Pre-read: I’m reading this book for the sheer measure of wondering what these authors have to say on the subject matter. Call me very curious, intrigued, and scared.
Post-read: In Agent Dale Cooper’s words to the Sheriff in “Twin Peaks”:
“…I think we have a lot to talk about.”
This review’s going to be divided up into three sections: the first is a personal expansion on fandom musings coming from yours truly, as a woman of color, and basically the perspectives and biases that I hold when going into the narrative for Anne Jamison’s “Fic: Why Fanfiction is Taking Over the World.”
The second part will be a review of the excellent essays and food for thought that this narrative brought to the table, and probably the more enlightening parts of what “Fic” provided in terms of the history of fandom and the role it plays in our society.
The third part is probably one that will get me in trouble. It’s going to be a scathing critique of Anne Jamison’s contributions to this narrative and why I think she had no business being a part of this narrative in the first place. If anything, she shot the narrative in the foot, preventing it from being the very constructive and enlightening piece that it could’ve been collectively. I’m not mincing words about this and I HAVE to talk about the author’s viewpoints, prejudices and role in this part, because you can’t separate them from the text. You absolutely cannot.
Part 1: As a writer in fanfiction: reflections, values and biases
If you’re interested in other contexts as to where I’ve exercised my ability to reflect about or in fandom, you can reference some of my reviews as noted below – I talk a lot about my viewpoints on what fanfiction is, how I feel about P2P, among other dimensions:
Fandoms have existed for a long time, longer than I’ve been alive, but it seems in the 20th and 21st centuries they evolved into their own beasts. This corresponds with how much our capacity for sharing and perusing media has grown over time. For every division of media you can think of, there’s a fandom for it.
This is totally okay. The image of the fan is never under one to simply put an assumption over. Anne Jamison, to her credit, notes in “Fic” that there’s this prevalent stereotype that the term “fan” has negative connotations in mainstream schemes of thought if depicted as the squeeing fangirl in romance or erotic context, but yet if a fan is noted as male in certain genres like science fiction or fantasy, it’s somehow more reputable.
That couldn’t be further from the truth considering “fans,” as a collective term, come in all backgrounds and forms. I am, myself, an introverted, almost 30-something woman of color with a background in health sciences who just so happens to have fandom passions spanning across books, video games, movies, animated series including anime/manga, music among other things.
I hold no qualms about saying – as a writer – that I’ve written fanfic and feel proud of that. The problem I had was struggling to define it Many people do in general, whether inside or outside fandom. Digging into scribblings that I wrote in notebooks, saved on 3.5 floppy disks, and even my writings to the present day – my own history in writing fic stretches back to when I was a little girl still using Prodigy as a web service.
Some of you are probably thinking “Darn, that’s old,” but imagine the people who published in paper fanzines. Imagine those who imported anime series on VHS dubbed tapes or Laserdiscs from Japan, listened to 8-track tapes or vinyl records of their favorite musicians, participated in RPs of Dungeons and Dragons, Vampire the Masquerade, Star Trek, Star Wars, Cyberpunk 2077, or Tales of the Crystals. There’s a lot to be said about the diversity of fandoms people partake in and how it’s evolved over time.
The first fanfics I wrote are different from the first fics I actually attempted to share. One was based on the first PC game I ever managed to beat and it was called “Megarace.” It came pre-packaged with my Packard Bell computer. Guess you can say my cyberpunk leanings started early, even before I knew it was cyberpunk-ish.
Anyway. The story was about a female driver competing in a death race against several male race car drivers in a futuristic life/death scenario. I tried to imitate Lance Boyle, failed miserably at it. I never even finished the darned thing. But it has a history. As you’ll note when I get into my review of the better essays “Fic” has to offer, many fanfic writers note the same when referring to the histories and contexts in which they write their own fanfiction.
The second fic I wrote was in the universe of Rainbow Brite. (I could tell you “Don’t judge me, I was 14,” but I’m actually not sorry for it.) Came out of watching my VHS tape of “Rainbow Brite and the Star Stealer” for goodness knows how many times. I never shared it.
I shipped Red Butler X Lala Orange in an adventure/romance where Red actually betrays Rainbow and the other Color Kids, but it’s because he’s being mind/body controlled by some evil being who (apart from actually saving his life) wants to steal color from the world. Red ends up having to right the wrong he did, even when his friends shun him for what he does, and Rainbow and Lala are the only ones who end up going after him when he has to make the journey on his own. I was once invested in the Rainbow Brite story community the same way some are invested in Firefly, Battlestar Galactica, or Star Wars.
But it too had a history with me.
The reason I mention this is because I did not grow up with a heavily gendered view of media in general. My parents didn’t just buy me “girly” things because I was a girl, or toys of color because of being of color. I collected toys and dolls that were Asian, European, South American – white, black, male, female and that had a factor in the stories I would tell. And that carries over even to the diversity I include in my fiction to date. I can’t say that others have had this same experience and it saddens me sometimes because I recognize the biases and limitations in the bases out there.
The games we play within our imaginations and with the tools we have foster more influence in our creativity and society than even we ourselves know. And influence is a big thing, because it’s that inspiration that allows the shaping of the things that we build upon.
With that in mind, let me state some of the biases I bring to reading “Fic.”
1. I may write fanfic, but as far as being a part of “fandom” – it’s still really limited to me. So this book was an eye-opener in many cases as to showing me how some people interact in these fandoms and what they value.
Twilight, Harry Potter, Sherlock, Star Trek, Buffy, Supernatural, and X-Files get HUGE focus in this book, and of those – I only know two of them intimately. And they aren’t the first two, which arguably get the most scene time here.
2. The focus of this book really hinges on erotic and slash content in fic, rather than gen audience – which I’m more familiar with. Granted, Jamison reveals that there are reasons why she focuses on this, which I’ll get to in the review.
3. I know about a lot of fan wank and I can definitely say there are things that Jamison gets wrong in this work. Very wrong. So…this affected my rating/enjoyment of this collection, in terms of recognizing the heavy biases which were reported in this text by Jamison.
Part II: The Fruits of Labor: Why “Fic” is such a valuable text
“Fic: Why Fanfiction Is Taking Over the World” is probably the only non-fiction work in mainstream notations that attempts to delve into the complex history that is fandom and fanfiction writing. I find that a valuable effort, but not as much when the main person writing it is so agenda driven (more on that in the third section).
I can’t discount the wonderful contributions that were a part of this compilation. There are a number of fandom writers, actors, published authors, researchers among others who jump into the narrative with their perspectives and experiences on fanfic and fandom.
There are screenshots, evolutions shown of how fandom has grown over the ages, and plenty fandoms cited in the mix. Jamison notes the limitations in the work as far as what fandoms are covered and the aspects touched upon in her introduction.
Some newer fanbases such as the TV series “Psych” and “Teen Wolf” are mentioned, but only in passing and in more recent notations as odes to previous bases or notations of the contradictions one may find in fandom.
There was an excellent essay by two Indian fans (From a Land Where “Other” People Live: Perspectives from an Indian Fannish Experience by Rukmini Pande and Samira Nadkarni) who discuss how cultural appropriation is used in Teen Wolf and Vampire Diaries, among other aspects. I’ll admit I thought it was especially squee worthy since Weiss Kreuz was mentioned by one of the contributors in that article – though anime/manga isn’t covered much. That saddened me because I know a LOT about anime fandom. There are plenty of valuable discussions for this in cultural impact and reflection, mythos, and even story thematics that differ from Western culture. Even if you focused on one anime, such as the long running Gundam series or the impact of Sailor Moon, or consider the anime series in the shoujo, shounen, josei and seinen categories, books on those could be written.
I wish I could cover, at length, all of the essays that were included in this because each has their own strengths and weaknesses for the length of the narrative. Quite notably, it’s not as if this text could delve into every nook and cranny of fandom as a construct, but indubitably, it’s food for thought.
The text is broken up into five sections, as follows:
Part 1: Writing from Sources
Part 2: A Selective History of Fandom
Part 3: Fic and Publishing
Part 4: Fanwriting Today
Part 5: Fanfiction and Writers Who Don’t Write Fanfiction
Part 1 covers fanfiction as noted from the time of the Greeks and Romans to Sir Authur Conan Doyle’s timeless character, Sherlock Holmes. There are numerous articles in here that are quite valuable from the research portion, and admittedly, Jamison does a good job delving into some fan dervied works from the Bronte sisters writings, to a fanwriter who wrote an unofficial sequel of Don Quixote that actually inspired Cervantes to write his own follow-up to his famous work.
I was a little troubled by the direct juxtapositions of contemporary writers (like E.L. James and Anne Rice) in terms of attitudes taken by figures in the past, as if there’s some precident to justify why the contemporary writers took the positions they did. Anne Rice banning fanfic doesn’t necessarily compare to Cervantes attitudes on writing a follow-up to Quixote, nor does Doyle’s letter to his fan justify James actions in publishing Master of the Universe/Fifty Shades of Grey. You can’t put them on the same scale.
A few writers, such as Katie Forsythe and Wendy C. Fries (Atlin Merrick) share their experiences with writing Sherlock stories, and in particular with respect to the BBC adaptation of the franchise.
An addendum to what’s noted in this text (albeit small note): “The Great Mouse Detective” in itself wasn’t a contained adaptation. It was based on a beloved children’s series called “Basil of Baker Street” by Eve Titus. I should know, I own the first book in that series and read it until the cover was worn (but it’s still in good condition for being over 20 years old).
Part 2 covers parts of the history of fandom, starting with Star Trek, Sci-Fi and how the roots of media fandom began. Every single essay in this section as penned by the guests is excellent. Andy Sawyer’s “Fables of Irish Fandom” talks about how BNFs (Big Name Fans) used to make fun of each other in writings within fandom, sometimes with mixed results, but discusses the once open culture of the matter. Jacqueline Lichenberg discusses the rise of female fandom in science fiction pursuits and her experiences. I think also that this was probably among Jamison’s best contributions to the text because she compiled information about how the fanbases grew over time and even their impact on the creators. There’s a humorous bit about Spock and Kirk’s relationship and how Gene Roddenberry even poked fun at their rather striking bond. It was a fun section to read.
The narrative continues with how internet fandom actually started with X-Files and Buffy being BIG players. There are discussions on the impact that Mulder and Scully’s relationship had on the fandom at large, as well as notations of lesbian relationships as noted in fandom versus when the relationship became real in the context of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and was met with mixed reactions.
One of my favorite essays in this section was written by Jen Zern (NautiBitz), who wrote “Fic U,” an examination of fan writing, though told from a narrative in which one writes fanfiction and specifically slash fanfiction. Granted, I have never written slash or explicit fic, but I admit she does a nice job of delving into the building blocks of writing within fandom for those measures. Like a university course or such.
Then came the juggernaut fandom examinations of Twilight and Harry Potter.
I have mixed sentiments regarding the portrayal of these two fandoms, but it’s not so much on the level of the contributors here, at least in some dimensions. Many of the essays – apart from Jamison’s texts and one contribution by Lauren Billings (who was a co-writer of the Twilight fanfic turned published work “Beautiful Bastard”) were good. Billings’s individual narrative was a complete mismatch with the tone of the entire compilation and really nothing valuable was noted in that essay at all.
Jamison contributes a lot of the text in these sections, with interspersed thoughts from Chris Rankin’s (who played Percy Weasley in the HP film series) college thesis and Cyndy Aleo’s (algonquinrt/d0tpark3r) account of her triumphs and struggles within her fandom. There’s commentary from some notable controversies within the Twilight community – including SnowQueenIceDragon’s (SQID) rise to fame. SQID is also known to be E.L. James, and this narrative reveals many of the behind the scenes players and controversies surrounding the creation of “Fifty Shades”.
Only it has just a part of the story highlighted within.
Part 3 was a valuable section in that it highlights some very notable authors who got their start in fandom. Tiffany Reisz and Rachel Caine contribute two of the most well written accounts in the entire narrative, with reflections on their having written fanfic, and it shaping their path to writing original fiction. On the contrary, Jamison interviews Eurydice (a.k.a. Vivien Dean) about her upcoming transformed slash fanfic into a heterosexual romance, and Andrew Shaffer, who wrote the parody “Fifty Shames of Earl Grey, talks about the gold mine that was “Fifty Shades” and shares thoughts about how people receive P2P or Pulled to Publish fanfic.
Part 4 and 5 are, respectively, examinations of current fandom and issues within that – from RPF (Real Person Fic) to Supernatural fandom, to even those who are not fanfic writers but have a hand in designing the communities that host fic and give narratives on the impact of music, writing, media culture, and creativity. Many of the articles in these sections were worth the definitions given to terms in fandom and controversies, including Pande and Nakarni’s narrative mentioned earlier in this review.
But for the level of reflection and personal narratives that provide the framework of this text, probably the biggest factor working against it was Anne Jamison herself.
Part III: How Bias, Agenda, and Ambiguous Narratives Undersold the Contributions to “Fic”
Forgive me for saying this, but I’m a little more than livid going into this section of my review. There are some brilliant contributions in this collection, and they’re worth value on their own standing.
But Jamison has a lot of nerve with masquerading some of her contributions in this collection as objective pieces, especially when they don’t tell the whole story of a controversy, nor do they present the sides of “fandom wank” with as much expansion as they could’ve been. Furthermore, they don’t even remotely show her role in perpetuating a buffer for her arguments, especially with targeting contrasting opinions to the ones that she actually promotes and attempts to defend in this narrative.
If there’s something to be said about her contributions to “Fic” – even when you begin reading her narrative in the section entitled “Why Fic?” – it comes across as argumentative, defensive, instead of building upon the constructiveness of fanfic writing moreso.
I don’t have too much more space in this review, so I’ll touch on a few potent quotables that make the bias stand out.
There’s a lot of reference to “filing off the serial numbers” when it comes to re-purposing fanfic. By re-purposing, I mean pulling a fic from fanboards, changing the names of the characters, and publishing it as a new, “original” story. I don’t understand why there’s so much attention/contention with this phrase on Jamison’s part, or why the Jamison somewhat pushed the ludicrous envelope in tone when it came to referencing AngstGoddess never wanting to P2P “Wide Awake” compared to E.L James publishing “Fifty Shades” AG had every right to think it was a wrong practice. Jamison could’ve provided a balanced perspective on this matter, but she undercuts and somewhat dismisses the argument against P2P practice. This is probably because Jamison supports P2P and there’s a clear measure to undermine that argument, not understand it. Jamison even targets two reviewers unfairly for their shelving and commentary on the matter. It’s basically painting a target on their backs without examining the issue.
There are attempts to address some fandom controversies in this work, including Cassandra Clare, author of The Mortal Instruments series, who plagiarized from a romance author back in her fanfic writing days. Jamison undercuts the plagiarism by saying “Isn’t all fanfic copyright infringement anyway?”
For a university professor, it’s shameful that the definition of plagiarism is intentionally made ambiguous in the text, that she suggests the outcry against Clare isn’t beyond some people being “offended”, even if the author herself never went after Clare legally. Further, having limited resource cited multiple times for intellectual property/legal measures (Heidi Tandy) doesn’t cut it.
There was also a reference where Jamison suggests that J.K. Rowling probably should’ve offered her mystery novel in fandom and she would’ve had more readers for feedback.
Fandom is not a resource for writers to have their work beta read. Fandom is dedicated to the writing we love, to the subjects we love, to the matters we love. It has it own value and place, and writers should not be encouraged to use and lose fandom just to further their own careers in writing.
I could say more, but I think I’m done here.
Overall: 2/5 stars
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher BenBella/SmartPop Books.