THE ROAD LESS TRAVELED
So the bastard in the coffee shop starts arguing with me about my order, claiming that without a doubt I wanted double-double in my large Earl Grey. Now, to anyone who knows me, knows very well my feeling on the violation of good tea with an infusion of milk, cream, or sugar. I tend to equate this to a culinary enema and an obvious sign of borderline psychosis. However, the living dead behind the counter was less then swayed by my brilliant argument to the contrary of his opinions, refusing point blank to remove the offending cup of diary raped tea and replace it with a virginal one. So, I punched him in throat. I mean, what would you do?
But, this leads to an interesting thought just prior to the burst of swift and blinding violence. The idea of not only what should I do, but how will what I do effect and modify the future. Will the counter jockey at the shop lunge for my throat and bring me down? Or eventually will this be the man who I need to impress for a job? Such concerns sped rapidly through my head, and were duly considered before I erupted in fury on the witless Starbuck’s micro-tyrant. However, the question is a very alluring one. How does one change the future with the actions of the present?
It is in this vein which the Arleccino Timeline exists and flourishes.
The creation of the justifiably popular Falstaff, the Arleccino Timeline is one of the most stunning departures from canon undertaken in fan fiction. It makes hero’s of villains, villain’s of heros, and bring forth some of the more obscure characters from the rich history of the X-titles. It also incorporates some of the more popular characters from fan fiction itself. With all of these divergent influences, it would seem that the AT would end up hideously convoluted and at the point of strangling itself at birth with the dearth of inbred elements. However, it is not so. Be it Falstaff’s skill in empathic writing or an unusually keen sense of team dynamics, the series is not only bone clean, but flows with remarkable fluidity. Each aspect of the Timeline has a seamless, professional, plausible quality to it which instantly draws in the reader.
The most noticeable characteristic of the Arleccino Timeline is the sense of ‘What If...’ which permeates the work. While the stories are, for the most part, very well written, it is more the reaction it provokes in the reader which is the ultimate success of the series. A group of questions and ideas immediately spring to the mind of anyone reading these works. Where is Cable? How is Rahne and Doug’s marriage? What about X-Factor? The series serves to stimulate these ideas with remarkable skill. As an instigator for new ideas, it is more effective then any timeline yet produced in fan fiction. With the level of skill involved, it is hard to believe that this effect is unintended. The good Falstaff has provided in all of his stories a small window into his world, yet seems content to allow others to expand it for him. Rather then divulge great gouts of history and information about why his timeline is different, he simply shows what his timeline is, and leaves the process of why to the reader’s analysis.
The writing itself is of the highest quality. Falstaff’s quirky humour and sentimentality have the AT a real soul, infusing his creations with a marvelous sense of realism and emotion. While most of the stories are quite short, they serve as touch points to his world at large. The only problem with Falstaff’s writing is that of pacing and climax. He will set up a major confrontation over several stories and plots and then resolve the battle with exceeding swiftness, disrupting his own climax. However, since the focus of the AT is very rarely combat oriented, it is not a major lack on the body of work as a whole.
The main strength of the writing is the natural compassion which Falstaff imbues his characters with so naturally. Each of them have real ties with the others, whether it be love, hate or friendship, all are kept on a similar plane of natural response and logical extremes. There is a total lack of false or insincere reactions in the work. Whether it be a conversation of deep soul searching or just a brief exchange of affection over breakfast, they all ring true in a very real way that moves the reader. And that makes all the difference.
All My Love is one of the best examples of this sort of clean writing which Falstaff excels at. The story is simple and honest, a confirmation of love between Rebecca Lee, Jubilation Phoenix from Lady Phoenix’s series, and Monet. It shows the complexities of romance, twinned with the awkwardness of both age and a same sex crush. Falstaff handles it adroitly, linking not only the feelings of the two with established canon history, but with his own view of life. Mondo serves as a willing assistant in the early stages of the budding romance. Rebecca is the real prize in this story, a skillful merger of a less mature Jubilee with the older character, and a deft depiction of the anxiety which is cousin to all first dates. Also, it has a song by Billy Joel featured prominently in it, so it deserves notice just for that.
Midnight Feeding is one of the shorter and most touching of the pieces. Featuring Pete Wisdom in an unlikely position of new fatherhood, it explores a new but plausible side of the character. The interactions achieved with other characters, such as Saint Elmo are priceless to read and savor. The odd quirkish humour shines in this, from Illyana’s bottle gift to Elmo’s carousing late in the evening. In a touching scene, it explores Wisdom’s need to go past himself and ask to keep his child safe. A sense of love coupled with a knowledge of responsibility draws out all the emotion from the characters with deceptive ease. The only lack in the story is that of length. It feels just a touch unfinished, as if there is a little more to say that hasn’t been.
Of Plumbing In The Boathouse And Other Parts Of Married Life bears one of Falstaff’s trademarked monster titles, and some of his best writing in the series. Douglas Ramsey and Rahne Sinclair lead a blissful wedded life. However, Doug is now the Professor of Xavier’s school, and is responsible for the new age of the X-Men. As fate would have it, the plumbing in the boathouse goes and the plumber gets to see some of the more quirky bits of the X-life. Written with a simple grace, it maintains a very real balance between that which is the nature of life as a married couple and as X-Men. The personalities of the two characters mesh so well, it’s so easy to see the natural extension of their affection for each other.
The Balance is the longest Arleccino Timeline piece, and one of the few which bears a plot similar to a comic. In a set of scenes reminiscent of the battle with Emplate in GenX #13, the members of the AT version of the team are forced to face their enigmatic foe. However, there is more then what seems going on. It becomes apparent very quickly that Emplate is a puppet, controlled not only by the hunger in him, but by another malignant force yet known. The agony of the tragic Emplate is threaded nicely into the overall dialogue, producing a nice, almost subliminal effect on the reader. The characterizations of Jono and Everett as villains adds a nice contrast to the usual team dynamics, and the response by them are dead on. But, the end battle seems more like a postscript, an add on to simply wrap up the plot. Rebecca goes astral, fills up a hole, as her friends cut through the troops of Empath like a bulldozer through a rotted house. It leaves an unsatisfied taste in the mouth over the fight, as if it didn’t live up to the anticipation. However, the rest of the story is excellent, and extremely effective dialogue sparkles through the piece. Again, it will be Falstaff’s naturally empathetic style that will allow the reader to experience the redemption of Emplate without cynicism.
Guilt is the only AT piece currently which bears a name other then Falstaff’s as writer. The prolific Tapestry gave this piece in the timeline about the Dawn and Glenn would survive in the AT world. Brought into the fold of Generation X in The Balance, the two immensely popular characters have a cosy home in the world of the AT. Dealing with the issues surrounding events immediately after The Balance, we see Marius trying to deal with the guilt and shame of his actions of the last few years as Emplate. His clumsy attempts to deal with them end up touching something in Dawn, and she helps him on the road to self-forgiveness. It is likely the emphasize on the mundane amongst the incredible which provides the story with it’s necessary pulse. Tapestry has a skill for using simple tasks to underline the importance of a much greater issue, and manipulating those scenes for maximum effect. The true interesting focus of the work is Marius, where some new ground is being explored, contrasted by the well known and comfortable pairing of Dawn and Glenn.
All in all, the Arleccino Timeline is more of a reactive piece rather then a proactive one. It does not use what it has to draw in the reader, rather using what it leaves out to trap the interest and mind. These are windows into the soul of the work, and in those windows, an infinite of possibilities are glimpsed. There are more popular timelines, better written ones, and more populated one, yet none are more full of possibilities, none better crouched in both the canon of mainstream and fan fiction, and none more interesting then that of the Arleccino Timeline.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence;
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I--
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
"The Road Not Taken"
In other news, life has been progressing at an increasingly fast pace. Only a month before a return to school, a return to a world of books, reports and young nubile first year students for ol’ Dex to sample. In the vein of some of my on-line counterparts, I will offer a few ways for you to be more like Dex with a recommended book, CD, and webpage.
The book I’m reading today is ‘City of Bones’ by Martha Wells. A tight fantasy story based completely away from the morass of elf tales which fester in the market today, it tells the tale of a relics dealer named Khat, and the embroilment of him in a plot which could rip the wasteland he lives in asunder.
The recommended CD for today is Sister Someone’s ‘Luvsilly’. A puckish collection of well crafted songs with a professional sheen, this band is destined to bigger and better things. You can check them out at www.wwdc.com/~sister and tell ‘em Dex sent you.
And my final offering is that of my reviewer counterpart on the ‘real’ world of the X-Books. The X-Axis is one of the most reasonable and insightful looks into the world of comics done by someone for the joy of it. While Mr. Smith’s own opinions do factor into the reviews, for the most part they are fair evaluations of the works. I would ignore the letter grade however, and just listen to the commentary.
Anyhow, another column behind schedule and digging myself deeper as I go. *sigh* Until the next time, lads and lasses....