Praxis

"May the journey continue": Earth 2 fan fiction, or Filling in gaps to revive a canceled series

Francesca Musiani

Centre de Sociologie de l'Innovation, Mines ParisTech/CNRS, Paris, France

[0.1] Abstract—This essay explores writing practices in a fan community having to give life to a story deprived of an "official" version: the television series Earth 2. I argue that fan fiction writing for this prematurely canceled series exhibits peculiar features in comparison to fan writing for established series: for example, temporality, choice of protagonists, character pairings, and challenges to the original conception(s) of the series. Writing fan fiction for a canceled series is not about creating alternatives to an existing story, but about filling in gaps; it brings to light the ways in which fan fiction deals with closure. I take as a case study Earth 2, a series aired by NBC in the United States in 1994–95, whose first and only season ended in a cliffhanger episode hinting that a mysterious ailment had struck the main and most popular character. Shortly afterward, a significant number of Earth 2 Web sites, online conventions, and especially fan stories started developing; they explored what could have happened next and bore nostalgic but combative mottoes and titles such as "May the Journey Continue." I explore the specific features of Earth 2 fan fiction production and sharing by analyzing the main Earth 2 fan fiction archives on the Web and the responses to my email interviews of fan writers. Exemplars of the Earth 2 case are compared to those of other science fiction TV series, both prematurely canceled (Firefly, Space: Above and Beyond) and long-lived (Babylon 5, Star Trek: Deep Space 9).

[0.2] Keywords—Alternative; Cancellation; Cliffhanger ending; Closure; Earth 2; Fandom; Fan fiction; Gap filling; Interview; Mailing list; Participatory culture; Production; Rebirth; Sharing; TV series

Musiani, Francesca. 2010. "May the journey continue": Earth 2 fan fiction, or Filling in gaps to revive a canceled series. Transformative Works and Cultures, no. 5. doi:10.3983/twc.2010.0206.

[0.3] "We still have a very long way to go."

"Yeah. It won't be so bad gettin' there."

—Devon Adair and John Danziger, Earth 2, 1.16 "Brave New Pacifica"

1. Introduction

[1.1] The first and only season of the science fiction TV series Earth 2 was aired by NBC in 1994–95. Shortly after the broadcast of its cliffhanger final episode (1.21 "All About EVE") on May 21, 1995, a notable number of Earth 2 Web sites, conventions, and especially fan fiction works started developing, exploring what could have happened next, and bearing nostalgic but combative mottoes and titles such as "May the Journey Continue" (see, for example, the fan site Mooncross.net, http://www.mooncross.net/earth2/index.html).

[1.2] Most scholarship on fandom focuses on famous, established, or long-lived series, and on how fans relate to characters they keep on following on their TV screen year after year. Using Earth 2 as a case study, this essay explores instead dynamics and practices in a community of fan writers giving life to a story whose "official" version ended abruptly. What happens when fans of a canceled series want more of it? How does the ending of a series influence the subsequent creative writing about that series?

[1.3] I argue that fan fiction writing for prematurely canceled series such as Earth 2 exhibits peculiar features in comparison to fan writing for established series, in a number of respects including temporality, choice of protagonists, character pairings, and challenges to the original conception(s) of the series. The cause of this, I further argue, is that in the case of canceled series, the story is not only unsatisfactory or lacking; it is abruptly cut off and left incomplete. Writing fan fiction is then no longer about creating variations of or alternatives to an existing story. Instead, it is about filling in gaps, writing an ending for characters whose destinies were left uncertain, detailing the lives of characters that were left in the background, and developing relationships that had started to blossom. Beyond their immediate result—a corpus of works establishing and cementing a community—these gap-filling activities shed light on the ways in which the cancellation of a series is countered with a re-creation—in short, on how official closure is dealt with through fan fiction.

2. Methods

[2.1] This paper uses a combination of quantitative and qualitative analyses. First, I look at two Earth 2 fan fiction archives on the Web, in order to discover the topics and characters of the series most popular in fan production. I examine titles, synopses, and selected stories available in the Earth 2 section of the FanFiction.net archive (http://www.fanfiction.net/tv/Earth_2/) and in Andy's Earth 2 Fan-Fiction Archive (http://www.atech-software.com/fan-fiction/e2/), considering them primary venues for sharing fan fiction for the series. The quantitative indicators derived from this examination are compared with similar indicators for other science fiction TV series, both prematurely canceled and established or long-lived: Firefly and Space: Above and Beyond are taken as examples of the first category, Babylon 5 and Star Trek: Deep Space 9 as examples of the second.

[2.2] Second, I analyze the responses to the interviews I conducted with Earth 2 fan fiction writers, focusing on their experiences as storytellers. These interviews took place by electronic mail in two different periods of time, January to March 2006 and September to November 2008. I first contacted fan writers in January 2006 by means of the two Earth 2 fan fiction mailing lists: Earth2 Fanfiction (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Earth2-Fanfiction/) and Eden After Dark (http://groups.yahoo.com/group/EdenAfterDark/), then continued my exchanges with respondents individually. I use the responses of 12 fan writers who not only answered my questions but who also gave informed consent to their responses' use in a published paper.

3. (Death and) rebirth of Earth 2

[3.1] On November 6, 1994, NBC aired the pilot episode of an ill-fated science fiction television series called Earth 2 (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0108758/). Its first and only season aired in 1994–95; the slogan advertising the series read, "This time, we are the aliens."

[3.2] The series is set in the late 22nd century, when humanity has overexploited Earth and lives on space stations. The youngest generation is facing a deadly disease, the Syndrome, caused by an "absence of Earth" (1.1 "First Contact"). Billionaire Devon Adair sets up a mission to save her Syndrome-stricken son's life and to provide humanity with a second chance. After traveling through space for 22 years, Devon and her advance team arrive at the faraway planet known as G889, but they crash thousands of miles from their destination, New Pacifica, where they planned to set up a colony for the 250 families that are following. Thus, the survivors of the crash embark on a long and dangerous journey, during which they explore the mysteries of their new home and its inhabitants, as well as the mysteries of themselves: they have unexpected encounters (1.2 "The Man Who Fell to Earth (Two)"), struggle to meet basic human needs (1.6 "Water," 1.18 "Survival of the Fittest"), question their previous allegiances (1.9 "Redemption"), and find that they are changing and being changed by the planet (1.10 "Moon Cross").

[3.3] On May 21, 1995, NBC aired the last official episode of Earth 2. Throughout the season, although a core group of passionate fans had developed, Earth 2 had suffered conflicts among its producers, poor marketing choices, and bad scheduling, which kept it from developing a broad audience and made NBC executives lean toward its cancellation. In an attempt to try and force the hand of the network, the producers deliberately filmed a cliffhanger ending for the series finale, 1.22 "All About EVE," which had the main character (and fan favorite), Devon Adair, contracting a mysterious disease and being put in cold sleep until a cure could be found. Many questions about the nature of the new planet the advance team had settled on, and their chances of actually making a home there, remained unanswered.

[3.4] This cliffhanger was not enough for a second season to be authorized, but there is nothing like an unanswered question to solicit a reaction from fans, and there is nothing like many crucial questions to make the reactions spread and intensify. This is true especially if a long-expected official answer never arrives. In parallel with a series of petitions to NBC to revive the series and, later, to release a DVD of the existing season, many unofficial revivals began to spread over the Web in the form of fan fiction.

4. Online fan fiction: From alternative story to revitalizing instrument

[4.1] Building on the idea of fandom as a "rational, creative, and optimistic response by subordinate groups confronted with a[n] unjust social system" (Winship 1994), a number of works in fan studies have analyzed the ways in which fans, far from being passive recipients, engage in a variety of alternative forms of cultural production. De Certeau considered it impossible for TV fan writers to "scribbl[e] in the margins" (1984, 31) because he saw them as passive in front of the screen, unable to actively elaborate a personal vision out of the images. But such elaboration not only takes place frequently, but it also assumes previously untold forms of struggle for identification and search for pleasure (Jenkins 1992, 154).

[4.2] "[C]reating a product is the predictable next step" (Harrington and Bielby 1995, 20) of this search, and writing fan fiction is one of the primary ways of doing so (Thomas 2006). Such writing is increasingly done online and by means of electronic tools (Hellekson and Busse 2006); it encompasses issues of identity, community, space, and gender (Harris and Alexander 1998; Bury 2005; Penley 1997). The act of writing, an intrinsically social activity for fans, functions both as a means of personal expression and as a builder of collective identity—a vital part of the very meaning of being a fan (Black 2005). All fans contribute to the reshaping of the world they admire and love, articulating specific community features and spatial boundaries in the process (Bury 2005, 30). Fan fiction is a way of "having a conversation about the story, but also making it [one's] own and adding or subtracting from a collective mythology that brings [everyone] together as a community" (Dare 2006).

[4.3] By forming communities of fan writers, individuals support their own transformation from viewers to fans (Harrington and Bielby 1995, 97), which has its roots in a common, "primitive" (Dare 2006) affective experience. All author-fans have their own way of embarking on their transformation, and this diversity enriches the community itself (Obst, Zinkiewicz, and Smith 2002). They do so by outlining a range of possibilities that may fall beyond the parameters of the original series (Jenkins 2002; Jenkins 1992, 165). Ultimately, it is the history of each fan that makes History (Tedeschi 2003) and helps define the production and sharing of fan fiction as the fan community's rejection of the idea that there is one and only one definitive—definitively produced, authorized, and regulated from the top down—version of the facts.

[4.4] I draw on the conception of fan fiction as an alternative form of cultural production, and on the empirical analysis of Earth 2 fan writers' practices, to develop the essay's main argument. Fan fiction writing for this prematurely canceled series possesses peculiar features: if it is true that we have examples of participatory culture whenever fans are rejecting a definitive and official version of the story, the Earth 2 fans are not just creating variations on an existing story or wanting alternatives to the stories provided by the producers and other official creators. The story is not only unsatisfactory or lacking potential; it is abruptly cut off and then disappears. In the face of this absence, fans use their disappointment at the cancellation to find inspiration for re-creation.

5. Sharing answers: Earth 2 fan fiction archives

[5.1] As of March 2009, there were 246 Earth 2 stories on FanFiction.net and 255 in Andy's Earth 2 Fan-Fiction Archive, the main (but by no means the only) Earth 2 fan fiction archives on the Internet. They vary significantly in length, from short stories of a few lines to sagas of 20 chapters. These archives are the primary venues for fans who want to share (and therefore legitimize or "officialize") their own fantasies about the evolution of the story line. Examining them reveals the topics, characters, and plots that are primarily focused upon, as well as the ways in which the unended story is addressed.

[5.2] The most striking feature of the Earth 2 fiction archives is the relatively limited number of stories that are fillers—that is, stories that take place during the time depicted by the series. These account for 73 stories in Andy's Archive and 61 on FanFiction.net. There are 33 backstories (stories occurring before the events of the series), but the substantial majority, 153 and 181 in each archive, respectively, expand the timeline beyond the last official episode and deal with Devon's sudden illness, the way in which her friends will (perhaps unsurprisingly) eventually find a way to cure her, and, to a larger extent, the outcome of the colonists' journey to the supposedly habitable New Pacifica. Representative titles and synopses include "It's time to unfreeze Devon" (McDonnell 2003), "Letting go is hard…" (silhouettepoms 2003a), "My explanation of Devon's illness. Take it or leave it" (silhouettepoms 2003b), "tough decisions after Devon is placed in the cryochamber" (Oonagh 2006), and "Grieving Time" (Powers 2006a).

[5.3] Other fans prefer to undertake a more philosophical exercise that builds on and clarifies the "Gaian Hypothesis," which considers the whole planet as one interconnected living being and which underlies many of the episodes' plots (Tonella 2006). Whether the humans would be able to effectively become part of this huge living organism is another of the problems left unsolved by the cliffhanger ending, with a character making sinister predictions about the planet eventually "refusing" mankind…and this right before Devon becomes ill. Fans perceive this as another delicate issue to deal with in order to "make the journey continue." The challenge produces story lines narrating such things as "a discovery which may provide answers about the mysteries of Planet G889" (Powers 2006b). However, fan writers devote comparatively little attention to topics like class (how the pioneers address the issue of sharing their home not only with indigenous creatures, but also with dangerous prisoners, abandoned on the planet many years before) or hierarchy and politics (how the colonists of G889 relate to the world of the space stations, the "sanitized cans" they left behind). The omission or sparse treatment of these topics might be due to the fan writers' perception that such questions deal with a remote future, one in which humans are well established on G889; for the time being, there are more urgent topics to be addressed, such as Devon's survival and whether the first group of pioneers will be accepted or rejected by the planet.

[5.4] A survey of the synopses of Firefly and Space: Above and Beyond stories on FanFiction.net, compared to those of Babylon 5 and Star Trek: Deep Space 9 stories there, seems to confirm that the relative proportions of stories mapping the characters' futures and those expanding on events within the time frame of the series are different for prematurely canceled series and more established ones. The proportions of the two kinds of stories are detailed in table 1 (note 1).

Table 1. Proportion of types of fan fiction

TypeEarth 2FireflySpace: Above and BeyondBabylon 5Star Trek: Deep Space 9
Fillers134 (26.7%)1511 (30.6%)19 (26%)929 (88.7%)534 (63.6%)
Backstories33 (6.5%)158 (3.2%)1 (1.3%)14 (1.3%)61 (7.3%)
Future stories334 (66.6%)3266 (66.2%)54 (74.0%)104 (9.9%)244 (29/1%)
Total5014935731047839

[5.5] The important presence of love and romance in a significant majority of Earth 2 fan fiction stories is unsurprising; fans "relish episodes where relationships are examined, especially those where characters respond in a caring fashion to the psychological problems, professional turning points, personality conflicts, and physical hurts of other major characters" (Jenkins 1992, 174). In this regard, Earth 2 fan writers have, in the advance team, particularly rich material. Of the nine main characters of the series, eight of them can in some way be paired, in the present or in the future. Morgan and Bess Martin are actually husband and wife; Julia Heller, physician to the project, and the pilot, Alonzo Solace, discover their mutual attraction on the planet. True Danziger and Uly Adair, the two children of the group, are shown in a flash-forward episode to be more than just friends in the future. Devon Adair, the wealthy space station designer, and John Danziger, the gruff mechanic, eventually emerge as the natural leaders of the group, balancing their strong personalities with totally different views. They always get on each other's nerves, but several hints at how much they actually care for each other were given throughout the season. This tension would likely have led to a significant amount of romantic fiction had the series proceeded normally. There are 250 stories labeled "romance" on FanFiction.net for Babylon 5, 323 for Star Trek: Deep Space 9, 1325 for Firefly, 28 for Space: Above and Beyond—in all cases, a major part of the whole. The two analyzed Earth 2 archives are no exception, with a total of 284 stories labeled "romance." However, these stories differ from those for other shows in three respects: temporality, choice of characters, and levels of subversion. I will consider each of them briefly.

[5.6] First, only 61 romance stories are set within the timeline of the series, and only five of the remaining 223 concern events before "First Contact," usually to clarify the origins of True and Uly. The remainder are set after "All About EVE," especially the stories dealing with the possible outcomes of the relationship between Devon and Danziger (nicknamed by the fans D&D), not only the most nuanced and implicit while the series was running, but left even more uncertain and open to interpretation by the way it ended. Ninety-two stories on FanFiction.net and 71 in Andy's Archive deal with the D&D relationship after the series' official end: they are generally melodramatic in tone, often portraying John Danziger sitting next to Devon's cryogenic pod and telling her, aloud or silently, what he never dared to tell her in person (Earth2Kim 2003), or describing Devon's dreams and thoughts in cold sleep, mostly focused on a predictable topic (White 1999; Maggie1 2000). The fact that she should presumably be unable to dream in cold sleep apparently pales in comparison to the opportunity to finally make D&D into a couple. So the unusual features of the Earth 2 case appear to derive from the pressure of the suspended animation required by Devon's potentially fatal disease upon an otherwise common trend in the genre. This is particularly true of the romantic involvement of the two group leaders, which was not only never made explicit, but is now under serious threat with the closure of the official story. The incompleteness of this story line is in this case the main catalyst for the fantasies of fan writers.

[5.7] Second, and following this same line of thinking, the level of interest in the relationships of the other three couples (as indicated by the degree to which they are explored in fan works) seems directly correlated with the couple's stability as described or hinted at during the series itself. Fan writers are probably unwilling to explore the future romantic involvement of True and Uly because they see them as too young. There are very few stories dealing with Morgan and Bess Martin as a couple (focusing instead on the development of Morgan's character), and this appears to be at least partially because their status as a married couple was never really addressed during the season, and is better just taken for granted. More stories can be found about Julia and Alonzo, who are the only two characters who become a couple during the actual time frame of the series, but their romantic involvement is more a background element than a primary one in all the episodes—and in fan works, their future is depicted as ranging from a happy life as married parents to grim good-byes as Alonzo eventually flies back to the space station.

[5.8] Finally, almost none of the writers, even the ones who like to challenge the original story line the most, seems to radically change the couples from how they were presented (or hinted at) in the original series. You will hardly ever find Danziger looking for comfort in Julia's arms, or Bess cheating on her husband with Alonzo. Apart from the authors of two slash stories on FanFiction.net and one in Andy's Archive (and these authors' other stories are, in any case, more conventional), I found only one writer who systematically enjoys upsetting the emotional balances of the group. As she playfully points out on her Web site: "I like to torture and kill characters. Why? It's fun!…You can do anything to the characters and label it a possibility. You can even blow up the planet" (Mayer 1998). And yet despite her caustic writing style, she takes care to carefully explain and contextualize her acts ("be safe in the knowledge that 'their friends' are really okay and this was only the strange imagination of one person," she tells her readers on a page specifically devoted to the overall subversive rationale behind her stories). Maybe without this clarification she would be going too far—if what is at stake is not just a fan's divertissement, but a fan community proposing its members as the only remaining authors on the subject?

6. Producing answers: The voices of fan writers

[6.1] As mentioned above, my first direct contact with Earth 2 fan writers was an open e-mail letter I wrote in 2006 to the subscribers to the Earth2 Fanfiction and Eden After Dark mailing lists, asking if they were available to be interviewed. The following discussion is based on the responses of 12 fan writers, that is, the ones who answered affirmatively to that letter (or to a copy of it I sent again in 2008) and who gave informed consent. The questions I asked broadly fall into three categories: writing fan fiction in general, the fics' relation to Earth 2 as a series, and (most important) their fan fiction for this specific series.

[6.2] The act of writing fan fiction is viewed as a reflection of both the audience's fascination with the program and the producers' refusal or inability to tell the stories viewers want to see (Hellekson 1997; Jenkins 1992, 162). The interviewees generally agreed on a definition of fan fiction as fiction written by amateur writers ("for enjoyment and not for money") based on a favorite television show, using the characters and events of the show. Answers to my question about the do's and don't's of the fan fiction writer were more varied. Do's included taking pride in what you write; being courteous; respecting the original creator's concept, even if not rigidly (this was phrased as "honoring the source material" or as "being true to the established characteristics of each character and story line"); and respecting the readers and trying to create a work of professional quality. Most fan writers identified as a "don't" authorial self-insertion, or insertion of a relative, into the story—practices generally considered by the community as either cheap or narcissistic (Dare 2006; Chaney and Liebler 2006). Most fan authors see writing fan fiction as a way of extending a world they love and sharing it with others, but also as a way of showing the world their own writing ability, humor, and imagery. For others, it's an escape from a demanding job, a supplier of some things missing from real life (because of either lack of time or fear of trying), or it may be wish fulfillment, with the fan becoming deeply involved in the lives of the fictional characters on the screen. One writer pointed out that she would never write fiction about any show while it was still on, because doing so would mean creating an alternative story line. She prefers to let the originator tell the story, and only jump in when he or she is done.

[6.3] Most of the interviewees had written fan fiction for other series as well as for Earth 2, but very often these stories were connected to Earth 2, most of them as crossovers. Earth 2 characters often spill into other series' plots, and writers explained the overlap as caused by their need to fill an empty hole ("I loved it so much that I couldn't have not done it"), and, in one case, the desire to do justice to a character (Morgan Martin) who had been, in the writer's opinion, misunderstood while the series was airing and badly represented by other fan writers later.

[6.4] Some fans keep on writing stories, either for Earth 2 or for other series. They offered various reasons for continuing: "It's addictive," "I feel that I can do much better [than] most of the stuff the fiction professional writers get paid for," "I can't help but going on sharing my love for my favorite shows with others." Those who were not writing anymore cited reasons like an increasingly demanding job or newer interests; but they still underlined their ongoing loyalty to the series and the characters and their belief that writing fan fiction is the best way to keep them "immortal."

[6.5] All interviewees had been passionate followers of the show since the very beginning, except those who didn't know about the show when it premiered and started watching it by accident, were captivated by the plot and characters, and became die-hard fans. All but one had taken part in one or more fan conventions; two people had originated or organized such gatherings; and two other people participated in trips to filming locations. They identified different characters and episodes as favorites, but two trends can be recognized among their answers. First, when one character was cited as a favorite, very often the character perceived as his or her soul mate was also cited, even—or especially—if the relationship between them had not been developed in the aired episodes. Second, each interviewee's favorite episode was almost always the one that displayed more emotion and (romantic) interaction between the interviewee's favorite character and the character's partner. (Even those moments most relished by the fans, however, are not particularly explicit.)

[6.6] Writing fan fiction for Earth 2, in particular, is unanimously correlated with the disappointment, anger, or sense of emptiness felt at the cancellation of the series and the inability of the official writers to tell any story at all. This negative feeling promotes fans' ongoing loyalty to and fascination with the program. One fan said that, while exploring ideas that need to be explored, he works through emotional issues of his own; another one "just wanted to live in this world for a bit longer"; another one pointed out that the cliffhanger ending made writing fan fiction an obvious choice: the show was "rife with interpersonal relationships begging to be explored," so while she intended, in the beginning, to just resolve the ending, she couldn't stop until she had written 200 pages.

[6.7] I anticipated negative responses when asking about the fans' reactions to the cliffhanger ending, and indeed I received some: "It's a shame we'll never see what the cast and writers could have done," "I thought it sucked. I truly felt that E2 was the bastard child at the family reunion," "They tried to change the show to fit the demographic they wanted…and failed miserably." But at the same time, and perhaps surprisingly, most fans also added that they were expecting it ("I wasn't surprised at all," "Prepared for that happening"). They also articulately suggested reasons for it ("I guess the time was not right for this concept in the mid-1990s. Today, with Lost, a show with very similar premises, it speaks to millions of people"), even though, interestingly, they did not cite technological or industrial reasons for the demise of the series, such as the repeal of the FCC's financial interest and syndication rules, the rise of cable television and the changes it prompted in the traditional networks' standards of success, or the absence at the time of DVD releases and downloads as alternative revenue streams. Many of the writers explicitly considered themselves the natural heirs to the authorship of the series, empowered to keep it alive: "Writing E2 FF allowed the show to continue even though it had been cancelled. It allowed [fans] to fill in gaps and continue the story past the cancellation."

[6.8] With the exception of one interviewee, for whom crossovers with other series are more important than the stories exclusively about Earth 2 and who would therefore have written them in any case, fan writers declared that their interest in writing about the series is correlated with the numerous questions left unanswered by it, concerning relationships between the characters, the outcome of their journey, and the habitability of the new planet.

[6.9] A final set of observations concerns the "character ethics" of the authors: what they consider natural for a character to do, and what (if anything) they would forbid a character to do. Most respondents said that they would never let a figure in their stories "do anything out of character"—that is, do anything that contradicted what they believed was his or her true character as originally stated by the series' creators. One fan, quite interestingly, made a precise and deliberate choice to avoid any reference to a group of characters that had appeared as guests in a couple of episodes, because "I never felt they belonged in the program." Another one said that she didn't, and wouldn't, avoid any characters because they are all needed in the stories, but she didn't write any stories focusing on a character other than her favorite one because he was the only one she felt she knew well enough to "get inside his head" and write accurate stories about him.

7. Conclusion

[7.1] We are at the end of our journey through the modalities of production and sharing of fan fiction for the television series Earth 2. The fandom for this one-season series has been a case study of the extent to which fan fiction writing for prematurely canceled series exhibits unusual features in comparison to writing for established series. Moreover, it allowed us to explore whether such features are present because, rather than being an alternative form of cultural production parallel to a running series, fan fiction becomes in such cases the only way for the story to keep on living. I offer here some conclusions regarding these topics.

[7.2] Some features of the Earth 2 fan fiction contained on FanFiction.net and in Andy's Archive, and of the community of fan writers authoring it, suggest an image of fans as creative but rational, imaginative but realistic, aware of the constraints imposed on them by those who originally created the object of their fandom but fully capable of turning these limitations into alternative opportunities for cultural production. And yet, beyond this portrait—elaborated over the last 15 years in a variety of works that I can only partially acknowledge because of space constraints—the Earth 2 fan fiction shows a number of atypical features. The present analysis allows me to suggest that these features are due to the show's premature cancellation and cliffhanger ending, and this analysis constitutes an original addition to the articulate mosaic of participatory culture production, indicating how the official closure of a TV series is addressed through fan fiction.

[7.3] Most Earth 2–related writing efforts are attempts to revive an abruptly terminated story by taking over characters, events, meanings, and worlds that have been outlined with some precision and completeness by the original authors but are now left exclusively to the jurisdiction of fan writers. The crucial question is then whether the fans perceive this jurisdiction as a further constraint or as increased freedom. It might be felt as a constraint if fans want to perpetuate the characters and core assumptions of the show as loyally and faithfully as possible, just as grieving parents might not change the furniture in their child's room after her unexpected death. Alternatively, a sense of freedom could originate in a feeling of betrayal, which could lead fan writers to refuse the direction that the story seemed likely to take when it officially ended. My findings indicate that fan writers generally limit their stories' contradictions with the material asbroadcast: writing fan fiction for Earth 2 appears to be a fulfillment of an original promise rather than a step in new, more controversial directions. The fans' faithfulness to the established Earth 2 universe seems to be correlated with the sudden and too-early halt this universe came to: a correlation that finds confirmation in the comparison with prematurely canceled series on the one hand, and long-lived series on the other.

[7.4] Furthermore, my analysis indicates that fan fiction written for prematurely canceled series fulfills a promise by filling gaps. Fans point out that some topics beg to be explored, some emotions ask to be delved into, some relationships cry out for development or follow-up—they were left open-ended, and stories thus cluster around a few starting points and main topics. At the same time, however, fan writers ask themselves questions about the ways they can fulfill the promise: the fact that they are the only remaining authors of the story, instead of alternative or parallel ones, bestows upon fan writers a responsibility they seem to be generally sensitive to and proud of (even the very few "heretics" pay homage to it, as their remarks indicate). At the same time, the disappointment over the absence of an official story and the consequent perception of loss produces a sense of combativeness and a will to do justice to the "bastard child at the family reunion," which are reflected in both the literary style and the writing ethics of fan authors.

[7.5] During one of the interviews, a fan writer quoted a remark by one of the Earth 2 characters, calling it the most inspiring statement for him in all the series: "It's an extraordinary new world, and survival is simply a question of whether we can reach deep enough to find the extraordinary in ourselves" (1.12 "Better Living Through Morganite, Part 2"). This quotation might very well serve as a conclusion to this essay: it encapsulates what the revival of a canceled series in fan fiction is about. It means searching for answers between an established but abandoned world and the opportunity to make it one's own, filling in gaps when fates were left uncertain, characters unexplored, relationships undeveloped, so as to ultimately counter official closure with a re-creation.

8. Acknowledgments

[8.1] The first version of this paper was written at the University of California, Santa Barbara, as part of Jonathan Cordero's Sociology of Culture course. I thank him and Clayton Childress for their guidance in the conception of this study. I thank Philipp Schmerheim and the participants in the Center for the Sociology of Innovation's PhD seminar for helpful comments on earlier drafts, and Timothy Henry, Cindy Gierhart, and Jane Kim for their language check.

9. Appendix: Standard questions for e-mail interview

Writing fan fiction
  • How would you define fan fiction and the act of writing it?
  • What are, in your opinion, the "do's and don't's" of a fan fiction writer?
  • What does writing fan fiction mean to you?
  • What series did you write/are you writing fan fiction about in your life?
  • Why/when did you start writing fan fiction?
  • Are you still writing fan fiction? Why/why not?
Earth 2
  • How long have you been an Earth 2 fan?
  • Did you ever take part in an Earth 2 fan convention?
  • Do you have a favorite character? Who is he/she/it and why?
  • What is your favorite episode?
Writing Earth 2 fan fiction
  • What does writing Earth 2 fan fiction in particular mean to you?
  • What did you think when the series was stopped after a cliffhanger ending?
  • What subplots/characters/events would you have liked to see explored in the second season that never took place?
  • What subplots/characters/events did you explore in your fan fiction up to now?
  • Do you think that you would have started writing fan fiction on Earth 2 had the series not been canceled with so many questions left open? Why/why not?
  • Are there any characters you prefer to write about, or any characters you would avoid writing about? Why/why not?
  • Is there something that you would never let a character do in your stories? If yes, what and why?
Something about you (optional)
  • What is your age and gender?
  • What is your profession?
  • Do you have any children? If yes, do they watch Earth 2 with you?

10. Note

1. Although it would certainly be useful to distinguish the stories posted before the show's cancellation from those posted after it, it is not possible to do so, as one of the archives is a new version of an older one, and the stories have been reposted to it. The posting dates on the existing archive are therefore meaningless. Still, it should be a safe enough bet that the stories dealing with what happens after the last episode of the show were posted after the cancellation.

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