Dear Fans, Stop Ruining Fantasy and Sci-Fi
A fan’s rant about author harassment and inferiority of fan fiction
By MARTIN REZNY
With the recent ending of the last season of Game of Thrones TV show and with the Winds of Winter book still unfinished, I think it’s a very good time to address one worrying new trend of fan behavior in the realm of speculative fiction. Or maybe it would be more precise to say that this trend itself has been going on for quite a while, but the new thing about it is that it’s escalating. Either way, it seems to be getting worse, and I think you know what I mean.
Seven Hells, Leave Him Alone
Even though what I want to talk about doesn’t concern just George R. R. Martin and by extension the HBO show runners, this is the current focal point of an increasingly unhealthy interference generated by fandom at an ever intensifying rate. On the very surface, it is the issue of pestering George to finish the damn book already, as if he owed it to anyone, but I don’t really think it’s necessary to dwell on that too much, since that’s easily damnable.
Unfortunately, the problem goes much deeper than that. It’s not just that many fans think the object of their fandom is theirs to the extent that the author is obligated to produce more of it in a timely fashion (Misery style). The real problem is that the fans believe it is theirs to the extent that they have the right to demand it fulfills specific expectations, the right of creative input, the right of pseudo-coauthorship. And I don’t just mean shippers either.
The very moment Game of Thrones got ahead of the books, suddenly there was this immense pressure to give the fans certain things they have always wanted to see, while at the same time, the main idea of the story is the exact opposite of that happening. Technically, it’s more about defying expectation, but one cannot really want what one doesn’t expect. Thankfully, I do think that the showrunners managed to pull off a masterful balancing act, this time.
While I wouldn’t say that letting the good guys win for once goes against the spirit of realism that the Game of Thrones is founded upon, or that it isn’t fun to see happen what one wants to see happen, I have heard long time book fans call the Game of Thrones TV show fan fiction now, and I have to agree with them. Some of you are maybe thinking, but if it’s still entertaning, what does it matter? It’s not like the show can ruin the books, right? Right? Well…
Simultaneous Culture, the Bane of the Writing
Turning a work of art into a work of entertainment responding to fan wishes and speculation in real time absolutely can ruin even the books. Like, all of them. This part is actually very new, because it is impossible without a massively populated internet with developed social networks. It’s one thing that commercialization of writing forces authors to write more and more with a specific audience in mind, it’s another when that audience starts meddling.
The speculation itself is extremely problematic, and George himself has noticed it and touched upon it in a number of interviews. Essentially, he at one point realized that people on the internet have correctly guessed some of his twists, and was suddenly faced with a dilemma — to keep the twists the same, now surprising no more, or to change them to spite the speculators, but to something that wasn’t properly foreshadowed. He wisely chose to ignore it.
The computer that George uses to type is not even connected to the internet. But something is telling me that any new author won’t be able to so easily switch to a cyber-caveman lifestyle. Because of this speculation feedback loop now being a reality, and because there are not many puzzles that millions of people online cannot collaboratively solve in days, let alone years, being a writer-worldbuilder has now become infinitely more complicated than before.
Maybe it doesn’t really affect writers in genres like historical realism all that much, since the world is a given there, but for speculative fiction, it’s a major hurdle. It changes the very meaning of “speculative” in the name of the genre, diminishing the importance of speculation about the nature of possible worlds or the meanings behind ours in favor of speculation about plot twists. The only added benefit are spoilers, not only of the twists, but of the art form itself.
Defending a Different George (See What You Made Me Do)
While the advanced internet that we now have has made this process very easy and common (and run on steroids), older examples can be found. Take Star Wars and George Lucas, specifically the prequels. If you’re not familiar with the details, watch The People Vs. George Lucas, I’ll wait. There’s one particular fan theory that has sparked my interest, and I think it demonstrates the problem with too much fan feedback perfectly. Can you guess which one?
It only has to do with the epitome of the object of fan hatred. Yes, Jar Jar. What if I told you that he actually was a very cleverly written character who was supposed to be at the center of a major twist? Chances are you’re now calling the good people at a mental hospital to come save me. Don’t bother, I’m as serious as I am not insane. This rather credible fan theory posits that Jar Jar was supposed to be one of the main villains, the true phantom menace.
What really sells it for me are a quote from George saying that Jar Jar was supposed to be the key to everything, coupled with a fact that it would be a ripoff of, spoiler alert I guess, the Isaac Asimov’s Foundation saga’s main twist. The reason why, to me at least, that adds credibility to this theory is that after watching Jodorowsky’s Dune, it’s quite clear that originality has never really been George’s major strength. It was knowing which masterpieces to rip off.
He has also done it already in the character of Yoda, sort of — a deceptively harmless-looking being of great power. Jar Jar would have been a much more direct, shall we say, adaptation of the Foundation’s twist, since the harmless-looking creature would actually be a major villain, and frankly, that would have been awesome. All the more awesome given how much the babbling idiot antics of Jar Jar were, for a lack of a better word, jarring. Think about it.
All Hail Darth Jar Jar
When taken on face value, and only when taken on face value, Jar Jar is a dumb, annoying, borderline offensive, semi-racist carricature. When you consider that he could be an evil entity with sith powers pretending to be an idiot, including a pitch perfect drunken box fighting style while waving hands a lot before people say or do dumb things that help him, it’s no longer dumb. It’s menacing. Also, in the age before massively populated internet, few would see it coming.
Back then, George probably dramatically altered course under commercial pressure after learning just how much fans hated Jar Jar. Compared to that, however bad that decision was from the artistic standpoint, I’d argue that our current ability to collectively guess that twist ahead of time is even worse for the author, especially since the commercial pressure has also been escalating. In case of a TV show or a series of books or films, interference is guaranteed.
It would probably not have turned the Star Wars prequels into great movies, they had too many other issues which I don’t dispute, but that’s not the point. Beyond the moment of release, it wouldn’t even matter if the audiences liked that twist or not. What matters is that an author would have expressed an idea, but under pressure from fans did not. If this particular fan theory is inaccurate, it also doesn’t matter, it still serves to illustrate what is now real.
The new Star Wars in the wake of the dramatic fan rejection of the prequels have under Abrams’s direction aimed for nothing more than satisfying fans, and the result is a very entertaining and likable movie about essentially nothing. I enjoyed it, in IMAX at Universal Studios in Orlando during its opening week in fact, but still, I couldn’t tell you for the life of me what message the creators were expressing other than “fans, give us monies”.
Fans Are a Cruel Mistress
It’s also funny from my Czech point of view, because fans here have never really rejected the prequels at all, disconnected from whatever fandom crisis was happening in the USA. Even the current numbers prove it — 6.5/6.7/7.6 on IMDB, 79%/80%/87% on CSFD (Czechoslovakian Film Database). Even my father, an avid reader, American film enthusiast, and a lifetime sci-fi fan, vastly prefers the prequels to the new Star Wars, insert Darth Vader joke here.
Personally, I think I might actually agree. I don’t question the entertainment factor of the new Star Wars movie, but I also can’t ignore the intellectual superiority of the George’s original vision, even at its most boringest. It sounds like a joke, but comparatively, it’s not. I have seen the Plinkett’s crushing reviews of the prequel trilogy, repeatedly, and still I cannot say that the new Star Wars are simply better, however skillfully crafted they may be.
I suppose the key to all of this is that art is not entertainment. It can have entertainment value, but the pure, distilled form of entertainment is the circus — a bunch of colorful, loud, exciting stuff that makes absolutely no sense if you think about it for even an instant. Art is concerned with its form, but for many reasons before entertainment, and even more it is concerned with a message, maybe apart from the “art for the sake of art” movement.
Today, we the fans have immense power over the authors, but I beg of us, we need to stop misusing that power. We need to realize that there’s something that we want even more than getting exactly what we want — getting what we never knew we wanted until it happened, or until it never happened. We need to stop pestering authors and derailing their visions. We can always write the fan fiction ourselves, and we would do better to create instead of speculating.