Harnessing the Fandom Phenomenon: A Call to Action for Expanded Fielders, Cross-Genre Writers and Artistic Innovators of All Types

By: Lucianna Chixaro Ramos

The history of sci-fi fandom is deep. I am acutely aware of my shallowness when it comes to the genre—my longest forays into the realm of sci-fi involve defying the sophomore year reading list by spending an entire summer reading Dune and avoiding Warhammer conversations as much as is humanly possible. I recently worked at a Star Wars convention where I told attendees Jar Jar Binks was my favorite character and failed to recognize an aging Mark Hamill. Anyone in the know would know that true (epic) fandom has its roots in the post-WW II-era idealism. Anyone fan enough to study the phenomenon knows fandom is roughly divided into three eras, the second of which is marked by a movement to create fan-utopias out here in the problematic real world.[i] Which makes fandom important. Even if its history is nuanced and full of obscure references.

Part of what makes the phenomenon of fandom important for all writers is the way in which fandom driven franchises are so perfectly designed for mass consumption. Few writers have been able to achieve mass adoration on the fandom level—the ones who did made fantastical universes come to life—they create dramatic VR-like overlays for our own realities á la J. K. Rowling, J. R. R. Tolkien, and yes, even the non-sci-fi Elizabeth Gilbert, whose Eat, Pray, Love can only be described as an overlay titled, “Unrealistic Epic Comeback.” For the majority of its readers, a journey like Gilbert’s is a near impossibility. But the lure of the everything’s-OK-in-the-end story is a powerful tool to encourage consumption. Everyone wants to believe the good guys win. Even if they have to keep consuming clashes between the parties ad nauseum in innumerable sequels and spinoffs.

Perhaps the most powerful effect of fandom is its ability to create communities out of people previously disconnected from one another. It seems fans band together even if the only thing they have in common is the love of a franchise. Fandom groups can be tight-knit communities that foster a feeling of belonging. In “Science Fiction in Spain: A Sociological Perspective,” Pablo Santoro Domingo says of American sci-fi, “one of the most peculiar characteristics of American sf…is that a fragment of the total reading population plays an extremely active role in the life of the community.”[ii] That connection between production and consumption can empower members of fan associations and clubs. It also creates an insular world. Fans become sci-fi writers, illustrators creating the next generation of products for future fans to consume.

Those of us in the writing world at large could take a few tips from our sci-fi fan counterparts. Writing is often an isolating endeavor. We come together to share successes, to read our work, to share in the joys and challenges of writing in workshop groups, local readings, and book signings, but we do not connect with the same intensity, frequency, or (darn!) popularity that sci-fi fans enjoy. What if literary and speculative fiction authors, experimental poets, and all manner of cross-genre outsiders came together in an anything goes, fun fan-crazed kind of way? What would that look like? What would that mean to you? Can we make that happen at AWP 2018, the largest gathering of writers in the U.S., which is happening in our own backyard of Tampa, FL? We’ve got some ideas. Send us your edgiest, brashest plans.

[i] Pilsch, Andrew. “Self-Help Supermen: The Politics of Fan Utopias in World War II-Era Science Fiction.” Science Fiction Studies 41.3 (2014): 524. JSTOR. Web. 22 Apr. 2017.

[ii] Pablo Santoro Domingo. “Science Fiction in Spain: A Sociological Perspective.” Science Fiction Studies, vol. 33, no. 2, 2006, pp. 313–331.

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