Kage Baker was always cautiously willing to like her fans. Being almost paralytically shy, getting used to meeting them in real time and space was one of the most arduous author’s challenges she overcame.
But she loathed … fanboys. (Insert theremin music here, and a faint, background scrabbling noise – like a million tiny filthy claws.)
They aren’t fans. They may not even enjoy the genre, and prefer semi-scholarly works like The Physics of Star Trek; or maybe The Tao of Pooh. They live to embarrass authors. They read to pick holes in the plot, they usually exhibit allergies to character development, and they do not like either humour or sex in their stories.
Being an observant member of the artistic class in Los Angeles, as well as a reader of letters in science fiction magazines, Kage was well aware of the lifeform. She knew all the stories about science fiction being a boy’s club; about the ladies who wrote under male pseudonyms and carefully initialized by-lines. She had encountered cousin species in the worlds of art shows, Holmesian scholarship, and live theatre. And she knew that the typical fanboy was a particular kind of larval male. Even the ones that were technically female.
However, Kage also knew about the growing and splendid community of science fiction writers equipped with 2 X chromosomes: Ursula K. Le Guin. Madeline L’Engle. Lois McMaster Bujold. C.L. Moore. Sheila Finch. Joanna Russ. And those were only the ladies who wrote fairly hard science fiction, and whom Kage had found (on my shelves, mostly. I read everyone). She only learned about Alice Sheldon and the James Tiptree Jr. Award when she had published a few stories. However, armed with example and anecdote, Kage was ready to survive fanboys when she had to.
The Internet made that much easier for her, too. She met the first examples on open forums in online chatrooms like Asimov’s, Analog, and several of the defunct communities Gabe Chouinard left behind him on his scorched-earth progress through fandom. They taught her when and how to hold her ground, and when to slip her anchor chain and set sail for Tortuga; the special qualities of aetheric gathering sites let her meet, contest – and sometimes escape – from fanboys at need.
Meeting them at conventions was easier than she expected, too. Being at a convention exposes you to fanboys, yes – but it does so behind a palpable energy field of friends, positive fans, psychotic retinues (me and my minions) and the impassable event horizon posed by the edge of a speakers’ panel table. Once Kage found her feet as a writer and speaker, she could not be intimidated. And she was always polite, no matter how daft the question or objection from a fanboy might be.
Because those questions and objections from fanboys (as opposed to other correspondents) did tend to be fairly peculiar. Kage was many time challenged to prove how her version of Time Travel worked. Fanboys objected to her establishing a magma pool under Olympus Mons. She was informed that immortality was impossible. She was accused of “making things up”.
That last one left Kage in hysterics. Of course I’m making things up! she would howl in disbelief. Don’t you know why they call this stuff science FICTION?
The disgruntled fanboys would usually mumble that she wasn’t making it real enough, then. And Kage would share with them the advice her own mother had given her – if you don’t like the way the story goes, then write your own.
Her responses online or in person were courteous. Her responses to mail – e or snail – were usually not. That was because she didn’t write them: nor did she read the letters that came in complaining, for example, about her postulating frozen aquifers on Mars (which are actually there, by the way.) No, fanboy letters were my purview. And I am not nearly as nice as Kage was, Dear Readers. No, not even in the blossoming days of our youth.
Now, of course, I don’t see as many fanboy objections. I do get a few, though; they seem to be picking up a bit as this blog spreads and as the new, me-written stories get about. There are new things to which to object. There are most of the old ones, too, and so there will be in everything I write in Kage’s Universe. I’m not going to alter the rules she laid in place. And I’m still not nearly as nice as Kage was.
So: I’ll answer questions. I’ll explain science, pseudo-science, para-science, and the stuff Kage concocted out of Archimedean special effects and The Martian Man Hunter. But don’t tell me I’m wrong unless you can prove it – because I will be stern with you if you can’t. It’s still science FICTION we’re dealing with here. Don’t tell me how to do it, because odds are you are not a science fiction writer yourself.
And even if you are, you aren’t me. And you sure as hell weren’t Kage Baker.
May I respectfully disagree with your definition of “fanboy.” (or for distaff, “fanboi”) Certainly, the breed are geeky nerds who become obsessive over some genre… But I think you miss that there are/were fanboys of both you and your sister that you probably don’t think of that way…..because your writings *are* their obsession. And they would no more question your choices than they would the action of gravity. These are the ones who “squeed” when you showed up on a panel, hung breathlessly on every word at readings, or shyly introduced themselves to gush over how they loved one of the more obscure stories…or all of a series, and insisted on recounting everything they loved.
Rather, I suspect that part of the breed that you or your sister has struck sparks with are fanboys of some *other* loosely related genre. While they have read your work, they object that you are not author X or Y, or wrote in some science fiction category (Star Trek, Star Wars, Hard SF, Adventure, Manga, etc.) that is not quite their obsession…
Alas, if there were obsessive geeks attached to Kage’s work, they never got up the nerve to contact her. Quite a few nice, erudite, curious people did – many stayed around to become friends of hers, too. But the truculent sort, the ones who complained because the fiction was – well, fictional – were the ones most likely to write to her, criticizing her stuff. “I like you stories mainly, BUT … ” was the common preamble.
And so, Kage didn’t care for them.
“Making things up.” Snicker. That’s the funniest thing I’ve heard all day, next to Islamic State of Cat, which apparently is a thing, because jihadists can haz kittez.
At least you and Kage were never confronted with the horror that is fan fiction. Picture, if you will, a lovingly but exceedingly poorly written account of the passionate affair between Joseph and Lewis, as they hang around with Oscar Wilde and his crowd during the naughty nineties.
Fan fiction is bad enough – it’s the slash stuff that horrified Kage. She kind of tried to head that kind of thing off at the pass by giving both Joseph and Lewis very obvious sex lives of their own … and Lewis is the one who gets landed by Great Garbo! Also, Kage actually had Lewis writing his own fan fiction, starring the enigmatic space outlaw Captain Marshawk. Man, that was fun …
I liked Captain Marshawk. Even though the Company operatives weren’t supposed to be especially creative, at least when it came to “making stuff up,” the little story-within-a-story was quite good, despite being a parody of bad science fiction. I don’t think Kage could write anything bad if she tried.
She tried very hard with Marshawk. Most of it was plotted during a holiday on Catalina Island. It was a time rich in margueritas …