Whoosh! Issue 46 - July 2000


A Chronological Survey of the Fiction of Bongo Bear




The New World Order of Xena Fan Fiction: Uber

You don't have any birds nesting in that thing, do you?

Gabrielle had to try a variety of ploys to hitch a ride in SINS OF THE PAST.


[34] After QUEEN OF AIR AND DARKNESS, Bongo Bear posted THE HITCH HIKER, and literally overnight, the nature of Xena fan fiction changed forever. THE HITCH HIKER was officially released July 23, 1997, however it appeared on-line a day earlier, thus making the official date for the first public Uber July 22, 1997.

[35] THE HITCH HIKER was conceived of and developed independently of the other Uber stories that went "public" shortly thereafter [Note 12]. Its story concentrated primarily on the ethics of the essences of Xena and Gabrielle possessing the bodies of the Ubers, and the specific difficulties one Uber, named Gwen Covington, had over this situation. The influence of THE XENA SCROLLS was obvious.

[36] For me, reading THE HITCH HIKER was a very personal experience. It was the most visceral encounter I had ever had reading Xena fan fiction up to that time. I enjoyed it so much that I wondered what was the nature of my so-strong-it-must-be-unnatural attraction? I at first feared it was merely a deeply repressed desire to be seduced in an SUV in the middle of winter somewhere in the great Pacific Northwest. A common fantasy, no doubt, but even I knew it had to be something more.

[37] THE HITCH HIKER told the story of the extremely stark and repressed Gwen, who not too willingly was dragged into the sunlight of an emotionally satisfying relationship with Alex. But the movement did not stop there. It continued moving, controlled by others (Xena and Gabrielle), to another extreme that turned out just as stark and repressive for Gwen as where she began. Gwen was tightly wound and believed herself to be consciously opting to unwind herself when she was actually following Xena's genetic code. From this conundrum, the story asked a question that is rarely asked in Ubers: Can there be free will where there are Ubers?

Alex and I dug the SUV out of the snowdrift. The highway plows eventually came through and we were able to get back on the road again. Alex dropped me off in Vancouver. When we parted, she gave me a deep kiss that lingered for hours later. I told her that I wanted to see her again, very soon.

I think this compromise will work out just fine. I'll spend time with Alex because I want to. After all, she is hard to resist. Alex will have to learn to love me for who I am, not who she wants me to be.

Gabrielle will live vicariously through me, but without direct control. Her influence will be subtle and only with my approval. Gabrielle will just have to deal with the fact that I'm driving and she's riding shotgun. Good gods, was that noise my stomach? I wonder what passes for nutbread around here?

   --from THE HITCH HIKER

[38] Gwen was bound and determined to prove that she did have a free will. Although by THE HITCH HIKER's sequel, THE PRICE OF INNOCENCE, Gwen will have paid a high price for her need to express her free will, it appears that in THE PRICE OF INNOCENCE's as yet unfinished sequel, CONSPIRACY THEORY, Alex, of all people, will be able to reap the fruits of Gwen's insistence in exploring her free will apart from the wishes and desires of Xena or Gabrielle.

Alex tore open the shower curtain, drenching Gabrielle as she spoke, "Oh b*llsh*t! All you need is Xena. And she's right here with me whenever and however you want her. I made my home with Gwen. She's not here any more. I want her back, Gabby. I want her back so much it's killing me to look at you and not see her inside." Tears streamed down her face and mixed with the soap and water. "Find her, d*mm*t I don't care how you do it. Bring her back to me!" Alex yanked the curtain back into place, dismissing an unusually silent Gabrielle.

   --from CONSPIRACY THEORY

[39] Bongo Bear's take on the implications of the Uber theory was revealed in THE HITCH HIKER. She cleverly showed that the simple causal effects of having an Uber, along with the idea that the host and the ancestor work together to produce an Uber, created a single organic body with three different distinct personalities.

[40] In Gwen's case, for example, her three personalities were Independent Gwen, Gabrielle, and Gwen- Gabrielle. It was the Independent Gwen which dominated the beginning of THE HITCH HIKER, exerted her free will by opting out of consciousness at the end of THE PRICE OF INNOCENCE, and appears to be a key in Ares plan to return to power in THE CONSPIRACY THEORY. The Gabrielle personality was the one who foolishly exerted herself to tragic consequences in THE PRICE OF INNOCENCE, although she was relatively benign in THE HITCH HIKER. Finally, Gwen- Gabrielle was the compromise personality that Gwen and Gabrielle worked out between themselves that was hinted at in the end of THE HITCH HIKER but did not really appear until the beginning of THE PRICE OF INNOCENCE. It was there that both of the personalities agreed to the compromise because of love: Gabrielle for love of Xena and Gwen for love of Alex.

Meeting Alex changed all that. I met her while en route to a writers' workshop in Vancouver. My luggage made it there, but I missed the flight. Alex approached me and suggested that I fly to a different destination that was within driving distance of Vancouver. So, I hitched a ride with her. A heavy snowstorm stranded us in her vehicle, forcing us to stay overnight together in the pine forests just south of the Canadian border.

In the short time we spent together, she accomplished the impossible. She filled the cold emptiness in my heart. She made me warm and whole in a way I had long forgotten. I was so far gone that I never realized that love was even missing until Alex offered it to me freely. Without my asking or demanding, she gave me a gift in the purest sense. She revealed to me a secret that set our destinies into motion.

   --from THE PRICE OF INNOCENCE

[41] THE HITCH HIKER was short but not sweet. By the end of the story, Gwen was both seduced by the offer of companionship that only an Uber soulmate could offer, and yet very cognizant, frustrated, and paranoid about what such an arrangement would do to her soul.

[42] Finally, not only was THE HITCH HIKER the very first publicly released Uber, it was also the very first Uber to give the UberXena a name: Alex. We will be forever in debt to Ms. Bear for this. Alex is the most popular name used for UberXenas in the Xenaverse. Bongo Bear did not use a stereotype/cliche, she invented one [Note 13].


Humor Enters the Picture

[43] After THE HITCH HIKER, there was no turning back for either author or genre. Bongo Bear was a bard, and Uber was a genre to be reckoned with. However, Bongo Bear, most likely unaware of the revolution that she had recently heralded, did not follow up THE HITCH HIKER with another Uber. A month after THE HITCH HIKER was posted, Bongo Bear released FRACAS AT THE FORUM INN. FRACAS was an exuberant parody of Xena NetForum fans by Ms. Bear and Jaybird. Fracas was Bongo Bear's first humorous and first collaborative work posted on the Internet.

[44] One of the time-honored writing traditions on the Internet is the self-referencing parody. It is usually a playful humorous skit or vignette that highlights the idiosyncrasies or peccadilloes of familiar online personalities. FRACAS is not only a good example of such writing, but is an amusing work on its own. Most times, the humor of the piece can be only appreciated if you know the specific personalities involved in the story. FRACAS, however, is enjoyable even if the reader does not have direct or indirect experience with the personalities. Bongo Bear and Jaybird do such a good job of presenting the characters that they become more archetypal than specific. FRACAS is more of an everyman parody than a private in- joke.

Bongo Bear, hiding in the attic above the inn's main floor, overhears the conversation between Iapetus and Jaybird.

"Oh dear, oh my. These fellows seem just a tad upset with me. Should never, ever pick on bards. No Sirree, they have sharp quills and even sharper retorts. What to do, what to do," she frets and paces.

The little bear looks around the dusty attic only to find moldering archives of old flame wars, some of which were still warm to the touch. Finally, she eyes the small, narrow window, just large enough to wiggle through.

Jaybird enters the attic just in time to see the last bit of a furry tail struggling through the window. He leaps to the window and grabs at the tail, but only manages to catch a handful of white fur. Looking down, he sees a white bear scampering away into the woods.

"Hmmm, a chase scene," he thinks to himself. Grinning evilly, he says aloud, "This could be fun!"

"Hey, Iap," he calls down the stairs to his good buddy who hasn't quite left yet. "Get the dogs. Form a posse. We're goin' huntin'!"

"For what?" Iapetus asks, as Jaybird bounds excitedly onto the Forum floor.

"Bear. Gonna get me a bear skin rug," he says as he grabs a cross-bow on his way out the door.

--From FRACAS AT THE FORUM INN


The Price of Innocence

[45] The second installment of the projected THE HITCH HIKER trilogy, THE PRICE OF INNOCENCE, was released two days after FRACAS. Ms. Bear would not start work on the final installment until early 1998, and that story, CONSPIRACY THEORY was at the time of this writing unfinished. THE PRICE OF INNOCENCE was reviewed at the Nancy Amazon Presents website in 1999 and the review can be found at http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Cyprus/1680/ or http://whoosh.org/uber/essays/bongo/appendix1.html.

[46] Whenever I am reading it, I am convinced that THE HITCH HIKER is the best Bongo Bear story ever. But after I finish it, I go directly to THE PRICE OF INNOCENCE, and then I am reminded that PRICE is simply brilliant. I find it the most satisfying short story that Ms. Bear has written to date. The dialogue flows and is not as awkward and minimal as THE HITCH HIKER. The characters are fully fleshed from the more-sinned-against-than-sinning Gwen, to the pod person/whatever-they-want-they-can-get-but-I-think-I- love-you-too Alex, to the alpha/this-is-really-all-the-fault- of-my-overactive-ego-but-no-one-has-the-guts-to-tell-me-or- stop-this-stupid-cycle Xena, to the doubting-her-purpose- constantly Gabrielle, to Gwen's goofy mother, and even to the weakest character in the story, Janice Covington, who gets her own idiosyncrasies as well (can anyone say "oat"?).

"So this is my daddy's wild oats," said the wizened old woman lying in bed. This was Janice Covington. I barely recognized her after seeing Gabrielle's image of her in my dreamscape. Her once hazel eyes were clouded with cataracts. She could barely see the light much less my face. "What brings you here, little oat?"

   --from THE PRICE OF INNOCENCE

[47] I define good literature as literature that:
  1. makes me think about stuff (and if I think about the "stuff" a different way, or go "Aha!", then it gets even more points);
  2. says something new to me when read at different times in my life;
  3. is written with a technical skill where the mechanics of reading it does not take me out of "the moment" (meaning that the words are spelled right, the grammar is correct, and the word 'languorously' is used sparingly);
  4. have compelling characters;
  5. after reading it, I feel like I have not wasted my time, and
  6. if I am lucky, I get a BUZZ.

[48] THE PRICE OF INNOCENCE delivers all that, and more. It is up there with the other short stories and novels that I choose to read every few years because they speak to me so well. THE PRICE OF INNOCENCE is a cool story, a challenging one that makes me think. If Bongo Bear never finishes this trilogy, it will be a crime against humanity, or at least against "Kymanity". I find it a very good middle story for a trilogy. It stands on its own, but it has an ending that begs for more, and is part of a greater story arc which demands resolution.

[49] THE PRICE OF INNOCENCE is one of the most thoughtful, well-crafted, provocative, and revealing Ubers I have ever read. Whereas THE HITCH HIKER is like an adolescent full of energy and potential, THE PRICE OF INNOCENCE is a fully mature adult that is sure of the intensity and power that it can wield. I go back and forth as to which is better, THE HITCH HIKER or THE PRICE OF INNOCENCE, and I always say with conviction it is the one that I have read most recently. THE HITCH HIKER has aspects that add to its power that THE PRICE OF INNOCENCE could care less about. Each story serves its function. I am blown away by how clever it all is. On one level, there are two different styles and approaches, and on another level, they are the sides of the same coin. From what I have read of CONSPIRACY THEORY, the scenario is stretched even further and is approached from yet another completely new direction that defines the whole trilogy anew. It is rewarding to go into something looking for a shiny thing here or there, and wind up finding a gold mine. That is how I feel about THE PRICE OF INNOCENCE. It is a wonderful accomplishment, and something to be proud of. It is pure pleasure for me to read.

[50] THE HITCH HIKER depicts the intellectual and reserved story of Gwen and her Uber adventures, whereas THE PRICE OF INNOCENCE deals with the emotional consequences of her unasked for situation. Overall, THE PRICE OF INNOCENCE is technically the superior and more mature work, but THE HITCH HIKER makes up for its flaws by being filled with explosive ideas. One can feel that there is more going on that is just dying to be told, and yet it is so tightly and repressively wound that it is a pressure cooker just waiting to explode. THE HITCH HIKER is an idea piece, gloriously abstract and acted out with controlled understatement, whereas THE PRICE OF INNOCENCE picks up on the mature acquiescence of an Uber who knows only too well that true independence is impossible, while true union is just as impossible, if not more so. It is a fleshing out of the old maxim, "You can't live with 'em; you can't live without 'em'". Essentially, it offers a paradox with a capital "P".

[51] The first few pages of THE PRICE OF INNOCENCE cover the pluses and minuses of Gwen's unique living arrangement. It was written in the most minimal, easygoing, and flowing descriptive style ever utilized by Bongo Bear. It captures Gwen's complex emotions concerning the bizarre situation in which she had found herself, and provides insight to how uneasy it made her feel, yet how impossible it was for her to leave. THE PRICE OF INNOCENCE was a mini-tragedy, while THE HITCH HIKER was a dialogue vignette between destiny and free will.

Life was good. Very good. All things considered.

One, well actually two, things that I needed to adjust to were the presence of our other house mates. We do have a rather unusual living arrangement. It's all because Alex is a descendant of Xena, a reformed warlord. She, by all accounts, could crack nuts with her thighs. I'm descended from Gabrielle, Xena's Amazon bard and lover. She's Xena's kinder and gentler better half. To add a bit of complexity, I'm also descended from the warrior. Of course, that makes Alex a distant relative. Very distant, I hope. Anyway, as descendants, we are the occasional vessels for our ancestors. Alex has carried Xena's soul for several years. I only recently took in the bard.

At the most inconvenient times, Xena would take over Alex. She would butt in during conversations, when we were making love, or even worse, when we were preparing dinner. That ex- warlord should never have quit her day job. How can anyone screw up spaghetti? Naturally, Gabrielle would pop in, not wanting to miss any of the fun. That was actually a good thing because she'd usually step in and rescue dinner. She was the only one who could tell Xena that a double handful of garlic cloves in pot of marinara sauce was too potent for us mere mortals. Though, there was one time when she decided to hang back and let Xena handle the entire meal. Gabrielle must have thought that I don't appreciate her enough.

It's such a strange feeling to have your consciousness placed aside like a book on a shelf, then to have it brought back again just as quickly. Of course, Gabrielle understood my conditions and would let me know what was happening. She never abused my body. In fact, she often pampered it with long, hot bubble baths, followed by sensual massages expertly done by Alex or Xena. I'm quite sure that she enjoyed the pampering as much as I did.

I asked Alex once what it was like for her. Xena also kept Alex awake, but she was more presumptuous than Gabrielle. She would exercise to exhaustion and leave it to Alex to deal with the sore muscles. Or she would watch those stupid World Wrestling Federation matches while drinking Molson's Dry. I don't know which Alex hated worse, the Masked Marvel or that nasty beer. Alex much preferred a single malt Scotch, straight up, over any beer or ale. On the plus side, Xena knew more than a entire library of dusty old tomes about Greek warfare. She shared every bit of that knowledge with Alex. She practically wrote Alex's doctoral thesis on the Trojan War.

We're one big happy family.

   --from THE PRICE OF INNOCENCE

[52] Another aspect of THE PRICE OF INNOCENCE is the further development of Gwen's and Alex's relationship apart from the Uber influence. Beginning in THE HITCH HIKER, it was apparent that Gwen found Alex too wimpy about the Uber situation; however, Alex was the character who insisted upon taking the time necessary to open up Gwen emotionally. Gwen gave the impression that she had been around the block a few times, and was just as confused as the next guy as to why she was so internalized and repressed. Furthermore, Gwen was a highly loyal and honorable person who refused to forget that it was Alex, not Xena, who had helped her open up. By the time the Ubers figured this out, Xena's motives were no longer sympathetic.

She found Xena seated at Gwen's drafting table. The warrior busily sketched out plans for Gabrielle's rescue. Alex approached her ancient ancestor. Sadly, she reached out to Xena and shook her head in resignation. "I'm sorry. I don't understand how this could have happened."

Something in Xena snapped. This fool, her descendant, had given up the fight before the battle even began. She struck out at Alex, slapping her hard across the face. Alex staggered then fell to the floor.

"Don't you understand anything that's going on here??" Xena screamed. "Your hesitancy caused this mess! Smith found our address through your credit card. He moved before we did. Now they have Gabrielle. And all you can do is snivel. Gods, how could you have sprung from my loins?" Xena advanced on her host, bent on releasing all the anger and frustration built up over weeks. She raised her hand and closed it into a fist when another, stronger force, held her fast. "What the--?" She looked over her shoulder and into the stern face of Athena, best known as the Goddess of Wisdom and lesser known as the Goddess of War.

   --from CONSPIRACY THEORY

[53] The Xena at the end of the story appeared impatient and unconcerned about the disruptions she demanded of all of her Ubers. THE HITCH HIKER's Alex would have no doubt attributed Gwen's opening up to Xena as the fulfillment of Xena's needs to find a host for Gabrielle. However, by THE PRICE OF INNOCENCE there were intimations that Alex was at last understanding where Gwen was coming from in THE HITCH HIKER and began to share Gwen's fundamental uneasiness about the whole Uber situation. However, THE PRICE OF INNOCENCE was not Alex's or even Xena's story (one would expect Xena to be p*ss*d to high heaven about that, too!). From the fragments available from the incomplete CONSPIRACY THEORY, it looks as though the conclusion of the trilogy may be Alex's story [Note 14].

[54] THE PRICE OF INNOCENCE considers three problems, two of which are internal to the story. First, it asks what is it like to be a cognizant Uber. Second, it attempts to reconcile the inherent problems with Gabrielle's pacifism as expressed on the television show during the third season. The reconciliation is brutal for Gwen and traumatic for Gabrielle, but highly realistic. Finally, the story itself suffers the curse of the middle story of a trilogy. Why is being the Jan Brady of a story cycle a problem? The middle child has to be independent, yet be the logical intermediary between two possibly divergent stories.

[55] The ending of THE PRICE OF INNOCENCE put off many readers. Although Bongo Bear usually tempers her darker writings with brighter endings, she was not able to do so in THE PRICE OF INNOCENCE. However, other than the more-dark- than-usual ending, the tale met the challenge of being an independent, standalone story quite admirably.

[56] As dark as THE PRICE OF INNOCENCE is, it is nonetheless filled with the trademark off-the-wall dry humor of Bongo Bear. The darkness was consistently set off by clever observations and pleasant reminders of the human need to find humor in almost all situations, such as Gwen's and Alex's easy domestic familiarity, Gwen's dealing with her mother's off-the-cuff sharing of family secrets, and even an oat-wielding crusty Janice Covington.

[57] Many of Bongo Bear's stories foreshadowed issues later found in the show (which is not that strange, considering there are over 100 episodes currently extant). THE PRICE OF INNOCENCE featured a moment where Xena was incapacitated and Gabrielle was forced to take things into her own hands. In PRICE OF INNOCENCE, Gabrielle tanked; however in the episode IDES OF MARCH, she became a killing machine taking down a major part of the Roman army stationed in Rome. What a difference a couple of seasons make.

[58] The end of THE PRICE OF INNOCENCE left the reader with Bongo Bear's vision of the Uber world. It was a world fraught with conflict, confusion, and frustration. Yet also it was a world where one came the closest that anyone could get to a pure union with another soul. One is lucky to read an Uber that merely mentions a soulmate or an Uber theory, let alone explores it. THE PRICE OF INNOCENCE explored it and more.


Humor Redux

[59] Three days after THE PRICE OF INNOCENCE was posted, THE WEDDING GIFT was released. This began a humor streak and an extension of Bongo Bear's "toy" phase where sex toys tended to be used for satirical and metaphorical purposes. The humor stories continued with the ALTERNATIVE FAN FICTION CLICHE LIST on September 2, 1997, XENA GOES ON STRIKE on September 8, A SHOWER SCENE on September 25, and later in the same month, THE PERSONALS.

[60] Other than being Bongo Bear's first solo humor piece, and delving further into Ms. Bear's fascination with sex toys, THE WEDDING GIFT had the distinction of containing Bongo Bear's worse pun ever: "Xena put aside the phallus cum truncheon with a shrug". This was a type of low humor one would expect to find frequenting a boy's first year Latin class, and luckily was not common in Bongo Bear's subsequent writings. Interestingly, this is another example of Bongo Bear's eerie ability to foreshadow events before they happened on the show. The television show fell into a phase of using low, scatological, vulgar, and crude humor from the third season through the fifth. Perhaps Bongo's use of vulgar humor was yet another example of this type of foreshadowing?

[61] The CLICHE LIST was a collaborative effort with Lara, Joe Murphy, and Snoop. It was a tongue-in-cheek list of commonly observed traits found in many alternative fan fiction stories. This list inspired WordWarior's short story, FOR THE LOVE OF CLICHES, which can be found on the web at http://xenite.simplenet.com/fanfic3/cliches.html and http://whoosh.org/Uber/essays/bongo/appendix2.html. It inspired a new generation of bards to push beyond the stereotypes of Xena fan fiction. Bongo Bear was at her most influential on fandom with this list.

1) X & G take lots of baths.

They must be the cleanest women in all of ancient Greece. How do they keep their delicate skins from wrinkling and drying out like prunes? For a change, how about a shower scene? Will someone please write a shower scene. Doesn't have to be a real shower. A waterfall, a heavy rain storm, anything that involves standing under falling water would do. Of course, waterfalls & rain are all cold... hmmm, a technical issue that requires some more thought.

   --from ALTERNATIVE FAN FICTION CLICHE LIST

[62] XENA GOES ON STRIKE was an introspective parody on the issue of Xena's seemingly constant sexual availability in many alternative stories (ALTERNATIVE FAN FICTION CLICHE LIST #16). This was a parody on the alternative fan fiction cliche that Xena would service Gabrielle at any time or any place. In the story, Xena requests a moment of respite from the conjugal bed, and hilarity ensues. This was Ms. Bear's first overt use of her characteristic anachronistic humor. As Xena told Gabrielle, "I'm not the Energizer Bunny."

Of course, the hair won't get clean if you don't get it wet

Gabrielle lives through the shower scene in IF THE SHOE FITS.


[63] A SHOWER SCENE is the preface to a story called THE MISSION (1999), and is an interesting parody of the ladies' habit of taking baths all the time (CLICHE LIST #1). This is classic Bongo Bear. The bad pun is "Homer Depot" and the punch line is found, typically, in the very last line of the story.

[64] THE PERSONALS was Bongo Bear's first standalone Mel and Janice story. It is very short, and revolves around the translation of a scroll that contains pre-Mycenaean personal ads. It is another throwaway humor piece, this time a parody of what if Xena and Gabrielle ever ran personal ads. It is couched between a vignette of Janice and Mel trading sweet nothings with each other.

REFORMED warlord seeks redemption. Was bad to the bone, now wants into Elysian Fields! Seeks innocent soul as guide. Callisto, will you ever forgive and forget? 555-xena

   --from THE PERSONALS

[65] The stories A WEDDING GIFT, XENA GOES ON STRIKE, A SHOWER SCENE, and THE PERSONALS were reviewed by Lunacy, a well-known and popular Xena fan fiction reviewer, on her website a few days after they were released. The reviews can be found at http://www.lunacy.simplenet.com. Lunacy would not review another Bongo Bear short story until over two years later with NEWSFLASH.



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