WebWatch: Too good to be true?

From alternate endings to crossovers, Steven Balbirnie takes on the murky world of fan fiction

It’s no secret that as a genre, fan fiction has a fairly negative reputation; but does it deserve it? To find out, I decided to visit fanfiction.net, the world’s biggest online archive of fan fiction since its establishment in 1998. The range of material on the site is certainly impressive, featuring everything from works based on Father Ted to Tetris (though nothing by Anne Rice, apparently for legal reasons).

However, some titles are clearly more popular than others. Moby Dick has three works based on it, Twilight has over 170,000. This didn’t give me a good first impression and, by and large, this was vindicated by the volume of grammatically poor stories with clichés and paper-thin plots that can be found on the site. One of the best examples of the flawed nature of most efforts was the Indiana Jones fan fiction in which the author deemed it necessary to tell the reader in brackets after the word Nazis – “remember that they is evil guys”. I must admit that some stories are so bad they’re good, such as the Half-Life: Full- Life Consequences series, though you’d be better off seeing the hilarious YouTube animations adapted from it.

In the spirit of fairness, it has to be said that there are some stories of artistic merit on the site, even if they are frustratingly infrequent. Part of the Job is a short story which provides a thought-provoking examination of the professional relationship between James Bond and Miss Moneypenny.

Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality was kindly recommended to me and it was certainly intriguing, though unfortunately I don’t possess enough in-depth knowledge of physics to properly appreciate it. The works of value were the ones which really showed the fan’s passion for the source material; an example being one writer who completed one of Chaucer’s unfinished Canterbury Tales, writing in medieval English. One advantage to fan fiction that I discovered on the site was that it can easily sidestep

copyright and licensing issues to allow scenarios that would be otherwise impossible; such as The Mysterious Affair in Scarlet, a story in which Sherlock Holmes and Hercule Poirot team up to crack a case. In fact, the draw of fan fiction is that the possibilities for it are only limited by the imaginations of the fans.

The only fitting description for fanfiction.net is that it’s a mixed bag, containing works by contributors varying from the passionate to the illiterate.