Freedom's Just Another Word for Nothing Left To Lose

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Fanfiction
Title: Freedom's Just Another Name For Nothing Left To Lose (often referred to as "Freedom")
Author(s): Synecdochic
Date(s): 11 March 2006
Length: ~19,300 words - 2:06:56 hrs (podfic)
Genre: fanfiction
Fandom: Stargate Atlantis
External Links: FJAWFNLTL (Dreamwidth)

FJAWFNLTL (venus in furs)
freedom's just another word (series on AO3)
podfic at Audiofic Archive

Cover art 1, Cover art 2

Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

Freedom's Just Another Word For Nothing Left To Lose is a story written by Synecdochic at the end of Season 2 of Stargate Atlantis.

Originally published on 11 March 2006, it was posted to Synecdochic's fanfiction site venus in furs and Dreamwidth, and was later cross-posted to AO3 along with its sequel, And The Band's Playing "Hail To The Chief".

The story took SGA fandom by storm, to the point where it is said to have monopolized fannish headspace at the time, possibly to the detriment of other stories and conversations.

It generated a high number of comments and inspired discussions, meta essays, podfic, and at least one vid.

As of February 2016, the story had 1583 comments on its Dreamwidth post.

Popularity

Icarus has suggested that this was the most commented-upon story of the year [1] and that it was popular precisely because it explored the same sort of real-world ethical dilemmas that were being explored in the show itself. In the story, Rodney McKay has become disillusioned with the SGC and the American military, returning to civilian life; this might in some way represent fans' growing disillusionment with the real American military and the ongoing mess of the Iraq War. Icarus had this thought on the reason for the story's popularity:

Posted when the fandom's frustration with their tarnished heroes was at its peak, it resonated not only as a powerful story in its own right, but also because it dealt with the mistakes of the Atlantis team, what they learned, the shaky ethics of Earth (in the form of the NID), and it took Atlantis away from our side, beginning as it does after the Atlantis team's return to our galaxy.

Straddled a Genre Divide

The story straddled the slash/gen divide; [2] there was a debate among the story's readers about which genre the story was in, with the author eventually weighing in and saying she intended to portray "a romantic/sexual relationship" and not just "a deep friendship," and "I pretty much flip a coin as to whether I call "Freedom" gen or slash, and my answer changes based on when you ask me."[3]

Despite the drama over genre, the story won the Best Drama Award in the "Gen" category of the Stargate Fan Awards.[4]

Monopolized Fannish Headspace

One fan commented that other fic posted around the same time was lost in the hullabaloo. "...the story that ate fandom [5] was posted around the same time, and people were so busy processing that and having conversations around that, that (IMO) less new fiction got picked up and spread around."[6] Another fan commented that this story, when published, monopolized fannish headspace. [7]

Sequels, Remixes, and Other

MrsHamill wrote a John-centric companion piece, Speaker for the Dead, which inverts Freedom's premise: in this story, John Sheppard struggles to find a life for himself after Rodney's death.

Synecdochic herself later wrote a sequel, And The Band's Playing "Hail To The Chief", and said[8] that The Stonemason's Buildings Want For His Hands Again could be read as backstory to it.

Lim's vid This Is How It Works was inspired by this story.

Author's Comments About Rodney's "Privilege" and the Story's Genre

The opening comments in a post (see link for many, many more comments on this subject):

...

So. Rodney, as we see him in canon, has led a fairly privileged life, as have most of the other main Earth-native characters of SGA. And they do, I believe, function at a relatively low awareness of that privilege -- not because the characters themselves wouldn't be (I think Elizabeth, at the very least, would be) but because the writers have no experience in writing aware-of-privilege characters. And boy howdy, believe me, it shows -- in S2, which is where we were when I was writing "Freedom", one of the major (unconscious, I believe) themes was the theme of colonialism, in which the members of Atlantis are behaving very much like the 19th century British empire as guardians-of-the-galaxy, White Man's Burden and all.

So in order to get them from that (canonical) attitude, from everyone -- but particularly Rodney, since he's the focus of the story -- there needed to be something, anything, to slap him in the face and make him aware of his privileged status -- and there are a lot of ways to do that, but the easiest, in terms of fannish tropes and the amount of work I-as-author would have had to do (because I wasn't interested as much in How They Got There as What Happened After) was to put him in a group that is, traditionally, less privileged -- namely, individuals in a same-sex relationship. I'm not saying that gay people are inherently more enlightened or tolerant or aware or anything -- I've certainly met a lot of gay assholes -- but the experience of suddenly finding oneself to be a member of a less-privileged group can often function as an eye-opener for just how privileged you really have been up until then.

(Also for the record, neither Rodney nor John, in the backstory I have in my head for that universe, ever had any experience with same-sex relationships; they'd both had vague subconscious attractions to other men before, but had never acted on it.)

So, I could have written a story where John and Rodney had nothing more than a deep friendship -- but it wouldn't have been the same story, because Rodney wouldn't have had that (relatively) eye-opening awareness of his own privilege -- which, in the future-from-canon-but-backstory-from-the-story I had postulated, was one of the things that got him to the point where he could see the colonialist attitudes and consciously reject them -- without also putting in something in that post-canon-pre-story gap of similar weight and magnitude to increase that awareness. (Which is, for the record, a major part why he left the SGC, and absolutely why he would not let the SGC have Atlantis -- because by then, the SGC had 'progressed' to the point where the colonialist attitudes, always there in potentia, had taken over.) And that rejection-of-colonialism was one of the major "legs" of the story, so to speak, so it absolutely wouldn't have been the same story if that particular partnership hadn't happened.

Did I fail to convey that in the story itself? I might have; I have no perspective on the damn thing, even now, over a year later. If I wrote it over again, I'd be a hell of a lot more explicit about the gap between end-of-canon and start-of-story, because looking back at it now, that's the part I fell down on. (I couldn't rewrite it now, because S3 is a very different show with very different themes, and the progression has changed (once again) what the story would/could be.) But looking at the progression of story and character as it is in my head, that's the purpose of that particular element -- it functions, at least partially, as a wake-up call for Rodney, or rather, as the very beginning piece of a wake-up call that sets him on the path he winds up at.

It's not the only piece -- it's a necessary condition, but not a sufficient condition -- but it is a necessary condition in the way I envisioned it. Not because my concept of the characters presupposes a relationship -- despite the body of what I've written in SGA, I actually don't tend to default to "John and Rodney are sleeping together", to the point where these days I'm finding it harder and harder to see it at all -- but because in order to get Rodney to the point I wanted him, I needed there to be something that would shake up that semi-complacent assumption of privilege, and canon had, at the point I was writing, demonstrated that "having a plan that was constructed on the assumption of privilege and colonialism backfire in a spectacularly messy way" was not sufficient. [9]

Fan Reactions, Reviews, and Comments

Comments on the Story on the Dreamwidth Post

As of February 2016, the story had 1583 comments on its Dreamwidth post. See the original post: Freedom's Just Another Word for Nothing Left To Lose (Dreamwidth).

Comments Elsewhere

Unknown Date

Once again, glitterati hits all the right notes with this fic and its sequels. Her stories are the perfect balance of angst, a hint of sap, and humor. Rodney/John ***** [10]

2006

When Synecdochic's "Freedom Is Just Another Name for Nothing Left to Lose" first came out, everyone on my friends list was reccing it. For good reason. Long and meaty, it paints a vivid picture of McKay hiding out working at an undistinguished university and slowly reveals what brought him there and how he gradually turns his self-imposed exile into something else as he starts to care again. Subtle and excellent. [11]
Why this must be read: Can 22 pages of LJ comments be wrong? synecdochic is also a popslasher, and her stylistic bravura is in evident in this well-titled story, a futurefic character piece with Rodney McKay as a college prof. synecdochic's plot about his classes--typically McKay difficult--and mentoring weaves with asides about the events that happened on Atlantis (Why did McKay leave? Where is Sheppard?), but the story is about life, love, loss, and ambition. Under it all flows a current of emotion, all tied to Atlantis, that threatens to tug McKay--and the reader--into either happiness or devastation. This is quite simply a beautifully written piece that's about important things ("To say it was all worth it trivializes something so profound he knows he will never have the words to articulate it"), with a McKay changed and tempered--believably so--by his experience. [12]
That fic is seriously like being repeatedly kicked in the stomach and then sitting there as the pain fades, watching the most beautiful thing in the world unfolds in front of you. [13]
I love this story with a passion. It is long, involved, slow to creep up and the reader as to the progresssion McKay is going through, and both devastating and uplifting at the same time. And it really is long. Reserve enough time to read it. It is worth it. [14]
This was the fastest fic to become a classic in the fandom, and it my honor to be able to be the one to show it to you. This story is told in negative spaces which is so rare and so beautiful despite being sad. Set in the future with Rodney as an academic. Warnings: Character deaths (plural), made me cry. There is a DVD commentary by the author if you're interested. [15]

2007

Achingly beautiful, this is one of the best pieces of fanfic I've ever read, across fandoms. I saw this story rec'd in several places but was at first hesitant to read it, because I knew it involved major character death. But that's not what this story is about. For me, it's about hope (if I want to put it in one word, which I really can't because it wouldn't do it justice). The prose is clear and perfect, and the plot drew me in right from the first paragraph. I had a knot in my stomach the entire time while reading it, and was incapable of putting it down. [16]
... this is a story that is way more powerful when you are already immersed in SGA, know and love the characters, and are at least somewhat familiar with what happened in season 2. This is also the other fic on my "If I could only rec 2 SGA fics ever" list. It's amazing. Fic of the Year, seriously. It's still fanfiction, but it comes closer to transcending those limitations than anything I've read since. I don't want to hype it up for you too much, so let's just say: read it. [17]
With Synecdochic's story, I never in a million years would have figured that she'd put Sheppard and McKay together as a couple in order to do a deliberate subversion of societal roles and then have that play out in subtle ways in the way that Rodney related to the society around him. I'd seen it as a straight-up slash genre thing, where sexual love trumps all other kinds of love (which is the feeling I often get from a lot of slash). Knowing that it's deliberate and was done with calculated effect, and for a reason having nothing to do with romantic love being deeper than platonic love ... you know, it *does* change how I feel about the story. To be honest, I still don't think that it worked all that well, because neither I nor (as far as I can tell) most of her other readers really figured out what she was up to ... but part of this, I think, is because slash, as a genre, is framed a certain way and exists for certain reasons, and "Freedom" doesn't really do that, BUT ... most people already respond to slash a certain way (whether it's for or against or "OMG John & Rodney 4evah!" or "ewww, that's not my OTP, I'm not going to read any more"). In other words, it's kind of like using Nazis or Muslims or rape victims or anything else that people have strong reactions to; people are going to be so polar about it that you'll get a lot of people reacting to the story in ways you never intended, just because they already have a huge host of preconceived notions about Nazis and about the sort of person who would put them into a story. Your message kind of gets lost in the "Gah!" reaction. Anyway, I think that between all the musing I've been doing lately on genre and categorization, and Synecdochic's own musings on the reasons behind the narrative decisions that she made in "Freedom", I think I actually *am* sold on the idea that it's not necessarily automatic for a story that hinges around two canonically straight characters having sex to translate to "slash genre", even though 95% of the time that would be the case ... any more than it's automatic for the presence of magic in a story to make it fantasy -- most of the time one would tend to imply the other, but I don't think that "Gulliver's Travels" or "Hamlet" are fantasy in the same sense that Book XVIII of the Adventures of Thorg the Barbarian is fantasy. You can use genre trappings as a tool and not just because the author likes the genre and wants to write more of it -- and what you end up with is a story with a very different feel than the other kind. Does that make sense? [18]
[Slash and categorization] definitely seemed to come up with the discussion of "Freedom's Just Another Word", where several people seemed to feel they were blindsided by the implied John/Rodney, without blinking an eye at the Elizabeth/Ronon in the same story. The debate's been entirely about whether the story should be labelled "gen" or "slash" - I don't think anyone's even raised the question of whether it needs to be labelled as het too. [19]
A gen story can have romantic relationships in it, but it can't be about them.) And I guess that informs my concept of "het" and "slash" as categories, too: a story is not made slash by OMG!mention-of-boys-kissing, but by being about the relationship between said boys in some way; the emotional arc of the story is tied up to whether they get it together, or how their relationship develops, or how they face a challenge to their relationship. For that reason, I would consider Freedom's Just Another Word For Nothing Left to Lose to be gen; the story is not at all about the John/Rodney relationship - yes, the fact that it existed is a necessary building block of the story's premise, but, y'know, so is the fact that Rodney's parents got it together to have Rodney, and nobody's calling it het. [20]

2008

I would rather have stories that were told well, than stories that complied with canon. I just want the writing to be great. I want to have my brain explode. My favorite writer on livejournal... by the way, is synecdochic. Her story for Stargate Atlantis, freedom's just another word for nothing left to lose is the best story I have ever read in any fandom. I don't even like the show, but I love this story. I certainly don't ship the pairing, and I don't care if it is canon compliant, because that is not what this writer is about. She is about the language and the story, and the characters she is creating, which are infinitely more interesting than what the show was doing, anyway. I guess I love good writing and good story-telling more than I love any television show, even The X-Files. I will read anything if the writing is terrific. [21]
Excellent fic. This was the first SGA story I ever read...I have to admit I was exceedingly traumatized and was unable to read SGA for some time after. But it is lovely, just very, very sad.[22]
Rodney returns to teach university on Earth after John's death. He remains harsh and abrasive, but somewhere deep down, he learns to love teaching, and surprisingly, some of the (less moronic) students. Freedom is a couple years old and I'm sure most people in the SGA fandom have read it. I won't lie and tell you how uplifting it is. This is a immensely powerful, deeply moving but at the same time, truly depressing story. Yet I go back time and time again (despite the amount of Kleenex used) because I believe there is something very positive and hopeful about the story which lends me courage to face the difficulties of everyday life. This is a story about how people deal with traumatic events in life and how, even though they will never truly get over them, they learn to move on, eventually. There is great interaction between Rodney and his students. Some of the classes he teaches are just fantastic ("PHY441: How You Too Can Avoid Fucking Up The World!")! He actually reminded me of some of my University profs., you know, the ones whose exams were so difficult that half the class failed, and all he/she ever said was: well, this year's class is simply more stupid. Oh, those good ol' college days. So, yah, this story brought back some good memories. I've got no other words for Freedom other than -- go read, if you are strong enough.[23]
I think this might be the one SGA fanfic every fan must read. This story flat out BROKE me. I sobbed as if my heart was broken during and after. I immediately reread it and sobbed some more. I am starting to cry again even writing this. Even reading the accompanying author's commentary and the sequel or thinking about this story makes me break into hysterical tears. It's THAT good. I don't read or like McShep and yet I love this story and believe it is possibly the most powerful, insightful, beautiful and thoughtful SGA story ever. You are absolutely right also on this being an uplifting story in the end too. My sister and I were discussing this story the other day and agreed that to us the real theme of this story is that of forgiveness and grace. Rodney, over many school years, learns that forgiving yourself is much harder than forgiving others. As he repents for his sins slowly and painfully through his classes and students, he begins to forgive himself a little and heal. He can never forgive himself completely nor should he but he learns to live with what he has done, the cost of his actions, what he has lost and through this, he achieves grace. Grace in my mind being accepting your faults and sins and those of others and learning to live with them in some semblance of peace. [24]
What's interesting to me about the stories that explode onto a fandom is that they usually aren't the ones you'd predict if you sat down and made a laundry list of what you'd think the mechanics of a "hit" story would be. I mean - "Freedom" is the absolute antithesis of what you'd expect for a wildly popular story. It's deathfic, it's incredibly wrenching, the language is unusual and dense, and the main couple aren't even together in it. It's an absolutely brilliant story, but who would have expected a futurefic that is mostly gen and in no way feel-good to take fandom by storm the way that it did?... But the runaway hit stories, the fannish zeitgeist stories -- I don't really think most of them have a whole lot in common, and I'm not sure if whatever made them popular can be nailed down to any one specific thing. "Freedom", for example, really made people feel -- two and a half years after reading it, I still remember that raw blast of emotion. [25]

2009

Why you should read this: Because this story transcends genre. Even if you aren’t a fan of slash fic or a McShep reader– you should read this story. It is devastatingly beautiful in every way. It tore out my heart and left me so hurt that I had to read it again. As far as I’m concerned this is the best piece of fiction in the Fandom. [26]

This is so beautiful it made me tear up at the end. On the surface this is Rodney's life after the fall of the Wraith for good and the change in the SCG to "weapon's research" when all civilians are removed from the project. He comes back to Earth to teach at the physics department of some small university. Slowly he brings his lessons from Atlantis to the classroom.

Underneith it's Rodney coming to terms with everything that happened while on Atlantis. How he learned from Atlantis and the situations he was in. How he came to love Atlantis and her people and how they became home to him. And how he can do that again. It's not a plotty fic; the beauty is in the details of Rodney's life, and how through the telling of the day-to-day stuff you come to understand Rodney's emotional state and how it changes over the years. This fic is really subtle, and she handles the subtle nature perfectly. She never says outright what Rodney is feeling, you have to infer it from what he's doing.

Rodney is just gorgeous in this. He goes from trying to forget the past and all the hurt in it to being a happy, focused, capable, strong mentor. It's so neat to watch him grow over the years, to watch him discover a new dream and build it.

I loved the way he slowly comes to see value in mentoring his students, and how his memories of Atlantis are woven into that change. I loved reading about his classes like "Math, Music, and Physics" and "Practical Crisis Problemsolving" (aka "101 Ways The Geek Can Save You From Getting Eaten By An Alien"). It was so interesting and insightful to his character. His relationship with Harris was really beautiful too, I really enjoyed that character. And Rodney talking to John at his grave and saying he was truly happy really did make me tear up. It was so good to see him happy, to see all that he had accomplished. The "DVD Commentary" was wonderful, too.

I read this fic after watching This Is How It Works by Lim.

This is why I love Atlantis and her fanfic; the characters and ideas support in-depth character analysis and emotional depth so well. It's such a rich world with so much opportunity to extend beyond the source. The show creaters have managed to create characters that resonate very well with me, and the fans give them a gloriously varied existence. [27]

2010

...is there a pan-fandom 'best recs of all time' list somewhere? Because this needs to be on it.

I've been reading fic since I was a child, been through more fandoms than I can count, and right now I cannot remember ever being more moved by a story.

Thank god all fic isn't this good, I'd be an emotional wreck inside a week! [28]

Discussion/Meta About This Story

Works Inspired By

cover by In_the_bottle

References

  1. The story was not only popular on Livejournal, but was also linked at [TWOP]], Gateworld, Stumbleupon, and other fannish venues. See forum comments at Gateworld, forum comments at Television Without Pity.
  2. See post by abyssinia4077 (now flocked) for a disappointed gen response
  3. on that discussion about gen as applied to "freedom's just another word"; Archive, synecdochic, March 20, 2007
  4. Stargate Fan Awards 2006 (Accessed 6 April 2011)
  5. A reference to The Fandom That Ate Fandom.
  6. comment by wickedwords on the post Quality vs. popularity in fiction by summerfling at The Cutting Board, March 20, 2006.
  7. "Yes, "Freedom" has been a bit of a monster in terms of monopolising fannish headspace, hasn't it?" -- comment by cupidsbow at The Cutting Board, March 20, 1006
  8. 8.0 8.1 Comment at FIC SGA: "The Stonemason's Buildings Want For His Hands Again" by Synecdochic, 26 February 2008. (Accessed 6 April 2011)
  9. on that discussion about gen as applied to "freedom's just another word"; Archive, synecdochic, March 20, 2007
  10. ScarletFBL's Stargate Recs
  11. Viridian5 Fiction: The Green Room version 3.0 Fanfic Recommendations 2002-2009, Archived version, February 2008
  12. rec at Crack Van, June 2006
  13. rec at Crack Van, July 2006
  14. rec at Crack Van, July 2006
  15. Rec50; WebCite, 2006
  16. [1], astridv, September 21, 2007
  17. from Merelyn at Massive SGA Recs Set, July 25, 2007
  18. comment by sholio at Meta-meta: on fanfic, genre and categorization; Archive, March 22, 2007
  19. comment by ryda wrong, recs, and meta; Archive, post by cofax, March 21, 2007
  20. comment by nomadicwriter, recs, and meta; Archive, post by cofax, March 21, 2007
  21. The reading group for X-Files fanfiction - Story 7: "Tikkun Olam" by RivkaT and MustangSally, Archived version (2008)
  22. Nov. 16th, 2008 comment by bleedtoblue on meishali's Epic Recs post.
  23. post by meishali at Epic Recs, November 16, 2008
  24. November 17, 2008 comment by asugar on meishali's Epic Recs post.
  25. Fannish Touchstone Stories , comment by sholio, September 7, 2008
  26. Slash World
  27. [https://pslasher.dreamwidth.org/2418.html#cutid1 pslasher Fic and Vid Rec: Stargate Atlantis]
  28. rec at Crack Van, May 2010