The Fish Job: Random commentary and stuff
Wednesday, February 8, 2006

not a fanfic - just notes to follow the story **spoilers for Fish Job**


I tried to make this a blog, but I got too long-winded, so it has to go here.

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WARNING: If you haven’t read the Fish Job and you plan on it, please don’t read this because it will *spoil* it! Read the story first! Really, I’m going to lay out some info that won’t be good for your suspension of disbelief. (which is vital to the process…) Here’s where to start -

Chapter 1.

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DISCLAIMER: It seems a mite arrogant and self-aggrandizing to be posting this. I’m not like that really. Well, maybe I am a little. :) But the thing is, I’ve been completely absorbed in this fanfic writing thing and have all these thoughts about it. There’re not so many FF fans around my local ‘verse, so no satisfying venting opportunities for me. Thanks for letting me vent here! I hope you’ll find it interesting, and if it starts a discussion about how you experienced/educated writers come up with stories, that would make me happy. I’d like to know!

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OK, I have warned, I have disclaimed, now I will proceed with the commentary about The Fish Job, starting with where it came from.

Sometime in November I read Truthsome and The Blue Sun Job by Guildsister, which, if you haven’t read them, what’s wrong with you? They’re really good. Go read them now! Well, finish this, then go read them!

If you have read them, you may recall a little scene somewhere in the second half of the BSJ where Mal, in a bad place as he so often is, finds himself taking a few sleeping pills in Inara’s shuttle, and he spends the night there.

BSJ is all about Mal/Zoe backstory, so pretty much all that happened Inara’s shuttle was Mal taking the pills and sleeping. But I’m a Mal/Inara fan and I wanted it to go someplace else. It seemed such an entertaining way to get these two repressed, messed up people to finally make a connection. (Because, really, they’d never open up unless drugs or impending death were involved.) So I made the pills a little more fun for Mal, gave Inara a more active role, and the events that became parts of FJ Chapters 18 and 19 took shape in my mind. I’m not a writer, and before the FF obsession came over me the whole idea of fanfic was, frankly, scary. Well, unknown at first, and then scary. I mean, someone not Joss & Co. taking liberties with his characters? I think not! But I had begun to learn the error of my ways after reading some very good FF fanfic, and I took the plunge and wrote down this Mal/Inara scene to get it out of my head. (I’m sure you other fanfic writers understand how that is.)

Then I started wondering what exactly could have gotten Mal to such a bad place. It had to be mental or emotional trauma, as I imagine getting a sponge bath after being physically tortured is not so fun. Besides, War Stories showed that he can take physical torture. So what would make this ultra-tough guy break down enough that he’d actually let Inara help him? Obvious answer: seeing Kaylee get hurt. But I couldn’t bring myself to hurt Kaylee. She’s just too damn sweet. So what to do?

An anonymous comment around chapter 6 or 7 brought up the Farscape episode where some big bad alien plays with Crichton’s mind and tries to make him go crazy. OK, busted, you got me! That’s exactly what I was thinking of.

Bear with me while I rant for a bit about this Farscape episode, and please don’t be offended if you’re a Farscape fan. If I didn’t like it I wouldn’t have watched it, wouldn’t have thought so much about it (I’m a scientist and I do tend to think too much) and I wouldn’t be so critical. Take it as a sign of fondness, like me pulling a cute boy’s hair at recess ‘cause I like him.

Like much of the Farscape series, I was intrigued but ultimately disappointed by this episode. Good idea, but the ultimate scary thing the bad alien used to push Crichton over the edge was the sight of his weird shipmates getting down on a dance floor. In a suggestive manner. In fast motion. Okay, that’s disturbing and all, but come on! Do something dark enough to make me believe the guy could go crazy! They did start in that direction earlier in the episode when they brought in his dying mom, I admit that got to me. But then they seemed afraid of the darkness and the episode turned completely vanilla.

Can’t resist… must rant more… It also bothered me that the big bad alien was apparently getting info from Crichton’s brain, playing with it, and putting it back. ie download friends and family and personal history, rearrange it all into some weird scenario, upload and watch Crichton squirm. This seems so improbable, and seems not the most effective way for a heartless interrogator to go about things.

IMHO, okay, let’s be honest, IMO, ;) what I had the Alliance do to Mal in FJ was a much more likely scenario. Seriously, I just read an article about how neurologists can tell if a person is looking at picture A or picture B by watching brain activity on an fMRI scan. In 500 years, it may very well be possible to ‘drive’ someone’s brain like they did Mal’s. Wires to push, imager to steer. (I was going to have River say that in FJ, but I don’t believe it made the cut.) So they torture him with his own fears; it can’t get worse than that.

I must admit that my ‘nano-wires’ were a stretch. But hey, anything that includes the word ‘nano’ is sexy, right? So what the heck.

I digress. Where was I? Oh yeah – I borrowed a scene from Guildsister and an idea from Farscape and twisted them to my own evil purposes. I added other character interactions, because it was ALL Mal/Inara at one point. Finally, I came up with a job to wrap it up in, and there you have it.

My point is, the story created itself backwards, like this:

- start with doped up Mal/sponge bath/morning after scenes

- needs to be proceeded by some kind of psychological/emotional breakdown, hence Farscapian torture.

- would be more interesting if there were before/during/after torture interactions with each of 8 other crew members and the ship. Hopefully an arc of some sort in Mal’s relationship with each of them. (This is why Ch. 15, 16, and 17 went on for so long without much happening. It’s hard to follow up on so many characters!)

- come up with some job/outside storyline, which led to chapters 1-4, 10-14, and the less interesting half of 18. (I admit it freely, I can’t read the Jayne/Zoe parts of 18, I skip ahead to Mal/Inara!)

So suddenly I found myself with a whole damn story. And although I had absolutely no intention of ever sharing this with anyone when I started it, I couldn’t spend a month and a half playing with it then throw it away. And wow am I happy that someone, 3 someones no less, volunteered to do beta on so much material written by a first timer. You’re just really nice people, to step into that blindly!

So, that’s the backstory. Now to reply to some comments:

I can’t disagree that the story should have ended after the rescue in Chapter 14. Really, I mean it, I know what you’re saying. This problem gave me fits until I decided to ignore it.

But now that you know that FJ was written more or less backwards, I hope you’ll see that if there was any shark jumping, it was the stuff before chapters 15-19, because those were the real story. For me anyway. If I were to do it again, I’d have some of the “outside” storyline continue during Mal’s crazy time so it’s not such a sudden change in the tone of the story. I did want to interweave better, but it would have been soooo hard to arrange. I needed all the crew on the ship so Mad Mal could interact with them.

Or I guess I could have put more focus on Mal/Inara throughout, since that’s the resolution that really ends the story.

Another comment was about Mal not realizing that things were off when he was in dreamland, and River not being more explicit when talking to him there. I see your point - things like this always annoy me about alternate reality stories. I don’t hold with the Cassandra-complex argument, or the but-that-would-ruin-the-story excuse. That’s just lame. I did have my own explanation as to why Mal and River acted as they did, but the hints I put in the story were pretty indirect and came late in the game. So let me elaborate.

Mal didn’t pick up on the strangeness of things because, hey, who does when they’re dreaming? His mind was creating it, and he was unable to break out. In fact, the first time River talked to him (beginning of Ch. 7) she tried to tell him it wasn’t real but he couldn’t hear her. (You can figure out what she’s saying by comparing Ch 7 and 13.) As his mind weakened, she was able to ‘get in’ more, to talk to him, to give him stronger hints. When he really started losing it, she was able to affect things by being ‘physically’ present (touching him, releasing the cuffs, ‘showing’ him the wires…) and she finally told him it wasn’t real and eventually helped him wake up.

If there is a physics of psychics, I believe this would follow the rules.

I told you already that I think too much, right?

A thing I never hinted at, but it was intentional – River never appears in Mal’s dream except when she puts herself there. This is because Mal does suspect somewhere deep in his mind that things are off, that he’s in River’s world more than his own. So her absence is kind of a hint to himself. (Jayne’s absence in Ch. 5 was completely an oversight. Oops!)

One more thing about River: it bothers me a little that she is so lucid in my story. All her behavior, though weird, has an explanation. I wish I’d made her a little more nutty. But an explanation occurred to me just yesterday: maybe she’s just sane-ish because she has Mal to focus on; she’s hanging out in his brain as well as hers. This would allow her to revert to being crazy in the future. (the BDM, as well as in my possible sequel.)

(um… I only say *possible* sequel because I may find myself writing something that can’t be directly connected to FJ. Oh yes, I will be writing more, I’m addicted!)

(um again… there most likely will be a sequel someday because there’s more in FJ to be uncovered. I just need to figure out how to uncover it.)

Wow, I do go on, and I could keep going a while! But I’ll just say one more thing. I am SO grateful for the feedback, not only as a much needed confidence boost (posting is *very* scary), but also because it was fabulous to hear you guys guess at what was coming next. Since I wrote the story backwards, I very rarely stood at the end of a chapter and tried to see what it would look like to a first time reader. I really only did that for Ch 9 (Mal waking up from the hallucination) and Ch 13 (Mal tittering when the guard pulls a gun. Man, am I proud of that cliffhanger, cause the guard ends up being Jayne!) Most of the places I misled you were accidental, and it was fascinating to see your thoughts.

Too many parenthetical comments, time to stop. If you’re still reading now I’m super stoked that you’re so interested! And really, I’m not a windbag in real life. I’ve just had such a fun time with this, and as I said, I’ve been submerged in it since late November with no satisfying venting.

Please leave comments! I'm interested in how you other people come up with stories. And I’ll edit with more info if you have questions…

Thanks for reading! I hope we get to shindig together someday and swap brownies, doughnuts, sticky buns and other assorted yummys. And watch FF, of course!

Cheers! m4p aka Mary

oh yeah – someone asked about Philip K Dick and other reality bending stuff. I haven’t read his books, but from what I’ve heard I’d like them. I loved the Matrix. I have the utmost respect for anything that can be so utterly confusing and still pretty much make sense in the end. (The one thing that bothers me is this: why wouldn’t the machines just use elephants or something? Wouldn’t an elephant matrix be easier to maintain? Food + water + sunshine = happy elephants. No rebel city of Zion needed. OK, that wouldn’t make a good movie, but still…)

I absolutely LOVE Donnie Darko. Just discovered it last month. I still don’t understand it, but what a fabulous movie. Talk about confusing yet ingenious entertainment! Great acting, music, story, and a really scary bunny suit. What more could you ask for?

12 Monkeys, Fight Club, Momento, also great examples of messing with reality or timeline. I’m definitely a fan!


Wednesday, February 8, 2006 10:54 AM


I'm an engineer, so I love looking behind the curtain to see how it's all put together. Thanks! You're a good time.

Oh, and next story - Be it soon! - Make my day and put even more spaceships in it.

Wednesday, February 8, 2006 11:16 AM


Really interesting and now I have more fanfiction to read! *runs over to the BSJ* :D

Wednesday, February 8, 2006 4:28 PM


That was really fun to read. I am so interested that you put it together backwards. I'm going to have to try that next time with my daydreams.

Thank you for writing - always a fun read!


Wednesday, February 8, 2006 5:06 PM


Well, however you did it, we're glad you did. I recc'd this to my group. Personally, I've never been able to finish a chaptered fic, I get too distracted. And all the discussion of science and physics...I was just happy I guessed about the gun!

Wednesday, February 8, 2006 6:44 PM


You did a great job! I can totally relate to your writing euphoria. I'm a first time "writer" too, more of a hack, by my own words.

It's a rush!! You may have approached from a different angle, but who's to say what the right way to approach it is, as long as the finished product is this good, who cares right?

Keep writing and I'll keep reading, Mr. ...err.. Mary (I'm never gonna live that down am I?;).

Thursday, February 9, 2006 5:27 AM


I like commentaries and I think you did a good job here. Having never watched Farscape, I enjoyed reading your rationals and plot-plans. I picked up reading Fish Job on Chapter 19. Wonderful story! It had me throughly engaged. I found myself sneaking another chapter instead of doing the pile of work on my desk. I'll go back and post comments at various chapters later. I hope that you do a sequel. Thanks for the story!

Thursday, February 9, 2006 7:39 AM


Thanks for commenting! Glad to know people didn't just find this annoying. I wish more people would do commentary (hint hint) I love hearing the story behind the story.

ubiquirk - I have read Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep! I have it at home actually, but I forgot who the author was. Really good book, just so sad! It made me grieve for a spider, and I hate spiders! I'll try his other books too.

errbrr - Good niggle, I agree. Next time I need to let my betas read everything before I start posting, to get comments on overall story flowish stuff. I was just so impatient!

surplusimagination (good name!) - thanks for leaving the comments, here and on the cchapters! It's always an honor to help someone procrastinate. I have a lot of skill with that myself. ;)


Thursday, February 9, 2006 2:32 PM


sorry didnt realize I needed to register and have a name LOL. My appologies. But the above post from anonymous was actually me :)

Friday, February 10, 2006 4:43 AM


Eso -

I figure River's weirdness is like 3 parts the confusion of being an out of control reader and 1 part pure nuttiness, the result of being through tough times.

FJ has the reader stuff in spades and not so much pure nuttiness, which is good for a laugh now and then :) and I want to be able to use in the future.

Glad you liked my take River though, and really glad you liked Jayne/Zoe!!


Saturday, February 11, 2006 3:56 AM


This is really interesting. Like you I wish more people would write commentaries, especially on the really good longfics with a lot of interlocking elements - it's fascinating to see how everything in another writer's 'verse fits together.

(oh, and IMO it should NOT have ended at chapter 14 - firstly my favourite bit of all of it is chapter 16, and secondly with the route you took you could not possibly have left it with a crazy Mal wandering round his ship. Well, you *could*, an author can do just about anything, but leaving it with him the way he was then would have been tragic and creepifying. The impression would have been that he slaughtered everyone on board two minutes later. The length, pacing and plot resolution of TFJ are perfect, and believe me, I do not say that often.)

Sunday, February 12, 2006 2:27 AM


Really interesting to read (I'm only about halfway through your bad about the spoilers). What is cool is that it reminds me of the process of writing my fanfic The Losing Side, which is the first fiction I've ever written.

I came up with the story by watching Mal...we see the look of absolute dispair and horror on his face at the moment he finds out the war is lost, and we know it continues to haunt him. But when we come upon Mal six years later, he is a relatively happy individual, considering.

I always wondered, with everything he's been through, how he manages to have the capacity to love and care for his crew so much. This is a man who has lost his faith, given up in so many ways, and been so badly hurt in so many ways that he should be completely bitter and withdrawn. So how could he possibly care so much about his crew, and where does he get that ability?

My answer is that a few of them carried him through some really rough times; he genuinely needed them, and they were there for him and gave him at least the knowledge that some people can be trusted and will care about you and help you no matter how bad it gets.

So my story began at the end too....I'm just filling in the blanks as I go, and I hope I can put it all together right by the end.

Thursday, February 16, 2006 5:27 AM


Many thanks for these insights, M!

I thought about doing something like this myself, and indeed I posted a few brief thoughts in my blog (thanks for the comment, btw), but you've pretty much summed up my experience for me!

Quote: "I’m not a writer, and before the FF obsession came over me the whole idea of fanfic was, frankly, scary. Well, unknown at first, and then scary. I mean, someone not Joss & Co. taking liberties with his characters? I think not! But I had begun to learn the error of my ways after reading some very good FF fanfic, and I took the plunge and wrote down this Mal/Inara scene to get it out of my head. (I’m sure you other fanfic writers understand how that is.)"

Totally. :)

And when the story is finished, it is very hard to let go of it without wanting to record some observations about the processes behind its creation. I agree with all your points about posting being very scary, and the confidence boost that feedback gives you, and how absorbed one gets in the writing.

You said you wish more people wrote commentaries. I discussed a few points in my blog entry, but I might now emulate your example and attempt a fuller explanation of how 'New Prospects' came into being, while it's still fresh in my mind.

Thanks again!

Thursday, July 13, 2006 2:15 AM


But hey, anything that includes the word ‘nano’ is sexy, right?
-Agreed, definitely from my EE point of view.

why wouldn’t the machines just use elephants or something? Wouldn’t an elephant matrix be easier to maintain? Food + water + sunshine = happy elephants. No rebel city of Zion needed
-LOLOLOL too true, but I agree, not a good movie basis

As for an insight on my own writing, I started with almost nothing, coming up with a few chapters on the spot, never writing more than I was going to post. Now, I have some ideas of where the main plot is going to go, but I still write and post one chapter at a time instead of writing the whole story out. Some of the really neat plot developments have been randomly inspired and spur of the moment, completely unplanned but evidently keeping readers interested enough to continue.

I am glad you posted this. Guildsister's stories were the first that I read on this site, and I loved them. As a fic writer who didn't think much of my own abilities I can sympathize with you on being hesitant to create some (what business does an electrical engineer have writing stories anyhow?) but now that I have started doing it, it is like a drug to me.

Monday, March 19, 2007 7:00 PM


i can't think of how to start this...somehow, by following random links around, i came upon the first chapter and that was at, um, 8? i think? and it's now midnight, but i COULD NOT STOP READING THIS. so FREAKING good!! no, no, WOW! just...WOW! thanks for disrupting my nice old-person-bed-time, but THANK YOU for THIS!



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Back Stories Book 3, Chapter 25
Zoë nodded. “I’ll bet there’s a little committee of suits back there trying to figure out how best to lie.”&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp

“Or how to tell some horrible truth,” Inara replied softly.&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp&nbsp

“Or how to make the most effective use of medical waste incendiaries to get rid of our bodies,” Wash chimed in.

Back Stories III, Chapter 24
Mal returns to a few familiar places.

Back Stories III: Chapter 23
The BDH’s find themselves enmeshed in too damned many OCs. But hey, they’re necessary. Plottiness and all.

Back Stories III, Chapter 22
Inara tells the story of why she left the Core. Well, half of it anyway.

Back Stories III, Chapter 21
The battle with the Reavers continues, and Mal makes a choice. All decisions have consequences.

Back Stories III, Chapter 20
Finally a little Mal POV, but it doesn't last long.

Back Stories III, Chapter 19
The trials and tribulations of an older, wiser River Tam.

Back Stories Book III, Chapter 18
The aftermath of an unexpected encounter. Except—not all of the crew are accounted for…

Back Stories Book III, Chapter 17
A lovely day in the mountains: friendly locals and fresh air under a clear blue sky. What could possibly go wrong?

Back Stories Book III, Chapter 16.
Zoë tells of her soiree with terrorists on Oeneus.