Steven Brust's unauthorized Firefly fanfic novel

Steven Brust, long one of my favorite fantasy writers, has posted the full text of a Firefly fan-fic novel he wrote. He talked to me about this book last year, saying that he just had to write it — that it sat up in his head one day and demanded to be let out.

I have a theory about the cognitive basis for both fanfic and the arguments against it from some authors: as social animals, we have a lot of specialized systems for modelling and anticipating the actions and beliefs of others. The ability to predict whether another human is likely to kill you or mate with you is pro-survival.

I think that when we experience stories, we spin up that "person-simulator" we use on real people and use it to render out the people in the story. It's how we come to care about them, to empathize with them, to worry about the danger they find themselves in and to cheer them on as they strive to overcome adversity.

When you close the book — or turn off the tube — the simulator doesn't power down. Those modelled "people" go on living a life in your autonomous imaginative faculty, inhabiting the same numinous zone where the dead relations of whom you say, "Oh, if only great-aunt Foofaw were here, she'd just love this," the same zone as the characters in your life who are offstage but nevertheless "on your mind."

This is likewise true for authors. Just because the book is done, it doesn't mean that the simulator in which the characters have been playing out their lives switches off. The romantic tale of the author whose characters "just refused to go where he put them," is not just auctorial histrionics. Once you've realized the characters in your own mind, they acquire the same limited autonomy that your conceptions of real people enjoy.

So it's only natural that readers will haul off and write a story — or even a whole novel — about the characters whose adventures they enjoy. Those "people" have taken up residence in the minds of the audience and will continue to dance and caper without the further intervention of the author.

And it's likewise natural that authors will get shirty about this from time to time: they have copies of the characters dancing on their own stages, and those copies diverge from the copies in the fanficcers' heads.

That's the theory, anyway.

Back to Brust's novel, "My Own Kind of Freedom." By all accounts, it is fully rockin', something I find easy to credit, given Brust's masterful chops as one of the finest talents in the field today. And, of course, it's Creative Commons licensed. Pass it on.

He always smiled when Serenity first kissed atmo.

That was the moment that separated pilots; a sloppy entry cost fuel, a
perfect entry saved fuel, and the difference could be the difference between a
healthy profit and a disastrous loss. When you kissed atmo, it was all touch;
suddenly the number of variables increased by an order of magnitude: the shape
of the ship, the tilt of her nose, the attitude adjusters, speed, direction, the density
and exact composition of the upper atmosphere–all of it.

Mal never noticed, of course; none of them noticed. They'd only notice if
he did it badly; then he would, no doubt, get all sorts of looks and remarks. And
it would cut into his profits as it would the rest of the crew's.


See also: Steven Brust's Dzur: witty and exciting heroic fantasy