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Remix and Transformation: An introduction to fanfiction by Renay

Keep Calm and Write FanFictionBackground and Terminology

I really, really love fanfiction

Fanfic has been the dominant form of literature in my life since the late 1990s, and it's only grown to take over more of my literary adventures with the advent of the Archive of Our Own's option to download stories onto my phone. I love a good space opera, but no joke, I love a trope-filled fake boyfriends fic just as much. I love the blank spaces in original works and so I am interested in how fan artists build additional stories about characters I love or subvert canon to tell new, different stories. 

I also happily read most texts from queer perspective, which impacts how I engage with fandom. You can call me a slasher (also see: femslash) because that's my primary mode of engagement with fanwork.

This is only one way to participate — there's myriads of other ways, including "het" and "gen". I know I have often seen slash used interchangeably with "porn", but frankly, that's a reductive view of the category, and the work some fans are doing inside their communities. It helps to think of fandom as a marketing category in which many, many genres exist, including, surprise surprise, fanwork which has no sexual or romantic content at all.

We can go deeper by expanding outwards from fanfiction into podfic, fan art, vidding, and academics. In the last few years, sections of fandom have shifted to Tumblr, a microblog service that has given rise to remixed or canonical gifsets, tag commentary (definitely a brilliant new fannish medium), and round-robin style fic writing and world building — the list goes on and on. 

Although I identify as a slasher and feel most at home in fanfic circles, it's hard to be in fandom these days without getting sucked in to the amazing things other fans are creating. Fanwork does insightful, creative things with original source texts, and so I've chosen a collection of pieces that I think are excellent examples of the fantastic imagination of fans and the way we deconstruct, reconstruct, and think about our media.

Needless to say, there may be spoilers for all the properties below and definite spoilers if you read/watch/listen to any of the pieces. Also, please mind all warnings!

Fandom: Oregon Trail

Easy does it if you're new to game; this is quick and painless. Well, for certain values of painless. And Then We Shot the Ox by coltsbane was pretty sneaky. If you've ever played Oregon Trail, this story will speak to you, and then it will punch you in the soul. Note the tags for maximum LOLs (and tears).

Fandom: Larklight

A few years ago there was a middle grade trilogy by Philip Reeve containing the books LarklightStarcross, and Mothstorm. I adored this clever steampunk adventure series up until the last book, where it did a terrible belly flop into horrible gender politics that it spent the first two books subverting. However, the small amount of fannish output was fantastic. The Alchemists' Revenge by afrai, set after Starcross, is superb. It captures the sheer joy and the tone of the original story while being something all its own.

Bonus: ravenous flesh-eaters at the doors of larklight by memlu

UhuraFandom: Star Trek (Alternate Original Series)

My relationship with Star Trek is complicated. I wasn't able to watch the original series because William Shatner makes me uncomfortable. Fortunately, I've started to come around with the help of friends and one slow episode at a time. However, I really love the aesthetics in the reboot of the series (which is an AU fanfic of the original — apparently fanfic is okay when our culture couches them as "reboots"), while being cognizant of the fact that there are too many dicks on the dance floor

This is why I really love The Reboot series by seperis, but specifically You'll Get There in the End (It Just Takes a While), which is followed by War Games (and should be read in that order, with the other stories being short bonuses). The latter brings in the female characters in ST:AOS more and creates new female characters who get to be awesome. I also especially love the complicated political story, a war seemingly deferred, and subplots that tackle love, partnership, trust, accepting parts of ourselves we're afraid of, and more Spock loving/defending his mother, even though she's gone.

Fandom: Supernatural

Supernatural is a huge, sprawling mess of a fandom (maybe we're a cult?). Supernatural is one of those terrible, soul-crushing narrative experiences your friends warn you not to get involved with at the risk of your emotional health. The source material is often super racist and misogynistic, so ofcourse I follow along getting repeatedly punched in the face.

(TRIGGER WARNING: Violence) Women's Work, a vid by Luminosity & sisabet (streamable here) made a big enough splash in fandom that even I, who had dropped out of the show/fandom when I couldn't handle the horror tropes of the first season, heard about it and saw it passed around widely. The commentary on Fanlore does a great job of summing of the different readings of this vid. I highly recommend watching it, reading the article, and looking up the linked discussions.

Switching gears, The Profound Bond by ablazingwings uses remixed show footage to create an alternate universe movie trailer, along with some affectionate fun-poking at the creation of mainstream romantic comedy trailers. It's fun and lighthearted.

There's a larger discussion of how it's easy to create a remix like the latter, which is painless and romantic, versus how easy it is to create the former, which is violent and awful. There are gender implications along these lines that don't only plague Supernatural, but quite a lot of dark fantasy/horror visual media. The way women die and the way men love one another are deep topics, often intersecting in Supernatural, and is yet another reason why I find so much of the fanwork here thought-provoking and worthwhile.

Fandom: Stargate: Atlantis

I watched the first three seasons of Stargate: Atlantis after getting sucked in by the fandom. Because I was already into SG-1, I read Atlantis fanfic first and then wanted to see what all the fuss was about, no big surprise. What I found was a really neat show that gave fandom tons and tons of material on which to expand, adapt, and surpass what the writers of the show were doing, often brilliantly. Written by the Victors by Speranza is one such story, which combines my tons of things I love, like John and Rodney in love, space adventures, history, and politics in one awesome pile of words. I cannot imagine the scope of telling this story; sometimes I reread it and I'm still awed. Also notable is the super ambitious and remarkable podfic of the piece by Lim (downloadable here).

Steve and Tony by Hallpen ( Avengers

A disclaimer: I do not read superhero comics, and the Marvel Cinematic Universe is my only interaction with these characters. I wasn't going to get involved, ever, either. I had such good intentions. I was going to watch the movies, enjoy them, and leave the fandom alone.

Then I read Semaphore by Devildoll, and that plan went out the window.

I still really love this story (although after seeing The Avengers, I am way less a fan of stories breaking Pepper and Tony up, because they're my favorite couple in the MCU), but because I came to this story before the film, it works: it's painful, it sucks, and it's hard to reconnect even after the dust has settled. I love so many things about this story: Tony's uncertainty and confidence war with each other when it comes to Steve; Steve's inability to allow Tony to be himself in specific ways due to his own feelings about excess; Miriam; and Cupcake Avalanche, which I hold out hope will one day be realized as a playable game.

Fandom: Final Fantasy VIII

For a lot of people, Final Fantasy VI (or Final Fantasy III, depending on your perspective) or Final Fantasy VII was their first Final Fantasy game. Although I played Final Fantasy VII first, Final Fantasy VIII was the one I connected with emotionally. Looking at it now, it's got all the things I love in other media I'm into: time travel, politics, friendship, love stories, and powerful women. Yes by seventhe takes on the task of writing about one of the women, Rinoa Heartilly. I've written thousands of words defending Rinoa and her place in the narrative against charges that she's nothing more than a damsel for Squall Leonhart to save. It's not that I disagree with the accusation of the trope, but believe that to frame her story that way ignores that Rinoa had a narrative life outside Squall, both before and after she came to power. She's a dynamic love interest for a surly, emotionally blunted teenager, but she's also the daughter of a president, a revolutionary, a girl in love, and a sorceress. Yes looks at her acquisition of power throughout the game's narrative, and posits intriguing questions about the nature of women and power and how we see women as passive receptors rather than active agents in their own stories.

Bonus: The Fortress at Sea Level by quinara (I walk in worlds you can only begin to imagine.)

In Closing

Fanwork and fandom are awesome. Fandom is such a vast, complex community, spanning multiple types of mediums, genres, and social networks that it's hard to quantify or explain thoroughly. Every fandom and every community inside each fandom is different. I myself am a really young fan, coasting on history and resources and a community built and shifted across multiple platforms since the early 1990s by other women. There's a lot more out there, and if you're interested, I highly recommended checking out Fanlore, the popular /fandom page of Pinboard, and The Archive of Our Own, where you can sort by fandom and get lost for hours.

Supplemental Material

I'm done explaining why fanfic is okay. by Aja Romano

Fic: Why Fanfiction is Taking Over the World by Anne Jamison

The Boy Who Lived Forever by Lev Grossman


Renay has been writing SF and fantasy fan fiction, criticism, and commentary since the early 1990s. She has founded and contributed to several gaming fandom fanwork newsletters and fanwork exchanges and serves as staff within the Organization for Transformative Works. You can find more of her work at Lady Business, on her tumblr or follow her on Twitter.