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14 July 2006 @ 07:39 pm
Sabacean Theater Presents: LEFT BEHIND, Episode One, a review (in Limbovision)  
Okay, I apologize to everyone for not starting this sooner. So, for our first dissertation on the fine prose fiction of Our Lady of Wild Plot Bunnies, I bring you a careful analysis of the first part of what is undoubtedly my absolute all time favourite pieces of fanfic: Left Behind

For the purposes of this critique, the original text has been quoted directly, and so I shall do the honour of including the original header text as well, for posterity's sake. So without any further ado, I present a critical analysis of Left Behind, written by SabaceanBabe. Somebody get the lights, would you?


Title: Left Behind
Rating: PG-13
Word count: 996
Characters: John, Chiana
Spoilers: everything up through season 3's "Eat Me"
Disclaimer: Alas, none of them are mine. No copyright infringement is intended and no money is being made.
Author’s note: Unbetaed, so all mistakes are my own. This started out as a one-shot, but I was convinced by my readers that there was more story to tell, and by gumby, they were right. ;)

“Oh, God.”

John Crichton watched in shock as the transport pod shot away from the disintegrating Leviathan as if all the hounds of hell were in swift pursuit. “I can’t believe they just left me…” He slumped back against the crumbling doorway, not even flinching as a chunk of something heavy fell with a ponderous thud to his left, narrowly missing him.

In fact, pieces of the dying Rohvu were falling all around him. Smoke obscured his view as his eyes traveled randomly from one bright shower of sparks or flame to the next in the burgeoning inferno that had once been a Leviathan’s hangar.

The realization came to him that he was going to die here. “You left me.” An animal cry tore from his throat.

Alright, here we have established the protagonist and the location in the opening moments of the serial, and in true classic pulp fiction style, we're dropped right into the thick of the plot without any preamble. This start alone was the first sign, to my eyes, that I was dealing with someone who had a very skilled hand at telling adventure stories. There are other ways to start a story, but for me, this is the best way to start an adventure: hip deep and sinking fast.

Consider the first line, 'Oh God'. A very characteristic Crichton-style statement without resorting to a blatant Crichtonism off the top. But in two words, you have absolutely no doubt that something very bad has just happened, and your interest is immediately engaged. She follows this with a great narrative flourish, spelling out the dilemma with a very effective and yet equally artful turn, finishing with 'as if all the hounds of hell were in swift pursuit'. We still don't know where John is or what the significance of this scenario is, but we know something very wrong has just happened, and it's a complex problem, because that one line still leaves so many questions unanswered.

And yet, in the very next paragraph, the familiar horror of a particular episode starts to creep back in as the revelation surfaces: Rohvu. Oh dear, it's THAT Leviathan. But that means...

“Crichton! Is that you?”

“Chi!” The terrified sound of her voice broke through his momentary despair. Chiana? He had just watched her leave on the transport pod!

He whirled around, stepping out into the corridor outside the smoke-filled hangar, and saw her just a few feet away, clutching at one of Rohvu’s ribs as if her life depended on it. There was blue blood on her stomach – still wet, from the way her tunic glistened in the weirdly strobing light – and a dark bruise on her jaw. Her eyes were wide black pools.

She took a tentative step toward him, her left hand still maintaining contact with the Leviathan, the right reaching toward Crichton, pointing at the hangar. He didn’t see the weapon she had been carrying earlier.

“Did I…Did I just see the transport leave?”

“Yup.” He didn’t feel particularly eloquent at the moment, so he just left it at that.

“Those fekkiks left us?” Her voice became a little louder. “They frelling left us here to…die?”

Even more than her command of John Crichton's vocal style and mannerisms (which she does very well), SabaceanBabe's command of the phrasings and the thought processes behind the Nebari renegade Chiana mark this entire series with a level of (for lack of a better word) 'realism' that immediately lodges you in the plot as if you really are watching a lost episode of the series. Where John's voice is familiar and easy on our ears, Chiana challenges us, and rewards us with the delight of realizing that you know her better than you might expect, and that she really is a distinctive and fascinating character of depth and imagination. Rarely have I read fiction that captures a known character this eccentric and warm so well.

Looking back at the hangar, knowing that there was no other way off the Leviathan, who was still struggling to starburst past the interference of the control collar, he said, “We are not gonna die, Pip.” His voice carried a bitter determination. Closing the gap between them, he grabbed her by the arm which was still pointing toward the hangar. “C’mon.”

She stumbled as he pulled her along behind him, but he didn’t slow down. If they didn’t get back to the Pilot’s den and stop Rohvu from starburst, then they were done. We’re probably dead already, he thought, as another piece of pus-covered bulkhead skittered across the floor in front of them as they ran. Hell, at least there was no sign of those pitiful – but way-too-dangerous – Xarai.

Chiana was uncharacteristically silent as they skidded to a halt, their passage blocked by one of the Leviathan’s ribs. It had actually broken away from the wall and lay at an angle over the door to the den, a thick, wet coppery liquid oozing from the parts that had once been attached.

“Frell.” He let go of Chi’s hand and, hesitating for just an instant, gagging, grasped the obstruction, attempting to at least move it away from the door controls. They had to get that door open…

It was too heavy. “Chi, honey, gimme a hand here.” She just looked at him from empty black eyes, uncomprehending. “Chiana!” he shouted. “Help me move this thing!”

Moving as though in a dream, Chiana planted her shoulder under the upper edge of the rib and heaved, letting loose a squeal composed of equal parts anger and fear as she did so. Combining his efforts with hers, Crichton shoved for all he was worth. The rib moved. They were unable to lift it entirely out of the way, but they did move it enough that it slid the rest of the way to the floor under its own weight.

They heard wordless voices behind them as a group of three Xarai came toward them, hunger etched into every line of their bodies.

Having chosen her colours and laid down her guidelines, she begins to render the scene in more detail, introducing the action and the pace, and establishing the moods of her protagonists. And then the hammer drops, and the first problem gives way to the more immediate threat of being eaten by mindless cannibals.

So that this whole article doesn't come off as mere profuse praise, I should take a moment to point out a stylistic flaw in the prose at this point; in lines such as the first in this excerpt, we see the author rushing to inject as many points of information as come into her head, following the flow of information almost intuitively, answering questions that have barely had time to coalesce. The sheer quantity of information here makes the line seem unwieldy, and yet, it has its own steady pace, refusing to break up the meter into comfortable segments for easier reading. The question becomes, is it effective to do so at this juncture, or would it be wiser to keep this information for later reference, when the pace allows for such in depth investigation?. Over time, the author has gotten better at breaking these streams of conscience up into more elegant strands. And yet, there is both exuberance and a passionate need to render with great detail, rewarding every careful look with something artful and fascinating.

I'll confess that it was also this very generous narrative style that drew me closer to the author, whose voice was so very familiar to me. As such, I have trouble condemning it, even as I recognize the difficulty inherent in the unchecked flow of information.


“I see ‘em, Chi.” Reaching over the rib, he slammed one hand into the door control and aimed Winona at them with the other, firing. The door opened as one of the Xarai fell, her companions pausing and then apparently deciding that the meat suddenly at hand was easier than that which scrambled over the blockage and into the room beyond.

Chiana, looking a bit wild-eyed, pounded her fist on the door control inside the den as Crichton dashed across a catwalk toward the dead Pilot and the controls to the ship. He ignored the heap of cloth and…other things…just beyond the control console. It was harder to ignore the half-dozen or so Xarai, loudly devouring something nearby.

“Chiana! Get over here and take Winona!”

One eye toward the preoccupied Xarai, he vaulted up onto the console, trying to reverse the starburst sequence before the ship completely fell apart around them. They could worry about putting out fires – literally and figuratively – once starburst had been aborted.

Several things happened at once. Crichton hit the last control in the reverse sequence and they could hear the welcome sound of starburst winding down. Chiana squeaked, startled, as the Pilot jerked upright when she jumped up onto the console, reaching for Crichton’s pulse pistol. The sound of pounding and scratching came to them from at least two other entrances to the den.

The Human and the Nebari looked at each other. Not a word was said as Chiana opened fire on the Xarai huddled over their feast. Crichton reached toward the harpoon sticking out of Pilot’s carapace. He had to make sure the creature he had thought was dead didn’t die on them now. He had to get through to him, make him understand that they could help each other.

“Pilot, are you with us? Can you hear me?” Their only hope was to get Pilot to seal the den and vent the rest of the ship into space.

Pilot focused his terrified eyes on Crichton.

Fists pounded on the doors, not yet having found their way to pounding on the door controls.

“Oh, God.”

This final sequence amplifies the conflict, building to a point of dread and yet refuses to give up any catharsis, trading off one success for another dilemma, asking questions scarcely considered in the episode this story springs from. The Pilot is in fact alive, but this offers Crichton no reassurance. The level of horror is in fact amplified, and Crichton realizes that they are in fact trapped aboard a ship full of monsters, with no clear path to safety, and the monsters closing in. We come full circle to those two very telling words, "Oh God', and there can be no doubt that Crichton isn't at all sure his bravado and quick thinking have done anything more than prolong the inevitable.

Closing in this fashion is a clever writer's device, but used so succinctly and in such a very characteristic manner by Crichton, we reach perhaps the only point of resolution, if not closure in the whole episode. That the author chose to end the story on this note is interesting, in that she was not yet aware that she had a serial on her hands. She may have had some ideas in mind for what happened next. But in closing this story, she confessed that she essentially couldn't see it through to the ending that seemed most natural to her, based on canon.

When she realized what she had done, she found herself at a crossroads, and rather than tackle the painfully obvious sad ending, she left it hanging, and hoped she wouldn't have to complete it. It wasn't until her audience made it very clear that they were not only stirred by her tale but were actually captivated by it that she realized there had to be some hope left in there worth exploring.

At this point, we have only strayed ever so slightly into AU territory, and presumably we are witnessing only one more sad chapter in this particularly harrowing tale. And yet, it asks a handful of very poignant questions, ones which yielded very interesting results in the months that followed.

[Happily, the author saw her way to exploring this alternate reality in great and expanding depth, bravely refusing to shrink away from the tetchy problem that her facts could never completely jibe with those of the series. And yet, as time revealed, she nevertheless managed to find a perfectly viable setting and sequence of events for this story to transpire. In that, it does indeed feel as if it is not so much a piece of pointless fanfic, but merely an unrealized piece of canon that should have been.]

What if there had been more than one clone? How many clones did that evil scientist's device actually create in one application? How do we know he had only used it once on each of them before they recovered? And most importantly, what would those other clones do if they arrived too late to board the transport pod, and inexplicably found themselves left behind?

In this installment, I have used the entire text of the original episode. This is not going to be a common feature of these explorations. However, given that we are starting with a small piece, it seemed appropriate to consider the entire piece carefully.

I would like to add that, when I first discovered this series, I did not have the fortune of discovering it near the beginning, but rather very near the end. I stumbled across one of the later episodes, at a point when the author was perhaps a little overextended and had allowed the series to trail off a little. However, after being struck by the strength of the narrative voice of this author, I was immediately inspired to soak up the entire story from the start, as quickly as I could, and offering voluble and very frank criticisms at the time (a trait that got me a fair bit of attention very quickly in those early days of my discovering the Farscape fandom), which sparked up a lively dialogue with the author that has continued to this day.

Thankfully, my rather intense interest in her story added a bit of needed fuel to reinvigorate her (I'm sure I wasn't alone in this, but it's hard to measure these things over time, especially now with most of the original comments lost to the ether that was Kansas), and she went on to do many more wonderful things with this cycle before she finally brought it to a close. And of course, as with every great ending, there is always the first glimpse of a new beginning.

Assuming someone else doesn't jump in here and take over where I left off, I am looking forward to sharing more highly opinionated, erroneous observations of this seminal work by one of my very favourite authors, who is happily very much alive, and even answers email if you're nice to her. ;)


For those who wish to take up the torch and write their own reviews, a good place to start would be here. I'm looking forward to it. I hope you have enjoyed this first installment, and promise not to be as dry in future installments. Thank you for reading.

L o L,
done babbling