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July 18, 2012 7:54 AM   Subscribe

Sub-Cultural Darwinism: Some Thoughts on the Rise and Fall of Fandoms
posted by subdee (76 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite

 
Firstly, they assume that the health of a sub-culture is indistinguishable from the health of the industry that serves said sub-culture and so discussions tend to revolve around issues relating to the expansion and contraction of said market. For example, when people talk about the health of tabletop roleplaying games, they talk about the number of books sold and the number of companies in business. Thus, when the d20 license created a boom in the market that convinced existing fans to buy more stuff, people mistakenly confused this boom with an expansion in the boundaries of gaming fandom.
Yes, this is an incorrect assumption. It is also an incorrect assumption to associate "expansion of the boundaries of gaming fandom" with prosperity. Not all growth is good and not all shrinkage is bad.
posted by DU at 8:03 AM on July 18, 2012


Thus, American comics moved from being simple-minded and quasi-fascistic moral fantasies in which the good guys always win to being simple-minded and quasi-fascistic moral fantasies in which the good guys are always miserable psychopaths standing in the rain.

Ha ha ha. Dead on.
posted by zipadee at 8:11 AM on July 18, 2012 [20 favorites]


"Needless to say, while inaccessibly clever postmodern art is one side effect of an aging scene, another side effect is art that panders to older people in quite simple-minded ways. One excellent example of this type of thing is John Scalzi’s novel Old Man’s War. Though first published in 2005, Old Man’s War compares unfavourably with works of science fiction published over thirty years earlier. Indeed, despite appearing in 1974, Joe Haldeman’s Forever War comes across as a far more mature and sophisticated piece of writing than John Scalzi’s take on an almost identical set of tropes."
In your opinion sir, in your opinion.
posted by evilDoug at 8:12 AM on July 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


However, if you are only a casual comics fan or young enough to be new to the form then All-Star Superman is likely to come across as little more than an impenetrable mess of disconnected plotlines and meaningless images.

I'm pretty sure that's the introduction to comics everyone has as a kid. What the hell did I grow up reading? Wildstorm? Jesus. I envy the kids/new readers who jump off into comics on All-Star Superman as opposed to a phoned-in issue of god-knows-what.
posted by griphus at 8:18 AM on July 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


My experience of what the author is talking about comes from when I use the word "fandom" in the modern media fandom sense and talk about things going on in it, and people I know who are active in old skool SF fandom really get their knickers in a twist. I'm in my 40s and female and my experience of fandom qua fandom is pretty much media fandom. I know old skool SF fandom is out there and there are places where it intersects with the fringes of the sort of fandom I'm exposed to (Wiscon) but IME where the young people are, particularly the young women, is media fandom, probably because old skool SF fandom has less to offer them.
posted by immlass at 8:37 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Interesting read. Appeals to my sci fi and anthro background. Thanks for posting.
posted by Gwynarra at 8:41 AM on July 18, 2012


The writer completely ignores several attempts by both DC and Marvel to un-modernize their stories and allow them to become accessible to new fans. The Ultimate Marvel line and DCs most recent reboot both strike me as an attempt to open up comics to a new generation of fans. Whether or not these are succeeding is not something I will even try to discuss in this comment. (I am a fan of the Ultimate universe actually- trying to figure out WTF is happening in Marvel's main universe is confusing at the best of times for me.)

He also ignores the collapse and rebuilding of comics in the 90's, (the end of the "Dark Age" of comics and the start of the currently unnamed age) that prompted a reexamination of the tortured hero and attempted to make things slightly less horrible in comic universes.

And as much as the Forever War contains many of the same themes that Old Mans War does, I like Scalzi's writing more than Halderman's. Halderman is a fairly good writer, but he does suffer a touch from Kilgore Trout syndrome (at least in my opinion).

(Kilgore Trout syndrome is what I call scifi with amazing ideas that far outstrip the writing. The name comes from one of Vonnegut's books where one of the character's says of Trout "such amazing ideas. If only he could write!")

I think the author does have a solid idea at the core, but this is lost among arguments that seem to miss quite a bit.
posted by Hactar at 8:52 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think it's an interesting article, but it slides past what I think is the elephant in the room, which is technological shifts.

As you look at written SF fandom, for example, you have to consider how much of that is impacted by the decline in reading, the steep decline in hardcopy books, and the destruction of book stores. If you consider "fandom" as a hobby (yeah, yeah, I'm old enough to know what FIAWOL vs FIJAGH means, but for the sake of argument, ok?) then you have to be informed by the hobby activity of record collecting -- what happens when the whole idea of physically owning the media is considered quaint? Hell, there are people who consider me old-fashioned for even having local music storage vs just using Pandora (et al.). What does it do to written SF fandom that for more and more people, their "library" is a Kindle or as Nook, and half the people they know don't read books in any format?

Whereas anime (which I wouldn't call "on the rise," but I won't argue it) is just nitro-injected by the new accessibility of streaming and the ease of creating and obtaining fansubs.
posted by tyllwin at 8:54 AM on July 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Fans and creatives have a duty to remain accessible and relevant to future generations because they are not the owners of the ideas and institutions that they employ. Fannish and creative endeavours only have value in so far as they contribute to the advancement of a field and force its forms and institutions to remain relevant to the problems of the day.

There's a lot of....undercurrents in this piece. The one I notice particularly - as someone about the same age as the writer - is the fear of being old. The mean little asides about "servicing" old fans, the assumption that books about the past are inaccessible and irrelevant to young people, the assumption that being old means that your concerns are boring and trivial, the assumption that being old means you're selfish and that the young must fight you - those are the marks of someone who knows that he is no longer young and hasn't yet resolved the issues this brings up for him. Not that resolving those issues is easy, or that we should all stop writing until we've got them wrapped up.

Some thoughts:

The idea that artists need to kill their predecessors (er, metaphorically - that whole Oedipal death-struggle with the writers/artists/thinkers who came before you) is new - it's not an eternal truth. It's a phenomenon of Western modernism - the artist as a great individual pushing a form forward (rather than merely changing it), the artist as [a scion of the bourgeoisie who is nonetheless] anti-bourgeois, the values placed on blam!style novelty. The inability to be at peace with the past in which you did not exist and the future in which you will not exist, the inability to accept that others and other times have their own logics and validity...that's not encoded in human genetics. It's also kind of a white thing, I suspect, and kind of a dude thing - if only because women and POC haven't had the opportunities to be deathless individualist geniuses.

How hard a line is the division between "old" and "not old" anyway? I mean, when I was reading SF as a teen, very little of that SF was written by or even about teenagers. Much of it was written by people in their late twenties through their forties, about adults. It seemed to speak to me anyway.

This essay seems to slip back and forth between talking about form and talking about content without acknowledging the fact. On a form level, I've often gotten into fandom stuff via the oddball works that played with form, long before I read anything else that went into their making. I've found this exciting and productive - it's just as fun to backfill your knowledge as it is to read forward. In fact, I think that my younger years, when I read without a lot of proscription, were some of my most productive reading times. Was my teenage reading of Again Dangerous Visions inappropriate because I hadn't read much of the stuff that led to all that New Wave writing? Or was it inappropriate because it was about the concerns of *gasp* people from the 1960s, who would have had a bad case of the dreaded olds by the early nineties?

Content-wise: I've always had a lot of anxieties around aging and changing, so I've been thinking about this one for a long time: I'm glad that there are science fiction novels (let's just talk about SF for now) by and about people at life stages at which I am not. I just don't understand this idea that a book about getting older and its accompanying concerns, growth and regrets would be some kind of terrible dead weight to me as someone who is not yet old. When I was in my teens, I read The Folk of the Air which is, in large part, a very thoughtful story about coming back to your past and how friendships persist. It was really important to me to read that book.

Also, there's a sort of contradiction in this essay: one needs to have read about the past to participate in formal experiments, but books like Among Others (which I have not read and had dismissed based on the idiotic twinkle-fairy photo cover, as those usually indicate "twinkly book for girls!" but which now sounds interesting)...anyway, books like Among Others are to be rebuked because they are about/set in the past.

I feel like there's an inability to distinguish between sentimental nostalgia (which isn't always without charm) and writing about the past.

Also, what is up with this "fandom/genre exists to service the needs of the Most Important People In Society" routine? I mean, in a sense I read science fiction to, er, service my needs - a phrase that reminds me irresistably of Are You Being Served? and the various cow-breeding facilities that advertise in the rural midwest - but I don't pick up, say, Centuries Ago And Very Fast the way I would a jar of vitamins. Its relationship to my "needs" is both a lot more diffuse and a lot more challenging than that.

Of course, my reading of All Our Yesterdays suggests that fandom has never been a particularly generous place.

I don't think that "genres have a duty to reflect the zeitgeist" is the best way to think of things; genres do reflect the zeitgeist, will they or never so. People are shaped by their times, writing is shaped by its time. It's like gravity - not just a good idea but the law.
posted by Frowner at 8:54 AM on July 18, 2012 [12 favorites]


I don't have the sci fi background or interest to grok all of this, I guess. But after coming of age knee-deep in the anime fandom, I've been trying to figure out how to explain what a fandom is and why it exists. My husband is unfamiliar with the concept of liking a show/author/anime/thing SO much that you must draw about it/talk to other fans about/write fanfics/buy ALL the things pertaining to it. I was hoping to gain some insight into that, and while I still don't have it completely figured out, this excerpt from the original piece helps me discern why anyone might join a fandom in the first place:

You are a teenager ... What interests you as a teenager growing up in the 21st Century will be determined by a number of factors including the culture of the day, the values of your parents and peer group, and which activities are financially and geographically available to you. For example, you are unlikely to develop a huge interest in winter sports if you live in the tropics. Similarly, if you grow up in an upper-class family then you are more likely to acquire an interest in tennis than you are in muscle cars.

Based upon these interests, you will be inclined to attach yourself to one or several scenes as a means of a) interacting with people who share your interests and b) accruing social capital. Which scenes you eventually join is, of course, your choice but all potential scenes are effectively in competition for your talent, your energy and your financial input.

posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 8:55 AM on July 18, 2012


I don't have the sci fi background or interest to grok all of this

Priceless, Frowner.
posted by tyllwin at 8:57 AM on July 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


Priceless, Frowner.

Sadly, not my funny - Biggest Dreamer for the win.
posted by Frowner at 8:58 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


The other thought that I didn't get out because I hit "post" when I wanted "preview" was that fandom now is much more splintered. Back in the gold old days that are being pined for a bit, wouldn't Twilight, and Harry Potter and Hunger Games all have been ghettoized with "written SF fandom?"
posted by tyllwin at 9:00 AM on July 18, 2012


tyllwin:
"The other thought that I didn't get out because I hit "post" when I wanted "preview" was that fandom now is much more splintered. Back in the gold old days that are being pined for a bit, wouldn't Twilight, and Harry Potter and Hunger Games all have been ghettoized with "written SF fandom?""
I think part of that might have to do with the increase of media types. Back in the day, Harry Potter would just be a book series. You read it, enjoyed it and moved onto a similarly themed book. Now, you have Harry Potter the book, the movie, the video game, the graphic novel and the long series of websites. What was once just a series of books that you read and moved on from is now something that can continue to entertain you in its world long after you have finished the primary material. It isn't just about enjoying the material any more, it is about living it.
posted by charred husk at 9:06 AM on July 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


The writer completely ignores several attempts by both DC and Marvel to un-modernize their stories and allow them to become accessible to new fans. The Ultimate Marvel line and DCs most recent reboot both strike me as an attempt to open up comics to a new generation of fans.

I'm not sure DC/Marvel's reboots/alternate settings are an attempt to broaden their fanbase so much as renew it. Basically, they just want younger versions of their existing fans, which ignores the inclusive quality of potential new fandoms the author mentions in the article.

I agree that the author did miss a beat when it comes to superhero comics, but that beat was the conversion of comics into movies, which is bringing in a new audience. Of course, whether or not said audience becomes fans, I don't know. I suspect that any emerging fandom based on superhero movies is pretty easily distracted/refocused on the cast. Folks new to Marvel don't leave the theater saying "I want to see more Iron Man" so much as "I want to see more Robert Downey Jr."
posted by robocop is bleeding at 9:06 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


When I read Old Man's War, I never got the impression that it was a paean to ancient Sci-Fi fandom, and that to truly appreciate it you had to be old and wishing you were young again. I got the impression that it was, y'know, just a pretty good book.

Perhaps metafilter's own jscalzi can weigh in? I mean, the author is most decidedly not dead.
posted by kafziel at 9:10 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Sadly, not my funny - Biggest Dreamer for the win.

Attention to detail: always my strong suit.

It isn't just about enjoying the material any more, it is about living it.

And by that standard, SF fandom of the 50's through 70's isn't dead, it's exploded like some pod full of virulent spores. The same sort of interests that would have gotten me labelled as a hard core SF fan back then now just mean I have a loose connection and interest in dozens of "fandoms" today without being hard core in any of them. A man without a country.
posted by tyllwin at 9:15 AM on July 18, 2012


When I read Old Man's War, I never got the impression that it was a paean to ancient Sci-Fi fandom...

I sure did.

I read Starship Troopers. Then I read Forever War. There's no way to read the second except as a Vietnam-era rebuttal to the first. When I realized that Old Man's War was another response in the chain, I got pretty excited. People have been saying how great this book is! It's going to really bring out something new here!

And...no. It mostly just goes back to Starship Troopers. There's a senator character who wants to end the war and gets killed because he's so naive. The troops are all "sure, we want peace too, but look at these animals! they don't deserve it, it's us or them". Which is basically exactly what ST said and so did every warhawk in every war ever.

The other major point made in the book? Marriage is nice.

The title should have been "Old Man's War Story".
posted by DU at 9:19 AM on July 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


the artist as [a scion of the bourgeoisie who is nonetheless] anti-bourgeois

That was the part where I started thinking about Bourdieu and the thing he says about writers being dominated members of the dominant class, who can appeal to either the dominant-dominant (bourgeois art), the dominated (socialist art), or to other artists and writers (the "cultural-decadence death spiral" the OP mentions).

Also I agree that there's a kind of uncomfortableness to the article centered around aging. Why teenagers as the only group that really matters? I could understand this argument if the OP was talking about popular music, because music tastes really do solidify at around age 14 for most people, but I think broader cultural tastes are more flexible.

Also, I wouldn't frame this as an "ethical" issue but just as practical one, relating back to people who want to see their scenes stay alive. "Ethics" is murky first because their are far worse sins than not opening up your scene to teenagers, and second because should it be more "ethical" for older fans to change their scenes to suit younger fans, compared to younger fans broadening their tastes to include the same things enjoyed by older fans? It's not that the first is more ethical, it's that it's more practical, due to the Darwinian selection effect also mentioned by the OP.
posted by subdee at 9:23 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


The title should have been "Old Man's War Story".

But the thing is, bad ideas afflict every generation. Science fiction written by young, cutting-edge people is full of terrible ideas. Cory Doctorow, for example, routinely writes stories that purport to be feminist but have truly terrible, coercive, cruel ideas about how women should live. But perhaps because they seem "natural" to people of his age (although I believe that includes me) they don't get called out very much.

There certainly are terrible ideas and terrible plots that are characteristic generational concerns - but that's not what the essay is arguing. It's very specifically about how the Olds have all these terrible, retrograde, topheavy ideas.

In fact, more than anything this essay reminds me of some kid saying "why should that fifty-year-old make $45,000 a year with health insurance when I am so desperate for work that I would gladly work for $25,000 and no benefits?"....that same sort of pointless intergenerational hostility that ignores the fact that everyone who does not die gets old, along with the fact that many of us know, care about and/or are related to the Dreaded Olds.
posted by Frowner at 9:23 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I don't have the sci fi background or interest to grok all of this, I guess. But after coming of age knee-deep in the anime fandom, I've been trying to figure out how to explain what a fandom is and why it exists. My husband is unfamiliar with the concept of liking a show/author/anime/thing SO much that you must draw about it/talk to other fans about/write fanfics/buy ALL the things pertaining to it.


I tend to get ...more fandomy when I'm stressed out and I'm in a stressy place now and currently annoying everyone I know with it but, for me anyway, it occupies this strange quasi-philsophical place in my head where I over-identify with the things and start asking myself questions like "What Would Buffy Summers Do?" (which got me through High School) and like, work out issues through the archetypical action figures in my head. I know old school Trek fans saying things like "Kirk helped me to be courageous or Spock thought me about being considerate" and stuffs, so maybe the whole thing is an older, deep-seated reaction to media and narrative that, for some reason, hits some people harder then others. Whatever, maybe I'm just really impressionable.

Folks new to Marvel don't leave the theater saying "I want to see more Iron Man" so much as "I want to see more Robert Downey Jr."

oh those two are the same thing and you know it.
posted by The Whelk at 9:27 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


When did 'fandom' become the word du jour? When did people stop saying they were a fan of things and start saying 'I'm part of the X fandom'? Is it an American thing, an Internet thing? I've hung out with nerdy people since I was able to and it only seems to have appeared in the past few years. I studied music and the fan experience for part of my degree, yet it's only recently I've seen phrases like 'the Radiohead fandom'. As a result, I find the word somewhat grating and I'm not sure what to do with it. I'd describe myself as a fan of Mad Men, for example, but 'fandom' carries connotations of curating websites of GIFs or cosplaying or posting to LiveJournals dedicated to custom icons. Maybe it's a particular way of being a fan involving the internet and obsessing over where Amy Pond gets those shoes. I'm not sure.

I'm pretty sure that's the introduction to comics everyone has as a kid.

There's less of a comicbook culture here, so my intro was first The Beano as a wee kid, then graphic novels like Preacher and Sandman. The superhero thing passed me by, and there was nowhere to buy comics where I grew up - you had to go to a specialist shop in the nearest big city, where I ended up buying Action Girl and Naughty Bits as I didn't get the Marvel/DC world at all. For me, they were printed versions of the cartoons on TV. Maybe the new wave of superhero films over the past ten years has changed this for kids, I'm not sure, but I almost never see comic books for sale in regular newsagents or supermarkets.
posted by mippy at 9:31 AM on July 18, 2012 [3 favorites]


Also I agree that there's a kind of uncomfortableness to the article centered around aging. Why teenagers as the only group that really matters?

I'm not sure either (until the reboot Dr Who 'fandom' was very much a nerdy middle-aged thing, same with more contemporary shows at that time like Red Dwarf) but the film industry agrees - most films seem to be 12a rated these days, even stuff like Batman which I expect to be darker and more violent. Isn't it the case that an R rating is seen as box office poison in the US?
posted by mippy at 9:33 AM on July 18, 2012


I think there's an intense fandom among gen y and younger, it just doesn't get noticed much by others except for the huge hits like Twilight and Harry Potter. Fantasy is huge in young adult books and it's even trickling up to older readers.
posted by drezdn at 9:34 AM on July 18, 2012


But the thing is, bad ideas afflict every generation. Science fiction written by young, cutting-edge people is full of terrible ideas.

I didn't bring up OMW in this thread because it was terrible. I brought it up because it's a very specific kind of terrible. It's basically a rewrite of Starship Troopers, a classic 50s SF book, with the ages reversed. That's it. There's literally nothing else new here1.

1Possibly excepting the "toddlers in adult bodies as ultra-killers" aspect, which is probably worse than ST. Another thing I fully expected to see redressed, or at least addressed, and was disappointed.
posted by DU at 9:35 AM on July 18, 2012


Another thing I fully expected to see redressed, or at least addressed, and was disappointed.

Did you read the rest of the series? Because actually both complaints get addressed, and are in fact major points of the larger arc.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:38 AM on July 18, 2012


I read the post as an indictment of written SF fandom's inability to plan for the future. And, actually, if there's any group that doesn't accept that it's getting older, it's the Baby Boom generation that occupies written SF fandom. Why else would it try to hang on to it's youth and not give a shit about the people who come after them.
posted by wuwei at 9:39 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


How hard a line is the division between "old" and "not old" anyway? I mean, when I was reading SF as a teen, very little of that SF was written by or even about teenagers. Much of it was written by people in their late twenties through their forties, about adults. It seemed to speak to me anyway.

Yeah, I think my major difficulty in reading this article was its constant harping on how inaccessible SF fandom is for young people, to which I can only answer that he must not be looking at the same SF fandom that I'm familiar with. He talks a lot about that fandom not being inclusive, which I know are some complaints a few people have, but I don't think they're valid on nearly the grand scale that he argues they are. For example: yes, there are undoubtedly some people boycotting general SF fandom because there are a lot of older white male authors, but I think most people picking up books (particularly teenagers) don't tend to care about that; they just want to see if it's a story that can speak to them.

When I was a teenager I read an already old Asimov and Heinlein, and never felt the lack because they were of another generation than I was.

I think this author is trying way too hard to make his examples fit, though he may be accurate in other points.
posted by corb at 9:41 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


The more widely read the average fan becomes, the more likely it is that they will want to experience something new. Thus, an aging fandom can also be a more jaded and sophisticated fandom and a sophisticated fandom is likely to be a more demanding fandom.

I really haven't noticed a correlation between age and reading tastes. Plenty of young readers already recognize and eschew predictability and formula. Plenty of old readers know what they like and seek the things that push the same buttons for them. (And there's nothing wrong with either one, and I hope there will always be stories that satisfy them both.) People can make the transition from one to the other in either direction.

And while it's true that there are some works that so depend on foreknowledge of the tropes they're talking back to that they can't be appreciated without it, they're a rarity. Old Man's War would still be a decent sf war novel even if you don't know there's a whole subgenre of sf war novels. Among Others is a damn good book even if you didn't grow up soaking in science fiction and fantasy. I do think I would have gotten less out of it if I hadn't at least read the Lord of the Rings first. That's not particular to what's labelled the stuff of fandom. Lots of other things are talking back to Oedipus, or the Bible, or King Lear, or Paradise Lost, or The Heart of Darkness. That's just culture.
posted by Zed at 9:41 AM on July 18, 2012


Since you pull it into the open, Frowner (checks, yes, Frowner), That's another sort of oversight from the original article that I was less inclined to pull out: the extent to which he avoids the basic question of generational conflict going on: How many 50-year-old Heinlein fans are going to accept a 16-year-old as an equal participant? How many Twilight fans want one of those 50-year-old Heinlein fans hanging around? You want to play a tabletop RPG with someone 3 times your age or 1/3 of it?

Note, wuwei, that this goes in both directions.

BTW, mippy, I take "fandom" to mean, not just enjoying media X, but interacting socially with other fans of X based on that shared love of X. And I associate the increase with the rise of social media.
posted by tyllwin at 9:44 AM on July 18, 2012


Did you read the rest of the series? Because actually both complaints get addressed, and are in fact major points of the larger arc.

I wondered if that might be the case, but since there was basically no hints that that was going to happen in the first one, meh. Maybe Scalzi got some blowback and decided to cover his ass or something. But the book as it exists is awful.
posted by DU at 9:45 AM on July 18, 2012


>>Did you read the rest of the series? Because actually both complaints get addressed, and are in fact major points of the larger arc.

>I wondered if that might be the case, but since there was basically no hints that that was going to happen in the first one, meh. Maybe Scalzi got some blowback and decided to cover his ass or something. But the book as it exists is awful.

I wouldn't say the book is awful. OMW tends to be more of a fantasy than ST and TFW. While the landscape is similar OMW is more a hero story, considering the protagonist lives long, gets the girl AND saves the galaxy. Looked at this way, it isn't really similar to ST or TFW, and as a fantasy, it's good popcorn.
posted by linux at 9:52 AM on July 18, 2012


The fact that those two things are so obvious and unchallenged in the first one *is* the hint. It's an unusual way of approaching it, sure, and I suspect it didn't work out for everybody - people who kept reading expecting more gleeful thoughtless pulp got more than they bargained for, too. Tanya Huff actually did something very similar in her Valor series. In both cases, though, for it to work you have to be willing to at least live with the hoo-rah bullshit for a while while the real plot unfolds in the background.

Among Others is fantastic, too. I really am not sure where this guy is coming from. Although I am now very curious to see the demographics at Worldcon - I'm guessing it'll skew older, because it seems to me that it's industry insiders in large part, but I've got Comic-Con, GenCon, and PAX to compare it to. Will be interesting.
posted by restless_nomad at 9:52 AM on July 18, 2012


there was basically no hints that that was going to happen in the first one, meh.

I gotta quibble with you, DU. I was disappointed in the thing about the senator being the only one talking about peace and of course getting killed for his stupidity, too. It seemed the sort of hawkish bullshit I'd expect from a Niven/Pournelle collaboration. But then there was a hint in the first one that that wasn't the whole story -- a sympathetic character who survives does have a little speech about how the senator wasn't all wrong. That hint (along with some of the deliberately creepy bits of the war machine culture depicted) inclines me to believe that Scalzi had in mind all along a narrative that would increasingly critique the premises of its setting.

I'm not going to argue about whether it's an awful book -- de gustibus non est disputandum and all -- but I do think your statement as made that there are no hints he intended to address these complaints isn't supported by the text.
posted by Zed at 9:54 AM on July 18, 2012


When did 'fandom' become the word du jour?

I don't know when it became the 'word du jour' but interestingly enough, the term itself seems to go back to 1903 and was used to describe the community of baseball fans.

In the SF community, the first organized groups and clubs started in the late 1920s to early 1930s and as far as I know, they used the term fandom pretty frequently from pretty early on. The Wikipedia article has a pretty good rundown of the history and an interesting book is Sam Moskowitz's Immortal Storm: A History of Science Fiction Fandom (see a snippet from the book on Google Books).
posted by flug at 9:56 AM on July 18, 2012


But then there was a hint in the first one that that wasn't the whole story -- a sympathetic character who survives does have a little speech about how the senator wasn't all wrong. That hint (along with some of the deliberately creepy bits of the war machine culture depicted) inclines me to believe that Scalzi had in mind all along a narrative that would increasingly critique the premises of its setting.

I definitely caught the creepy hints. And he definitely set it up for a sequel in that John and Jane (huh) were going to get together later. So I guess I'll keep an open mind on whether that was planned or what. Not sure I'm going to read the others, though. It's already a pretty big investment to read a whole book to get someone's point but to have to read N of them?
posted by DU at 9:58 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]



Since you pull it into the open, Frowner (checks, yes, Frowner), That's another sort of oversight from the original article that I was less inclined to pull out: the extent to which he avoids the basic question of generational conflict going on: How many 50-year-old Heinlein fans are going to accept a 16-year-old as an equal participant? How many Twilight fans want one of those 50-year-old Heinlein fans hanging around? You want to play a tabletop RPG with someone 3 times your age or 1/3 of it?


See, I think there's a lot of larger cultural stuff to unpick about generations, aging and age-segretation. These aren't fandom problems; they're modern Western problems.

(Although this whole fandom is soooooooo oooooooold thing is baffling to me - when I read fanfiction and discover that the author is my age I am over the fucking moon. And when I discovered that an author whose work I really like is sixty? It's true, I thought to myself, "no wonder her work is so placid, generous and lyrical, and no wonder she writes characters in their forties so well"....but I was astonished. My end of fandom is young, young, young.)

But it's the same set of questions with political activism. Modern Western society is age-segregated very finely - consider how school works and how almost all your friends are likely to be exactly your age. Consider the neurological-determinist rhetoric of child and young-adult development, all of which emphasizes the tremendous differences between a teenager and a person in their early twenties, or between a ten year old and a twelve year old, as if there can't and shouldn't be friendships across these ages. This is all very, very novel - it is not how society worked a hundred or two hundred years ago. So anyway, people get very little practice being friends with people of different ages. And marketing is really age-dependent, and hatred-dependent. Older folks? They're boring and pathetic and unsexy and talk funny and have stupid concerns. Younger folks? They're lazy and stupid and slutty and apathetic! Old folks are greedy - they want jobs and benefits and retirement! Young folks are greedy - they want to go to school without mountains of debt!

In general, I think it's a darn bad thing that we are an age-segregated society. I think it has ripple effects, in fact - because learning to deal comfortably with people who are different than you by virtue of being older or younger is something that would serve us well in terms of all kinds of cultural divisions and which could happen easily and painlessly in family and community settings. Instead, we've got this cultural narrative that not only are older folks and younger folks Very Very Different (and so are, like, ten year old and twelve year olds) but that it is extremely important that we all have age-appropriate segregated hobbies and lifeworlds, that it's too uncomfortable, frustrating and embarrassing to be in shared milieux. And thus, of course, the opportunities for unforced friendship between people who actually have lots in common but are different ages gets rarer and rarer, and is viewed as weird.

I suppose this is one advantage of online fandoms - although you can sometimes spot certain types of extreme youth, as a broad generality it's difficult to pinpoint exact age.
posted by Frowner at 10:10 AM on July 18, 2012 [12 favorites]


As you look at written SF fandom, for example, you have to consider how much of that is impacted by the decline in reading... half the people they know don't read books in any format?

Where is the evidence that reading has declined?

Independent bookstores may be suffering, but book sales have been up over the last decade or two. And the format of a book doesn't matter: whether epub, mobi or codex, it's still a book, the text is the same and while the act of reading is changed a little, it's not a lot less than you'd think if you are reading on a pocket book/octavo-sized reader. (I read on an ipod, which is like a sexagesimo-quarto book, and that does change the way you read a lot).
posted by jb at 10:14 AM on July 18, 2012


Am I wrong? I'd love to be. I don't follow rates of reading all that closely, and so far as actual studies go, am really only familiar with the government-funded NEA studies which , so far as I know showed precipitous declines for the last twenty years, then a mild uptick in the last few years that doesn't come close to making up the lost ground. But, I confess, a great deal of my actual impression comes from personal experience as I see the independent bookstores go, and then marginal chain locations go, and then things like Borders go. I can't see with my own eyes how much of that is just a shift to e-readers or Amazon sales, of course. If, in fact, there's an actual increase hidden from my view, I'll be delighted.
posted by tyllwin at 10:31 AM on July 18, 2012


BTW, mippy, I take "fandom" to mean, not just enjoying media X, but interacting socially with other fans of X based on that shared love of X. And I associate the increase with the rise of social media.

I think it's more likely that social media makes fans and fandoms more *visible*, both to other fans and the general public. As flug's links attest, fandom itself is nothing new (and in fact I have a couple of books on my desk right now detailing the activities of hard core Sherlock Holmes fans in the 1930s). But so much of fan activity was either paper-based (fan-fiction, zines, etc) or F2F (cons) prior to the internet, that I think it was largely invisible to wider society. Social media makes it much, much easier to find and interact with other fans, especially if you have a more obscure interest, and it also makes it easier for you to share your love (a definite fannish activity) with other fans and anyone else.

I think we have also seen a shift, maybe in the last 10 years or so, to marketers/advertisers paying more specific attention to fans as a target group, and thus the rise in media coverage around events like Comic-Con (which Wikipedia tells me was founded in 1970). Rather than being seen as weirdos who dress up in costumes and pretend to be Captain Kirk, fans are now seen as weirdos who will pay good money to buy the authentic Captain Kirk costume from the officially licensed store.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 10:34 AM on July 18, 2012


I tend to get ...more fandomy when I'm stressed out . . . maybe the whole thing is an older, deep-seated reaction to media and narrative that, for some reason, hits some people harder then others. Whatever, maybe I'm just really impressionable.

That's very interesting, The Whelk! Now that I look back, my childhood was pretty stressful, while my husband's was not, so maybe that could explain why I became a Fan of something whereas he did not. I can also relate to the over-identification. I don't really think it's an impressionable thing. But sometimes I think I identified with certain works of fiction because (1) escapism from stressful situations (2) inability to create/assert/embrace my own sense of identity at that time.
posted by The Biggest Dreamer at 10:42 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I think it's more likely that social media makes fans and fandoms more *visible*

Oh,. no, I didn't mean that I thought social media created the fandoms, just that it helped make it a word du jour by making the interactions easier. Putting a fanfic online is much easier than printing a 'zine, so more fans cross the line into fandom, was how my thinking went.
posted by tyllwin at 10:49 AM on July 18, 2012


tyllwin - maybe I'm wrong. You're right - a quick google and I found the NEA studies report less reading overall (at least in the US), with only a recent minor uptick.

But at the same time, I still find claims like "no one reads anymore" or "no one will read in the future" to be too dire. Firstly, they assume that in the past, people read a great deal (the NEA studies only started in 1982 - that may have been a weird high blip in the history of reading), and also that decline itself may not be sustained.

Also, I'm curious about the NEA's distinction - I'm not sure what "The U.S. population now breaks into two almost equally sized groups – readers and non-readers" - means. Do they mean that half the population does not read written texts of any form (including newspapers, internet posts, non-fiction), or just that half the population does not read literature (fiction, plays, poetry, etc). These are two very different statements.

I also did a quick google on book sales - recent news reports have sales of print books down, but notes that may be due to sales of ebooks (also consumption is down). A few years ago, I was hearing news of a boom in booksales, but primarily for the big sellers (Amazon or, in Canada, Chapters/Indigo).

But maybe I am just skeptical -- literature (popular and elite) trucked on just fine throughout the period of history I study (c1500-1800) when a much smaller percentage of the population could purchase texts or read them themselves (lots of reading outloud happened). I tend to think that literature is robust.
posted by jb at 10:57 AM on July 18, 2012


The idea that anime is really the new SF/F fandom is something that interests me a lot. I grew up reading SF and fantasy; now I'm writing and drawing it myself. And lately I've been starting to show up at cons to try and expand my audience out of the tiny little furry niche I've been in for a while.

All the SF cons I've been to around Seattle feel dead. The anime scene, however... so huge, so vibrant, so bustling. So alive. And despite being 40, despite being minimally influenced by Japanese comics and animation, I feel much more among my tribe when I'm at an anime con than at a SF con. It's weird and I really can't put my finger on why this is so.
posted by egypturnash at 10:57 AM on July 18, 2012


It's only natural for fandom to focus on the teen and young adult audience. The older you get, the more commitments you have, the less spare time you have to spend on things like sewing up your own meticulously-researched Scully outfit.

This is one of the things that breaks your heart about getting older. You have less time to devote to the passions of your youth. Maybe it's because you have better, more productive and fulfilling passions. Maybe it's because your job grinds you down so much that you just don't have the energy. Or maybe you just lose whatever spark it was that made you so passionate about anything and everything when you were younger.

I feel like that's what this article is really about, when you scratch the surface. It's not about the way the fandoms change, it's about the way that we change, and the inevitable sadness and bitterness that results.
posted by ErikaB at 11:12 AM on July 18, 2012


"That's another sort of oversight from the original article that I was less inclined to pull out: the extent to which he avoids the basic question of generational conflict going on: How many 50-year-old Heinlein fans are going to accept a 16-year-old as an equal participant? How many Twilight fans want one of those 50-year-old Heinlein fans hanging around? You want to play a tabletop RPG with someone 3 times your age or 1/3 of it?"

Actually, I do play D&D with some folks that I am 2.5 times older than. Our shared appreciation of RPGs, anime & video games provides us with a connection we probably wouldn't have otherwise.

(My other regular interaction with folks much younger than myself comes at the dojo. On the jujutsu mat it doesn't matter if my training partner is 30 years younger than I am.)
posted by tdismukes at 11:19 AM on July 18, 2012


the term itself seems to go back to 1903 and was used to describe the community of baseball fans.

Just for historical interest, a few references to baseball "fandom" from newspaper articles--including one from even earlier than 1903: 1902, 1914, 1923, 1928, 1935, many more.

Even in 1902 they were using the word as though it were a commonly used and understood term--though I haven't been able to find any references earlier than 1902.

The word fan itself (in the sense we're talking about) doesn't go back any further than 1880 or so (1896 example). Likely the terms fan & fandom both originated with baseball fans and/or newspaper reporters writing about baseball during the late 1800s/early 1900s.
posted by flug at 11:19 AM on July 18, 2012


Frowner, would you care to expand on, "Cory Doctorow, for example, routinely writes stories that purport to be feminist but have truly terrible, coercive, cruel ideas about how women should live" at all, please? I haven't read any of his books, but I never read anybody's books and I'm curious.
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 11:21 AM on July 18, 2012


DU: Not all growth is good and not all shrinkage is bad.
What are you, my bathroom scale?

I'LL TEAR YOUR BATTERIES OUT IF YOU SPEAK ANOTHER WORD, SO HELP ME!!!
posted by IAmBroom at 11:23 AM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


egypturnash: I feel much more among my tribe when I'm at an anime con

The idea that being a fan of Cowboy Bebop, or Planetes, or Haruhi, or this season's Sword Art Online makes you something other than an SF fan wasn't always there. Anime cons and SF cons used to just be different rooms at the same con. It's all from the same family. So, it's like an SF con is your Mom's house, and an anime con is your sister's place. Mom's place is sort of quiet now that the kids are all moved out, no more people rushing in and out, no sounds of someone practicing their music, and so on. But your sister's house? She has a lot of the same quirks and traditions, and now your sister's place has the same energy and atmosphere you remember.

It's just now YOU are the cute old grandma or the disreputable old uncle.

tdismukes: Actually, I do play D&D with some folks that I am 2.5 times older than. Our shared appreciation of RPGs, anime & video games provides us with a connection we probably wouldn't have otherwise

Good! I just think you're the exception not the rule.
posted by tyllwin at 11:23 AM on July 18, 2012


Frowner, would you care to expand on, "Cory Doctorow, for example, routinely writes stories that purport to be feminist but have truly terrible, coercive, cruel ideas about how women should live" at all, please? I haven't read any of his books, but I never read anybody's books and I'm curious.

Well, there's Anda's Game - I admit, that was the last piece of his writing that I bothered with. I read Boing Boing for a while after that, but their dismal gender politics and perpetual creepy fanboying about Xeni Lastname really put me off.

Anda's Game purports to be feminist. Like most stories written by adults for young girls, it's a very didactic story with a bunch of morals about how to live. I find it utterly patronizing, offensive and a real headgame.

Here's the scoop: Anda is a fat little girl, unlike her peers. This bothers her. She's fat because she's physically lazy and eats too many snacks and spends too much time on the internet. Doctorow introduces an "ass-kicking" older female role model at this point, making sure to point out that she isn't perfectly thin, maybe even a little pudgy, but lord, she's sure not fat. Anda goes on an adventure where a white dude rescues some oppressed girls of color from a gold farm. The role model puts in some appearances. Anda ends up in fat camp, where she realizes that if she just eats right and exercises, she can be thin and fit! And she can beat the other girls at physical games because the other girls are silly and don't have her Mad Internet Ninja Skillz! Oh, she has an age-appropriate female friend too, but the female friend fails to be "feminist" enough in some way and falls out of the story.

It was like Doctrow went down a checklist of "how to be feminist" completely without understanding it. Female friend! Check. Female role model! Check. Emphasis on how you don't need to look like a fashion model Check! But no visceral understanding of how women actually live and feel, just a lot of hectoring from precisely the type of creative-class well-off prat who's allowed to hector women in intelligent circles because he's not the kind of fundie weirdo who would be seen as embarrassing.

For me, the head-trippiest part is the "you can be a little pudgy, because you don't need to be perfect to be attractive and successful, but you shouldn't be fat because being fat is bad and will destroy your life!" It's right in line with everything else that girls are told about their bodies - it's okay to be a little sexual (in fact it's mandatory) but it's bad to be too sexual; it's okay to be smart, but not too smart; you should spend some time on your appearance but not too much time, etc etc.

Also, as a former fat little girl with a variety of disordered eating patterns, I found Doctrow's description of Anda's eating habits and general mental state.....well, clueless would be kind.

It's a story, in short, which purports to be about girls getting to do things and having gaming skills, but the story is actually obsessed by Anda's body and appearance, monitoring them and getting them to be "correct". When I was a little fat girl, I read a lot of [sexist, fucked-up] stories like this - stories that convinced me that if I could just do enough, get it exactly right, then I would be acceptable. It was in some ways easier for me, as a little fat girl, to live with the idea that I was a total outcast than to have this provisional, half-assed, mean-spirited "acceptance if you are Very Very Good" dangled in front of me.

And of course, the passive little POC gold-farmer girls getting rescued - that's where Doctorow is obviously checking the "intersectionality" box.

I mean, maybe we're meant to read the story and think "hey, this is just as fucked up and full of bad ideas as Ender's Game".

I did not want to dislike Doctorow and his work - he's pretty popular in a lot of internet circles where I spend time, etc etc. But I had never liked his fiction and I found that particular story so upsetting, painful and sexist to read that I just couldn't go back. It was the cockroach-in-the-restaurant-salad of short stories.
posted by Frowner at 11:48 AM on July 18, 2012 [4 favorites]


(I guess I should clarify by saying that while Anda's Game is just obsessed with Anda's weight and getting to an "acceptable" female body shape, it really plays into a pretty standard sexist narrative of "women need to pay a lot of attention to getting it exactly right in terms of their bodies, sexuality and appearance, and all other aspects of their lives are basically window dressing". It's a story that could have had the "window dressing" be professional sports, or roller hockey, or cheerleading, or pretty much anything - the science fiction aspects are just a mask on the "listen, girls, if you want to be socially acceptable you'll eat right and take care to not be fat, but boys won't like you if you're some vapid starving fashion model, so don't do that either! Also, remember to have healthy self esteem!!!!"

It's a very other-directed story.)
posted by Frowner at 11:53 AM on July 18, 2012


> When did 'fandom' become the word du jour?

FIAWOL, referenced by tillwin up yonder, expands to "Fandom Is A Way Of Life." The Oxford Dictionary of Science Fiction's oldest citation for FIAWOL is 1952 and is to a printed glossary of sci fi fanspeak, so it must have been around in common use as specifically applied to sci fi some time before that. As to how it broke out of the ghetto and started being applied to various non-scifi fetishes, I don't blame facebook all by itself but I do blame the internet.


Linked in the fpp:

Fans and creatives have a duty to remain accessible and relevant to future generations because they are not the owners of the ideas and institutions that they employ.

We are informed that there are soi-disant creatives who reply "Fuck my duty, eh? I'll create whatever I damn please." Society has a right (and duty!) to purge itself of unreliable elements such as these.
posted by jfuller at 1:51 PM on July 18, 2012


"One excellent example of this type of thing is John Scalzi’s novel Old Man’s War. Though first published in 2005, Old Man’s War compares unfavourably with works of science fiction published over thirty years earlier. Indeed, despite appearing in 1974, Joe Haldeman’s Forever War comes across as a far more mature and sophisticated piece of writing than John Scalzi’s take on an almost identical set of tropes."
What it really felt like to me was like a creative writing class exercise. "Re-write The Forever War in the style of a Heinlein juvenile."

I didn't think it was terrible, there just didn't seem to be a lot there.
posted by Chrysostom at 1:54 PM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


Was it ever explained why the Old Man's War mind-transfer technology couldn't be used to duplicate people? It seemed like an obvious way to skip training for the Ghost Brigades.
posted by squinty at 2:15 PM on July 18, 2012


A further example of grey fan-pandering is Jo Walton’s Among Others, which landed a Hugo nomination for its fantastical take on the experience of being a British science fiction fan growing up in the 1970s. Much like Watchmen and Buffy the Vampire Slayer, younger fans can enjoy both Old Man’s War and Among Others albeit on quite a superficial level. In order for the full effect of these works to be felt it is necessary to be old enough to yearn for a younger body and to remember pre-internet fandom with some degree of nostalgic fondness. If you are young enough that you can still eat like a pig and fuck like a mink despite your ignorance of offline fandom then chances are that both Old Man’s War and Among Others will seem strangely inaccessible. Indeed, despite being nearly 36-years old I was very much aware that I was not the intended audience for either novel.

Ugh, i'm 28 and I feel like Among Others was written just for me. Mostly because she perfectly replicates what it felt like to find Pern fandom in 1998. Some geek things transcend decade/technology.

This is interesting, as I just got back from Readercon and my brain is playing with many of these issues. On the one hand, I felt all happy-warm, "My people! I've found my people!" On the other, the tokenism on the panels and the reactions of the old white men to the women and people of color on them was egregious. The weird thing about written fandom these days is that it's so factionalist, and it feels like the tide is already turning against these old dudes but they're all "you shut up with your feminist readings you can pry SF out of my cold dead hands."
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:14 PM on July 18, 2012


If you are young enough that you can still eat like a pig and fuck like a mink despite your ignorance of offline fandom then chances are that both Old Man’s War and Among Others will seem strangely inaccessible.

It was this line that made me wonder if maybe what he's thinking is that the intended audience isn't restricted to 21-35 year old men any more. I can't think of a woman I have ever met that has ever felt really free to "eat like a pig and fuck like a mink," and Among Others, while I wouldn't say it's exclusively aimed at women, definitely was written from the perspective of someone who had actually been an adolescent girl.

Not to bring everything back to sexism yet again, of course.
posted by restless_nomad at 3:22 PM on July 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


Was it ever explained why the Old Man's War mind-transfer technology couldn't be used to duplicate people?
Initially mind transfer was transient through the technology. The second book is exactly about the ability to duplicate people.

It seemed like an obvious way to skip training for the Ghost Brigades.
Not really, because of what the GB is about; again exactly the subject of the second book.
posted by linux at 3:22 PM on July 18, 2012


Not to bring everything back to sexism yet again, of course.

I think you're right. Among Others is a book about growing up a geeky girl, not growing up a 70s geek. All of Mo's nascent thoughts about sexual progressiveness, for example, are ones I remember entertaining when I was 14 and trying hard to be philosophical and thoughtful about my body and feminism. Again, in 1998 or so.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:30 PM on July 18, 2012


Kafziel:

"Perhaps metafilter's own jscalzi can weigh in? I mean, the author is most decidedly not dead."

I TAKE OFFENSE I HAVE BEEN A ZOMBIE-AMERICAN FOR FIVE YEARS NOW.

First: The Forever War is better, and more significant in the science fiction genre, than Old Man's War. Come on, seriously now. This is not to suggest OMW doesn't have its own qualities, although for me to enumerate them here would be self-serving. But as I wrote in my introduction for the latest edition of The Forever War, what makes that book a classic is not simply that it speaks to its own time, but that it speaks to ours as well. I really don't have a problem taking a backseat to Joe on this one.

Second: I don't have much doubt that Jonathan McCalmont is not the audience for Old Man's War, but it's not because of an age issue. Unlike Mr. McCalmont, who has a hypothesis but no data outside his own anecdotal experience, I have roughly seven years of marketing, bookseller and reader information to go by. Everything we see on our end suggests the book sells well across the board, including into younger demographics. Indeed, the reason Zoe's Tale exists is that Tor wanted me to write something with a YA sensibility (i.e., fewer "fucks" and somewhat toned down violence) because they knew younger readers were already reading the previous books and wanted to get a book in the series into middle school and high school libraries to take advantage of that market. So, in short, Mr. McCalmont's thesis is bunk, at least outside of his own head.

Likewise any suggestion, implicit or explicit, that I wrote OMW to take advantage of an aging science fiction fandom readership is predicated on the idea that I had any knowledge of fandom when I wrote the book in 2001; again, this is not the case. My first encounter with science fiction fandom happened in 2003, after I had written and sold the book to Tor, and I went to my first science fiction convention (Torcon, the 2003 Worldcon). It may be the case that coincidentally, my book may have appealed to older science fiction fans in what's commonly called "fandom," and I of course am delighted with that. However, the book to date has sold hundreds of thousands of copies, and the number of older fans in "fandom" is, to put it politely, a small percentage of that number.

In point of fact, the greatest driver of my earliest sales was not fandom at all but conservative bloggers, most notably Glenn Reynolds of Instapundit fame, and tech/geek bloggers, most notably Cory Doctorow of Boing Boing. We know this because we saw real time sales spikes on Amazon (commensurately backed up by actual sales reporting) coinciding by postings by Glenn and Cory on their respective blogs. There's no doubt elements of old-line fandom read both Instapundit and Boing Boing, but in both cases they are not likely to be a significant portion of either site's demographics.

You may ask, then, who it is I wrote Old Man's War for. The answer is simple: I wrote it for myself. More specifically, in 2000 I went into my local bookstore to see what sort of SF seemed to be selling, saw lots of military SF on the shelf, and thought "I guess I'll try writing military SF, then." And then having decided on that, I wrote a military science fiction novel I would want to read. So the "target demographic" for Old Man's War, if you want to call it that, was 32-year-old dude -- 32 being four years younger than Mr. McCalmont is today.

It's certainly true that there's an old school science fiction influence there -- I patterned the story arc explicitly after Starship Troopers, because I knew it worked and because as a relatively new novelist it helped to borrow and established structure -- but there are other more modern influences as well. For example, as I noted at ComicCon last week, video games (and specifically first-person shooters) played a not-insubstantial role in the creation of the book... which I suppose is one of the reasons why I've anecdotally noticed the book being popular with gamers. The aspect of old people being made young was not an intentional pander to older readers, it just hadn't been done in this particular fictional milieu as far as I knew. I was aware that novelty as well as familiarity would useful in trying to sell the book.

Finally, there's a reason why the book was sold as a movie, and it's not because Scott Stuber and Wolfgang Petersen read the book and said to themselves "Finally! The science fiction work we need to get old people back into the movie theaters!" No, it was because they saw the book as an opportunity to make a "four-quadrant" science fiction adventure -- which is a thing they saw in part because the book itself had already been performing well across multiple demographics.

tl;dr: Mr. McCalmont has a hypothesis that, as it relates to Old Man's War at least, is delightfully unfettered by any relation to how the book exists in the real world.

This sort of thing is par for the course for Mr. McCalmont, in my experience of reading his genre criticism. His apparent lack of knowledge regarding the real world of genre and publishing economics tends to undercut his various hypotheses. He writes a fair game, unless you know how the game works.
posted by jscalzi at 3:35 PM on July 18, 2012 [5 favorites]


Oh, somehow I had missed that McCalmont was the one behind this until Scalzi's comment. Hmm. Also:

Given that a) anime features a huge number of science fictional stories and b) anime fandom appears far more inclusive and mindful of teenaged sensibilities than that of written SF, why would a teenager decide to join written science fiction fandom?

I think it's important to note that most of the written science fiction for teens is being created in YA now, and, yeah, that's a movement that's mostly passing SF fandom by although maybe that will change, now that the stellar Malinda Lo has an SFWA special interest YA group going and all (let's hope let's hope). But YA has its own community, too.

I suspect that YA is ignored by older written SF dudes not because it's young but because it's largely girly. The titles that get attention of the broader SF community tend to be much more macho, and are usually (though not always) written by the dudes, unlike the vast majority of YA, skiffy or otherwise.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 3:45 PM on July 18, 2012


PhoBWanKenobi: "The weird thing about written fandom these days is that it's so factionalist, and it feels like the tide is already turning against these old dudes but they're all "you shut up with your feminist readings you can pry SF out of my cold dead hands.""

That goes a lot farther back than "these days," of course. Read some Joanna Russ to see how fandom and the Grand Old Men of the 70s treated her.
posted by Chrysostom at 3:57 PM on July 18, 2012


> When did 'fandom' become the word du jour?

Sorry to keep harping on this, but it really is kind of interesting.

Looking through the Google News searches for "fandom" for various decades (so, obviously a bias there towards words appearing in newspaper articles), we get this timeline: posted by flug at 3:59 PM on July 18, 2012 [2 favorites]


> When did 'fandom' become the word du jour?

Because I'm obviously a bit OC and wanted to nail it down a little more precisely, I took a look at the use of the word 'fandom' in the first 30 entries for each time period, sorted by date, and found this: So, in short, in usage by newspaper and media reporters, the word 'fandom' has gone from one almost entirely associated with sports, particularly baseball, prior to 2000, to one associated with popular culture far more than with sports today.

Furthermore, a huge amount of that shift--putting the use of fandom in the pop culture context far above its use in the sports context--has happened in the past year or so.

> When did 'fandom' become the word du jour?

All that just to answer your question more directly: Within the past year or so.

You've put your finger in a really interesting change in the use of this word--and it probably indicates an interesting underlying cultural shift to go with it.
posted by flug at 4:03 PM on July 18, 2012


I'll have to check with my Dad to see if he's read the Old Man's War books yet. I suspect he has as he's pretty much read out the entire SciFi collection at the library, plus the local Barnes and Noble, plus my own collection whenever he comes to visit his grandson. I gave him a copy of Redshirts for his birthday and it was the first time he and I actually talked about a book together for years (last time was me trying to explain the Warhammer 40k universe to him).

Over Christmas he was bemoaning the lack of hard SciFi movies. The trailer for Prometheus gave him hope, but when I followed up all he was pretty down on it ("If something rolls at you, TURN LEFT.") I'm not sure he'll ever get more of the SciFi he grew up with. But, given that he builds railguns (he's the talking head 40s in) for a living, his standards are pretty damn high.
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:42 PM on July 18, 2012


Thank you for that, Frowner!
posted by two or three cars parked under the stars at 7:05 PM on July 18, 2012


I thought this was a very interesting piece - I disagreed in one way or another with just about every aspect of it, however I think it posited a number of very interesting questions and the current evolution of fandom is one well worth analysing and questioning in a meaningful way.

I feel like there is far, far too much certainty regarding what readers want and are getting from fandom texts - his kind of functionalist "anthropological" approach facilitates this, but I think in doing so he does a disservice to readers/fans, whom I think are getting a tremendous diversity of things from the texts they choose to engage with.

Indeed, whilst I definitely think there are fan cultures with many commonalities that could be said to unite into a broader "fan culture", I think framing your argument exclusively in that context focuses overmuch on the commonalities and not enough on the differences.

I don't mean just differences between fan cultures in the ways they engage and play with texts etc, but also who those fans are as readers and when they're not being fans. He kind of touches on this when he talks about the generational gaps in fan-culture, but I think he paradoxically overstates those generational gaps and gives the various subcultures far, far more homogeneity than they actually possess (jscalzi's excellent breakdown of his sales for Old Man's War, right-wingers and BoingBoing readers, stands testament to this; as a cohesive fan unit, those engaged with the OMW culture may actually possess very little in common beyond the books, and even then may be responding to radically different things in them).

Further, though he calls it out early on, much of his argument is based on conjecture and assertion about the demographics of various cultures and their reasons for existing. Some of this is understandable as "evidence" would be very hard to get, but much of it is a bit intellectually convenient if not lazy, I feel.

Finally, I feel his characterisation of fan culture is essentially a positivist one - it's totally understandable as I think that aspect of fan culture is arguably its prime one, but again, by zeroing in on it I think he really misses the trenchant self-produced and directed criticism that fan culture generates, and - though it comes from a minority more often than not - can indelibly shape it in one way or another. Whilst, on an individual basis, much of fan culture seems blandly accepting, a still pond, if you will; on a systemic level it is actually much more negativist, self-critical and reflective than that; criticism as rocks thrown into the pond, they sink in its vastness but the ripples spread all the way to the shore and the pond is changed.
posted by smoke at 7:46 PM on July 18, 2012


You know, SF fandom isn't the only kind of fandom.

*Brushes his new Princess Luna and smiles, kindly.*
posted by SPrintF at 8:30 PM on July 18, 2012 [1 favorite]


I've been thinking about it more today, and I think his anthropological leanings have also blinded him to the long-established use of pastiche as an artistic device - inside and outside fan culture. I think he sees this as little more than facile remixing and what the "old guard" engage in is not that thing, but I think he's giving the variety and depth of pastiche short shrift.
posted by smoke at 1:17 AM on July 19, 2012


@flug You know, I was thinking about this last night, and I wonder if the spread of the word "fandom" outside the fandom ghetto (Livejournal, deviantART, etc) might not be related to changing attitudes toward LGBT groups, "neuroatypicals", etc. Just less sense that you are weird and the things you like are weird and such weird things should never be discussed where normal people might overhear the discussion, etc.

There's also the fact that prior to about 2008 in the US - and maybe Europe? - the main response of the media/publishing companies that owned the intellectual property fans mined for their "unauthorized derivative works" (e.g. fanart cosplay fanfiction roleplaying etc) was a) litigation for copyright infringement or b) see-no-evil-hear-no-evil, so as not to endanger the status of the copyright. The thing where the big companies directly acknowledge the existence of groups of fans who are going to do stuff with their IP - and maybe even pander to those fans so they'll help spread the IP on platforms like Tumblr and Facebook - that's fairly recent. And it has to do not just with the rise of social networking, but also with legal advocacy.
posted by subdee at 7:14 AM on July 19, 2012


To bring this back to the original post, copyright infringement is less of an issue if you are an anime, comic, or science fiction fan, compared to being a fan of a mainstream television show, maybe? Because there was about a 0% chance a Japanese company was going to go after me, a non-Japanese fan publishing a not-for-profit-work outside Japan, when things like Comiket (huge for-profit doujinshi convention) were going on inside Japan. And science fiction (and comics) always had spaces where authors and fans mingled, and fans could produce and display their own work.

Anyway, the short version of this is that I really think the legal change that allowed media and publishing companies to "see" the fans making stuff based on their properties, and to interact with them, without being afraid they'd lose copyright or control over distribution (of course no one has absolute control over distribution any more), has helped the visibility of "fandom".
posted by subdee at 7:37 AM on July 19, 2012


I was also thinking last night about Frowner's description of Anda's Game, and how it sounded extra-terrible because if you really are a fat teenaged girl - not just chubby but fat - you're never going to have a supermodel-thin body anyway, short of honest-to-God starvation, drugs or surgery. The body type that allowed you to pack on the pounds is never going to "achieve" that shape shape. Maybe that was Cory Doctrow's point, but from the description it sounds like he was writing against it because boys don't like it when you work too hard to look like that, not because it's not a realistic goal in the first place.
posted by subdee at 7:48 AM on July 19, 2012


You've put your finger in a really interesting change in the use of this word--and it probably indicates an interesting underlying cultural shift to go with it.

Perhaps. I was a big LJ user for a while last decade, but I used it to write a blog and to follow the blogs of others - the fan communities completely passed me by. I know in the US LJ is a byword for teenagers writing Harry Potter mpreg, and my impression of DeviantArt is very similar (though it probably isn't all faerie fan art). I was part of the Blythe doll community for a while, but it was always 'the doll community' never 'the doll fandom', even though some of the collectors were very weird in terms of thinking their dolls were essentially miniature people. But as others have said, everyone's a fan these days. Nerds are out and proud. Dr Who is a prime-time TV show rather than something old enjoyed as a minority interest, and I wonder how that makes the aspect of being a fan that means you want to cling on to your something special feel.

And it was never a word used in sport in the UK, really - I'm surprised it made the leap from baseball as isn't that an extremely mainstream sport? There are fan communities for all kinds of things online, but I never hear people talk about 'the Man United fandom' or 'the nail polish fandom'.
posted by mippy at 7:55 AM on July 19, 2012


I should add racial and ethnic minorities to LGBT groups and neuro-atypicals, above. Like the OP observes, sooooo many anime fans in the US are not white. I think it's more acceptable to talk about being not-white and to be unashamed of your not-white tastes in spaces where white people might overhear, these days, as well. (Well, in SOME spaces where white people might overhear, anyway.)

mippy, baseball is "the American pastime" but it's not the most popular sport in the US. American football and basketball are more popular and lucrative. Baseball is kind of an old-fashioned or nerd sport (well, so is football, since they can both be reduced to statistics). It's also a "white" (and Latino) sport. The main appeal of baseball is it's easy to narrate the action over the radio - like cricket maybe? You can't really do that with football (American or European) or basketball.
posted by subdee at 8:06 AM on July 19, 2012


I'm surprised it made the leap from baseball as isn't that an extremely mainstream sport?

Looking at Google Books results, some the first mentions I found of the word 'fandom' outside of the sporting world are: The use of the word in the context of mysteries isn't very surprising--some consider the Sherlock Holmes fan community to be one of the first examples of a literary fandom. And the mystery and science fiction/adventure stories pulp magazine scenes were pretty intertwined, sharing publishers, editors, authors, and fans. They had similar magazine formats, distribution networks, and marketing schemes.

From what I know about the early sci-fi fan scene--the Futurians and the like--there was quite a high interest in baseball among the group, maybe approaching 100% baseball fans. They followed baseball voraciously, read all the newspaper articles about the teams (Asimov talks about this in some detail in his autobiography), and were very familiar with the vocabulary the sports writers used.

But perhaps even more important, they saw their keen interest in sci-fi as the exact counterpart of their friends' obsession with baseball. Twenty-five years later, Isaac Asimov wrote:
The typical science fiction fan was an early teen-ager or even a pre-teener who worshipped science the way almost all his peers worshipped baseball. He dreamed of rocket-ships and new electronic marvels as others dreamed of home-runs and double-plays.
So it's not very surprising that early sci-fi magazine writer and editors--and probably the fans themselves--borrowed the word "fandom," used frequently in news reports to describe the community of fanatical baseball fans, to describe the similarly fanatical, though much smaller, community of sci-fi fans.
posted by flug at 3:51 PM on July 19, 2012 [1 favorite]


The main appeal of baseball is it's easy to narrate the action over the radio - like cricket maybe? You can't really do that with football (American or European) or basketball.

Football is very well covered on the radio here - especially since Premiership games went to Sky and it's the only way those without satellite subscriptions can follow matches as they unfold. Matches tend to be live commentated in full on BBC and other stations. I can see how it wouldn't work with American Football, though - that game is baffling.
posted by mippy at 3:47 AM on July 20, 2012


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