The SGA Project, a.k.a. "Flavor Of The Year."
The goal: Give readers a taste of 2006 Stargate fandom, provide a rec-list with context, a description of intertexts, and explanation.
Why: Coming from the Harry Potter fandom, I find myself constantly explaining stories we wrote and read two-three years ago, "yes, yes, well… canon was like this, you see, and there was this story and then someone wrote that other story in response and…." Fanfiction is interdependent, relying what happens in canon, in mainstream media, and in between other stories in fandom. Stargate Atlantis is just in its second year of fanfic, new enough that we can still trace these connections. Well. More or less. I mean, how do you trace the connections between over 2,000 writers and 7,000 stories?
Caveat: I don't speak for fandom, I only speak for my own limited view. Picture it as a fish-eye camera in the room: it's just "a" perspective but not the only one, and a different camera mounted at a different angle, pointed somewhere else, will capture a completely different picture. Anyone who wants to create their own analysis, or write more based on other pairings, please go ahead. I regret I can't cover everything. A particular bummer is that I can't do Het (don't know it) and I'm only touching on Gen. Any volunteers? Bueller-?
Methodology: I could just arbitrarily pick stories based on my personal feeling -- it is ultimately a rec-list after all -- but I've tried to have a method to my madness.
- Most of the stories I've considered have at least 150 reviews (preferably 200+), demonstrating statistically they reached a large number of people in the fandom. (This number is arbitrary, by the way.) This is not a hard and fast rule. Obviously I didn't do this for minor pairings.
- Most of these stories appear on at least two rec-lists, some as many as nine, demonstrating statistically they're considered good enough to be recommended by someone.
- Most of these stories are included based on the date they were posted. Sometimes writers begin stories based on one canon but it's a year before they're finished. Since I'm considering their impact on fandom, the final publish date is more important than the start date. I've tried to avoid WIPs for this reason, though a couple have sneaked in there. WIPs are a huge problem because those are the novels, the big behemoth stories that have leave an impact crater on the fandom, but are almost never finished the year they're started.
- Stories are picked as an example of a trend or reaction to canon (or fanon). This means that lots of popular stories that I enjoy are skipped, and some less popular stories are included. If I've left off your favorite story and included one that makes you go "what the heck…?" this is almost certainly the reason why.
- I used the Stargatefanawards and the mcshep_awards to locate popular fics, but I found that fan awards don't track when a story was written (two thirds of the 2006 SGA fan awards were written in 2005), and the nominations for the Stargatefanawards closed by June, which left off half the year's stories. That said, I picked the stories at the beginning of December, and looking at the mcshep_awards after the fact? I'm rather relieved that many of these stories were your picks as well. It makes me feel like I'm on the right track.
Acknowledgements: This snapshot would not have been possible without the wide reading of Amothea, and the early direction and insights offered by Toft Froggy (who does not know I included her stories). I'd also like to recommend the ever-helpful people at sgastoryfinders: I can't tell you how many times I was scratching my head with some vague recollection of "that story with the music and stuff" and you guys would find it. Lastly, thank god for all those who maintain rec-lists. It's a lot of work, we depend on you, and you don't get a lot of awards and accolades, but hopefully a thank you will suffice. The whole fandom owes you dinner and a movie.
This is not a fan award or a top ten list. It's a rec-list with a particular angle that attempts to capture a snapshot of the year. Obviously I'm going to choose stories I like, but what I'm interested in is intertextuality, context, the conversation that frames the stories.
Canon Synopsis, Let Us Take You Back: 2006 began halfway through season two of SGA. To recap, the Atlantis expedition had been rescued in the eleventh hour, re-establishing regular ties with Earth. Ford fled, making barely a blip in the fanfiction world, while Ronon was found (and immediately embraced by fans like a lost puppy). Thanks to some fine arm-twisting from Elizabeth, John Sheppard was reluctantly given the command of Atlantis over Colonel Caldwell. In fandom, Caldwell quickly replaced Sumner and Kolya as John's nemesis. Rodney had Cadman's consciousness stuck in his brain which resulted in him smooching Beckett, and the fans rejoiced.
2005's search for a ZPM and home gave way to a furtive game of cat and mouse with the Wraith and the Genii, as the cloaked Atlantis attempted to continue to explore, continue their trade contacts, while pretending "we're not here." (Like that was ever gonna work.) Of course they were busted, though Elizabeth and Carson's meddling hurried it along, with the questionable ethics of turning a Wraith into a human.
It was a year of dumb and morally queasy decisions: Rodney blew up a solar system (spawning countless hurt/comfort fics), John got turned into a bug, John and Elizabeth foolishly let themselves get taken over by deadly aliens, Ford forced John's team to attack a hive ship, in a shivery case of scape-goating Elizabeth ordered the torture of Kavanagh… and then there was Michael. Oops. Turns out a Wraith is a sentient being. Season two ended with Atlantis in big trouble of their own making. There was precious little sympathy from the fans.
2006 ended mid-way through season three, which I will not detail here because it has not been shown in the U.S. yet, and also because fandom hasn't quite digested the new canon, though certain episodes have made a huge impact: "McKay & Mrs. Miller," where we meet Rodney's sister and his alternate self, and "Phantoms," where we learn what happened to John in Afghanistan. The early part of the season gives us much welcome character development.
Affect of Canon on Fanfiction: As a result of contact with home, the desperate darkness of 2005's season one fanfiction (Exigencies, The Taste Of Apples) disappeared since the expedition was no longer trapped. But some of the carefree silliness or "crack!fics" (penguin fics inspired by March of the Penguins, the gleeful madness of Pegasus B, 2005's infamous Harlequin Challenge) also dispersed once the expedition was more closely tied to the "real" world of Stargate Command.
Absurd crack!fics (in which, say, Rodney is turned into a 6" dinosaur) for which the SGA fandom had grown famous gave way to long, richly developed and realistic "alternate universes" or AUs, with Stargate characters taken out of the SGA world and dropped into entirely different circumstances. Slash writers, previously able to blithely ignore "don't ask, don't tell" when the Atlantis team was cut off from the military, were suddenly forced to address military regs, or at least give them a nod.
The AU trend allowed slash writers to continue to cheerfully ignore military regs because characters such as John [had left the military / was a dance instructor / was a musician / was a grad student / was an international playboy / was a stripper / fill in the blank here]. Challenges like reel_sga, which re-wrote classic movies like Hitchcock's "Notorious" with Stargate characters, encouraged the trend.
Affect of Pop Culture on Fanon: In the mainstream media, the critical success of the movie Brokeback Mountain whet fans' appetites for more real-world AU romances, particularly those in a western setting like the Farm In Iowa series. (In 2005 the big influence was March of the Penguins, which makes more sense if you remember SGA started in Antarctica. I didn't say it made a lot more sense.)
Taking the Military Seriously: For stories set in Atlantis, slash writers began to deal with military regulations head-on in stories such as Scenes From A Lesser War and DADT, Damyata, Damyadvam, giving slash romances a serious edge. SGA slash writers still have more latitude than SG-1 slash writers because of the iconoclastic personalities of John and Rodney (we believe they don't care about regulations, least of all the military's), the physical distance between Atlantis and Earth (someday Atlantis shall be a colony and we all know it), and the widespread belief Elizabeth would gladly cover for gay soldiers (yay, Elizabeth).
Effect of Current Events on Fandom, or Stargate's Usual Delight in Politics: The second half of season two focused on the ethical mistakes and bad moves of the Atlantis team in episodes like "Trinity," "Michael," and the season finale, "Allies." Many fans were outraged and frustrated with their un-heroic heroes, while others loved the moral complexity that echoed the growing cynicism and sliding support for America's Iraq war. (The Stargate franchise has always borrowed themes from current events.) Either way, fans felt it was an open question whether the expedition and Earth even deserved Atlantis.
It's unusual to have one story utterly dominate a fandom, but without question the story of the year was Synecdochic's Freedom's Just Another Name For Nothing Left To Lose. Posted when the fandom's frustration with their tarnished heroes was at its peak, it resonated not only as a great story in its own right, but also because it dealt with the mistakes of Atlantis team, what they learned, the shaky ethics of Earth (in the form of the NID), and it took Atlantis away from our side, beginning as it does after the Atlantis team's return to our galaxy.
The comedic take on this feeling was the smirking belief that the Atlantis team must be made up of people the SGC wanted to be rid of , i.e., "Stargate Atlantis: Saving the galaxy by accident since 2004." Danvers' A Team Is Borne* sums up the sentiment, where Lorne is sent to the Pegasus galaxy for blowing up valuable artifacts ("I'm being promoted to Atlantis." - "Sure, let's call it that.") and Elizabeth fails the "Great Big Idealist" test as she green-lights an obviously doomed plan.
The Natural Growth of a New Fandom. The Joys of Minor Characters: Speaking of Lorne, as SGA has grown in popularity, like any fandom, minor characters have taken on more importance. It's fun to see which minor characters. Zelenka is ever-present in fanfiction as a quasi-matchmaker and facilitator with a word of well-timed advice, leading to the tongue-in-cheek Zelenkamatch.com comic. Lorne has his own following and badly needs a first name (so far we have Nick, Marc, Evan…). Caldwell has been slowly less demonized, while Cadman, given she only appears in only two episodes, is surprisingly popular. There was much speculation about Jeannie prior to season three's "McKay & Mrs. Miller" (older sister? younger sister? reason for the split?). She's now moved into the fanfiction universe with a corner penthouse apartment, appearing in virtually every Rodney story that takes place on Earth. Requests for Jeannie-centric fics are beginning to roll in.
"That Kiss," and its Affect on Slash: Season two opened with "Duet," the first (U.S.) gay kiss in a sci-fi series, between McKay and Beckett (
Conclusion: Fanfiction relies on canon as raw material, but canon events do not control fanfiction like reins on a horse. The relationship between canon and fanfiction is call-and-response, not cause-and-effect. Fanfiction reflects what the fans want to see. This is why a character who's dead on the show will live forever in fanfic. (If I were writing for the show I would want to know this.)
By the way, the popularity of McShep over other pairings is a mystery. The explanation I buy is that the hero (Captain Kirk, Harry Potter, Frodo, Jack O'Neill) is always the focus of romantic fiction, het or slash, so what we're seeing really is the overwhelming popularity of Rodney McKay.
A New Slashy Interest in John Sheppard: In 2005, Rodney McKay was the undisputed star of SGA slash fanfiction, with John Sheppard predictably the star of the Het fiction. Even John/Rodney stories written from John's perspective tended to use John as a lens through which to watch Rodney.
By 2006, slash fans began to take more of an interest in John. He became more important partially because of the complications of "don't ask, don't tell" on the popular McShep, as well as a natural need to flesh out both sides of the pairing. Unfortunately, unlike Rodney, fans discovered the reticent John gave little clear information beyond the fact that he likes Ferris wheels and doesn't apparently read Tolstoy. Until "Phantoms" in the fall of 2006, fans did not even know the real story behind John's black mark in Afghanistan, and as of this writing we still have no certain information about his family or life before Afghanistan.
Fanon's Affect on Fanon, or, When in Doubt, Make it Up: Where there are blanks in canon, fanfiction writers build and comment on each others' stories, instead of responding to canon. Of course -- I mean, how can you reference canon that doesn't exist?
So with John, necessity has been the mother of invention. Fans have filled in the blanks with wildly different "John childhood" stories and AUs. John was the popular kid in high school… John was scrawny and unnoticed… John could have anyone he wanted… John was the gay-virginal product of rigid Christian conservatives… all extrapolating from thin evidence. Any number of these John interpretations will be killed once the show gives us "the truth" and, outside of a lucky few, these stories -- like the penguin fics -- will not make sense down the road. One universal thread, however, is the belief that John is a "military brat" whose distance and easy charm comes from moving from base to base; many picture a heavy-handed father who's left John uncomfortable in his own skin in social situations. Won't we be surprised if John's father turns out to be an insurance salesman named Bernie? (The fanfic writers have a point though. John's attitude towards authority had to come from somewhere.)
Descriptions of how John is in relationships have a similar range, for different reasons: instead of a lack of information we have too much. John is complex (some say infuriatingly inconsistent); even when he's eagerly kissing the blond in "The Tower" he tells us, "I never see this coming." It's possible Joe Flanigan is pulling John Sheppard in one direction while the writers are drawing him in another, as his behavior says "Kirk" while his words tell a different story. Is he a sexual carnivore who avoids relationships through casual affairs, or is he uncomfortable and shy and disconnected? Other darker, tougher, and less likeable versions of John turned up in 2006 with this expansion of fanon!John. This, plus the tension between John and Rodney in episodes like "Trinity," brought about more complicated portrayals of their relationship in MVP and Your Inevitable Unhappy Ending.
Oh, Cool, A Direct Conversation between Fanfics: The BDSM fans have also had their own interpretations, with both a submissive and a very dominant and possessive John Sheppard. Xanthe's BDSM novels, General & Dr. Sheppard and Coming Home, while controversial, have had an impressive impact on the fandom. As Helen notes, tongue-in-cheek, even Xanthe's detractors seem intimately familiar with both novels. While most 2006 AUs take place in our ordinary world or in a world closely related to SGA canon -- such as the mensa_aus sparked by the brainy Sheppard and Rod in "McKay & Mrs. Miller" -- Xanthe visualizes a unique reality with entirely different BDSM social mores, normalized by the fact that this is a fluffy, pink-around-the-edges romance.
In a rare direct response (normally with fanfiction you have to guess based on timing and theme) Helen's Take Clothes Off As Directed then revisualizes the implications of Xanthe's BDSM world as one where submissives are discriminated against.
On a completely personal note, I can't tell you how fascinating this is, to have first an SGA canon, then an alternate canon, and then an alternate alternate canon. It's like Russian dolls, one inside another. Helen's story can't be understood without reading Xanthe's story, and neither can be understood without watching Stargate Atlantis. Yet the sheer distance between point A and point C… we have a relatively straight John in SGA canon, and end up with a submissive John fighting military bias in a BDSM world where subs have just been allowed into flight school.
I love fanfiction.
This, of course, is how fanon begins to break unrecognizably from canon and in a few years we'll have themes no one will be able to explain.
Wow, you're still reading this long essay? Color me impressed. Moving right along...
A Silly Fandom Taking Itself More Seriously, This Time With Crossgender: In the world of alternate sexuality, playful crossgendered stories like 2005's It Stops Being Funny At Skirts (where John is turned into a girl and very upset about it) gave way to more serious takes on gender-benders. You see how a deliberately cracked idea leads to writers thinking, "hmm… but what if--?" and we have fics dealing with issues in offbeat topics in stories like You're Pretty Good-Looking (For A Girl), Second Skin, Like Heisenberg Looking In, Uncertain, and Ardhanarishvara. Instead of light-hearted comedy, they tackle the struggles and gender confusion of a John, Ronon, and Teyla temporarily switched into female versions of themselves; a Rodney and Cadman who've been switched into each other's bodies and have to accept that they can't change back; and a John recovering from very severe torture.
Multimedia. Yes, It's a Buzzword, but it's Also True: This next part Amothea insisted on, even though it moves us into dangerous - perhaps deadly - territory. While vids and fanart are far (very far) beyond the scope of this essay (everyone will rush forward with their favorite vid), the explosion of what I've nicknamed "fanfiction haiku" on postcards for the Post Secret challenge marked a fusion of fanfiction, art, and music.
Art crossed into fanfiction with the Post Secret challenge, and then into comics like Zelenkamatch.com, the Illustrated Rodneysaur, and The Exceedingly Sad And Very Touching Story Of How Elizabeth Weir Died Saving Atlantis which was later turned into a graphic novel.
Meanwhile, writers moved from overtly mentioning specific songs in Atlantis off-hours rave fics to including entire soundtracks ranging from Johnny Cash to the Scissor Sisters. Meanwhile, fans developed multiple soundtracks of beautiful world, Arab and Indian music for Auburn's popular sex-slave WIP In The City Of Seven Walls. Then there's Zoetrope's Missed The Saturday Dance which combines a fanfiction AU set in WWII with trailers, music, a podcast, art, postcards, and letters. In the most unique contribution, Lim with her Enya-esque voice played Teyla in Mission Report, composing, singing, and accompanying herself, as well as producing a music video (though this is less a trend and more a one-of-a-kind event). Very cool, guys.
The Backbone of the Stargate Atlantis Fanfiction: Of course, I have no intention of ignoring themes that have existed since the inception of Stargate Atlantis, especially since they happen to be the bulk of our stories: alien technology stories, return to Earth fics, Wraith-centric stories, Stargate SG-1/Stargate Atlantis and other wacky crossovers (like how I managed to throw in Shalott's Star Wars story?), all very fun and interesting fandom staples. To catch a thorough listing of fanfiction by type or theme, check out Amothea's Master rec list and Double Treat's Thematic Lists.
The Lure of the Meme That Ate Fandom: Rounding out the year was the pervasive and irresistible Five Things meme, with such titles as Five Impossible Things Rodney Did Before Breakfast and Five Ancient Devices They Really Shouldn't Have Initialized and Five People John Slept With After Leaving Atlantis and, and-and, it's so addictive I started reading even more just now. Everyone wrote at least one, and I think compilation of these stories could act as a fandom census.
Finally, I'm getting tired and I haven't been able to work in Ladyflowdi's Class 6. So here it is for no particular reason except that it was my favorite fic of the year (and, yes, pure porn). The image of John padding around in flip-flops in an Antarctic shop is priceless.
Writing this, I come to the conclusion that overall Stargate Atlantis fanfiction took itself more seriously this year. Since this is being posted at the turn of the year with all these new year's resolutions, I'm tempted to make predictions as to what can we expect in 2007… but I give that up as soon as the thought occurs to me. Your guess is as good as mine.
A Farm In Iowa by Sheafrotherdon
Waltz, Tango, Foxtrot by Out There
String Theory: A Concerto For Violin in D Minor by Toft Froggy
Bell Curve, or Ladies Night at the Boom Boom Room by Pru
An Affair To Remember by Tira Nog
Entanglement by Linaerys
Scenes From A Lesser War by Amireal
DADT, Damyata, Damyadvam by Trinityofone
2006 Frustration with not-so-heroes
Freedom's Just Another Name For Nothing Left To Lose by Synecdochic
A Team Is Borne by Danvers
2006 Minor characters
Zelenkamatch.com by LillyJK and NewKidFan
Downthrow by Zoe Rayne
New View, Same Old Scene by Miss Porcupine
Retromancy by JiM
Rodney and Cadman Go Down,
Rodney and Cadman Get It On,
400% by kormantic, aka Pares
Rave Atlantis by Smittywing
2006 The vast array of John characterization
The Best Things In Life Are Free by Smittywing
(shh, I know this is a WIP started in 2005)
Experience by Resonant
Do I Know You From A Frat Mixer, Or Another Galaxy? by Tzi and Zaanthi
Lost In Waiting by Lacey McBain
Cartography By Touch by Pru
MVP by Cesperanza
Four Quarters by Trinityofone
Your Inevitable Unhappy Ending by Helen
2006 BDSM Intertexts
General & Dr. Sheppard by Xanthe
Coming Home by Xanthe
Take Clothes Off As Directed by Helen
2006 Mensa AUs
The Numbers by Trinityofone
Irony by Trinityofone
2006 More serious Crossgendered fics
Ardhanarishvara by Auburn and Mona
Second Skin by Toft Froggy
You're Pretty Good Looking (For A Girl) by Trinityofone
Like Heisenberg, Looking In, Uncertain by Gaia
Post Secret challenge and Post Secret postcards
MVP by Speranza
Zelenkamatch.com by LillyJK and NewKidFan
The Illustrated Rodneysaur by Spaggle and Moonloon
Neither Death, Nor Exile, Nor Pain by mirabele_dictu
Rave Atlantis by Smittywing
Four Quarters by Trinityofone
In The City Of Seven Walls by Auburn,
world, and Arab and Indian music
Mission Report by Lim
The Exceedingly Sad And Very Touching Story Of How Elizabeth Weir Died Saving Atlantis by Lavvyan and
graphic novel version by Smuffter
Missed The Saturday Dance by Zoetrope
2006 Ongoing Themes (alien technology, visiting earth, Wraith-fic, SG-1/SGA, crossovers)
Interface by Resonant
Predatory by Frostfire
Things To Do In Denver When You're Dead by Cesperanza
Here Is No Water by Frostfire
The Dark Side Shalott
2006 Five Things Meme
Five Impossible Things Rodney Did Before Breakfast by Lacy McBain
Five Things John Didn't Want Rodney To Know about His Past And Why Rodney Does by Lilas
Five Ancient Devices They Really Shouldn't Have Initialized by Miss Porcupine
Five People John Slept With After Leaving Atlantis by Auburn
Five People Who Don't Tease Rodney About Citrus by cypher
No reason in particular, I just liked it
Class 6 by ladyflowdi
2005 Playful and silly Crossgendered fics
Skirting The Issue by thisisbone
It Stops Being Funny At Skirts by Svmadelyn
Exigencies by Rivier
The Taste Of Apples by Auburn
Mating Rituals by Author? (available on the black market, cheap; email me)
Pygocelis (or, A Gift Of Pebbles) by Leah
Stargate Fan Awards
Cathexys recs (Cathexys, I hope you don't mind)
*Technically "A Team Is Borne" was written December 2005, but oh well.
**One of the links doesn't appear in the rec-list because it's my story. It was at the center of debate so I used it as an illustration, but I'm not going to rec my own fic.
Appendix A: My team of fandom lawyers in the blue suits suggest I make even more disclaimers:
- This list is slanted towards fandom big wheels because of my methodology. Certain writers do have a greater than average impact on fandom because they're very active and involved, and they tend to garner more reviews. The price I pay to be able to back up my choices with stats is that lesser-known writers do get short-shrift. I acknowledge that shortcoming right off the bat.
- This list is slanted towards slash, is in fact almost entirely slash, because that's what I read. Originally I wanted to include Gen and Het and all the slash pairings, but I found I couldn't discuss, say, John/Elizabeth because I don't know much about the pairing. Likewise, non-fanfiction (such as vids) are not included unless they have a direct connection to a fanfiction story. I gotta draw the line somewhere.
- I'm just glancing over this and I've noticed that Trinityofone turns up time and time again. I can't claim to be unbiased, I am a fan. But in this case I think that she just took a lot of risks and this sort of essay zeros in on what's new and different and she was always out there on the skinny branches. Other than Trinity this is pretty balanced.
- This list is slanted towards John/Rodney. SGA slash is slanted towards John/Rodney as a whole, but this project overemphasizes the pairing because, again, that's what I read.
If you maintain a rec-list, drop me a note and I'll add it here for everyone's reference. (P.S. I won't be including del.icio.us lists, however. There are too many to include and the description field del.icio.us gives us is too small to describe stories well.)
ETA: By-the-way, feel free to disagree and add/or things that I missed (wickedwords has already brought up elsewhere that I didn't include the reel_sga plagiarism discussion, which is very true, amothea does feel that "Your Cowboy Days Are Over" should be on the list, liviapenn has added John/Teyla trends outside the scope of the essay). This is meta. Go for it.