How many ways back?

Here's another Neil Faulkner essay, this time on fanfic in general. It might be helpful to be aware that it was written almost a year before the previous essay that discussed slash.


by Neil Faulkner (from Altazine #0)

Fanfic is an interesting beast. At its best it's a highly enjoyable read, at its worst it can be much the same, though for rather different reasons. What it does, regardless of quality, is reflect the many ways in which B7 is regarded by the people who write it. How accurate a reflection is hard to gauge, since only a tiny minority of fans are inspired to write their own B7 material. There is not, to my knowledge, any information on how well particular types of story are received by those fans who read fanfic but don't write it themselves. Nor is there any real indication of how B7 is perceived by those fans who neither read nor write the stuff. But, since the overwhelming bulk of written material from fandom is in this form, it is probably the best source available. What I want to do here is to take a brief look at the various types of fanfic, and assess the way they reflect perceptions of the series. some of you at least will be well aware that I have some strongly entrenched prejudices in this area, and all I can say is that I will *try* to suspend them in the interest of some vague idea of 'objectivity'. There are lots of different ways of classifying fanfic, such as by season, by central character, or by recognises subgenres (such as adult or hurt/comfort). Not all of these are applicable here.
Niel Faulkner (21K)

This article is based almost solely on my own zine collection, which isn't terribly large, but from discussing other zines with more avid (and richer) collectors I feel it isn't all that far from being representative. I may, of course, be wrong, in which case you can all call me rude names and laugh at me. In fact you can do that anyway, I won't care. Well, not much.

The first thing I'll do is eliminate one particular category, namely those stories that distort B7 for the sake of doing so. Most of them are humorous, or are meant to be so, playing out a particular jokey idea for as long as seems fit. That's not to say they are all bad stories - Judith Seaman's *The Twelve Days of Christmas*, Fliss Davies' *A Promise to Keep* and *My Late Lamented Friend* (all in Horizon) are well worth a read, if only for a diversion. I would also include crossovers with other series here, since the merging of fictional universes is rarely accounted for. Many crossovers are humorous in themselves, two of my particular favourites being Wendy Ingle's *Dimples and Hairpiece* and Jan Harley's *The Beeb Budget Cuts* (the latter in Interface #12). These stories are not meant to be taken seriously.

The more serious ones are a very mixed bunch, and can be divided into a number of categories. The categories themselves are rather arbitrary, individual stories often fall into more than one of them, and it can be debatable whether a particular story slots into a particular hole or not (all reasons for not doing any detailed statistical analysis. Aren't you glad to know that?).

B7 as Science Fiction - In a sense all B7 fiction is science fiction since it is set in a hypothetical future with a number of SF props - spaceships, teleport etc. It is, however, possible to take the term more rigidly, and limit this category to stories that might be considered 'proper' SF, though that is notoriously hard to define. If we think of SF as being a 'thought experiment', speculating on the results of a particular technological or social innovation, then we find very few stories that fit the bill. In fact, I'm not sure that I can think of any at all. Loosening up a bit, dragging in stories that utilise (rather than explore) such developments, there are quite a number. Most of these are hoary old stand-bys such as Enhanced Brain Power (Helen Pitt's *Footnote to History*, H-6), Cloning (Judith Seaman's *Program* saga), Powerful Psionic Aliens (lots of examples!), Strange Planets (not quite so many, but Helen Pitt did an especially good job in *The Power and the Glory*, H-10), and no doubt there are a fair few cases of Androids, Superweapons, Mind Control, Immortality and other staples, though I can't think of any off the top of my head.

As far as the approach to science fiction content is concerned, there is a considerable majority of stories that reflect the Golden Age idiom of the 1930s and 40s. This was the era of Asimov, Heinlein, Van Vogt and other names regarded as synonymous with 'sci-fi' (a term I detest). The more recent trend towards an emphasis on less grandiose concepts, like computer hardware and personal defence technology, appears to be very uncommon in fanfic. As a rare example, I unashamedly cite my own *The Wit and Wisdom of the Dead*, due to appear in Star 3. The third major type of professional SF, the New Wave of the 60s and 70s, is virtually non-existent in fanfic. Fan stories are almost entirely rigidly conservative in literary style, and have none of the innovation and experimentation of the New Wave approach. A notable exception is Gill Marsden's *Against My Ruins* (H-14), and Brad Black's *Inscriptions* (H-18) has an unusual form for a fan story, though not strikingly odd if put in a wider context.

The inevitable impression is that fans, or fan writers at least, are not terribly interested in science fiction *per se*, though they are quite happy to exploit its conventions. As an aside, I would venture that the Golden Age hegemony reflects the way that *televised* SF is broadly based on this particular style, probably because the writers for those series were most familiar with that, rather than later approaches. So what are the fan writers interested in?

B7 as Social Comment - Any story inevitably betrays the *weltanschauung* of the writer, but there is a difference between this happening incidentally, or t being done deliberately, as a propagandistic exercise. The latter seems to be very rare in fanfic, as in fact it was in the series (*Harvest* and *Animals* are the more obvious examples). My chief complaint about fan fiction, in fact, is the way the organisation of society and the distribution of power within it are frequently ignored. It's hardly obligatory, of course, for a story to reflect contemporary life in the Western hemisphere, but there rarely seems to be any attempt to construct an alternative. When one does appear, it is usually as an over-simplified blueprint (as in Gies/Ophirs's *The Alternative Rescue*, The Web-1), though to be fair, the societies and cultures encountered in fanfic are usually small and self-contained. A complex socio- economic system is rarely alluded to, though often tacitly assumed to be present but irrelevant to all practical purposes.

Overt ideological propaganda is likewise very uncommon, but there are some examples of deliberate feminism (Jill Grundfest's *The Infection*, H-11), though feminist attitudes are more commonly insinuated into a story as a minor additive (such as references to 'the Goddess', rather than 'God'). Anti- Marxism appears in Margaret Scroggs' *Fightback*. Sondra Sweigman's *Beloved Adversary* is more spiritual rather than political propaganda. But these are exceptions. Whatever else fan writers like doing, it is not climbing up on a soapbox.

B7 as Group Psychology - Touch the button on this one and virtually every fanzine will explode! We all know this (so why am I bothering to say it?). It is not my intention here to comment on the accuracy in the way characters are rendered, only that it is far and away the over-riding interest of most of the writers. Interactions between the series' main characters predominate in most stories, sometimes to the extent that they totally overshadow any irritating things (such as the plot) that try to get in the way. To cite examples would be largely pointless, there are just so many of them, but there is some variation in the way this approach to fan fiction is undertaken.

The first is simply to 'capture' (and I may be right in using the term deliberately) the characters as perfectly as possible, to present them speaking and behaving as the writer envisages they would in a proper 'canonical' episode. This is, essentially, a reprographic process (I intentionally avoid the term 'reproductive', since it has other connotations). To an extent, this faithful duplication of the series' characters is understandable, and necessary - - these are B7 stories, after all - but there can come a point where this ceases to be a means to an end and becomes an end in itself, either temporarily (when character interaction goes beyond the practical needs of advancing the plot and 'infodumping'), or as the central focus of the story. The latter often appears as 'thought pieces', largely or totally plotless, which depict the character her/imself thinking through his/er position within the group in reference to recognised in-series events (as opposed to events originating from the fan writer). Two examples would be Priscilla Futcher's *Talk about Summer, Remember Winter* (H-17) and Catherine Salmon's +In Broken Images* (Star One).

The second approach, slightly different and often overlapping the first, is to force the characters into situations where they are allowed - or obliged - to behave in a minor not yet seen on screen, or even contradicting their on- screen behaviour, yet *still remain in character*. At its most basic this is the province of the hurt/comfort story. In its elementary structure, two characters (usually male, one of them nearly always Avon) are isolated from the rest of the group and placed in a life threatening situation. There they forge an emotional link that to all intents and purposes exists openly *for the period of the story only*, though it is expected to continue covertly once the story ends. Two aspects of this kind of story stand out, to me at any rate. The first is that the relationship shift is usually positive (no exception springs to mind), entailing as it does a greater depth of understanding, or resolution of long- standing differences. The second is that it (sic) this intercharacter development takes place in isolation (as already noted) and is effectively a furtive, or *secret*, act. The converse eventuality, where the characters concerned find the rift between them widened, perhaps irreversibly, is distinctly unusual except, reportedly, in adult fiction (more on that later).

It is not my intention to try to psychoanalyse fan writers, since for one thing it would take up a lot of space and for another I'd no doubt do it very badly. Suffice it to say that character interaction is a preoccupying theme of the fan writer, both as it was depicted in the series and as it may have been, but wasn't.

B7 as Action/Adventure - A slightly unusual category, this, since it is as much concerned with the structure of the story as its underlying style. The TV series was, of course, primarily cast in this mould, and fanfic inevitably reflects this. However, the fan story is freed from the constraints and demands of a 50 minute byte of visual entertainment, and is not bound to adopt the action/adventure format. Some stories do, nevertheless, follow it faithfully as a central theme. Although a.a can stand alone as the primary purpose of a story (as in Catherine Knowles *The Epic*), it is more likely to be a structural vehicle for presenting other material, as was frequently the case in the series. Fan fiction reflects this, and a/a fan stories can be a way of bringing about, for instance, intercharacter resolution (Mary Moulden's *Captivity*, H-9), or socio-political propaganda (my own *Hunter*, Star Two). More often a/a crops up sporadically as a plot enhancer-cum- lightener, particularly in longer works like McGhin/Snyder's *Hellhound* or Rosenthal/Wortham's *Last Stand at the Edge of the World*. In such cases, the action episodes are an essential part of the plot but peripheral to the central concerns of the story.

The main observation I would make about a/a in fan fic is that it tends to be the weakest element of a story in the way it is written. This is not to say there are no exceptions, since there are quite a few, but some of the essential elements of a/a - such as weapons and security technology, and the organisation and operation of military and intelligence bodies - lie, as I've already suggested, somewhat beyond the typical fan writer's field of interest. It is perhaps inevitable that the end results have a tendency to be unconvincing.

B7 as Historical Romance - Another biggie. Elsewhere in this zine I have already mentioned the disparity between the Romantic and Realistic approaches to an writing, and I'm not going to labour through it all again. It may at first sight seem a contradiction that writing based on a *futuristic* series should look to the past for inspiration, but this is a common convention in pre-New Wave SF itself. Also, since fan writers are not, as I've argued, primarily interested in science fiction or in propagandising, the shape and structure of a potential future or actual present are of genuinely marginal interest. More important is an environment in which the main preoccupation of fan fiction - character interaction - can take place. The historic epoch in question is not normally transported wholesale into B7, though this can happen, such as the quasi-medieval planet of Maria C Przeslawska's *Spellbound* (Rebel-1), or the explicit 16th Century cast of Gill Marsden's *When You Look into the Abyss* (H-17). More typically, a sense of the past is evoked through the use of plot structures, props or the role of ancillary characters. Lone scientists working in secret for power-crazed backers (usually Servalan) take the place of research teams accountable to a faceless state department. A spaceship is an icon of freedom, not a tax-deductible asset. Aliens are given the role of mythic beasts, demons or demigods, rather than that of specimens for scientific curiosity.

The actual historical period is rarely defined, but is - in my experience - universally pre-industrial. I think it is significant that a large proportion of fan fiction consciously or unconsciously avoids the social legacy of the Industrial Revolution - high-level organisation, bureaucratisation, commercialism, and the inscription of the individual into the socio-economic fabric of society. This is odd, given the prominent role of the heavily industrialised and highly bureaucratised Federation, but fan writers have the answer - remove the action to some isolated point in space, where the social complexities can be pared down to their absolute minimum. The ultimate variant of this 'pastoralising' process is to confine a story to just the crew aboard their ship, where no unwanted outside influence can interfere with the development of the story. Cities are rarely visited in fan stories, which is not necessarily a bad thing since when they are (as in, for example, Jean Graham's *Shadow of the Trojan Horse*, H-15) the results are not entirely convincing. Urban centres are more likely to be lawless, pioneer settlements, somewhat evocative of the Wild West (perhaps the most familiar real-world interface between pre- and post-industrialisation).

What I think is really sought after by the writer, however, is a sense of *timelessness*. A pre-Industrial past offers a suitable model for this, it that it is distant from present day experience yet accessible, though not necessarily in detail, from general knowledge. It also represents an alternative to creating a future universe from scratch, which would be demanding in terms of time and creative effort, and would shunt aside the primary purpose of writing in the first place. The subcreated material given in the broadcast series is sufficient as a basis from which to work on.

I think the Historic Romance approach is also deliberately chosen, though the writer may not recognise it, precisely because it frees the characters and the story as a whole from the complex, conflicting interplay of demands a realistic story could impose. One of these demands may well be an emotional blunting which precisely goes against the main objectives of the writer. The significance of historicisation is the freedom it implies, both freedom from the tortuous everyday grind of the real world, but also an emotional freedom which the writer perceives as denied in a 'realistic' future environment. This ties in quite neatly with the apolitical slant adopted by the majority of fan writers and the exploitation, as opposed to exploration, of the possibilities offered by SF as *science* fiction.

B7 as Erotica - Like it or not, you can't ignore this one. However, although 'adult' fiction, both hetero- and homoerotic, accounts for a large proportion of published fanfic (perhaps up to a third, though probably less), to place it in a class of it's own is arguably artificial. I am less aquatinted with this particular branch of fanfic, but from what I've read and heard about, I'm inclined to think that B7 erotica is more an extension of the preferred approach to writing B7 listed above. Sexual relationships represent an ultimate form of character interaction, which implies that the sexual activity itself may be largely symbolic. It carries with it the desired sense of timelessness - people have been bonking each other for as long as there have been people (if they hadn't, we wouldn't be here today). The social codes and taboos surrounding sex in our everyday lives also mean that lust on the Liberator is conducted in private (a natural, rather than a contrived isolation of two characters) and not necessarily discussed afterwards (like the emotional links formed in the hurt/comfort story). Where adult fiction differs from hurt/comfort, or so I am informed, is in that the resolution is not necessarily a happy one - stories with a heavy sexual content apparently have a habit of ending rather bleakly.

However, perhaps more so than any other style of fan writing, Erotica is a complex area, fulfilling a number of roles. This has been covered in some issues of the Horizon Letterzine, and also in Henry Jenkins' *Textual Poachers*. I'm not going to reiterate all the arguments here, nor add to them. It would venture too far into the realms of discussing not just the writing, but the writers themselves, and that is something I'm explicitly avoiding here.

To sum up, then, fanfic is unusual because it is not, on the whole, the action- oriented science fiction from which it is derived. Subordinate elements in the series are elevated to a more prominent position and magnified, often very considerably. This implies in turn the introduction of new aspects of B7 (sex, basically) which were effectively absent in the broadcast episodes.

This has resulted in a very diverse range of writing (for just about every rule listed above, there is probably at least one exception), but with concentrated areas of interest. This is obviously what the writers want to write about, but is it also what the readers want to read? And why *does* fanfic so often take the form of pseudo-historic romance focusing on the interaction of characters in a social and temporal limbo? Who does this appeal to, and what makes it so appealing? What have the alternatives got against them? I'm throwing this over as an invitation, to anyone who wishes, to write in and say what kind of fanfic you like and why, as well as what you don't like and why not.

Next issue: B7 Fanfic and the Barthesian Structuralism - the Interstitial Generation of Rhetorical Confusion via Constraints on the Process of Presentation (part one).

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Last changed on 26th of April 1998