Alternative Ain't Necessarily Good
by Lena W. Jones
In universes, that is. In this column, I'm not talking about those alternate universes that make a tiny tweak to canon and work from there. (Though the larger the tweak, the less likely I am to read.) In those, the original is still visible. I'm talking about those brutal AUs when an author picks up their preferred pairing and plonks it somewhere else entirely.
I like a particular show for more than just the characters. I'm interested in the setting; the ethos of the world; the way the characters fit into their places in it. No matter how good the characters themselves are, if that's all there is to a show, I'm not going to be going back there.
Of course, that brings up the fact that characters are a part of their environment. What has happened to them plays an inevitable part in the 'person' they are. Take Obi-Wan out of the Star Wars universe, plonk him in modern-day Manchester, and you've either got an entirely different personality or a completely unrealistic character.
Which brings me on to my point. (At last, I hear you cry.) A character is so strongly influenced by their environment that if you take them out of it, they are simply people with the same physical appearance but entirely different personalities. As an example, a while back I read a Qui-Gon/Obi-Wan story, set among a tribe of desert nomads, that involved Obi-Wan being a sex-slave gifted to a reluctant Qui-Gon. (This story was, it has to be admitted, a piss-take but the fact that some people still believe it was genuine and are very impressed by it says a lot lot about the state of the fandom.)
TPM isn't the only fandom to suffer. I've seen the same in MfU; BtVS; TS - even Lost Boys! (And if anybody's run out of potential for slash in the original setting of that one, I really want to find their archive.)
When it reaches this point, I start wondering why the author insists on labelling their work as 'fanfic' when there is so little of the original still remaining. Is this an attempt to reach an audience? There are hundreds of slashfic mailing lists out there. By posting to one or more of them, you're pretty much guaranteed that somebody, somewhere, will read your story. Maybe they'll even email you to say, "Hey, kewl story!!!!" By contrast, try finding a place to post your original homo-erotic fiction. It ain't easy, is it?
So, what situation does a writer have to be in to make the answer a radical AU?
Done as much with the characters as you can in their current setting? Radical AU! (I could go with that, if it wasn't for the fact that it's so rare for a radical AU to actually *do* anything with the new setting.)
Can't be bothered to research your show properly? Radical AU!
Want a reason to envisage your favourite studmuffin in head-to-toe leather, skillfully wielding a sword? Radical AU!
Want to write a story that's different to everybody else's and can't be bothered thinking of a subtle way of doing it? Radical AU!
So, a simple plea to all the writers out there. If you get the urge to do a radical AU - think. Consider. Decide. Is this really necessary? Or would your readers perhaps prefer to see the show they originally fell in love with?