Is This The End of Kirk And Spock’s Gay Love Affair?

Amazon is about to make the underground world of fan fiction boring. Here's why it matters.

It’s a lesson that must be learned and re-learned, yet it always ends up as something of a surprise: There’s nothing either so beautiful or so ugly or so weird that Corporate America can’t figure out a way, eventually, to co-opt it, “monetize” it, and sterilize it.

So it is with fan fiction.

Fan fiction—I’m explaining to the non-nerds in the audience—happens when amateur fans of books, TV shows, movies and more try to create their own new stories using familiar characters and settings, though often with a twist. Sometimes, fan fiction happens because there wasn’t enough of the original story: Firefly lasted only a dozen episodes, so of course there were more stories to be told. Sometimes, it’s because fans want to see their favorite characters in, er, erotic situations: Kirk and Spock have had more sweaty gay sex than you can possibly realize. And sometimes, fans settle the old “Who would win a battle between the Enterprise and Battlestar Galactica?” question by sitting down and writing it all out.

It’s a lot of fun. It’s often awful. It’s usually disreputable. And it’s always been a labor of love—by people who love the stories, for people who love the stories: Because big companies often owned the copyright to the characters and their stories, nobody else could (legally) make a red cent writing about those same worlds. So it’s always been kind of an underground thing. Until now.

Amazon this week announced Kindle Worlds for Authors—basically, the first place where fan fiction will be officially sanctioned. If you want to write about The Vampire Diaries, you can do so, publish it as a Kindle e-book, and earn royalties for every copy sold. It’s going to turn fans into literary entrepreneurs.

It’s going to suck. Not just because Amazon has the rights to let users publish new stories of only about a half-dozen fictional shows—a good number of them on the CW: If the experiment proves successful, you’ll see more companies join the fray in order to unlock a potentially lucrative revenue stream.

Amazon’s rules, though, take some of the charm out of fan fiction:

• You might not get scenes of Leonard McCoy and Mr. Spock shopping together for dildos:

Spock was just about to answer about the illogicality of that statement, that if the doctor hadn’t wanted to know, then he should never have agreed to enter the shop in the first place. However, before he could point this out, McCoy must have pressed some kind of remote activation, because the fake phallus in his hands started to vibrate. He looked down, raising an eyebrow.

“Fascinating. I can see its use now.”

Why? Because Amazon’s rules don’t allow “offensive content” or “offensive depictions of graphic sexual acts” to be used in officially sanctioned stories. So maybe you get the dildo shopping. You probably won’t get to read about them being used. And that’s a huge chunk of fan fiction right there.

• You won’t get stories with more passion than expertise:

“Time to get up” yelled Bruce Wayne (the OC Batman but not in thes fic b/c is now new Batman) as Batman rolled over with a graon. “Oh geez looizee, it must be 5:31 am o clock!” said Batman as he blinked his eyes and yawnd. Bruce Wayne sied and did an epic face palm. “No it is TOMORROW YOU IDIET!1! And you know what that means.” said Bruce Wayne. “HOLY RAINBOWDASH!” Batman said because he was surprised “IT IS MY BIRTHDAY!” He let out a shreek of hapenis and stomped his feet like a dance.

That’s poorly written—you probably won’t want to read the entirety of that story—but can’t you feel the joy of somebody stomping through Batman’s universe? Not allowed at Amazon, where “we don’t accept books that provide a poor customer experience. Examples include poorly formatted books and books with misleading titles, cover art, or product descriptions.” Fan fiction is being professionalized, and that takes away some of the charm.

• You won’t get stories where the cast of Glee combines forces with Harry Potter:

Blaine Anderson walked to dinner that evening alongside Luna Lovegood, discussing the events of the day. They sat down by the Ravenclaw table, Luna telling about a remarkable bird she had seen in her holiday. By its description the bird sounded a whole lot like a normal bundimun, but he kept quiet, listening to Luna’s incredible way to make everything sound magical. She abruptly stopped talking as Dumbledore stepped forward and lifted his arms to greet all the students.

Why not? Because no crossovers between fictional universes are permitted at Amazon. And aside from sexy stories, that’s one big reason fan fiction exists.

• But if you create a cool character, big movie and TV studios can put it in their shows without paying you one red cent. As part of the agreement with writers, Amazon will grant the original copyright holders “a license to use your new elements and incorporate them into other works without further compensation to you.”

You do the work. Warner Bros. reaps the rewards.

It’s worth noting that, once again, we have the government to blame for this. Congress—at the behest of companies like Disneykeeps extending copyright terms so big corporations never lose the rights to characters they create. Nothing enters the public domain anymore. And that inhibits the creation of new, imaginative works building on old characters and their universes. Fan fiction is just one step along an ancient, creative recycling process that our culture uses to periodically renew itself.

Think: If Victor Hugo’s family still held copyright over his works, there might not’ve been a Les Miserables musical, or a Les Miserables movie, or an Anne Hathaway performance to bring us to tears. Our recent pop cultural history would be just a bit poorer, even if a bit less treacly.

The big corporations, though, have found a way to win no matter what. They continue to profit from their old characters; they encourage artists to create new works from those old characters; and then they profit again. It takes all the fun out of being a fan.