Monday, 14 December 2009

40K Fanfiction Project Update (and some pix)

My project looking at 40K fanfiction is just over a week old and is really going well (thanks especially to all the people who have taken the time to let me interview them). So far, I have interviewed 13 or so people out of the 20 that I had planned. The plan for the remainder of the interviews is to ask 4-5 different exploratory questions based on themes that have come up so far.

I've spent this morning beginning to make sense of the interview data, but the initial themes that have come up are:

**The role of Canon.
What i have found so far supports the idea that male fanfic authors tend to stay within the canon ('adding to'), rather than engaging in more transformative forms of writing. The 40K authors, in other words, would appear to want to produce 'more of' rather than necessarily do 'more with' the canon (i.e. transformative forms of literature). This would seem to be reproduced in both explicit ways (i.e. forum rules and critique of stories on fanfic sites) and implicitly through ideas of what George Herbert Mead might call 'Generalised Others': unstated ideas of what 40K fans/fan-authors 'out there' would think if they read one's story.

**Creativity & Originality.
Nevertheless, the authors emphasise creativity and originality in their work and in that of others. All the authors that I have spoken to articulated what made good and bad 40K fanfic, and invariably 'bad fanfic' was characterised as being poorly written, badly plotted, poorly characterised battle reports ('bolterporn' or 'warporn' as it was labelled by two interviewees).

**How to be Creative/Original in Someone Else's Universe.
Although the authors were keen to fit their work into the 40K canon, for them the canon has sufficient space within it for originality (in other words, staying within the canon and being original/creative are not mutually exclusive). Three spaces in particular were highlighted:
*Another Time, Another Place (Extending the Narrative): First, the 40K universe is vast and stretches across a wide historical vista, most of which has not been filled in through the Black Library books or GW codexes. The Horus Heresy novels, for example, take place in the 31st Millennia, two thousand years after the Great Founding and ten thousand years before the 41st Millennia that gives the game its name. While the millennia prior to the Horus Heresy are sketched out in broad brushstrokes within places such as the official 40K rulebook or the Space Marines Codex, it has not been officially fleshed out by GW/Black Library in novel form. On one level, fanfiction authors can set either their stories within one of these huge historical gaps (see, for example, fanfic by Nopoet set it 20th Millennia) or in a part of the 'contemporary' universe not explored in GW/BL novels.
*Refocusing the Camera ('Recontextualization' - Jenkins, 1992): On another level, 40K fanfic authors can shift the level of storytelling from the 'heroic' universe-level explored by the Black Library - of, for example, the great heroes, Primarchs and destiny-changing battles of The Horus Heresy series - to the 'little stories' or unnamed characters that don't make the headlines (see, for example, The Imperial Guardsman's Journal by Brannick, the 'letters' sent home from Imperial Guardsman Marun to his mother by Consadine or nefarious activities in one hive on one hiveworld in the vast universe). This is a standard practice for (female) fan-writers in other fields, who shift the focus away from the lead characters onto neglected (and often female) characters - such as Lt. Uhura or Nurse Chapel in the original Star Trek series.
*Exceptions Prove the Rule: Thirdly, fan authors can explore exceptions to the canon; simultaneously acknowledging the canon while moving away from it. Compare, for example, the description of a standard forgeworld with that found in the published story Phobos Worked in Adamant by Robey Jenkins (Planetkill, 2008).

*No Slash.
In his book on Star Wars fandom, Will Brooker makes the point that no one that he spoke to had ever heard of Slash fiction and that, indeed, he had to raise it with them (despite the fact that it dominates in academic discussions of fanfiction). This was my experience as well. While elements of the 40K universe could potentially be read in a Slashy or generally erotic way, I found little or no evidence of this among the fanfic writers (like Brooker I did not raise it unless the interview touched on adult content in the 40K universe). This is not to deny that there is erotic 40K fanfic (such as Succumus of Slaanesh by Firewind or A Sign of Loyalty by Grakul). It is clearly in the minority though.

At this point we get a bit more speculative, and I'd like to explore the following more in the remainder of my interviews:

**Why this emphasis on 'colouring within the lines'?
If you are writing a book for the Black Library then there are obviously limits to what you can write about due to what fans will accept/what will sell and what is suitable for age of the perceived audience (No Slaanesh Orgies Please, We're Under 16). But, if you write fanfic then the universe is really your oyster. So, why does most fanfic not push the boundaries more (i.e. engage in more transformative re-imaginings of the 40K universe)? Several reasons are possible:
*Mansauce? First, 40K is (to use one interviewee's term) 'mansauce' and they may be pretty happy with the universe thank you very much and not want it tampered with (i.e. they really just want 'more of' what they already have and like). Henry Jenkins has argued that female fanfiction involves women watching sci-fi and attempting to refocus it to fit in with their own interests and concerns (he uses the phrase, shifting it from a 'space opera' to a 'soap opera' to describe this). Men in contrast don't have to do it as the shows already explicitly cater for them. Equally, 40K does not have to be refocused/subverted to appeal to their (male) interests.
*The Constraints of the Universe? Second, the nature of the Universe as filled out by GW/Black Library means that certain issues cannot happen - i.e. why no emotional space marines? They dont have them. Why no sex? the role of celibacy in the 41st Millennium. Another interesting point raised by a few interviewees is that the 40K universe is not built around close character relationships per se, like Buffy, The X Files, The Professionals etc. Rather, the main character of the 40K Universe is the Universe itself, and, as one interviewee said, "you cant write slash fiction about a universe." If characters (and the relationships between them) are the beginnings of slash (i.e. the Kirk/Spock relationship, the 'buddy-show' format of the 1970s) then this is not possible within 40K fanfiction.
*Desire for Publication? Third, a few interviewees have said that they think that the ultimate goal of writing fanfic is to get noticed and then published by the Black Library. Their fanfic is, in other words, a calling card or a foot in the door (as occurs with fanfilm). If that's the case, then it's understandable why an author would want to display their mastery of the 40K canon, rather than wanting to subvert or challenge it with images of touchy-feely Space Marines.

**Why not 'more from'?
If fanfic writers are happy to look at exceptions, why not look at existing stories differently? (i.e. 'more from') To give an example, we know that Space Marines don't feel emotions within the canon, but what would happen if they did? To give an example, in the BL novel The Flight of the Eisenstein, Solun Decius is injured and infected with Nurgle when he is stabbed by Grulgor. Throughout the remainder of the novel, as Decius becomes more and more Nurgle-y there are fleeting references to his commander, Nathaniel Garro feeling some professional blame for what transpired, but neither these nor Garro's feelings at having to kill Decius at the end of the novel are explored. Officially, of course, as a Space Marine, Garro wouldn't feel anything. Also, there isn't a lot of interiority in the series (i.e. characters musing and reflecting). BUT a story could, while accepting that is true in the canon, still explore this in as an alternate take on the situation.

**What is 'more from'?
What potential ways could be seen as 40K fan-authors attempting to get 'more from' the canon? Some possible examples could be stories where the 40K characters come to life (the old Indian in the Cupboard trope), such as 40K: Toyhammer by Rouge Psyker or Mini Hammer by Reg Mage Neko. Or you could include stories that take characters from one area and try and show them in the 40K world, such as Michael Khale's take on Blackadder in the 41st Millennium.

Well, this is where I am so far - lots of ideas coming together and a few more bubbling up. I also need to track down some more comedy 40K stories to see how they take on the grimdark of the 40k universe. While I'm doing some more thinking, here are some pix of the weekend's painting:

Two shots of the first Soul Grinder for my Chaos Daemons army...

and two shots of my Plague Marines and transports


  1. In the comedy vein, it turns out it is much harder to find those Four Horsemen stories I mentioned than I had thought. This is because they can only be found on the now-gone BL Publishing forums. However, I found the cached copy here -

    This series of stories was very popular in its time, and an issue of Firebase magazine had a more recent story in it, also (issue 7, I think).

    As for your focus on 'more from', I think there is plenty of it out there. The challenge is finding it among the vast expanses of 'more of'.

  2. thanks for the link.
    There are a few comedy stories over on as wel