Bad Fiction Spotlight: The Subspace Emissary’s Worlds Conquest

Fanfiction has a way of becoming long-winded. The total lack of editors, the make-it-up-as-you go nature, and the “locked-in” effect of being unable to edit past chapters easily all contribute into works that make War and Peace seem tiny.

Enter The Subspace Emissary’s Worlds Conquest, which makes Proust seem tiny. This Smash Brothers fic is arguably the longest piece of fiction in the English language, with its four million words making it over three times as long as the classic In Search of Lost Time

The “plot” of this story is incredibly simple. An original character named Chris (which happens to be the name of the author as well-hmm…) and his Lucario, join up with the cast of Smash Bros. Brawl in a crossover through every other game the author has played. This is not an exaggeration.

That being said, it’s hard to sink the claws into it. The writing isn’t that detailed (but it has gotten better as the story has progressed), so it’s difficult to “mock” in that sense. The author is actually good-natured (if embodying all the traits of a Fanfiction.net writer from Central Casting), so there’s no “drama” around it. And that the fic has slowed down and lingers un-updated like the half-iguana in Boatmurdered,  indicates that it doesn’t stand apart from the Fanfiction.net mediocrity so much as represent an oversized version of it.

This is important.

What this fic is every young gamer’s fantasy that they’ve scribbled, or kept in their head. I’ve certainly thought of similar things when I was younger. It’s just-written out, and written to a gigantic extent.

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Spacebattles Creative Writing Trends

Spacebattles has had several huge fanfiction trends, most of which I’ve naturally missed.

-Star Trek/Wars/B5/BSG/Stargate fics. Waay back in the day. I entered just as those were fading. Mostly before my time, and Creative Writing was a relatively small, out of the way forum.

-Familiar of Zero. Already mentioned. Gained popularity because of its enormously crossover-friendly setup. Has since largely petered out.

-Self-inserts. Not an exact genre so much as a style of writing. Goes against everything a writer is supposed to do, but as a combination of wish-fulfillment and way to write in an established setting, it worked.

-Worm. This was a bit of a surprise. A long, obscure web-fiction about a superheroine, Worm’s fandom is concentrated on SB-but is very concentrated. Having read only a little, Worm’s draw of both “taking advantage of” superpowers and its surprisingly crossover-friendly nature (fanfic writers love to give the main character different powers) have earned it a huge following on the board.

-Time-loops. Lowest-common denominator goofball-fic. Basically, think Groundhog Day-styled stories. Add in characters of all the settings one could want. Huge needlessly complicated backstory and set of nominal rules. Ability to avoid such matters as plot, character development, or pacing by just rushing ahead to the goofy. (You get the feeling about my opinion on these).

As of the time of this writing on the Creative Writing front page:

Worm, Worm, Star Wars, Worm, Self-Insert, Worm, Loop, Loop, Mass Effect, Worm Self-Insert, Worm, My Little Pony, Worm, BSG, Self-Insert, Self-Insert, Worm, Self-Insert, Loop, Loop, Self-Insert, Loop, Loop, Pokemon, Stargate, goofy meme, Lord of the Rings, Self-Insert, Worm.

How I’ve Tried to Fit A Square Monster into a Round Hole

Fiction is an interesting phenomenon. A premise that remains totally implausible from a realistic standpoint can nonetheless be accepted completely, and without protest. The reader can understand that it’s the way the setting is. But some approaches can make a reader more critical.

Like most people who grew up in the 1990s, I had and have a soft spot for the “Pocket Monsters”. I will freely admit to reading and writing Pokemon fanfiction. However enjoyable (in a guilty-pleasure way) the fiction is, I saw a trend. Nearly every attempt to make a ‘darker’ fic seemed to fail. The prototypical example of the trend, Pokemon Master, is illustrative-rather than trying to chip away at the goofy parts for a cartoon, the authors plop hordes and hordes of “grimdark” on top of this, meaning that instead of a yellow Pikachu goofily shocking someone, you have a black Pikachu gorily killing someone.

I thought, with typical misguided enthusiasm, that I could do better. This had huge problems of its own (more to come later), but I was determined to fit the square monster into a round hole. I basically summed up my feelings on a traditional journey (in hindsight, I was a lot harsher than I should have been-I don’t want to reject something entirely due to lack of ‘realism’)-in one forum post.

Then I have to say one of the biggest problems with portraying the Pokemon World as some sort of Darwinian dreamland is that the representations we see of it show modern standards of living and peaceful cities. That’s the first problem. The second problem is that when fanfiction writers try to change that, they almost invariably fail, because formalized battles and leaders being kids in silly costumes are incompatible with a truly rough, tumble, survival of the fittest society (Also, in such a society, no one would send their valuable kid out on a “character-building” journey, there would be plenty of character-building just living.) Another, somewhat related problem with having everyone go out on a journey is that having everyone’s youth go and flop around, then come back to a modern society, would wreak havoc on an economy.

So, the only way I can think of this is to have the number of people who actually go on journeys to be limited, and to make the setting of the games a pseudo-Darwinian dreamland. One version just has a lucky few going on journeys as part of becoming professional trainers and everyone else lives a normal, hard-worked life broadly comparable to modern existence. Another, darker one basically has the area being closer to a Persian Gulf rentier state than anything else-the economy is driven by off-screen commodities, and you have a small “native” population backed up by tons and tons of foreign workers, and the native population small enough and the money great enough that you can have artificial prosperity despite ludicrous inefficiency.

So in my first version, the aspiring trainer is basically the equivalent of specializing in music or athletics for most of their early life, only really going on a journey (as opposed to catching one common Pokemon near their home, etc..) if they show real talent. Even that’s a means to an end-the moment they compete in real tournaments, they stop journeying and start just training.

In the second version, the aspiring trainer’s family has a home with tons of servants, a simple job, and enough money to be contented. Yet because of this bizarre fantasy, they feel that they have to send their kid out into the brush because it’s the only way you can truly build character.    

I fell bizarrely in love with the rentier state model of the Pokemon nation, and my thoughts and development of it continued-not so much for ‘plausibility’ or ‘realism’ as just that I liked the concept-darker without being stereotypically grimdark, and good enough to work.

The resulting nation is kind of like a weird cross between the Roman Republic and a Gulf oil-state.

One decision, undoubtedly controversial even to me, was to “wall off” the capabilities of the monsters. The answer is contrived, a sort of “GM says so” argument, because I wanted them there without it turning into a civilization ruled by warrior-kings controlling their legendary and final-stage evolution Pokemon. The most controversial handwave was to say that Pokemon cannot be used in large-scale armed conflict among humans.

The justifications are as follows-

-The previous Pokemon-training human civilization destroyed itself, along with many, many Pokemon in a cataclysmic war.

-This left a psychic/aura ‘imprint’ on the remaining ones (and the hidden legendaries, assuming they exist).

-Thus, they’ll just disobey and run off if ordered to fight in a battle bigger than the 1986 FBI shootout, and even something like that requires incredible discipline.

-The League, whose base consists of the descendents of the few survivors of said cataclysism, has a gigantic revulsion to using Pokemon in battle for that reason. They also have warehouse-loads of Master Balls at the ready in case they face anyone who does not share that objection and has somehow managed to weaponize Pokemon.

The nation has a population, of, at most, 10-12 million people. Of those, slightly less than half are native-born citizens, and the rest are foreign migrants. (Cardona has favorable geography mixed with a psychotic immigration enforcement). Only citizens are allowed to be trainers.

The economy is a petro-state, completely dependent on resource revenues. They also are blessed with good enough isolation to spend very little on conventional defense. This means they can get away with a lot of inefficiency.

That was the easy part. The hard part was making a story, since all this focused worldbuilding was taking away from the fact that it’s still ultimately a setting where kids run around and chase monsters. So enter the League’s Special Intelligence and Investigation, which I could use as a crossover bait. Their job is to do both the League’s dirty work and keep the possible dangerous consquences of Pokemon in the bottle. Lavishly funded, they have cross-dimensional transport capability that they take full advantage of.

SII had various forms, from a somewhat realistic agency to an outright XCOM-esque force. The biggest problem was that they were so thematically alien to the setting-evil team leaders being “Gerald Bulled” by a ruthless force that doesn’t play by the cartoonish rules is just nihilistic and munchkiny. So that seemed like a dead end as well.

Then it hit me. The “doesn’t play by the same rules” applied to SII as well. They’re used to dealing with rabble-rousers and ‘ordinary’ antagonists who can have their lairs overrun by commandos. What they’re not used to dealing with is (to give an example from just the second movie) hideously rich collectors who have giant flying castles that would require a lot more than a single missile to bring down.

Suddenly, it goes from a grimdark munchkin-stomp to a story about the interactions between a grounded and “leaping” setting, with the former not always the best. I could even have SII enter a world with total anime physics as a joke and watch their commandos go flying into the sky after they attack ineffectually. But except as a humorous bonus, I don’t think I’d go that far.

What I would be aiming for is something like a scene in, of all things, the first Mortal Kombat movie. Sonya draws her gun on SubZero, and he just nonchalantly freezes it, showing the game is changed. Under my earlier concepts, the whole scene would be just a repeat of the infamous swordfighter ‘clash’ in Raiders of the Lost Ark. Now-it’s the cue for the ‘rationalists’ to redefine their definition of ‘rationality’.

Certainly going to be a lot more fun to write.

“This Pikachu is a Class Hexa threat.”

“But it’s just a Pikach-wait, it what?”

“I told you.”
Oh, and that horde of Master Balls the League thinks is its ace in the hole? Well, let me just say that the enemy gets a vote…

Fanfiction Friendliness of Settings

Some settings are seemingly better for fanfiction writing than others. One example, which was part of a major craze on Spacebattles, is the light novel/anime series called The Familiar of Zero. The plot is basically this-in a fantasy world similar to early modern Europe, a bumbling mage named Louise summons a bumbling Japanese teenager named Saito as her familiar. “Antics” ensue.

The FoZ craze had external factors going for it, such as a popular Fanfiction.net author kicking it off. However, the way it was sustained had a lot to do with the setting. Namely, there were just the right factors for why it got so much attention.

-First, the summoning mechanism allowed for a lot of easy, “built-in” crossover opportunities. For a fanfic writer, making a crossover would be as easy and natural-seeming (unlike contrivances) as “Louise summons _____ instead of Saito.”

-Second, the setting itself was viewed as something potentially interesting, motivating the “fixfic” interest. Unlike the traditional swords-and-sorcery, this was an early modern musket setting, making it stand out conceptually. In addition to this, the “mechanics interest” group liked the intricacies of the magic system (A lot of Spacebattlers like anything that seems quantifiable). That the original works squandered this in favor of “antics” made the motivation all the greater.

The FoZ craze has now burnt itself out, and the new hot fanfiction topic is a web-novel called Worm. That has plenty of its own reasons for the waves of fanfiction, but that’s another story.

Now, there is another work that, despite its popularity, has featured very, very few fanfics. Having finally reached the “Infamy Rank” in Payday 2, I can see why that series has so few entries on fanfiction.net. The setting seems to have everything that went for FoZ going against it. On paper, crossovers could be possible, and in fact official ones have been done in the game itself.

-The setting is much more rigid. Being an un-supernatural, at least nominally grounded modern world, a writer is more limited in what they can actually make. Not that that would stop anyone who really wanted to do something differently, but it’s still an obstacle.

-More importantly, it’s less conceptually interesting and tougher. Being built as a game where the player follows their character by default, there’s no need to ‘hook’ them. The existing characters are some of the least sympathetic protagonists anywhere, and they have just enough personality so that the author can’t use them as blank-slate protagonists like an RPG customizable character.

The modern action setting isn’t novel or possessing of much opportunity to ‘fix’, and is made worse by the game being hard to extract from its mechanics (in-game and the few cutscenes, the Clowns can mow down waves of officers who charge blindly forward, and then can stay hidden-to apply even the slightest amount of plausibility to it would be a Herculean task).

This doesn’t matter for the game itself, but does for a fanfic of such a work.

Of course, hindsight is 20/20, and the internet can be weird. If Payday had spawned a giant fanfic community and FoZ been left with a few scraps, I would probably be writing a blog post on how it was natural that such a popular and already crossover-apparent setting could have so much writing (just look at how easy it is to insert a new heister/rogue, since they did it in canon-etc), while totally understandable that a mediocre goofy anime would be left in the dust (Well, how can you make anything good from a silly little “antics” show-etc). But I still feel that some settings are just more fanfic-friendly than others, for reasons other than the popularity of the original/canon work.