Fanfiction, Story Sharing Sites, and Online Samizdat

Maxwell’s Tech Program for Thursday, February 28, 2019

This month’s tech program will explore sites and apps for those who want to read literature that might not yet be ready for prime-time but that still might be just the thing they were looking for.

Fanfiction goes back to before the Internet first came online. At least since the days of Star Trek’s original series,1 fans of various works in many (possibly all) genres have been writing stories that take place in the universes of their favorites and that tell stories about the works’ characters that the original creators never imagined. Similarly, people have long shared their original creative works with others without publishing them through an “official” publisher.

Granted, the quality of self-published work is quite variable, but Andy Weir’s The Martian was first distributed online in this way as was E.L. James’ 50 Shades of Grey (originally a fanfic of the Twilight series). Also, under the former Soviet Union and other restrictive regimes, samizdat (Russian for ‘self-publishing’ but with the implication of distribution in violation of censorship) has brought out works like Mikhail Bulgakov’s The Master and Margarita, Václav Havel’s “The Power of the Powerless”, and some of Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s material.

1 See “Fanfiction.” Fanlore (last modified on 11 February 2019). Accessed February 25, 2019.

“However, the point at which ‘true’ fanfiction – or at least, identifiable amateur stories by fans using copyrightable creative works – started to be written is difficult to determine and depends on how broadly one defines the term itself. Jane Austen fanfic has been around since Austen’s nieces started writing it. (See ‘Jane Austen fandom history.’) Sherlock Holmes appeared in fiction written by other authors as early as 1891’s An Evening With Sherlock Holmes, the first of three Holmes parodies by James M. Barrie. Sherlockians were writing pastiches about the Great Detective in their journals in the early 1900s [see here]. A fictional account of 19th century fanfic writers can be found in Little Women, suggesting that the pursuit was widespread, if undocumented. Possibly the first published Tolkien fanfic appeared in I Palantir in 1960. And Star Trek fans started publishing zines (lots and lots of zines) with fanfic in the late 1960s, starting with Spockanalia.”