Because the Brookline Public Library is awesome (they even have an awesome box … shaped like a TARDIS!) someone on the staff ordered a copy of acafan Anne Jamison’s Fic: Why Fanfiction is Taking Over the World (Smart Pop, 2013). And there I found it, sitting innocently upon the new books shelves (have I mentioned how much I adore public libraries’ new books shelves? it’s like browsing in a bookstore except you can take everything home for free!). I’ve found so much eclectic good stuff on the new books wall at Brookline over the past few years, and Fic is no exception. Jamison is a literature professor with a background in English literature and culture, 18th century to the present. As an academic whose scholarly interest is in participatory literary culture, it is no surprise that fanworks captured her interest. This volume is one part narrative history of fanfiction from its “prehistory” in the 1800s to the present, and one part riotous celebration of various fan cultures through both Jamison’s own analysis as well as the contributions of fanfic and “profic” writers (at times one and the same!) and other acafen as well. Not quite an anthology, as Jamison’s narrative is the “spine” of the text, the contributions by others dodge and weave within the volume providing alternative perspectives, counternarratives, “missing scenes,” and many a reading recommendation for the fic-hungry fan.
Jamison uses the lens of several major fandoms to organize her work in roughly chronological order. After a brief sketch of fannish readers of the Romantic period, she begins with the worlds of Sherlock Holmes (19th century to the present), what many believe is the first modern — and certainly one of the most enduring — fandoms. She then turns to Star Trek as a way to explore pre-Internet fandom cultures, reaching back into Science Fiction magazines of the mid-twentieth century and forward into the increasing visibility of overtly sexual fanfiction, particularly Kirk/Spock slash as the ground zero couple of queering mainstream narratives through fic. X-Files and Buffy provide fertile ground for exploring how the 1990s expansion of public access to the Internet changed the social dynamics and dissemination of fan creations (as well as their more immediate access to the creators of the original shows around which the fans engaged). Harry Potter and Twilight offer two divergent perspectives on mega fandoms, one much more conscious of its roots in geek/nerd and fandom culture (HP) than the other (Twilight). Finally, sections on the relationship between fanwriting and publishing and current (circa 2012) trends in fanfiction creation bring our rollicking narrative to a close.
As Hanna is fond of pointing out, intellectualizing is an erotic activity for me — which probably means I’m an acafan even though I don’t actually study fandom in academic (would this make me an #altacafan?). If someone can give me a new set of conceptual questions to ponder about a given activity or body of work, I’ll be pleased beyond words — and that’s more or less what Jamison provided with Fic. Hers is a thoroughly readable exploration of fandom from the perspective of an insider, yes, but not (I don’t think; though I’m an insider myself) accessible only to those familiar with the landscape described therein. She also provides no pat answers to the thorny questions of, to take an example, copyright in the age of “pull to publish,” or socioeconomic inequalities shot through our culture that are (unsurprisingly) replicated within fandom even as some fans use their fanworks to create counternarratives and “talk back” to the powers that be, whether the original creators, rape culture, the military in the era of Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell, or the whitewashed, able-bodied landscape of many mainstream, futuristic worlds (and, yes, sometimes fannish ones as well — we, too, are hardly free from sin).
If I had any big, new insights while reading Jamison, I think it would be how much the fannish orientation toward one’s favorite stories that ends in the production of fanworks is a deeply ingrained one. Most of the contributors to the volume articulated in some fashion having been a fanfic writer before they knew what that was or knew that others, too, did what these individuals felt the impulse to do. I, myself, have a similar “origin story,” of responding to narratives in childhood with the instinctive reaction to create more or better or crossover or alternate universe. The altacafan in me is curious whether fan creators could be profiled in certain sociological or psychological ways in relation to the narratives we produce fanworks around. In other words, what is the impetus for us in “talking back” to the stories our culture provides us? What personality characteristics or other factors push us to talk back versus those who don’t? There’s a project I hope someone in fan studies is already hard at work sorting out. I look forward to reading their book when it’s published and available on the new book wall at the Brookline Public Library.
In the meantime, go read Fic. And let it lead you to all the delicious fic that’s out there to be discovered. (I have an annotated list.)