Sunday, February 6, 2011

Thoughts on Brian Randall's "Later"

This is, of course, not typical for me. I don't actually read that many stories. In turn, sometimes I don't feel that I should expect others to do the same for me. Nor do I often post anymore outside of commentary for my stories. But today, I have something to figure out: what I think about "Later", a Haruhi story by Brian Randall.

I happened upon it quite innocuously. I keep a few bookmarks at the top of my browswer to FFN pages because Google Reader doesn't seem to handle the RSS feed very well. I've known of Randall for some time as an author that spans a few fandoms. Indeed, Kyon: Big Damn Hero has achieved a certain level of memetic popularity that I could only hope to achieve. And probably won't. But that's neither here nor there. My taste for reading is odd, I suppose. The parodies and the "crack" don't really appeal to me, but this story caught my eye, probably because it promised something a bit more...sedate.

"Later" catches the SOS Brigade many years later. Kyon is a gardener for the Tsuruya estate. Asahina has been missing ever since university entrance exams, presumably having returned to her own time. And after a long separation, Haruhi has at last found Kyon again--the reason for their separate paths not immediately obvious nor revealed fully for a few installments. That's what Randall is good at, I think: building a backstory and revealing it as the story allows, not all at once as can be tempting to do. It's a technique worth learning from. In terms of world-building, "Later" makes the reality of this time period, many years after the SOS Brigade have left their teenage lives behind, truly concrete. And the good technique of slow revelation means that the reader has ample time to develop theories. I've had a few, most of which seem to have been shot down, but that's engaging. That's good, and I give Randall a good deal of credit for it.

But there are a few things that bother me. The writing is mechanically good, though I've thought ellipses might be overused in places (just as I think I may overuse dashes). Technically, for all the detail that is preserved and presented well, I do notice from time small errors in address between persons. Even allowing for how much time has passed, I don't think Haruhi ever called Nagato Yuki-chan. It's invariably just Yuki. That said, the honorifics and forms of address should naturally change based on who else is present and the situation, and Randall usually handles that well.

But what troubles me most, from a reader's perspective, is the lack of a clear driving force. Perhaps what I've found is something that's a bit...too sedate. Or maybe, from this side of the curtain, it's just difficult for me to see what's clear in the author's mind, the direction the story will go. I admit, the latest installment (FFN chapter 6), drops a rather large bombshell, but more often with this story I feel like I'm wondering "now what" instead of "what happens next". My line of thinking is that stories are built on conflict--it need not be violent conflict, but there should be a goal, something someone wants to achieve. Here, Kyon is slowly adapting to Haruhi's reentrance to his life, but as always with Kyon, he can be a bit slow and deliberate, mulling over issues to no satisfaction.

That's not to say the POV character should be the one instigating conflict or driving the story. Far from it, it's probably Haruhi who's set this whole story along its merry way, but for the instigator, she's only been present roughly half the time. Her angle on achieving her ends isn't all that clear either.

But, perhaps it is sufficient, all the same. Nonetheless, I get the feeling the power of future installments of this story will lie as much with revelation about the past as it will with bold steps to the future. And Randall has probably already done his job as a writer when he has a reader, like me, interested in delving further into his story, whatever the reason, whatever the drive.

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