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Struck by Orson Scott Card’s rancor about fanfiction…

I just found this during a completely unrelated search: It is Orson Scott Card’s vehement opinion about fanfiction.

I know nothing about OSC, other than that he’s written some excellent books, and I was just struck by his negative attitude toward fan fiction.

First of all, I cannot see any group large enough even wanting to write fan fiction with his characters. I haven’t read all his books, but the ones I have read don’t seem very natural to derive works from. There are, in fact, only 14 stories in Ender’s Game and 258 stories in Orson Scott Card, at least half of which are probably miscategorized Ender’s Game stories.

Compared to the near half-million Harry Potter works, or even the more modest 42,000+ in Lord of the Rings, the handful of OSC fan works on seems like a speck on the radar. Certainly not enough to set him off with such a strong response, though maybe he’s had problems with unauthorized commercial works in the past.

Another thing stuck out as being a bit funny. He says, “You will never do your best work in someone else’s universe, because you’re bound by their rules.” In his book, “How To Write Science Fiction And Fantasy,” he describes how he did the novelization for James Cameron’s movie, The Abyss, and how he created some of the best alien species he’s ever done (according to him.)

Was that not working in someone else’s universe? Yes, he extended it. Yes, he did create a whole civilization by working backwards, which is probably harder than making it up all yourself. (He also created the aliens using ideas generated in a group setting during one of his classes in a cool exercise — something that also sticks out to me.)

I’m not saying that he was unoriginal at all, and I am certainly not denying him the right to his opinion about fan fiction, especially when he is lawfully allowed to shut down copyright violators. As a fellow human being, I won’t even take him to task for being irrational — glass houses and all, you know?

The issue I have is how he puts forth his opinion as fact to “young, impressionable writers.” If you’re going to lay down the law, shouldn’t you first reconcile inconsistencies about work you did, yourself? Perhaps I don’t know the whole story behind the novelization of The Abyss, but that seems an awful lot like doing fantastic work in someone else’s universe.

5 thoughts on “Struck by Orson Scott Card’s rancor about fanfiction…

  1. See, yeah, you’re into the IOKIYAR area there…

    It’s okay if HE does it, because HE did it. It’s not okay if you did it, because you’re not HIM. You just have to understand the patriarchal/authoritarian worldview and it all falls into place.

    Like with smacking around the wife or the kids (not that OSC would do this, but it’s a similar thing): dad can hit the wife or the kids, but they can’t hit back. Wife can hit the kids; kids can’t hit back. Dad can tell wife and kids what to do; the wife can give orders to the kids; so on. It only goes one way.

    OSC can do thing that are not all right for those below him in God’s Great Chain of being. That’s how the universe is arranged, b/c that’s how God arranged it. It all makes perfect sense, in the Marsworld in which he lives.

  2. I’m not denying him the right to his opinion, and the law is, technically, on his side. But I take issue with him saying “you will never do your best work in someone else’s universe.” Some people *only* write fanfiction. It’s often a totally different impulse than writing original material.

    I’m not even in the fanfiction community, but I am an electronic musician, and I know that many artists of all kinds thrive on restrictions and limitations. Many cover songs are better than the original implementations — same goes for remixes.

  3. […] some writers don’t think writing fanfiction has any benefit, I disagree. Thoughtfully writing fanfiction […]

  4. Interestingly, two years after this was posted, Card apparently has a planned fanfiction contest: (end of article)

    Something a reader on Card’s official forum pointed out is that Card specifically says “except at the invitation of the creator” – which would fit both the Abyss situation, and this current contest (if it actually happens).

    Not that I agree with his earlier harsh stance on criticism, but think it’s important to be fair when disagreeing with someone.

  5. Hmm, I wasn’t aware of this and am glad to see it. As you pointed out, his stance has partially evolved since I last revisited it, but it doesn’t address the heart of my issue.

    My problem with his position is with the major inconsistencies in what he says from two different sources, both authoritative. on his website, he lays down the law about how writers can never do their best work in someone else’s universe. In his book for writers, he describes doing exactly this very thing with the Abyss. He says that he considers it some of his best, most imaginative work.

    He is operating in the capacity as a teacher in both cases. To me, it is the same as my health teacher in high school talking about good food choices, and finding Diet Coke and Snickers in her file cabinets! Is there any other way to interpret it other than: “you’ll never do great work with someone else’s universe… except if you’re me, because I am obviously the exception.”

    I suspect that he may have been using that ”logical” reason as a front for his deeper emotional issues about fanfiction, but this is pure speculation on my part, based only on my experiences with other published authors (and their livejournals.)

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