Whoosh! Issue 46 - July 2000


A Chronological Survey of the Fiction of Bongo Bear




How Do We Solve The Problem Called Bongo?

Joxer's Season Six replacement

Bongo Bear is not to be confused with Bongo, the illegitimate son of Binky, two of Matt Groening's earlier creations.


[121] Bongo Bear has never been a "popular" bard. However, there is no doubt that Ms. Bear is one of the most innovative Xena fan fiction writers. Even her critics are forced to admit that she is original [Note 16]. She is also a hard worker who has been churning out stories that have been getting progressively better. So why is she not considered one of the great bardic treasures of the Xenaverse?

[122] First, Bongo Bear is not a sentimental writer. Her one attempt at sentimentality left such a bad taste in her mouth that she refused to let me read it for this essay. Nor does she write romance. Sentimentalism and romance score high in the laissez faire fan fiction Xenaverse. Bongo Bear loses a lot of popularity because she does not fall into that category.

[123] Second, Bongo Bear loves ideas. She loves to explore cause and effect and go where no bear has gone before. This makes some readers uncomfortable. Who wants to think too much when reading Xena fan fiction?

[124] Third, Bongo Bear has a very strong presence. She may write diversely and try different styles at a drop of the hat, but it still bears that unique Bear imprint. As with sundry strong teas, perhaps many readers simply prefer a different flavor.

[125] Finally, Bongo Bear's non-humorous works are not easily accessible. They concern dark subjects and unpleasant things sometimes happening to nice and not-so- nice people.

[126] That her stories read better over time is a testament to Bongo Bear's skill. Her writings are like little mazes, where one winds up in a different place with each reading. She packs so much into those short stories that re-readings are de rigueur. Whenever I return to some of her stories, especially THE HITCH HIKER and THE PRICE OF INNOCENCE, I find new things in them. I have not decided whether her stories are dense and complex because they are so short or otherwise; I am merely grateful that they are short so that I do not have to deal with longer stories of that intensity.

[127] At first, the intensity of her stories worked against my enjoyment of them. They were much more challenging than I wanted them to be at the time. However, specific scenes affixed themselves to my psyche and would not let go. I had to go back and re-read the stories to exorcise those scenes [Note 17]. Up to that time, I had expected fan fiction to be like junk food, not a slap in the face. Much of Bongo Bear's work reminds me of things that I would much prefer to forget about. However, there are times where I must read such stories in order to feel the full impact that literature can have on a reader's life.

[128] Bongo Bear's stories get better and better after each reading. She offers a cornucopia of ideas that hide behind a complex weave. Once I begin to fight the intensity, I start to notice the intricate design and find an aspect of the story that invariably hits home awfully hard--hard enough to feel like she is piercing a hole through my chest and ripping my heart out. Reading Bongo Bear's short stories is therapy, a good and challenging experience. That is why Bongo Bear is one of the most interesting of the fan fiction writers. Even her humorous stories are filled with unpleasantness about the human condition, and yet there is usually a "happy" (or at least a modified "happy") ending. I liken her to the medieval writers who would write about hell and pestilence and sin and the futility of life, then suddenly throw in a description of a simple flower. That flower instantly became the most beautiful thing in the world.

[129] A constant theme in Bongo Bear's works is that humans will always be thwarted when they try for union with another soul. People want to merge to feel complete, yet such a merger causes them to fear for the loss of self. Bongo Bear juxtaposes that fundamental paradox onto the soulmate mechanism of the Ubers. She also mines from the rich themes of independence/dependence, hypocrisy/pragmatism, and cause/effect. She tackles detachment, love, and the totally irrational and illogical desire to find a soulmate. She goes places where many people simply do not want to go.

[130] Bongo Bear is clearly using the Xenaverse to hone her skills and to experiment with ideas of expression. Her real work has yet to be written, and I suspect that it is not going to be directed toward the traditional Xena fan fiction audience. Once she learns her craft to her satisfaction, finds her voice, and begins to write what her muse directs her, she will find her audience.


Notes

Note 01:
This edition is available in its entirety online at http://whoosh.org/uber/essays/bongo/cover.html.
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Note 02:
Sword & Staff is a non-profit charitable clearinghouse created to encourage and aid fellow Xena fans in giving to charities all around the world. More information on Sword & Staff can be found at http://sword-and-staff.com.
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Note 03:
Bard is the name of choice that Xena fan fiction authors use to describe themselves, after the profession of Gabrielle on the TV show.
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Note 04:
"Uber" is a shortened form of the words "UberXena" or "UberFiction".
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Note 05:
The theoretical background of Uber's roots is discussed in this selection from the Uber Uber Alles (http://whoosh.org/uber) website:

UberXena fan fiction was first theorized by Kym Taborn (who also coined the term UberXena to describe the genre) and followed by others (notably Deb McGhee, who criticized Taborn's use of the term UberXena as too limiting and expanded on it significantly) the same month after the first completed UberXena was released on a private mailing list (June 14, 1997). Under Taborn's theory, UberXena was the logical outcome of the path taken by three episodes of the internationally syndicated TV show, Xena: Warrior Princess.

The first episode was DREAMWORKER (early first season), which set into motion the idea that Xena and Gabrielle were so close that not only did they share a dream with ease, and not only did Xena exhibit an intense need to protect Gabrielle, and not only did Gabrielle demonstrate her complete faith and confidence in Xena, but that there was also a mystical aspect to their relationship. It was clear that these women were not just friends, but they were FRIENDS. This aspect of their relationship is referred to "Soulmates Type 1".

The second episode, REMEMBER NOTHING (early second season), demonstrated that Xena and Gabrielle would come together (i.e., find each other) regardless of which timeline the Fates would allow. It was now clear that these women were "destined" to find each other regardless of the circumstances that happened under their control or beyond their control. This aspect of their relationship is referred to as "Soulmates Type 2".

Finally, the third episode, THE XENA SCROLLS (mid-second season), showed us that Xena and Gabrielle's descendents would also be subject to the REMEMBER NOTHING irresistible impulse to find the other. It was now clear that this special "something" which bound the women went beyond their specific lives. This aspect of their relationship is referred to as "Soulmates Type 3".

In June 1997, Xena fan fiction writers took the concepts presented in these three episodes, and made the leap that the characters of Xena and Gabrielle were in fact archetypes that could be explored in different times and diverse cultural backgrounds. This phenomena could also be seen as an attempt at rewriting women's mythology of the past--creating new versions of past, present, and future, and using Xena and Gabrielle as the archetypal hero and companion in exploring these new views of the old stories and stereotypes previously dominated by male characters.

...

Since the development of the UberXena concept by Xena fan fiction writers, the show Xena: Warrior Princess has acknowledged their dedicated efforts with the episodes BETWEEN THE LINES (mid-fourth season) and DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN (late fourth season).

BETWEEN THE LINES assimilated portions of the Uber concept into the show's canon. In BETWEEN THE LINES, Xena and Gabrielle were shown to be soulmates who were destined to meet up in different lives in the future and discover that they had done so in the past, as well (If that ain't CLASSIC UBER in a nutshell, I am the King of England). This aspect of the relationship is referred to as "Soulmates Type 4".

DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN completely co-opted the soulmates motivation for the Uber. In BETWEEN THE LINES, Xena was reincarnated to re-battle Alti, and Gabrielle came along because, well, she was Gabrielle. In DEJA VU, no such limiting impetus existed. The Ubers discovered each other when Ares set up a scam to flesh out the current incarnation of Xena, only to discover the Ubers for Gabrielle and Joxer on the way. All Ares wanted was some notoriety in the 1990s (creating the Y2K problem apparently was not enough), and believed the current Xena incarnation could aid him in his self-centered goal. In the midst of this, the UberJoxer recognized in the text that all UberXenas and UberGabrielles are soulmates. The UberXena in this incarnation was a male, while the UberGabrielle was a female, copying the incarnation in BETWEEN THE LINES. This apparently allowed the creators, in what appears to be their goal, to safely imply a budding romantic relationship between the Ubers, as indicated by a kiss on the mouth. This was the most blatant co-opting of the Uber fan concept by the canon writers. The Ubers were neither descendents, nor possessed by the spirits of their Urs (the initial UberXena and UberGabrielle, who presumably started the whole cycle), but instead are merely inspired to deal successfully with the conflicts of the episode only after they discover their Uberness. This show finally merged the fan Classic Uber with the show's previously a la carte approach in the past with Canon Uber. However, it did so at the price of dropping the same-sex dynamic of the fan-based Classic Uber.

The last scene of DEJA leaves no doubt that Xena and Gabrielle are soulmates and their soulmatedness (for whatever reason) returns to this mortal plane, whether to do karmic battle (BETWEEN THE LINES) or just go about their business basically unawares until someone like Ares tries to exploit the mysterious process of Uber production (DEJA VU ALL OVER AGAIN). The only thing saving the identity of Classic Uber (fan-created ber) from the complete assimilation by Canon ber (Uber demonstrated and explored on the show), is that the former will no doubt continue the same-sex soulmate theme. At this time, there is no significant fan movement to shift Ubers to a heterosexual context. If the show continues to explore the Uber themes, that is where we predict most of the development of heterosexual Ubers will be done. This heterosexual aspect of the relationship of Ubers is referred to as "Soulmates Type 5".

Taken from "What Is This...Uber"
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Note 06:
The first recorded proto-UberXena was not found in the Xenaverse, but on a Hercules fan fiction website. This story was written sometime in January 1997, a full SIX months before the first Uber attempts made in the Xenaverse. What would a proto-UberXena be doing hanging out with the HERK crowd? Read "A Meeting of Chance" (http://ceallach.simplenet.com/astraea/MeetingofChance.html) by Terra Chang and see how it has everything an Uber needs except for the soulmatedness between the UberXena and UberGabrielle. It is so close that it deserves a cigar, but it just misses the Uber boat by a sliver.
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Note 07:
More about the history and nature of Uber can be read at the Whoosh! Uber Uber Alles website (http://whoosh.org/uber) and the two all fan fiction issues: October 1997 (http://whoosh.org/issue25) and July 2000 (http://whoosh.org/issue46); and, at The Bard's Reference Library (http://www.lunacy.simplenet.com/reference.shtm) at Lunacy's Fan Fiction Reviews (http://www.lunacy.simplenet.com).

It is also interesting to note that the concept and designation of Uber has already been adopted by other contemporary media fandom fan fiction traditions, most notably STAR TREK and X-FILES.
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Note 08:
A striking aspect of Xena fan fiction is its strong ties to erotica. Not all of it would be rated "X", but the lion's share is adult-oriented and would be considered at least a soft "R". There are many successful fan fiction writers, such as Missy Good, who bill themselves as "PG" authors, but there are more often than not erotic tinges to almost all alternative Xena fan fiction, including Ms Good's. The fan fiction outlet allows the writers to go where the TV show would never go. Perhaps its erotic nature is so strong because it is written by adults for adults.
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Note 09:
"Mary Sue" is a (usually derisive) term describing a character found in a fan fiction story that is an awkward and painfully obvious projection of an immature author into his or her own story. "Mary Sues" usually show up in first or early works and often are the most developed (if you can call it that) character in the story. They usually dominate the action regardless of the fan fiction tradition they are appearing in. Instead of being a story about the characters from the original medium, it is often about this incredibly good-looking, very clever, and extremely competent character with whom all the set characters fall in love and have uncontrollable urges to praise constantly.
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Note 10:
The Lunacy Factor is a term referring to the famous Xena fan fiction reviewer's rule that she would only read specific types of Xena fan fiction, and consequently only would review those types on her immensely popular website. She required that only Xena and Gabrielle be with each other and that they would be together at the end of the story -- no killing them off, no wild times with others, etc. Of course, Lunacy, herself did not keep stringently to this rule, but the phrase took off with a life of its own and became a useful indicator of whether a story had a likelihood of being reviewed on Lunacy's highly popular site. At the height of her website's popularity, Lunacy could make a bard popular overnight. Her site was so well received that even merely being deemed fulfilling the "Lunacy Factor" could encourage the popularity of a story, even if Lunacy actually had nothing to do with it. Lunacy eventually semi-retired from the reviewing biz, but when she was active, she was always open and above board with her reviews. She sincerely promoted those stories that she felt were good reads. She did not ask to be nor ever consider herself the arbiter of excellence in Xena fan fiction. It is just something that happened, yet was frustrating for many bards who did not meet the Lunacy Factor. For the record, Bongo Bear did meet the "Lunacy Factor" five times: Lunacy reviewed four of Bongo Bear's short humor pieces in August-October 1997, and then reviewed a more mature work, "NEWSFLASH!" in November 1999. Check out Lunacy's website at http://www.lunacy.simplenet.com.
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Note 11:
A shaggy dog story is a story, usually very long, that is built around a single premise, usually a punch line or a pun. Bongo Bear's humorous writings often end with a punch line where it is painfully obvious that the whole story was constructed around that bon motte.
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Note 12:
Significantly, some of Ms. Bear's earliest feedback came from Paul Seely, the future co-author of the break-through Uber novel, SURFACING, that added elements of noir and the crime novel to the Uber set in contemporary times. The Uber being developed on private writers' lists tended to concentrate on either Uber set in the past or future, rarely in the present. Ubers that developed apart from the private writers' lists tended to be set in contemporary times. Bongo Bear's THE HITCH HIKER heralded this rule. Perhaps because it was the first publicly posted Uber, and also an Uber independently created from the fertile writers' lists, THE HITCH HIKER inspired and fed the Uber branch which evolved eventually into the noir, crime/detective, or other such darker Ubers in contemporary settings.
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Note 13:
An incomplete list of the UberAlex's of the Xenaverse appearing thus far in no particular order are: Alex Brysen (Curiostee, The Dangerous Truth, 12/14/98); Alex (Psyk, Dangerous Games, 05/05/99); Denise Alexander (Rooks, Search, 05/31/98); Alex Lord (Friction, Fire and Ice, 05/27/98); Alex (Nanook, A Fire Ignited Within, 01/15/99); Alexandria (Alex) (Bongo Bear, The Hitchhiker, 07/22/97); Alexandria (Alex) (Bongo Bear, THE PRICE OF INNOCENCE, 08/15/97; Alex Ryan (Poto, Out of Sarajevo, 12/22/98); Alesandra (Morgan the Pirate, The Ruins of Xcapla); Shane Alexander (Wishes, Satisfaction Guaranteed, 01/18/99); Alexa (Catkin, The Sound of Chakrams, 12/17/97); Alex (deBonheur, An Unfinished Affair, 11/97); Alexandra Aultman (Frost, Look into My Eyes); Alexandra (Dawn Lamanne, Amazon Awakenings, 08/13/99); Alex (Alice Goodwind, The Chase Away); Alexandra (Denise Mager, The Corporate Raider, 07/98), Alex (Tiggster, Darkness, 04/17/99); Alex (D.S. Bauden, A Fresh Start); Alex (Xena's Protegee, Friendship's Beginning); Alexi (Stoley, The Heart Knows, 07/99); Alex (Carole Giorgio, Laguna Nights, 08/6/99); Alexa (T. Wylan, Long Fall of Shadows); Alex (Alix Stokes, Mended Hearts); Alex (Sabrina Luv, On the Radio); Alex (Michelle Frazier, Take the Wind); Alex (Shalon, Unanswered Prayers, 06/29/99); Alexandria (Sylensure, Unchained Melody); and Alesandra (Morgan, Caribbean Breeze). In a shocking turn, Tragedy88 named the UberGabrielle Alex in Forgotten War (04/20/99).

My theory as to the popularity of the name has to do with a faux anagram of the name Xena. Xena spelled backwards is Anex. Anex does not roll of the tongue well (not to mention sounds too close to anorexia or a building's addition), so Alex is substituted. Also, the allusions to Alexander the Great, who still has a strong cultural allure cannot be discounted.
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Note 14:
This is problematic in itself. In Uber, it is rare that the story is told from the Uber Gabrielle's point of view. It is more often than not the UberXena who dominates both the story and the perspective. Even when the story starts out favoring the UberGabrielle, it usually shifts to the UberXena post haste. Bongo Bear tends to do the opposite. She is strongly Gabrielle fixated, both in her Xena and Uber fiction. Yet, after writing two stories from the UberGabrielle perspective, the concluding story of the trilogy shifts to the perspective of the UberXena. This happened also in Bat Morda's Janice and Mel trilogy that ended with UBERMADNESS highlighting the UberXena after two previous stories covering Janice Covington, who fundamentally was used as an UberGabrielle.

Why would this shift happen twice so obviously in two very far reaching and influentially important trilogies? Are they selling out from pressure? Do they feel the story requires a balance change?
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Note 15:
"The After Hours" featured the fears of a mannequin who had been "human" for a while, and had to return to its mannequin form so the other mannequins in line behind it could become human in their turn. The mannequin, played by the actress Anne Francis, did not want to return because being a mannequin was basically being inanimate and who wanted to be inanimate after being animate? A painting is inanimate as well. Being placed in a painting while still sentient would have similar horrific sensations.
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Note 16:
See the "Amazon Nancy Presents" review of PRICE OF INNOCENCE at http://www.geocities.com/Athens/Cyprus/1680/
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Note 17:
The first time this happened was with a couple of scenes from the first part of THE HITCH HIKER, the entire concept of INTIMATE STRANGERS, and the beginning rage of JEALOUSY. These three "scenes" stayed in my mind long after I had forgotten who had written the stories. It was later on when I was re-reading them during my preparation for the October 1997 Whoosh! fan fiction edition that everything clicked. Now I re-read these stories at least once every six months and they still hold the freshness and effect they did the first time I read them.
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A Chronological List Of The Works Of Bongo Bear

Tears of Silver (Early 07/97; revised 07/22/97)
http://whoosh.org/uber/essays/bongo/tears.html

Queen of Air and Darkness (07/13/97)
http://whoosh.org/uber/essays/bongo/queen.html

The Hitch Hiker (07/23/97)
http://whoosh.org/uber/essays/bongo/hitch.html

Fracas at the Forum Inn (with Jaybird) (08/13/97)
http://whoosh.org/uber/essays/bongo/fracas.html

Price of Innocence (08/15/97)
http://whoosh.org/uber/essays/bongo/price.html

Alternative Fan Fiction Cliche List (with Lara, Joe Murphy, and Snoop) (09/02/97)
http://whoosh.org/uber/essays/bongo/alternative.html

The Wedding Gift (08/18/97)
http://whoosh.org/uber/essays/bongo/wedding.html

Xena Goes on Strike (09/08/97)
http://whoosh.org/uber/essays/bongo/xena.html

A Shower Scene (09/25/97)
http://whoosh.org/uber/essays/bongo/shower.html

The Personals (09/29/97)
http://whoosh.org/uber/essays/bongo/personals.html

Jealousy (11/16/97)
http://whoosh.org/uber/essays/bongo/jealousy.html

A Christmas Wish (12/18/97)
http://whoosh.org/uber/essays/bongo/christmas.html

Roommates (12/29/97)
http://whoosh.org/uber/essays/bongo/roommates.html

Intimate Strangers (with J.C. Wilder) (02/24/98)
http://whoosh.org/uber/essays/bongo/intimate.html

Three Wishes (07/14/98)
http://whoosh.org/uber/essays/bongo/three.html

Interview from Whoosh! (07/22/98; released 10/01/98)
http://whoosh.org/issue25/wilder2e.html

Furby Love (12/31/98)
http://whoosh.org/uber/essays/bongo/furby.html

Ancient Greek Science (with Carolyn Bremer) (03/01/99)
http://whoosh.org/issue30/bremer6.html

You Know You Are An Uber When (05/01/99)
http://whoosh.org/uber/essays/youknow.html

The Painting (05/15/99)
http://whoosh.org/uber/essays/bongo/painting.html

Sex (07/18/99)
http://whoosh.org/uber/essays/bongo/sex.html

The Mission (09/04/99)
http://whoosh.org/uber/essays/bongo/mission.html

NEWSFLASH! (10/17/99)
http://whoosh.org/uber/essays/bongo/newsflash.html

Conspiracy Theory (01/98; unfinished)
http://whoosh.org/uber/essays/bongo/conspiracy.html



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Biography

Kym Masera Taborn Kym Masera Taborn
B.A. History 1980 (British and Commonwealth). M.A. Music 1984 (Early Music Performance Practices). J.D. Law (Just plain old law) 1991. Kym practices tax law for the Federal Government in the seismically active and highly flammable canyons of the Santa Monica Mountains. Kym was the founder of IAXS and currently is the President for Life. Kym is 42 and happily lives to tell of it in Calabasas, CA with Wes, her incredibly patient husband of thirteen years, and Ira, her loyal side-kick and twelve year-old son. As Alan Freed coined the term "rock and roll", Kym coined the term "Uber" to describe a genre of Xena fan fiction. It ain't much, but it's her claim to fame.
Favorite episode: It is still...DREAMWORKER (03/103)!! Let's face it, it is THE ONE.
Favorite line: Gabrielle to Xena: "You're not much for girl talk, are you? Of course, you're not like most girls." PROMETHEUS (08/108)
First episode seen: CRADLE OF HOPE (04/104)
Least serious disappointment: THE QUILL IS MIGHTIER... (56/310)

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