How Many Ways Back?
|Title:||How Many Ways Back?|
|Medium:||print, then online|
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"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."
Some Topics Discussed
- "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..."
- "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..."
- "B7 as Science Fiction"
- "B7 as Social Comment"
- "B7 as Group Psychology"
- "B7 as Action/Adventure"
- "B7 as Historical Romance"
- "B7 as Erotica"
- "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."
- "Whatever else fan writers like doing, it is not climbing up on a [propaganda] soapbox."
- "...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."
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.
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.
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.