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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