From Hartwell, Age of Wonders

Fandom is the loosely organized realm of the science fiction fans. “Fan” has a special meaning when applied to the science fiction field, where it is not to be taken in the loose sense of the aficianado, although that is an original synonym. A science fiction fan is not merely one who observes, who watches, no matter how worshipfully and attentively, as may be the case with a sports fan or a fan of popular music or a devotee of the works of Agatha Christie. SF fandom is made up of people engaging in one or more of the following activities: participating in local science fiction clubs or discussion groups; writing letters to magazines that publish SF; writing letters to other SF fans; attending regional or national SF conventions; collecting SF or related materials; publishing or participating in amateur publications about SF; publishing or participating in publications about SF fandom (not necessarily about science fiction directly).

A person who reads only SF, even if he or she reads a great deal of it, but does not engage in any of these activities is not part of the world of fandom and for the sake of clarity will be referred to as an SF reader rather than a fan. The great majority of SF readers—including most omnivores and chronics—in this strict sense are not fans.

Fans make up only a small part, perhaps 5 percent, or the SF audience. However, they play a central and crucial role in making the SF field what it is. Without fandom, SF might never have established itself as a genre, might well have perished long ago. The activities of fans have kept it alive and vigorous. (147–48)

What motivates the fan, the point of fan activity, is the construction, finishing, and exhibiting of a fan persona through collecting, convention appearances, and writings and other active contributions to the publishing of fanzines. What makes the development of this persona possible is the fact that fandom is a microcosm, a private, limited world with its own rules and mores, small enough so that some sense of belonging is within the reach of every fan who wants to be a part of it. (167)

—David Hartwell, Age of Wonders: Exploring the World of Science Fiction (New York: Walker, 1984)

From Moskowitz, Immortal Storm

The first president of the [Scienceers sf fan] club was a colored fan whose hobby was rocketry, and the Scienceers met at his Harlem home. The willingness of the other members to accede to his leadership, regardless of racial difference, has never had an opportunity for duplication, for James Fitzgerald was the first and last colored man ever actively to engage in the activities of science fiction fandom. It is an established fact that colored science fiction readers number in the thousands, but with the exception of Fitzgerald, the lone Negro who attended the first national science fiction convention in 1938 and the single Negro members [sic] of the later groups, the Eastern Science Fiction Association and the Philadelphia Science Fantasy Society, they play no part in this history.

—Sam Moskowitz, “The Beginning of Organized Fandom,” The Immortal Storm: A History of Science Fiction Fandom (Westport, CT: Hyperion, 1974), 10

Worldcon talk 2014-08-18

Thanks to all who attended my Worldcon keynote, “Affirmational and Transformational Doctor Who Fan Videos.” I promised to link to the videos I showed, so here goes.

Censor clip

From “Fury From the Deep” (1968), with Oak and Quill launching a toxic gas attack against Maggie Harris. It may be found on the DW BBC DVD Lost in Time: Collection of Rare Episodes (2004).

Fan-created reconstructed videos of missing eps (recons)

  • Clip from 2000 Loose Cannon colorized recon of “Marco Polo” (1964) on YouTube (my clip was the start of “The Wall of Lies”).
  • Clip from 2008 WhoSprites recon of “The Smugglers” (1966) on YouTube.
  • Clip from drwhoanimator recon of “The Smugglers” (1966) (same bit as above) on YouTube.
  • “The Omnirumour: I Want to Believe” by Leon Hughes (2014) at YouTube (fan vid regarding rumors swirling around the 2013 finding of missing eps).

Titles and trailers

  • “Doctor Who Original Concept Peter Capaldi Intro” by Billy Hanshaw (2013) on YouTube (credited by BBC as inspiring Twelve’s opening titles).
  • “50th Anniversary BBC One Trailer” by VG934 (Dom) on YouTube.
  • “Rain” trailer by John Smith (2014) on YouTube.
  • “Rain” trailer VFX breakdown by John Smith (2014) on YouTube.

Fan music vids

  • “Take On Me” by Greensilver (2010) (no link provided; google it to find it).
  • “Handlebars” by Flummery (2008) (no link provided; google it to find it). Part of the Test Suite of Fair Use Vids.
  • “Papa Don’t Preach” by Greensilver and Eunice (2008) (no link provided; google it to find it).
  • BONUS VID! “Wholock” by John Smith (2013) on YouTube (and VFX breakdown here).

Latest publications

My comp copies have arrived for my two latest publications!

Comp copies of books

The reprint anthology I coedited with Kristina Busse has been released from the University of Iowa Press:

Hellekson, Karen, and Kristina Busse. 2014. The Fan Fiction Studies Reader. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press.

Kristina and I wrote the introduction and head notes to introduce each section. We have placed our texts in the public domain after 10 years’ time, so in 2024, they may be reproduced by anyone (but not the essays! those are separately copyrighted).

Here are the contents:

Fan Fiction as Literature

  • Henry Jenkins, “Textual Poachers”
  • Roberta Pearson, “It’s Always 1895: Sherlock Holmes in Cyberspace”
  • Cornel Sandvoss, “The Death of the Reader? Literary Theory and the Study of Texts in Popular Culture”

Fan Identity and Feminism

  • Joanna Russ, “Pornography by Women, for Women, with Love”
  • Patricia Frazer Lamb and Diana L. Veith, “Romantic Myth, Transcendence, and Star Trek Zines”
  • Sara Gwenllian Jones, “The Sex Lives of Cult Television Characters”

Fan Communities and Affect

  • Camille Bacon-Smith, “Training New Members”
  • Nicholas Abercrombie and Brian Longhurst, “Fans and Enthusiasts”
  • Constance Penley, “Future Men”

Fan Creativity and Performance

  • Kurt Lancaster, “Performing in Babylon—Performing in Everyday Life”
  • Francesca Coppa, “Writing Bodies in Space: Media Fan Fiction as Theatrical Performance”

In addition, I have the following essay in a book about TV remakes:

Hellekson, Karen. 2014. “Forbrydelsen, The Killing, Duty, and Ethics.” In Remake Television: Reboot, Re-use, Recycle, edited by Carlen Lavigne, 131–40. Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Littlefield/Lexington Books.

Why I don’t teach

In a June 5, 2013, Chronicle article entitled I Don’t Like Teaching. There, I Said It., the pseudonymous Sidney Perth notes, “So if you don’t like teaching, don’t worry about it. You don’t have to like it; you just have to care about it.” Naturally Perth gets some pushback in the comments, which range from “then please do something else” to “teaching is just one part of the job of being an academic.” However, reading Perth’s post, I conclude that Perth’s reasons for not liking teaching are not my reasons. Unmotivated students, boring essays that you have to grade on deadline—we pretty much all hate that stuff.

Here’s why I don’t teach: it makes me physically ill.

I was a GTA for 4 years at the university where I got my PhD, and I won a teaching award. (I like to think that means I didn’t suck at the job.) You know that feeling of slightly sick excitement that occurs when you do something novel? Some teachers feel it before the first day of class. Some people feel it so acutely that they vomit. But then they feel better and the experience normalizes.

I never normalized. I felt ill every day before I taught, and then I felt ill on the days I taught.

I could not sleep the night before I taught because I was so stressed out. During class, I was acutely aware of students looking at me. I had trouble winging it; I had to be absolutely, positively completely prepared. I wrote out 10 things to cover in each class, just to ensure I’d fill the time allotted. If I didn’t have these things, I could barely breathe during class. On off days, when I wasn’t teaching, I was busy prepping. On on days, when I had to teach, I was busy freaking out. I felt nervously ill all the time.

It was utterly exhausting.

I went to counseling to learn relaxation techniques. I compulsively researched teaching methods, pedagogy, and excellence. Because I felt terrible about every aspect of teaching, I couldn’t tell what I was doing right and what I was doing wrong; it all felt wrong. I thought all my students hated me because I felt like I hated them—because it was all so stressful. I had completely normal student evaluations, but I focused on the two students who despised me while utterly discounting all other feedback, thus creating a self-fulfilling loop of despair.

There’s a difference between Perth’s not liking teaching and my not liking teaching: Perth can tolerate it, and I cannot. My very body will not let me teach.

My biggest fear is that something will happen and I will be forced to teach for a living. I realize this is irrational: I have a deep skill set in other fields, notably publishing, and I could easily find a job in that field if I was willing to move. My PhD is now too old for me to get work as anything other than an adjunct. Plus, what if the MA program in science fiction at Liverpool phones me up and asks me to teach a module in, say, the alternate history? Because that sounds really cool. (Although I’d be better at administration. I’m just saying. In case Liverpool reads this.)

I fully understand that this physical dislike of teaching seems irrational in light of things that I do that seem similar but that do not generate the same anxiety. For example, I can get up in front of people at an academic conference and deliver a paper. And I can wear skimpy clothing and jump around teaching aerobics. Maybe it’s because these activities feel like one-off performances to me, rather than consistent pedagogical engagement.

I do know this: students deserve an instructor who rolls out of bed thinking something other than, “Oh, please, god, NO. NO.”

Kindle Worlds and fan fiction

The Internet (and my inbox) has exploded over the last day or so as people took notice of Amazon/Kindle’s latest venture: Kindle Worlds. Amazon says excitedly, “Get ready for Kindle Worlds, a place for you to publish fan fiction inspired by popular books, shows, movies, comics, music, and games.”

What have we here? Why, it’s the latest attempt* by content providers to monetize fan labor. As far as that goes, it may be the best deal I’ve seen. Wannabe writers may write in one of three fandoms/properties: Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars, and The Vampire Diaries (more are promised). All these are owned by Warner Bros. Naturally the requirements are pretty stringent: no explicit sex, no crossovers, etc. (author guidelines here).

I’m not exactly filled with horror about this, because if you define fan fiction as “derivative texts written for free within the context of a specific community,” then this isn’t that. True, they are fans. And they write… fiction. But what Amazon Worlds is doing is extending the opportunity to writers to work for hire by writing, on spec, derivative tie-ins in a shared universe, under terms that professional writers would be inclined to reject. However, “work for hire, on spec, for certain tie-ins” doesn’t really have the ring of “fan fiction,” does it? By using the term fan fiction, they are shorthanding their future writers as well as their perceived audience.

Fans rightly look askance at content providers who extend such opportunities, because usually the content provider offloads all the risk and takes all the revenue. So Kindle Worlds, by getting the content providers on board, explicitly setting out the rules, and stating the royalties up front, is already doing some things right. In addition, the “Worlds” thing is key to Kindle Worlds:

Kindle Worlds is a creative community where Worlds grow with each new story. You will own the copyright to the original, copyrightable elements (such as characters, scenes, and events) that you create and include in your work, and the World Licensor will retain the copyright to all the original elements of the World. When you submit your story in a World, you are granting Amazon Publishing an exclusive license to the story and all the original elements you include in that story. This means that your story and all the new elements must stay within the applicable World. We will allow Kindle Worlds authors to build on each other’s ideas and elements. We will also give the World Licensor a license to use your new elements and incorporate them into other works without further compensation to you.

One traditional aspect of fan fiction is its place within an active community. Amazon taps into this by explicitly permitting authors to riff off each other’s work. I like that they get that.

Fans won’t stop writing fan fiction: the restrictions for writing for Kindle Worlds may be too onerous for what many fans wish to write. The joy of fan fiction is that you can write whatever the hell you want, and someone is there to read it and love it. In addition, many fans are already professional writers, and they may not want to write tie-ins under terms that they would not accept for their professionally written work. And lots of fans are simply not interested in going pro; they are happy to write works to distribute for free to their community, and they don’t see writing fan fiction as something they want to monetize.

But that said, for those fans who do wish to give this a go (I would be interested myself, except… then I’d have to watch the shows), yes, you’re being exploited, but I anticipate that Kindle Worlds (if it doesn’t fall under the onslaught of fan fury†) will end up with a stable of steady writers who create their own (gated) fannish community, with cross-references and cross-writing. That would be interesting to see. But those who wish to break into freelance writing ought to brush up on what terms the industry thinks are acceptable. And maybe they should join a union.


* Remember FanLib?
† Remember FanLib?