about this story very clearly. It is an excellent and well-written story and I do think that examined in tandem with the other two, it feels out of place because it is not the same kind of story as the others. The goals are different and narrative trajectory different and I think the deck is unfairly stacked when reading them all together because it takes the reader to a different place.
I like that we get to see this writer's clarification of the ambiguity in the original story, because as much as I love ambiguity, half the fun of it is seeing what everybody else thinks is "the answer." I also love that we see the consequences, the aftermath of Rodney's decision. And I also like that this story creates a little ambiguity of its own.
Exactly; it's the comparison that kills the story. I was actually surprised -- verging on shocked -- when I re-read it the first time. My memory was of a weak, poorly done remix with no tension. But reading again without the other two so clearly and freshly in mind, I was just blown away. I couldn't believe how much the context of the other two stories had ruined my reading experience of this one.
Unfortunate though it is for Reality Organization, it's an interesting phenomenon. It's made me read remixes with a new appreciation. The whole process of "answering" a story is a lot more fraught than it seems from the outside, but this trio of stories highlights some of the issues in a visceral way.
The way the other two stories balance out tragedy with ambiguity is really powerful, especially in combination. And in hindsight, I can see how I fell into the trap of thinking the tragic ending of Reality Organization was the "easy" writing choice, because of the way it closes off the narrative. But honestly, I'm not sure I'd have been prepared to go there as a writer -- it's such a raw loss. And the closing off is in such deliberate opposition to the original; that's kind of brave, I think.
The first time I read [shift] Reality I was in the middle of a fanfic glut; I was reading so much that I wasn't taking any of it in and so I *completely* missed the point. I remember at the time being disappointed with how romantic it was - which, of course, was because I thought that our 'verse was the real one, and because I skimmed over it far too fast. It's one of those tales where you have to take your time and let the whole thing wash over you before drawing conclusions
It is a really interesting thing when you read a story and *everyone* seems to be drawing other conclusions from it. I admit I also have a habit of reading fanfic very rapidly or just skimming at times and I often miss details. LOL