When I started reading fanfic, not all that long ago, I tended to steer clear of ‘slash.’ Not because I thought it was ‘drek’ or ‘smut’ as some people are wont to describe it, but simply because the vast majority of the ‘slash’ that I found in the UFO fandom was, to be honest, not worth reading. It was usually poorly written, with virtually no attention to the characters and how they would react in the situation.
After reading What the Blazes, though, I began to appreciate what a good ‘slash’ story should be like. There are a very few decent ones out there, although they are rarer than hen’s teeth, and when Clouds and Shadows was published in The Herald, I had a pretty good idea that it would be worth reading. (The Chief Editor can spot a good story a mile off!)
I was not disappointed. What a start to a story! A brilliant concept, taking a well-known scene and twisting it ever so slightly. As I read through that opening section I realised that this was going to be a cracker of a story. Spyder has a real respect for the characters, and also a thorough and in-depth knowledge of them, so I was not really ‘reading ‘ the story, I was watching it unfold in front of me. The tension in Part 1 is gripping, and Straker’s gradual realisation of his growing attraction to Paul Foster is both delightful and touching. The two men are as I imagine them to be: Straker cold on the surface, but with that almost desperate need to be loved and cherished and Paul as the young, confident man who was determined to make Ed Straker his lover, yet without simply giving in to the older man.
Spyder gives Straker the strength of character that made him survive the Mindbender incident:
‘Swearing, Straker rose abruptly, straightening his clothing savagely, the memory of Maddox’s lips lingering still. Anger surged up within; anger that he had been so easily bought, and more still that he was a prisoner in this world.
“Fuck it,” he snarled at his reflection in the intruding mirror. “I’ll get back, just try and stop me.”
Perfect. Okay, we never heard Straker swear in the episodes as those were filmed at a time when swearing was anathema on TV , but I can see him saying that, and see him tugging his clothes straight, his ice-cold anger driving him on to survive.
And later we read Straker’s painful realisation. This, to me, is real slash. Good slash. Readable, believable, engrossing, emotionally painful. The growing awareness that Straker found himself attracted to another man.
The eyes themselves looked back at him with a mixture of shame and self disgust, yet beneath that Foster could see something else – longing.
This was the first time they had been alone together since the nightmare had ended, and Straker was finding it increasingly difficult to rid himself of the remembrance of those lips on his, the taste and the smell of him.
No, not those lips, someone else’s, he told himself firmly, a man that he did not know, and would never see again.
Some people will no doubt disagree, but to me, that is the way slash should be written . Not frantic sex, all Peg A into Slot B. A quick and messy fumble with a complete absence of ‘love’. This is a beautiful, thoughtful and, moreover, thoroughly sensuous account of a love affair.
That it is between two men makes no difference. Love transcends all.
So , we move to Part 2
I read through this part again, and realised with a thrill just how clever the writer has been in this section. It starts simply enough. Straker in his office. Thinking about Foster. Little clues as to the effect that Foster has had on the Commander.
But there was definitely something. Freeman had noticed that when idle, Straker seemed largely preoccupied, sometimes even jumpy, and unusually uptight.
The story proceeds slowly, too slowly I thought at one stage, but then I saw Spyder’s intention. She was making us wait, making the reader feel that same impatience, that same almost intolerable anxiety that Straker , and Paul as well, must have felt. Both of them wondering what to do next; Straker with the knowledge that he had to make the first move, and Foster waiting.
There are little sensual touches, tiny details that build to create a situation that simply oozes with desire.
Straker fingered his neck. The bruise might have faded but the remembrance of that other Paul Foster’s teeth on his flesh would not – it haunted him, wracked him with need.
“What do you want?” came the soft question after a moment’s pause, leaving Foster to wonder absently if it was possible to drown in the colour of another’s eyes.
You, he thought simply, but he was not ready to admit that. Not yet.
Ed Straker was dangerous because Ed Straker was beautiful, and his elfin features together with that icy pale vulnerability touched a nerve Paul Foster found hard to resist. That was why he had kissed him, marked him. And what made him more dangerous still was that Paul Foster knew that it would be easy to love him.
The scene in Straker’s house, with the two men ‘fencing’ with each other, slightly uncomfortable as they discuss what had happened has some beautiful dialogue, and reinforces the fact that Spyder knows these characters. Really knows them This is no quick-fix story, dashed off in a matter of days, without re-writes. The words are natural, believable and I can hear Paul Foster’s voice as he says ‘”I keep thinking,” he said softly, into the night. “about us, and all the ‘what if’s’ that could happen. What if it became more than one night. What if you ran a computer check on us to see if our relationship would affect our work. What if because of what it said you kicked me out of SHADO.”
Straker’s angry retort, later , is also perfect. You bastard,” he hissed. “So that’s all you think this is – a cheap lay. Christ, you’ve got a lot to learn about me, Foster, and you’d better start learning quickly, because I’m not going to take anything like that again. Yes, I ran a computer check because I am the Commander of SHADO. Nothing comes in the way of that and nothing can be as important, not even you.”
I simply LOVE the way this scene ends as it does. It’s believable. Utterly. THAT is the important thing.
Before Straker got chance to answer, he cupped the elfin face, gently caressing, then tilted it to kiss the softly parted lips. It was undemanding and unaccountably tender, so different from the kisses that had first awakened their desire, two weeks ago.From both it was apology and forgiveness and a subtle promise of things to come.
And no quick sex anywhere!
The following scene, in the morning is the perfect setting. Spyder has kept us on tenterhooks, wondering what , if anything will happen and how she will get these two together in bed. My only gripe, and it is a little one, is that on a couple of occasions Straker’s dialogue seemed a little forced in places: (“My God, Paul, you’re crazy if you think I’d mind you walking around like that. Besides, it looks better on you than it ever did on me. I haven’t quite got the legs for it,”) But that may simply be because the rest of the dialogue is so ‘right’, that this seems stilted and unnatural. It’s a minor and unimportant fact and certainly doesn’t detract from the fact that Spyder has created a believable and true Straker in this story.
I won’t give away the rest of the story in Part 2. Suffice it to say that I finished reading it with a sense of sheer delight.
Wow. Fantastic. Beautiful. Loving. Sensual. Erotic .
And she leaves us with a quiet hint of disturbing and dark times ahead.
After the intense emotion of part two, which ended in such a beautifully written and extremely erotic encounter between Straker and Foster I wondered how Spyder would manage to keep readers enthralled with the developing relationship.
Wonderful! She takes us to the mundane world of Harlington-Straker, to Ed Straker reading a script and remembering. A flashback to the events a week ago, when Straker had rejected Paul’s declaration of love. And now we have two men aching to be with each other. The scene where Foster confronts Straker is painful in the extreme, and again we are there in the room as Straker sets out to deliberately hurt Paul. Straker the ice-cold calculating machine, terrified that his judgement might be affected, yet his love for Paul is there, burning through.
Throughout this part of the story Spyder shows us the Ed Straker that was so clearly depicted by Ed Bishop. An almost fragile man, forced by his role as commander to remain detached from emotions such as love and desire. Afraid of commitment, yet desperately wanting to be loved and to love.
Foster smiled, but it was cold and humourless. “Only too well. I’ll tell you something, shall I? You’re scared, Ed, you hide it well, but I can see it. Right now, you’re terrified that I’m going to tell you I love you again.”
The author gives us a rare insight into Ed Straker, the lonely man with few friends, not making him into a heroic and confident character, which he most certainly was not. His quiet and diffident conversation with his closest (and only?) friend, Alec, is almost heartbreaking in its accuracy. Again, the dialogue is ‘right’. Not stilted or forced, not using words that neither man would have spoken.
He smiled grimly. “Do I look like I’m joking, Alec?”
Freeman shook his head, for once at a loss for words.
“No. No, you don’t, but have you stopped to think about SHADO – what might happen?”
“I’ve thought of nothing but, since this thing started,” Straker admitted. “Come on, Alec, you know me better than that. The organisation comes first and it always
Reading through that short section again, I can hear the two of them speaking!
I won’t go into further details about this part of the story. Sufffice it to say that the writing is as powerful and tense throughout.
There was one particular moment that stood out though. One tiny incident that was just perfect, that summed up the level of care and love that had gone into writing this.
So it was their secret, only now it was his too and he determined firmly that it would go no further.
Thoughtfully, not yet able to dismiss the somehow touching desperation of their embrace from his mind, Harrison reluctantly turned back to his work.
I simply adored that part. It spoke of love and trust and need. And it was not necessary to write it, a lot of writers would not have bothered to describe that small scene with Harrison, but it is the details such as that which make this such an outstanding story, not just in the ‘slash’ genre, but in the UFO fandom itself.
And at the end, when Straker and Foster have resolved their differences and are together once more, you don’t give us ‘twee’ improbable sex. It’s realistic, gritty, almost painful in its intensity. Slash as it should be. Honest and erotic and thoroughly readable.
One aspect that I really like about this whole story is that each part is discrete and stand alone. The final part is a thrilling story of threats, blackmail, despair and even includes a thoroughly drunken Ed Straker. A delightful image! I won’t give any more details though! It would spoil the story for those of you who might not have read it.
So, to sum up. As I said at the start, I didn’t like slash, still don’t unless it is written with attention to detail (and that doesn’t mean Peg A/Slot B). Clouds and Shadows is a rare example of readable, enjoyable, and delicious UFO slash.
Actually, forget the ‘slash’ aspect. Forget that Straker is making love to another man. Read the whole story for what it is; a UFO story with superb attention to detail, with characters who are ‘true’ and believable, with a detailed plot, with a relationship that goes through hell and back, with a thrilling beginning, a gripping and enthralling middle section and an utterly satisfying ending.
There are plenty of ‘adult’ UFO stories around at the current time, but there are very, very few that are as good as this one.
I loved it.