My newborn fanfiction book collection

I recently decided to start a collection of fanfiction books.

This may seem like a bit of an oxymoron, especially nowadays when most fanfic is published online and most fans aren’t even aware it exists in book form.  When you say ‘print fanfic’, most people think you mean fanzines.  But I’m talking about books, actual fanfic printed in book format. I can’t say exactly what spurred on my sudden decision to collect fanfic books, especially when a good portion of its contents already exist online, and free.  Maybe it’s just the bibliophile in me.  Maybe it’s just the librarian in me.  Maybe it’s just the collector in me.  Maybe it’s just the fan. Most likely it’s all of the above.

I was first introduced to the idea of fanfic in book form in the mid-2000’s when my sister’s friend sent her a beautiful illustrated book of her fanfic (which I briefly mentioned a long time ago in a previous blog post). It looked so gorgeous, so professional, that the concept stuck in my mind, and a few years later I published my own fic in book form. This was more for my own benefit than anyone else’s.  I just really wanted to hold my own words in my hands, to leaf through them, to annotate them, to put them on my book shelves just like the other treasured tomes I possess. It turned out that there were a small number of fans who also wanted copies, and so I opened up access to the books on Lulu.com

The first few books of my new collection…

It wasn’t until I started research on my Ph.D. that I discovered that the fanfiction book was more common than I first thought it was.  I was doing a random search for my ship on Amazon when I discovered a certain book that I may also have mentioned in a previous blog post. I bought a copy (for research purposes initially), mainly because I was intrigued that this book of fanfic was being sold (presumably for money) on a major online bookstore, and had an ISBN (Lulu.com will make these books available at major bricks-and-mortar bookstores, such as Borders, in this case). I haven’t linked to this particular book, since I don’t want to risk drawing the attention of rights-holders to the author, due to the work’s legally grey area.

At the Fan Studies Network Conference last year, I was shown some gorgeous fanfic books, also printed by Lulu, by an acquaintance, and this again reminded me that ‘this was a thing’. At this point, I actually did a little bit of digging into the phenomena and discovered the notorious case of Lori Jareo’s Another Hope, a Star Wars fanfic book that was sold in major bookstores, and was finally shut down by Lucasfilm in 2006. At the time, it caused significant ripples in the fan community, who were afraid that the furore would cause a backlash from the Powers That Be against fanfic itself.  Taking a look around the net, I was able to find that there was quite a sizeable amount of fanfic books out there, and since this seems to be a little-known area of fandom (and fandom research), I thought I would start up a collection of my own – for both research and entertainment purposes.

From a research perspective, there are three strands to my interest in collection fanfic books. The first centres around changing modes of publication.  In the digital era, print-on-demand (POD) has meant that self-publishing has become an affordable reality for many, and there is no longer the stigma of publishing through a ‘vanity press’.  This suggests that the internet has afforded yet more ways for fans to publish their work, apart from digital or amateur press avenues.

On the shelf…

The second area of interest revolves around the materiality of the book, and the fact that some fans still like to have their work presented in a physical format; and that others still like to buy physical written works, despite the free/gift culture that exists within the fan community.  I suspect that this may have something to do with idea of collectability – that there exists in the fan the desire to possess physical tokens of their fandom, the collective size of which may bestow fan capital.  This interest in owning physical works is especially interesting considering the recent decline in e-book sales. Could the phenomenon of fanfic books tell us something about why print books sales are once more increasing?

The last strand of interest for me is that old chestnut – copyright. Needless to say fanfic books occupy a grey area legally, and even if they are not being sold for profit (i.e. sales only going towards the cost of production and/or shipping), does this let them off the hook?  Do they still constitute fair use? And what drives fans to sell print versions of their fanfiction despite the legal nightmare experienced by Another Hope over a decade ago?

I’m not expecting my collection to answer any of these questions.  What it does make me think about however, is that fanfiction books occupy a unique place in the long history of print.  One day, I hope, my collection will be the basis of a public institutional collection that can be enjoyed by all.

* I’m currently taking donations to my collection.  If you’re interested in donating, please reply to this post, DM me at @ludiprice on Twitter, or email me at Ludovica.Price.1 (at) city.ac.uk. Thanks! 🙂 

Share Share Share Share Share Share

Review: Rogue Archives: Digital Cultural Memory and Media Fandom by Abigail De Kosnik

9780262034661Ten years ago Abigail De Kosnik introduced her concept of ‘archontic literature’, which describes fan texts (and indeed many other texts in the canon of Western literature) as additions to a global archive of cultural texts, an archive that writers draw upon to create their own works, thus expanding and enriching the archive that already exists (Derecho, 2006).  Works such as Death Comes to Pemberley by P. D. James build upon the ‘archive’ of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice narrative; Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead builds upon Shakespeare’s Hamlet; countless tales around the world build upon the archive of ancient folklore and mythology that have enthralled us across many eons.  As a student of Library and Information Science (LIS) – and an avid fanficcer – the idea of fan texts as literal and figurative documents in an ever-growing and ever-expanding archive of human culture immediately appealed to me.  The appeal grew to reinforce my opinion – or intuition – that LIS and fandom are intrinsically intertwined.  For if fanfiction is archontic literature, part of a grand cultural archive, who then are the archivists?  The answer, of course, is the fans themselves.

In Rogue Archives, De Kosnik updates the concept of ‘archontic literature’ to ‘archontic production’, crucially expanding it to include other forms of fanwork that do not involve creative writing, such as fanart, fanvids, fanfilms, podfic, cosplay, mods etc.  This expansion of the ‘archontic’ concept here is much more satisfying in that it brings in the entire range of fan production and allows it a space within the cultural archive.  Fanfiction is no longer given precedence but is simply a part of the sum of fandom’s archontic outputs.  Whilst the expansion of the term bolsters its theoretical implementation, it also brings it more in line, both conceptually and metaphorically, with actual archives, which of course are not merely repositories of the written word.

As far as I know, Rogue Archives is the only book that explicitly links LIS to fandom.  Within fan studies, there have been several articles that comment upon classification practices and information behaviour within fandom (e.g. Versaphile, 2011; Johnson, 2014; Thomas, 2016), although few draw explicitly upon the field of LIS and its methodologies to do so.  Likewise, the field of LIS has done little to engage with fan information practices, despite a growing interest in information behaviour within leisure contexts.  LIS literature on fan information behaviour is few and far between, though some does exist, e.g. Hart et al. (1999), Adams (2009), and Bullard (2014; 2016), albeit with limited impact.  What Rogue Archives does is unequivocally link the language of both disciplines (admittedly with a focus on the fan studies angle, which is understandable given the context of the book) for the first time.  From my perspective at least this is a welcome surprise, if only to reaffirm that I’m not in a club of one.

What is also fascinating about Rogue Archives is the fact that it also incorporates concepts from performance studies – an angle which the library school I’m studying at, #citylis, is also heavily interested in (we recently held a symposium, Documenting Performance, which brought together parties from both performance studies and LIS to discuss the ways in which we (can) document complex documents such as live performance).  De Kosnik’s book was an enlightening foray into the idea that fanworks sit squarely on the boundary between the documents of the traditional analogue archive, and the embodied, temporal works of the performance arts. There is an apparent dichotomy between what we call the archive and what De Kosnik and others call ‘repertoire’, as she explains:

“Repertoire” transmits knowledge through processes of embodied mimesis, one person imitating what another person does, while “archive” transmits knowledge through recording technologies […], one person decoding the knowledge that another person has encoded in fixed form. (p.54)

What Rogue Archives does is to break down this seeming dichotomy, by showing how fans use both traditional archival practices and repertoire in order to build the ‘rogue archives’ that fan archives encompass (i.e. they are universal, community-driven and alternative).  Whilst fan archives, such as FF.net and AO3, do seem to be like the usual digital archives on the surface, they reject many of the practices employed in traditional archives.  There is no formal collection policy; archivists are ‘techno-volunteers’ who learn their tasks through repertoire, through following the example of more experienced fans or mentors.  They are based on passionate practice rather than professional practice.  They represent active cultural memory rather than passive cultural memory.

What is important here is that popular culture is constantly moving, evolving.  Fanworks (which are now largely born-digital) are also constantly shifting and dynamic.  They are subject to the whims of their creator, constantly edited, abandoned, unfinished, remixed, reworked, deleted, lost.  Ephemeral, dynamic and rarely instantiated in a single, fixed form, fanworks share much in common with performance art and it is therefore difficult to submit them to the rigidity of formal archival process.  This affinity with complex documents leads fan archivists – ‘techno-volunteers’ as De Kosnik calls them – to effectively bridge the gap between the immovable, analogue world of the traditional archive, and the performative, non-reproducible world of repertoire.

De Kosnik is skeptical of what LIS can do for fandom.  As she notes herself, fans have been “dedicating themselves to digital cultural memory work [since] the early 1990s, just as the Internet and the World Wide Web were becoming integral to daily life” (p.12) – ironically, fans have been digital archivists a lot longer than digital archivists have, and have the corresponding expertise.  This is mirrored in the responses of some current LIS students I surveyed earlier this year for my ‘Fanfiction in the Library‘ paper, delivered at FSN2016 in June (Price & Robinson, 2016).  There was the idea that fans manage their own archives ‘just fine’ themselves.  There is also a wariness of LIS imposing itself on the practices fans have already developed in order to preserve their own cultures.  That is why I believe that any attempt at collaboration should involve the utmost respect and understanding on the part of LIS in preserving digital fan culture.  It is also why I believe that there is a lot LIS can learn from fans, which is why I am researching what I am – and which is what Rogue Archives proves in spades.  I am reminded of the Games Culture Summit earlier this year, where one of the speakers talked about her institution working with gaming fans on the best methods for archiving and preserving videogames.  I think this serves as an encouraging example of what can be achieved when fans and LIS professionals work together.  Pooling together our different but equally important expertise can help create a ‘best practice’ for the preservation and organisation of a growing type of complex and/or dynamic materials that LIS professionals are currently finding a real challenge to deal with.

At the very least, what Rogue Archives proves to LIS is that ‘serious leisure’ (Stebbins, 2001) has been the breeding ground for many new, innovative and significant ways of preserving human culture, methods that it has taken little notice of in the past, but that may yet be able to inform the discipline’s future.

References

  • Adams, S. (2009). What games have to offer: information behavior and meaning-making in virtual play spaces. Library Trends [e-journal] 57 (4). Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1353/lib.0.0058
  • Bullard, J. (2014).  Values and negotiation in classification work. CSCW’14 Companion. Baltimore, USA, 15-19 February 2014 [online].  New York: ACM.  Available through: ACM Digital Library
  • Bullard, J. (2016). Motivating invisible contributions: framing volunteer classification design in a fanfiction repository. Proceedings of the 19th International Conference on Supporting Group Work – GROUP ’16. New York, USA, 13-16 November 2016 [online].  New York: ACM.  Available through: ACM Digital Library
  • De Kosnik, A. (2016). Rogue archives: digital cultural memory and media fandom. Cambridge, MA and London: MIT Press.
  • Derecho, A. (2006).  Archontic literature: a definition, a history, and several theories of fan fiction.  In: K. Hellekson & K. Busse (eds.), Fan fiction and fan communities in the age of the internet.  Jefferson: McFarland, Ch. 1.
  • Hart, C., et al. (1999). The bibliographical structure of fan information.  Collection Building [e-journal] 18 (2).  Available through: Emerald Insight
  • Johnson, S. F. (2014). Fan fiction metadata creation and utilization within fan fiction archives: three primary methods. Transformative Works and Cultures [e-journal] 17.  Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2014.0578
  • Price, L., & Robinson, L. (2016). Fanfiction in the LibraryFan Studies Network Conference 2016, Norwich, Norfolk, UK, 25-26 June 2016.
  • Stebbins, R. A. (2001).  Serious leisure.  Society, [e-journal] 38 (4). Available through: Springer Link
  • Thomas, P. (2016). Wikipedia and participatory culture: Why fans edit. Transformative Works and Cultures [e-journal] 22.  Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.2016.0902
  • Versaphile (2011). Silence in the library: Archives and the preservation of fannish history. Transformative Works and Cultures [e-journal] 6.  Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.3983/twc.v6i0.277
Share Share Share Share Share Share

The future of documents and immersive literacy

On Tuesday 21st October  I went to the Internet Librarian International ’14 conference, and in between talking to everyone’s favourite information scientist superheroine (Batgirl, in case you’re wondering), I was proud to have a front row seat during the keynote speech my PhD supervisor, Lyn Robinson, gave for the Content Innovation track.

As some of you who read this blog may know, I am interested in the myriad ways in which documents can be instantiated, and the changing face of what we call ‘documents’ today.  We are living in an era where the document, and what it is, is becoming increasingly blurred.  Not everyone defines documents in the same way, but the so-called Information Age has made that task of defining a decidedly slippery thing – more so than usual, perhaps.  With our e-books, iTunes playlists, Tumblr reclists, Wiki databases, Powerpoint slides, Twitter feeds and so on – we are inundated by documents on all sides, much of it merely the detritus of the mundane routine of our everyday lives.  You might think your Tweets are unimportant and throw-away – but they’re important enough for the Library of Congress to archive, and you can request your archive if you’re desperate to read back on the minutiae of your life in the Tweetosphere.

My point is, the fluid, dynamic, sometimes ephemeral digital document is here to stay, and in the last 2 decades or so it has completely radicalised the way we view documents themselves.  In many ways, the library and information profession is only just beginning to feel its way round actually dealing with the issues presented by digital documents.  Many of these issues are driven by the rapid progress of technology itself, which requires a constant race with Moore’s Law, and a never-ending battle with thorny problems such as migration and emulation.

But what happens when the digital becomes passée?  When it becomes to us what books are now, or codices and papyri to the ancients?  What happens when the next big revolution in documentation comes along?

Lyn Robinson’s talk might give us some pause for thought, because it implied that that ‘next big thing’ was already here – or at least, it is lurking round the next corner.  What is this next big thing?  It’s the immersive document, and whilst it doesn’t exist yet – not entirely – in her talk Lyn gave examples in her talk of technologies that are already being developed to allow us to smell, taste and touch through wearable digital devices which are, as yet, far from perfect, but which may in future change how we experience reality and fill our leisure time.

Now this is interesting to me because as humans we are perennially attracted to this idea of unreality.  According to Lyn’s presentation, there are three aspects of our lives that we as humans feel drawn to document: our dreams, our fantasies, our memories.  From our ancient myths and legends, to folklore, to the fiction we read and the movies we watch, our innate desire to be drawn into the unreal has always existed, tied unequivocally to our need for escapism, for wonderment, for ways in which to creatively make sense of our inner and outer worlds.  In a couple of previous posts, I talked about the immersive Punchdrunk production The Drowned Man (here and here; third part still forthcoming).  This show interested me because it seemed to me to be as close to an immersive ‘virtual world’ as we could get to in an analogue, non-digital format.  Its set was literally the stage for ‘another world’ where audience members strove to discover the stories of that world’s inhabitants – an impossible task since these characters lived lives whose strands could not be followed in their entirety, just as we are unable to experience the lives of those around us.  What interested me was the documentation of The Drowned Man (or lack of it), and that the fans of the show would congregate online to try and fill in the gaps by providing documentation of their own.  They tried to rebuild the lives of the characters by collaboratively piecing together their knowledge through what they had seen in the show.

But what if you could create an immersive record of a show?  What if you could relive the life of a character by putting on the proverbial 3D headset and experiencing all the sensations they experience, thinking all their thoughts and feeling all their emotions?  What if you could experience the lives of the real life people around you, not just the lives of a character in a play or a book?

This is nothing new, of course.  Popular and literary culture have been playing with this idea for at least a century.  More recent entertainment media have not only exploited the trope of immersive documentation, but have looked at it in ways that might become more relevant in the future, when and if such technology comes into being.  For example, the Dennis Potter TV play, Cold Lazarus (1996), analyses the ethical dilemmas associated with the recording and sharing of ones own memories.  Set in a dystopian Britain of the 2300’s, a media corporation seeks to televise the memories of a 20th century writer, Daniel Feeld, whose head was preserved at death.  The moral dilemma is made even more acute by the revival of the writer’s consciousness, and his awareness of the predicament he now finds himself in.  There is also an interesting play on the fact that the viewer can never be quite sure how true Feeld’s memories really are, as he was in life a temperamental, creative artiste.

coldlazarus5

Still from Cold Lazarus (1996). Source: Deeper Into Movies

Then, in 2001, the first fully computer-generated movie, Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within, was released.  Based on a popular series of videogames, the film kept true to its fantastical roots with its convoluted and unbelievable plot.  But what is interesting about the story is that much of it hinges upon the dreams of the main protagonist, Aki Ross, who appears to have been ‘infected’ by an alien species that is threatening the planet.  Thinking that her dreams might give her a clue to beating the aliens, Aki records her dreams every night, but when those recordings find their way into the wrong hands, Aki finds herself on the run.

Then there’s Remember Me, a 2013 videogame that is set in a future where people upload their memories to the cloud via an implant called the Sensen, which means that essentially your memories are no longer owned exclusively by you, but by the corporation that owns Sensen, Memorize.  The game’s protagonist, Nilin, is one of a small number of people called ‘Errorists’ who are able to hack into the net and remix other people’s memories – distort, add to, or erase them.  In order to complete the game, the story involves Nilin having to remix the memories of certain people in order to restore her own lost memories and bring down Memorize.  The game cleverly tackles issues of privacy, intellectual property (should memories be ‘copyrighted’ like ideas?) and whether we should have the right to erase the memories we don’t like and to augment the ones we do. (We do with our bodies – should our minds be treated any differently?)

Now this may all seem far-fetched, but what all these examples (and many more besides) highlight is a need for immersive literacy.  We are already facing the challenges of information and digital literacy in an age where digital information glut is the norm and so much of our everyday lives revolves around navigating the web and the cloud.  When and if immersive technologies develop, we will need to consider the ethical knots they present, and, on a practical level, we will need to consider how immersive experiences are to be documented, organised, classified, indexed, catalogued and disseminated.  What will the legal ramifications be?  How will the role of the library and information professional have to change in order to manage such ‘documents’?

The digital leap has already caught many of us in the LIS profession unawares.  Perhaps we ought to look a little further into this ‘far-fetched’ future, and think about what it might mean to deal with these potential new types of media – immersive media.

Share Share Share Share Share Share