Professional Fan Fiction

Just because you turn pro doesn’t mean you stop being a fan.

I was put in mind of this just a few days ago, when this wonderful book arrived. Planet of the Apes: Tales From The Forbidden Zone.

Titan Books has been putting out all sorts of Planet of the Apes books for a while now, including re-issues of the paperbacks I loved when I was a teenager. But this anthology is new, a collection of original stories set in the ‘classic’ Planet of the Apes milieu. A diverse array of talent from both SF and comics, including folks like Dan Abnett, Kevin J. Anderson, Nancy Collins, Greg Cox, Paul Kupperberg, Jonathan Maberry, Will Murray, and a bunch of others.

There are stories tying up all sorts of loose ends from the original movies and television series… like, for example, how the mutants living beneath the ruins of New York first manifested their telepathic abilities, whether or not astronauts Pete Burke and Alan Virdon ever got back home to the 20th Century, and– my favorite — Ty Templeton’s painstakingly reasoned-out narrative of how the brillant chimpanzee scientist Dr. Milo was able to rebuild Taylor’s spacecraft in time to get himself, Cornelius, and Zira back to the 1970s before the Earth was destroyed. (Seriously, that’s bugged me since I was a teenager. In the original Planet of the Apes movie, Taylor’s ship was sunk in a lake in the Forbidden Zone– it was Brent’s ship in Beneath the Planet of the Apes that was above-ground and salvageable. Templeton’s solution is elegant, and I’m a little embarrassed that it never occurred to me in the last forty-some years.)

The talent involved is more than enough to rate a look, but the thing that’s so completely charming about this volume is the sheer fannish glee on display. What I mean by that is that this book is very clearly fan fiction… by professional, working writers.

Already I can see the pedants among you lunging for your keyboards. Come on, Hatcher, if you define fan fiction as professionals doing licensed work-for-hire, then you are rendering the whole term meaningless.

But I’m not defining it that way. Let me walk you through it.

First of all, let’s posit where the urge to create fan fiction comes from. My feeling is that it springs from three places. First, the urge to see more of a thing you aren’t getting– which is to say the original series is canceled or concluded, whatever, new installments are not being produced.

Second would be the need to answer questions you as a reader have always wondered about. Maybe it’s just a crossover idea– like what if Doc Savage met the Shadow?

Sometimes it’s just fixing up some nagging continuity issue that’s always annoyed you. Like this one, published just a few years ago.

Robert Goidsborough had written a number of Nero Wolfe pastiches before this one, but I’d argue that this particular installment is pure fanfic. The others are just typical Nero Wolfe mysteries– this one is a flat-out continuity patch.

And finally, the need to somehow express the deep affection one has for the original. That’s where the charm comes from. (It really shows when that affection is missing. Looking at you, Henry Cavill and Man of Steel.)

So there you go. My argument is that there really is such a thing as professionals doing their own version of fan fiction if it meets that criteria. There have been a bunch of these kind of “professional fanfic” books published over the years and most of them are tremendous fun, particularly the anthologies.

Without question, the king of the fan-fiction franchises would have to be Sherlock Holmes. Ever since Vincent Startett’s The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes back in 1930, it’s been a subset of the mystery genre all its own.

(Certainly there were Holmes pastiches and parodies well before that, but I’d mark Starrett’s as being the first time a working pro writer published one.)

It was the success of Nicholas Meyer’s The Seven Per Cent Solution in 1974 that really opened the floodgates, though. I’d nominate that one as being the most successful piece of fan fiction ever– and it is, without question, a fanfic in all its nerdy footnoted glory, explaining how Holmes beat his cocaine addiction by incorporating a bunch of fan theories over the previous seven decades of Holmesian scholarship. It’s been a best-selling novel, a hit movie, and even a comic book.

Meyer followed it up with two other Holmes books but neither of them had the power of that first one. I think it’s because the engine that drives The Seven Per Cent Solution is that AT LAST! NOW WE KNOW WHAT HAPPENED! glee that only comes from that geeked-out inner fanboy part of yourself.

Another pro unashamedly getting his geek on would be David McDaniel, whose entries in the UNCLE series of licensed novels are full of fan shout-outs.

Whether it’s Illya meeting vampire expert Forry Ackerman in The Vampire Affair, or Napoleon Solo encountering (among others) Father Brown, John Steed and Emma Peel, and even an aged Sherlock Holmes in The Rainbow Affair, there’s no shortage of fanfic impulses on display in McDaniel’s books. My favorite is his first, The Dagger Affair, in which he reveals that THRUSH was founded in the 1890s by the surviving lieutenants of the Moriarty crime cartel. (This bit of Holmesian nerdity was so irresistible that I shamelessly incorporated it into a couple of my own Holmes stories.)

Another sixties spy franchise, The Avengers, has had a number of licensed novels and comics and tie-ins– but in my opinion, it’s only Too Many Targets that rises to the level of ‘professional fan fiction.’

This does share the fault of some fan fiction of being nearly impenetrable to someone who’s not already familiar with the Avengers– it’s a story in which John Steed and Tara King must recruit Emma Peel, David Keel, and Catherine Gale to rescue Mother and his aide Rhonda from a rebuilt set of Cybernauts.

That’s ALL Steed’s avenging partners from 1962 on (except for Purdey and Gambit from the revival; but one assumes that since Steed and Tara were still partnered, this takes place in 1969, so they were probably still in their teens.) Apparently this is slated for an audio full-cast adaptation, which should be a lot of fun.

There’s certainly no shortage of professionals channeling their inner fanfic writer when it comes to Star Trek licensed books and comics. My favorite example of this will always be Barbara Hambly’s Ishmael, which managed to resolve the ongoing dilemma of Jason Bolt’s wager with Aaron Stemple in the TV series Here Come The Brides by using a time-lost Mr. Spock… with the punchline being that Stemple is actually an ancestor of Spock’s, on the Grayson side of the family.

Another Trek entry that is a favorite of mine would be “Mind-Sifter,” an entry that was professionally published in the first Bantam collection of Trek fan fiction and then later adapted by James Cawley for New Voyages.

So that’s a fan-fiction short story that was professionally published and then adapted by professional actors into a fan film. It’s a sort of recursive loop of nerdiness that delights me. And it’s a good story in both versions, too.

There have been so many fans-turned-pro in comics that it’s harder to draw the line there. (There are those that would argue Roy Thomas’s entire career has been professional fan fiction, though I’m not one of them.) But a recent entry that meets the criteria, I think, has to be The Kamandi Challenge, a series that ended up being better than it had any right to be… mostly because of the enthusiasm of everyone involved.

And of course I would be remiss if I didn’t acknowledge Philip Jose Farmer’s Wold Newton cycle of crossover stories, which was practically a second career for him.

I could go on. But honestly I’d rather hear from you folks. What would you nominate as being professional fan fiction? Not just a guy taking over the license, like Anthony Horowitz doing new Bond novels, or Max Allan Collins finishing out Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer manuscripts, but real honest-to-God fanfic? Sound off in the comments.

Back next week with something cool.

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11 Comments

  1. I’m glad you mentioned Ishmael, which is delightful. I’m glad Kamandi Challenge is good. Peerless Peer is a memory I’d rather forget, but can’t.

    I just finished Sholly Fisch’s Scooby-Doo Teamup Vol. 1 and I’d say that definitely qualifies (team-ups are, after all, a primary fascination of fanfic). The number of in-jokes (“Back when we first teamed up with Batman we also teamed up with basketball players and singers, pretty much every week.”) is immense.

    As a professional writer I’ve done Beauty and the Beast (TV show) and Quantum Leap fanfic for fanzines. In professional work, I’ve done one Holmes pastiche and a Doc Savage’s daughter meets James West’s descendant story.

    August Derleth’s Solar Pons is fanfic of a sort. Not only a Holmes knockoff but with guest appearances by everyone from Carnacki the Ghostfinder to Simon Templar.

  2. Jeff Nettleton

    I would throw out Farmer’s actual Doc Savage Novel, Escape from Loki. It’s not so much a Wold Newton exercise, and it does seek to answer a fan question: how Doc met all of his aides.

    I would also add Kim Newman, to a certain degree; certainly his Moriarty: Hound of the D’urbevilles, though his Diogenes Club stories and Anno Dracula series tread in these waters.

    Michael Moorcock would qualify, to a point. he’s done pastiches (Kane of Mars), though in his own version. However, he did use Oswald Bastable, from the E. Nesbitt stories, in his proto-Steampunk books: Warlord of the Air, The Land Leviathan, and The Steel Tsar. His Seaton Begg is a pastiche of Sexton Blake (with whom he had great experience, working on The Sexton Blake Library) and he used Monsieur Zenith the French pulp villain, in those stories, as he was the inspiration for Elric.

    Of course, Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen and the Tales of the Shadowman anthologies, edited by Jean-Marc and Randy Lofficier are filled with the stuff. Ron Goulart made a career out of that, in a certain way.

  3. Rogue One? Its entire plot served just to answer that niggling fan question that’s been eating at Star Wars fanatics since it burst on to the scene: Why did the Death Star have such a glaring achilles heel?

    Anything that mashes up old fairy tales? Fables. Once Upon A Time.

    Or tells the villain’s side of the story? Wicked. (All of Gregory Maguire’s output?) Maleficent. Etc.

    Public domain stuff must make up a huge bulk of such a thing.

    1. Oz has generated lots of spinoff fiction, like Holmes. We have Farmer’s non-Wold Newton “Barnstormer in Oz,” some Oz stories by Keith Laumer, Wicked (as you note), and Greg Ryman’s dark “Was.”
      There’s a one-man play Jacob Marley’s Christmas Carol that retells the story from Marley’s POV.

  4. Edo Bosnar

    Maybe I’m casting the net too widely, but the first thing that popped into my head as I read this is just a ton of stuff being published by Dynamite over the past decade or so (I should point out that I’ve not read any of this stuff, I’ve just seen it heavily marketed online).
    I know the company has the licenses to, e.g., the Burroughs properties or the Shadow, etc., but so many of their series featuring the Shadow, Green Hornet, or John Carter and Dejah Thoris, to say nothing of the team-ups between them, seems like the epitome of fan fiction written by pros (like Mark Waid, Gail Simone, David Liss, Cullen Bunn, etc., etc.).
    All of the Batman ’66 comics, especially the team-ups (the latest is with the Archie gang), also seem to fall into this category.

  5. Pol Rua

    The stuff Will Murray’s been doing for the ‘Wild Adventures’ line has been superlative, featuring two Doc Savage – Shadow crossovers (I have to give a hearty recommendation to ‘The Sinister Shadow’, where he not only manages to perfectly capture the voices of both Walter B. Gibson and Lester Dent, but manages to seamlessly weave them together, which is a HELL of a feat!), but also a Doc- King Kong crossover, as well as a Spider- G8- Operator #5 story, and all sorts of other super-fun stuff!

    I also HAVE to second the recommendation for Scooby Doo team-up, which has been consistently and marvellously fun every time, without fail.

  6. Louis Bright-Raven

    John Scalzi’s REDSHIRTS (which is more of a parody homage to original Trek where the characters are dying stupid deaths, and they realize that their entire existence is being written by a tv writer and they pass into our dimension to meet him to try to stop him from killing everyone off).

    John Scalzi’s “reboot” of H. Beam Piper’s FUZZY NATION.

    Peter David’s QUANTUM LEAP fan fic he ran in his BUT I DIGRESS… column in COMICS BUYER’S GUIDE. I *think* he wrote Beckett leaping into the body of the Disney version of the Beast from Beauty and the Beast, among other ideas, but it’s been so long I can’t remember the specifics and I don’t own any of that content anymore.

    Appearing in July/August 1998 and October 1998 respectively, I wrote a total of 8 ‘chapters’ of BUFFY ‘fan fiction’ published on two different official Buffy fan sites which I was paid for. Unfortunately, those sites are now defunct and the discs I wrote them on are currently inaccessible (3.5 inch floppies that I don’t have a drive to read them with plus I don’t know if those discs haven’t gone bad over the decades anyhow). Presumably Whedon / Kuzui / 20th Century Fox can legally reprint them in print if they want, but they never have and I doubt they ever will.

  7. Jeff Nettleton

    There is a sort of Gilligan’s Island one, in the novel Gilligan’s Wake, by Tom Carson, which is kind of a mash-up of Finnegan’s Wake and the character background of the tv show. The Professor was involved in the Manhattan Project, Mrs Howell hung with Daisy Buchanan and is from oil money, while Mr Howell is old money. Thurston was involved with Alger Hiss and Dean Acheson and the Skipper served in the same squadron as lt John F Kennedy and LCDR Quinton McHale (McHale’s Navy). Ginger was from a redneck Southern family and ends up in a relationship with Sammy Davis Jr, before he kicks her out. Maryann is from a mythical town in Kansas, that acts like Brigadoon and she spends time in Paris, with Jean-Luc Goddard. Gilligan and Maynard G Krebbs are linked as a possible split personality.

    Paul Malmont engages in a form of fan fiction, in The Chinatown death Cloud Peril, as he links up writers Walter Gibson, lester Dent, L Ron Hubbard, Robert Heinlein and Louis L’Amour, in a pulp mystery, surrounding the death of HP Lovecraft. It pulls the great pulp writers into a pulp mystery, with some cameos, including EE “Doc” Smith (creator of the space operas Skylark and the Lensman Saga), in his capacity as a chemical engineer, working at a baking company, developing flavor mixes (which he brings to gatherings, in the form of donuts).

  8. John King

    and the audio version of Too Many Targets is now out (my copy is in the post)

    The company doing the audio, Big Finish, started off as fans making unofficial Doctor Who audios during the 1980s and in 1998 got back together with the idea of getting the license and doing it legally, planning to make about a dozen stories.
    They got the license in 1999 and have released more than 240 stories in the main range alone, many other Doctor Who ranges and spin-offs (UNIT, Torchwood, Dalek Empire, River Song, Gallifrey, Class, etc).
    And they moved into other TV series, using the existing/surviving cast members where they could for Dark Shadows, Blakes 7, the Survivors, Terrahawks, Omega Factor, etc
    and full recasts for the Avengers, the Prisoner and Callan

    they also did audios based on comics (Judge Dredd and Luthor Arkwright)
    and are doing their own Sherlock Holmes stories

    and for their twentieth anniversary trying some down-load only original series (Roman Lawyers, civilian female pilots in World War 2, time travel, 1930s British detectives, horror, etc)

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