We are developing the social individualist meta-context for the future. From the very serious to the extremely frivolous... lets see what is on the mind of the Samizdata people.

Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

Is that fantasy world yours?

When I were a youngling, fanfic was a despised genre. The internet has made it less despised, more common and apparently more nearly legal in a “don’t ask, don’t tell” sort of way. To quote the link from TV Tropes above:

No statement on the legality of fanfic has ever been given in American formal law or in its courts. Some argue that it’s a form of copyright infringement; however, see “Legal Fictions: Copyright, Fan Fiction, and a New Common Law”, and note the above precedents.

Authors often have conflicted reactions to fan fiction set in “their” universe, which sometimes leads to a Fanwork Ban. J. K. Rowling has largely embraced Harry Potter fan fic, albeit with certain limitations, for example, and Tamora Pierce advises aspiring writers that fan fiction can be a good way to hone one’s writing skills. By contrast, Sir Terry Pratchett acknowledges it exists and is cool about it, pointing out that everything works so long as people are sensible about it. He adds two caveats: anyone doing Discworld fanfic shouldn’t even think of doing it for money, and authors should take care not to put it where he might see it. George R. R. Martin, author of the epic fantasy series A Song of Ice and Fire, expressed his disdain for the practice, saying that “creating your own characters is a part of writing.” He’s even gone so far as to threaten legal action should he become aware of any fan fiction set in the Westeros universe. In contrast, writer/journalist James Bow makes a rather firm case for supporting fan fic, pointing out that it forms a stepping stone towards creating your own characters and setting. As far as media businesses are concerned, reactions have ranged from Archie Comics demanding immediate removal to Paramount Pictures taking some of the better Star Trek fanfics and having them published in print books.

My impression is that fanfic has become like music downloads, a tide that washes past all breakwaters of law or justice. What do you think? What do you recommend? Come on, out with it! – what have you written?

63 comments to Is that fantasy world yours?

  • I don’t write fanfic. If I want to explore a fictional universe I put together a roleplaying campaign set in it. I’ve done that with the Uplift novels, the Rick Brant novels (a boys’ series of the 1950s), Atlas Shrugged, the DC Universe, Middle-Earth, the Buffyverse, Zimiamvia, the Discworld, the Vorkosigan universe, and others.

    I read fairly modest amounts of fanfic: I’m following “Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality” (which I’ve liked better than Rowling’s ever since the early chapter where Harry tells Ron why quidditch is a stupid sport), and I enjoy a lot of Marcus Rowland’s fanfic, but otherwise I’m rarely moved to the medium. But I don’t have much sympathy for literary snobbery about fanfic. Think of how much literature of the past was, in essence, fanfic: the French romances written about the Arthurian material, which not only introduced a French knight but made him Arthur’s best knight (talk about Mary Sues!), or the Nostoi, a series of post-Homeric epics about how all the other guys got home from Troy. Or, for that matter, Vergil’s Aeneid, which turned fanfic into nationalistic Roman propaganda, or Camões’s Lusiads, which borrowed Vergil’s conventions for an epic about Portuguese seafaring. The objections to fanfic are purely commercial.

  • CharlieL

    Seems to me it would be an excellent vehicle for improving one’s writing skills, as well as one’s imagination (for coming up with your own, unrleated story ideas). But publishing or making widely available I would consider to be a close cousin to plagiarism. Something that is already almost out of control – –

  • Steve

    When I was younger, I changed the names and got on with writing pastiches that were mashups of the SF I’d enjoyed, which continued to the extent that my drawing on multiple other sources was shading towards being research. In recent years what with having discovered the fanfic phenomenon (and in particular anime fanfic), some of the mashups keep at least some of the source names intact. The nearest to pure fanfic was I suppose a couple of short Dirty Pair vignettes, but even those drew from the multiple different continuties under that title.

    I don’t worry about the “inventing one’s own characters bit” so much, since personal interpretations can put totally different spins on things — having written a piece around the turn of the century that was in one strand strongly influenced by The Moon of Gomrath, I was wryly amused to encounter the utterly distinct way that Boneland later handled the same “~30 years after” concept.

  • chuck

    My gut feeling is that if it bothers G.R.R. Martin, it is a good thing 😉 Apart from that, with publication and distribution cheap and easy, I don’t see how it can be stopped except by ripping some of the functionality out of the internet. The plus side is that the authors world becomes more important and likely their own works, if decent, sell more.

  • Fanfic? I’ve written it. Have a 95,000-word fic called Different Colors, available on Fanfiction.net and washuu.net. It turned out to be the first book in a trilogy, and I was not going to write a trilogy, so I’ve been doing postludes ever since. It is a good way to learn to write.

    Of course I was creating my own characters long before that. Fanfic can also be a way to give a story the closure you think it needs, rather than making-do with whatever the official author did.

  • I dabbled in fanfic a good few years ago – I wrote a pretty good story/cycle set in Marion Zimmer Bradley’s ‘Darkover’ universe, back when she was totally cool about fanfic, and even published a series of the best of them in short story collections by writer fans set on the planet of Darkover. Alas, by the time I got around to submitting it, she had been burned by another author and a suit for plagiarism (IIRC) and all I got for my trouble was a very nasty letter telling me that basically – better not. Alas, the playground was no longer open for fans. Pity – I had just used the setting and the conventions and made up a number of characters and situations.

    Learning experience, over all. And I moved on to my own world. Pity is that I thought my own writing was a good deal better than many of the stories pubbed in the anthology collections.

  • Richard Thomas

    Well, there are also shared universes like the “thieves world” books where many authors contribute, often reusing characters. Then again, take a look at Larry Flint’s 1632 series where fanfic is not only encouraged but is embraced as part of the canon (unfortunately, the piece that is “The Galileo affair” is pretty execrable).

    As for Mr Pratchett, I love his works but many of his characters are recognizable as sideways glances at characters from other works and a couple of his books have dubious provenance (Strata is more or less Ringworld with the serial numbers filed off for example).

    The bottom line is a well written work is a well written work and some people really need to get over themselves.

  • Richard Thomas

    I’d suggest people check out 1632 if alternate histories tickle your fancy. It’s available for free from the Baen library. Mr Flint believes free books are free advertising and has put his money where his mouth is.

  • M. Thompson

    I’ve read some for a Western Mecha game I’ve played, and tried my hand.

    Generally, my opinion is that as long as it’s non-commercial, I really don’t see they harm to the copyright holder. And it’s harder than it looks.

    What’s interesting is that some professionals, don’t want anything to do with it, for fear of copyright violations.

  • M. Thompson

    And that isn’t the pornographer Larry Flint who created “1632”, but admitted Marxist Eric Flint.

    Flint needs someone to ride heard on him from time to time for some of his foolish statements.

  • HP Lovecraft more or less spawned a whole genre based on what is essentially ‘fanfic’ by many authors, such as August Derleth, Robert Howard and a great many others, who borrowed wholesale from his horror stories, all with Lovecraft’s open support.

  • You occasionally see it with films. The Hunt for Gollum was remarkably well produced, amateur effort though it was.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Leaving ethics and legalities of this-that-or-the-other out of it, copying is how great painters have taught themselves to paint (and I think that it was and I hope still is a common method of teaching painting in art schools), and composers have taught themselves to compose (I have read that Bach used to sneak downstairs after everyone was in bed to copy Mr. Buxtehude’s output) and poets have to themselves to write poetry.

    Bringing ethics, though not legalities, into it — if you’re doing it for pay, I say you should have the originator’s permission.

    Of course there’s a huge grey area there. Still, you know if you were working off The Canterbury Tales or not. So take it up with Chaucer.

    It sounds to me as if this “fanfic” stuff might let you concentrate on plot and characterization and dialogue and narrative — and, I HOPE, spelling and grammar — without having to think up a whole world in which your stories take place.

    PLEASE don’t rely on any so-called spell-checker, though, you budding writers. None of ’em knows nothin, and they give you lots of false negatives AND miss lots of mistakes. Use a good dictionary. May I recommend the OED. Also, you can usually get a correct spelling if you put your best guess into a search program and then examine the results.

    (Sorry, I was doing it again. But it’s true, all the same.)

  • Julie near Chicago

    I just have to say, lots of good comments here! PdH, I was thinking along those lines (but not riffing off Lovecraft in particular) myself.

    I have real trouble even opening an Eric Flint or Mercedes Lackey book because of the writers’ Marxism. :>(

    chuck, it’s amazing how many retailers don’t understand marketing, which Baen in fact did. There’s nothing like a signed direct-from-the-artist piece (or a freebie, or a book from a library sale, though they s/b ashamed!) to stimulate your urge to have more of his or her works, even if you have to buy them at retail. Yet the shops that carry originals too often have a fit if one of the artists whose work they carry shows up for an art fair or something and sells originals direct to the customer at a lower price than he’d pay in the shop. I know, because I’m liable to get insatiable cravings for things when it’s impossible, just impossible to wait another minute to have one. I’ve tried to explain this to shopowners (just when shopping or whatever), and they just don’t get it.

    Baen. I see they have more freebies on offer than they did there for awhile, but the real goodies (like the James H. Schmitz stuff) are for sale. That’s OK, I bought them all long ago, although unfortunately they’re all packed away. Unfortunately I just haven’t been able to get into Drake or Weber, and after I spent good money for the paperbacks, too–NEW!

  • A lot of people seem to take the Terry Pratchett position on many copyright violations. If you are not making money from it, it is okay. If you are, it is not. I don’t think any law anywhere actually says this, but for many people this is where the gut feel is as to where there is a line. I think enforcement of the law often takes roughly this line, though. (If my mother is using a pirated copy of Microsoft Word, then nothing is likely to happen. If a business is using a pirated copy of Microsoft Word, something well might. Although to be fair, my mother’s copy of Word is actually legal).

    (As to whether fanfic actually is a copyright violation, that is a bit vague in a lot of cases, yes).

  • I guess it’s also similar to pub bands playing covers. They’ll do it for free or beer money and nobody thinks it’s worth bothering about, but if they got big then I’m sure the lawyers would step in. Probably the same with fanfic.

  • Paul Marks

    “What would have happened if…….” is a question that interests many people (including me).

    I do not see why a writer would object to another person taking up their characters and saying “but what if this had happened………” or “what if they had only decided to………”.

    After all that is what people do when they TALK of the characters – so why not write about it? As long as one is not making MONEY by doing so (if one is making money by doing so it could be argued that one cheating the author – but no monetary gain surely no cheating?).

    That is why it is called “Fan” Fiction – as opposed to “let me make money from the characters of someone else” fiction.

    Still if someone is worried about all this (on legal or moral grounds) may I recommend HISTORY to you.

    Real history – the great people (not the “social forces”) and what they did.

    There is a vast resource of characters in history and no one owns them.

    So you can do as much “fanfic” as you want – once you find characters you are interested in.

    And they are there – just look over the last few thousand years, there are plenty of really interesting characters you can write about.

    “Real” historians will despise you for writing “counter factual history” (the history name for fanfic), but at least they will not drag you into court.

  • Mr Ed

    “Real” historians will despise you for writing “counter factual history” (the history name for fanfic), but at least they will not drag you into court.

    Ah, but what if you write a counter-factual history of A Schicklgruber?

  • That is why it is called “Fan” Fiction – as opposed to “let me make money from the characters of someone else” fiction.

    Yes… and no.

    As I mentioned, HP Lovecraft was delighted to have people lift bits from his Cthulhu mythos and use them in their own professional works. He was very generous with his encouragement of other authors and loved to swap ideas. Indeed I suspect he would have been astonished at the notion prevalent today that you can ‘copy write protect’ entry into a mythic world view 🙂 I am sure he would have thought that unless the other author was passing his work off as a story by HP Lovecraft, as opposed to one merely ‘inspired by’…what is the problem?

  • I’m surprised nobody has suggested writing Samizdata fanfic yet.


  • PeterT

    In many (most?) cases the worlds and characters developed by the original author are so generic that claims of copyright violations just don’t pass muster.

    As far as G.R.R. Martin is concerned, fanfic may be the only way we get a conclusion to his Song of Fire and Ice set of books.

  • CaptDMO

    It’s not copyright infringement, it’s… “sampling”!

    The Grateful Dead Captured an astonishing chunk of a generation by ENCOURAGING folks to “illegally” record their art. They ALWAYS garnered more than enough to live, very comfortably, in their “transparency”. The peripheral “underground” economy only embarrassed the IRS, “agents”, “producers”, and other demons of “value added” parasitic subvention.

  • Paul, of course has some good points but William H Stodart nails it in the first comment. What is fan fiction? I have played MERP and do I owe the Tolkien estate moneys beyond the GBP9.99 boxed set I bought in the ’80s. Good question. I don’t think I do. Anymore than my 30 year-old copy of the LoTR is in bits. And lets face facts about HP Lovecraft and the Grateful Dead (though not perhaps Tolkien Enterprises which are buggers). But that book, that wonderful book, had me queuing round the block for the cinema on Tottenham Court Road. I adore JRRT.

  • The Sage

    @Mr Ed
    The counter-factual history of A Schicklgruber with which I am most familiar was nominated for a Nebula in the early ’70s.

  • Paul Marks

    Nick – I think that producers of Middle Earth Role Playing did pay the estate of Tolkien – although I do not know.

    Perry and Mr Ed.

    Points well taken.

  • Richard Thomas

    Haha, Yes, Eric Flint, not Larry. My mind had been wandering over censorship issues earlier that day and it occurred to me that I’d never seen that movie made about him. Must have still been rattling around inside there.

    The politics of an author don’t bother me. Though it can sometimes be jarring when someone writes something that clearly goes against rational logic WRT governance and economics. Then again, the same mindset is prevalent amongst those actually running the country. Flint’s works don’t seem to come across as particularly Marxist and there appears to be a strong theme of rugged individualism through the 1632 series.

  • Richard Thomas

    Tim, unfortunately the people (ASCPA and BMI) who “represent” the copyright holders go after the venues. If you check around, many small coffee shops and clubs have been shut down by this pair, even when it is predominantly the artists own music that is being played.

  • Richard Thomas


  • Andrew Pearson

    I once wrote, but have never got around to tidying up and uploading, a sort-of-libertarian fanfic based around one passing sentence near the end of Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance cycle. The original stated that, with the old king overthrown and his treasures uncovered, the new queen decrees that five gold crowns should be given to every subject of the kingdom. My fanfic was a slightly cynical view of the implementation of this in one particular village, where the soldiers in charge of distributing this money embezzled a very large proportion of it with the queen and the peasants none the wiser.

    In terms of recommendations, I’d second Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality, and also suggest that for comedic value you could do far worse than most stories by Rorschach’s Blot. Apart from being highly amusing they also have a suitably cynical view of politics.

  • bloke in spain

    It’d help if quite so many authors didn’t subscribe to “co-writing” sequels, prequels & other works devolved from their earlier output. It tends to be fairly obvious the big name on the cover has had scarce input & most of the spade work’s been done by the “with”. Writing “style” can be as good as a signature in identifying authors & as hard to forge. So bitchin’ about fans pirating characters is just the other side of fans being palmed off with replicas.

  • Rob

    I had never heard of it until I read the post. Still, good point about Lovecraft.

  • Julie near Chicago



  • Julie NC,

    Making up the whole world is the easy bit.

    I have scenarios to spare, but I can’t plot or characterise worth a damn.

  • If recommendations are in order, you might like Till Our Lives Burn Out by Phoenix2772. It is, if you will, a crossover between Sailor Moon and C. S. Lewis’ “Cosmic Trilogy”.

    It works best if you’re familiar with the third and fifth seasons of the Sailor Moon anime. Warning: over a quarter of a million words.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Cats, I admire you just for getting the world going! I just can’t do fiction, been trying since I was in third grade (~ 8 years old).

    Here’s my idea of a good meaty novel:

    Mr. Jones opened the door to check the weather.

    It was raining.

    He looked resignedly at the umbrella, upright in its stand by the door.

    He sighed, turned away, and went upstairs to lie down.

    — THE END —

    You see my problem, no doubt: There’s no conversation. And Alice was quite right about books with no pictures NOR conversation.

    That probably explains why I can’t find a publisher. –Do you do dialogue?

  • Tim, unfortunately the people (ASCPA and BMI) who “represent” the copyright holders go after the venues. If you check around, many small coffee shops and clubs have been shut down by this pair, even when it is predominantly the artists own music that is being played.

    I didn’t know that, thanks.

  • The Wobbly Guy

    I used to write a lot of fan fic for Western mecha, plus some fantasy. No time for it now, alas. And looking back at what I’ve written, I found it a tad childish, so I might have to rework my stuff, or try something new. I have this dystropian fantasy in mind, hmmm…

    Nevertheless, I found my skills improving as I write, and quite often I had to do some research on my own so my writing and the story made sense. In educational terms, fan fic is an excellent way to encourage young people to write, forcing them to improve their writing and thinking skills, and even encourage them to do some research on topics they usually never would to make their stories better. The act of writing itself hones the mind, and much of the world building is already done by somebody else, so the budding writer can just use the toys present in that playpen.

  • Richard Thomas

    Bloke, indeed. Rendezvous with Rama III is the only book I ever recall giving up on before the end and there are several “Bill the Galactic Hero” books which I consider time wasted that I will never get back.

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    Re fanfic of Samizdata. I recall that ‘second life’ was popular for a short while, and I suggested then that you could have settings based on differing libertarian versions of Britain. Show what a totally anarcho-capitalist Albion would be like, or a cantonised confederation of counties and shires, etc. Did anyone do that, to show what a parallel Britain might be like?

  • bloke in spain

    Interesting how, when thinking about author’s “worlds”, it’s taken for granted we’re referring to SF* or fantasy. All fiction writing creates “worlds” to one extent or another & fanfic isn’t restricted to those two genres.


    “a couple of his (TPratchett) books have dubious provenance (Strata is more or less Ringworld with the serial numbers filed off for example).”

    Most (could be all, but then you’d need to identify the source) Pratchett books have dubious provenance. It’s what he does, isn’t it? Rewrites stories from an amusing slant. Says himself. The power of the narrative is irresistible.

    *SF is speculative fiction. SciFi is usually second half C20th America with attached spaceships.

  • Watchman

    Is not fanfic simply the rejection (conscious or otherwise) of the idea that the creator ‘owns’ his ideas, at least once they are released to others?

    Wierdly, this is therefore the popular version of the academic norm that once you release your findings/arguments you cannot (unless you are in one of the inevitable academic-ideogical cliques that try to control subject areas) then say people cannot use your findings or arguments in ways you did not envisage – all you can do is engage and take the debate/story forward or leave it to evolve in its own way.

    One of the few areas of life where liberty has been better preserved in a government-funded system (the universities) than in general life. But nice to see the internet once more allowing people to challenge the conceptions of ownership (and to some extent property).

  • Fanfic, final word on the subject: good luck stopping it.

    Every computer in the world is a printing press where the paper and ink is free. Every phone too, for that matter.

    If kids want to write Star Trek TV shows, Paramount Pictures or whoever the copyright owner is will generate nothing but bad press and lawyers bills trying to make them stop. Taking the best of it and publishing it is genius on the part of somebody, and they should pursue that line as hard and fast as they can. They should have a writing academy and critical reading service on-line, cheaper than Hollywood script writers I’m sure.

    In fact, one might go so far as to say the sign of certain doom for a given author/storyline is when the fanfic stops.

    Plus, y’know, nobody makes you read it. And most of it is unreadable in any case.

    Next up, fanfic -video-. Good luck stopping that too, with every computer in the world being a video editing studio and every phone a cinema camera. Why be stomping on kid’s creativity when you can use it to make money?

  • staghounds

    Music is just leading the way. Books will follow, although it will take a long time.

    Few people in the affluent West born after, say, 2000 will ever buy a paper book, and since they will all be digital, books will be as easily shared/stolen as songs. First for those who are dedicated to s/s books, then to most people who want them.

  • Monica Ferris has said (many times, in public) that the story does not happen on the page. It happens in the reader’s mind. Since we all have different minds, we all read different stories, though they usually resemble the story the author intended to tell.

    Since the story is in my head, it’s reasonable for me to polish it up and ring a few changes on it.

    Dan O’Neill, an early underground cartoonist, did many Disney parodies. As he noted at the time, “It’s Walt Disney’s fault. He put the Mouse in my head.” Unfortunately, O’Neill lost the copyright lawsuit.

    I don’t know if Mickey Mouse meets the Air Pirates counts as fanfiction. Maybe O’Neill shouldn’t have printed and sold copies of the comics.

  • Harry Powell

    Not a fan of fanfic myself, but I came across something interesting not so long ago. The Last Ringbearer (I have a terrible desire to call it the Last Ringbinder) set in the Tolkein universe and told by orc stay-behinds in a defeated Mordor, apparently written by a former Soviet Academician. Admittedly I didn’t finish it (I couldn’t finish that Tolkein rubbish either), the first few chapters were quite fun though.

  • bloke in spain

    Been thinking over the courageous Capt’s reference to the Grateful Dead & it’s remarkably perceptive & likely applicable to fanfic.
    Must confess to being somewhat of a Dead fan myself. But the affection didn’t arrive through living through the Woodstock era. Like many who did, it passed with confused recollection. I owe it to the lady with the Skulls & Roses knickers (Hi Aud, wherever you are)I met a dozen years later. The Dead Head. And she was part of an enormous, worldwide fanbase. It even penetrates to this heart of dago-osity where the local biker bar sports Dead memorabilia amongst the Harley posters & Hells Angels patches. And the Capt’s quite correct. Most Dead stuff is notionally pirate. But the Dead are still live after more than 40 years. And I’ve bought genuine Dead recordings. There’s newly minted teen Dead Heads paying folding stuff for revenue producing Dead recordings right now. Whatever remains of the band are still steadily earning. Which contrasts with many similar bands of the era, gone & long forgotten. Old pal of mine played with one the UK’s Dead equivalents. Even he can’t separate his recording company from the copyrights. Fanbase dwindled away decades ago & now he doesn’t make cent.
    So how’s this apply to fanfic? The important part’s fan. If there’s fans enjoying an author’s “world” enough to go to the trouble of writing stuff set in it, what’s the problem. If it’s crap, even in this ubiquitous interweb it’ll sink without trace. It’ll attract no fans. It certainly won’t measurably detract from the original author’s reputation. But let’s say it’s the goods. Well written & attracts fans. Those fans will want to read other stuff written in the “world”. That’s what we’re talking about isn’t it? And, hey, look over here! There’s all this stuff written in the “world” by the original author. Let’s buy that!
    It really is a no-brainer. OK. You can understand why authors might jealously guard their cherished offspring. Same way as they don’t want to think of their daughters losing their virginity. But you’d think the publishers’d see some sense. Talk some sense into the authors. Sign the new upstart & get ready to run reprints of old titles.
    There ain’t no such thing as bad publicity.

  • Runcie Balspune

    fanfic was a despised genre

    I think “fanfic” is a despised word.

    The only stuff I remember doing was a few short stories based on Eve, and some D&D adventures to read to my son.

  • Telboy

    I’ve never heard of fanfic. I guess we learn a little something every day.
    I sometimes imagine myself in an erotic Jane Austen scenario. Does this count and might I get sued?

  • Telboy: It appears that tens of thousands of Austen fanfics have been written. Some of them surely fit your specifications. Take a look at https://www.fanfiction.net/book/Pride-and-Prejudice/ for a sample.

  • Paul Marks

    Nick Nice Guy Gray – I can think of a possible counterfactual libertarian history for Britain.

    Gladstone resists the demands to bring in “licensing laws” in the early 1870s (laws he did not really believe it – it was a sop to certain elements in the Liberal party – he could have resisted with a bit more effort).

    The Liberals are not swept away by a “torrent of gin and beer” in the General Election.

    Gladstone finishes off ABOLISHING THE INCOME TAX – which he had almost achieved (it was down to about 2%).

    Free trade and no income tax.

    Also no Disraeli government.

    No legalised obstruction (“picketing”) by the unions.

    No 40 functions for local government mandated by central government.

    And on and on.

    “Of course” – if Gladstone had also resisted the Forster Education Act of 1870 (it was supposed to “fill in the gaps” – but actually [as E.G. West showed in “Education and the State”] it acted like a plague, killing off non government schools for the poor) then things really would be libertarian.

    No government schools, free trade, and an end to income tax (I repeat – Gladstone had almost finished it off, if has just resisted the Licensing Laws and won the election……).

    There is libertarian Britain.

  • Russ in TX

    My wife does very good rpg fanfic.
    My own stuff is self-invented, very little of which sees the light of day except some young-adult fantasy (I’ll resist the urge to self-promote, heh).

    I personally hew to the Lovecraft side of the line – if somebody takes my little novel and its slowly-coming sequel spins it into something grand and awesome, not only am I not going to mind…I’ll probably enjoy reading it.

  • Rich Rostrom

    What if the fanfic does things with the characters that would offend the author beyond all possible excuse? For instance (and I actually saw an excerpt of this once), Tolkien “slash” fiction with Frodo begging Samwise to bugger him?

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    Paul, sounds good! Can you build a Second-Life experience to show people what Gladstone’s Greatest Britain would now look like?

  • Natalie Solent (Essex)

    Rich Rostrom,

    That example makes the point very clear. Slash fiction goes back to before the internet. Like a lot of people my first instinct is to snigger – a tendency magnified by the fact I first came across mention of the genre in the context of a humorous Star Trek parody – but I think that for a lot of writers the issue of another taking my characters or world and changing them is more painful to contemplate than the possible loss of royalties or ownership rights. For many writers the “betrayal” of their creation is not funny at all. This can be the case even when the fan fiction is quite close in spirit and tone to the original; how much more so when as in the example you cite the author would have deeply opposed the values embodied in the fanfic.

    I recall a horrible row decades ago in the science fiction circles I used to move in when someone compared having an unauthorised sequel done to one of their stories to being raped. This from a person who had been raped. I can’t recall details of either story, but I do remember being astonished – when I saw the fan sequel before knowing of the original author’s reaction I had thought it would be seen as a compliment. I am sure the sequel author intended it so. At that time fan fiction did exist but was not commonplace, and I guess the original author (an amateur writer, not a professional) had never expected this to be done to their work.

    I don’t want to delve into the rights and wrongs of that particular example, but whatever they were in those days when fanfic was done on photocopiers and spirit duplicators, in the world with the internet any SF or fantasy author who reaches a significant audience is just gonna have his or her characters slashed and shipped as the inevitable price of even modest fame.

  • Paul Marks

    No – I am completely useless with computers.

  • TheRoyalFamily

    Bad fan fic (and by definition all of it is bad) is the cancer of fandom.

    That said, the difference between bad fan fic and proper in-universe stuff is a publisher (Kevin J Anderson, call your office!).

    Not that I would know. That’s just what I hear, yah. I’ve never indulged in any reading or writing of it, no siree. That series of posts on a forum that I wrote were things that Eva Characters Wouldn’t Say, not what amounts to fanfic. And I certainly don’t know anything about the enormous Japanese doujinshi scene, which makes the like of fanfiction.net look like the piddling kids’ stuff it is.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Natalie, I think that’s exactly how Ayn Rand would have felt if someone had tried to write a story continuing one of her novels, or, even worse, cheapening one of her characters. As you may know, toward the end of her life she decided that she would have to write the screenplay for Atlas Shrugged herself, since nobody else seemed to be able to capture the feel and the sense of it to her satisfaction.

    So, this “fanfic” (egad!) business shows us yet again that there’s more to even a paying enterprise than just money, and that there are various moral dimensions to property.

    I think your comment is illustrative and valuable. Thanks for it.

  • Julie near Chicago


    Thank you for giving me this opportunity to state the Truth of the matter:

    The proper nickname for “science fiction” is indeed “SF,” the “sci-fi” bit having been adopted by the lay (i.e., non-fan, i.e., know-nottink) public sometime after it began getting hard to find new REAL (snark!) SF. It’s not just I who so insist — some of the writers from the Golden Age (by my lights, that would be up until, say, about 1960) cut up rough in print about the horrid term “sci-fi.” Although I can’t remember who-all anymore. —Well, what do you expect of me? I read such observations something like 50 years ago! ;>)

    Wikipedia weighs in on the issue:


    The term “sci-fi”

    Forrest J Ackerman used the term sci-fi (analogous to the then-trendy “hi-fi”) at UCLA in 1954.[43] As science fiction entered popular culture, writers and fans active in the field came to associate the term with low-budget, low-tech “B-movies” and with low-quality pulp science fiction.[44][45][46] By the 1970s, critics within the field such as Terry Carr and Damon Knight were using sci-fi to distinguish hack-work from serious science fiction,[47] and around 1978, Susan Wood and others introduced the pronunciation “skiffy”. Peter Nicholls writes that “SF” (or “sf”) is “the preferred abbreviation within the community of sf writers and readers”.[48] David Langford’s monthly fanzine Ansible includes a regular section “As Others See Us” which offers numerous examples of “sci-fi” being used in a pejorative sense by people outside the genre.[49]

    P.S. To me “sci-fi” is like nails scratching the blackboard, so thank you for giving me this opening in (through?) which to vent. Not a danger to myself or others, though–I ran out of musket-balls a few days ago. And Valium would be more useful anyway, probably, since the Dreadful Term seems to have become the conventional moniker. 😉

  • Julie — The term “Sci-fi” is not wonderful, but things could be worse. When Hugo Gernsback started the ball rolling, he called it “scientifiction”.

  • Julie near Chicago

    Ellen, very true. Sigh…life is fraught with perversity. *Sob, LOL*

  • Nick (nice-guy) Gray

    Paul, how would that version of Britain (Gladstoneana?) have handled The Great War to End All Wars? I think the authoritarians would have used it as an excuse to bring back taxes and conscription for the good cause of stopping the Hun. What safeguards would have stopped them?

  • Paul Marks

    I think history would have been very different.

    No turn to statism in Germany – due to the success of Britain.

    Also without the unions undermining the British edge in manufacturing (no Act of 1875) and a much stronger economy (due to no income tax) Germany would have been much less of a threat.

    Of course a German version of libertarianism would have involved the Prussian Liberals actually standing up to Bismark in the early 1860s.

    But they (the Prussian Liberals) were hopeless – they did not argue against the PRINCIPLE of bigger government, just who would order the bigger army (to be used on Denmark and so on), they wanted the Parliament to be in charge (not the King’s minister).

    I see – what an issue to die for, everyone in favour of more conscription and so on, just arguing over whose note paper should be used to write the orders on…..

    Of course the key battle had already been lost – the network of state schools (with compulsory attendance).

    Not a Scottish thing (contrary to the myth – Scots schools were under the control of the local Churches and attendance was voluntary) – a Frederick the Great Prussian thing, copied by Austria and then the other German lands.

    And brought to America by H. Mann.

    And, unintentionally, brought to Britain by Foster – although his mind was so messed up by his social sickness I doubt he know what he was doing.