by Keidra Chaney
The publication of Textual Poachers in 1992 opened the door of acceptance for an academic study of fan communities and transformative works, and there’s been a multitude of articles, books and even conferences that focus on fandom. A lot of these books tend to focus on the social structures of fandom, legal/political economy factors, or critical theory. All of them serve to broaden the dialogue about transformative works and popular culture – both within fan communities and also among pop culture enthusiasts who aren’t fan creators.
Anne Jamison’s Fic: Why Fanfiction is Taking Over The World is another valuable addition to this broader dialogue. With an academic background in comparative literature and a personal connection to the fanfic community as a beta reader, Jamison’s book approaches fanfiction from the perspective of literary history and critical analysis, referencing contemporary media fandom’s roots in print literature, such as Sherlock Holmes well-known and enduring influence in the fan-writing community.
The book also explores literary practices that pre-date fanfiction as we commonly know it. In an early chapter, Jamison cites examples of fans that feel a sense of ownership of another author’s creation: she recounts the correspondence between a passionate teen fan and Samuel Richardson about the end of his novel Clarissa and mentions William Makepeace Thackeray, who wrote proto-fanfic about Rebecca in Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe. Jamison illustrates that the desire to “play in the sandboxes” of other writers is not just limited to amateur or novice writers but is part of a broader literary culture.
Fic explores the continually evolving relationships between fiction creators, owners, and fans- an interaction between media creators and fans that existed well before the internet and even television. For example, Jamison mentions that Star Trek showrunners were very much aware of the show’s early zine fandom and actually tweaked the show’s focus to Kirk and Spock’s friendship as a response to the tastes of female fans. Jamison connects the parallel histories of literary critique and commentary writing, early print-based science fiction zine fandom, early internet fan-writing communities, and contemporary media fandoms including Harry Potter and Twilight.
All of this is done in a very accessible, personal way. It’s an academic book for sure but Jamison’s writing reflects sincere enthusiasm for the fan-fiction community as well her literary education. She is not comfortable using the term “aca-fan” to describe her work, but if anything is a perfect marriage of scholarly knowledge and fangirl enthusiasm, it’s Jamison’s writing in this book.
However, Jamison does not serve as Fic’s singular voice, and in fact, stresses within the book that the fan-fiction community is best represented through featuring a diversity of voices and perspectives. The book is primarily an anthology, featuring critical essays, interviews, and personal essays from a wide swath of fandoms and genre writing communities (Francesca Coppa, Kristina Busse and Amber Benson to name just three.) The anthology format opens up the conversation on provocative fandom topics (Real Person Fic, Slash, the influence of Big Name Fans and fan-writers gone pro like Cassandra Clare and E.L. James) This diversity sometimes makes the quality and voice of some of the writing inconsistent compared to Jamison’s solid contributions. Even so, Fic is definitely an informative and enjoyable guide to the culture and history of fan-fiction that will appeal to veteran fan-writers and pop-culture folloers who may be too intimidated to jump into this rich subculture.
Summary: Recommended background reading for those new to fan-fiction and a worthy skim for fandom vets