For my first fanfic review, I’m going to analyze Loneheart’s Gadget in Chains. Why choose this particular fanfic? Because I hate it. It embodies everything that is wrong with angsty fanfiction driven by its appeal to the author’s own perverted mind, and yet it is undoubtedly the pinnacle of its art. Gadget in Chains is a work of dark and twisted genius, from which one cannot easily look away. One admires it against the protestations of the conscience, sort of like Riefenstahl’s Triumph des Willens.
One of the first things you will notice about Gadget in Chains is that it is long. Really, really long. In fact, it’s almost twice as long as Moby-Dick, or over four times as long as Moby-Dick.
The Man Behind the Madness
Gadget in Chains is the magnum opus of Loneheart, supposedly an unpublished writer turned calling center employee. I don’t know if that’s a factual biography or not, but he’s undoubtedly the Adolf Wölfli of Rescue Rangers fanfiction. It took seven years to write Gadget in Chains; you can read it on fanfiction.net in a somewhat shorter period of time.
Alternately, on the Acorn Cafe you can find a version edited to comply with their restrictions on content. This version is much more succinct and has a good bit less in the way of fan (dis)service, you can get a copy here.
As mentioned previously, the contents seem to be largely dictated by appeal to the writer and it gets rather repetitive. One could be forgiven for thinking that the work was an attempt to refine prose descriptions of Gadget being strip-searched or beaten to high art. I’ll be honest, just reading some of this made me really uncomfortable. For the sake of brevity, and also because this is an illustrated review and I’d rather dislike earning myself a spot on a certain particularly infamous Encyclopedia Dramatica article, I’m going to skip most of that.
Still, Gadget is on the receiving end of so much suffering in this story that one gets the impression that the author originally meant to write a much shorter story, Gadget in Pains, wherein the titular mouse gets stuck on a glue board and must gnaw off her own leg to escape (and, probably, her clothing as well, since this is Loneheart we’re talking about), but then he saw The Shawshank Redemption.
Speaking of which, Gadget in Chains is laden with references to prison movies and literature; for example it has a lot more in common with Les Misérables than just the obvious facts that Gadget and Jean Valjean share a prisoner number and that both books are really long. This is by no means a bad thing; in fact, finding references was probably the most fun I had reading it. Then again, that’s probably just the kind of person I am.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Some kind of plot summary is in order. Gadget goes barhopping for the first time, or something like that. It ends badly, although not in the way you might expect. Thus the author uses, not for the last time, a technique whereby our expectations are set for one bad thing to happen to Gadget, then those expectations are subverted by having something much worse happen.
The actual consequences for Gadget are considerably worse than a hangover, or even, say, crossover shipping. Wrongly accused of heinous crimes, Gadget is convicted and sent to prison in what might have been a comedy of errors, if it were funny. Due to misfortune, Gadget’s naiveté, and most of all, the mind-boggling malice or incompetence of every other character in the story who matters, many premature resolutions to the central crisis are avoided. The skill with which these plot holes are patched is variable; some are dealt with quite plausibly, others are avoided only by ridiculous and contrived means. Arriving at “Shrankshaw” prison, Gadget meets up with Margo Haggs (the rodent analogue of Lynndie England), and various prisioners.
Eventually, the prison administrators decide realize that Gadget is insane. When you read this, you might expect Gadget to end up in a straitjacket (which she does), or perhaps with her once cheerful and spunky personality broken by overadministration of psych meds (check!) But this just wouldn’t be Gadget in Chains if there wasn’t something more: electroconvulsive “therapy“! I initially thought I would illustrate something from this part, but I realized that whatever I choose would come across the wrong way to someone: the author is clearly hedging his deviant fanservice bets. Gadget ends up strapped into an electric chair, bound, gagged and wearing latex panties. I really didn’t need to know that last bit, thanks.
Aside from showing that Loneheart has something in common with Ayn Rand apart from just verbosity, the whole psychiatric sequence ends up making poor Gadget the punching bag of the universe and gives me a major angst overdose. (He’s OD’d on angst! Get me some Carebears, stat!) Perhaps this could have be done well, giving the readers a sort of catharsis, but at least for me, it doesn’t. It’s just plain depressing instead. That might be because Gadget is completely innocent. (Well, I suppose Gadget is not really totally innocent, and her infiltration of NASA would probably have her being hauled off to ADX Florence by the Department of Homeland Security nowadays, but she’s innocent of the crimes for which she’s being punished, which is the point. Well, most of them. But still.)
Now, I gripe a lot about Gadget in Chains being too angsty, and I will probably continue to do so in the rest of this review. I will grant that most “serious” Rescue Rangers fanfics, even – nay, especially – the good ones, go beyond the levels of emotional drama seen in the cartoon. This is not particularly surprising or difficult, given that the nadir of canonical Gadget angst consists of her sitting in the rain and crying for about thirteen seconds. Gadget in Chains, however, goes way beyond excess in this area. If we’re reading about Gadget, and something bad isn’t being done to her at that moment, she’s probably worrying about what will happen to her, or angsting about the terrible consequences of what has happened to her.
So, after the author other characters have tortured her for a few chapters, Gadget begins to see ghosts, a macabre sequel to her psychological brutalization. Personally, I would have liked to see squirrel Nietzsche appear to her and convince her to conquer the decadent and corrupt world presented in this story. It would certainly provide an explanation for this interesting piece.
Unfortunately, but hardly surprisingly, things go badly again. The rather familiar spirit seems to be trying to draw Gadget over to the dark side. With all the overt religious imagery flying around, I’d guess that it’s all a setup for the as yet unwritten sequel, Gadget in Hell, were it not the case that there’s already a whole chapter is dedicated to Lawhinie’s visit. Of course, redundancy has never stopped this author before, so we may see it yet.
Eventually, Gadget escapes the prison. Having read the story so far, only an abject boob with no faculty of inductive reasoning whatsoever would expect that her situation is improved by this new development. She wanders into the wilderness, is forsaken by her companions, and is tempted by an evil spirit. You might think that this is leading up to a mousy martyrdom.
Fortunately, the ending is more upbeat, but you probably won’t find it satisfying regardless. The story really begins and ends in Chapter 23; the first twenty-two chapters are there to force the reader, not Gadget, into accepting the events taking place. If you read the rest of the work, which culminates in Gadget getting yet another painful (and yet somehow anticlimactic) thrashing, you will most likely have been wondering for some time when Gadget’s legal troubles will be resolved. Perhaps you look forward to her triumphant release from prison a vindicated rodent, echoing any number of iconic scenes in literature or film. But no. Sometime between scenes 243 and 244, Gadget quietly gets out of prison off camera. Yeah. A few paragraphs of plot-resolving exposition and an epilogue, and it’s all over, including the shouting. This can’t really be that unexpected, as the real question in this drama is not, “will Gadget ever be cleared?” but rather “will Gadget’s spirit be broken?” and once the later question has been dealt with – several chapters from the end – the former ceases to be particularly interesting.
Out of a desire for brevity, I’ve omitted quite a lot from this review, and since praise makes poor comedy, the parts I don’t mention are generally better than the ones I do. Most notably, I’ve barely mentioned the whole Lahwhinie thread, which, for what it’s worth, is in many ways a lot deeper than Gadget’s and not as chock full of deviant fanservice. Still, as bad as this story is for Gadget, it’s arguably worse for Lahwhinie.
YOU CANNOT UNREAD IT
I would be remiss not to give special mention to Scene 160. (Imagine now the peal of distant thunder.) In this scene, Gadget is once again brutalized by prison guard Margo Haggs (who is not a very nice person), but it’s much worse than their previous encounters, probably because Gadget has been a very bad girl. (You really have to read it for yourself, if you think you can stomach it.) I single this scene out, because just when you think that it’s going to be the absolute worst part of the story – the depraved crescendo in a series of increasingly brutal, senseless Gadget persecution vignettes, the final bout of authorial sadism in which Gadget is definitively broken by Haggs – it gets turned around completely. Haggs tries to force Gadget to say something completely antithetical to her character, and she refuses! The scene becomes a memorable, dramatic moment in which Gadget is left standing, unbowed, in the face of adversity. (For several paragraphs, anyway. The scene still ends badly, but I choose to disregard that.)
But, you may object, this is all very subjective. I’ve only mentioned one good scene specifically. Maybe I’m just focusing unfairly on the worst bits? (You think?) In the interest of objectivity, I hired an impartial third party to read the work and document all instances of Gadget abuse contained within. Sadly, he ran off before finishing it and hasn’t been seen in a few days, but I was able to get some copies of the rather indecipherable notes that he wrote.
The notes were accompanied by the following incomplete list:
|Scene||Bad Thing Happening to Gadget|
|37||Bound and gagged.|
|39||Takes plunger to butt.|
|41||Gets a sewage shower.|
|42||Punched in the nose.|
|44||Tied by hair to doorframe overnight. Hair cut off to extricate her.|
|44||ANOTHER groin injury. At least the author isn’t sexist in spreading these around.|
|54||Straitjacketed. Latex panties. Not sure of the order in which they were applied.|
|58||Strapped to an operating table. Undergoes experimental thoracic surgery without anesthesia. (Prof. Ratigan will surely answer to the IACUC! )|
|81||Gagged and strapped to an electric chair. Miscellaneous beating. Receives painful electric shocks.|
|147||Sexually assaulted by a guard. Clothing torn. Why do mice that typically produce one pup need that many teats? Why has the author forced me to ask this question?|
|148||Bullied by inmates. Clothing and towel stolen.|
|153||Forced into hot, dirty washwater by a mob. Nearly drowns.|
|154||Burned by steam. Very nearly forced onto a hot iron by a mob.|
|158||Tail fondled non-consensually.|
|160||WHY WHY WHY|
In reading Gadget in Chains, some people will find that they are irritated or saddened by the astounding extent of its Gadget abuse. (Others may have a different reaction.) At its worst, the prose is purpler than the heroine’s coveralls and you can forget cutting the angst with a knife; you’ll need a chainsaw. Some parts are genuinely quite good. But what remains makes it clear that Loneheart needs to bring two professionals into his life: a tough editor and a psychiatrist. I could say more, but WE’VE GOT A PLANE TO CATCH.
Original review published here: