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Author of queer, wry sci fi/fantasy books. On Amazon.
Editor of all fiction genres.

Tuesday, 7 August 2012

50 Shades of Finished: Reflections on A Bad Romance

Finally, at long last, I have returned!

As those who have been following my Twitter feed for the last couple of weeks have discerned, I am finished the Fifty Shades trilogy. That's right--I've conquered Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, and Fifty Shades Freed. If you somehow missed out on the horrifying and amusing social phenomenon of the hour, I'll give you a brief run-down. Fasten your seatbelts and get a good, stiff drink: we're heading into the dark and miserable world of fan fiction.

Thanks, Wikipedia! Now I can advertise this thing that has been polluting best-seller stands at airports and convenience stores everywhere.

Fan Fiction. Hold on, people. We're about to go balls deep. Or ovaries deep, if you like.

Clker is my hero tonight. Thank goodness for fair use and free images of ovaries! This made my night.

I'm not sure how many assumptions I should make about you, my beloved readers; after all, given that you're on the internet and that you found my blog, you are probably familiar with geekery on some level. Just in case that isn't so, I'll explain what I'm talking about and why I'm about to throw a miniature temper tantrum. Still, I can't make accusations without a damn good case, and without a review of the evidence.

Fan fiction is usually composed in written media, though occasionally it extends to webcomics, films, drawings, paintings, and other media. The written stuff--everything from short stories to monstrous epistles longer than the source material--is the area I concern myself with.

What is fan fiction, and why do I care?: I'm going to to my best to keep this rant really short. Fan fiction is a polarizing and contentious area because it involves extending, modifying, or retelling existing stories, or the creation of new work within their universes. It exists in an awkward grey area of creativity, since it relies on not merely inspiration by, but actual use of other authors' and storytellers' creative property. Some of it is glorified shitastrophic porn. Some of it attempts to tweak a story to fit the author's own idea of how the plot should have played out; some of it retells the story in a different setting altogether. Still more fan fiction attempts to fill out the universe's plot holes and expand the world. It's impossible to fairly condemn all fan fiction, especially since some of it is created with the author's express permission. Lancelot was a late addition to Arthurian legend, and he adds a lot to the world. Lovecraft's friends often wrote in his universe, and helped spread the fame of the Cthulu mythos. Gregory McGuire, one of my favorite authors, retells and reinvents fairy tales as well as having created Wicked, an renowned reinvention of the Oz series. Clearly, then, fan fiction can lead to creation of something new, or add something to the world. What's the big problem, then?

Let's touch on that 'intellectual property' issue. Using characters in an unauthorized fashion and changing a story line technically violates copyright laws, as well as being in bad taste. Sometimes, leaning on pre-made fiction can be useful as a learning tool of new authors. All too often, it results in a perversion of the story that the original author finds downright offensive. This is a shame, and some authors go to great lengths to track it down and purge the internet of its presence. Others find it a compliment to their work.

Statement of bias: Personally, I am fine with stories set in the worlds I create, as long as the laws of the land are obeyed and consistent, and as long as the main story line and central characters I create are left out of it. Telling an author--not just me, any author--that you think your version of the main story is better when a few minor adjustments are made is, simply, an insult. Work can be based on a non-original idea, and a derivative can be really good or even better than the source, but something new must be brought to it. It is this that Fifty Shades fails at, and hard. Let the trial commence.

Wiki, you are the man. I'm a little teapot, short and stout, this is my judgment, just hear me out.

The crimes, and their degrees of guilt: Intent to imitate, 1st degree; borrowing of perfectly good ideas whilst not remaining true to their spirit, 2nd degree; hilariously poor descriptions plonked in the middle of sex scenes, 1st degree; poor, repeptitive sex scenes, 2nd degree; reckless failure to continue or properly handle side-plots, 3rd degree; and, finally, romanticising abuse, 1st degree.

The Prosecution: As stated previously, and by divers others, E.L. James borrowed her best ideas from the film Secretary, including the main character's physical appearance, her love interest's surname, the BDSM, and the Dominant blonde woman who ruins the male protagonist's life. Furthermore, James does so in a disreputable and awful fashion. Material was also stolen flagrantly from Twilight and its sequels; both crimes are committed and no credit is given. Also, she is guilty of some of the most hilariously awful mixed metaphors known to man, terrible plot structure, and using the term 'inner goddess' outside of a new age beauty manual. Defamation of the BDSM community and romanticising a number of unhealthy mental traits in an unacceptable manner are also serious issues.

The Defense:E.L. James' editor should have done something about this plot. Or, if something was done, more should have done. The story does differ from its sources enough to be on its own, and there are moments when it approaches insight and interesting sub-plotting. There is something underlying this, for all the poorly-implemented capitalist porn, that is interesting. (The capitalism porn stuff, incidentally, is eerily similar to some parody ideas I had about Twilight, which will be published in an upcoming blog.) Ultimately, there are moments when Christian Grey almost approaches a real, interesting character, mostly in the second book. It may not have been realised well, but there was a brief glimpse of something more lurking deep below the stupidity, and that is worth something.

Statement of the Judge:

Verdict: I'm going to have to agree with the majority of the intelligentsia and wits of the internet: this book series does, in fact, stink. It has moments of disgusting levels of anti-feminism, but the author does really try hard to make something worthwhile. She also published this as porn for herself, and was unapologetic about it. For all of its faults--and there are a lot--that deserves a little credit. Was it a good book? Not at all. Could it have been a good book? Perhaps; if it wasn't confined to imitation of the morally repugnant and hilariously awful Twilight series, or to poor and inaccurate imitation of a very fine and sweet film, Secretary. However, it was, and that--as well as blatant product placement and demonstration of disgusting levels of white privilege in mid-sex-scene--led to its ultimate downfall.

The Sentence: First of all, E.J. James needs to learn to write a coherent sentence, and when not to use fancy words from the automatic thesaurus function. I love words, and I love thesauri and idiosyncratic words. This was linguistic assault. Ten years hard writing labour and literary analysis of more than (gag) "Classic British novels" ought to do it. Shame on you, E.L.James, for profaning the names of Bronte, Hardy, and Austen. The books are sentenced to be read in the most hilarious fashion possible by Gilbert Gottfried, and to be mocked by the internet at will.


Thanks again for tuning into my phuquerie. There will be more--updates about my writing, more feminism and literary criticism, and probably some movies. There might even be some politics and science! Keep an eye on new releases by following on Twitter and on Tumblr. This is your SciFiMagpie, over and out!


  1. So which of the trilogy was the "best"? Which was the worst? Or were all three equally repugnant?

    Also, was it better or worse than Twilight?

  2. Actually, I'd say they're marginally better than the Twilight books, in the sense that they weren't so morally repugnant. At least the 50 Shades trilogy seemed vaguely aware that it was dealing with abusive subject matter. Twilight was unaware of that, and therefore far worse. I have an upcoming entry that will touch on how sick and twisted Edward is.
    The second book was the best; it had the best attempts at complexity. The third was the worst, based on writing quality and a crepe-paper thin plot. They were all rather poor, shortsighted books, but the second volume included hints that there could have been a different, better direction for the series.

    Still, I wouldn't recommend them for anything other than inducing a serious fit of the giggles.

  3. FYI Secretary was not original and was based on a short story, a beautiful one that had a much darker ending... personally MY GOD the books were ungodly!


As always, be excellent unto others, and don't be a dick.