Edited by Karen Hellekson & Kristina Busse 

University of Iowa Press


254pp/$29.95/February 2014

The Fan Fiction Reader

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

Although studies of fan fiction are in their early stages, as Karen Hellekson and Kristina Busse point out in the introduction to The Fan Fiction Studies Reader, fan fiction itself dates back millennia, or at least several decades in the modern sense of the term, which is, of course, what Hellekson and Busse are interested in.  Based on the texts selected for this reader, serious study of fan fiction only dates back to the 1980s.

Hellekson and Busse note that the internet has caused a massive increase, not only in fannish endeavours, but in the ability to share fannish creations.  While fiction published in a Star Trek fanzine published in the early 70s might be seen by a couple of hundred people, fan fiction in the twenty-first century can easily be seen by thousands simply by posting it on-line.  This increases the available fan fiction for study and also causes the genre to grow and change at a faster pace, providing an excellent source of material to study.  

In their introduction and selection, the editors have cast a wide net, not limiting the study of fan fiction to one sub genre or another.  Not only is speculative fiction fan fiction, but fan fiction based on the ever-popular Sherlock Holmes, television, and film.  The essays present not just a look at the fiction and the process of writing and disseminating fan fiction, but also the reasons for writing fan fiction, whether the traditional "Mary Sue" of placing the author into their favorite world, or the fan's needs to provide better stories when their favorite shows or authors have jumped the shark or simply are writing fast enough (or any more).

The essays, which are grouped by theme: literature, feminism, community, and creativity, are mostly academic in nature, which means that they are often, but not uniformly, dry.  Meant to be read within the strictures of a survey course in popular culture or used as a resource, reading the essays straight through can be a bit mind-numbing, especially if the reader looks at the footnotes and bibliographies, which provide excellent resources in their own right. 

Interestingly, while there are, of course, plenty of references to fan fiction throughout the essays, and a lengthy bibliography given to the study of fanfiction, there is no bibliography of fan fiction in its own right, separating the article of study from the exploration itself.  The authors are also examining fan fiction as a completely legitimate form of literature, avoiding any essays which discuss the legal aspects of fan fiction or the authors who have stated their objection to having their creations appropriated by their fans.

The Fan Fiction Studies Reader offers a variety of voices looking at the writing of fan fiction and the cultural attachments, often in depth, but at the same time, it is clear that these essays are only a starting point.  They offer the basis for understanding fan fiction and its authors while pointing the direction for future studies of the phenomenon.  These essays offer a sense of the history of fan fiction, indicate its importance form a cultural point of voice, and can even allow some of its practitioners to better understand their own purposes.

Henry Jenkins 1992 Textual Poachers
Roberta Pearson 1997 It's Always 1895: Sherlock Holmes in Cyberspace
Cornel Sandvoss 2007 The Death of the Reader? Literary Theory and the Study of Texts in Popular Culture
Joanna Russ 1985 Pornography by Women, for Women, with Love
Patricia Frazier Lamb & Diane Veith 1986 Romantic Myth, Transendence, and Star Trek Zines
Sara Gwenllian Jones 2002 The Sex Lives of Cult Television Characters
Camille Bacon-Smith 1992 Training New Members
Nicholas Abercrombie & Brian Longhurst 1998 Fans and Enthusiasts
Constance Penley 1992 Future Man
Kurt Lancaster 2001 Performing in Babylon Performing in Everyday Life
Francesca Coppa 2006 Writing Bodies in Space: Media Fan Fiction as Theatrical Performance

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