Every two weeks I post a new bit of what is, I must reluctantly admit, Star Wars fan fiction. This week I made Han Solo a girl. Andy really liked that, and this started as a response to his commentary.
Luke and Leia hold at least as much mythic significance most people of our generation as, say, Theseus and Ariadne would have held to your typical Athenian. Putting them onstage applies a certain pressure of reader expectation to your plot; twisting that can have the same effect as subverting other, more generalized social norms, and has the benefit of coming from an unexpected direction. Sumana’s excellent post about slash and subversion points out that such twists can “disorient and reorient” your experience of the original work. It’s exactly what Euripides did with Medea, and Virgil with Aeneas (and Dante with Virgil).
But since our high-information society allows–indeed, legally requires–traceback to the writer who first introduced any given character into our awareness, we no longer have stories that seem to have spontaneously informed our culture. When every dollar has a serial number, there is no common coin. The consensus-approved solution is to wait until the story you want to rewrite is a) old and respectable and b) in the public domain, and right now, the former still takes longer. The problem is that the rate at which we produce stories is accelerating, and a story that fills the Western imagination one year will likely have been forgotten in the tide of newcomers eighty years later. This is what fanfic tries to solve.
My basic conceptual issue with fanfic is that it caters mostly to niche audiences; it tends to reinforce cliques and generate closed language instead of transcending boundaries and bringing together disparate audiences (props again to Sumana for illuminating that distinction, although at the time it was in the context of neo-web projects). Cross-genre fiction appeals to a unity of two groups, where crossover fanfic appeals only to an intersection. In that way I actually have more sympathy for stories written in the context of ultra-popular milieu: you can parse and enjoy Star Wars fanfic without being a Star Wars fan. If you’re alive and reading English in 2007, it very likely has connotations and relevance to you.
Of course, by the same token, the word “fanfic” has enormous connotations (and connotations of enormity) to people who’ve been internetting for a while. It’s usually either a sniveling kleptomania that must be stamped out or a persecuted child who must be defended. I maintain that fanfic is a gradient based on how well you hide your influences, that authors who deride fanfic as stealing could use a strong dose of self-examination, and that I personally prefer work on the better-hidden end of the scale because that means you had to do the work of hiding it. Lazy fiction is not good fiction, and I say that as someone who is pretty lazy, pretty often.