My greater knowledge of fan fiction also supported me through the most Diana-intensive parts of the series. When Diana was treating Maturin badly (in other words, when she was in the same hemisphere as he was), I could turn to fan fiction and see Aubrey treating him very well indeed. When Maturin was concluding that he couldn't consider himself truly alive without Diana, I could hit a few links and discover a Maturin not just lively but downright springy and bendable. So slash in this canon doesn't just entertain me; it sustains me in the face of the evil that goes by the name Diana Villiers.
And the movie helped, too; the filmmakers wisely excised all mention of Diana and nearly all mention of Sophie from the script, proving they really had a handle on the essence of Master & Commander. Because I think that even Patrick O'Brian couldn't deny that in this world, the women just get in the way.
JACK AUBREY is a bold, strapping naval officer with a flair for strategy and leadership. When at sea, that is. On land, he's a complete moron who can't keep money in his pocket, a civil tongue in his head, or his prick in his pants. (His various episodes of adultery are tolerable, at least to me, but I absolutely writhed when he gave a power of attorney to a freaking mining prospector just before leaving the country. Hello, debtors' prison. And for Jack, it wouldn't be the first time.)
He begins the series with golden hair and a lovely face that gets progressively more beat up over time, as his skin is variously sliced, burned, shot, scoured, and infected. He plays the violin and has no interest whatsoever in natural history. He is afraid of spiders and snakes and despises Napoleon.
STEPHEN MATURIN is a crabby, drug-addicted, brilliant Irish bastard (literally) with a flair for surgery and medicine when at sea, and for spying and military intelligence when on land. He's a mean hand with a sword or a pistol, but he has a far more vicious tongue, especially before he's had his coffee in the morning or when he's going through withdrawal. In other words, do not prod the surgeon. You will get bit, and unless your name is Jack Aubrey or Diana Villiers, the wound will probably turn septic.
He begins the series with dark hair and a scrunchy face and pretty much remains that way; turns out time is kinder to scrawny, ill-tempered surgeons than to handsome, dashing rogues. He plays the cello and has an obsessive interest in natural history, and he fears nothing except humiliation and the rule of Napoleon. Well, and torture, after a while.
DIANA MATURIN (NEE VILLIERS) is a cast iron bitch who deserves to burn burn burn in the fires of hell. She is by turns a tease, a kept woman, and an unwitting spy and traitor, and those are actually her best qualities. Her main interests include staring lovingly into mirrors, jilting, mocking, and tormenting certain Naval surgeons, and, presumably, kicking babies and destroying priceless works of art. She begins her run in the books by trying to drive a wedge between Maturin and Aubrey; a few books on, she's more focused on driving Maturin crazy. They eventually marry, but only because she's run out of other ways of making his life wretched. Her plan backfires a bit, though, because the marriage is actually relatively good for Maturin; it gets her out of his system somewhat and they live apart.
Please note that some may consider this assessment of her slightly biased or even a wee bit off-base. I don't care. I loathe the woman, and after all, this is my summary. If you want to write a summary that mentions her free and independent spirit, her beauty, her talent with horses and guns, her feelings of imprisonment in the stultifying Regency society, and her facility with languages and cultures, go right ahead. I'll stick to my guns, thanks. And said guns will be pointed right at Diana.
SOPHIE AUBREY (NEE WILLIAMS) is a sweet, dewy-eyed creature who thinks babies are found in cabbage patches and who is much given to sighing and visible displays of patience. And let's be honest here - she's got a lot to be patient about; she should never have married any Navy officer, let alone Jack Aubrey, who is pretty much the archetypal Navy man. Her only good fortune is that he's gone most of the time. The best and the worst that can be said of Sophie is that she's very much a woman of her times. Her main interests are children, housekeeping, social activities, domestic economy, and avoiding her mother (and you'd be interested in that last if you had Sophie's mother, believe me).
There are ships. There are battles. There are repairs. There is endless use of naval terminology, much of archaic and all of it arcane. There are moments of leadership and musical interludes and historically accurate surgical procedures that make you want to get down on your knees and thank god for anesthetic. Maturin spies and investigates, Aubrey commands and fights, and god help us all if they go anywhere near England.
Really, it's far more compelling than it sounds.
Helpful Information for the M&C Novice
Many brave hearts are asleep in the deep, so beware. In this particular case, you should beware of PO'B fanatics of the gen persuasion; in many cases, they make Trekkies look detached and apathetic toward their canon. You don't know terror until you've encountered a true PO'B fan with a question of trifling naval procedure before him, and you don't know boredom until you've listened to him answer said question. Over the course of 8 hours. With reference to 18 different books, including a number of period works, and many verbatim quotes from memory of certain moving passages from the Aubrey-Maturin works. (Gen fans call the series Aubrey-Maturin or Aubrey/Maturin. Slash fans call it Master & Commander. This is one of the mysteries of the universe.)
-If You Don't Know the Canon-
For the record, when I say canon in this particular fandom I mean the books. To me, the movie is good fan fiction; it will give you a nice feel for the period, yes, but only in the books can you get a real sense of the relationship between Aubrey and Maturin and the nature of their world, their society, and their lives on shore and on land. Still, if you have an allergy to archaic naval terminology or whatever, you can probably fake it with:
A Gunroom Guide to Patrick O'Brian Web Resources. If you cast your eye over this page, you'll see what I mean about obsessive O'Brian fans. This is, essentially, a very very long list of links, covering everything from O'Brian's obituaries and memorials to historical information about the age of fighting sail to pictures of ships, and touching on all points in between. As you scan this, you may find yourself thinking, hell, it'd be easier just to read the books. You would not be wrong.
Maturin's Medicine. I don’t care how many years you've been practicing medicine; if you want to understand what Maturin is doing in sick bay, you'll need this site. Only here can you discover what Aleppo buttons are, or what marthambles was, or what grey powder was used to treat. (Respectively: staphyloccal abcesses, even O'Brian didn't know, and everything.)
The Articles of War, 1749 edition. These are often read by Aubrey in the series and often violated by Aubrey and Maturin in fan fiction. So, hey, might as well read them.
An Aubrey-Maturin Chronology. If you're going to be writing fan fiction, this may help you keep the events of the books straight, especially where they vary from history. (The M&C series is slightly AU, but you'd have to be anal-retentive to notice on a casual reading.)
-Where to Start Reading in M&C-
With small, sweet pieces (of smut, naturally), if for no other reason than that you'll be hard pressed to find a story in this fandom that isn't at least a little sweet. I also recommend – and I'm going way out on a limb here – starting with at least some movie FF. Actually, no. I recommend seeing the movie and then reading some movie FF; it's much easier to get a handle on the movie canon, such as it is, than the book canon. And you'll be able to decide if you like the characters enough to embark on the novels.
If You Want to Get to Know O'Brian's Voice: Influence, by shalott. Book-based. So, I tell you to read movie FF and then I immediately recommend stuff based on the book. Why, yes, I do have conflicting feelings about the whole movie/book thing. But this may be the story to read if you're unfamiliar with the novels; shalott captures O'Brian's voice and Maturin's character remarkably well. Check out the rest of shalott's Aubrey/Maturin, too; it's all really, really good, and she does movie, book, and AU FF with equal skill. (Her Five Things That Never Happened series is amazing; I don't recommend AU stuff for people new to a fandom, but once you've settled in you must read these stories.)
If You Want to Get to Know O'Brian's Characters: Reverie, by Your Cruise Director (cruisedirector). Movie-based. This is one of the approximately 9,400,870 stories set in the tent where Maturin recovers from his gunshot wound in the movies; that tent has some kind of magical sex-inducing power. (The challenge involving it probably didn't hurt, either.) This story is one of the better tentfic pieces, and ideal for newcomers to the fandom: it's solidly in-character smut. "Reverie" is actually a sequel, but it stands on its own, and the earlier story isn't nearly so smutty. Need I explain why I'm recommending this one?
If You Want to Get to Know O'Brian's World: Prizes Over Discovery I and Prizes Over Discovery II, by Keiko, and if anyone has a better link for her, please let me know. Keiko knows her book canon, and this series (if you like I and II, there's three more thus far, all available at her Aubrey/Maturin page) seems to me to integrate movie and book canon so well it's hard to tell just which it is. These stories may have a few weaknesses here and there, but the characters are very well done, and Keiko just really gets the M&C atmosphere. Definitely worth a read.