Whoosh! Issue 46 - July 2000

A Chronological Survey of the Fiction of Bongo Bear

Return of the Jedi

[90] Bongo Bear jumped back from getting a life by producing fifty percent more stories in 1999 than the year before. She was nowhere near her 1997 output, but her stories were becoming more diverse and more complex. Bongo Bear's fans may have been getting less stories than in 1997, but they were getting more bang for their bucks than in 1998 and 1997 combined. Ms. Bear was not only returning to a drama phase, but she had retained her middle period quirky humor.

[91] In early 1999, Bongo Bear was approached by Carolyn Bremer to help her with an installment of a series she was writing for Whoosh! called "Anachronism Be D*mn*d! A XWP Historiography". Ms. Bremer requested assistance on the part about ancient Greek science. Ms. Bear agreed. The article appeared in the March 1999 issue of Whoosh! (http://whoosh.org/issue30). This was Ms. Bear's first publicly posted Xena non- fiction collaboration.

[92] In the second quarter of 1999, the original designers of the Whoosh! Uber Uber Alles website approached her to create a version of her ALTERNATIVE FAN FICTION CLICHE LIST for Uber fan fiction. She agreed to make a list, but requested assistance. I was then drafted to assist her with the project. Ms. Bear did not want it to be confused with the ALTERNATIVE FAN FICTION CLICHE LIST, so it was titled "You Know You're an Uber When" (http://whoosh.org/uber/essays/youknow.html).

You Ought to be in Pictures

Is that a fig leaf or are you just happy to see me?

Gabrielle is not unacquainted with fine art in BLIND FAITH.

[93] On May 15, 1999, Bongo Bear released THE PAINTING, which signaled her maturity as a fan fiction writer. Using a style more reminiscent of her first few works, Bongo Bear returned to a more conventional form to tell a story about longing, frustration, and the supernatural.

[94] THE PAINTING is a surreal, moody, mildly spooky story reminiscent of many of Rod Serling's works. The NIGHT GALLERY aspect resonated the most with me, because of the painting theme, but the story also brings to mind "The Picture of Dorian Gray" by Oscar Wilde, and the paintings in Gwen's dreamscape in THE PRICE OF INNOCENCE.

[95] THE PAINTING is not a traditional horror tale. However, people being assimilated into paintings is akin to being buried alive, a fear that Rod Serling touched upon in the Twilight Zone episode "The After Hours" [Note 15].

[96] THE PAINTING could have easily been a horror story, but Bongo Bear did not choose to emphasize that aspect. Instead, THE PAINTING is a story of an ambiguous escape. It does not contain any romance (except for brief abstract moments), yet it describes a more unspoken-than- said soulmate relationship than is found in most other Xena fan fiction romances. Bongo Bear's tendency toward minimalism serves her well here:

She entered the gallery and saw the walls festooned with the same woman's image, each one a different aspect of her personality. Scenes of her laughing heartily hung next to ones of her smirking with some secret mirth. Others depicted her pensively staring off into the distance, sometimes angry, confused or simply blank. That week the gallery featured the work of a single artist and this intriguing woman was his current theme. But the nude in the window struck Jean as much more than a beautiful work of art. Of all the ones to choose from, she had to have that one.

   --from THE PAINTING

[97] When I first read THE PAINTING, I thought immediately that Bongo Bear was consciously leaving her stark style. But upon the second reading, I realized it was still there, albeit in a more subversive fashion. She was playing with us by giving us grander and richer tableaus and by creating scenes fuller in sentiment and sometimes in detail. This did not negate, however, the need of the reader to invest their own preconceived notions and experiences into their perception of the story. I tend to think of reading some of Ms. Bear's works as performance art on the part of the reader. When I reread some of her stories it can be an amazingly different experience from the last time, and why? Is it because I am a different person from the person I was when I last read it? Is it because she writes in a way that intuitively allows for this amazing process to exist? Is it because she has an uncanny ability to write something that goes with the ebb and flow of the reader (that is ME, by the way; her style also plays into the natural self- centeredness of the reader and anything that humors ME is usually okay)?

[98] How does she do that? It is a great trick, after all. It is achieved in part by her use of minimalism. Ms. Bear gives the reader just enough to suck them in, and then adds what may seem like afterthoughts or filler, but actually are the guidelines that aid the reader in their next task. When we watch a motion picture, we see nonstop movement--or do we? What we are really watching are still pictures with barely imperceptible spaces of dead time between them. The brain sees them and fills in the blanks so we think we see continuous action rather than a dizzying strobe effect. I am reminded of this process when reading THE PAINTING. However, the author aids the reader through the minimalist process (the stills), and by accessories which help fill in the blanks: pacing, character intervention, dialogue that mimics natural speech patterns and non-traditional narrative form, large-scale montage, etc.

[99] The third time I read THE PAINTING, I was amazed at how the story was missing narrative parts that one might expect (e.g., how the first painting was painted and the motivation behind it), how the process really works (why a painting rather than just a singles bar?), and how logically the whole process could start again (e.g., how anyone figured out how to get into the picture and why would it be considered a good thing to want to do). Much is implied, requiring the reader to infer his or her preconceived ideas of what these missing narratives could be. THE PAINTING was originally posted to a mailing list accustomed to Ubers. Such a reader could be easily expected to view this as an Uber and fill in the blanks. However, there are other cultural influences on this story (e.g., THE TWILIGHT ZONE, Dorian Gray, black and white avant garde cinema of the 1960s, etc.), so readers unfamiliar with the Uberverse could read it with comprehension.

Her dreams have been so vivid during the past few weeks. She welcomed sleep as never before, but only when she slept in her own bedroom. She almost resented the nights when she slept over at Geoff's. Her dreams were so mundane there. He had grown used to her staying at his apartment. He expected it. When she started sleeping at her own place more and more, he made a point of enticing her to stay over. She relented to make him happy. Occasionally, he would sleep in her bed, but it was uncomfortable, being only a double. He was not a good fit in her bed.

   --from THE PAINTING

[100] When Lucy Lawless began Xena: Warrior Princess, she was still a relatively inexperienced actress. Xena was by far the greatest acting challenge she had encountered. Her natural reaction was to underplay Xena. This accident of choice enhanced the show and helped create the power and intensity of the onscreen character. It was that original image of Xena that is still infecting popular culture, even though it technically no longer exists.

[101] When I first read Bongo Bear's works, I took her minimalism as a sign of hesitancy and inexperience. However, after reading THE PAINTING, I could see that she had co-opted, embraced, and expanded upon it, and made it into her own unique way of expressing her stories. That is exactly the same type of serendipity that Lucy Lawless had as an artist in creating the character of Xena. It is like being struck by lightning (but in a good way). It does not happen often.

"How do I know that you're real?" Jean asked. Each night, she found herself standing in front of the painting and staring into the partially hidden face of a woman she could hardly keep out of her mind when she was awake. When she slept, she was completely open and vulnerable. This woman's very image enthralled her. The sultry voice seduced her. Her ghostly presence both comforted and frightened her.

   --from THE PAINTING

[102] THE PAINTING is one of Ms. Bear's most mature writings. The dialogue is much more natural and flowing, yet retains aspects of that minimalist sense that are found in her earlier works. The piece is montage-like, indicating a desire to experiment and to seek out images, reactions, and emotions through more novel means than strict narrative form. It is somewhat more conventional (and, dare I say, more stable) than some of her other works, but the ability to write in different temperaments and technical levels and still retain one's identity is a refreshing sign. I must admit that had I read it without knowing it was Bongo Bear, I probably would have never guessed it was she that wrote it. But after I re-read it and examined the structure, how she juxtapositioned the scenes, and the quirkiness of some of the characters, I could see a connection with her earlier works. Such evolution was inspiring.

[103] This is not to say her earlier works are crap. One of her earliest pieces, THE HITCH HIKER, is brilliant in its use of the minimalist style discussed above, and in the incredible prescience it has for the whole Uber genre. The story works overtime to transcend its edginess and fringe appeal so that the repressed passion, the unique take on Uber, and the intense emotional impact of the story can be appreciated. Although THE PAINTING is more mainstream, it retains the edge and "bite me" ambience of the best of Bongo Bear's work. THE PAINTING is not on the same level of innovation, cutting edge, and depths of psychological exploration (of both the characters, the reader, and the Uber genre itself) as THE HITCH HIKER or THE PRICE OF INNOCENCE, but it is a worthy follower to those past achievements.

She dreamt she was awake, caught in the twilight between reality and fantasy. Jean tried to move her arms, but they would not obey. Her heart began to race. The paralysis was in her legs, too. She opened her mouth to scream, but only issued a soundless breath. That was when the whispering began. Slow and low, nearly imperceptible, the murmuring grew louder and louder until one voice rose from among the many.

   --from THE PAINTING

[104] To be sure, THE PAINTING has weaknesses. The interaction between the mother and the daughter is awkward, and their language and thoughts seem flat and jarring. (Portions fell into an erratic style from earlier writings, and were at odds with the overall sedateness of the story.) Compared to the brief mother-daughter interchanges in THE PRICE OF INNOCENCE, similar exchanges in THE PAINTING miss their mark. Development of the relationship between the woman and her boyfriend would have been desirable, and the story itself should have been longer; more time was needed to explore the mindset of a woman who was willfully about to become one with a painting. As it is, she is in the painting before the reader knew it was happening. Talk about painting interruptis!

Painting Interruptis

[105] Two months after THE PAINTING, Bongo Bear followed up with a story called SEX. This story was not released on the Internet, but was included in my edition of Bongo Bear's short stories. It was originally posted on a private mailing list with the title "Bad Sex" and for good reason. A very short work, the style hearkens back to Ms. Bear's more somber works, reminding one of the detachment of THE HITCH HIKER, the bluntness of JEALOUSY, and the futility of INTIMATE STRANGERS.

"Oh God, what do you think?" He dropped his forearm across his head and wiped away the sweat of his effort. When he could breath normally again, he reached out and patted her on the shoulder. "How about you?"

She said nothing. She slid out of bed and walked into the bathroom. Then she showered until she was satisfied.

   --from SEX

[106] It is very short (under 750 words), and was written after Bongo Bear had watched the Stanley Kubrick film "Eyes Wide Shut". While reminiscent of the style of JEALOUSY, it matches neither the earlier story's content nor the rage, though it does succeed in capturing a lingering feel of hopelessness and acquiescence.

[107] Bongo Bear's next short story is radically different. THE MISSION, the sequel to 1997's A SHOWER SCENE, appeared September 4, 1999. It was Bongo Bear's first crossover fan fiction, using the crew of the science fiction television show, STAR TREK: VOYAGER. In a very well-crafted and well-paced story, the reader learns that the accidental introduction of showers into pre-Mycenaean Greece would change history to the detriment of humankind, thus requiring the interception of the crew of the Voyager.

"Mr. Tuvok, do you understand our mission?"

"Yes, Captain. We are to retrieve an advanced technology stolen by the Ferengi, which they sent haphazardly into Earth's past civilizations. An obvious violation of the Prime Directive. But Captain, what is the technology? Your report was deliberately vague about that detail."

"Showers, Tuvok, showers."

   --from THE MISSION

[108] Incorporating a return to Ms. Bear's quirky humor and displaying her more mature story telling skills, THE MISSION includes some classic Bear anachronisms, such as where Xena told Gabrielle, "Ah, a regular Yanni, you are." THE MISSION, although highly derivative, exhibits more narrative plot than Ms. Bear had attempted since 1997. The characters are still presented in her usual minimalistic angular format, but perhaps because she was forced to deal with so many strongly defined characters, the story has a full-bodied, almost heavy feel to it.

"Ah, Captain, I understand now. Showers are creating a distraction in the development of key civilizations in Earth's history. Instead of sublimating their sexual energy into politics, war, commerce, et cetera, they are --"

"Enjoying themselves. Far too much, apparently," Janeway finished. "Changes in the mating habits of Earth's most important denizens and even of the common peasantry are starting to affect our timeline."

"Yes, I have a noticed a more, relaxed, attitude among the crew. A certain amount of tension and stress is necessary for crew readiness. That tension is no longer evident." Tuvok's expression betrayed more than a hint of disapproval.

"I've talked to the Doctor about the situation. He says that the number of stress-related illnesses and injuries have significantly decreased since the Prime Directive was violated. However, as you say, the lack of tension, especially aggression, among the crew has seriously affected the crew's combat capability. The people of Earth will become sitting ducks for next combative interstellar race that comes along. The Klingons, Romulans, Cardassians, all of the Federation's current and past foes are starting to notice the change. It won't be long before they take advantage of it. Earth's sovereignty is at risk."

"I understand, Captain. Perhaps better than you realize. Vulcan's glory is founded upon self-control and self-denial of carnal pleasures."

"Except for every seven years, you all go at it like sex- starved minks."

"Captain, underneath these pointed ears and plucked eyebrows, we're only humanoids."

   --from THE MISSION

[109] After the incredible run with THE PAINTING and THE MISSION, Bongo Bear topped those with NEWSFLASH!, her most ambitious story yet. Leaving convention far behind, Ms. Bear adapted a news story scrapbook style to tell a story of cloning Ubers, and how you can run but you can't hide from your soulmate. Containing her usual dry wit and adapting a style which favored her preference for minimalism and deadpan delivery, NEWSFLASH! demonstrated that Bongo Bear just gets better and better at pushing the envelope in Xena fan fiction.

By Alex Poindexter- Uber Media Writer

HOUSTON, TX (UM) - In the spirit of Jurassic Park, a Rice University archeo-geneticist hopes to clone a saber-toothed tiger from its long dead DNA.

While Dr. Andie Travers concedes that the likelihood of successfully cloning any extinct animal is exceedingly small, she insists that the technology is feasible and brings hope to animals that are today near extinction. Since scientists at Texas A&M recently cloned a steer from the hide of a longhorn that died the previous year, Travers believes she can clone any animal as long as its tissues are adequately preserved. "Pandas are losing their habitat and food supply to human encroachment. Cheetahs are becoming genetically indistinguishable. We must conserve what gene pools we have today. Cloning may be the new Ark that preserves these creatures for their sakes and ours," she said.

   --from NEWSFLASH!

When good bunnies don't get root canals

Mutants abound in SICKNESS.

[110] Using the conceit of a newspaper scrapbook collection, Bongo Bear follows the media coverage of two scientists who clone Xena and Gabrielle and discover their innate Uberness in the process. Each article is a puzzle piece in the larger Uber enigma. The twist ending, with the clones taking charge and merging with the Ubers, demonstrates how Bongo Bear subtly refers to the show.

[111] NEWSFLASH! is a collection of news reports filed by an Alex Poindexter who works for a news agency called "Uber Media". To the savvy reader, the use of the name "Alex", the most common name for an UberXena in the Xenaverse, indicates immediately that the collection is an Uber. Bongo Bear was the first author to write an UberAlex (THE HITCH HIKER). In her use of that name, Ms. Bear slyly makes fun of her own contributions to Uber while also playing upon the Uber savvy audience's expectation that any character named Alex will be the UberXena. In the usual Bongo Bear way, Alex turns to out be a red herring.

Friday, October 19, 2001
Alex Poindexter - Uber Media Writer

Cambridge, MA (UM) - Flush from her recent nomination for the Nobel Prize in medicine, Dr. Andie Travers, announced her desire to clone the bodies found in a recently discovered Athenian gravesite. Travers made the announcement during her keynote address to the Harvard Medical School's annual conference. Greek authorities are pondering Travers' offer.

"We are considering Dr. Travers' offer very seriously. Given her recent success with the saber-toothed tiger, at the very least we can expect some living tissue to study. I doubt her team can actually bring a pre-Mycenaean warrior into the twenty-first century," said Dr. Andre Andropolis, lead archeologist at the Athens dig. "However, if she could, I would welcome the opportunity to meet such an individual."

In early 2000, Travers, in collaboration with Dr. Helen Carter, the co-nominee for the Nobel Prize, successfully cloned a saber-toothed tiger and raised it to adulthood. The tiger currently resides in an isolated compound in the San Antonio Zoo.

   --from NEWSFLASH!

[112] One of the minor issues of the story was which of the leads was the UberXena. The story had two female leads, Andie Travers and Helen Carter. Well-based arguments could be made that either one was the UberXena. For me, Andie was one weird puppy. She said at one point, "It's been my dream to actually stroke its fur [the cloned saber toothed tiger] and feel the full measure of those infamous teeth." Yikes! Just on that sentence alone, for me, Andie qualified as an UberXena. When I first read that line, I knew that Travers was not an ordinary run of the mill stock scientist in some B science fiction movie...um, newspaper clippings parody, but was one seriously wacky woman. That type of analysis usually outs the UberXena.

[113] Within this story, one can see Bongo Bear's growing interest in rhetoric. In the story, Dr. Ambrose Smith, a medical ethicist at the University of Arkansas medical school and an ordained minister, said, "We should not bring to life creatures that God has seen fit to wipe from the face of the Earth. A saber-toothed tiger does not belong in today's world. What would it eat? Who would it eat? If we succeed in bringing back a dangerous animal like this, what is to stop us from bringing back any creature or worse yet, a human being?"

[114] Indeed, what will stop us? Not only did this character need to be frozen in ice himself, but he had a pleasant turn of phrase. Even the minutiae of "What would it eat? Who would it eat?" had a nice flow. Also, the Rev. Phillips line, "These experiments on human remains are an affront to God. Their graves should never have been desecrated, even though they were heathens and their souls are burning in Hell as we speak..." was all warm and fuzzy and stuff.

[115] Helen Carter, the clones' surrogate womb owner was fortunately as wacky as her partner, Andie Travers. Carter's line, "How many more heads of cattle does the world need?" made one suspect that these doctors were really just liberal arts Ph.Ds in disguise. Also, Travers' proposal to Carter for partnership status has got to be one of the weirdest proposal scenes in any Uber.

Monday, October 21, 2002
Alex Poindexter - Uber Media Writer

HOUSTON, TX (UM) - Dr. Helen Carter announced that she will clone complete humans from the bone fragments excavated from a Greek tomb.

"After lengthy discussions with the dean and the Board of Directors, we decided to go all the way, beyond mere tissue regeneration, and create complete embryos. I volunteered to be their surrogate mother. I cannot expect anyone else to take the responsibility of bringing these people into the world," said Dr. Carter in a surprise press conference.

When asked if she will raise the children herself, Carter responded, "Most likely no. If the embryos survive to full term, I will most likely give them up for adoption to carefully selected parents, but not before we have a chance to study them."

Dr. Andie Travers, who shares a Nobel Prize with Dr. Carter for successfully cloning a saber-toothed tiger, criticized her colleague, stating, "We should not treat human beings like overgrown throat cultures. If Helen doesn't want to raise the kids herself, I'll pitch in."

Clearly shocked by her colleague's proposal, Carter has not yet responded to Travers' offer of joint parenthood.

   --from NEWSFLASH!

[116] In a classic Bongo Bear moment of dry wit, she reminded us that the question of the relationship between either Xena and Gabrielle or their Ubers would always be put on some sort of spin control with the quote, "The two have bonded like...sisters". You can be cloned thousands of years later and still get that very same sentiment.

1999 in Review

[117] After 1998, I was fearful that Bongo Bear was losing interest in Xena fan fiction. However, 1999 revealed a more capable, more mature, and more adventurous writer. Her early enthusiasm for the fundamental relationship between Xena and Gabrielle was infectious, and pierced through the serious as well as the humorous stories. That sentiment flowed through 1998, ultimately merging into Bongo Bear's stronger sense of control and purpose.

[118] Rediscovering the melancholy of her first journeyman works, incorporating her fascination and respect for the soulmate mechanism which controlled the Ubers like a puppet master, integrating her sense of humor to reflect the absurdity of the situations, and employing the full benefit of her evolving craftsmanship, Bongo Bear wrote some of the best Xena fan fiction to appear in 1999.

The Future

[119] The promise of 1997 and 1998 was met in 1999. However, after the powerful triple play of THE PAINTING, THE MISSION, and NEWSFLASH!--three very different stories, each with its own far-reaching consequences--one wonders where that fertile imagination of Bongo Bear will take us next.

[120] As of mid-year 2000, Bongo Bear has not released any new stories online. It is unsure whether Ms. Bear is building on her accomplishments, taking a temporary break from barding, or has gone on to completely different pursuits. It is this author's hope that she will continue to write. However, the fan fiction writer's world is one of ambiguity and transience. Even though she has been very critical of much of her own writing, Ms. Bear has never requested removal of anything already published on the Web. This author will always be grateful to her for that.

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