Sunday, January 26, 2014

Fic by Anne Jamison

Have you ever finished a book, or series, or experienced the cancellation of a television show, and wanted more? Have you loved something you read or watched, but found some aspects frustrating or missing? That feeling has motivated people to write their own stories of characters or settings originated by other authors. This is fanfiction, or fanfic, or as English professor Anne Jamison puts it in the title of her book, simply Fic.

Fanfiction has a long history. Jamison starts her history with the first hugely popular, serial character in English literature, Sherlock Holmes. Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories inspired others to write their own tales of ratiocination, sometimes tongue-in-cheek, featuring the consulting detective and his physician companion, John Watson. Those with means sometimes had their works printed and circulated among friends. Other may have changed the names and sought to publish their stories.

Sherlockian fanfic introduces one the themes of the book, the relationship between authors, and their works, readers and publishers. Jamison traces how attitudes about these relationships have changed over time.

Another thing that changed over time, with significant effects on fanfic, is technology. The rise of television inspired fanfic based on media, rather than exclusively on written sources, particularly the in relation to Star Trek. Access to mimeographs and photocopiers allowed the community of fans to communicate, and distribute fanfic, through ‘zines.

The medium of choice for fanfic is now clearly the internet because it allows for such inexpensive and easy distribution. As an example of how the internet changed fanfic, Jamison turns to the example of Harry Potter, whose ascendancy in popular culture corresponded with the development of the internet as we know it. Twilight fanfic, in contrast to many others, was born in the age of the internet, and has been home to views that put it at odds with other fandoms, though such conflicts have been common as fandoms have expanded.

If you are unfamiliar with fanfic, you should probably be warned that a lot of it involves romantic and sexual pairings between characters who were not romantically involved in the source material. There is a lot of sex. There is every type of sexuality you can imagine, and possibly a few you’ve never heard of. Fanfic communities have provided an outlet for people to explore alternatives to the mainstream, often from the safety of some anonymity, especially in relation to sexuality. Interestingly, fanfic has been less adventurous in other areas, such as racial and cultural diversity, sticking close the relatively narrow diversity of the source media, though some fanfic attempts to depict a more diverse world.

Though I have only spoken of Jamison as the author of Fic, many contributed to the book. Most are writers with some connection to fanfic, and a few are academics. I would describe the book as semi-academic. It has the form of an academic book that describes the history and various aspects of a topic (fanfic) through a collection of related works by various authors. It is unlike typical academic books in that the style of all the contributors is personal and informal. Like fanfic is to its sources, Fic takes and academic form that is familiar and loved (at least by an academic) and brings to it something else that is loved, and even transformative.

If you’re interested in this book, you may also be interested in

Jamison, Anne. Fic: Why Fanfiction is taking Over the World. Dallas, TX: Smart Pop, 2013.