Quick Fuzzy Nation Addendum

It has been the droll observation of several that in writing Fuzzy Nation, what I’ve really done is write H. Beam Piper fan fiction.

My thought on that: Well, it is fiction, I am a fan, and I did write for my own amusement in a universe for which I didn’t have clearance in at the time — so, overall, yep, looks like fanfic to me, too, or at least some species of it, as I understand fanfic to be. Whether my subsequently getting clearance for the work makes it something other/different than fanfic is something I leave to others with a better knowledge base on the subject, but I suspect it just makes it fanfic authorized after the fact.

So, to the extent that people are saying “Hey! You wrote fanfic!” my response is “I suppose I did. And I had fun doing it.”

58 Comments on “Quick <i>Fuzzy Nation</i> Addendum”

  1. Yup, that’s fanfic all right.

    Rather like Stephen Brust’s Firefly novel, except you got permission to publish and he didn’t.

    So, in a sense, it’s not fanfic anymore, because fanfic is what happens when you don’t get permission from the copyright-holder to publish. So it was fanfic until the Piper estate said “Yes,” and now it’s not.

    (Other people may have other definitions. That one’s mine.)

  2. Well, good on ya. Looking forward to news of the sale. I can think of many less worthy forgotten oldies to deserve a revival. If your announcement spurs folks to seek out the originals (and maybe to get some publisher to reissue them), then that’s a love happening.

  3. mensley, that was both funny and wrong at the same time (waggles finger) shame on you!

  4. I vote for a novel based on ‘Omnilingual’ next.

    One thing that always strikes me about Piper’s universe is how much smoking everyone was doing. (Of course, being a Californian, I’m extra sensitive on this one) Perhaps future readers will look at our fiction and wonder ‘what’s with all those lattes?’

  5. It’s still fanfic to me. Especially having been written before permission was obtained. I think a lot of people balk at the somewhat negative reputation of fanfic, and that’s why they want to call it differently. But both in intention and creation, it seems that this was fanfic. Certainly not tie-in fiction, which is generally considered the opposite of fanfic, although I think that line is a little blurry myself.

    The only argument I can think of against it being ff, is that it will be published officially, instead of online, but I think that’s just ditacticising.

  6. Well, if other writers can take Jane Austen novels and add Zombies and Sea Monsters to them, reimagining classic SF is certainly not out of the question.

  7. If you had added zombies or sea monsters to Little Fuzzy, I would have had to kill you.

  8. “The only argument I can think of against it being ff, is that it will be published officially, instead of online”

    There was Star Trek fanfiction, called such, in the 70s; I’m pretty sure it wasn’t published online. ;)

  9. To be clear, bringing up My Own Kind of Freedom in the prior thread was meant to indicate my extreme pleasure at knowing Steve Brust was writing in a universe I adore.

    Piper wrote the general kind of gee-whiz, pulpy, innocently romantic SF that shaped my literary preferences, and to read that somebody of your stature has picked up one of my favorite properties… well, it is to squee!

  10. @16&17: But the Fuzzies are brooding teenage vampires in brass goggles and jodhpurs, right?

  11. I think people are quick to define fan fiction as “using someone else’s characters” when that isn’t really quite right. I wouldn’t characterize Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead as fan fiction, for example.

  12. Authorized fanfic isn’t new. The Sime~Gen series had authorized fanfic in fanzines back in the 1980s.

    I recall a “Star Trek: The New Voyages” anthology back around then.

    And the “1632” series has over 30 books of authorized fanfic (although most are ebook only, I think).

    I’m sure there are other examples out there.

  13. John@0: “I suppose I did. And I had fun doing it.”

    I just pictured your Geek a Week playing card avatar speaking these words, followed by, “You got a problem with that?”

    To which I would hastily reply, “No, sir. No problem at all.”

  14. Well, I got online this evening and snagged a copy of Little Fuzzy.

    Having just finished it a couple of hours later I have to say I’m really looking forward to a new take on the story.

  15. I think what moves Fuzzy Nation out of the fanfic camp isn’t so much authorization as income. Fan efforts don’t pay. The monies from FN aren’t going to be what you call high unless Oprah gets over her allergy to SF or somesuch miracle. But it’s published by a real publishing house that sent him an advance. If he’d left it on the shelf, it’d be fanfic with one reader.

  16. As I read it, this doesn’t pay yet, either, since Scalzi hasn’t actually sold it yet (just gotten the approval of the Piper estate to go about trying to sell it). So perhaps it’s still fanfic for a little while longer.

    I suppose you could say it’s not fanfic because it was written with the intent of being sold, but that privileges process over product in a way I’m not entirely comfortable with.

  17. 13,14,16:
    Piper already has a story with sea monsters (Four-day Planet), though I’m not sure that zombies would improve it.

  18. Out of curiosity, as you go about selling it, is it planned that the Piper estate will get a cut? Or are you not comfortable disclosing such details?

  19. not to take this as an opportunity to rant on my own only slightly related topic (but I will get back to the real topic), but since someone mentioned all the Jane Austen fanfic and now the zombies ones and all – some of the first Jane Austen fanfic to get published I recognized from trying to read online years ago – I swear they were some of the worst examples of fanfic – and all my favorite fantastic writers – weren’t getting published… I still haven’t figured out how taking the fanfic down was enough to satisfy the publishers to print it, but who knows…

    here’s where I get back on topic – I say proudly call your work fanfiction – because then there will be published fanfiction that is actually well written. The published fanfic writers I know of (all in Jane Austen) give fanfic writers a bad name. You can redeem the name of fanfic writer! (lol I am being partially silly on this, but seriously – your work will help raise the bar for published fanfiction)

  20. JJ @22: I think people are quick to define fan fiction as “using someone else’s characters” when that isn’t really quite right. I wouldn’t characterize Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead as fan fiction, for example.

    Why not? I totally would. “What are these two minor characters in the story doing when they’re off-screen” is a premise writ large through fanfic. It’s also kind of a Hamlet-Godot mashup. Some of Stoppard’s other stuff has the fanfic nature too — Travesties is a mashup of Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest with a few notable WWI historical figures. Dogg’s Hamlet, Cahoot’s Macbeth uses Shakespeare a little more conventionally than R&G as plays-within-the-play, but, I dunno, I still see the same kind of love there for the source material as I see in fanfic. Shakespeare in Love — not just fanfic, Real Person (het) fanfic! Stoppard gets a lot of mileage out of his transformative works. :-)

  21. What Kevin Riggle said (#32). Shakespeare wrote fanfic himself, as did Milton. All traditional storytelling was fanfic. Bottom line: if there was no copyright, or it has expired, you can write fanfic and publish it officially without angst or ado. Otherwise, you have to issue the usual “not mine” disclaimers, call it a hobby and make certain you don’t get a dime from it. Ironically, some fanfic is far, far better than spec fic (aka sanctioned fanfic) which often enables authors to survive without a second job.

    More here:

    “Dream Other Dreams, and Better”

  22. @#4, Thanks! I’ve never read it, or heard of it, and new stuff is always good (and I try to experience the first iteration of something before a later one, though I don’t always)

    fanfic, not fanfic–if its good, I don’t care, though I do tend to stay away from fanfic forums based on the fact that I tend to hold strongly to canon on stuff I am particularly fond of.

    Although having read the discussion I want to know if Desperation and The Regulators, both by the same author with the same characters but somewhat different relationships and very different stories counts as fanfic in y’alls eyes

  23. So you’ve just realized every fan’s penultimate dream – the ultimate, where falling through a plot hole into a plum rôle in the Primary World isn’t available – and by every rule of honest envy I should therefore hate you. Kudos for averting this dreadful fate by claiming your fanfic for what it is. Publish it and I’ll buy it.

    Fanfic, for me, is simply fiction set in the world of some other definite author (as opposed to a folk tradition, whose nature is different). That’s a fairly plain and useful literary category. Clearance is a legal and often a moral question: I don’t see how it can be a literary one, unless there’s actual input from the clearance-giver. Quality and profitability strike me as even less promising criteria – as if the definition of lyric poetry could turn upon whether it made a cat laugh or an old cynic cry; or upon whether the Duke of Omnium would sponsor it.

    Yay! You wrote fanfic! And we, as your prospective audience, shan’t therefore have to wade through five hundred variations on Telzey and Trigger and Marty Stu Too before we chance upon the good stuff!

  24. Mel @34: I don’t think Desperation and/or The Regulators count as fanfic because, while nominally published by different authors – the former published under Stephen King, the latter under Richard Bachman – they were, in reality, written by the same guy.

    Sticking with King… if he were to have, say, written Cell in different way, taking characters straight from Romero and riffing on them (instead of simply being inspired by Romero and coming up with something wholly original, at least in terms of characters/universe), then that could be counted as fanfic.

    On a tangential note: some of the best fiction I’ve read online was a series of Star Trek fanfic stories, which just happened to have been written by one of the more frequent commenters here at the Whatever. I won’t name names, to protect the guilty, but I’ve always been a little sad that this particular writer stopped writing that fanfic series – it was truly awesome.

    And, back to the real subject at hand: I’ve never read any Piper before, had never even heard of him before Scalzi here mentioned him a while back (I think Stross may have mentioned him on his blog, too), so I guess I’ll have to check him out. I love finding new – or in this case, new to me – authors. The Whatever has been a goldmine in that respect, what the Big Idea pieces and whatnot.

    And now I’m done.

  25. On my own tangential note: In the LF universe, if Furries exist, they are gonna go bananas when word of the Fuzzies gets out. Hopefully, our host did not bother to catalog the ensuing fur-frenzy.

  26. @Kevin Riggle – Full disclosure: I am speaking as someone who has never really read much fanfic. I have a friend who wrote a lot of DragonBall Z fanfic back in the day, and I remember reading a small bit of it, but that’s about it.

    Literature has a long history of transformative works, it’s true, and there’s definitely been a resurgence in the post-modern era. Gregory Maguire’s books come to mind, as do the Riverworld series by Philip José Farmer and It’s Superman! by Tom De Haven.

    I think what sets those works apart from fan fiction is intent and maybe ambition. R&GAD doesn’t just satisfy itself with being curious about those minor characters, it also plays with themes like the nature of reality, identity, life and death, etc.

    Also, I have to admit that I feel like claiming all transformative works as fan fiction is an attempt to make the genre seem more legitimate to outsiders like myself.

  27. @JJ,
    Why do you think that what you call fan fiction doesn’t ever play with deep themes like the ones you mention? If your definition of a genre relies on ignoring Sturgeon’s Law, it may not be a very useful definition. It’s like saying that “Blade Runner” isn’t a science fiction movie because it deals with deeper issues than “Flash Gordon” does.

  28. I like to point out that fanfic has won the Pulitzer: Geraldine Brooks’ March, a retelling of Little Women from Mr. March’s point of view.

  29. @Marc Moskowitz I don’t want to put words in your mouth, but it sounds like you think I’m implying that all fan fiction is crap. That wasn’t my intent at all.

    The friend I mentioned is a great writer, and he just used fan fiction as a stepping stone to get some practice before he branched out into his own work. I’m sure this is pretty common among fan writers.

    If we are going to define every single transformative work as fan fiction, that would have to include the modern BSG, the new Star Trek movie, basically any movie remake ever, and on and on. Surely there is some kind of distinction between a transformative work and fan fiction.

    It was my thought that you could define fan fiction as writing intended purely for an audience of fans, which is why I tried to classify it based purely on the intent and ambition of the work itself.

    If I understand your point, however, you are are saying that there are works of fan fiction that are just as ambitious as R&GAD, and perhaps the only reason they aren’t available to the wider public is because they use copyrighted characters.

    Maybe it might be helpful to also ask whether the work in question can stand on its own without any familiarity with the original work. I never watched the original BSG, but I loved the new one. It sounds like Mr. Scalzi’s book will be accessible to folks who never read the Piper original.

    Of course, this doesn’t quite stand up for R&GAD because some of the jokes and scenes only work if you’re familiar with Hamlet. Maybe what makes R&GAD different is that it isn’t simply a retelling of Hamlet from an alternate perspective. It brings a lot of its own to the table.

  30. In my mind FanFic is a non-commercial work written by an amateur author in another author’s ‘universe’ (without the original author’s knowledge/consent). My assumption is that FanFic is written “for fun” and not “for profit”. Jane Austen stories..with zombies! is a derivative work not FanFic. The many authors that publish works in the Star Wars, Star Trek, Halo, D&D universe etc. are not writing FanFic (as I believe they need permission and some effort is made to maintain what is ‘cannon’) . But I have seen works that blur the line (the “Homage” book/collection, such as “Songs of the Dying Earth” – a collection of stories set in Jack Vance’s Dying Earth – but all written by other professional authors). By my definition Fuzzy Nation is not FanFic – it is as Scalzi initially called it – a reboot.

  31. of course if our illustrius host wants to call his work FanFic – it’s his work and he can cll it whatever he wants

  32. As an addendum: it occurs to me that I like R&GAD more than I like Hamlet. So… I’m not a “fan” of Hamlet, I just know what happens.

  33. Since you have already set the precedent of writing in other author’s universes, and since a couple of folks have made suggestions…can we commision a work?

    I’d like a Scalzi…Diadem novel (Jo Clayton) to go, with a short-story side order of Azimov Susan Calvin era Robots

  34. I think I’d really like a Scalzi Susan Calvin story. I don’t know why, but the idea’s really appealing.

  35. @JJ,
    You are correct about my misinterpretation of your point, and I apologize. (In my defense, it’s a depressingly common sentiment.) Can I suggest that rather than distinguish between transformative work and fan fiction, we try to distinguish types of transformative work? For example as reboots (ST:XI,Fuzzy Nation), sequels/prequels/inquels (including on the unauthorized side a large proportion of “standard” fanfiction), retellings (R&GAD), and others?

  36. Also, I have to admit that I feel like claiming all transformative works as fan fiction is an attempt to make the genre seem more legitimate to outsiders like myself.

    Aren’t you really doing the reverse, though? That is, claiming fan fiction you like is really a “transformative work” rather than fan fiction to make it seem more legitimate to outsiders like yourself?

    It reminds me a bit of the (thankfully fading) habit of the literati to classify genre fiction as ‘transcending genre’ because a) it didn’t fit their stereotypes about the kind of fiction it was and who wrote it and b) so they could enjoy it without their touch defiling their copies of The New York Review of Books.

    R&GAD is just about the definition of fan fiction. So is Wicked.

  37. Of course it’s fan fiction. Haven’t you got a Hugo for Best Fan Writer?

  38. Is it fan fic just because it’s written by a fan? And not a published author? Is Wicked just a very nice form of fan fic? I would have to say so. Or is it really all about the copyright and the money? Or maybe just the money.

  39. All I know is that if I’m ever in a bookstore and I hear someone saying, “What?! Somebody did a rip-off of Ewoks?!”, then the very best that can be hoped for is that I don’t do them any physical violence.

  40. Jim @ 15: Yes, I know, and due to their absolutely embarrassing covers, I will not be buying them. The iBooks reprints earlier in the decade were more dignified. (Note to Baen: Flandry was not Bond and “scoring maximum vag” was not his raison d’etre.)

  41. To step away from the SF/F genre, there are at least a few hundred published and available “sequels” to all the Jane Austen books — fan fic. Laurie R. King, among many others, has a successful series of Sherlock Holmes fan fic, complete with an (assumed) Mary Sue (although Mary Russell is much better done than the average Mary Sue). The Bronte novels, too, have “sequels” and “retellings” in print and on shelves in bookstores. I’m guessing there’s a lot more. Someone smarter than me could probably make a solid argument that the various retellings, refigurings, and reimaginings of assorted classic stories could be called fan fiction.

    And everyone seems to use Shakespeare, sooner or later, or something from the Bible.

    Like others have said, it isn’t really the “authorization” that gives fiction written using pre-existing text as a source legitimacy — in many cases, no authority can be given because something is in public domain. That’s more about the rights to the money potentially generated than about the material itself. Some created worlds are so rich that writers and readers simply can’t resist carving out a little corner or looking at it from a different angle. It isn’t even a matter of “the completely original idea” so much as the twist, the turn, the variation that makes something unique, and it’s the challenge to find that in the richness of what has gone before that attracts so many. Also, when we love something, when it’s really good, we want more even when the author we identify as the originator (no matter who he or she borrowed from) isn’t around to create it.

    Most fan fiction — let’s face it, a LOT of fan fiction — doesn’t so much achieve the unique twist or the new angle so much as retread with bad grammar over well worn tropes and cliches. But some of it does rise to the top because the author has the right skill, the right knowledge, the right talent, and the right amount of respect for the source and confidence in the variation.

    I like to make fun of fan fiction because a good deal of it is mockable. But not all of it is so bad. Like all the stuff we don’t identify as non-fan-fiction, no matter what it resembles or what ideas it has in common with what’s come before, I suspect it is visibility that makes the difference. Most people don’t post their half-baked original novel on the internet for all to read — they hide it or try to sell it, or they may self publish it, so that it comes to the attention of only a few. Fan fiction, good or bad, has a community so we know it is around. There’s no sorting and culling done.

    Oops, went of rant-wise. Sorry. I’ll save the rest of this for elsewhere. In any case, Mr. Scalzi, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with good, solid, well written fan fiction. If anyone can do it, you can.

  42. Heh. It just occurred to me that Heinlein’s much-maligned “The Number of the Beast” could be considered the ultimate fan-fic. The World As Myth idea included everybody’s fictions, even though only a few of them are specifically referenced.

  43. and I had fun doing it!

    Well yeah, that’s one of the primary reasons people write fanfic. I am so pleased for you to have made that discovery for yourself!


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