Today I Read…Fic: Why Fanfiction is Taking Over the World

FicToday I read Fic: Why Fanfiction is Taking Over the World by Anne Jamison, with a foreword by Lev Grossman.

Fanfiction…the final frontier. These are the voyages of academics, actors, lawyers, editors, authors, online archivists, activists, students, and of course, fanficcers. Coming from all walks of life and all fandoms, professor Anne Jamison has put together a stunning collection of essays about a hobby millions of people have had for decades, but were too often afraid to admit, out of embarrassment or fear of the copyright holders’ reaction. But fanfic has a history since long before the days of ‘zines and has expanded far beyond stories about Kirk and Spock, or Kirk/Spock. From Sherlock Holmes’ pastiches to the influence of Star Trek to RPF, bronies, the success of the Twilight-inspired Fifty Shades of Grey, and the growing understanding of the legality of fic, Fic is the perfect resource for the fan studying fandom, and for anyone else who ever wondered “what if the story happened this way instead?”

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I won this book from a Goodreads‘ First Reads contest, and I was thrilled since it was already on my personal to-read list. I was even more thrilled when I actually read it, because it’s terrific. I’ve mentioned before (a few times) my interest in academic fandom, both in studying properties that inspire fandom and in studying fandom itself. I’ve been a fan since grade 3, reading fanfic since I was about 15, and I attended my first convention at 18. In some ways, this book is part of the story of my life. It also introduced me to parts of fandom that I didn’t know about–I’ve said before that I hate Twilight, but Jamison does make some interesting points about the fandom writing fanfic to correct Meyer’s (many) mistakes and problems. To be fair, that’s the entire point of fixit fics, to correct what you thought was wrong with a given episode. Sometimes rage leads to ficwriting as much as love for the original property–I still have an old half-written X-Files fic on my harddrive that managed to combine fixit, RPF, meta, and Mary Sue, and another fic that combined Smallville and House M.D. solely for the purpose of Greg House insulting Lana Lang. I can respect that motivation, even though I maintain that there was nothing redeemable about Twishite. But, whatever floats your boat.

I’ve read a lot of fanfic over the years (a lot) (no, I’m not kidding, a lot) (a lot a lot a lot), and I didn’t like everything, but most of the writers were able to make an interesting point. Some fanfic writers I’ve loved better than ‘traditional’ writers. Some fanfic writers ARE published, traditional writers playing in a sandbox they love just like the rest of us. Some writers that I know started writing in fanfic, polishing their skills, before they became published writers, and still love fanfic. All of which are points that Jamison makes so I guess it’s not just me. That’s the thing about fandom–it’s very personal, if you’re a fan, it’s your culture and your identity and your hobby and your friends. Jamison started as an academic studying fandom, but eventually she became a fan–fandom has a way of sucking you in and inviting you to play too.

And…this has devolved into a discussion of me, not the book hasn’t it? I saw a lot of myself in this book–in a nonfiction cultural study, I guess that means she got it right. The essays she collected are equally well-done, offering different perspectives from different fandoms and fans who have experienced fandom in different times and places.They look at slash, het, g, omegaverse, au, and RPF. They discuss both copyright and the different understandings of the laws regarding copyright. They look at how the internet has vastly changed the face of fandom, and truly helped it turn into a global community. They look at attitudes towards monetizing fanfic and the arguments against it, and how it affects the community that supported its creation. They look at the problems with fanfic, and the areas that it rarely touches. And they look at fanfic as art, and where it belongs in the artistic and literary worlds.

This book is a must for academic fans, for fans who want a wider perspective on fandom than their own experiences, and for fic writers who want to know the history of their hobby.

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Today I Read…Eye of the Crow

Eye of the CrowToday I read Eye of the Crow by Shane Peacock, the first book in The Boy Sherlock Holmes series.

Born of a Jewish father and a mother disinherited from the gentry, and with the gifts of intellect and observation, young Sherlock Holmes is not a boy who fits in anywhere. Tormented by his schoolfellows, he prefers to spend his days reading the exciting police newspapers in Trafalgar Square, until one day when he reads of the shocking murder of a lovely young actress, and the arrest of the wicked Arab what done ‘er in. Justice served…or is she?

The young Egyptian, poor and dark of skin though he be, professes his innocence, and only Sherlock, condemned by society for being a half-mongrel Jew, believes him. But when he goes snooping around the scene of the crime, the detectives of Scotland Yard think he’s in on it!

Chased by the police, and with the true murderer lurking around every corner, young Sherlock must make new friends, treat with his enemies,and stretch his mind to its very limits to solve the crime and save himself, the innocent stranger, and someone else dearest to him.

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This series has been on my reading list for a while (I actually picked up a copy of the 6th book, Becoming Holmes, at the 2013 OLA Super Conference), but my to-read list keeps growing and my free time keeps shrinking. But now with my new job in a school library (yay! so exciting!) I can call it ‘familiarizing myself with the collection’ and delve more into the middle grades fiction and leave off the adult books for a while. So I grabbed the first book and devoured it today after school.

It’s definitely written as a modern mystery, even though it’s set in the Victorian era. It doesn’t have the distinct tone of the Conan Doyle stories, even though it does well with the historical details. That said, it works well for this story, being written for children–the more modern, familiar tone makes it a fast and easy read.

Fans of the original Sherlock Holmes will see elements of the great detective scattered through the book, in somewhat changed circumstances. Miss Irene Doyle, for example, is a most daring young woman, and the intelligent and dangerous Malefactor is almost a dark version of Holmes. There is no loyal Watson, which seems odd–a Sherlock should never be without his Boswell–but it is only the first book in the series, so I’m hoping an equivalent shows up in a further adventure.

Sherlock himself is not the same cold, calculating man of pure practical science that some readers may recall. He is a child–gifted, different, but still hurt by others’ disdain. He is angry at the world, for condemning him as a half-breed and dooming him to a life of poverty and struggle for the conditions of his birth–it’s not FAIR! His anger costs him dearly–he is forced to shut away his emotions to solve the case and save himself, showing the roots of the once and future great detective.

I like the book–I’m a fan of Sherlock Holmes, and I enjoy rewrites of famous stories and characters, seeing all the different ways they can go in the hands of different authors. Peacock does a great job of going back to the beginning of such a famous and beloved character, and introducing him to a new generation. The book evokes the past Sherlock and his London while still being accessible to a young reader. Now, for the upcoming weekend, I think I need to borrow the rest of the series at school tomorrow…

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As the sun climbs, its rays spread light through the lifting yellow fog, filtering down upon a brown, flowing mass of people: on top hats and bonnets, heavy clothes and boots swarming on bridges and along cobblestone streets. Hooves strike the pavement, clip-clopping over the rumbling iron wheels, the drone of the crowds, and hawkers’ cries. The smell of horses, of refuse, of coal and gas, hangs in the air. Nearly everyone has somewhere to go on this late spring morning in the year of Our Lord, 1867.

Among those moving over the dirty river from the south, is a tall, thin youth with skin the pallor of the pale margins in The Times of London. He is thirteen years old and should be in school. From a distance he appears elegant in his black frock coat and necktie with waistcoat and polished boots. Up close, he looks frayed. He seems sad, but his gray eyes are alert.

His name is Sherlock Holmes.

Last night’s crime in Whitechapel, one of many in London, though perhaps its most vicious, will change his life. In moments it will introduce itself to him. Within days it will envelop him.

He comes to these loud, bustling streets to get away from his problems, to look for excitement, and to see the rich and famous, to wonder what makes them successful and appreciated. He has a nose for the scent of thrilling and desperate things, and all around these teeming arteries, he finds them.

He gets here by the same route every day. At first he heads south from the family’s first-floor flat over the old hatter’s shop in grimy Southwark, and walks in the direction of his school. But when he is out of sight he always veers west, and then sneaks north and crosses the river with the crowds at Blackfriars Bridge, for the glorious center of the city.

Londoners move past him in waves, each with a story. They all fascinate him.

Sherlock Holmes is an observing machine; has been that way almost since birth. He can size up a man or a woman in an instant. He can tell where someone is from, what another does to make his living. In fact, he is known for it on his little street. If something is missing – a boot or an apron or a crusty doorstep of bread – he can look into faces, examine trousers, find telltale clues, and track the culprit, large or small.

This man walking toward him has been in the army, you can tell by his bearing. He’s pulled the trigger of his rifle with the calloused index finger of his right hand. He’s served in India – notice the Hindu symbol on his left cuff link, like one the boy has seen in a book.

He walks on. A woman with a bonnet pulled down on her head and a shawl gripped around her shoulders brushes against him as she passes.

“Watch your step, you,” she grumbles, glaring at him.

An easy one, thinks the boy. She has recently lost in love, notice the stains around her eyes, the tight anger in her mouth, and the chocolate hidden in her hand. She is within a year of thirty, gaining a little weight, a resident of the Sussex countryside where its unique brown clay has marked the insteps of both her black boots.

The boy feels like he needs to know everything. He needs advantages in a life that has given him few. A teacher at his school once told him he was brilliant. He’d scoffed at that. “Brilliant at what?” he had muttered to himself. “At being in the wrong life at the wrong time?”

On Fleet Street, he reaches into a cast-iron dustbin and pulls out a handful of newspapers. The Times … toss it back. The Daily Telegraph … toss it back. The Illustrated Police News … ah, yes. Now there is a newspaper! Every sensation that London can create brought to life in big black-and-white pictures. He reads such scandal sheets every day, but this one, with a riveting tale of bloody violence and injustice, will reveal to him his destiny.

Today I Read…Sherlock: The Casebook

Sherlock CasebookToday I read Sherlock: The Casebook by Guy Adams. This is a guide to the first two series of the BBC show Sherlock starring Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman.

My name is Dr. John Watson, and recently I have had the privilege of working with a truly remarkable man, with the most dizzying, gifted mind that I have ever come across. This is an attempt to put my notes together and help ordinary people (like myself, for one) to understand the genius of the consulting detective Sherlock Holmes and what he has termed ‘the science of deduction.’ The first time I met Sherlock…no one cares John, this is boring. The case is what matters, not you nattering on about trifles like how we met. We both needed a flatmate, you weren’t completely stupid and occasionally somewhat useful, we started solving cases together. Also, can you hand me my phone?…Sherlock, I’m trying to write here. And your phone is, as usual, in your jacket pocket. The jacket you are wearing right now. And yes, people do care about the background, it’s interesting and it helps people understand why I haven’t strangled you in your sleep yet. Although Greg mentioned last week that the neighbours have just about stopped calling to complain about the noise whenever you get bored and shoot the walls, so if I happen to accidentally shoot you for being an impossible git I’d probably have plenty of time to get away…Greg? Who is Greg? And you’re much cleverer than those bumblers in the police, like Anderson, you could probably shoot me in front of the Eye with a dozen Japanese tourists taking photographs and he wouldn’t figure it out… Greg *Lestrade*, Sherlock, we’ve discussed this before, you really could make a slight effort to remember his first name, he’s a good friend and it’s not like it’s a hard name, and I’m still trying to write so would you please go away and get those eyeballs out of the fridge? You’ve finished with your experiment and I don’t like having them in the same fridge as the milk for the tea. Though we’re out of milk, seeing as when I asked you to bring some home last night you brought sixteen varieties of pesticides instead…I needed those for an experiment John, I wanted to see what trace amounts would look like dried under the fingernails…yes, and the severed fingers can be cleaned out too if you’re done. And don’t put them in the trash, it disturbs the garbagemen, put them in the biohazard bags I brought home and we’ll take them along back to St. Bart’s the next time we go…but John, I think one of the garbagemen might be a murderer, he does look so pleased whenever he comes across the organs in the trash. He may have a fetish…No, Sherlock, he’s a fan. He reads my blog, he comments as TrashIsTreasureAndIKnowWhatsInYours. He likes going through our trash because he thinks it gives him special insight into our cases, though I think you may be right about the fetish bit…oh course I’m right, I’m always right, or at least hardly ever wrong, and I’m still waiting for you to get my phone John…I’m taking back all the nice things I was writing about you Sherlock…no you’re not.

This entertaining book is half casebook with commentary, and half guide to the television show Sherlock, a 21st century reimagining of the great detective Sherlock Holmes and his loyal companion Dr. John Watson. John’s notes include his and Sherlock’s observations, news articles about their cases, photos, and lays out the case piece by piece, encouraging the reader to follow along as Sherlock observes and deduces the clues. Sherlock, always incapable of minding his tongue, makes his pointed comments about John’s ‘scrapbook’ via yellow sticky notes between the pages, while John is forced to defend his work via retaliatory green sticky notes. In between each of the six cases, representing the so-far six episodes of the show, are in-depth interviews with the cast, crew, and creators, articles about the episodes, and analyses of the connection between the original Conan Doyle stories and the modern BBC version, and all of the versions in between. This book is a great read for any fan of the consulting detective and the loyal doctor.

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I’ve mentioned before my love of snark and pop culture guides like this and this. I love Sherlock–they’ve done such a wonderful job of thinking about what he would be like in the 21st century, and what the modern equivalents are of the tools he used in the Doyle stories, eg. homeless people for street urchins, taxis for horse-drawn cabs, nicotine patches since smoking isn’t socially acceptable anymore. Sherlock has drawn intense devotion among its fanbase, since there have only been 6 episodes produced over the last three years (although series 3 is set to FINALLY begin airing in January).

The scrapbook part of the book is interesting, informative, and entertaining. In the episodes, they have to keep the story moving. Though John’s notes and the messages between Sherlock and John, the reader can see both their thought processes a little more and their relationship, which has always been a huge part of the Holmes mythos. You simply can’t have a Sherlock Holmes without a John Watson. He’s only part of a person like that. Of course, the contrary is true as well– a Watson without a Holmes is lost and directionless, and Sherlock does an excellent job of showing this to the audience. (You can find the essay I wrote on John Watson, “My Dear Watson is Elementary: The Strange Case of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson” in my ebook I’m Not Watching TV, I’m Doing Homework!: Essays on Science Fiction here.)

As for the nonfiction side, it is equally as well done. Since this is an official tie-in published by BBC Books, Guy Adams was able to get access to the people who know Sherlock best–the ones who make it. He retells their stories and insights with wit and a genuine interest so it is never a dry interview with people about their jobs. He also did his homework with regards to Doyle, the original Holmes stories, and the various screen versions that have popped up over the years, while still staying focused on Sherlock. It comes across as an acknowledgement of the inspiration and what has gone before without becoming about the other versions.

Like most television guides, this will mainly appeal to fans of the show, the devoted ones who want to know all of the details of how the show is made, the in-jokes that the crew put in to amuse themselves, and the thought processes of the men and women who bring these beloved characters and their world to life. The other side is that these guides quickly become outdated as new episodes air (not that rapidly for Sherlock of course, since the book was published in 2012 and we won’t get the new episodes until 2014, instead of the more usual new season and new content per year). I’m sure that another book will be produced soon, possibly next year, to include the new cases. But even when we get the new episodes, this will remain a wonderful addition to the world of Sherlock.

Polar Chill this weekend!

Polar ChillFor anyone who is in the Toronto area, this weekend is the Polar Chill relaxacon, presented by the TCON Promotional Society, the group behind Toronto Trek, Polaris, and the upcoming Reversed Polarity. Come out, chill, and actually spend some time in the pool. There will be a pool party Friday night, a trip for Dim Sum Saturday, and a trip to Canada’s Wonderland Sunday, as well as traditional panel programming (because nerds love to talk about nerdy things!).

On Saturday I’ll be leading the discussion “Was the Book Better?”. Talk about your favourite books-turned-into-movies, or your least favourite. Which one was better and why? Or were they both good for different reasons? And to anyone who says the book is ALWAYS better, I have two words for you: Princess Bride. Both the book and the movie were awesome, and I defy anyone to  disagree.

On Sunday, I’ll be leading the discussions “Anatomy of a Villain”, where we talk about our favourite villains and just what makes them the evil overlords of our hearts; “Elementary Dear Sherlock”, talking about the many new versions of Conan Doyle’s famous detective and why is he undergoing such a renewed surge of interest; and “Closing the Gates of Hell: Supernatural Season 8″, where we can dissect the latest season (Castiel! Bobby! Garth! Benny! Charlie! Kevin! Sam! Dean!).

Some of the other panel topics will include a debate between vampires and zombies, and who is the top monster nowadays; Marvel Phase 2, which has now begun with the release of Iron Man 3; a Doctor Who primer, for anyone interested in learning more about the madman with the blue box; a sci-fi themed game of Cards Against Humanity; Doctor Who and Star Trek Scene-It games;  a retrospective on our old home, the Regal Constellation hotel; discussions on Man of Steel and Star Trek: Into Darkness; and a round of ConClue: who’s been murdered this time?

Come say hi!