IMHO: 9 July 2006
Page 8 of 12

The fire never really dies.

Well, for some people it does. The Avengers might be just a passing interest for them, a flash in the pan so to speak—although it can be a very intense flash that reaches the level of absurdity. It's easy to spot the fanatics: in their eyes, it was the best television show ever (no such thing), Patrick Macnee was the best actor ever (completely unrealistic), etcetera, and they will flame me for contradicting them (don't bother). Several months later, it's no longer an issue; they've moved on to the next Big Thing in their lives.

Then there are those like myself who simply have a special little nook in our hearts where feelings about the show and its characters remain warm and happy, seemingly for the rest of our lives. Oh, we may go for a year or two without watching an episode, but all it takes is some random little reminder—a few notes of music, a few words of dialogue—and we're stoking the fire once again as we enjoy comfort food for the telly.

I will confess that, after running this website for a decade come September and after all of the episodes are now finally released on DVD, my interest had waned. The fire had died down to a few little embers that would glimmer a bit once in a while as emails from site visitors trickled in.

But then along came The Quick and the Dead, an original Avengers novel by M.P. Warren, completed just this month.

First, allow me to fill readers in with a bit of background on me and M (for Margaret). It was in fact thanks to this website that we connected in the first place. When she found the site back in 1998, she emailed her thanks for stirring the fire within her once more. Like me, she is a lifelong fan with an enormous soft spot for the Steed-Emma relationship. We started emailing one another and learned that we shared similar stations in life at the time—both recently unemployed, both despondent over the job market, both looking for a little distraction on the internet... what could be more perfect than a nostalgic trip with The Avengers? Since then we have become fast friends—and, thankfully, also gainfully employed.

As this website was for me, she too had an outlet for her Avengers enthusiasm: writing. The difference is, Margaret embodies a "real" author, as contrasted with most who pen fan fiction. This is not meant as a put-down of fan fiction or its writers; fan fiction has its place in fandom. But a distinction must be drawn between "fanfic" and real literature, and for me the quality of Margaret's writing far surpasses that of any other writer of Avengers fiction, published or otherwise.

Before we connected, Margaret had written an Avengers novel, but could find no way to get it published. Concerned about copyright issues, she re-wrote it with different characters. But the growing proliferation of fan fiction inspired her to pursue the same tack, that of simply releasing the work freely on the internet, and with some prodding from Yours Truly, she re-wrote her story yet again, changing the characters back to our beloved Steed and Emma. The result: Rough Magic.

Within her were many more stories about our heroes. But as I can attest, real life can be a significant distraction from our respective hobbies, and so her next work took six long years to realize. It was worth her struggle—and our wait. The Quick and the Dead significantly outstrips the quality of Rough Magic, even as the latter earned many well-deserved accolades from fans. Note, however, that the new work is most definitely not a sequel, as certain events common to both transpire quite differently. And so it is best not to approach it with expectations based on its predecessor; one must begin anew with a freshly-wiped brain-slate.

The next-to-final draft of Margaret's latest work quietly arrived one evening as an email attachment, which I immediately printed. Before I even made it though the first chapter, I received a corrected version from her husband, James. Utterly enthralled, I've been up to the wee hours of the morning these last few days trying to absorb it as quickly as time and energy permitted.

It has stoked my fire once more; I want to do Avengers things again. I so want to finish novelizing my screenplay, as it suffered an aborted start back in 2002. Yet I know it could never approach the quality of Margaret's work, so now I'm reluctant to even consider attempting it. And even if I could muster the courage, I'd never have the time necessary to devote to it; the first chapter of my initial effort—six whole pages—took over a month to compose (as long as the whole screenplay had taken), and these days I barely have time to make tiny, incremental updates to this website. Plus, I do have other hobbies!

But I digress; my primary intent here is to appraise The Quick and the Dead. While the Steed-Emma relationship takes center stage much of the time—as well it should—there is also a story to enjoy. It does not appear to take shape until the second act, but no matter; we've already been treated to a marvelous roller-coaster ride up to then, with lots more to come. There are countless moments to savor; readers like myself who are far more interested in the interplay between Steed and Emma than espionage plots will shed tears, laugh out loud, and later realize that an engaging story sneaked up on us in the process.

Even as we are plainly aware of some of the story's necessary conceits, more than a few expectations are amply fulfilled—but not the way we might anticipate. We may think we know where the writer is headed, but there's always some abrupt turn of events; she dangles an irresistible sentimental treat before us like the proverbial carrot. More chuckles, more tears, and we are still turning the pages; on and on, until we finally arrive at a chapter's denouement, utterly spent, satisfied... and it starts all over again. Ultimately we get where we want to go, but only by a route and pace of her choosing. The fantasy thus fulfilled is much more rewarding, and make no mistake, some of our most cherished fantasies spring to life by her hand, more vividly, realistically and enjoyably than we might have thought possible.

Indeed, some scenes are almost too satisfying, as the reader is often privy to exchanges that expose some previously veiled facets of the leads' relationship about which we could only speculate. Such are the scenes that all too many fan fiction writers unnecessarily yet gleefully reveal in embarrassingly explicit detail; while Margaret leaves no doubt in our minds what's going on, there is enough left to the imagination that her work remains true to its source. Moreover, it stands solidly on its own as a refreshingly literate, legitimate novel worthy of being printed, bound and placed on the shelves of Barnes and Noble, although it is difficult to gauge what its reception might be like for non-fans, given that much of its enjoyment relies on a degree of familiarity with the main characters.

As an aside, we may be playing with fire by publishing someone else's intellectual property on the internet. Many regulars know that I take such matters very seriously. At the same time, the book publishing industry is a vile, damning thing; it is virtually impossible for writers like Margaret and me to get our work into print without bottomless pockets, life-threatening Herculean efforts, or Acts of God. This is made worse by the issue of having to first gain permission to use Avengers characters, which I have attempted and discovered to be even harder than finding a publisher. But thankfully most copyright owners tend to turn a blind eye toward not-for-profit activities such as fan fiction, since it is in their best interest not to quash what amounts to free marketing for their property, and it is in this spirit that Margaret is releasing her labor of love for fans to enjoy.

I am chuffed, to be sure, to be the first reader of her tome. And I'm proud to be the first to present it for public consumption. It is without hesitation—indeed, it is with great enthusiasm—that I recommend it. Aficionados of the Emma Peel era will be in their glory reading The Quick and the Dead.

And that's my humble opinion.

David K. Smith, 9 July 2006

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