Flesh Mechanic

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Title: flesh mechanic: not an AU
Author(s): kel and lise
Date(s): 2002
Genre: slash, rpf, multimedia
Fandom: 'N Sync
External Links: at lise's website, Author Commentary Track

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Flesh Mechanic: not an AU is a popslash fic by kel and lise, written in 2002. It has achieved a certain amount of acclaim over the years, and is often cited as an example of popslash's boldness and ingenuity.

Frequently referred to by those in the know as "The Justin Timberlake serial killer fic", or some variation thereof, the story is mostly told through news articles and impartial documents - some fabricated, some not - interspersed with more traditional narrative segments written from the POV of a clearly traumatized Lance Bass. Despite the fic's subtlety and vague ending (or perhaps because of those things?) it is generally regarded as one of the scariest fanfics of all time.


Justin scared JC, Lance knows. In a way, he always had. JC used to picture all these things that Justin could do, come into his room, loom, say nothing. Say anything. It alternately thrilled and terrified JC, the idea that Justin would burst in some time. He always wanted it, still does -- thinks maybe, if he waits long enough, Justin will.

One of the Authors Responds to Some Reviews

I have to say, I am loving this whole thing. I love to see what people thought went wrong with this story.

what I wanted to say here was: However, it is right there with X-Files fandom's Iolokus in terms of stories I don't think should be rec'd to newbies because it is meta enough to require understanding, not just of NSYNC, but of fandom.

very much so. That's another major thing "flaw" in this story - if you missed, say, six months of news and tried to read it, it really didn't have the same impact. It would be like trying to rec an o-town documentary to the general public, when we hadn't seen Dan make pancakes in Colorado.

the problem with a story like this, since it is so based in convention that's already there, is you have to KNOW the convention before the story takes any kind of meaning whatsoever. and if that convention - that Carson called Justin psychotic on national television - isn't something you're into, or used to, or exposed to, of course, the narrative as well as the fake media is going to mean shit all.

to be honest, kel and I thought there'd be no audience for this story at all, at all. because it is such a heavily steeped-in-other-sources kind of story.

anyway. who says you can't be your own biggest critic? if I were to go back and rewrite this, I think I'd definitely try and encorporate more reality into it - but also, try and write it so that it could stand on its own a little bit more, outside of the time frame and news that surrounded its' posting.

as to everyone who said it was too pretentious - well, okay, that's not quite the words they used but fuck, I'll use them. it was pretentious - well, yes. it was too pretentious. and it was full of itself on so many levels. that is a flaw as well as a personal taste thing on both me and kel's parts, I guess. *grin* [1]

Recs and Reviews

  • "Flesh Mechanic increases its horror steadily, letting you fill in all the traumatizing details on your own - especially when it comes to motive. And that's probably what makes Flesh Mechanic a fanfic classic. Once you've dared to imagine the horrors that lurk in the mind of Justin Timberlake, you can't forget what you've seen there." [2]
  • "Creepy, chilling and universally recognized for its originality, Flesh Mechanic is one of those things you either love or hate." [3]
  • "Because this isn't just a story: it's a trail of clues, a presentation designed to create anticipation and jangle your nerves. a dark spiral that gets steeper and more frightening the further you read. Think boyband fic is all fluff? Think again." [4]
  • "There's no denying that this has some of the most brilliant use of fooking HTML-able media popslash works in that I've ever seen. I spent hours examining all of the displays minutely, like they were evidence and I could spot some little clue that would help me solve the 'crime'." [5]
  • "AKA The Cult of Timberlake Story. Definitely one of the more (in)famous stories in the Popslash fandom. Notable for its usage of mock ups of government documents, news clippings, various websites, etc., this story paints one fascinatingly fucked up portrait of Justin Timberlake. It should be noted that the story, and subsequently one’s enjoyment of it, is somewhat dependent on the reader’s familiarity with *NSYNC and the fandom surrounding them at the time of its writing (2002-03)." [6]
  • "Through Flesh Mechanic, LiveJournalers kel and Lise have created a substantial piece of fanfiction detailing Justin Timberlake's life as a serial killer. Flesh mechanic uses replicas of sites like mtv.com, The New York Times online edition, eBay, and the New York Post's "Page Six" gossip column interwoven with a prose piece about fellow NSYNC member Lance's quest to understand his own time as a pop megastar and Timberlake's demise. A Canadian professor (Mark Boon at York University) has already discovered and used Flesh Mechanic for a university course "From T.S. Eliot to Missy Elliott: Cultures of Sampling, Plagiarism, and Appropriation," and kel and Lise include in their site a commentary on the influences and rhetorical choices involved in Flesh Mechanic's creation." [7]
  • "I think there are two issues that need to be discussed when reviewing flesh mechanic: one is the obviously compelling and, I'd argue, innovative use of various different media (and I haven't seen such an extensive incorporation of pictures and articles, manipulated and "real" anywhere before as another commenter suggested, so I'd be very happy to be pointed the way of other fandom fics that have done so); the other is the story itself. As to the first point, I do believe that form affects and influences content in this fic and is not just a neat gimmick. After all, the story is all about looking at the way we piece together stories from various given sources; Lance does in the story in many ways what popslashers (and all fen) do every day. The fact that kelise chose media that popslashers scavenge for information, facts and rumors, I think, is telling. Personally, I find the constant crossing of this line between reality and fiction fascinating and, for me, that aspect alone makes flesh mechanic one of the most interesting and most important popslash stories. The second point is, of course, the story itself, the parts that are not flashy and full of pictures. Frankly, if your only critique is that the story had been stronger without the other stuff, because "[you] only started paying attention to Lance's parts on the third reading," I'd suggest that thie problem is more a function of your reading than their writing abilities. In fact, I think the more subtle approach of the actual text works both as a counterpoint to the "source material" provided and is in sync with Lance's voice and characterization throughout. Lance does not *want* to see what's going on, even though we, as readers, can piece it together quite easily. The style of these sections tells us as much about Lance as it does about the plot, I think. In fact, in a way, of course, as with any good narrator, while we learn a little bit about Justin and Chris, we learn a heck of a lot more about Lance, his hopes and fears, all the things he represses and only slowly begins to acknowledge throughout the course of the story." [8]

Other Mentions

  • included in Vulture Magazine's A Fanfiction Syllabus with accompanying custom-created cover art, March 2015.