Today I read…Agent of Chaos

Image result for agent of chaos kami garciaToday I read X-Files Origins #1: Agent of Chaos by Kami Garcia.

Fox Mulder’s younger sister Samantha disappeared 5 years ago. He blames himself, and he doesn’t know how to get over it. It broke his family apart. Now he’s in a new city in a new school for his senior year of high school, and something weird is happening. Children are disappearing, and turning up dead. The disappearances remind Mulder of Samantha. Could they be linked? The cops won’t listen. It’s up to Mulder and his friends to track down the clues and find the killer before he strikes again.

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I tend to go to through phases where I get obsessed with a particular show, and through high school it was the X-Files. I loved it, even the bad episodes. I even watched the spinoff, The Lone Gunmen. Though if you want to talk real-life conspiracy theories, it premiered the spring of 2001, and the first episode was about a conspiracy by the government to hijack a plane and crash it in to the World Trade Center to start a war…

When I found out there were new X-Files books, I really wanted to read them, especially because season 11 premiered last week. I’ll save the rant about how it’s really season 10.5 and how they mistreated Scully. I enjoyed this one, and the look we got at Mulder as a teenager. We only got bits and pieces during the series. While now Mulder and Scully seem so young at the start of the show, they were both adults in the middle of their careers, had completed their educations, and had their basic personalities already established. In this book, Mulder is still in high school, still actively grieving his sister, and trying to figure out not only what happened to her, but how to forgive himself for not saving her. The fan of the show knows that he never really does, and that it becomes one of the defining moment of his life. But this book shows where he found his coping mechanism-psychology, and using his intelligence to profile serial killers and psychopaths and to stop them from hurting people, especially children like Samantha. In season 1 of the show, we see Mulder as the former golden child of the profiling department. He was considered to be one of the most gifted profilers they had, until he became obsessed with the X-Files and became damaged, as so many of his colleagues saw it. Here he learns about profiling, which was still in its infancy in 1979 where the book takes place. It is a little pat that Mulder is so naturally talented at it, but it fits with his characterization in the show.

Writing a media tie-in novel takes a particular skill, since you have to take established characters and put them in a situation you make up, and make the fans believe they would act this way and say these things. Garcia does a good job with this. This book feels like a young Fox Mulder. We also see the beginning of how his life interacts with the Syndicate, since we know they have been around for a long time, and they had something to do with Samantha’s disappearance as a way to control their father. Mulder’s friend Gimble and his paranoid father Major Winchester also introduce Mulder to conspiracy theories that may sound crazy, but may also be true. The worst character is his other friend, Phoebe Larsen, whose name recalls his dislikeable lover Phoebe Green from Oxford who we meet in season 1. They also share quite a few traits, to the point that I thought they were supposed to be the same character until I went hunting for the book character’s last name to confirm it. Phoebe is there to be the girl, and she never quite escapes that role. Then again, this is a book about Mulder, and his relationships with women can be… problematic. Again, that’s another rant.
All in all, the characters worked, the conspiracy worked, and the mystery worked. I’m not sure how many teenagers watch the X-Files these days, though it is on Netflix, and the new season is airing. This book would likely be more popular with people like me, who watched the show, as a non-fan would not get many of the references.

Today I Read… Devil’s Advocate

Image result for devil's advocate jonathan maberryToday I read X-Files Origins #2: Devil’s Advocate by Jonathan Maberry.

Dana Scully’s family had just moved to a new town, and she’s having enough trouble being the new girl again without the disturbing dreams she’s been having. Devils and angels and shadows and blood… Now she’s seeing visions even when she’s awake, of teenagers who recently died in car crashes. There have been quite a few teenage deaths lately in this small town. Must be kids doing drugs. Or is it? And why are they appearing to Dana?

There’s something going on, and it’s up to Dana, her sister Melissa, and her new friends in the science club to figure it out, since it looks like the cops some believe them.

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So, everything I just said about Mulder in Agent of Chaos? Does not apply in this book. Rather than showing us the start of Special Agent Doctor Dana Scully, Catholic, skeptic, and firm believer in science, Maberry makes her a pale shadow of her older sister Melissa, the believer. This Dana does yoga, has psychic dreams and visions, and hangs out in a New Age store. Her father is downright cold to the point of being vicious, instead of the stem but loving military father from the show, and her mother is so repressed you forget she’s there half the time, instead of being the one who helps her family together through her husband’s deployments. The only connection this Dana has to my Scully is the red hair.

Oddly enough, Maberry has actually edited at least 2 anthologies of X-Files short stories, which one would assume would give him at least a passing familiarity with the characters. The two anthologies are sitting on my to be read bookcase, so I can’t comment yet on their quality. Still, Agent of Chaos is by far the better book of the two. The Syndicate in this one is badly shoehorned in and the villain’s identity is obvious.

The two books aren’t really connected. They take place over the same few days, and they share a few locations, but they are careful never to let Mulder and Scully meet, or to have their separate stories connect. It would actually have been more interesting if they had connected in some way-why else put them both in the same small town? How many killers are there in small town Maryland are there anyway? Do the branches of the Syndicate never talk to each other?

If they publish more books, it might be interesting to keep doing them in pairs, and to show where they could have met, before they finally do meet in the basement of the FBI building. The best part of the X-Files had always been Mulder and Scully and their relationship, and it would suit their story to have their lives be a series of unknowing near-misses of meeting. Destiny or the Syndicate, you know they will meet, but what if they met before and didn’t remember-would they still grow to be the Mulder and Scully that we know and love?

Just please, learn who Scully is before writing her again. Please.

Today I Read…Fic: Why Fanfiction is Taking Over the World

FicToday I read Fic: Why Fanfiction is Taking Over the World by Anne Jamison, with a foreword by Lev Grossman.

Fanfiction…the final frontier. These are the voyages of academics, actors, lawyers, editors, authors, online archivists, activists, students, and of course, fanficcers. Coming from all walks of life and all fandoms, professor Anne Jamison has put together a stunning collection of essays about a hobby millions of people have had for decades, but were too often afraid to admit, out of embarrassment or fear of the copyright holders’ reaction. But fanfic has a history since long before the days of ‘zines and has expanded far beyond stories about Kirk and Spock, or Kirk/Spock. From Sherlock Holmes’ pastiches to the influence of Star Trek to RPF, bronies, the success of the Twilight-inspired Fifty Shades of Grey, and the growing understanding of the legality of fic, Fic is the perfect resource for the fan studying fandom, and for anyone else who ever wondered “what if the story happened this way instead?”

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I won this book from a Goodreads‘ First Reads contest, and I was thrilled since it was already on my personal to-read list. I was even more thrilled when I actually read it, because it’s terrific. I’ve mentioned before (a few times) my interest in academic fandom, both in studying properties that inspire fandom and in studying fandom itself. I’ve been a fan since grade 3, reading fanfic since I was about 15, and I attended my first convention at 18. In some ways, this book is part of the story of my life. It also introduced me to parts of fandom that I didn’t know about–I’ve said before that I hate Twilight, but Jamison does make some interesting points about the fandom writing fanfic to correct Meyer’s (many) mistakes and problems. To be fair, that’s the entire point of fixit fics, to correct what you thought was wrong with a given episode. Sometimes rage leads to ficwriting as much as love for the original property–I still have an old half-written X-Files fic on my harddrive that managed to combine fixit, RPF, meta, and Mary Sue, and another fic that combined Smallville and House M.D. solely for the purpose of Greg House insulting Lana Lang. I can respect that motivation, even though I maintain that there was nothing redeemable about Twishite. But, whatever floats your boat.

I’ve read a lot of fanfic over the years (a lot) (no, I’m not kidding, a lot) (a lot a lot a lot), and I didn’t like everything, but most of the writers were able to make an interesting point. Some fanfic writers I’ve loved better than ‘traditional’ writers. Some fanfic writers ARE published, traditional writers playing in a sandbox they love just like the rest of us. Some writers that I know started writing in fanfic, polishing their skills, before they became published writers, and still love fanfic. All of which are points that Jamison makes so I guess it’s not just me. That’s the thing about fandom–it’s very personal, if you’re a fan, it’s your culture and your identity and your hobby and your friends. Jamison started as an academic studying fandom, but eventually she became a fan–fandom has a way of sucking you in and inviting you to play too.

And…this has devolved into a discussion of me, not the book hasn’t it? I saw a lot of myself in this book–in a nonfiction cultural study, I guess that means she got it right. The essays she collected are equally well-done, offering different perspectives from different fandoms and fans who have experienced fandom in different times and places.They look at slash, het, g, omegaverse, au, and RPF. They discuss both copyright and the different understandings of the laws regarding copyright. They look at how the internet has vastly changed the face of fandom, and truly helped it turn into a global community. They look at attitudes towards monetizing fanfic and the arguments against it, and how it affects the community that supported its creation. They look at the problems with fanfic, and the areas that it rarely touches. And they look at fanfic as art, and where it belongs in the artistic and literary worlds.

This book is a must for academic fans, for fans who want a wider perspective on fandom than their own experiences, and for fic writers who want to know the history of their hobby.