Self-evidently, fan writers have a lot of fun writing this stuff, and Sheenagh Pugh's book rightly challenges the lazy assumption that the games people play for little but love in other writers' universes are necessarily without artistic merit.
I have a necessary declaration of interest here. During my critical work on Buffy, I investigated the show's fan-fiction culture - of which I have a higher opinion than does Pugh - and got involved to the extent of committing a fair amount of it myself. It became a way of understanding the show's snappy dialogue, by writing my own, of bulldozing through a long-standing writer's block, and of getting to know some interesting and accomplished work.
Pugh's determined avoidance of the sociology of fan fiction leads her to ignore one important aspect of the subculture. Writers of "fanfic" have a gift relationship with each other in which you express your regard for stories not merely by reviews and e-mail comment, but by writing your own.
Some writers dislike the idea of fan fiction (Anne Rice, for example), and it is perhaps only polite to respect their wishes. Others, like Joss Whedon, Buffy's creator, positively encourage it and occasionally make teasing allusions to it in their work. Much of the work is amateurish; a certain saving fragment is of a high standard, publishable save for the laws of copyright. As far as she can without contravening those laws, Pugh gives a solid idea of the merits of some writers in the five "fandoms" she covers.
The Democratic Genre is a lively book which lovingly details fan writers' private language. One of these terms, "fanon", refers to the shared assumptions by fans that supplement the canon of a show or of an author's work. It's precisely what is needed to describe, for example, the way that Darcy's swim, as performed by Colin Firth, has become part of Pride and Prejudice in our heads.
The writer's 'From Alien to the Matrix' is published by IB Tauris
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