Okay, so first things first: everything I am about to tell you is a spoiler. Everything. Part of Homestuck’s charm, its ability to enthrall, is that everything is constructed as a reveal, from characters’ names to their species. (More on that in Part the Second.) If you’re a major spoiler-phobe—as in you do not watch the trailers for movies—leave now and go read the goddamn comic.
If you’re like me, and spoilers help you get interested, grab a chair. I’m not going to summarize the comic. That would take all day, and also, be stupid. What I do want to talk about is why I find the plot of Homestuck so. fucking. exciting. And I’m going to use a list. Yeah, bitches. At AO3, if you'd rather.
I fucking love genre fiction. Love it. Dragons? Count me in. Magic? Man, I read that book yesterday. Science? Space? Time travel? Aliens? Robots? Ghosts? Psychic powers? LOVE THAT SHIT.
If you share this preoccupation with me (and you’re in fandom, so I suspect you do): congratulations, Homestuck is your jam. Every last thing I just listed is in it. There is even a time-travelling robot ghost alien from another universe with telekinetic powers who flies with her buddies through space on an asteroid.
I know, man. I know.
This shit is really fucking fun.
(Disclaimer: the dragons are only a side note. We can’t have everything.)
2. Bildungsroman, or Growing Up and Finding Your Place in the Universe (Literally)
The basic, basic, plot of Homestuck is: four thirteen year old kids play a computer game together. The computer game turns out to have real-life consequences, and also be the end of the world.
It’s up to them to recreate it.
Along the way, they will fight nigh-omnipotent beings, be confused, gain all the levels, fight their parents, lose their parents, lose their planet, be trolled, go on shitty side quests that make them feel like they’re wasting their time, waste their time on purpose, figure out solutions, realize they knew less than they thought they did, trust the wrong people, make terrible decisions, reach out desperately for help, cry a lot, curse a lot, flirt with aliens, deal really, really badly with grief, realize their actions have far-ranging consequences, and, at points, give up.[i]
Homestuck is about silliness—you can’t get through the first act without recognizing it’s about silliness—but it’s also about growing up—or, actually, about being, well, kind of a terrible failboat and thirteen in a shitty situation. One in which no one is really sure if free will is a thing, so you might’ve been fucked from the get-go.
It is so good, guys.
I mean, isn’t that situation--wtf is happening, how do I deal with this, omg we’re all going to die—kind of familiar?
Or is that just me?
I mean, also, they have to recreate the universe. And there might be an omnipotent being that doesn’t, actually, want them to do that. So there’s like, external stakes and shit.
Really, really exciting external stakes which involve a lot of epic fights. If you like that sort of thing. Which I think you do.
(Even if you don’t think that parallels growing up (which, fine, most of us are not being threatened by a world-destroying computer game), one of my biggest joys in Homestuck is watching the characters deal with this. But that’s Part the Third. )
3. Intelligent Storytelling, or Don’t Worry, Hussie Handles Plot Like a Fucking Pro
And…that’s all there really is to say on the matter.
Okay, no. I just dropped, like, pretty much every type of genre fiction and many a major theme into a list, like I’m expecting you to go, oh, yeah? That sounds great. I’m sure that’s managed well.
The thing is, it is.
Homestuck’s plot is straight-up intelligence. The major genre elements—aliens, time-travel, a computer game—are pushed to their limits, until they’re straining at the pants. They are falling down all these stairs.
Let me give an example. Think of a lot of media with robots in it. Often, it’s as if the author(s) just drop a robot into a human world, assume it wants to be human, and go from there. And then we get, like, that one Robin Williams movie where he’s an android, or I, Robot. And these types of stories are heartbreaking at best and unconvincing at worst, because there’s just—so much about the very idea of a differently operated consciousness that’s being wasted, right? Like, just because a thing has the ability to think does not mean it’s going to think like us, and that doesn’t mean it’s going to land on destroy, either. And there are some authors out there who take that on; who try to really work with what it would mean for a robot—or group of robots—to develop consciousness.
And when they do, well. All bets are off. Because—they don’t act like humans. It’s a robot; it’s a genre; we know what could happen; all we know is it probably won’t.
Homestuck is like that.
It’s like that in so many ways. It’s like that for time-travel. If you have a character who can time-travel, Hussie seems to ask, and there are
no few restrictions on interfering with the past… Then you’re going to get splintered timelines. You’re going to get doomed timelines. You’re going to get plotlines that deal explicitly with doomed timelines, and the doomed characters, and their interactions with the main timeline. You’re going to get villains that are really, really hard to keep track of. Time travel is as much a problem as it is a solution.
It’s like that on a smaller scale for aliens (Q: Why would they think like us? Have romance like us? Have morals like us? A: They probably wouldn’t. Also, it’s complicated.). And it’s like that for universes on a larger one (Q: How paradoxical can it get for universes in the process of their own
re-creation to interact? A: Very.). And hanging over all of this is the problem: this is a universe-destroying/recreating computer game.
I repeat: Homestuck is about a universe-destroying computer game, and it wants to know, in part, why.
Because the game cannot be trusted.
The tension in this narrative is thick enough to cut with a knife.
What I’m trying to get at is that Homestuck’s plot operates off of fucking with genre elements so hard that the audience has two experiences:
1. The pleasure of seeing, and recognizing genre,
2. And the pleasure of, still, all bets being off.
I honestly don’t know what’s going to happen. Not because it’s so poorly constructed that, pff, the author could do anything to get a reaction; because it’s so tightly constructed and delves so convincingly into its plot devices.
It is a motherfucking joy. Go read it.
It’s also tightly paced, manages the largest, most loveable ensemble cast I’ve ever seen, and hilarious, but those are, phew!, for a later date.
[i] And that’s just the kids. Our aliens have some of the best storylines in the whole thing, rife with love, betrayal, tough decisions, horrible decisions, loss of religion, deciding who you are as an alien, disappointment, regret, terror, family pressures, being terrible at people, the effects of caste society and imperialism, the lines between good and right and justice and success—and how being a teenager is hard, and no one understands. Also fashion. And becoming a vampire. GOD. I LOVE THEM SO MUCH.