Kaemi's IFComp 2021 Reviews

I will be posting some reviews for IFComp 2021. I would like to begin by thanking everyone involved in IFComp 2021 for participating in this wonderful outpouring of creativity. Your humanity matters, and I cherish the opportunity to experience your stories. Thank you for being you today.

=Table of Contents=
BLK MTN by Laura Paul
A Paradox Between Worlds by Autumn Chen
Sting by Mike Russo
Universal Hologram by Kit Riemer

BLK MTN by Laura Paul

Putting together a resume is soul crushing, literally, it crushes your soul into one page of paper which in ink which may as well register parish burials dissects you into places you have been, titles you have worn, activities which once you tried to pretend to yourself that you did. Your time is eaten, your life elided, and what remains is sheer time, what to the machines all this sound and fury signifies. “The days all run into each other these days, and it’s hard to distinguish time, at times,” Laura Paul writes, muddling expressions with definitions to merge them in a haze. From this month of that year to that month of this year you held this title: because what else, where else could you have gone?

Jackson hears in himself a call that he chases, never reaches. Every freedom sought seems in its own way a constriction: watching others swimming naked, Jackson grumbles, “I’m supposed to just strip down and expose myself to these perfect strangers? Maybe if they stay away from me for long enough I can endure this.” The freedom you cannot have and do not want. This commune, high in the Black Mountains, seems alive with possibility; several times the novella links you to Wikipedia, inviting you to immerse yourself in the endless interconnection of knowledge forever floating within this web in which are we enmeshed, teasing you down lanes you can pretend leads you to a story that will make you feel less alone, though time and again you feel more, more, ever more alone, as every home reminds you you do not belong. Greeted with a bit of hospitality, Jackson immediately reaches its limit: “Standard’s kinda been peanut butter sandwiches and brews around here, but it does the job.” An invitation that puts you on edge, reminds you that your presence is provisional on your ability to provide, as indeed Jackson feels always upon the limits of what this place can provide: “I thought it’d be a bit nice to get established here, but now I’m not so sure I want to contort myself to fit into this place, and my fate is definitely not going to be dependent on whether or not I earn a college degree.” The specters of freedom loom their constrictions, with the futures you cannot project upon such space, with the fear that you are fleeing something you cannot always escape, because, perhaps, you are this very fear: “Part of me wants to run and flee and drive away again, an old me, a deep reflex hidden in the shadows of my heart. The person I couldn’t accept, the person I no longer want to be. I leave the door open, unlocked, and let whoever sees me see me and whoever finds me find me and I am what I am. A man with irrevokable [sic] visions, one of the thousands, or millions, that the system forgot. I won’t run this time though. I’m going to stay. If not with this place, then with these people.” Commitment to continuity despite the disjunctures inevitable; desire that something, anything remains of the dream, that it is not all just waking up on another tomorrow, that it will not end up dry ink on dead tree, that anything exists into which you can slip, discover some other way to live…

That the story does not find an answer is germane to its cigarette jitters vibe. We get a notional hope unwavering: “We’ll spread, we’ll head in opposite directions, alternate directions, separate paths. We’ll keep going north until we end up at the bottom of the world. We’ll keep going as long as we need, until we maybe end up right back where we started. We’ll convene again.” Yet this is but a Pynchonian entanglement of karmas, with its hope for futures, with its understood pessimism that they shall not coalesce. To some extent, this very despair through hope seems almost the theme, as we might surmise that our Jackson upon the cutting edge of 50s American abstract art is, perhaps, someone we already know, perhaps a Pollock to whom such a statement might seem apt: “I pretended there were no hallucinations, that there were straight and firm lines between real and imagined, what was perceived and what others told you—and I found that there wasn’t.” That Pollock dies in a car crash, that he finds only death in his wanderings increasingly drunken, well, at least he painted it first, how many of us can say the same?

Still, one wishes perhaps a bit more stability from this work, that it might not so easily shiver off the hook. Every sensation, every concrete attachment to the world, is doubted: “I’ve made it to Texas. At least that’s what the signs say.” Insofar as there is a bit of roadtrip propulsion behind it, this jitteriness can work out well, as in this sentence that manages to anxiety its way into an impactful thrum: “But after driving through both sunrises and sunsets, there’s a tunnel, no light but a tunnel, and then there’s light, there’s the light, the trees, the leaves as I speed, I speed on down 40 to someplace Jim calls home.” When, however, the momentum sloops languid and sentences double back on themselves to no avail, the result tends towards bumbling ramblers that trip and stumble and stagger and splat: “Bluebird hasn’t been showing up as frequently though, from time to time I don’t hear from her at all. She doesn’t call out my name anymore, I don’t hear my name. That’s why I have to write everything down now. I have to write everything down now to find her, to remember what she said, in case her voice has left me for good. I think she hasn’t shown up now for almost twelve days, at least that’s what the scribble on the back of the discarded receipt in the glove compartment said the last time I checked. I need to review everything I wrote down to make sure. I can’t help but think she’s disappeared completely without a final message I can hold onto.” At the core of this is an efficient subtlety, but the writing is too committed to a confessive effusiveness to apply the red pen. The novella is bloated with such sentences that do not quite achieve their effect, for instance: “Other times, I’d be sleeping, but sometimes I’d be awake.” which doubles us back onto an idea that perhaps does not require elaboration. The novella’s structure itself commits to this impatient effusion, as when we suddenly deal with the possibility that the college could close down despite never having attended a class. Lines like “I had just come to terms with myself here, the ultimate shape shifting of my mind” ring false when basically all I’ve done is refuse to skinny dip. A bit more patience could really help to sell many elements that feel tacked on, like our partner Ashleigh or the hallucinations of Civil War soldiers.

Yet I did feel worn down through the story, matching with Jackson in how little, by the end of it, we could harbor any desire to trace another road, to seek in a destination all we will never there discover. How so much roadtrips remind us we would wish for nowhere other than home! Fear and anxiety overload the reader, as in the razor’s edge exchange with the gas station attendant, as in Fielding slipping away only to appear out of nowhere to offer you a beer; the fear of the open road, the anxiety numbness that cakes up within you from constant threat assessments. You are not safe; you are not welcome; you are not anyone; you are only motion, and yet motion is perhaps freedom pure, the jinn that cannot be captured in any stability, as when Jackson admires more the flight than the foundation as the college disintegrates: “But it wasn’t that I had never found happiness, it’s that I never found the end.” And, for us at least, it is the end. The wandering has to be enough. There can be no line to the page to contain us when we are the quill.

Sting by Mike Russo

In this fragile world, how can we cling to our seams, hold everything together? Falling to pieces in the absence of the smile that used to hold everything together. Lives are built by those who fill it; how do you rebuild in desolation? Not the same life, not the one that rings in your mind memory after memory, beams that glimmer through your sinews so briefly you barely have time to register the rusts.

There you are, immersed in the economical dreaminess of the child’s eye view, hardcoded networks we lose as we learn to stitch together the world as adults: “The front yard is green and has lots of grass, but you’re not supposed to play there.” Everything latches together effortlessly, the world overgrowing always with new thoughts, new rules, simply Russo and Liz as they wheel out into ever opening possibilities: “Her legs are longer than yours so she catches you and makes you it, and then you’re too slow to catch her so you don’t feel like playing tag any more now.” The way children apply inflexibilities, certainties that as things are, so they must be necessarily, in the core of their beings these things entwined. Things just are, as a pagoda that defies the reader’s capacity to imagine it, which just is, as if there is no reason it could not be: “The pagoda is made out of concrete and looks like a little temple … It’s maybe half as tall as you are.” A toy pagoda made out of concrete, like a garden sculpture, but one that’s half the size of a child? Maybe the disjunction of a dream, the way our memories overload with presences, as in the aside ellipsised from the quote earlier: “(“pagoda” is probably the fanciest word you know right now, though there are lots more to come).” Your memory is flickering, things are appearing which should not be there, as when we try to GET ON SWINGS: “Wait, there wasn’t a swing set yet when this happened – my mistake.” The future is invading; there’s something wrong; we feel a sting.

There you are in the bay tacking to the wind, Russo and Liz deluged in a turbid stream of sailing terms immersing us in the quiet industry of movement, a ballet gauntlet of cues demanding poise, demanding you ride the stream as if you were generating it. Movement that can’t be explained, that supersedes every action, an orchestration. We are plunged into the unspoken connection between two twins who are in the sea both unified and utterly alone, an elemental dialogue. “You play the sheet out an inch or two, loosening the jib. Liz sees what you’re doing and adjusts the mainsail to match.” Everything rushes forward, you cannot hold on, the linear progression of the game, its mercurial and impatient parser, feels like its racing along without you, annoyed at how you’re slowing it down, and yet the momentum is too much, you cannot let go, you cannot let go, electrified suddenly with the sting, you try to heal it, but still the world comes back together in a light voice: ““That’s salt water, genius,” Liz says.”

And yet the world pulls. Liz returns from France, and Russo takes a moment to explain how much he missed her. She half laughs it off, again excitable Liz against the trying to be gracefully perpetually dismayed Russo, who, “as Liz has never tired of informing you, you are lame, and after sixteen years you’ve finally learned to embrace it.” And yet the world pulls. “Since summers stopped being sailing in Nantucket and started being bussing tables on Long Island, you’ve stopped liking them nearly as much.” Soon, Russo will be cast again upon the whirlwind zeitgeist in which across continents we are stranded with only a phone to communicate with those whom our hearts hold closest, though we admit this bridge does not hold, with Russo supplying reasons why he cannot call anyone on the phone, how he, jolted with the thought of Laura, decides to let the silence swell.

To fill the silence, as Russo gets older, the prose starts to presuppose the listener, reflecting a growing selfconsciousness, a nervous enmeshing of everything in a skein: “Liz’s stuff is a) hers and b) honestly pretty boring, just clothes and jewelry and that sort of thing, while her room is almost always c) a godawful mess, so you don’t see much reason to go in.” Things have to hold together, there has to be a way to fill in the world with details, details that stay where they are, that do not vanish, per this sentence which tries to ensure the reader’s brain buzzes with connections: “There’s no reason to go down into the basement. It’s small and unfinished, crammed with boxes and pieces of furniture that your mom couldn’t find a place for, plus the laundry machines. The only interesting thing about it is that it gives onto a crawlspace running under the rest of the house, which you spent a bunch of quality time in when you helped your uncle install some security cameras last month (the neighbor kid was sneaking in and stealing cash).” Russo’s repeated assertions that we should not pay attention to the basement collapses into his breathless attempts to fill it in with details. Everywhere a story to be told oozes glue between seams, and yet they widen just as Russo reaches a story so poignant, one he relishes being able to tease Liz with forever, we feel it, the stinging, the fraying, and the reader finds themselves in a house unwelcoming, with furniture that holds no stories, not for us, a place in which we feel like a stranger, in which Russo’s thoughts are, much like House of Leaves, “jammed into a space too small for it”, a house so much emptier on the inside than the outside; is it so strange, then, to expect the sting, to see it coming, to simply put on a sweater first to protect as much as we can? And the voice rings true from across another distance, even as it falls into silence: “There was an awkward minute when she asked how things were with Kaylee, and when you said “fine,” she got a little intense and asked if you were really happy. Even you could tell your “yes” was unconvincing, but while Liz can see through you as easily as you can see through her, she didn’t call you on it, just said a couple times that you deserve to be happy, and then let it drop.” The way we overcompensate for distance with sudden thrusts of intense emotional intimacy…

And the memories cannot hold, we find Russo in a post-pandemic world, and yet there is something the present holds: “Since last March, there are fewer cars and more people in your neighborhood, which is about the only thing about the past year that’s a change for the better – well, you revise your thought after glancing down at Paria’s belly, maybe one of two.” Russo goes through some names, deciding why they all don’t work. Paria and he go for a pleasant walk. And yet there is the bitter sting, but this time the world does not fray with the sting, the moment holds on, the memory holds together, because there is something to build a life with, and you can see it there, already filling up the world with stories. There will be someone to tell this one.

Universal Hologram by Kit Riemer

Neural network image generators, with their dreamlike quality of semi-figurative outputs that have been processed through deeply uncanny layers of inscrutable mediations, the genuine beauty of something produced without intention towards the beautiful or the genuine in objects which never cohere, impressions that give an impression without having been left by anything, raw data composed into vector graphics, the feverish feeling of plumbing it deeper and deeper but never quite reaching anything; there is no there there; the map is not the terrain.

Universal Hologram delights in this vibe, not just in its AI-generated images, but in its refusal to underlie its vibes with coherent aesthetics or commitments, a purplish nutrient paste that has some ideas or whatever, and I mean that whatever literally, here’s how the story frames its climactic moral choice: “Gen wants you to take our little simulation-container and remove it from the grid. Then, they want you to bestow that Terminal grain of yours back into the simulation, like an inheritance, so the folks inside can move in the matrix and visit other simulations or whatever.” Yeah you know man, just like, you can change the universe, if uh, if you’re into it, or…

Most characters are like this. During a heady conversation about astral projection, dialogue like ““No, dipshit. You’re a rudimentary sentience in a computer simulation experiencing a facsimile of a fake ancestral phenomenon.” / “Oh, that’s right. We live in a highly realistic simulation, and everything we experience was programmed by someone in the actual real world.”” syrups into ethanol, a simulacrum of human dialogue. Basically every serious conversation is a weird mash of Big Ideas and a slacker ennui that assures you that it’s so post-post-ironic that it couldn’t possibly care, as in this expositional shrug: “Here’s the state of things: in the original, actual, material universe (let’s call it U1, or ‘universe one’), that is, the universe that is currently simulating our universe (U9), there were some morons who imagined it was possible to project their spirits/souls/astral bodies out of their physical bodies and into the energy plane or spirit plane, and then they could float around and look at stuff and shit.”

That’s not to say the characters necessarily need to take anything seriously. The game’s vibe works to the extent that it effuses its computer hell tone, with gleeful distortions of familiar inputs, like this description of gun-soccer: “Soccer was a video game popular among foot fetishists. / A gun was an L-shaped piece of metal that produced a loud noise and the death of one or more people.” or this hilarious description of paper: “Our ancestors on Earth used to harvest a renewable resource called “wood” and smash it until it was basically two dimensional and then dye it white. The resulting substance was flat, smooth, and capable of lacerating human skin.” When the descriptions wheel free of all earthbound concepts, it can become delightfully machinelike, truly synthetic synaesthesia: “You float peacefully, drifting slightly on the Z axis in the astral breeze.” and “At each point when a U-level is breached, you hear a brittle click and watch yourself rise up and out of a series of brackets. Each function containing other functions like a fractal, onward in each direction: too tiny to see where you’ve been, too enormous to comprehend as you move further toward the outer edge.”

However, the game’s thrusts towards the serious feel clunky precisely because they clatter into the miasmatic eyeroll of images. This is not exactly elegantly delivered exposition: “Dion sighs and gestures you into their room. They drag two battered chairs over, and the two of you sit. / “Gen is our universe’s messiah. Without Gen… well, it used to be called the ‘Simulation Hypothesis.’ Now it’s confirmed fact. Gen proved undeniable truths about our reality, and then also gave us an entirely new way of experiencing it: through the Terminal, and later, when that become inconvenient, through astral projection.””

The result is like if you took Brave New World, used it as an input for a neural network text generator, then collectively had your Discord channel edit the outputs into a Twine. We have some similar concepts, the idea of minimizing suffering through the technological attenuation of existence to mere basking, but interlaced with a surfeit of cyber-sorta-punk internetisms. Thus, some of the disconnect is intentional, as grand philosophical gestures like ““Well, for example, there were huge protests on Earth when wild animals were chemically sterilized and allowed to die off. The amount of potential suffering in a wild animal’s life is enormous, of course, but there were many who felt that there was something inherently good about the natural world.” / “Something inherently good about suffering?”” set up our narrator’s childlike inability to process these thoughts: “Dion, that story was a massive bummer.” So we have the stage for a character arc, which sort of happens, as we have our consciousness digitally overwritten to be capable of entering an underlying digital layer. But for the most part, the story relishes its condemnation of our accelerating naivety: “Light, please, uh. Stop emitting light.” An inability to conceive of light except as a command, a variable to turn off and on. Our narrowing band of experience compresses us into binaries, even as we glimpse the grandeur that lies outside: “Your mind springs out of your body, rocketing forth past whirling clusters of stars and technicolor twinkling flecks of astral energy. / In the distance, beings made of pure light and pure darkness traipse between constellations.” There is so much noise and color, and if we could just find a way to navigate the between, enter into the place where “The door opens on an expansive, brightly lit room filled with humming white boxes. Simulated worlds inside simulated worlds inside simulated worlds.” perhaps we could entune all this chaos into genuineness, contact, humanity, something transiently biotic in the endlessly replicating machinescape kaleidoscope: “The tingling, searing sensation fades. You take your hand back. The residue of the gel leaves a wet handprint on the plastic.”

Universal Hologram, in that mode, scintillates with an urgency that it shunts off into nervous laughter. “The light goes dark, and inside Dion’s room, you hear unintelligible screaming. The Internet communicates differently with everyone.” And if we could, as a tone poet, reach through that communication, render the screaming intelligible, there’s a chance, not for redemption, not for healing, but for a transformation not merely translation, an escape from the cycle of rebirth. The story stands as a touching testament, a story that can reach through all these mediating layers and achieve it, the touch, touching, the chance to connect to someone other than online.


Wow, thank you so much for this review-cum-exegesis, kaemi! I admit that when I saw you were doing Comp reviews, I was hoping you’d take a crack at Sting, and that hope was more than rewarded with this perceptive analysis. Cheers!

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Thank you for sharing the beautiful and heartbreaking Sting! I just wanted to write a review that tried to capture how delicate and carefully crafted Sting is thematically.

Also, I have to say it has an absolutely virtuosic prose-to-age progression.


thank you so much for your thoughtful review, it’s truly gratifying to have someone care enough to write in detail about something I made. You did an excellent job pinning down some of the things I did well and places I could definitely improve, and your analysis is invaluable. It’s the first review for Universal Hologram and I think it’ll set a high standard :slight_smile:


Kaemi! What a deep and thorough review! Loved your take on the ending, especially.

Thanks for taking the time out to play & can’t wait to hear more thoughts as the competition goes on. I’m glad it caught your attention and that you were moved to explore the space of this story. My best to you!

A Paradox Between Worlds by Autumn Chen

The hardest part of the day is the alarm, the moment when an internal world shatters under the invasion of a contingency of compromises, obligations, alienations, austere actuality in which what is hidden is suppressed, in which what matters is imposed, is erased by the imposed. After you manage to stir out of bed, then momentum takes hold, you stream down the river, unable to hold onto anything, you are thrust towards an endless depth we know will one day swallow us, but there, before all the fractious and fracturing, in that serene moment you lie where dreams still suffuse about you, you can almost believe you elsewhere awake, spared in the glossy otherwise, commingling of toucheds, what is more powerful than a dream shared?

Fandoms create communities of possibility out of a shared passion, in which we can exist more real than real, hyperreal. Enter into this new world, the Shadowverse, in which new powers take hold, truths denied in the silent austerity of other communal interpretations of reality can flourish. “You scroll through your dashboard for a few minutes. Nightblogging has begun. People all over the country, all over the world, all connecting for a few brief moments to revel in their love for a certain media franchise.” Strewn across continents in isolated pockets, far from friends and family, we craft little homes on an internet so vast and inhospitable, dreams we inhabit long into the night, a life more real than the moonlight stark machinery of living.

You fill your home with stories, a framework in which life can flourish afresh. Fanfics create characters as avatars, inviting you to inhabit their world, with physical attributes like hair color being worth repeatedly stressing so that you can identify yourself in a representation: “the blonde boy”, the girl “with raven black hair”, where do you fit in? Take a “Which Nebulaverse element are you” quiz to solidify an identity in the terms of a shared communal referent. Who am I in the context of this fandom? How do the stories told herein create a language in which I can be told? When I get a “Stone” result, perhaps I can see it in myself, it almost feels true, I can reach through the arbitrary shifting layers of fandom lore to discover some underlying seed (totes a Stone thing to do obvs #StoneArmy #StoneAugurs #QuizLyfe #Shadowverse). Immersion in fandom as a kaleidoscope by which to grasp unexpected elements of your generatables. “You know what you are, deep inside. You contain within you a seed, the germ of an entire story, the story of your life and the stories of your world. It will take root one day, and it will germinate, and it will change not only you but all those around you. You will become someone…” In a fandom, the community builds, story by story, a liveable fantasy, dreams intersecting, even in contradictions, an artifact which grows deeper, more real, more human, more capable of your humanity, the more you lose yourself within it. This is a real place, with real people, with its own digital landscape: “Online weather report: vibes steady. Chance of callouts: <1%. The blogging equivalent of a bright, cloudless summer day.”

The fantasy recasts itself back on the real world, granting us the terminology to rephrase the terrifying and chaotic contingencies of history into a cohesive storyline: “Does anyone else think that Gali’s character arc in Book 4 is a metaphor for the Obama presidency? Think about it: the heir to the empire sacrifices the Administrator (academia) and betrays Astra (social programs) in order to suck up to the fascist dictator Ariel (the GOP), who feels an irrational loyalty to the Demiurge (Reagan), a figure whom Ariel does not truly know or understand. / Gali then goes on to confront Tycho (the increasingly dispossessed and disillusioned middle class) and Bruno (Bruno), and is increasingly becoming distant from the Creator (true leftism), who nevertheless has an unreasonable amount of trust in him despite his failures at enacting the Creator’s goals. / It just makes too much sense.” It does make too much sense, but isn’t that why we need to believe it, out of fear of the other option, that it all just makes no sense at all?

But, more importantly, the fantasy recasts ourselves into the real world, as one fanfic writer discovers: ““Are you okay, Gali?” asked Astra. “You haven’t spoken this whole time.” / “Y-yeah,” she replied. “I’m okay.” But the secret weighed heavily on her mind. No one knew that Gali wasn’t a boy anymore, but they would find out soon enough.” Using the comfortable and familiar as a way of processing the difficult and unknown. “What is the “true nature” of a person, anyhow, Gali wondered. Was there some essence that made her, her? Were there alternate versions of her?” Using the colors of a new world to paint ourselves anew, to discover portraits we cannot see mirrored in old containments. Possibilities furnish us with vibrancies that seem to thrum stronger than our own pulse, a system of magic powerful enough to capture our most arcane vitalities: “Astra pulls you by the arm, from the library you found yourself in, through the sunlit corridors of the academy, to the labs where she always seemed to make her home. Metal magic courses through labyrinthine machinery, illuminating the otherwise bleak surroundings in a dazzling prism of color.” And yet it remains virtual, both fragile and powerful. In a message between you and Luna, you briefly discuss real life, come to disappointing conclusions, then swiftly retreat back into the safety of the virtual. You’d rather speak the language of the Shadowverse.

But you can’t hide there forever. Is there any way to inhabit alterity inside the numbness normative? Our intrepid fanfic writer seeks to discover it, writing a fic in which the Shadowverse characters enter the real world, experiencing it as a strange place, an uncanny flicker of the escapist dream struggling to reintegrate, to find some way to approach the real world with the identity constructed in the fandom, hold together the power and meaning of a community as it glitches out of its phantasmal surface, creeps into the way you interpret your own world: ““So, how do we get back to our world?” you ask. / But before anyone can answer, then you begin to taste cherries once more. You feel a falling sensation. The two girls disappear from view. It, whatever “it” is, begins again.” What is it we are immersed in, and why is not us who are so immersed?

The real world is creeping into your safe harbor. You wake up and log onto your fantasy world only to see that it has fallen apart in your sleep, you sift through the shards, try to put as many of them together as you can. Waking up again and again, day after day, trying to subsist on the new content, to feel real within it finally, even as you see others disappear, as the world seems no longer to open up through the fantasy, the fantasy is collapsing, you are simply in the world again. Nothing is real, everything is simply real. In the despair, can you cling to each other, rebuild safety between each other? What happens when the online world proves as dangerous and hateful as the real world? The fandom shatters as, a la Rowling, the creator threatens the canon with their flaws. We watch Luna panic: “So I got called a brain-dead degenerate by gtm. Fun fun fun fun fun I’m fine I’m doing fine I’m doing fine I’m okay I’m okay” The virtual is always contingent upon the terms under which we are allowed to participate. The ability for others closer to the heart of the fandom to nullify our participation, to cast us out as a deviation. How our real world status continually reappears even in the depths of escapist fantasy. All of these painful ideas are doused in gasoline and set alight by the weird obsessiveness of online hate comments, the way such messages feel almost unreal, demonbabble of some gremlin latching onto your consciousness, how so impossible it seems that a human being would actually write something like that to someone else, and yet it happens en masse every single day on social media, that terrifying mediator, in which are we constantly gauged as products: “You’ve gained 1 follower and lost 2 followers, for a current total of 109 followers. Your top ship has been inconsistent, which might have lost followers. You haven’t been reblogging enough posts, which might have lost followers.” Social standing as marketing. The extent to which your brand appeals to consumers. What does it mean when a foundational element of human connection is the Like? Every statement measured by the extent to which it wins us approval. If they don’t like you, they will turn on you. You will lose everyone. You will reach zero and be judged deserving.

As the digital too denies her, we follow Luna’s confrontation with the lies that have overwritten her, as she tries to reclaim the self she constructed in the terms of the fandom, even as the fandom dissipates its power, becomes a hostile noland. Our own fanfic empathizes, as at the end of an adventure, a character says, “Yeah, Capella told me about what happens with you wanderers when you find yourself in a world in which you’re no longer needed, where you don’t belong…” We understand that we must be able to survive this shattering, that we must become more than this place: “Capella stares at you. “Sometimes I wanted to stay too. Sometimes there was a place that seemed good. But it was always too good to be true. I don’t know how I ended up here, but… something felt right about this place. Maybe you’ll find a story of your own one day.””

And yet, how do we sustain ourselves without the magic that once empowered us? Born into a new name, yet struggling to reframe: “@icemoongirl: sometimes it’s hard to know what to talk about without the n*bulaverse fandom stuff like, providing a guide.”

Who can speak, when the language is lost? We can only follow our passions one at a time, as in that first album by Lorde that this story delights in referencing, a fragile beauty that has never quite been recreated by her subsequent albums, yet which can still sound within us eternally, remind us of a time when this passion gave us the life and color we needed to make it just beyond the riverbend.


Wow, this is an incredibly beautiful review! I don’t even know what to say, it’s just so mind-expanding to read your reviews…

Unfortunately, I didn’t come up with the Obama administration post; it was a homestuck meme - https://68.media.tumblr.com/0023dc274f29e7589cf19e102782a44d/tumblr_inline_o5jba3V6nl1rfpayp_540.png. There are a number of posts which are memes or copypastas, which are listed in the walkthrough.