Autres temps, autres mœurs…

It’s been a minute, hasn’t it?

In January 2001, when I began writing fan fiction, the world was a bit of a different place.

The Twin Towers of the World Trade Center were still standing. The U.S. hadn’t yet had a Black President, a serious female contender for the Presidency, or… well, the less said about her opponent, the better. Cell phones were only just starting to make it into the pockets of average consumers, smart phones and tablets didn’t exist, DVD was only just starting to supplant VHS, HDTV was still on the drawing board… and a “facebook” was a physical book your college yearbook staff put out at the start of the year so you could see the faces of your classmates while you still had time to stalk the cute ones get to know them.

Technology and society have changed a lot since then. A lot of things that we took for granted are gone, and a lot of the things that replaced them were completely unexpected. And a lot of social customs, and ideas of what was or wasn’t acceptable, were different, too. My stories were informed by that world, for better or worse. Things that made perfect sense back then may seem strange now. Things that seemed completely normal and fine may seem… off or even (god forbid) offensive.

So I thought I’d talk about those changes a little here, just in case you find yourself wondering about them. And some other things that were affected by time.

  • Apprentice – If I had any idea that, the year after I finished writing this, its title would be co-opted for a reality show starring one of my least favorite people on the planet (seriously, my dislike for the man dates back to the ’80s)… I promise you, I would have chosen another name for it. But that’s not the only issue here. There are some social constructs that come up within the story that were pretty much the norm at the time — and, while they were critiqued by some, the critiques had yet to reach critical mass — but don’t cut it now. When I was preparing the manuscript for eBook format, I especially found myself thinking about the way that Jack tried to use nonverbal cues via clothes and “accidental” flirtatious behavior to try to make Riddick notice her and make a move… rather than just telling him how she felt. This was an extremely common trope of the period, but definitely not healthy behavior. And Riddick’s concern about Jack going out “dressed like that,” on at least one occasion… well, that doesn’t fly now either, does it? If I were writing the book today, I would definitely find other ways for them to ratchet up the tension. I also would have left out, or reworded/rethought, one or two references to trans people that come up in the story, because the terminology that was the norm back then has definitely been discarded and replaced with better options. The story also brings up some issues about non-con and semi-non-con that I will address further down. Technology-wise… well, I’m pretty sure Jack was using diskettes to save the Charybdis files she downloaded. I don’t know why I thought they’d still exist in ten years’ time, much less several centuries from now, but… 🤦🏽‍♀️
  • Brave — just making a note here that this was written eight years before the Pixar film of the same name came out. Seriously, this is the danger of one-word titles.
  • Come With Me — So here’s where the whole issue of non-con and semi-non-con hits hardest, because when I wrote this, I was a subscriber to several PB/VD mailing lists and message boards where Riddick was viewed as “the Ultimate Dom” and stories about him being rather… forceful… with his partners were fairly normal to run across. So a story in which, instead of rebelling and forcing Riddick to go back to get Imam and Jack, Fry caves and lets him make her into his erotic plaything… well, it was a pretty big hit with a lot of those groups. But it is a pretty dark situation. An underlying issue is that, within the BDSM world, many of the consensual scenarios that people play out are deliberately crafted to simulate non-consensual scenarios (which is why safe-words are needed, so that “no!” and “stop!” can be freed up for dramatic rather than literal usage), and so stories about those scenarios are very popular. Neither the readers or the writers of those stories would actually condone a real-life non-con scenario… but there’s always the danger that someone who doesn’t understand that context and its rules will misinterpret what they’re reading.

         Later in 2001, we would actually see this on one site. Another writer, Kes94, posted a work called “Ghosts of the Past,” in which a genuinely evil Riddick was abusing and tormenting Jack… and a lot of the readers were saying things like “he can sneak through my window any time!” because they were so accustomed to portrayals of eroticized non-con that they saw a story about actual abuse through that lens. That sobered a lot of us up about how the subject matter was being handled. Cultural paradigm shifts like “enthusiastic consent” and the “Me, Too” movement were years away still, but even a few months after I’d written this, I think I would have conceived of the whole thing very differently.

  • Even Lions Have Their Pride — Technology went in a different direction than I expected, tbh. I was watching computer laptops get smaller and smaller, and was kind of anticipating the arrival of the netbooks that would briefly dominate stores in the late ’00s before the iPad came along and killed them dead… and so I gave Jack a “palmtop,” essentially a mini-netbook because I just wasn’t envisioning smartphones or tablets at all. But who knows? It could still happen. 😆
  • Forbidden Gifts — There are more than a few Harry Potter references embedded in the story and woven into the narrative. I was a huge fan at the time. Less so now, though, given the way that JKR came out as a raging TERF (among other things). I’m leaving the references alone for now, but there definitely won’t be any more in future chapters.
  • Frozen — OMFG I am never using one-word titles again! Again, this was eight years before Disney took it over… 🤷🏽‍♀️
  • Surprise Present — Riddick has a videotape. A videotape. I mean, they were still common when I was writing this and all, but… ignoring the fact that physical media are on their way out altogether, I couldn’t even give him a disc? 🙄

Those were the big things that struck me as I was preparing my stories for the re-launch. In all likelihood, there are more that you will spot along the way. Just remember… many of these stories are old enough to drive, vote, or even drink. The world has changed, I’ve changed, and probably you have changed since then, in ways we’d never have guessed at the time. One of the axioms that my film and lit professors drilled into my head is that no story is truly about the time in which it is set; all stories are about the times in which they are written. So remember to glance at the “First Posted / Last Updated” dates on a story and bear in mind that you’re going to be looking at the world of the story through the lens of that time.

But if anything feels too egregious, please do let me know. I’m absolutely willing to revise away things that have morphed, over the years, from harmless to offensive. I want these stories to entertain, not alienate.

Ardath Rekha • Fanworks