This week's Friday Five is the domain of Kate Keen. Kate's been composing fanfic in her head since she learned to read, making her all the more delighted to learn (around 2001), that fanfiction is a thing and she wasn't alone in her hobby. She's the head of Fanfic at Nine Worlds, which has a full weekend of fanfic-related programming planned. Plus, she's added a few more events to the schedule (Nine Worlds + ...moons?), including regular fanfic meetups and writing dates. (Learn more here and here.)
Alternate universes (AUs) are fanfic stories in which the characters or other elements of the original work are removed to a different universe. By “universe,” we might mean that the story actually takes place in a different universe, or that some element of it is far removed from the original work.
In this article I will recommend examples of my favourite five categories of alternate universe as they stand today. Ask me to choose five again tomorrow, and who knows which I’d pick? And if you ask another fanfic fan, they’ll almost certainly choose a different five. My examples come from Skyfall, BBC Sherlock, NCIS, Harry Potter and the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
Some of these stories include explicit sex scenes, some of which are between people who identify as the same gender. I have reproduced the rating information given by the authors here, but when you click through please also check the tags, and any warnings on the posted fics. If you’re in any doubt whether these stories are for you, please don’t read them.
And please be kind; remember that some fanfic authors don’t have professional editors or beta-readers. We’re doing our best, and we’re doing it for fun. If you do read and enjoy a story, please leave a comment to tell the authors. Fanficcers thrive on friendly feedback!
Fanfic fans love post-apocalyptic stories. What better character test than to ask what someone would do at the end of the world?
In Underground by Margo_Kim (Marvel Cinematic Universe, 60k words, rated for teen and up audiences), The Avengers (movie) story happened rather differently. The result is that the Earth is over-run with Chitauri under the command of a certain Asgardian, and some of our heroes are forced into a SHIELD bunker in New York. After five years, the Chitauri are terraforming the Earth and grazing cattle, and the SHIELD staff are struggling to survive. Everything looks hopeless, but this author subscribes to another prevalent feature of fanfic; a happy ending. I probably wouldn’t risk reading an original novel with this plot, but I trust fanfic to work things out to my satisfaction.
In The Penultimate Problem by Random_Nexus (BBC Sherlock, 18k words, rated Explicit), the world population is threatened by a ‘flu virus. With John’s help, Mycroft kidnaps Sherlock to keep him safe, while John is left to fend for himself. The story is about Sherlock finding John when the danger has passed, and what happens next.
Genderswap is a fascinating type of AU, in which authors can subvert known background and character traits to explore gender roles.
In The Least of All Possible Mistakes by Rageprufrock (BBC Sherlock, 118k words, rated mature), the awesome Georgie Lestrade takes no crap from anyone, including Mycroft Holmes. In the man’s world of New Scotland Yard, Georgie just gets on with it. And puts up with Sherlock. Give that woman a medal, and a happy ending. I also recommend Pru’s Uncovered, (NCIS, 27k words, rated Explicit), for a female perspective on being Dinozzo.
In red, red, gold by Pprfaith (Marvel Cinematic Universe, 4k words, not rated but assume teen and up audiences), Tasha Stark suffers through childhood at the hands of Howard Stark. But she becomes every inch Iron Woman. She calls Agent Romanov Nat (allegedly to avoid confusion), steals Pepper’s four inch heels, and makes sure the suit matches the shade of lipstick she’s worn since she was sixteen. That’s all on top of saving the world.
Coffeeshop AUs are widespread in fandom. Does this popularity come from barista fanfic authors? Or from the importance of Starbucks as a fic writing venue (I wonder if Starbucks know)?
In I’ve measured out my life with coffee spoons by Mimosa (Skyfall, 28k words, suitable for teen and up audiences), the enigmatic Q runs an independent coffee shop (“Café! It’s a café!”) opposite MI6 headquarters. Regardless, his relationship with James Bond is very similar to that of quartermaster.
By way of contrast, I’ve Suffered Shipwrecks by Paperclipbitch (Marvel Cinematic Universe, 29k words, rated mature) changes everyone’s vocation. And the team is just as dysfunctionally brilliant at running a coffee shop as it is at avenging.
Sports AUs offer sports-loving fanfic authors the chance to explore their favourite characters in settings they know intimately. These AUs can do much more than teach the reader the rules (although it’s handy when they do). Authors can use the sports to give the characters history, bring out and explain their character traits, and write plots that would never fit into the original canon.
Tennis by Jupiter_Ash (BBC Sherlock, 216k words, rated explicit) recasts Sherlock and John as world-class players. Sherlock the enigmatic player fits in particularly well, and this story also includes my favourite AU Moriarty. The series is longer than most novels, but it will repay every minute you spend reading it.
Baseball by Earlgreytea68 (BBC Sherlock, 141k words, rated mature) provides a window on an action-packed universe that many non-US readers would otherwise find impenetrable.
I can’t leave sports AUs without recommending the cricket AU Boys of Summer by AJ Hall (Harry Potter, 9k words, rated for General Audiences). Read it to find out what really happened at Headingly in 1981.
Music AUs can explore everything from concert soloists to orchestras to DJs, rock and jazz bands.
Bel Canto by Bendingsignpost (BBC Sherlock, 127k words, rated suitable for teen and up audiences) is a Phantom of the Opera riff, which has so inspired its fans that there is now an on-going project to write and record the opera featured in the fic.
Pull the Stars from the Sky by Roane (BBC Sherlock, 68k words, rated explicit) is a rock star AU, in which Sherlock is (of course), the star, and John is his reluctant tour manager. Unusually for Sherlock, this one focuses on teamwork.
And here’s a wild card with which to finish, because I’m a fanfic fan and I like pushing boundaries. This is a story that absolutely should not work, and yet… The Fairy Tale of Regent’s Park by Basingstoke (BBC Sherlock, 6k words, rated suitable for teen and up audiences). “There is a swan, and he's not named Sherlock. And there is a duck, and he's not named John.”
To sum up: AUs are fun ways for authors to explore characterisation and play with storytelling tropes. I’d like to encourage readers to explore the variety of AUs and other fic available on Archive Of Our Own and other archives, and recommend their favourites in the comments.