Fanfic has no doubt been around since, well, probably the very second story ever told. Somebody probably liked the first story so much that they used the same characters and had them kill an ocelot or giant weevel instead of a dinosaur.
Since that time, somebody has liked somebody else’s stories so much that they just had to write their own versions, even if those versions never found it into the official canon. Fast-forward to the late 20th Century, and fan fiction becomes just another profit stream for savvy media companies. And while Nicholas Meyer’s “The Seven-Percent Solution” is possibly the most artistically successful fanfic ever published — even if got up the noses of Holmes’ purists — it took the Star Trek people to really monetize fan fiction.
All things considered, it took the people at Paramount almost no time whatsoever to realize that their failed little sci-fi show really stuck in people’s guts, and, rather than screaming about copyright, they actually encouraged fan fiction, realizing that something that stuck in people’s craws that much would be something around which they could create an empire. They just didn’t know how, and in the decade between the TV series ended and the films began, they were desperate to keep the flame lit by endless syndication alive. One could argue that Star Trek: The Animated Series, and especially the Alan Dean Foster adaptations, which built novels around that series, filling in characters and backstory to an unprecedented degree were nothing more than “official fan fiction.” Especially since according to the Star Trek Web Site, they aren’t even considered part of the canon.
And neither are the stories in the paperback book that’s sitting next to me right now: “Star Trek: The New Voyages,” a collection of fanfic that I’ve had since it was published 30 years ago, and is purported to be a purely organic collection of stories written for the fanzines that had already popped up.
That was 1976. In 2006, “Star Trek: The New Voyages,” isn’t a dog-eared paperback book, but rather a whole new type of fanfic: an attempt at creating an entire brand-new downloadable series, based upon the original characters. Of course, geeks with cameras have been making their own versions of Star Trek, Star Wars et. al. forever. In a related story, some guy wants to buy the rights to make a second season of Firefly to distribute via pay-per-view on Cable, direct to DVD and the Web. Now, there a means of distribution and publicity for these projects — not to mention FX technology — that didn’t exist even 5 years ago.
So Star Trek: The New Voyages is getting tremendous buzz — several people associated with the franchise — Walter Koening, George Takei, David Gerrold — have jumped aboard. And yeah, there is no doubt all kinds of copyright infringement, but unlike the way Fox shut down the one-time only stage performance of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer musical last year, so far CBS/Paramount hasn’t tried to shut them down, smartly turning a blind eye, knowing that there really isn’t a downside here: people are smart enough to distinguish this from the “regular” series and films, and they seem to realize that it falls firmly within the fanfic tradition that they’ve always nutured.
Or perhaps they know that it can’t be any worse than Enterprise was.
- Star Trek: The New Voyages (2006)
- Star Trek: The New Voyages (1976)
- The Apocrypha
- Will Firefly Season Two Fly?
- Fox Laywers C&D Buffy Fandom Musical
- The Official Star Trek Website