Winter Soldier Bucky

memory games

I'm rereading The Rook by Daniel O'Malley, which is still just as excellent the second time around. As an additional plus, I can't remember the solution to the central mystery, which means I'm weirdly unspoiled considering I've read this book before!

The first time I read this book, though, was before I watched Winter Soldier and subsequently spent most of a year in a fandom that's largely focused on a character who is defined by amnesia and identity issues. That's pretty much what The Rook is about too, and it's just really fascinating to read it now, because what it does is different from what nearly all Winter Soldier fic does. (At least, I should say -- the fic as it existed when I first got into the fandom, when I was reading just about everything. Now that I've drifted away from it, while I do still dip back into reading in the fandom occasionally, I burned out utterly on Bucky recovery fic, so I'm not sure what is out there now.)

Anyway, without getting into spoilers beyond what's in the first couple of pages, The Rook begins with the protagonist, Myfanwy, becoming aware of her surroundings in a park. She's surrounded by dead people, which circumstances suggest she killed, and has no memories before this moment. All she has is a letter in her pocket, written to her by her (or her past self, rather) before she lost her memories, telling her what her name is and giving her instructions for what to do next.

So what's interesting to me about reading this after being involved with Winter Soldier fandom is that present!Myfanwy is a very distinct and different person from past!Myfanwy. Both the narration and Myfanwy's internal voice are very clear on this. She has a separate sense of identity, never thinks of past!Myfanwy as anything other than a different person from herself, and also has a personality that's distinct enough from her past self that she has some trouble, at first, passing herself off as past!Myfanwy, since her mannerisms and modes of interaction are very different. (For plot reasons, she needs to conceal her memory loss from most of the people who used to know her.) She's also lost all sense of connection to the people she used to know, so has to rebuild those relationships again, differently this time.

One of the things that drew me to Winter Soldier in the first place, as well as to this book, is that this kind of identity conundrum is fascinating to me (it's something that is addressed in various points in Kismet, too, since they have memory-editing technology, though the most direct exploration of this sort of thing is something I haven't gotten around to in the comic yet). However, the very clear delineation between new!Myfanwy and old!Myfanwy -- not just in the way that she thinks about her own identity, but also being a very distinct person from her old self, bold where old!Myfanwy was timid and so forth -- is something I've rarely seen people do in Cap2 fic. Even in fics in which present!Bucky identifies as a different person from past!Bucky -- and those definitely do exist -- he's still written as fundamentally the same person: a variation on the theme of Bucky, still informed by his past self's personality and experiences, not an essentially newborn personality.

I suppose a lot of it is because in canon, his amnesia isn't as complete as Myfanwy's -- he still remembers some things, while she retains nothing at all. And also, writing him as a whole new person means losing the connection to past!Bucky, as well as Bucky's connection to Steve, which I think is what draws most people to write about them in the first place, so it's not surprising that most people don't want to jettison that. I certainly never have; all of the fic I've written is from the perspective that, while his experiences have changed him, he'll retain some connections, and emotional connections, to his past life.

Still, since I do find the book's exploration of identity very interesting (and plausible, at least in light of Myfanwy's experiences and the way she's processing them), this is now making me consider how this particular take on memory and identity would carry over to Cap2 fandom. I've kicked around the idea in the past of writing something where present!Bucky doesn't really emerge with past!Bucky's moral compass, whether it's a matter of being too damaged or simply that he just isn't that person anymore; he ends up as a mercenary, a killer-for-hire. I backed away from doing that because it was just too damned depressing for me at the time, but now that I've walked down from the intensity of my initial feelings for the character ... I dunno, it would be an interesting thing to write, at least.


ETA: While I was writing this, MY SORRY EXCUSE FOR A LOVING HUSBAND STOLE MY BOOK. This is what I get for telling him it was good and he should read it. I meant after I was done.

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Yeah, I don't think you can separate past!Bucky and present!Bucky that completely because Bucky breaking free of his Hydra conditioning hinges on his recognition of and connection to Steve, and therefore his past. But yeah, there are very few stories that write him as truly a different person now, and that could be very interesting to explore.
Yeah, although, like I was musing in the DW comments, at that point you're basically writing an OC, which wipes out most of what makes the characters fannishly interesting in the first place (at least to me). I still think it's an interesting idea from a writing perspective, but GOD SO DEPRESSING.

... and yes, since his recognition of Steve is what brings him back, you'd have to deal with that too.
Have you read Memory? It's not quite that, but I think that's the closest I've seen in CA fandom to making post-WS Bucky a different person without being entirely depressing.
Yes, I have! I was thinking about that one, actually, a little bit when I was writing the above - because, yeah, I really love that fic, and I like how it handles the interplay between Bucky's post-WS personality and his pre-WS identity, and how both he and Steve relate to them. It's one of the very few fics that does it in a way that really works for me.
I think that writing about a changed!Bucky would be like writing about alternate universe Bucky. Sure, he's essentially Bucky, but the reason most fanfic is written and read seems to be because we want stories about our!Bucky (or more generally our characters). So giving him a new personality, while interesting in theory, defeats the purpose.

I've seen some interesting stuff in SPN fandom where one of the characters (Castiel) has a future timeline where he grows into a completely different person to who he used to be. And as the years passed and the actual show timeline caught up with the future, Castiel in the actual timeline is different than who he could have been (because they change the future through time travel). And it's fascinating to watch people draw on various characteristics in fanfic, especially alternate universe fanfic. Some people draw on that erased-future-timeline characterization completely, some ignore it and go with current-timeline. And they're basically writing about the same person, since both distinct characteristics start of exactly in the same place, same choices, and then diverge dramatically. It's canon that future!Castiel would make choices and think in ways that are completely foreign to our!Castiel, although some of his thoughts and choices would be the same. It's really interesting to watch where they diverge and see it explored in fanfic, particularly if there's time-travel involved. I hope I explained that adequately, I just wanted to bring up another kind of exploration of identity in fanfic which doesn't erase memory (read: characterization) but explores a what-if scenario, in a way.

I really like the idea that you're playing with, about the moral compass being different for Bucky now than it used to be. I think that part of the reason I haven't really been able to consume most of the WS fic is the lack of this. I just can't believe that the experience that Bucky goes through leaves him the same. I mean, obviously the fanfic explores the trauma in the form of depression/nightmares/etc. But in the essence, Bucky is always the same person he was before, just traumatized. And I find it difficult to suspend my disbelief for that. At the very least I would expect him to be somewhat jaded by his experience. And if he is not, I would like the author to draw me a very good picture of why he is not. Because in a way there exists an "alternate" Bucky timeline where he was not experiencing torture and brainwashing and I find it difficult to believe that that alt!Bucky would act or think the same as our!Bucky. There's not enough of this in WS fanfic.
Yeah, I think the big problem (for me) with writing something alone those lines is that he'd basically be an OC, and "our" Bucky would be dead, and that's too massively depressing to contemplate. XD Or, at least, it was for me at the height of my fannish fixation. I kicked around ideas for alternate interpretations of Bucky at the time, but couldn't actually bring myself to write any of them.

That's really interesting about Castiel, though! I guess you do get that kind of thing in canons with canonical alt-timelines (like the Stargates, also ... er, and Marvel too, come to think of it, though not the movies).

For my own part, in writing Bucky, I've generally gone with the interpretation that he doesn't retain a whole lot from those years. Not just as a matter of not remembering it, but of his brain literally being incapable of retaining memories of it -- between the cryo and the mindwipes, a lot of it just didn't stick. It's all kind of vague. And so I've been writing him as a person who, while his behavior/personality is pretty heavily affected by those things, he's still fundamentally the same person underneath it all -- more like, say, someone who came back from war or went through a life trauma, and came back different, but is still basically them. But in order to do it, I've had to use this particular "it didn't quite stick" handwave, and I know I'm doing it because I want to think of him as a) functional enough for the plots I have in mind, and b) I want to think that there's still enough of pre-WS Bucky in there that he'd still be -- well, what you were saying, recognizably the same person except traumatized. And hey, it's fanfic, so if I want to go for the optimistic version, I can. :D (But I completely get where you're coming from, with not being able to enjoy that. I get it, believe me! I just ... can't quite go there, myself.)

I also suspect canon is going to go for a less-traumatized version, but I guess we'll see.
[nd so I've been writing him as a person who, while his behavior/personality is pretty heavily affected by those things, he's still fundamentally the same person underneath it all -- more like, say, someone who came back from war or went through a life trauma, and came back different, but is still basically them. ]

And I totally get that and I can enjoy it, I just don't find it to be the only possible choice and would like to see alternatives explored. At the same time, the idea is not to write a completely different character but find these points where sometimes he's so bucky it hurts and other times he's so not that it hurts... XD Basically everything hurts!

I should also say that I really enjoy the Bucky in your fics because I think part of the problem I have with the "same but traumatized" version is that so much of the fic tends to focus on the trauma and not on who Bucky is and what he's currently doing...if that makes sense? The negative space of his characterization vs positive.

edit:typo

Edited at 2015-03-29 09:00 pm (UTC)
I suggest you steal it back as soon as his back is turned, and then hide it until you've finished with it!!! Really, the cheek of it!!
I think it's coming out this summer sometime? Really looking forward to it!