Or maybe it isn't so strange. Because, yes, it's tough to write sex, or at least tough to do so in a way that prevents your readers from falling to the floor either laughing (the strong and the brave) or out cold (weaker people such as myself), but it's even harder to write a story without sex in it. Without the smut, you've only got character, plot, dialog, and narrative to entertain your readers. And those are, you know, fairly challenging.
In other words, today I'm saluting those writers who managed to make me love a story without any shiny, happy smut. Be impressed with them. I am.
Best FF That Grabbed Me, Threw Me Against a Wall, and Bent Me to Its Nefarious Will. And Has Me Begging for More. Scars, Luck, and Slush, by katallison. Due South. I'm not sure these are intended to be a series, but to me they are and always will be; I think of it as the "Ray Vecchio Doesn't Live Here Anymore" series, but I'm sure that's just me. Series or not, they're thematically related and progressive. Plus I can't read one without reading all three and wishing desperately for the other ones, the stories I sort of sense around the edges of these three, which Kat should clearly buckle down and write immediately, even if I'm the only one that thinks those non-existent stories are there. These delusions of series-hood and additional stories to come pretty much forced me to rec these together. And even if you don't like Vecchio or you don't like gen or you don't read dS, you should read them. See, I got into this fandom via happy Kowalski/Fraser smut. (And, believe me, I have no complaints about that.) So to me, Vecchio was just this Italian guy that left, but still occasionally served as a FF plot point, especially in the angstier stories. In other words, he was a placeholder for Kowalski. These stories changed that, and they did that, oddly enough, by destroying the Real Ray Vecchio. Because in these, Vecchio's gone. And he's never coming back. Instead, there's this amalgam, this Raymondo Vangoustini person, who fits nowhere and is no one person. This quasi-series is fantastic fiction, fan or otherwise - perfect, biting, real.
Best FF That Fulfills the Craving for a Lost TV Series. And Yet Somehow Also Makes That Craving So, So Much Worse. Those Stories Plus, by Luna, aka tangleofthorns, and Jess, aka circusgirl**. Sports Night. My secret goal with this recs set is to give you all fiction-induced whiplash. And here's my first sudden sharp switch. Because this story is perfect, and yet perfect in a totally different way than the last rec. This story essentially is Sports Night. Seriously, the episodes are just like this, only with added amusing facial expressions and body language. And if you've watched a few episodes, you'll be able to supply those yourself when you read this. (Mandatory Pimping Note: so if you like this story, you should definitely see the show.) This is another story you can and should read even if you know nothing of the fandom or the canon; the joy of it is in the dialog, the banter, the relationships, and I think that all comes through even if you've never met the characters before. (Second Mandatory Pimping Note*: but, really, you should meet these characters. For one thing, I'm not going to stop recommending SN stories until you do.)
Best FF That Is Never Going to Function as a Recruiting Point for the Police Force. Daddy's Girl, by Shannon, and does anyone have a link for her? Homicide: Life on the Streets. (Warning: this contains disturbing content. A lot of it.) And it's another sharp, sharp turn into this story, which you should read despite the vague formatting problems, because this is the Questing Beast of FF: a rich, plotty, in-character piece of gen. I'd say it's a mystery, and it sort of is - there's dead bodies, there's detectives, there's evidence and clues and so on - but it also sort of isn't. It's fairly obvious from the start what happened in both cases, neither of which are genteel, body-in-the-library type mysteries. What isn't obvious is how the detectives are going to go from knowing what happened to being able to convince a jury of it. I don't know how well this story mimics the style of the show, but I do know that it mimics the way real-life murder cases go. There's recalcitrant witnesses, mistakes, mess, danger, and a lot of shouting. And, as in real life, the good guys can't make anything better, and they don't always win. This is yet another one that you can and should read whether you know the show or not. It's also a perfect explanation of why I prefer gen in this fandom; you couldn't add sex to this story. You just couldn't. It'd be sacrilege.
Best FF That Proves That Parents Who Think They Can Control Their Children Are Delusional. And That's True Even When That Child Hasn't Successfully Led a Double Life for Years and Doesn't Know More About Psychological Operations Than the Entire U.S. Military. Visit, by jamjar. Teen Titans. I'm putting this story last 'cause I want you to read it last; I like happy endings so much I want them even in this LJ. And if the foregoing grit got to you, well, this should cheer you right up, because it is basically the living definition of a woobie story - it's got comfort without hurt, hugs without kisses, and lots of fattening foods. So why I am recommending it? Well, OK, yes, it's partly because of my sad obsession with post-Robin Tim Drake, which I am now prepared to admit to in public. (Yes, a 12-step meeting is what comes next, except that I don't think there is a Tim Anonymous, and even if there is, I'm happy with my addiction, and I will fight to the death anyone who tries to take it from me.) But I'm mostly recommending this story because it makes a point I think some of the post-Robin fic is missing, namely that Jack Drake is in way over his head. Seriously. On the one hand, we have a father so clueless that he didn't notice the injuries, the personality changes, or even that his son no longer really lived in his house. On the other, we have Tim, who can fight crime and manipulate psychotic villains and heroes alike, and who is so analytical and intelligent that he makes Oracle look like she has ADHD. He used to have all the bad guys in the world as a focus for that brain and those skills. Now it's all going to be directed at his father. Who is going to cave like a house of cards and is never even going to know it. Good luck, Jack, and goodbye. It wasn't so nice knowing you, but I'm sure you'll be a much better person after your son is done with you.
* And now this post meets the Procurator General's recommended daily allowance of pimping! Never say this LJ does not enhance the mental health and well-being of its readers.
** Thanks, tangleofthorns!