Fanfic! The Reason for the Season

If you know where to search online, you will find me (or at least an incidental character named after me) appearing in fanfic. As we approach Christmas, I cannot help but think that such material is more ubiquitous than most of us realise. We are entering a time of year when fanfic has shaped our culture, traditions and holidays.

What exactly is fanfic? To answer that, maybe a good place to start is to ask what do Sherlock and Spock have in common – apart from a similar-sounding name that has led some fans to speculate that the former may be an ancestor of the latter, or that (via some time travel intrigue) they are perhaps both the same person?

Their biggest similarity is actually the fans themselves: both characters gave birth to legions of fans whose rabid support caused both fictional personalities to return from the dead, and – even more importantly – those fans wrote fan fiction (now commonly called fanfic or fic) that changed the face of literature, raising questions about copyright, and popularising terms like ‘cultural appropriation’ (which asks whether fans can claim some form of ‘ownership’ and ‘control’ of their favourite fictional franchises because they feel so passionately about the material and helped to make it so popular).

Fic is fun to write. It allows fans of any TV series, book, or film to create further adventures of their favourite characters. Some fic has been collected in paper fanzines (in the old days) or in Internet digital archives such as those for books or TV shows or anime or games. (But be careful – if you are copying a universe that is legally owned by others, you cannot make money from your stories, and you must take care to remain amateur and respectful and do nothing to violate their limits or endanger their profits. Stay within fan circles, be nice, and have fun.)

Fan fiction has a long and obscure history. In olden days, before writing was common and oral stories were more popular, it may be that myths and legends, and heroic tales such as those of the Trojan War, Atlantis, Robin Hood, Cleopatra and Hypatia may have included types of fic. In later times, Shakespeare and other authors created classic fic stories.

Some modern-day professional authors began their writing through writing fan fiction, while Fifty Shades of Grey and other novels are known to have come out of fan fic based upon the Twilight series or other original material. (This alternative is possibly a more rational idea about what to do with your fanfic other than keeping it backed up in some private computer file for nobody else to ever read – change your fanfic so it contains new characters, names, settings and plot. Bingo! New material free of copyright problems!)

What has all this to do with Christmas and the holidays? The answer should be self-evident: some of our earliest fanfic probably comprises religious stories where followers told and retold oral stories of their favourite religious figures and mythologies. Jesus and Hercules and Osiris rose from the dead just like Spock and Sherlock and Superman. Odysseus and Jason and King Arthur undertook quests just like Katniss Everdean and Harry Potter and Luke Skywalker. We approach the time of year when Christians celebrate their annual homage to one of the likely biggest sources of fanfic in history (the Bible) and its collected tales of life, death, and the power of inspiration. I do not intend to demean Christians with these comments: I also know the power of life affirming fanfic, even though my favourite fanfic is secular and science fictional.

One form of fanfic, called Mary Sue fiction, is a popular medium. This is where the author of the story (or in slight variation, their friends) become character/s in their stories. When I was much younger, I wrote myself into Star Trek and other sci fi fanfic stories, and in more recent times a friend had me (or a character named after me) appear in her fic about a wagon train convoy crossing the US plains during a past century. Mary Sue fiction has probably been around forever. Some of the early Biblical stories (and some more modern tales of religious experience) were probably originally Mary Sue tales of followers imagining themselves in religious settings interacting with their favourite religious figures. Such tales convey the power and passion of fanfic – but also warn us of the potential perversity if taken to extremes. Perhaps the biggest potential problem with religion (like any other form of fandom) is that while moderation brings motivation, more extremist forms put the cult into culture.

So happy Christmas, Hannukah, or Science Fiction Day. It’s all fun, imaginary, and it assumes whatever forms of inspiration that each of us needs in order to help shape our personal views, values and lives. Fandom is fun.

© 2022 Geoff Allshorn

The Lark Ascended

In Memory of Roger

Photo from the Melbourne AIDS Memorial Quilt Project

On a quiet Sunday afternoon in December 2002, a small group of people gathered in a Melbourne park to have a picnic in memory of Roger, a science fiction fan activist whose fan picnics were apparently quite legendary. Roger was clearly very much loved, and very fondly remembered. This became apparent at the picnic to commemorate the tenth anniversary of his death, when his friends spoke of him with a smile in their voices and a tear in their eyes. They spoke of his active participation in Melbourne’s science fiction community, of his Ditmars and DUFF activism, and his variety of life experiences.

Roger died thirty years ago today, from a medical condition that was rarely spoken about then or now: AIDS. Had he lived, I have no doubt that he would have continued to make his mark in the Australian science fiction community, and who knows what achievements he might have accomplished over recent decades as our creative, communications and digital social media opportunities have evolved?

As a fledgling member of certain SF groups at the time, I barely knew Roger myself, but I caught up with his partner and some of his close friends a year after he died, when they made a panel in his memory and presented it to the Australian AIDS Memorial Quilt Project. They poured their love, trinkets, memories and creativity into every stitch. I felt that they brought a spark of Roger’s soul to the remembrance as well. They created a testimonial which – in the form of a book with pages that could be turned – was distinctive, unique and which stands out from the hundreds of other entries in the AIDS Quilt. I even recall his partner bringing an iron to the Quilt display a year later, in order to iron Roger’s panel as part of his loving maintenance of his memory.

His partner also offered me his tribute, which I publish here proudly today in memory of Roger to coincide with the anniversary of his passing.

THE LARK ASCENDED

by Geoff Roderick

At the funeral, we played one of his favourite pieces of music: Ralph Vaughan Williams’ The Lark Ascending. It was fitting music, as it is sublimely beautiful, with a soaring freedom of spirit, a little like Roger’s take on life. There is also the obvious Roger pun. Roger Weddall was a lark: the little boy was never far away; cheeky, forever inquisitive, with a thirst for knowledge and a great concern for all those around him – from his family and friends to the nursing staff at Fairfield Hospital – he was genuinely interested in their lives. He was also passionate about puns and very good (or bad) at them.

He discovered MUSFA at university in early 1974 and eventually made his way into general fandom by the late seventies. He became infamous for his parties and, gaining confidence in himself, he became a great socialiser and developed a remarkable skill for helping people to relax and have a good time – if the table of ten wasn’t getting on swimmingly at a restaurant, he would have everybody change chairs. Of course, the waiters were not amused! Roger could hold three conversations with three different people, and not only listen but remember everything. Often, upon meeting an old friend, he would launch straight into the topic they had been previously discussing, sometimes years earlier.

During Roger’s second overseas trip in 1983, still deeply puzzled with his sexuality, he met a man at a London gay bar. While having sex, Roger realised that his partner wasn’t using a condom. He related to me, years later, how he had known exactly what he was doing and wanted to ask for a condom, but didn’t want to appear silly. Also, he couldn’t bear the thought ot the guy dumping him as he was feeling so overwhelmingly lonely. This was Roger’s first male sexual experience. He was 27 at the time.

We met through an ad I had placed in Outrage magazine in June 1988. His was the first of many replies. After an extraordinary two days and two nights together, I turned down all the other replies! It took us only a few days to fall in love.

It took him nearly three months to tell me that he was HIV positive. He had not told another soul… once again, his fear of rejection. He found it extremely difficult to tell me. I was shocked, as I hadn’t seen it coming at all (although I had already dealt with an AIDS-related death; a friend’s lover had stayed at my house before and after cituy visits to doctors. He had LOOKED sick!) On our way out to dinner, I filled my car with petrol, my mind reeling from Roger’s news, and I forgot to pay the attendant (he ran after us and I paid up, very embarrassed).

We shared exactly four and a half years together. It was the closest I have ever been to another living soul. I had been happy with my handful of wonderful friends. Roger quickly became a great mate to all in our ‘little family’. We played canasta and scrabble and drank cheap wine and bragged of our sexual conquests. He spoke many languages, he joked and laughed in Arabic with my Egyptian friend Osny, and shared deep and meaningfuls with Graham, and later – after Graham was diagnosed – compared their HIV medications and assessed the latest supposed ‘miracle cure’. He made everyone he met feel special.

Roger had friends too – he had THOUSANDS of friends! – from university, and Triple RRR, where he had been an announcer, from science fiction both in Australia and many, many overseas fans he had met on his travels. Friends from his work at Bridge House where he had cared for mentally handicapped adults (his clients respected him greatly, and many came to his funeral) and from Lifeline where he was a telephone counsellor and a highly esteemed counsellor trainer.

I recall the night he came home from a training session and he had performed in a role play, where he had played an HIV-positive gay man. Apart from his sister, he had still not told another soul! That was one of the few times I saw him deeply distressed by his HIV status. That night, he wept and wept.

Roger’s friends were very important to him and he regularly went to restaurant nights and meetings and Nova Mobs, helping to organise conventions and, sometimes – to the annoyance of some fans – the Ditmar trophies. Stuffed cane toads featured at SunCon in Brisbane in 1990, resulting in a rethink, and sparkling new paperweight glass trophies were awarded some weeks later. These closely resembled butt plugs, but this time there were no complaints.

That same year, Roger also introduced a new award category: Best Fannish Cat. His beloved pet, Typo, was voted the winner (Typo passed away on 9th March 2002, aged 17).

Roger spent thousands of hours producing his fanzine, THYME. He kept another fanzine, LHYFFE, waiting up his sleeve.

I sometimes found it daunting with so many people, as I was very shy, and at times I very selfishly regretted having to share his time with others.

He also treasured his time alone, to write and read and listen to music. Breakfast (preferably after 11am) was usually composed of sitting on the floor, listening to Todd Rundgren or Beethoven, with an enormous bowl of Coco Pops, reading comics and playing gleefully with Typo. Late at night, Roger’s brain was ON!!! This was his time to be creative, writing and reading. Often, at about three o’clock in the morning, I would wake up, and he would be sitting up in bed with his postcards and letters and LOCs and books; his cats, Typo and Shelly, purring at his side – and me purring on the other.

A generation after the arrival of HIV, we live in a world where AIDS is largely forgotten and HIV is largely a manageable lifelong condition. As we acknowledge 1st December as the annual World AIDS Day, it is fitting to pause and remember our many friends and heroes and mentors who were lost to this epidemic. In a COVID world, many people seem to think of this newer virus as mainly an inconvenience and they see vaccine denialism as some sort of heroic claim to individual freedoms. How quickly we forget that, within living memory, the earlier epidemic of HIV/AIDS was so terrible and traumatic and devastating, and that real heroism was shown by those affected and infected – as it still is today by many people in many places.

I personally recall Roger telling me that, without forewarning, he had once visited Arthur C Clarke in his Sri Lankan home, and I admired him for his boldness and initiative. I stand with Geoff and so many others in pausing to remember Roger, and, in doing so, I paraphrase HIV/AIDS activist and musician Michael Callen: “Love is all we have for now, What we don’t have is THYME.”

Vale Roger.

© 2022 Geoff Allshorn