October 12th, 2004

Pros/Help Will Not Come

When Bodie and Doyle Did Wyoming

As I mentioned previously, I am currently involved in something of a personal retrospective of the fan fiction I have found to be most enjoyable, instructive, and noteworthy over the years.

So, without further ado, I'll begin in the universe of The Professionals, since I can reach the first zine in question if I stretch...just...so...

Title: Journey West
Author: Maiden Wyoming
Format: Stand-alone fanzine novel
Awards: Huggy Award for Best The Professionals Novel, given at ZebraCon 13
Year Published: 1997
Warnings: Slash, graphic violence, not for the faint-hearted
Availability: Not currently available, although until recently was advertised as available through Oblique Publications at The Waveney Zine Shop (might be worth an inquiry)

I read fan fiction about The Professionals before I ever watched and came to love the series. Journey West was not the first story I encountered from the CI5 universe by a long shot, but it has left such an impact on me that I now cannot think of the series without also thinking of this tale. Recently rereading this work, which is set in 1995, impressed upon me how timely and current its plot remains: an older Bodie and Doyle, brought to the United States, are abandoned to the machinations of domestic terrorists who plan to use the two operatives to strike against the nation by kidnapping the children of the President and thus controlling the Commander-in-Chief. Bodie and Doyle must walk a dangerous line between resisting the terrorists' plans and appeasing them long enough both to remain alive and to form alliances in the most unlikely of places. The resulting tale is dark, gritty, starkly violent, and often surprisingly poignant.

Maiden Wyoming manages to accomplish a number of delicate tasks in this remarkable work. First, she ages the characters in a meaningful and believable way, giving them credit for years of experience and training while also allowing them to recognize that they are no longer young. In fact, as the story progresses, they find they are quite vulnerable indeed, and the grim realities of this lead to some of the most moving passages in the novel. (A favorite line involves two youths identifying Bodie and Doyle from decade-old photographs: "But...they're supposed to be such hot shit. The big guy looks like he's about to fall over. The little guy's limping like my grandpa." Of course, both prove to be "hot shit," despite their wear and tear, almost immediately, but they also come face to face with their limitations and mortality in the process.)

Second, she revisits some classic themes from the series and brings them into even sharper, more dramatic focus: CI5's apparent abandonment of the "expendable" partners once they have served their purpose, Bodie's concerns over what he perceives as his own amoral nature as opposed to Doyle's inherent morality, the ongoing conflict between personal loyalty and professional duty. Maiden Wyoming captures the characters of Bodie and Doyle, their voices and thoughts, beautifully, highlighting their tragic flaws as well as their determined courage.

Third, she introduces new elements to the universe, including the backdrop of U.S. politics and Wyoming society (with a healthy dose of Native American culture), compelling but not distracting original characters, and a sexual element that develops with the story from a first-time slash scenario to a more mature gay relationship. These elements are secondary to the novel's basic sense of primal urgency as we wrestle with the kind of animals we are or can become when everything we know has been stripped away and all that remains is a no-win situation. The author's answers are drawn on a grand scale with unapologetically bold and bloody symbols. With its attention to the psychological, the spiritual, and even the supernatural aspects of the partners' peril, Journey West is a book not only about Bodie and Doyle's post-series future, but also about transcendent issues of life, death, and love. The West serves as a powerful metaphor for the unexplored frontier Bodie and Doyle face in their proverbial dark night of the soul.

Excerpt:

"What are you going to do?" Amanda asked.

Bodie folded his arms across his chest. "Well, luv, the way I see it, we have two choices." A tiny muscle near his left eye started to twitch. "We can do as our masters say, nick the kiddies and perpetrate the horror show of the century."

"What's the other choice, Bodie?" Ray asked.

"I die," he said. "You tell Paul Nicks about all this and blame everything on me. Amanda, you back him up, and Ray here will walk free." His arms swung down. "Think that's what we'll do," he said brightly.

And far more quickly than Doyle could react, Bodie had spun around and run up the stairs to the third floor bedroom. The slam of the door sounded like a death knell.

Doyle pounded upstairs, howling out Bodie's name. The door was locked, but three frantic kicks caved it in. Doyle started to rush in, but the sight of Bodie's leveled handgun, aimed at him, made him stop short.

On the floor at Bodie's feet lay all the remaining ampoules of antidote, smashed.
UNCLE

When Napoleon and Illya Did CI5

And one more recommendation while I'm still thinking of Bodie and Doyle...

Title: "Incident in a Stairwell"
Author: Debra Hicks
Format: short story, second in a three-part series, gen &/or pre-slash
Universes: crossover between The Man From U.N.C.L.E. and The Professionals.
Year Published: unknown
Availability: Archived at The Circuit Archive, along with its prequel ("The Waiting Room Affair") and sequel ("People Bending Broken Rules"). The latter only is slash.

If memory serves, "Incident in a Stairwell" is the short story that first introduced me to The Professionals and inspired me to explore that universe further. (At that time I was already a fan of The Man From U.N.C.L.E.) It is the second of three in a series, but it stands on its own quite well, though of course the bookending tales are quite nice in their own right. "Incident," however, stands out to me as a particularly sterling example of what crossover fan fiction can accomplish.

Set in the CI5 headquarters of The Professionals' era, the tale follows the dire events of a morning on which a prisoner has escaped and opened fire on agents and innocents alike. It just so happens that Napoleon Solo and Illya Kuryakin are there on a recruiting mission for U.N.C.L.E. that same morning. (Guess which two men they wish to recruit?) The teams are separated during the confusion. A worried Solo and Bodie, along with George Cowley, are left to apprehend the prisoner before it is too late for their wounded partners, who are at the criminal's mercy.

In a fast-paced and action-packed story, Debra Hicks does many things well. The characters' voices are spot on, and the opportunity to see each man through the others' eyes leads to satisfying moments of character exploration. The implicit comparisons between Solo and Bodie, Kuryakin and Doyle are well drawn, as is the often wry portrait of the aging U.N.C.L.E. operatives. The relationships between both sets of partners are likewise explored with effective, poignant restraint. Perhaps most importantly, each of the four characters contributes a key ingredient to the successful resolution of the affair: without any one of them, the day would not be won. It is rare to see such balance, such obvious affection and respect for all of the players in a story. Hicks has fun with her dialogue and her in-jokes, and by allowing each man to supply a critical piece of the action she gives credit to both partnerships and the universes they represent. The two cultures, the two generations, play quite nicely together, and the reader can only imagine how future collaborations between the two pairs might change their worlds, and the world at large, for the better.

Excerpt:

Solo started stripping off his jacket. Bodie and Cowley turned toward him. He proceeded to the tie. "I'll go."

"Why you?" Bodie demanded.

"He doesn't know me. And the fact that I'm older makes me look harmless." Moving the .38 from under his arm to behind his back as he said it gave a certain ironic note to the statement.

Two older pairs of eyes meet. Whatever Cowley saw there he trusted. Nodding to the American agent he raised the R/T again. "Jax, get the aid kit down here, and a white coat from the lab. Fast."

"What do you know about gunshot wounds?" Bodie asked lowly.

Napoleon cocked an eyebrow at him. "More than I care to." He meet the blue eyes. "I'll take care of them."

"Get Doyle into a sitting position, if you can." Cowley told him. Jax emerged from the stairs, joined them, passing over the large medical kit.

Slipping the coat on Napoleon opened the kit and checked it. "What about a weapon?"

The Scot frowned. "If you think either of them can handle it, and if you can get it to them..."

"Unseen." Napoleon finished. He snapped the case closed. "Ready."

"Hoffman, he's coming up." Cowley shouted.

Bodie touched the other man's arm as he started past. "Luck, mate."

The smile that answered him was feral, for the first time showing the cold agent lurking under the smooth exterior. "Luck is my specialty."