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You've been counting stars, now you're counting on me
[ *  *  *  *  *  *  * ]
Alrighty, these are being made as I go. I dig Pregame, so I'm reading that too.

Jackie's first thread is a one-shot that probably wasn't meant to be; there was some baggage with the V1 site and a lot of stuff got locked down for a long time.

Anyways, what I like here is that Jackie's quickly established as pretty image-conscious—we get it directly here:

He blushed only slightly as Mrs. Lanely introduced him and mentioned that he was a transfer student from Canada. Jackie waved a smooth hand to the rest of the class and tried his best to look 'cool'.

and implicitly here:

When the bell rang Jackie went out to his old Pontiac, pressed play on the CD player and listened to his new Mars Volta CD as he sat on the hood of the car and smoked a cigarette.

On to thread #2:

Good scene-setting/description; something I think folks could always use more of. Also a very nice twist in the following chunk:

"Well," Jackie shrugged and fidgited, he needed a cigarette, but he never smoked around his mom. She was trying to quit, he wasn't.

The initial expectation (Jackie doesn't smoke around his mom because she'd disapprove) is undercut by the revelation that it's actually a courtesy as she's trying to quit. That's great because that little detail says a lot more about the relationship between the two, in a subtle way, than a whole load of exposition might.

Jackie's interaction with Tanesha is pretty solidly-handled on his end, but I think this is a good time to pull out and discuss some problematic elements on both sides. A quirk of early version, from all I've seen, is that often characters are given a few traits to define them and take a while to grow out of those traits (if they ever do). Jackie's profile repeatedly lets us know that his appearance is "feminine" and includes the line "Jackie is the epitome of metro, and he’s proud of it." The profile made me a little bit worried Jackie might be cast as a stereotype, but even in it he's treated with a decent amount of empathy, and this persists in his actual threads; his profile is blunt and awkward in a lot of ways, but I have very much been there myself and the intentions seem good throughout.

By contrast, Tanesha bothers me a good deal, and while I'm not going to get too sidetracked by her and am gonna try to keep stuff mostly Jackie-related here, I think a big part of it is the frequency with which Tanesha's narrative sees fit to remind the reader that she's a. black and b. fat. This often shows up in tagging her as "The black girl..." in narrative, as in "Perhaps one day it would occur to the heavy-set black girl that regardless of what she was eating, having two to three servings of it during each meal period wasn't doing her weight any favors." or "Despite the thoughts racing through her mind, the black girl tried to keep it cool as she casually approached the new boy." or "If Jackie Kovacs wasn't careful, he might wind up with the heavy-set black girl forming yet another borderline-obsessive crush -- this time on him." This is something that drove me crazy even in V4 with less charged stuff ("The wily young redhead," "The Johnson girl," to invent examples because I'm too lazy to dig them up) and I think a big part of it has to do with where the narrative sits with regards to a character. Are they thinking of themselves in these terms, at these moments? Almost certainly not. These are, then, intrusions of the authorial voice, which are always a risk. When these intrusions are categorizing a character unflatteringly and constantly bringing up their race, especially with a character who is a good bit more caricature than the handler's norm, that's frustrating.

Back to Jackie:

Emphasis mine
"Oh, I go to Hobbsborough," Jackie was slow to reply. "I haven't been to school yet though, 'cause there was some sort of accident there. I'm pretty nervious, I geuss. I don't really know anybody that goes to Hobbsborough."

Another really good line here—Nealosi quietly turns a cliché or stock phrase (quick to reply) on its head to subtly indicate Jackie's discomfort with the situation. Better, we see soon that Jackie feels self-conscious about his own situation, not Tanesha's behavior—his handler keeps separate what he knows (Tanesha's forming a weird obsessive crush) from what Jackie knows (She's said hello and seems friendly). I sort of feel like Jackie is crediting Tanesha with greater complexity than her own narrative is.

That said: gripe. One of Jackie's posts rapid-fires oodles of dialogue in a way that's still common and still irksome to me as a reader. The problem with this is it either leaves the other handler to reply to each item in sequence (either by reframing the narrative to slip in the responses as they go, which leaves the first character unable to reply without sending the whole scene spiraling down a paradoxical hole of conditionals and retcons or by doing it list-style which is something certain real people do but is very very rare and weird in my experience) or to just ignore most of it and go with whatever was said last (in which case why did we need the awkward spew of questions to begin with?). I think the best choice in these situations, honestly, is to keep dialogue shorter or to collaborate with your thread partner to GM some natural flow into things. Oh, and for the record, in this case the handlers go the conditional route so effectively the characters are simultaneously having conversations about the Infamous Pregame Murder, Tanesha's boy image issues, and playing xylophone in the band, all of which have markedly different tones.

Jackie's third thread is interesting because it's his first thread rewritten (presumably due to the loss of the V1 boards at the time) and it's actually way more detailed and subtle. This is very cool, since even though his first thread wasn't bad by any means we're still treated to a really rare and direct look at a handler's improvement. It's only been a month, but Nelaosi seems to be better grasping subtlety and detail. Also, someone actually replies his time.

Unfortunately, there seems to be a slight communication error in that Jackie's post follows his introduction to the class through the period and ends with him smoking in the parking lot, but newcomer Kayla Ravoy's post ends still in class, leaving no clean possibility for interaction and a somewhat awkward scene-setting. Nealosi's next post, however, brings some (presumably approved) GMing into play to resolve the situation—time is advanced, and Jackie has a hallway collision with Kayla on his way back in. It's a good solution to a difficult situation, though there's again some awkwardness in Kayla's reaction—she introduces herself and immediately leaves the thread. Jackie goes to class thinking maybe he'll talk with folks, but nobody bites so the thread ends. All in all, this thread does good stuff for Jackie but only really for him. That's okay, though.

We move right along to a one-shot; Nealosi apologizes for the length but its not excessive at all (800 words, roughly). The bulk of it is a flashback dealing with Jackie's strained relationship with his father. It's solid stuff—restrained by V2 standards (though I have a few quibbles; I'd like to know how old Jackie was since that's not clearly signaled and it plays out very differently if he's 15 or if he's 11, and I also am wondering why he lets his father inside in the first place [though that's perhaps excusable since nothing particularly dramatic happens—maybe this is a routine of sorts for them]), but still dramatic and traumatic in its own way. Jackie also has a moment with an old man here, and again there's something restrained about it, in a good way. Better, Jackie's baggage informs but does not define who he is. Good stuff.

Jackie's next thread is somewhat awkwardly-placed in that it asserts it is on the same day as Thread #3 but is clearly not on the same day as Thread #4—I'd thus suggest the following reading order/accepted canon sequence for Jackie's threads:
  1. It's A Fixer-Upper—this thread comes first in Jackie's story no matter how you cut it, since it's before he's started at school.
  2. That New Guy—this can actually be skipped with nothing lost as far as events go, but is an interesting note when it comes to the evolution of Nealosi's writing, especially when followed by...
  3. Mrs. Laney's Homeroom—the same thread as "That New Guy," but better. Jackie's first day of school.
  4. Hallway Encounter—explicitly set later in the same day, this follows directly from Jackie's encounter with Kayla.
  5. Long Walks—this could go second, honestly, but it feels like a closing note for Jackie's Pregame story and was written after "Homeroom" so I like it last.

Anyways, this thread opens with a brewing fight as Kayla falsely(!) accuses Felix Travertil of rape. Jackie stumbles into the aftermath but doesn't actually hear what's going down, and tries to intervene but in a way that's a bit awkward. I give props for Jackie's grounded reaction, though I wish a bit more time was spent in his head regarding his decision and I think that the execution could be a bit smoother even if following roughly the same process.

Jackie is sympathetic and considerate as he listens to Kayla, but at the same time is willing to consider that there's been a misunderstanding (especially given that he did not in fact hear the accusation and Kayla declines to repeat it to him). Jackie catches up with Felix and they briefly chat, and Felix has an odd moment of manipulation ("Even after he got his apology out, Felix kept their eyes locked, Felix trying to get the measure of him, to see the best way to make Jackie play into his hands.")

In this scene, Jackie is, as in much of Pregame, the grounded one. I said it in chat but I think it bears repeating: aside from a few minor bumps, Jackie could be slotted into just about any Pregame and while he might not always be a standout, I don't think he'd cause major offense, either. I like him a good bit coming out of Pregame, and I'm curious to see where the island takes him.

The answer, at first, is The Mountain Ranch. I'm not a huge fan of it when a handler's characters are joined at the hip, and Jackie appears to be heading this way with regards to Gail Smith. I actually do think the pair falls into one of the biggest traps of this arrangement right off the bat, though Jackie comes off the better of the two; Gail is initially paralyzed by fear and is thus shunted off to the side as Jackie handles the bulk of the interactions with the newly-arrived Ricky Callahan. As such things go, it's not that bad, really; there are a few slightly awkward moments of indirect characterization, but neither character rings false due to it.

A bunch of other characters roll into the thread, in a very early-game sort of way, and I do have a bit of a Passive GMing quibble because one of Ricky's posts reframes events such that he speaks up first to one of those newcomers despite this info coming several posts after Jackie's own greeting—it just emphasizes, again, the importance of communicating and coming to understanding regarding timing in this sort of situation.

Aside from this, mostly what happens is everyone leaves together, excepting Gregory Moyer who was just watching from the woods and rather astutely muses that this was perhaps not the best choice of manners to try to find allies.

I do have a little gripe that I guess goes here because it's been coming up throughout but is really emphasized by Gail's presence, and that's that there's a sort of weird gender dynamics theme at play that's not really totally considered. To be fair, the narrative seems to be pushing against reductive stereotypes (Jackie is in fact directly aware of them to at least some degree) but at the same time I feel like in pushing against archetypes they're sometimes a bit oversold—we get a "Jackie wasn't like the other boys!" moment but Ricky really isn't either, and even John doesn't seem to be that much like what so many of the characters appear to think guys are like. This is a very early-version quirk that I think is to a degree influenced by the greater prevalence of inserts, and its certainly not unrealistic for high schoolers to be lacking in nuanced understanding, but it still feels just a little odd.

Anyways, onwards! The fearsome four arrive at The Expressway, and I take a moment to note that I both love and hate V2's island. On the one hand, it's ridiculously evocative—this whole crazy city that's been abandoned. It's thematically unified and distinct in a way that wasn't recaptured until V6, and that's really cool. On the other hand, the sense of scale is way out of whack and the island itself makes no sense in the universe's metaplot. As described, it comes off as impossibly large, and given the small student population that there are as many meetings as there are feels somewhat improbable. It also runs into the easy-to-identify issue more than V1's small settlement or V3' abandoned army base—I'd even say it compares unfavorably to V4's logging operation. It's one of those slight continuity warts that has to be glossed over to some extent, and while I don't hate that completely it is disruptive to verisimilitude.

The thread itself starts off pretty strong, establishing the working relationship formed by the group and leaving some things to summary that don't need to be explored in exhaustive detail (such as their small talk while traveling). Ricky is, by this point, starting to take center stage—I think a lot of this is due to the Jackie/Gail juggling act, which prevents either from getting quite as much focus as they deserve. There are a few OOC intrusions that are pretty disruptive to flow, but that's par for the course.

Jackie is, once again, the grounded one, and he has a good moment for the discussion of heroism in SOTF—he decides to himself that he's willing to fight in defense of his friends, but also can't imagine killing. He's trying to walk that narrow line, being proactive and not just rolling over, but at the same time keeping himself distinct from the players. I also like that the characters get a little room to talk about their hopes and dreams, especially handled in as conscious a fashion as it is. Jackie scores points for being the one without anything particularly dramatic or secret. He's pretty much just a dude, in the best way.

A pleasant surprise as the thread continues, and what dominates its closing posts, is John and Gail coming out of their shells more. Gail admits to various medical ailments, including hemophilia, and John drops his defenses a bit and comes off as a lot more normal. Unfortunately, Jackie gets sidelined by that a bit, though I suppose he's had his focus earlier in the scene. In any event, the group soon moves to the residential district, and to Jackie's final thread.

This thread starts with a long bit between just Ricky and Kayla, which I'm not gonna get into a ton except to note one little pet peeve in Ricky's dialogue that recurs a bunch—at the ends of his posts, he tends to refer to students whose names he doesn't know as stuff like "the girl he might soon come to know as Kayla Ravoy," which is distracting because it highlights what he doesn't know and at the same time provides no grammatical benefit because he's already made it through the whole post with just pronouns anyways.

Nitpick here:
“Um,” Jackie looked around awkwardly, remembering how awkward he got in conversation with women.

Jackie really doesn't feel awkward with women at any point prior to this in his story.

Anyways, Felix arrives on the scene, but tries to back out when he realizes Kayla is there. Ricky takes off to keep searching houses, with some ominous narration about how he'll be gone just long enough for stuff to get bad. I like that Felix tries to disengage, though he's again somewhat oddly malicious in his thoughts—he doesn't really expect to have any problems killing. Jackie is once again the normal one, trying to engage Felix in conversation and scope him out but also unwilling to drop his guard. In fact, it's established that Kayla has pretty much convinced herself of the truth of her false rape accusations, and has also told them to Jackie, but Jackie is concerned first and foremost with survival and is intent on heading off any trouble that may explode. He tries to usher Kayla and Gail away, again playing peacemaker and bastion of common sense.

Unfortunately, the confrontation explodes, due in part to all sides beating around the bush and in part to Kayla and Felix being far too casual with Kayla's weapon (a boomerang). Felix comes off as effortless, smug, and like he really might be dangerous, especially when he privately muses that if Kayla doesn't stop spreading her false accusation he might have to silence her. I really, really wish the weapon in play wasn't a boomerang, though, as it's both slightly awkward that Felix has intimate technical knowledge of boomerangs and that the weapon in question is pretty steadfastly non-lethal in normal circumstances. With something a bit less exotic, I think it could be a really great moment, but the boomerang leaves it a bit of an oversell in my opinion.

Jackie moves to intercede, but trips and tries to catch himself, poking Felix with his knife in the process. I'm not a huge fan of this turn because it removes all responsibility for the escalation from both characters, and a lot of the best drama comes from characters compromising their morals. There are a lot of other factors in the scene that could set off one or both characters—Kayla's screaming bloody murder, Gail runs off without a word, John is behind Felix boxing him in—so I don't really think it had to be an accident that escalates it all.

The actual fight sees Jackie's narrative turning a lot more flowery, though I prefer his more unadorned style. Fights don't seem to be Nealosi's point of comfort—in Felix's post, he kicks Jackie twice in the head, but Jackie's post doesn't really get explicit about this, though his narrative seems a bit concussed; I think just one or two lines selling that hit would've done wonders. Felix presses the assault, but again there's a bit of a missed beat, though one I'm willing to accept as a character moment for Felix; Felix suggests that Jackie's making a mistake in putting himself on the line for Kayla, but then attacks him before he has any chance to actually consider the point.

John runs up to stand by Jackie, which is an odd bit of choreography but hey, fights are confusing. Jackie's narrative is still in poetic mode, and he's trying to pull a Gandalf, and that's a good moment in some ways because Felix isn't actually at all interested in chasing Kayla and Gail. It's a little tragedy of misunderstanding, and those are some of the best material in SOTF.

Felix's handler is clearly the fight guy in this scene, though I'm not totally down with Felix literally flipping over his opponents given that he was hobbling around on crutches two months ago, unable to even take one hand off them without risking toppling. It's at least pretty well explained, though, and that it by and large sounds somewhat reasonable deserves credit. I think the big issue, though, is that Felix isn't really willing to take any hits, and while I'd never suggest that taking hits is required for a kill, I do think it's important for a drawn out slugfest of a brawl where everyone's doing their best to mess each other up. Put another way, if the narrative intent was for Felix to cleanly dismantle his foes, it would've been better served were the other two written to the same effect; instead it feels like they're trying to give something back and just getting stonewalled in a fashion that doesn't gel with the scene or their narratives.

Felix stabs Jackie with the lost knife (which I'm really glad to see come back into play; I'd been wondering about it) and Jackie realizes he's dying with a nice callback to Pregame and a linguistic flourish that actually does land really well: "...the loss wasn’t worth the world. The world was worth the loss." Jackie throughout has been begging John to flee, but John's ignoring it and Felix actually isn't interested in fighting so he leaves. John, still ignoring Jackie's pleas to flee, instead chases after Felix, and the wiki tells me that doesn't go so well for him.

The rain falls, and Jackie's feeling almost peaceful, mostly because he's addled by blood loss—huge points for noting that. Rain falls, and Gail returns, but can't do anything for Jackie as he passes away.

So all in all, how is Jackie? He's good! Aside from a few quirks, I think he could be ported to any version of SOTF and be at least a solid character, and I think there were seeds of real greatness that were just kept from taking root by a few choices common to the era. Specifically, I think pairing Jackie and Gail was a mistake for all the usual reasons, and I also think there was this idea that a character had to be a big action star to be interesting—or at least, that's what I get from this on the wiki:

Jackie was originally intended to be my main flagship, but after realizing how static he was on the island and how his personal philosophy and approach would never change I wanted him dead. Plus, I really didn't enjoy writing for the sentimental-artsy-fartsy kid. – Nealosi

I actually really disagree with the static comment, because while Jackie stays true to his morals, we do see him evolve bit by bit. At the end of the day, though, everyone's on SOTF to have fun, and I'm sorry to hear Jackie wasn't much fun to write. He was, on the other hand, fun to read, and I'd definitely recommend him to those interested in delving into V2.
Juliette Sargent drawn by Mimi and Ryuki
Alton Gerow drawn by Mimi
Lavender Ripley drawn by Mimi
Phillip Olivares drawn by Ryuki
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