Saturday, May 8, 2010

Fan Fiction

I'm actually not sure why I'm writing this or if I'm even trying to make any specific point, but I came across an interesting post from George RR Martin (the author of the epic A Song of Ice and Fire fantasy series) on his Not a Blog:
regarding fan fiction.

Mr Martin's post was inspired by a rant Diana Gabaldon posted on her blog about it and the 1,000+ responses that the post generated. George Martin's own post got more than 400 responses and he eventually had to lock the thread due to the sheer volume of response.

I've long known George RR Martin is an opponent of fan fiction and actively discourages his fans from writing anything based on his creations (he refers to it as 'playing in someone else's sandbox'). My main issue with Mr Martin and fan fiction is that he doesn't seem to fully understand what it is.

Some time ago a poster on his Not a Blog asked him why he was opposed to fan fiction and his response was a rather flippant comment that he was all for fans writing fiction, he'd just rather they use their own creations, not his to do it. I'm sorry Mr Martin, but that isn't fan fiction, that's fiction.

In this particular article on his Not a Blog he clarifies that position somewhat with this comment:

"One of the things I mislike about fan fiction is its NAME. Truth is, I wrote fan fiction myself. That was how I began, when I was a kid in high school writing for the dittoed comic fanzines of the early 1960s. In those days, however, the term did not mean "fiction set in someone else's universe using someone else's characters." It simply meant "stories written by fans for fans, amateur fiction published in fanzines." Comic fandom was in its infancy then, and most of us who started it were kids... some of whom did make the mistake of publishing amateur fan-written stories about Batman or the Fantastic Four in their 'zines. National (what we called DC back then) and Marvel shut those down pretty quickly.

The rest of us knew better. Including me. I was a fan, an amateur, writing stories out of love just like today's fan fictioneers... but it never dawned on me to write about the JLA or the Fantastic Four or Spider-Man, much as I loved them. I invented my own characters, and wrote about those. Garizan, the Mechanical Warrior. Manta Ray. The White Raider. When Howard Keltner, one of the editors and publishers of STAR-STUDDED COMICS, the leading fanzine of its day, invited me to write about two of his creations, Powerman and Dr. Weird, I leapt at the chance... but only with Howard's express invitation and permission."

Now just because you personally don't like the name of something doesn't mean that you can ignore it to make your own argument. The accepted view of fan fiction has always been that it is a work of fiction written by a fan of a particular creation whether that be a comic book, a TV show, a movie, a book, whatever using concepts and often characters created by the original work's author/creator. What George wrote when he was a teen wasn't fan fiction, it was fiction, he used his own characters and his own world. What he wrote based on Howard Keltner's works was fan fiction, but he had the difference between George and any number of posters out there on the internet writing their own fan fictions was that he had the permission of the creator and his work was endorsed by the creator.

I found it interesting that Mr Martin throughout all his long post made no mention of Songs of the Dying Earth, an anthology published last year edited by Mr Martin and his friend and collaborator Gardner Dozois featuring stories written by George RR Martin and a number of other authors set in Jack Vance's Dying World concept and using characters created by Mr Vance. Aside from the facts that Jack Vance endorsed, authorised and got some of the proceeds, this work was fan fiction, pure and simple. Mr Martin goes on to say that if he passes away he hopes that neither his descendants or publishers allow anyone to write fiction based on his creations. I find that attitude a little churlish. I hope that when he lives to Jack Vance's age (Mr Vance is 93) and receives a submission from a younger author who idolised him and his work and was inspired by such, to put out a book with others using his ideas and characters, that he like his hero Jack Vance, endorses and authorises said work.

George RR Martin's definition of fan fiction also reclassifies a number of original works. Two that immediately spring to mind are Terry Brooks debut novel Sword of Shannara. There is no doubting that the characters and concept were inspired by Lord of the Rings, but they were definitely original, so by George RR Martin's definition Sword of Shannara should be reclassified as Lord of the Rings fan fiction. Sections of Tad Williams' stunning series Otherland are very obviously inspired by L. Frank Baum's Oz concept and Lewis Carroll's Alice in Wonderland, but no one is going to reclassify Otherland as fan fiction. Bill Willingham's marvelous comic book Fables uses public domain characters from popular fairy tales and nursery rhymes, mostly the Brothers Grimm, but I haven't seen anyone classify Fables as Brothers Grimm fan fiction. In fact that's a comic book that George RR Martin heartily endorses and approves of.

I don't read much fan fiction, and I have a few reasons for that, none of which because I disapprove of it. I find a lot of it poorly written, that which is well written often doesn't properly capture the characters properly and most of it is wish fulfilment; the author writing a conclusion to things as they would have preferred to see it. My wife enjoys fan fiction on certain subjects and that's largely driven by the fact that many of the authors write pairings she'd rather see. Having said that I did write a Buffy fan fiction myself many years ago. I used as little of Joss Whedon's characters and ideas while still making it clear that it was definitely set in the Buffyverse. It was well received, but I never wrote another one, preferring to create my own worlds and characters. My attitude towards fan fiction is live and let live. It's out there, you can't stop it, it was in existence well before the internet, it just wasn't as widely distributed and as long as no one writes this stuff and then tries to sell it as their own creation I don't see the problem or the point of the opposition.


  1. I've never read fanfiction, but you make some good points, especially about the Dying Earth anthology. The thing is, it seems like the logic progression of reading. First, you read YA or you find Feist's Magician or anything by Eddings. Then you find Lord of the Rings. Then George RR Martin and Steven Erikson. Then, I guess you just write it yourself.

    Although I can understand discouraging it what with the problems MZB had.

  2. Bryce, I heard about Marion Zimmer Bradley's problems, although they were partly of her own making. Unless someone attempts to represent something that you've created as their own and then make money of that there isn't an issue. I'm really not sure why George Martin gets so hot under the collar about it. I just wanted to put my 2 cents into the debate.
    I agree with you about the progression. I read LotR before I read Brooks, though. I later discovered Eddings, moved onto Feist and then Tad Williams & Jordan. Martin came after Jordan. I still haven't read Erikson, but he's on my list. I guess as you read more and grow older tastes mature. I still haven't found anyone who can top Scott Lynch for mine and that includes Martin.

  3. To be honest, LotR was one of my first and then I went to Martin and later discovered Feist and Eddings which brought me to Erikson. Now I don't think I can read Feist and Eddings anymore. Round about way, but I got there. :)

    I, too, love the Gentleman Bastards. It had me with the name at first, but I still need to read RSORS. I'm waiting till Republic of Thieves is more sure.

  4. I enjoy reading faniction, and write a bit of it myself (haven't for a while though, current reading is mostly historical & it's a bit hard to fan-fic when you [i]know[/i] it all ends in tears "in real life". *laugh*)

    Like Elfy says, I read stuff about characters that are particular favourites & don't get enough "air time" in the book/movie/TV show. Or wish-fulfilment in the romance stakes. But it still has to be well-written, i don't just read any old rubbish...

    Annonymouse on the couch