Archive for August, 2002

Canon and Communication II

Wednesday, August 21st, 2002

Writing fanfic is like speaking a language. The vocabulary of that language
depends on the style of fanfic - for some, the language is the events of canon as
broadcast. For others, the language is the infectious ideas of fanon. Canon people
may denigrate a fanon story in which the characters are stunningly out of
character. Fanon people more often express a sentiment of boredom when reading
canon stories in which none of their own familiar chords are struck.

To make a random analogy, canon fanfic is like historical fiction, where the
challenge is to fit a story to the historical record. (An AU would be like alternate
history.) Fanon fanfic is more like
romance novels, in which the overall plot and emotions are rather standardized,
and the challenge is to do that popular turbolift theme in your own personal way.

Neither canon nor fanon is much like the mystery novel; that much
concentrated, mandatory plotting would be hard to reconcile with the
language of either fanon
or canon. Science fiction and fantasy depend upon writing a new language
(for the new world) and then convincing the reader that she speaks it. That’s
the opposite of fanfic, even for sci-fi shows.

I meant to blog about communication in fandom more generally, so
let me see if I can connect the dots. The language of fanfic is similar
to the language of general fannishness - a canon writer knows the nits as
well as any nitpicker would. A fanon writer knows the classic episodes for
her preferred fanon pairing, even if only second-hand. A complaint about the
show itself leads to a fanfix.

There is no question of civility in fanfic itself - you can snark to your heart’s
content, and as long as you phrase it as a story, there is no arguing with you
directly. Someone might write her own counter-story, but such exchanges
are rarely violent. There’s quite a lag in writing stories, and there’s a bigger
one in reading them - if you read them at all. What J/C fan would read our
C/7 fic to find out what we’re saying about J/C? There’s a dialogue going on
there, but it’s between the writer and the fanon, not the writer and the reader.

There’s no question of civility when talking about the show, either, because
such discussions are always a bloody (and I mean that literally, not Britishly)
religious war. Kill them all and let Roddenberry sort them out.
Just walk into
#jetc and start talking about C/7 and you’ll see what I mean. Or read the
TrekBBS on any topic. These are topics on which we agree to disagree
violently, repeatedly and irreconcilably.

Sometimes, we’re not writing fanfic and we’re not talking about the show.
Those are the meta and the diva times - talking about fandom itself, or
talking about our lovely selves. Meta and diva cause the most controversy
(as opposed to formalized name-calling).
Is someone else’s ideas about, say, the Muse a legitimate meta discussion or
a claim to divine standing?
Is an email about your important diva doings, when crossposted to a generous
smattering of lists, just helpful information or annoying mass-marketing? Is
meta interesting at all? Is snark cruel? Does merely having opinions turn you
into a diva?

At the meta-diva level, we’ve lost our common tongue of Trek or Vamp
or whatever it might be, and we’re thrown back on our native languages.
Where I come from, sarcasm is never a faux pas, but
self-promotion always is. If someone is clearly stupider than you are, you don’t
point that out. You never, ever, ever condescend. It’s fine to go slumming but
you can’t rub his face in it, and
you’re not going to get any sympathy from your friends after the breakup.

But I digress. The point is that there’s a grammar. Some of the rules
are national, some local, some class-based, some individual. It’s not a matter
of print coming across differently than voice would - the sentences themselves
mean different things in different languages.

The Basic English of fandom is always to say thank you for feedback and
never to voice a negative opinion. It’s a starveling tongue, but I doubt there’s
a bigger intersection between the various languages out there. As I get older,
I find that not much can be conveyed in Basic Fannish, and not much of what
can interests me. I’d rather talk to someone who speaks my language than
dance around someone who doesn’t.

Disclaimer for speakers of foreign languages: Note that
I never said canon was better than fanon, or that New Englanders were better
than midwesterners. Nothing I said means that canon is better than fanon or
that I am better than you, not even if you would
have meant exactly that if you had written the above.

Canon and Communication

Tuesday, August 20th, 2002

I’ve been accused of writing “canon” and I don’t object to the label, partly
because I don’t believe canon and fanon are mutually exclusive. The way I see it,
writing canon means writing that has a significant relationship to the show as
broadcast - speaking a language that anyone who watched the show could
understand. Writing fanon is writing with an eye to the traditions of fanfic. How
deeply you delve into canon or fanon determines how “canon” or “fanon” the
resulting story is.

They’re not quite symmetric, because fanon is both easy to ignore, easy to
stumble into, and easy to create. Fanon spreads like a virus - you
pick it up somewhere, without quite remembering which fic it came from, and
incorporate it into your fic, spreading it to others. Canon is hard to ignore,
hard to get right, and impossible to create unless you’re TPTB.

Writing fanfic is always a dialogue with canon - sometimes it’s shouting
“you should have been this way,” and sometimes it’s whispering,
“you really were this way.” The quality of the fanfic is determined
by how convincing the argument is - people who prefer to shout down their
opponents like their fanfic over-the-top. Readers with a more
hermeneutic approach will prefer a convincing moment of characterization or
fanfix to an arbitrary chapter of familiar but unfounded fanon plot.

To give a specific example: a fanon story tells you that
Janeway finally saw the light and told Chakotay how she really felt about him.
A canon story tells you how Janeway saw the light. There’s no
good reason one story can’t do both, though there are bad reasons.
Fanon-leaning people tend to be angry at canon and refuse to deal with certain
events, or deal with them in a hasty, out-of-character way. Canon-leaning
people tend to shy away from any consequences, as if TPTB themselves
were leaning over their computers insisting that the characters be returned
unaltered for next week’s episode. Fluff worn on your sleeve or angst hidden
in your heart…

I really was going to write about communication in fandom, but it’s late so
that will have to wait until tomorrow.

A Rose of Another Name

Monday, August 19th, 2002

what’s your inner flower?

[c] s u g a r d
e w

I confess, I cheated. I was tired of coming out all warm and fuzzy when
actually I’m cold and scary. Or at least, so I’m informed…

City on Fire

Sunday, August 18th, 2002

I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t read the whole thing myself - five hundred pages in the present tense, all from the same character’s perspective. I couldn’t put it down.

I know I should do the proper book review thing and summarize the plot,
but City on Fire is a series book. The war from last book was not
quite over, nor was Aiah’s ascent from minor clerk to major power. The book
carries both of these on - nothing much else happens, except for [spoiler
deleted]. Walter Jon Williams appears to be in the middle of a trilogy.
I don’t know that I would have been so drawn in if I hadn’t read
Metropolitan. There were few new characters, none of them major. The world was the same,
and the glimpse into space just a one-scene preview of, presumably, the next book.

City on Fire was about power. The world produces plasm,
a bit of technobabble for which WJW has called it fantasy rather than sf. Plasm
produces anything you want. The economics of near-infinite power are handled
without any obvious contradictions, but it’s the politics of power that make the
novel shine. This is not, to paraphrase “Falling Onto Mars”, a love story. The
first chapter makes that clear, fuzzy as it may get later on.

Maybe the next book will be a love story. You never can tell.

Where is the Trek?

Saturday, August 17th, 2002

Liz and leather-clad company were kind enough to recommend
Than Fade Away over at
Bright Shiny Objects.
Sad was I to see myself the only representative of all Trekdom - is no one writing,
or is no one reading?

I’m 400 posts behind on ASC, and getting behind on C/7 fic despite the
miniscule size of C/7 fandom, so the trouble isn’t that Trek is dead. Were I as
brave as Lori, to commit myself to the infinite backlog of VS7.5 episodes, I would
have plenty to read. Just reading Lori is a full-time occupation.

Writing Trek is a different matter. It would be an insult, in my mind, to
The Original Cheesies to write serious fanfic about them. I have been
permanently scarred by long-term exposure to the classic caricatures,
marching across the TV screen of my childhood in bright, primary colors.

I confess to being one of those crass souls whose feedback to Lori
opened with a declaration of just how much Picard/Troi squicked me - but
the deeper truth is that any combination of TNG characters
squicks me. Even as individuals, they were squicky - except for Data, Yar and
Spot. Though I watched it off and on, it was never a series that grew on me.

I have the greatest admiration for people who can write DS9 - not, perhaps,
enough to read what they write, but admiration nonetheless. The
characters were, at least, interesting - more human than the TNG crew, more
realistic than TOSsers. But the show itself was a morass of arcs and politics -
even if someone were still broadcasting it, I wouldn’t have the time to watch
it all and find the cracks into which to put my fic. My experiences with Buffy
have set me off the sort of writing in which canon is “more honoured in the
breach than in the observance.”

What is there to say about ENT, except that the franchise should have
taken a break before once-moring into the breach? I, at least, will observe
a decent period of mourning before I go chasing after another
ship called Enterprise.

Which leaves me with VOY, dear, sweet VOY. Dear, sweet, cancelled,
endgamed, over VOY, the only Trek series ever to be
about something (something besides ripping off Babylon 5,
anyway). In fanfic, there’s nothing like that something. It didn’t
matter how many bad time travel eps (and they were all bad)
TPTB tossed at us, nor how many EMH stories, nor how many times Seven
rediscovered her humanity, because the show itself was about a crew
trapped in the back end of the beyond with nobody but one another to rely on,
on a hopeless quest to travel an infinite distance home.

Go ahead, you can write a story about that right now, even without my
telling you who the Captain was, and whether she was in love with her first
mate or her helmsman or, Great Bird preserve us, an idiotic Irish

So why aren’t you writing already? You say you need other fanfic to
inspire you, and the well has gone mysteriously dry? You say you need a
show to watch, but UPN barely deigns to recycle the well-worn
episodes of seventh season? I feel your pain, every Sunday at 11am if I’m
even awake yet, but have you
? The series has been preserved forever in the fuzzy-cam eye of Jim
Wright, and you, yes, you, can watch the reruns any time. You could go there
right now, have your own virtual third season.
Remember Seska? Remember Kes? Weren’t those the days? You
can relive them, and even rewrite them.

Don’t mind me - I’m just reminiscing about
the eternal VOY now.
If I had the time, I’d even write some metafic about it.


Friday, August 16th, 2002

See which Greek Goddess you are.

Feeling content and loved yet? This quiz leaves something to be desired in the way of accuracy.

Visual Arts

Thursday, August 15th, 2002

This week has been a depressing one for me as a writer. First,
bowled me over with its terseness. Movies don’t usually remind me how much
easier it is to tell a story with the characters there, flashing their
facial expressions and flaunting their tones of voice. The medium has so much
power that producers can be infinitely lazy and still get away with it; if, just once,
they do the work, the effect is quite depressing for those of us confined to print.

Even a live storyteller can convey so much more than a flat page - I haven’t
listened to anyone reading flat lately, but I recall the magic of reading aloud. If
you don’t know the story, you have to be a sort of psychic, foreseeing the end
of the sentence early on, guessing the tone on the fly…

So I have a stunning image of a moon crashing into a planet on my
desktop at work. My more cynical co-workers (if any are more cynical than
yours truly) might take it as a comment on the future of the company in the
current economic conditions. A big ocean makes for a mighty big splash. I’m
supposed to be tossing my own moon at other large objects in
Colony, but the lovely artwork on the screen is so much more
impressive than the picture in my mind.

As if that weren’t enough visual depression for one week, I went to
the Museum of Fine Arts last night. Admission is free on Wednesdays, though
I discovered you have to stand in line to get your free ticket now. The free
ticket says $15.00 on it - either they’re trying to impress us freeloaders with
just how much revenue we’re depriving them of, or there’s some sort of
accounting scam going on somewhere.

Where was I? I forgot to check out the textile room, my personal favorite,
but I saw the temporary exhibit of Dutch paintings of the seventeenth century,
from local collections. Some of the miniatures were amazing - I almost believed
that velvet sleeve was popping out of the painting at me, and the rug…you
have to see the rug to believe it. From across the room, the landscapes looked
like light was coming out of them. Looking at tiny, fantastic landscapes (and
even the ones named for real places were invented) I was newly discouraged
in my attempts to describe worlds, or even just trees, in words.

Maybe reading a little poetry would cheer me up.

A Geek for All Seasons

Wednesday, August 14th, 2002

I’ve been thinking about style today, as well as playing with my wallpaper.
I found some nice 2-column css backwards-compatibility advice at,
and went with the realworldstyle
approach for my current Sudden and Unexpected web site project. This is,
by the way, not what they pay me to do.

On the wallpaper end, I hit paydirt at
and decided on a lovely comet-armageddon design by
Greg Martin.

Today in Colony

Tuesday, August 13th, 2002

I distributed the couplets somewhat evenly through Colony, but I’m still
rather short on subplot scenes. I was thinking of dragging in the Borg - I have my
own bad guys who could, presumably, make a subplot of trouble,
but the Borg are so much more accessible. Tuvok plus Borg post-UMZ seems
like a promising combination.

Throwing the Borg at every minor lull in my writing is the sort of thing TPTB
would do. We’re supposed to be above all that, but I need to do something
about the
whole issue of dropping a moon into a sun. It takes too long, and my aliens have
to be pretty darn dense to fall for that one.

If not the Borg, maybe an ion storm… This is why I don’t write VOY
anymore - I used up all my good plot ideas.


Monday, August 12th, 2002

I hear the reviews of Signs have been mixed, but I thought it
was scary and moving at the same time. I’d run right out there and see it if I were you, even if you’re not in the middle of yet another movie-inducing heat wave like we are here in Beantown.

Signs is a movie about faith, by and for people who have never understood or even heard Job’s wife saying, “Curse God and die.” At least, I’m assuming the producer/writer/director is not personally acquainted with the theological vices; I prefer to think of Signs as an amazingly successful outsider’s view of faith, rather than an amazing approachable insider’s perspective. Either way, it was so clean - nothing wasted, nothing extra - that I was blown away.

Oh, yeah, and there were aliens and crop circles and the best use ever of a television test pattern. You’ll have to see it yourself to find out whether mankind goes off the air permanently. I’ve said too much already.