Fanfiction – Delenda Est

Aaand back to reviewing things I liked enough to re-read.

Today’s review is Delenda Est by Lord Silvere and Claihm Solais, a Harry Potter fic that’s probably the only Harry-Bellatrix story which held my interest beyond the plot synopsis.

It’s a time-travel fic, in which a Bellatrix Lestrange who has fallen out of Voldemort’s favour convinces a captured Harry Potter to assist her in suicide and accidentally sends him back in time to her Hogwarts years… in just the right place to pique her younger self’s interest.

Naturally, Harry’s desire to hold onto his animosity toward Bellatrix Lestrange means he doesn’t want anything to do with her, but, through persistence and making herself invaluable to him, she ever-so-slowly drags details out of him.

In a more consequential vein, Harry also finds himself aligned with the less radical patriarchs of the Black and Malfoy family, who were assassinated in some unspecified manner in the original timeline. (While, at the same time, having his heroic tendencies interfering with his desire to maintain a low profile.)

Larger-scale events begin to move in chapter 12, with the first encounter with Lord Voldemort before his rise, when Harry finally tells Bellatrix of her potential self’s allegiance and suicide and, armed with a justification for his knowledge, finally informs his “backers” of Voldemort’s existence and motives.

(On a related note, when Harry suggests Tom as the “alias” to call Lord Voldemort by, it made me wish there was a third central character named Richard so the “Tom, Dick, and Harry” actual-name-as-an-alias set could be complete.)

I’m not sure I want to spoil exactly how the rest unfolds, but I will say that the story progresses in recognizably distinct phases and, after a novel or so worth of text, Harry and Bellatrix wind up taking turns playing vigilante apparition against the death eaters.

That said, I can say that the story is split into two parts, with the second part taking place after an accidental re-activation of the method of time-travel sends Harry and Bellatrix “back” to the (now changed) future where the Potters are still alive.

Writing-wise, the story feels like a fairly standard 4 out of 5. It has few scenes which have a chance of sticking in your memory (one being when James Potter gets mad at some over-eager vanishing ink), and it does rely on a couple of spells that one could argue to be OP, but it has no trouble keeping me reading.

Nonetheless, for all the OCs that it uses and canon characters it has to flesh out or reinterpret, I quite like their characterization in most cases, so this is certainly a case of “standard” being much more than merely “average”.

Unfortunately, the catch is that “in most cases”. I’m not overly fond of the Potter and Black children post-timeskip, compared to the Black and Malfoy elders pre-timeskip, and, given that I’ve seen others make generalized complaints about the direction the story went in its latter half, I can conclude I’m not alone in disliking how the timeskip changed things. (I find Rose insufferable in a way I never felt from Hermione and the others just bore me.) Nonetheless, I did still read to the end despite that.

In total, the story clocks in at 392,449 words, it’s complete, and there is a sequel in progress. (The sequel’s plot has a bit more of a “pulp fiction” feel to it but it more than makes up for it by having three of the main characters be master pranksters who provide many more humorous scenes than in the first story. I’d give said sequel a 4.5 out of 5 for how many times it made me laugh.)

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Fanfiction – Stupid Portal

Continuing on last week’s theme of decent Buffy the Vampire Slayer fics that I happened to be reading, this is another crossover incorporating Star Trek.

Stupid Portal by elementalv

However, this time, Buffy and Spike wind up on Picard’s Enterprise because the the three evil nerds (Warren Mears and co.) essentially want their own private crossover TV show to spy on.

What makes this story noteworthy is its blend of character and setting, with a story developing around a prophecy that Buffy and several others will save a race of demons who fled to the Star Trek universe. (Where their use of magic was written off as a weak variant of the kinds of powers used by entities like the Q.)

On the character front, having Spike stuck with Buffy on the Enterprise, later joined by Giles, allows for some engaging focus on Spike’s character and his relationship with Buffy. On the setting front, we get to see the Slayer spirit’s backstory fleshed out and explored with Buffy being the avatar of a primal goddess named Sendaru.

I also like the three original characters that the story introduces: Lieutenant Meg Burns (who volunteers to be a sparring partner for Buffy while she’s learning swordplay), Sendaru, and DB (short for Data’s Bastard), a program cobbled together by Data from Federation and Borg algorithms who became self-aware without anyone noticing. (I especially enjoyed the scenes with DB.)

When it comes to more specific events, I found it very entertaining to see Buffy tell Q exactly what her opinion is of those who associate with the Powers That Be.

That said, I do see two flaws:

First, until the last scene left the story feeling complete, I was wishing quite strongly that there was more time spent exploring DB as a character. A minor nit-pick, but something that could have been avoided with more skill.

Second, while it does peter off pretty quickly and it does have its uses to the story in the middle, having Worf develop an unrequited crush on Buffy in the omitted pre-story portion after Buffy and Spike fall through the portal feels like sloppy writing. (Though, once I made peace with how it was set up, the areas where it came into play turned out fine.)

All in all, given the work put into the characterization and backstory (especially DB and Sendaru) and how the ending left me feeling, I’d rate this around 4.7 out of 5. The final scene even felt sort of like the ending of a Buffy episode.

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Sneaking Around The Urge to Procrastinate

About four years ago, I wrote about an epiphany I had while learning Prolog.

Well, now I’m learning Free Pascal as a more typesafe alternative to C for programming my DOS-based retro-gaming PC and a bit of supplementary insight came to mind:

Specifically, my impulses called this exercise pointless… yet it’s no different from the Rust exercises on Exercism that I’ve been using to make up for any skill biases in my hobby projects.

When I realized that, I also realized how to get around that kind of impulse: Saying something is pointless is fundamentally the same as using “What’s the point?” as a rhetorical question… but that question doesn’t have to be rhetorical.

If you ask yourself “What’s the point?”, you can answer “To prove you know it” to trick your baser desires into “conversing”. When they “say” that they do already know it, you can “respond” with “OK, then prove it. Explain, step-by-step, how you’d implement this.”

It was at that point, I realized why I was so resistant to it. The tutorial hadn’t covered collections (ie. arrays, vectors, etc.) yet, and, because I knew Pascal had them, my lazy brain was trying to distract me from how long it has been since I’ve had to group sequences without arrays, generators, slicing, or other fancy functional constructs.

Well, once I realized what was trying to be brushed under the rug, it was easy to take the newly revealed challenge by the horns and then end with “OK, you say that algorithm is a solution… Translating it to code is the work of a minute or two at most. Translate it to Pascal and prove it to me.”

So, what is today’s lesson? If you don’t want to do something because you think you already know how, try demanding an explanation of yourself. Maybe it really is that easy and you’ll convince yourself to just get it over with, or maybe your intuition is trying to keep you from realizing where the real effort lies. Either way, separating the actual mental work from the physical/digital manifestation of it may be all it takes trick your lazy brain into getting stuff done.

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Fanfiction – Infinity Box

It’s been a busy week and I didn’t have time to do my usual “go back and re-read something which stuck with me as good” routine, so here’s something reasonably worthwhile from my fresh reads:

Infinity Box by HMaxMarius

It’s a response to to Zaion’s Ship of the Line challenge and, for those not familiar with it, the challenge has to do with writing Buffy the Vampire Slayer fanfiction in which, rather than just some knowledge of the French language, some kind of sci-fi ship sticks around when everything is over. …such fics are a bit of a guilty pleasure for me.

While I don’t have time to build a recommendation list, Infinity Box is one I happened to read over the weekend which is complete enough and decent enough to serve as a good sampler. (If you want more, the challenge page contains a listing of responses.)

As with all Ship of the Line stories, it begins with the events of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Season 2, Episode 6 (“Halloween”), in which everyone gets temporarily turned into their costumes by Ethan Rayne’s idea of a prank. In this story, however, the relevant characters decided to dress to a Star Trek: The Next Generation theme instead.

The fic then does two things which aren’t specified in the challenge, but most fics seem to wind up doing:

  • What exists feels like just the first act in a longer story, though, unlike so many, it’s actually complete.
  • It’s a crossover with Stargate: SG-1 in which they ally themselves with the SGC while maintaining political independence.

Notice that I said most fics wind up doing that. If you want something more complete, there are a handful of things that progressed further and you can can choose the “Length (Desc)” sort order on the listing to find them.

The writing in Infinity Box one is generally good as far as Halloween fics go (they have a whole filterable tag to themselves on Twisting the Hellmouth), HMaxMarius is smart enough to do as little rehashing of canon events as possible, and I’d give it a 4 out of 5, which would be equivalent to +1 on a scale from -2 to +2.

In other words, it’s about average for what I’d find on the favourites list of someone like me. (Someone who has taste but also isn’t stingy with their faves.)

On a related note, given that this and alternative Mass Effect first contact fics (which don’t waste time following boring human soliders on the ground) are both guilty pleasures of mine, can anyone suggest another class of fic I might enjoy?

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Fanfiction – Shirou Emiya: Erogame Protagonist

I hereby declare this Wednesday to be “chuckle Wednesday”.

Shirou Emiya: Erogame Protagonist by gabriel blessing is a semi-serious fic which asks the question “How amusing can you make things if you cast the protagonist of a more decorous visual novel as the protagonist for an erogame and then don’t tell him what’s going on?”

In this case, Shirou as the hero, being too skilled and principled to be shoe-horned into the intended narrative, yet with his own set of skills that substitute humorously well when the setting manages to bend them somewhat.

That’s where the chuckles come in… for all the sweatdrop-worthy reactions Shirou has to the setting around him, he is effectively the straight man AND the joke for the rest of the cast, as he constantly succeeds… but not in the intended ways. (eg. Unintentionally accumulating a harem of female monsters, not through sex, but because he’s just that good a cook.)

While I haven’t played the erogame that he’s been crossed into, the characters are definitely entertaining as the author has portrayed them.

Now, as I said, it is a semi-serious fic. (The balance wavers.) For example, the writing mentions, on more than one occasion, that Shirou’s favourite things are “saving people”, “swords”, and “cooking” (in that order) and it’s just taken for granted that Shirou’s skill at cooking is good enough to improve even the greatest of dishes. That said, I’ve definitely seen worse. Stylistically, it reminds me of the anime Gokudo.)

I also like the running joke of the building misconceptions around what the Shinto religion entails.

The editing on this is generally very good… though one glaring annoyance is how, several times in chapter 2, blessing is too eager to break in with a parenthesized paragraph to explicitly say “I skipped over …” when the formatting disqualifies it from passing as a fourth-wall joke and an author of his skill could easily hand-wave such skipped-over scenes properly.

It does also sometimes have fourth wall jokes, which I’m not overly fond of, but I’m willing to put up with them. Also, when they do start to fly thick and fast in the final chapter, the quality the story would have achieved without them rises to compensate.

All in all, I’d give it a 4 out of 5. Nothing special, but solidly entertaining. A completed 93,099-word fic (even if it isn’t marked as such) and worth a read. If you watched Gokudo and liked it, you’ll probably like this. If you like this, give Gokudo a try.

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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 hasn’t cut corners on his Jurassic World crossover… and his My Little Pony crossover lured me into that 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.  Following the events of the movie, Owen decides it certainly couldn’t hurt and 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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