The weekend before last I finally finished a bit of writing that by that point had taken me well over half a year to complete. Now, half a year isn't much in the grand scheme of things if the work is, say, a novel, but I didn't write a novel. I wrote four pages of filler text for a comic book. The reason it took me so long to do, and that in the end most of it was done with less than a week to go before the deadline, was the scope that I was trying to encompass within those four pages of filler text for a comic book.
My brief had been to design a game - using a couple of characters called Samphire and Hardiman who I had used in a previous filler position for a previous comic book. The game had to look like the sort of children's cut-out game that you might get in a Scooby-Doo style comics-plus-activities magazine. The characters had previously appeared in a story in which they get trapped in a recursive narrative loop. My idea was a game to let them escape the narrative. A simple plan, so why so broad ranging?
Well, the scope became so large because the game ended up being about narrative as a whole. I wrote loads of notes about the structures of stories, and the specific structures of comic-book and adventure stories (four-colour narratives - the kind of escapism given lurid power by the invention of four-colour presses), but I couldn't write the game. To write the game would necessarily collapse all the ideas I had, all the amorphous possibilities of narrative, into a single path - into a story; because a story is basically what happens when possibility dies and becomes fossilised. It didn't help that part of my plan was to attempt to satirize this process, especially in regards to the well-worn tropes of genre, as it just made the collapse to paper - and so necessarily part of the same story-space - all the more ineffectual.
In the end, being forced to finish meant that I had to put something down, and that something was necessarily more interesting than notes and nothing, and actually managed to capture some of what I wanted to say and some of what it wanted to say as well, and so in actual fact was a decent enough metaphor for writing anyway. And it was finished too.
The fact that it was finished may make you wander what place it has in this blog, which is me talking about things that I never finished, but it does have a purpose, as it helps me to illustrate some of the reason why the story I want to talk about never was. It also illustrates one of the recurring themes that I tend to write about - which is stories, the way they work and the relative laziness of the stories told within the genre fiction that I spend a lot of my time consuming - effectively the stories told within the fictional worlds that I inhabit. Also, my deep and abiding anger about the way that some of these stories and worlds are used and told and otherwise abused.
I had already been kicking around the idea of a detective story, or possibly just an adventure, through various other stories for years. Then Jasper Fforde did it really badly and I got disheartened, and then I realised that loads of other people had done something similar with varying degrees of success and I realised I could just be part of that general movement. I had also been periodically attempting to write stories which simultaneously exemplify, satirise and drag screaming toward modernity the genres I normally read - finally taking Moorecock's Elric as my talisman and a distillation of these ideas after I discovered him some way into this train of thinking. Of course, Moorecock is an awful lot better at it than I am or likely ever will be.
After finishing my dubious first stab at fanfiction, an alternate 7th book in the Harry Potter series (written before Deathly Hallows came out), which was also a more obviously parodic attempt at the meta-fictional detective/adventure project, I was enthused with the possibilities that fanfiction held for this kind of idea. To this end I set about trying to yoke my ideas onto it in a more substantial manner. The plan became known as Doctor Stu.
The Doctor from Doctor Who, at least as written at his worst, is the Deus Ex as protagonist - while he may not actually be the instigator of the plotline, to the other characters he is indistinguishable from the mechanics of their predicament because he exists only during the predicament. A Marty Stu, the male equivalent of a Mary Sue is a kind of superman - who can either bend the narrative so that all problems are covered by his skillset, or else can infinitely reveal new skills to cover any problems that might appear. Importantly, a Marty Stu - as befits a primarily fanfiction trope - is a character inserted into a narrative space, often plugging a gap intentionally left blank: the space that allows for unresolved plotlines and for peril.
Doctor Stu, therefore is a narrative-space version of the Doctor; travelling not through time and space but between stories, fixing the gaps and the plot-holes left by careless authors and sewing everything up as he goes. However, as with the Doctor his passage leaves further ripples that in their turn come to threaten the story-space with greater ruin - the classic hero stuff then, where one person's presence so distorts the shape of their world that all things good and bad are essentially a reference to them.
This stuff is all great (I think), and isn't where I went wrong; as you might be able to tell from the first part of the post, I'm still looking at and using these ideas in various concentrations. The problem is in how I used them. I read a lot of fantasy, which is why I tend to write in and about fantasy when I'm exploring these ideas - because I know and love (and hate at times) the genre as a whole and so taking it apart is not an act of aggression, but an act of surgery. I have never really read fanfiction, though, and what I have read of it has never really appealed to me - and so trying to use it, trying to send up it's tropes while at the same time utilising them to their best effect was never going to work, because I didn't love them - and I only really knew about them academically. Which is why, ultimately I gave up on Doctor Stu, but I didn't give up on the Samphire and Hardiman game.
So here it is, complete with dodgy opening quote, incomprehensible first paragraph degenerating, lazy anger.
By the Pricking of my Thumbs, Someone Awesome this way Comes
Human reason is humiliated by the fact that, in its pure use, it accomplishes nothing and indeed even needs a discipline to restrain its own extravagances and prevent the deceptions that these engender for it.
- Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason
To every generation, to every society, to every species, one is born. To every universe, one is born. One whose greatness overwhelms, whose nature eclipses, whose very being engulfs those around him. There are others who come close, but there is always one, surpassing.
Does this one come clean and out? Does he let the world bask in the reflected glory of his existence? Then are his people held up alike. Then are the sciences and the arts of his time advanced. Then are the renascences, the ages of reason, the treasured times. Then are the ages of magic.
Does this one hide himself in shadow? Then are the ages of stagnation. Then are the ages of superstition. Then is no-one triumphant.
And does, at last, this one, from the shadows lash out? Does he view the world as beneath him, or does he find some slight it has performed against him to be worthy of his hatred? Then are the ages of fear. Then does the world weep.
In the darkness of the research lab, in the bright fires between worlds, in the scintillations of the sharpest mind, the metal gleamed. It was a new alloy. It was a new home for an old idea, a thing sought after but never before found. It was perfection.
The Doctor felt the sun upon him weakly, no match for the constant wind and its damp message from the great lochs of the north, and it gave him hope. Wind he would endure, for the sunlight would always triumph in the end, blazing his yellow hair into a corona.
He set his jaw and let the wind feed into his coat, pulling it out and cracking it behind him as he held it closed just below the lapels. Below him he could see two mounted figures making slower headway against the elements. Posing dramatically upon the brow of the hill, the Doctor allowed the two to pull ahead of him. They were warriors, fresh from battle, and they were weary and soaked in blood, but they had been victorious! The Doctor watched their progress with mild amusement and some small disdain. He had heard all about their deeds yet they did not look so great, as they were. He was sure, now, that his presence here was uncalled for.
A drum resounded twice across the glen and the Doctor turned back to view from whence he had come. His craft remained unnoticed upon a distant plain, but that had been a message to him from its security systems and he would have to discover the cause. He started towards it, the wind now blowing behind him and pushing him onwards in a mess of fabric and the thin rain that had started. It didn’t matter much, whatever the ship had to say to him, he didn’t need to stay here. Right about now the thought of the waitresses who would be serving him drinks on Ursa Minor Beta was a much more interesting proposition than the worries of a couple of weary warriors. It was because of this, and because of the wind and the rain, that the Doctor did not see the appearance of the witches and did not see the strange effect that they had on the two in the valley that lay beneath his vantage point.
It’s just a story, she told herself. Just a story, so worn and used that it has no power to affect me, she told herself. You’d think these men would know that by now, you’d think that they would have some manner of shame about it. You would think, she thought, that they would think before they trotted it out, again and again, as if they were so clever and you had never heard it before. She was young, but she was not that young. And she was not stupid, ignorant or blind. But now she was angry.
Jane positively pushed herself over the hill. She fair stormed away from the streets of St Mary Mead and into the fields that surrounded her home. She was not going to stop, she decided. She was just going to walk and damn him if he thought she was being silly about it, that she was too silly to see. If she was too silly to look after herself, if he wanted her to come around, then he would have to come after her.
Crossing the threshold between worlds is only ever a very strange experience in retrospect, which is a very curious effect when you come to think of it. Most travellers who have made the journey, by whatever means and for whatever reason, can only tell you of the discomfort of the moment when they were at that point aware of the crossing. Those who know that they are making a journey are already keyed into its incongruity, and they will wax lyrical about bodily dissociations. They can ponder the wrenches and the sickening juxtapositions almost only because they are what they were expecting to feel.
Meanwhile, for those who wander blindly through the boundaries the sensation is usually one of timelessness and the lengths involved in an impossible geometry, but this is more to do with their own state of mind, for they are usually at that point lost in thought or in the intense weariness of more mundane travel. They have no way of noticing the lurch that comes with transition as they have no prior knowledge of its existence, and it is not even certain that it is there to be noticed. But after, they will swear to the point at which they were certain that they had changed, that they knew that they were somewhere else.
For Jane it was ever an easy marker to find, as on the first time that it happened to her, and on the only time that it happened without any outside influence – without the help of a friendly Doctor, say – she never left the British countryside. (That Jane never discovered what it was that enabled that first trip of hers, even in all the years afterwards, was the single thing that caused her most regret in her life. It was the one mystery that she was unable to solve, and it was the one that she most dearly desired to have answered as well.) And as anyone who has never been there can fully attest, the British countryside is all rather much the same: an endless orchard radiating out of the single urban hub that is
, dotted hereabout with tiny villages and clumps of heather and other wildflower. London
Except, it was the heather that Jane would use in the construction of her memories of the event, because that was the most obvious thing that had changed, if you thought about it. Although she hadn’t been thinking about it at the time, she had been thinking about other things, as we have already established. Nonetheless it was the appearance of the heather which had signalled the change in Jane’s situation, for behind St Mary Mead there are the blackberry hedges, the fields overgrown with sloes and then a short series of scrubby hills that she had often played out upon as a child, but there is no heather.
As Jane had marched toward her destination: unknown, the air had become unnoticeably colder. When the rain had started to plaster her hair to her neck and back she had begun to become wary. But at last it was the smell that alerted her brain to the fact that she had gone beyond merely not knowing where she was going and into not knowing where she was; the smell of a draw where one might keep ones tokens of good luck, but raw and fresh.
It was sight, however – that most treacherous and overrated of our senses – that convinced her at last that she was no longer anywhere near her home. Because it is sight that we always fall back on to trust.
The Doctor was surprised by the place in which he found himself awaking, but not so shocked that he forgot his manners. These three witches were ladies, after all, and deserved his attention and respect. He could return to fix his ship later, he was certain; for there was very little that could tie him to a single place and the attentions of a woman were certainly not among them. It was in his nature to slip easily out of time and space and to never be seen again.
Jane was very pleased to find her hosts so hospitable. They had found her walking lost and lonely, possibly like a cloud – depending on how sickeningly whimsical you were feeling – out on the heath and had invited her back to their castle for afternoon tea. The lady of the house had felt that it was her duty, and she had said quite as much, but then her husband had returned home and there had been a noticeable change in mood and Jane had been left to her own devices for the remainder of the afternoon. She didn’t mind, however, and remained flattered at the pains that had already been taken towards her comfort. And then he came.
The Doctor’s ship was a PWOTAI, which was an acronym, naturally. There was power in acronyms because they obfuscated meaning, and the Doctor’s race had been adept at using that power. In fact, they were the masters of the universe in that respect. And the Doctor? He was the master of his race. You could tell by the hair.
The PWOTAI was remarkably TARDIS-like in its interior and you wondered how so much space could be fit inside what looked from the outside to be black paint-job two seater snub fighter. If you thought about it too, there was a certain paradox involved in the Doctor’s use of such a ship, because it was also certain that the Doctor’s head contained a lot more
self regard hot air knowledge and power than might normally be thought to be able to exist in such a small space, and of course, what happens when a bag of holding is placed inside another bag of holding? But of course, by this point in time you are probably psychicly engaged to Legolas Zachary Quinto Lest*t the Doctor on the astral plane through your sister who is a medium and, well with the Doctor as your fiancé your virginity is in no doubt whatsoever.
Jane was introduced formally to King Duncan but she was aware that her status as honoured guest had diminished somewhat. She was still honoured, but no longer the most honoured. But then, [SPOLER] she also wasn’t about to be murdered [/SPOILER]. Not that she knew this, of course – she still hadn’t made the connection as she’d never been much into Shakespeare as a girl. Can you tell what a bad idea this was yet? It might just be best to go into the next chapter…
Blood was everywhere. It had been a messy killing despite the fact that the old man had made no effort to defend himself, but this was because the struggle had been in the killers mind. The pale, waxy body that lay drained upon the bed was almost an afterthought in the madness contained by the walls.
When she saw it, the body, Jane’s stomach dropped and her head seemed to space out, her grip on thought momentarily lost. She didn’t feel sick as such, or retch or break down as one might expect that one would on one’s very first sight of violent death. Instead she felt a strange kind of exhilaration, a surge of interest even. It was the suddenness and the fear of being found that contributed those first deleterious effects and masked to a small extent the enthusiasm that had begun to grow inside her, but her eyes hungrily took in all of the details that the could before she quickly padded away into the great corridors of the castle. There was little chance of beating her insomnia now; she was wound too tight for a simple release to be effective, despite - or because - there was so much more to prey upon her mind.
The Doctor was ready to go, but something was stopping him, something was keeping him here in this place. It was something that he’d heard while freshening up in the back room of the witches’ abode. They’d talked of power and fame unending for a man that they had had dealings with that day. The Doctor had to know what this meant. You couldn’t trust witches.
There is a certain school of thought that seems to believe that extraneous description can be a valid placeholder for actual story. There is a second school of thought that replaces this description with overly earnest, undifferentiated dialogue and calls this character. It may be discerned that I do not belong to either of these camps. Where I have no story, I merely have no story.
Apparently I am a member of that camp of uninspired pulp-modernists because I have resorted to an author intrusion even this early on. Well, if it worked for Swift then it’ll work for me. I am still quite interested to see if I can get to the end of this parody of a play (an object of almost pure dialogue) without a single spoken line. Of course, that would assume that this actually counts as a parody and not a pile of drivel. Anyway, please don’t worry. In the next episode it gets a whole lot better.
The atmosphere in the castle was getting more oppressive. It was obvious who had committed the murder, to Jane at least, but she dare not speak its name for fear of her life. But of course the moment came, and reprisals began and it looked like she would be in the middle of it all. And that was when the roof got blown off.
He rode in on the back of a missile painted to look like a shark, jumping off seconds before it impacted and took out a legion of the tyrant’s men and he swept her off her feet. ‘I’m getting you out of here,’ he said, his eyes glinting in the fire and his hair wafting the scent of peaches. ‘My ship is hovering above.’
‘But, who are you?’ Jane Marple asked.
‘I am the Doctor,’ he replied coolly.
‘No. Doctor Gareth Stuart. But you can call me Doctor Stu.’
And then he activated a device on his wrist, and they were gone.
And They Shall Know Only War
Whatever might have been the basis for this dubious book, it must have been a question of the utmost importance and charm, as well as a deeply personal one.
- Friedrich Nietzsche, The Birth of Tragedy
Vworp. Vworp. Vworp... ptchooo!
The ship came streaking out of the vortex with an ear splitting scream and multiple sonic booms as the sudden atmosphere was torn apart by its speed. The arcing shape immediately came under heavy anti-aircraft fire in the already crowded sky into which it had appeared and just as immediately began shifting and rolling in complex and graceful patterns that made a mockery at the blunt aggression targeted against it.
Jane looked green, but if she was scared or disoriented she did her best not to show it.
‘I thank you, sir, for saving me from those villains,’ she managed with a certain level of stiff diffidence intact, despite the flak and tracer fire bursting around the ship. ‘And for the ride in your aeroplane too, but you do seem to have taken us into much further danger. Was this your plan?’
‘I’d love to chat,’ the Doctor shot back pulling hard on the control stick causing the ship to corkscrew wildly upwards, ‘but right now I’ve got to save our arses.’