Fanfiction – The Scaly Raptor

The Scaly Raptor by Harry Leferts

First, let me admit that I’ve only ever seen the first Jurassic Park movie and read the first two books. That said, it certainly seems like Leferts has put as much attention into his Jurassic World crossover as he did for the My Little Pony crossover which lured me into the fandom with the work it put into its Harry Potter side.

The basic plot to this sequel fic is that Owen inherited an amulet from his grandfather which will supposedly allow him to become a better animal trainer and, after deciding that it couldn’t hurt, Owen wakes up as a Velociraptor, capable of speaking English and understanding Dinosaurs.

(Given that his grandfather wasn’t stuck as the animals he trained, it’s realized fairly quickly that after a week, he’ll be able to take the amulet off and shapeshift back and forth on his own.)

It’s a delightful character piece, but the real fun comes about when Blue decides to use the amulet to become a human. Once that happens, the story graduates from great to being a joy to read.

Like “The Wizard and the Lonely Princess”, it’s primarily a character piece, so it’s hard to summarize much about the plot beyond “Entertaining and satisfying character interactions set against the drama of the movie’s aftermath”. That said, I’ll share an example of one of the more amusing references used for humour:

Now that got a laugh out of Owen as he shook his head. “Well, it is unexpected you know… but why not? I got time to kill after all.”

That caused him to get blank looks from the raptors before they looked at each other. Then Charlie reached up with one claw and scratched the bottom of her jaw like she had learned to after copying some of the various handlers. “{How does one kill time? Time not have body to kill nor blood to spill?}”

In reply, Blue scoffed. “{Just Alpha being stupid with saying stupid confusing things.}”

As the story continues to unfold, the drama starts to build as various concerns come to light, including cloned species that weren’t put into the record and a potential volcanic eruption but, at the same time, the character elements also unfold, with additions such as the discovery of an injured juvenile Ceratosaur while foiling a poaching attempt.

Near the end of what’s been written, it even starts to move along a subplot with a scope and importance which truly acknowledges the philosophical and societal implications of the breakthroughs in the Jurassic Park series. It’s a shame that progress is stalled just as that is starting to really pick up, but at least we got over 160,000 excellent words first.

All in all, I’d give it a full-blown 5 out of 5 since I know I’ll be re-reading this in a couple of years when my memory of it has started to fade. If you want to read a satisfyingly character-oriented story, you like transformation stories, or you enjoy stories about a lovable character learning what it means to be human, definitely give this a read.

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Beautiful Songs About Heartbreak and Regret

A couple of months ago, I ran across the Pentatonix cover of Hallelujah. It’s a beautiful rendition… except for one problem which really got under my skin: The lyrics are clearly about heartbreak, yet, just when the vocal line should be falling in despair at the end, they instead soar in adulation. (And then they put it on their Christmas album, which was what convinced me they didn’t get it.)

That got me thinking about recordings which are beautiful and do handle this sort of “internal sarcasm” motif properly.

Rufus Wainwright’s cover of Hallelujah
You’d be surprised how many singers screw this song up in ways subtle or very obvious, but I’ll get back to that. First, a little lesson on the complicated history of this song.
The initial recorded version by Leonard Cohen is a very different beast from what has entered the popular culture today. Cohen used a significantly different set of lyrics, his overall timing and style are quite unlike the lonely, heartfelt piano and solo vocals people have come to expect, and he would mix the lyrics up during his live performances. (According to Wikipedia, he originally wrote roughly 80 draft verses for the song and Cohen himself felt that”many different hallelujahs exist”.)
The overall effect being a song that feels more like Cohen has decided to wash his hands of emotion altogether and the backup singers are celebrating it, but the lyrics here are so different that I can’t accept this as the origin of the Pentatonix version.
The song as people today recognize it, which aims to concentrate its emotional impact as an expression of solitude and despair, owes most of its origins to John Cale’s version.  The solemn, soulful tone, prominence of piano, and the recognizable set of lyrics we see in covers today all originate here, with the cover Cale recorded after asking Cohen for his notes.
However, while Cale’s version is beautiful, Wainwright’s version has shown that there was still room for improvement. For example, while Cale sings “It’s not the cry that you hear tonight“, reminding you that you are party to a performance, Wainwright sings “It’s not a cry you can hear at night”, a more abstract statement about the nature of the emotions themselves. On a similar note, while Cale plays a few bars of piano at the end as a final performance, Wainwright allows his voice and the piano to trail off at the end (leaving you to almost expect him to begin to sob before the recording cuts out). Both of Cale’s choices may be fine for audiences in a live performance, but risk harming the immersiveness of the piece when used a recording.
Other, more subtle issues in Cale’s version include: First, Cale sings “and love is not a victory march” (compared to Wainwright omitting that first word, allowing the mind to fill in the more appropriate “but”). Second, Cale refers to “the holy dove” when Wainwright’s “the holy dark” feels more fitting with the implied sexuality of the “and remember when I moved in you” that it follows. Third, unless I very much misunderstand his accent, Cale sings “her beauty an’ the moonlight overthrew you” while Wainwright’s lyrics can be easily heard as “her beauty in the moonlight overthrew you”… another minor change that seems more fitting to me. Finally, Cale’s version still carries some of Cohen’s laid-back, loose lyrical timing which Wainwright tightens up, producing a song which has finally fully transitioned to the role it had started to take on.
So, with that done, what did I mean when I said that so many singers screw the song up? Primarily that they make changes to how the song is performed which weaken its impact because they misunderstand it. Most unarguably, the insertion of words which throw off the rhythm of the piece, such as singing “she broke your throne; she cut your hair” as “she broke your throne and she cut your hair” but, also, meddling with the pacing and the insertion of vocal flourishes meant to show off their voices at the expense of the song’s immersion.
To make a long story short, even Cohen himself encouraged the proliferation of many different versions of this song, but there’s a difference between crafting a new interpretation of it and making small tweaks to an existing one… and Pentatonix followed Cale’s version so closely aside from their ending that I can only say “Wainwright did this interpretation best”.
Dunrobin’s Gone by Brave Belt
Now, let’s move on to a more clear example of an “inner sarcasm” regret song.
In this song, by the precursor band to Bachman-Turner Overdrive, the vocalist sings about his difficulties letting go of what he had as “a voice inside my head keeps on screaming” that, judging by how he treated his girlfriend, driving her away must have been his intent and, therefore, he must be happy now.
No big fancy history or analysis this time… just a beautiful song that fits the theme.
Where I Went Wrong by The Poppy Family
Now for something slightly different. In this musical monologue to a fellow passenger on a bus, a cold, lonely, and tired Susan Jacks sings about how “the one that used to talk to me” doesn’t want her, blaming herself for trusting him and wishing for the temporary relief of sleep.
One could almost think that the character in this song was tailor-made to be the girl who “ran” from the character in Dunrobin’s Gone.
Again, nothing fancy… just something beautiful and on-topic.

Well, that’s all that came to mind right now and I don’t have time to go researching, so I’ll probably wind up adding more as I think of them. As-is, I welcome suggestions.

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Fanfiction – Rosemary, for Remembrance

Continuing with my efforts to keep things high-quality and varied, this week’s choice is a Stargate: Atlantis fic with a frustratingly rare degree of emotional depth:

Rosemary, for Remembrance by Mhalachai

This completed story starts out with a light, amusing “crisis of the episode” feel to it, then develops into a full-blown mystery, finally adding in a thread of romance with a bittersweet undertone to it, and then ends with, quite literally, “Something like a happy ending”… all in only 21,900-words and without allowing the new threads to push out the old ones. I only wish more fanfiction had this kind of ambition.

I forget how many times I’ve said this but, for anyone new to my blog: I’m quite picky. If I give something a high rating, give it a chance before you judge it on its keywords. (Most of the time, I find attempts at romance in fanfiction to be annoying distractions from the stuff that actually works… it works here. Normally, I find slashy stuff to be immersion-breaking masturbation fodder written by teen girls… the “sort of Sheppard/McKay” pairing works here.)

The summary does a pretty good job of explaining the starting situation, so I’ll just quote it.

And then there was the time John Sheppard turned into a girl and no one thought it was strange but Rodney McKay.

It sounds like the intro to so many of the cheaper, junkier entries which are sitting in the “once I implement filtering” queue for my gender-bending fiction index… but introductions can be deceiving. Just as the summary is overly simplistic, so too is McKay’s first impression of the situation.

As you might suspect, the first aspect  introduced is the mystery: “What the heck is going on?”

However, this is another one of those stories where it’s hard to go into detail without spoiling how the mystery unfolds. Aside from what the mystery is, and who the romance is between, all I really feel safe revealing is the theme hinted at by the title itself:

What would you give to bring back a lost loved one?

Aside from the emotional nuance surrounding that, I love the witty interactions between McKay and Sheppard and the way Mhalachai makes good use of time-skips and well-chosen pacing to keep things fast moving without feeling rushed.

Relatively short but no less sweet for it, I’m very surprised to see that this fic never placed in the “non-Buffy fic” category for the Twisting the Hellmouth community awards. It’s a beautiful example of novella-length fanfiction better than some published works I’ve read.

This was my third time re-reading it and I give it a solid 5.0 out of 5. Even if you don’t watch Stargate: Atlantis, I still recommend giving this a read.

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Tip: Removing Stickers From A Book

Here’s a little trick I picked up after watching a store clerk do it.

Step 1: Removing the Label

The secret to removing a label from a book without damaging the book or tearing the label is… lighter fluid.

Put few drops on the label and spread it around. Don’t worry if a little gets on the book itself. I’ve tried this even with non-glossy covers and it caused no permanent harm.

Give it a couple of seconds to soak in, then carefully pick at a corner of the label and slowly peel it up.

The lighter fluid attacks the adhesive without significantly weakening the paper, allowing you to peel up the sticker in one piece, and the discoloration you might see on the book itself will go away completely as the highly volatile lighter fluid evaporates.

(On a non-glossy book, where the entire surface of the “stain” is exposed to the air, it should be gone in under 5 minutes. On a glossy book where some got in through a nick in the gloss or at the edge of the cover, it’ll take significantly longer.)

CAUTION: While I’ve yet to encounter any in use in the printing of book covers, the label on my can of lighter fluid does mention that it will lift “solvent-based inks”.

Step 2: Removing the Residue

Now, you’re left with sticker residue on your book and, since it might not be a glossy book, you don’t want to use a gunk remover which could stain the book.

You can carefully roll most if it up into a ball and then pull it off, but that’s not going to get your book clean in any reasonable amount of time.

Secret ingredient #2: “Invisible Tape” (ie. Frosted Scotch/Sellotape)

If you’ve ever experimented with the different kinds of clear plastic tape, you might have noticed that the adhesive on the frosted tape meant to blend in on paper is significantly weaker than on the crystal clear “Transparent” stuff.

It’s actually so weak that it’s easy to peel off paper without harming it if you can get a peel started without damaging the edge of the paper and that’s the trick: Contact adhesives love to bond to other contact adhesives.

Wrap a loop of the frosted stuff around your finger and repeatedly press-and-pull on the sticker residue until the tape gets exhausted. Depending on how large the sticker was, you may need to switch to a new piece of tape one or more times to get all of the residue up.

As an alternative, if your book cover is glossy and the coating is unbroken, you can also use one of the “home-made Goo Gone™” recipes floating around the ‘net, made from baking soda (as a gentle abrasive) and vegetable oil (to keep the gunk from re-adhering as it lifts). I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m told that Goo Gone’s active ingredient is one of the components of orange oil, so it may be possible to make the homemade stuff with that to rely less on the “scrub with baking soda” aspect.

Verdict

I’ve tried both approaches to step 2 and was perfectly satisfied with each.

A week or two ago, I used lighter fluid and home-made Goo Gone to remove a strongly-adhered barcode sticker from a copy of Programming Windows 3.1 by Charles Petzold, which has a pure white, glossy cover and it now looks brand new. (I just had to wait longer for the lighter fluid to evaporate after I accidentally let some reach the edge of the gloss and soak in under it.)

Today, I used lighter fluid and invisible tape to remove another barcode sticker from a copy of Microsoft Windows Resource Kit for Operating System Version 3.1, which has a pure white, matte cover that could have been torn by the adhesive if I removed it dry. It also looks brand new despite the lighter fluid initially producing a “big beautiful stain” around the sticker. (Though I did choose to roll up and lift the lion’s share of the adhesive residue with my fingers to reduce the amount of tape I needed to use to lift it all.)

UPDATE: If you’ve got something more stubborn, like a security sticker, and it’s on something more robust, like a glossy-finished video game box, check out the techniques used by Clint from Lazy Game Reviews. (Also includes instructions for building replacement structural support for flimsy game boxes.)

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USB RFID Reader on Linux: Proof of Concept

This morning, I realized that I’d never really done anything with the cheap Chinese USB RFID reader I picked up ages ago, so I decided to whip up a little proof of concept for practice: A mock timeclock for tracking worker presence.

To accomplish this, I’ll need several tweaks to how it functions:

  1. Working around the fact that all of my demonstration RFID tokens have their values printed on them for all to see.
  2. Ignoring incomplete input on the virtual keyboard it exposes
  3. Debouncing input, since the reader isn’t good enough at that
  4. Preventing it from typing junk into arbitrary applications in my GUI
  5. Some way to distingush check-in from check-out

1. Obscuring RFID IDs

In order to make it more difficult for a casual exploiter to just manually enter the ID somewhere, I found that one of the DIP switches on the back of my reader changes the interpretation of the token’s ID into something not visibly related to what was printed on it. Not perfect, but definitely good enough to prevent casual meddling.

(I have no idea what the actual difference is, since I can’t read Chinese.)

2. Guarding Against Incomplete Data

There are two ways in which one of these RFID readers can produce bad data:

The reader can misread the token

This isn’t a huge problem, since I’ve only managed to trigger it as the first scan after I’ve fiddled with the DIP switches while it’s powered… but it’s easy to guard against:

Just check that the received token ID is the expected length.

Something can go wrong between the reader and the software

To guard against this, I fiddled with the DIP switches further and found a mode which inserts a semicolon before the token ID and a question mark after.

This allows me to set up the following mappings for raw keypress events:

  • KEY_SEMICOLON: Clear the buffer
  • KEY_#: Add the typed character to the buffer
  • KEY_SLASH: Process the buffer’s contents and then clear it
  • Everything else: Ignore it

Thus, any incomplete read will be prevented from polluting a future swipe and causing it to fail the length check.

3. Debouncing Input

Anyone who’s played around with an Arduino will be familiar with the need to debounce the signal from a pushbutton, but cheap Chinese RFID readers occasionally suffer from this too.

If you swipe the card in just the wrong way, it’ll register twice in rapid succession.

The simple solution is to store the timestamp of the last registered event for a given ID  and require that a grace period have passed before any new scans will register.

(I chose 3 seconds since that seems like a nice balance between allowing quick testing and preventing the reader from getting confused by any especially sloppy token-waving a novice user might do.)

4. Claiming the Device Exclusively

This was actually the simplest part. All I had to do was add a udev rule to allow unprivileged users to open the evdev node for the reader and then use python-evdev to interface with the device. The InputDevice.grab() method will send EVIOCGRAB to exclusively claim it.

(If you’re familiar with X11 development, think XGrabKeyboard, but for only one device.)

5. Indicator Tones

Given that this is intended to run in the background and be as effortless as possible, tones to distinguish “check in” from “check out” seem the most unobtrusive solution.

I googled up some of the simplest possible example code for generating tones on Linux without additional dependencies and put together a couple of two-tone sequences using the same low-high and high-low patterns everyone is familiar with from the Windows “device inserted” and “device removed” notifications.

Putting It All Together

So, with all that said, let me show you some code.

The following GitHub Gist has been tested under Python 2.7 and 3.4 and requires the evdev package (available as python-evdev or python3-evdev on Debian-family distros).

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Another Tangent: Degrees of Connectedness

NOTE: Given the amount of time and effort I’ve put into finding good example links for this, I decided it would be acceptable to let it double as this week’s fanfic roundup.

While I was reading The Futile Facade (the sequel to The Pureblood Pretense, which I’ve reviewed), I started thinking about how murkybluematter handles making references to Tamora Pierce’s The Lioness Quartet.

In doing so, I realized that there exist four basic ways in which two stories can be connected. From strongest to weakest, those are:

  1. Crossover
  2. Fusion
  3. Abstract/Meta-Narrative Reference
  4. Direct Reference

NOTE: As with pretty much anything involving classifying fiction, the boundaries between these categories and subcategories can get pretty blurry.

Crossover

Anyone with more than a passing interest in fanfiction or comic books will be familiar with this technique. In essence, a story is written where two universes, formerly considered separate, are brought into contact.

As I’ve read a lot of Ranma ½ crossover fanfiction, I’ll use it for most of my examples here.

The key to this approach is that your readers must feel as if these are the canon characters rather than alternative versions. (ie. That the only alternate universe in play is the one the fanfic itself unavoidably creates and its characters were canonical up to that point.)

That said, some fudging of the dates is generally allowed as long as it doesn’t have a significant effect on the story. For example, it’s not uncommon to nudge the Ranma ½ series forward a decade or two in order to make it match up with a series where technology is more important. (Aside from the occasional brief glimpse of a TV or other electronic gizmo and one episode where a Super Famicom is seen, Ranma ½ does a very good job of making itself fairly timeless by making the technology level irrelevant to the story.)

Common ways to bridge series together include:

“Never Separate To Begin With”

This technique involves revealing that stories were in the same setting to begin with by answering the question “If they were the same setting all along, why did the two casts or rule sets never bump into each other?”

This is a popular technique for crossing together anime/manga series because of several facets foreigners see in Japan: Tokyo is huge, Japanese culture is quite reserved in person, and their TV shows tend to be very… not reserved. This disconnect makes it easy for westerners to imagine all contemporary anime and manga take place in the same “anime Japan” universe, ignorant of each other as each part of Tokyo tries desperately to pretend they’re “as normal as” the other parts. (It also helps that Japanese culture tends to impart shared tonal and stylistic elements to their stories which make them seem much more similar to each other than to foreign works in the same genres.)

There are too many examples of doing this without fudged dates for me to just pick one off the top of my head, but an example of doing this with fudged dates would be the Ranma ½ – Sword Art Online crossover Saotome Art Online by Ozzallos where the Ranma ½ timeline is bumped forward to match SAO. With that done, Ranma “gets caught up in a mess, as usual” as a result of doing motion capture and testing to pay off some money he owes to Nabiki Tendo.

This doesn’t include stories where technological hand-waving is necessary to bridge some kind of gulf of time or space. That’s covered further down.

“Never Separate To Begin With” by way of Unreliable Narrator

This trick merits its own category because of how it doesn’t really fit with either of its neighbouring classes and typically involves having two Earths in the same setting without resorting to alternate universes.

In my experience, it most commonly crops up in Star Trek because it’s canonical that an advanced species known as the Preservers are responsible for all the human populations on terraformed worlds that Kirk and his crew encountered and it boils down to making the “Earth” with a more provincial view of the universe into an unknowing copy of the original Earth.

Examples of this include:

  • Depending on how you look at it, pretty much every Battlestar Galactica crossover I’ve reviewed could fit this category. It just doesn’t feel like a full-on fusion to replace the unsatisfying “we are descendants of the Galactica fleet” ending with the Lords of Kobol (be they Alteran, Preserver, or something else), as having established Kobol by taking humans from the original Earth. (The Phoenix and the Wolverine even casts the Cylon Earth as being a world near the real Earth which was too irradiated for Kirk-era technology to allow an investigative team.)
  • Reaper’s Origin by prometheus55 initially gets the SSV Normandy into the Stargate universe via “glitches in poorly understood high technology are magic” but eventually retroactively bridges the gap in a technological way fitting for Stargate canon. Specifically, by revealing that the Furlings were refugees of the civilization that built the Reapers who fled interdimensionally rather than intergalactically like the Ancients. (This story was written before Mass Effect 3 and, to be honest, I think I prefer this Reaper backstory.)
  • A Thin Veneer by AlbertG has the Federation discover the Babylon 5 setting (and its anomalously accurate copy of Earth) when some politicking among the more advanced species of Trek and B5 canon allows a Federation ship to access one of the Preservers’ “warp superhighways”.
  • Someone Just Like Me by IdiAmeanDada introduces Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation to Chi from Chobits by casting the latter as taking place among a near-human-looking species which actually does have anime-style “rainbow hair”. For better or for worse, it chooses to simplify the task of making things believable by having them wipe themselves out with neutron bombs only a few years before the Enterprise comes to evaluate their suitability for contact. (Though, it does foreshadow a “not as thoroughly extinct as initially believed” situation, should the author ever come back to it.)
  • The Dresden Fillies: Strange Friends by psychicscubadiver is a My Little Pony crossover where canon Equestria is reachable from the Nevernever and manages to survive within the Dresdenverse because Celestia and Luna are beings on par with the Fae queens and put a lot of time and effort into wards in the Nevernever to keep it safe and hidden.
  • Mercury’s World by Fire places the Sailor Moon setting inside The Matrix, with Sailor Mercury being the first successful result of a program to breed humans who can act as living magical reactors in the real world.

I’ve also seen it done in Stargate: A New Era by DN7 and Stargate Mass Effect by InHuman Englishman, where it’s discovered that, while the Stargate Network and the Mass Relay network appear to overlap in a typical 2D projection of the galaxy, they actually exist in separate slices of the galaxy when viewed edge-on, with the stargates and the mass relays occupying separate layers of the galaxy.

First contact then occurs when the SG-1 cast find the time and resources to investigate gateless regions.

Advanced Technology or Magic

If your two source settings are unequivocally separate, then the next choice is to find some way to bridge the distance. Examples of this include:

  • A character has cancer and is placed in experimental cryo-stasis until he can be cured… a clerical error leads to him waking up much later than necessary and on another planet. (This is actually the solution a friend and I chose for a fic we still hope to complete and release some day.)
  • An accident with some kind of time-travel or faster-than-light travel technology (or a run-in with a spatial anomaly in an unmapped region) allows two groups to come into contact who normally wouldn’t. (This is andrewjameswilliams‘s favourite method for crossing together different sci-fi settings.)
  • Like the previous example, but with wild magic. (This is the road taken to make it plausible for two very insular settings on opposite sides of the world to come into contact in The Girl Who Loved, by Darth Drafter. Harry feels such shock and revulsion at Dumbledore telling him that the solution to defeating Voldemort is mpreg with Snape, that a burst of accidental magic sends him Jusenkyo, China… speaking of which, it’s a good fic if you ignore the sort of “successful parody of bad fanfiction… but by accident” feel to Dumbledore at first.)
  • Characters could be reincarnated, cloned from a recorded memory, or otherwise mentally transferred into another setting. For example:

Note that none of this automatically resolves the need to reconcile differences in mood/atmosphere/tone between very different settings. (such as western fiction and Japanese fiction.) This is why it’s so rare to see, for example, a good story that crosses Harry Potter with anime.

Fusion

When you have to “nudge things” too far for a setting to be believable canon, you’ve moved into the realm of “fusions”. A fusion is a “same setting all along” story which uses canon characters or settings in recognizable forms, but rewrites their backstories enough to remove the disconnect.

A mild example of this which a skilled author may write in the fuzzy area between crossovers and fusions would be a Harry Potter – The Dresden Files crossover where the “wand wizards” have managed to carve out a little patch of innocence and safety for their children and civilians in the much grimmer, more consequential setting Harry Dresden knows.

In this case, the “fuzzy area” is defined by two things: What “canon” means  to each individual reader and how much skill the author can bring to bear. The more engaged the reader is, the more likely they’ll ignore or excuse changes necessary to bring the settings together.

I enjoy these mild forms of fusion when done well, since they preserve enough of the familiarity for the story to still be riding on the effort of the source material.

A more serious example which can be nothing but a fusion (which I’ve also seen in practice) would be to move recognizable characters from “anime Japan” to the far-future, desert planet “Gunsmoke” where Trigun takes place.

In such a case, it’s simply not practical to bring the canon characters there. Even if you can justify using technology to put them in stasis or bring them in from a parallel universe without it feeling contrived, you still have to use what “suspension of disbelief” you haven’t spent on trying to bridge the differences in atmosphere, tone, and mood between the two stories.

In this case, the fusion is accomplished by rewriting character backstories so that they’re “native” characters by origin, but still match the original characters in every significant attribute.

Personally, I’m not a fan of the latter case for two reasons:

First, when I start reading a fanfic, my interest is in taking known characters, introducing one change (the “divergence event” which starts off the story) and seeing how that changes them.

From that perspective, a fused-in character comes across as “harmful author laziness” because they exceed my ability to compensate for the differences. They’re unavoidably too different to be equivalent to their canon selves, but not original enough to hold my interest on their own merits. (It certainly doesn’t help that 99%+ of the stories I read lack characters who can stand fully on their own merits.)

Second, humans instinctively perceive things as having an identity imparted by their history. This is why a perfect forgery is not valued as highly as a copy made by the original artist, and one of the reasons we recoil at the idea of technologically reprocessing human waste into food rather than spreading it on a field where we don’t perceive the fertilizer as “becoming” the food.

(No matter how similar a fused-in character is, we can never forget that they aren’t the original.)

This is probably why I rarely find fusions written by good authors outside the fuzzy crossover-fusion border region. When you know enough to see the problem, you tend to find an easier way to accomplish your goals rather than burning effort on forcing it to work.

Also, I apologize for not having example hyperlinks for these. Despite a quick examination of the HP-Dresden crossover category on Fanfiction.net over the last couple of weeks, I failed to re-locate the mentioned fusion within the time available to me. As for the Trigun-AnimeJapan fusion, my memory of that detail is too disconnected from the greater story for me to remember anything searchable.

Abstract/Meta-Narrative Reference

Now, we come to the type which inspired this entire post.

The key to making a really good reference is to make something that’s recognizable, yet doesn’t detract from the story as a whole. (eg. by hurting the immersiveness of the setting)

Basically, it should be something so in-character that you only recognize it as a reference because you have extra information which is external to the setting. (eg. If you have one of your characters say the catchphrase of a character from a series that inspired yours, it has to be perfectly reasonable within the universe… not just because you (the author) are trying to say “wink, wink, nudge, nudge.” (While not as bad as breaking the fourth wall, it has the same kind of problem. Having a character say or do something noticeably out of the ordinary to make a reference, without sufficient justification, reminds people of “the man behind the curtain” (you).)

If you really want to focus on immersiveness and leave people impressed at your ability to weave a tale, then the best approach is to make your references an emergent property of the larger narrative, rather than small, self-contained things that don’t require much pre-planning.

As I mentioned at the start, the best example I’ve seen of this in fanfiction is murkybluematter‘s excellent series of stories which recasts the concept of Tamora Pierce’s The Lioness Quartet in the context of the Harry Potter series. (and, again, here’s my review of the first one.)

For example, in “The Futile Facade” (equivalent to Harry Potter, Book 4), when Leo (the youthful “king of the court of rogues” in Knockturn Alley) says “Besides, I’ve already got my eye on a lass, and something tells me honesty isn’t high on her priority list.”, it makes it clear that his attraction to the heroine isn’t merely one of curiosity or friendship.

It’s so perfectly in character to the story that there’s nothing to complain about, but we know that this story is recasting the concept of Tamora Pierce’s Song of the Lioness Quartet in a Harry Potter setting, and that, in those books, Alanna wound up married to her friend George Cooper, also a youthful king of thieves who wound up becoming a baron.

Because of that, a perfectly reasonable, in-character statement within the story takes on extra meaning for readers who remember how the source material progressed. (And murkybluematter has filled the series with that kind of elegant use of referential re-interpretation. The plot and characters don’t feel derivative beyond what is necessitated by it being an AU… and every time you recognize a reference, the forethought necessary to make it feel natural leaves a pleasant sense of “I’ve discovered an easter egg” rather than a shallow “Yep. I recognize that.”)

…and, importantly for the immersiveness, Leo and George aren’t the same name, nor do they meet the heroine in the same way, because either of those would be too blatant a coincidence.

murkybluematter’s approach produces an engaging story that feels original, but draws attention to the commonalities at points when it’s especially effective. (After all, as the oft-quoted maxim says, there are only 7 stories that everyone keeps rewriting.)

…now, admittedly, no technique is perfect. The flaw to this approach is that, the more familiar the reader is with the source materials (eg. the more recently they read them), the more difficult it is to keep your story from feeling predictable. murkybluematter resolves this problem by making the story thick with original details which help to induce a “can’t see forest for the trees” effect. You’re too busy getting caught up in the events which *aren’t* references to see the references as evidence of a predictable story or, really, even to notice then until they’re on top of you.

Direct Reference

Finally, we come to the most disconnected option. A story can simply make an isolated reference to another story, be it a catchphrase, character cameo, or some other minor nod.

The problem with this approach is that, ideally, every element in a story should improve the whole, and it’s surprisingly difficult to make a one-off reference satisfy that constraint for two reasons:

  1. The whole point of good writing is to build up a world, and a blatant reference to another story detracts from the atmosphere-building by reminding the reader that the story is an illusion crafted by “[the] man behind the curtain” (you).
  2. It takes quite a bit of skill (or luck) to make such a concrete reference subtle enough to feel truly natural, yet overt enough to not be missed by people who recognize what is being referenced.

Generally, the best solution is to employ one or both of the following tricks:

  • If your story’s primary purpose is comedy, then you can get away with more that would normally break immersion as long as your reference really does elicit a laugh… since the comedy more or less is the atmosphere you’re building.
  • If the work being referenced believably exists within your setting, then your characters can be referencing the in-universe version, rather than the real-life version. Examples of this latter case include:
    • A Harry Potter fic I read in which the nearby muggleborns find it inordinately funny when Draco Malfoy, having never heard of James Bond, introduces himself as “Malfoy. Draco Malfoy.”
    • A Harry Potter comedy fic I may have read or may have just envisioned where Harry makes use of a summoned Rabbit of Caerbannog to deal with the dragon in the first task and, again, only the muggleborns get the joke.

As for a more concrete example of a well-done reference, here’s one of Harry Dresden’s thoughts after winding up in Harry Potter’s body in A Wizard Named Harry by Bugz-Toon:

Of course, that didn’t mean that I was going to just sit back and watch the show. As good as Dumbledore was, backup never hurt. And besides all that, if I was somehow fated to be the one to bring Voldemort down, I was going to do my damnedest to make sure it was as unfair a fight as possible. Up to and including arranging for an anvil to be suspended above a big painted ‘X’ on the pavement, if possible. Although I might skip the birdseed part of that one- it was possible to overdo the Wile E. Coyote, suuuuuper genius thing, after all.

…or, even better, this delightful Philosoraptor reference from Harry Leferts’s The Scaly Raptor:

Now that got a laugh out of Owen as he shook his head. “Well, it is unexpected you know… but why not? I got time to kill after all.”

That caused him to get blank looks from the raptors before they looked at each other. Then Charlie reached up with one claw and scratched the bottom of her jaw like she had learned to after copying some of the various handlers. “{How does one kill time? Time not have body to kill nor blood to spill?}”

In reply, Blue scoffed. “{Just Alpha being stupid with saying stupid confusing things.}”

The key being that, if a reader doesn’t recognize the reference, it should fit in as seamlessly as possible and the biggest advantage of this type of reference is that it can also be used in non-fiction.

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Fanfiction – “Harry Potter, the accidental ‘evil'” fics

This week, something that just barely qualifies as a list: Two fics where Harry Potter gets mistaken for a demon or other non-human horror to some degree or other.

(Sadly, no other such fics were noteworthy enough for me to remember them… though, if you don’t mind broadening the scope to other fandoms, The Dark Lords of Nerima is also fun.)

Anyway, let’s get going:

Fallen by ForgerOfLies
Length: 36,394 Words
Crossover: Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Status: Incomplete
When Harry Potter falls into an unaging coma for 68 years after vanquising Voldemort, he wakes up to discover that he gained a few new titles from his final battle including “Harry the Lightbringer”… but fate isn’t done with him yet. Not long after waking up, a hole in time and space opens up below his feet at a ministry ball.

Meanwhile, in Sunnydale, California, a demon tries to summon someone beyond what the Powers That Be or Glorificus can counter: The Morningstar. …he gets Harry instead.

What proceeds to unfold is a comedy of mistaken identity and misread clues. (And, of course, there’s an unhelpful prophecy about him because it wouldn’t be Harry Potter otherwise.)

I especially like the decision to flesh out the joke by having Harry and Dawn Summers bonding over how much they hate shrewd old men shaping their destinies for them… and the conclusion by others that, because it’s already been established that this is Lucifer, every little whim must be a plan too cunning for them to recognize.

That said, that the grammar occasionally trips up (in ways which suggest English isn’t the author’s first language) and, when the plot initially gets going (around when the assassin “Serpent” is brought in to kill Harry), the prose feels a little too shallow for several chapters, so I’d give it a 3.7 out of 5 rating. (It’s still something I’d recommend reading at least once for the novelty of the concept, given how it stuck in my memory for so many years, but it could really use some tighening up in those middle chapters in order to reach 4 out of 5.)

Make sure you don’t skip the omakes at the ends of some chapters. Even when they start slow, the punchlines tend to be great.

The Master of Death by rgm0005
Length: 69,139 Words
Crossover: The Dresden Files
Status: Incomplete
Here we have a Dresden Files crossover by an author who knows how to take that wonderful Dresden balance of seriousness and wit but also to mix in some very engaging extra-universal world-building and engaging conversations between Harry and an OC.

It all starts when Harry Potter, having lived a full life, dies of old age and returns to the train station at the edge of the afterlife. After telling the train’s driver that he’s ready to go, settling down in a cabin, and accepting the hallows which have appeared next to him like a faithful dog, the driver comes to him with a message: He’s being summoned and would he be willing to answer it.

What follows is a brilliant depiction of passing out of one existence and then back into another to visit the Dresdenverse, becoming an Outsider along the way. (Because of the need to borrow a body from within outskirts of the Dresdenverse within Shape but outside Existence.)

Harry then arrives, summoned by Justin DuMorne and, being an ex-Auror, proceeds with his “saving people thing” after a brief legilimency scan. However, as events progress, he quickly discovers that he has a history in this world and, compelled by the threat of paradox, what follows is an interesting series of character interactions: Harry with the OC “afterlife train driver” (which is surprisingly satisfying) who he relies on to plot routes which temporarily exit Time. Harry with Rashid and Ebenezer, who understand that he means no harm, but also recognize that every time he is summoned or departs, it widens the cracks in the Outer Gates (and are unaware that Harry is experiencing their meetings in reverse order). etc.

Thus begins a story that can be thought of almost as a series of connected short stories, with one complete introductory arc, an interlude, and an incomplete arc having been written. The first two feel very much Dresdenverse stories, while the third taking place so far in the prehistoric past that it feels quite different.

While I’m not a huge fan of the incomplete third and and think the story would be much better off without it (it’s simply too original for the author’s skill level to maintain interest properly), the introductory arc and the interlude are excellent blends of what makes Harry Potter who he is (both personaly-wise and situation-wise) combined with the maturity, tone, and atmosphere of The Dresden Files, and with some elegantly chosen original bits for glue and flavour.

I’d say 4.5 out of 5 for the introductory arc, 4 out of 5 for the interlude, and 3.5 out of 5 for the rest.

For a taste of the aforementioned original bits, I’ll leave you with a quote from the driver to explain the mechanics of Harry borrowing an Outsider body:

“Of course not, sir; it just means nothing out there exists. I think you’ll find that there are a great number of things that don’t exist, sir; indeed, we didn’t exist a short time ago.”

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