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The Opposite Of Swarb

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[1]


UTENSIL!FIC (Dec 2006 – Aug 2007) Fic fad in which the main characters were portrayed as anthropomorphic utensils. Popular in military SF and police procedural fandoms, and also in musician RPF. Breakout fic: 'Once A Spork' by FlyLady (Stargate Atlantis, McKay/Sheppard). Died out almost completely in late August 2007 following controversy over depiction of Pete Wentz and Patrick Stumph as a depressed teapot and a philosophical bong respectively. Unrelated to silver-fork novels.

 

"What are you doing?" Ben said, putting one hand on my shoulder and leaning down to kiss my hair.

"Looking at fads in online fandom," I said, covering his hand with mine. When I looked back at the screen. I could see him reflected in it. He was wearing a short-sleeved shirt that was neither bowling nor polo. Poling, maybe. Not bolo, unless there was a kind of shirt that went with the bolo tie but hadn't been swept up with it when the bolo tie became popular with elderly cowboys and people vacationing in New Mexico. That kind of thing happens more often than you'd think. The useless-corporate-gift market successfully reinvented the cufflink in 2008, but the collar stud remains stubbornly unloved.

Ben leaned in closer and rested his chin briefly on the top of my head. "Fans of ISPs?" he said dubiously. "When we were at Alicia's party last week, her brother-in-law told me all about his Unix build."

"Did he? I got stuck with some women from her natural childbirth group talking how women who can't breast-feed shouldn't be allowed to have babies. Now there's an aversion fad." I hit refresh again. Bennett's image flickered, superimposed over a thousand indented LJ comments. "But no. Fans of other things, who get together with other fans to socialise online."

"What things?" he said. "Sports fans?"

"Maybe not sports fans. I grew up in Nebraska, remember? I've had all the Friday night football I can take." I grimaced. "But all sorts of other things. Sherlock Holmes. Competitive cooking shows. Slash."

"The guitarist?"

"Him as well, I expect. It seems like there was a huge row a few years ago about what to call fandom about people in bands, but..."

"Bandom?"

"You'd think, wouldn't you?" I shook my head. "It's like a perfect nursery for fads. A thousand springs every minute, and any one of them might be the next Amazon river. If I can't find a bellwether here, I'm going to shut up shop and get a job as a waitress."

"You'll have to submit an ethics form," Ben said practically. "Do you want me to photocopy the one I got sent for the bats?"

"If you wouldn't mind," I said, leaning back against him. "I don't plan on just barging in and demanding that they press buttons with their noses, or write me essays on whether they prefer Cerenkhov blue or po-mo pink. There were a pair of idiots from Boston who tried something similar in 2009 and went barging in with a questionnaire that would make an ethics board curl up and cry."

"What happened?"

"I think there's still smoke rising from the crater. I'd have to go to Boston to make sure."

I told Ben about the idiots in 2009. It was lack of support staff that did for them, in my estimation. If they'd had a Flip on site to misremember the names of fanfic archives and offend their literary agent over the telephone, they'd have got themselves into a lot less trouble. Then I told him about vidding, apoca!fic, crossovers, doujinshi and the existence of fanfic based on the lais of Marie de France.

"That's all very well," said Ben finally, "but where do I come into it? I can't pen up a flock of fourteen-year-old girls in the paddock. It would violate the fire regulations and annoy the bats."

"It might save on feeding the bats," I said. "Anyway, it isn't just teenage girls. Some of the most prolific fan writers are women in their thirties and forties. And then there's the turbulence where it intersects with old-school SF fans. Fen, I should say. Forry Ackerman, all that jazz."

"Please don't," Ben said, wincing. I could see the wince reflected in my screen, overlaying one Firefox tab containing some podfic recs on an anonymous meme and another containing an Encyclopedia Dramatica entry for someone called Pepper1.

I rotated my chair to look at Ben. He looked exactly the same as usual, which was reassuring. Hair that had recently gone from styleless and too long to styleless and too short. Grey eyes behind his spectacles. Photocopier stains on his fingers. "What?"

"I… actually, I need to follow up a message from Toivo saying my brother had called. I haven't got a brother. I think he must mean my mother. And I have to check on the delivery details for the bats," he said, the grey eyes sliding away from me. He squeezed my hand and headed out at what, if it had been anyone else of my acquaintance, I would have called a scurry.

I rotated my chair back round the other way to look out of the window and watch him go, feeling mildly bereft and not a little puzzled. Ben didn't usually scurry. I looked back at the page about Pepper1. It appeared that she had been involved in X-Files fandom before migrating to Harry Potter and from there to NCIS before landing in political RPF, which argued for an impressive ability to jump on a trend. But I couldn't seem to pay attention to that right now. I was too busy watching for Ben.

After a moment, he reappeared outside, just outside the porch where Shirl used to smoke. He took a cellphone out of his pocket and started poking it in a despairing fashion.

I knew that cellphone well. I had begun to feel a certain affection for it, after seeing it so many times on the bedside table or beside the bath, or in the fruitbowl. It was a clunky solid thing, built by someone who thought that a cellphone ought to look as if it should withstand a charging rhino, and therefore terminally out of fashion. My own cellphone looked like a piece of modern art and claimed to do everything from locating geocaches to reading e-books aloud. What it actually specialised in was complaining that it had run out of charge or signal or both.

Before he could call anyone, Ben was waylaid by Dr. Nakazawa, who had taken over Dr. Turnbull's offices after she left. I wasn't sure what Dr. Nakazawa was researching. Something to do with bees, I thought. My feelings of bereftness persisted. I shut the tab about Pepper1, because I was fairly certain that whatever was wrong, Encyclopedia Dramatica wouldn't be any help.

Ben wasn't usually like this. Maybe it was something to do with his mother. We were supposed to be having dinner together some time in the next month or so. Meeting the parents was a milestone in any relationship, though Ben had got on well enough with mine.

Or so I'd thought.

I hit the refresh key and looked back at the screen. In the five minutes or so since I'd last done any work, a whole new batch of threads had blossomed on the anonymous meme I was reading.

The sense in which these people used the word 'meme' was a thesis all on its own, but what I was mostly interested in at present was the speed at which this culture propagated. When a debate about tight-lacing broke out in the letter columns of All The Year Round magazine in 1867, the participants had to write out their fevered musings in longhand and then spend vital moments deciding whether to call themselves Seneca or A Friend To Matrons or some other ponderous pseud before going forth and putting their thoughts into the penny post. These days, you could express your disdain for BNFs at 3.45 UTC and have eighteen replies by 3.47.

Iterations, I thought. Eddies. Deconstructions of podcasts of remixes of AUs. A community constantly voting, with comments and comment!fic and signal boosting, on an ever-changing universe of microfads and macrofads that treat the original media in much the same way that that Doc Fleming's penicillin fungi treated the agar jelly in their petri dish. Fandom.

All I needed to do was explain it to Ben, and he'd understand. Once he'd got his vampire bats settled in to their new accommodations, and arranged when we were going to have dinner with his mother. I'd hoped to take her to my favourite sushi place, but they only served reindeer steaks now.

I wasn't sure what the deal was with reindeer steaks: either it was the health angle or it was something to do with Sarah Palin, though that argued a quite impressive degree of geographical confusion. Still, no one ever went broke underestimating geographical confusion, I reflected, as I tucked Egyptian Feng Shui: Energy Secrets Of The Pyramid Builders into my handbag and reminded myself to return it to the library.

 

[2]


am_i_swarb_or_not (2004-2008) LiveJournal community fad, in which members voted on whether to reject applicants for being 'swarb' or allow them to join and rate others in their turn. Died out after four years because no one was able to tell whether anyone else was being ironic. Contemporaneous with the fad for the website ratemyducttape.com.

 

A week later, Ben's bats still hadn't arrived. Something to do with a hold-up at the airport,. I wondered whether some airport security person had been charged with patting down a colony of Argentinian vampire bats. Or, worse, trying to make them all fly through a scanner. Maybe the subsonics would deter them all from just roosting inside it.

It had to be vampire bats rather than any other kind of bat, because vampire bats had a surprisingly sophisticated social life. They demonstrated reciprocal altruism, mostly by coughing up blood into each other's mouths, and there were studies on how they would adopt each other's orphaned young. If you had to be an orphaned bat, it paid to be an orphaned vampire bat.

Coughing up blood on people as a greeting hadn't spread to the wider population of Boulder yet, but it was probably only a matter of time. I'd seen Toivo the mail clerk – sorry, facility team interfacing associate – wearing a t-shirt reading Hug Me, I Sparkle only the day before.

It was probably a good thing that the bats hadn't arrived, because the expensive heater for their habitat hadn't arrived either. I spun my chair and looked out of the window. We were on the level above Bio now, sharing a corridor with Dr. Applegate and some of the rest of Chem. They caused fewer explosions than I expected, but I missed Gina.

In the dizzy wake of the Niebnitz Grant, HiTek had been happy to give us anything we wanted, the net result of which was that the Bellwether Origin Theory of Chaotic Systems (or BOTOCS, as Management wanted to call it until someone told them that it would leave them open to lawsuits from cosmetologists) now held title to the paddock which had previously held our sheep. At present it contained a prefabricated module which looked a bit like a shipping container and a mesh-covered outdoor enclosure, both of which Ben was proposing to fill with bats. Supposing the heater ever showed up. Supposing, for that matter, that the bats did.

I looked back at my screen. A week of immersing myself in fandom, and I had come to the conclusion that it wasn't so much like studying a river or even a drainage basin, it was more like the entirety of the Atlantic Ocean. Why was the Draupner oil platform off the coast of Norway struck by an eighty-four foot high rogue wave on New Year's Day, 1995? I didn't know. Why did one series about a buttoned-up vampire detective and a con-artist werewolf run for seven series, while an almost identical series which started airing two months earlier folded after eight episodes? I didn't know that either.

And actually, length of series was no guarantee of anything. Some of the most popular fandoms were based on films. It was the low entry hurdle again, I supposed: anyone who could pay fifteen dollars and sit still for two hours was as much of an expert as anyone else, at least until the film showed up on a torrent site.

That reminded me that I wanted to cross-reference the morning's data with my notes on Na'vikin. I looked around the office.

When Ben and I moved in together – so to speak – we'd been gifted with what seemed like a promiscuously huge suite of offices. Over the last two years, they'd filled up, inexorably, with boxes. The paperless office was all very well, but no one had heard of it in 1840. Or 1950. And there was a limit to how much I could love a magazine page in dense two-column print that someone had scanned in as a 100 by 300 .jpg.

I was rummaging under the larger of our two tables when there was a knock at the door.

"There's a man at the loading dock who says he's got some cats for you," said a combative male voice from the doorway. "You shouldn't have personal mail delivered to the office."

I disentangled myself from the table. "Bats," I said. "What are they doing here? The heater for their environment hasn't come yet."

Toivo rolled his eyes at me. He was wearing a grungy military jacket, calf-length jeggings and a chinstrap beard.

His name meant 'hope' in Finnish, as he had informed me the first time we met. That was probably why HiTek had hired him: in the world of corporate fads, Finnish was the new Japanese, which meant brusque communication and an emphasis on being direct with each other, and a lot of metaphors involving tree husbandry and left-footed skis. So far, I'd managed to escape having to go to a nudity-non-optional retreat at a sauna.

"I think it's cruel, treating poor little cats like that," he informed me. "What are you planning to do with them?"

"Hostile takeover of the LOLcat market," I said, which was a mistake. "By this time next year, no one will be able to say CAN HAZ in an email without paying HiTek a retainer."

"Oh, my God, you're like, lamer than Google Buzz," Toivo said with another eyeroll. "There's, like, some paperwork to sign. Something about movement of livestock."

Ben was nowhere to be seen. I went downstairs to take delivery of the bats. I was trying to explain to the delivery driver that we didn't have a heater when Ben came round the corner. He was wearing a red flannel shirt that looked as if it had come from the 1890 Sears catalog. I'd spent a lot of time with that catalog, tracking the use of 'Climax' as a brand name for everything from reducing pills to collapsible trombones.

"Oh, thank God," I said. "Your bats are here."

"But the heater hasn't come." Ben looked hunted. "I'm going to have to go and ask Jerry Nakazawa if he can spare me a heat lamp."

"You do that, I'll drive downtown and see if I can pick up a space heater cheap."

He gave a smile that made his freckles compact in a way that I found utterly beguiling, and pecked me on the cheek as he hurried off.

Toivo looked more disapproving than ever. "Public displays of affection aren't appropriate in the workplace. You're oppressing and judging me."

"How am I supposed to be judging – never mind." I rubbed my arms against the November chill. Toivo didn't seem to feel the cold. Under the military jacket he was wearing a necklace made of 1950s buttons and a crumpled t-shirt whose message I couldn't read.

I told myself that it could be worse. I could still be working with Flip.

Flip had been replaced by Indigo, who left after four months to find herself. I remember wondering at the time whether it was worth asking her to return my stapler if she happened to also find that. Indigo gave way to Diva, who was actually competent, and who got head-hunted by Elaine from Personnel when Elaine went to set up a corporate wellness centre in Fort Collins. The last time I saw either of them they were enthusiastically discussing how empowering it was to them as women to be able to do burlesque aerobics.

Then there were two weeks of no mail clerk at all, during which Desiderata slouched her way up from Supply and I missed an invitation to Billy Ray's wedding because she used it to clean her nails with, before the hiring committee inflicted Toivo on us.

Toivo was at least passive in his depredations on my time and sanity. He didn't circulate petitions. He didn't even forward emails. He just was, like a particularly unforthcoming Finnish tree-trunk, with a silly haircut and a messenger bag.

"So, are these, like, cute bats?" he said. "I mean, are they the kind with faces?"

"They're Argentinian vampire bats," I said.

"That's, like, gross. And insanitary," he said disapprovingly.

I noticed that his t-shirt read Legolas Is My House-Elf. "Are you into Lord of the Rings fandom?" I said with interest. "Or LotRIPs?"

"LOL," he said, looking disgusted. "I got this at a thrift shop."

Lord of the Rings fandom must be on the wane, I thought. Toivo rolled his eyes one final time and slouched off, leaving me alone with the morose delivery driver and the bats.

They had to be easier to manage than sheep, I thought hopefully. Or facility team interfacing associates.

I finally managed to locate a heater in a shop called s/warm that had sold pianos the last time I was in the neighbourhood. It was next door to a fading Chinatasse franchise. "Do you want a soft light display?" asked the salesman. "Everyone's having a soft light display these days."

I didn't think the bats would care whether they had a soft light display or not, so I bought the one without, and Ben and I spent the rest of the afternoon carefully decanting the bats. They were smaller than I expected. After rushing around in a fury for about half an hour they settled themselves in a series of bat-stalactites on the roof of the habitat.

"Do bats have bellwethers?" I asked Ben when we were in bed that evening.

He pulled me closer into the sleepy heat of his body. I settled against his shoulder. "They have social structures," he said. "Social capital. Social metrics."

"Social networking," I said, imagining all those bats on Facebook, posting aggrieved status updates. Are you now (a) in a relationship, (b) in a shipping crate, (c) it's complicated?

"It's complicated," I said, burrowing into Ben's shoulder, and fell asleep.

[3]


FIVE CAGE FIGHTS (Nov 2003 – Feb 2005) Fic construction meme, originating in comic book fandom but rapidly spreading to other media fandoms. Born from a combination of the already popular 'Five Things...' meme and the discussions of which characters could beat which other characters in a fight which were endemic in comic book fandom at the time (and before and ever since). Popular throughout 2004 and early 2005, but was devoured from within by a more agile viral fad for repeated mentions of the actor Chuck Norris.

 

The next day the heating unit for the bats arrived, which was a great relief. Ben and I spent the morning clambering around installing the regular and heat cameras in their habitat. The bats did their usual trick of flying around in an angry whorl like a shoal of fish interrupted by a shark, and then settled down again.

I suggested we set up a web feed and see whether anyone started a fandom based around our bats. Ben said he didn't think the picture quality would be high enough for anyone to tell them apart.

"I don't think that matters," I said, trying to scrape some bat guano off my lab coat as we hurried over to the meeting to which we had been summoned by Management. It was being held on the roof, for some reason. Maybe open air meetings were the latest craze in Finland. "I spent yesterday on Hulu and I can't tell most of the actual shows apart. I thought there was one starring Adam Baldwin until I realised he just does a lot of guest appearances."

"There is a show starring Adam Baldwin. My mother watches it," said Ben, opening the fire door so that we could go up the metal stairs to the roof.

"Does she write fic about it?" I said, but my words were lost in the wind and the clatter from the ventilation systems. Gina came hurrying over and shouted something in my ear.

"If they make us do trust exercises on the edge of the roof, I'm taking a bathroom break!" I shouted back.

"It won't be trust exercises. It'll be looking down and seeing the company as a unified whole," yelled Gina confidently. "Did you know you've got something on your lab coat?"

It was, indeed, looking down and trying to see the company as a unified whole. Like an anthill, I thought. Like a shoal. Like a swarm. Social structures. When they weren't imposed on us, we made them for ourselves.

While Ben was studying the bats and their social dynamics over the next few weeks, the ethics form came back, so I decided to find a fan and see whether she would talk to me. It was usually she, except in isolated pockets. Where the two cultures met, there was a lot of turbulence. According to Ben, the bats were matriarchal too, if somewhat less tolerant of old-school Dr. Who fans.

I knew just the fan, too. At Billy Ray and Wanda's engagement party, I'd met his nineteen-year-old stepdaughter Breeanne, who had spent the evening telling me how someone called Ian Somerhalder was, like, hotter than God.

Pausing briefly to wonder whether names like Wanda and Rhonda and Vonda would ever come back into circulation, with their chewy combinations of consonants, and displace all the little Ashlees and Baylees and LeeLees, I rang Billy Ray.

"Oh, hi!" he said, sounding genuinely pleased to hear from me. "I thought you had some issues, after I got engaged to Wanda so soon after we broke up. And then you didn't come to the wedding. You missed the miniature bread pudding cakes. Wanda personalised them all individually."

"Desiderata lost the invitation," I told him. "How is Wanda?"

"Great, she's great. She's at a sustainable viability conference. We're getting in on the ground floor with tassies."

"Elk?" I guessed. The last thing after ostriches had been elk.

"Tasmanian wallabies," Billy Ray said enthusiastically. He spent a while telling me about high protein content and low methane emissions and something called conjugated linoleic acid, and I wondered how I could ever have considered marrying him.

"Could you pass my number on to Breeanne?" I said. "I'd like to interview her about what TV shows she's a fan of, if she's willing. I can email you a PDF about the project if you're interested."

"We've gone TV-free for the sake of our unborn's attention span," said Billy Ray. "You should try it."

That left me at a dead end. I gave him and Wanda my congratulations on their unborn, asked him to pass on my message to Breeanne in case she wanted to talk about Ian Somerhalder (who she was probably watching on her laptop while Billy Ray and Wanda bonded with the unborn, anyway) and hung up.

Babies were the next big thing, evidently. A rush to marriage and child-rearing often happened in an uncertain economic climate.

That reminded me that when I met Alicia at her party she'd told me all about how she was planning to monetise her mommy blog. I didn't think there was likely to be much fandom content on a mommy blog, but Toivo had hidden my time sheets and I didn't have anything else to do.

I couldn't remember exactly what her site was called. I tried boulderbaba.wordpress.com. No dice. Boulderbaba.blogger.com? Just boulderbaba.com? That turned out to be a site selling boutique rum-based confectionery by mail order. It looked delicious, but had nothing to do with what I was looking for. Eventually I remembered Alicia telling me that .baby domains were the latest thing for any serious blogger, and tried that instead.

Alicia's blogroll produced unexpected gold dust in the form of a site for people who wanted to mother the stars of a recent zombie movie. Or who were mothers, but had a thing for cute young Canadian actors playing the walking dead. Or... well, apparently the one thing they had in common was a liking for red-on-black forum text and taking things extremely personally.

"I talked to my mother," said Ben behind me, startling me. "What do you think about a Lebanese restaurant?"

"It would be a good place to get Lebanese food?" I said. "As long as they don't put basil on everything."

"I'll tell her it's settled, then." He shifted from foot to foot. I hadn't seen him so off-balance since he thought I was going to marry Billy Ray. "You know it's nearly seven, don't you?"

I didn't. The last time I'd come up for air, it was two o'clock. "Sorry," I said, reaching for my bag. "Let me just save this and I'll be yours."

"Can't wait." It was strange how those thick lenses of his should have dampened his smiles. Instead they magnified them. "Breakthrough?"

"Not yet," I said, putting on my coat. "So far I've discovered that volume of postings on wank communities are weakly correlated with release dates of Harry Potter films, that fans of subtitled manga are slightly more likely to comment on PostSecret than fans who prefer it dubbed, and that the Internet is evenly divided between people who think someone called Pepper1 is the best thing since Jane Austen and people who think her writing's hopelessly derivative and shallow."

"What about people who've never heard of her?"

I shook my head. "Not an option. Sorry."

"So what kept you from the interdepartmental meeting?"

"There was an interdepartmental meeting? Damn." I looked back at the screen and turned the monitor decisively to black. "Tell me this one wasn't on the roof."

Ben looked at me kindly. "It was in the boiler room."

 

[4]

HERLOCK-L (1993 - Apr 1997) Shared-universe fad hosted on a mailing list, in which list members described their imagined adventures with a genderswitched Holmes and Watson. Imploded dramatically when one of the 'list landladies' asked the list for money to help fund a struggling giant rat sanctuary and then absconded with the takings. As in subsequent scandals of this kind, many list members refused to believe any ill of the scammer and instead vented their anger on those questioning her story instead. Superseded Usenet group alt.fan.deerstalker.doctor.and.dirigible.

 

When I looked at LiveJournal the next day, half the icons I saw were defending Pepper1 and the rest were excoriating her. There was also one reading 'I'm a Pepper, too!' that I didn't know quite how to classify, though possibly it was a coded accusation of sockpuppetry. I looked to see what Pepper1 had done this time. Plagiarism? Unpopular political opinions? Wholesale murder of little old ladies?

It turned out that she had given up on a WIP in one fandom and started one in another. It didn't seem like much of a crime, given the amount of heat and light that was being emitted. Someone was organising a Big Bang to perk up the abandoned fandom, someone else was holding an auction, and and a group of people whose original fandom home was Star Wars were arranging some kind of exchange called a Secret Bantha.

Three unauthorised continuations of the WIP had already sprung up, along with nineteen rants about whether finishing other people's WIP was ever justified. I didn't dare look at Metafandom.

The other source of heat and light that morning was Porphyria Dante, the author of Faerie Fire, last year's breakout scorching hot fairy/fairy/fairy erotic romance. She was complaining that writers of fanfic were all leeches who had 'sucked the blood from her characters'. Given that her characters had already encountered an erotically inclined gorgon, an enthusiastically tentacled lake spirit and an elven archer who specialised in bowstring bondage by the time I gave up on page 43 of 97, I didn't think any of them would so much as raise an eyebrow at leeches.

Besides, I thought, how many of those fanfic writers bought her book? I supposed some of them might have downloaded it illegally and some of them might even have checked it out of the library, but on the whole, the people Porphyria Dante was excoriating were the people who paid her bills.

I was getting too close to the subject. I went out to see Ben and the bats.

Ben was talking to Dr. Nakazawa. I'd known those two would get along the first time Dr. Nakazawa and I met. He'd come to ask if I knew how to get Desiderata in Supply to actually supply anything, and he'd been wearing a lab coat which looked as if it had been washed with a pair of red socks. And besides, his name was Jerry, and he was in his late twenties. It should have been Jason or Brandon or something like that.

"Tell Sandy," Ben said as I approached. "She'll appreciate it. Did you know that bees exaggerate?"

I looked through the mesh fence at Dr. Nakazawa's beehives. They looked docile enough to me. "How can you tell?"

"We monitor them to see which flowers they visit," said Dr. Nakazawa, "and then record their dances on their return. They exaggerate the amount of honey present. One could say they boast."

They'll be organising Big Bangs next, I thought. I linked my arm through Ben's. "How are the bats?"

"Self-organising." He looked far more pleased than he ever had with the sheep. Far more pleased than I'd expect anyone to get over an animal whose idea of a friendly hello is to vomit blood at you. "You know, they don't suck blood. They just lap."

"Someone should tell that to Porphyria Dante," I said. "Then again, I'm not sure it would help. She doesn't approve of femslash."

"My mother likes her books," said Dr. Nakazawa.

Ben looked hunted again. I took his hand as we walked back through the evening chill towards the building.

"We don't have to have dinner with your mother, you know," I said. "Not if it's going to be this much trouble. If you get too stressed-out, you'll stress the bats, and that'll bias your data. You told me they're very sensitive."

"I miss the sheep," said Ben, squeezing my hand. "Nothing bothered the sheep."

 

[5]


SAILCORE (2005-) Music fad combining sea shanties, urban garage grind and obscure references to the Aubrey-Maturin novels. Received boost in visibility after the YouTube videos 'Tallow and Rumgumption' and 'Come, Blow My Horn' by Article 29 and the Sages of Ale went viral, but was soon overtaken by fad for pirate rap and then by post-zombie punk. See also, wizard rock.

 

Nothing much happened in the next week except that Pepper1 removed all her fic from the Net, and Ben and I spent a lot of time watching nervously over his orphan bat. It was receiving loving care from its foster mother. I wondered whether the same went for orphaned chapters of other people's WIPs. We drove into Boulder and parked under a large billboard advertising the Ohbaby.baby Channel.

"I still have no idea how it all works," I said, cuddling up to Ben as we walked the four blocks to the Lebanese restaurant. His beige muffler tickled my nose. "What's causing the epiphenomena, I mean. Icon crazes. Fandom-specific yarn swaps. Why one fic gets two comments and another gets two hundred. For all I know they're doing it by echolocation, like your bats. Or a combination of complicated chemical triggers and dancing, like Dr. Nakazawa's bees."

"If it's a combination of chemicals and dancing, I'm surprised there isn't more DJ RPF," he said.

"You do listen," I said. "I don't know why there isn't more RPF about disk jockeys. Maybe there would be, if they worked in teams."

"I listen." He gave me a sort of half-smile and pushed open the door of the Lebanese restaurant. Inside there was a steamy fug of conversation and music, and some very promising smells.

Seated at a booth near the door was the most fannish-looking lady I have ever seen. She was wearing a crushed velvet cloak, a cat ear headband, a Bajoran earring and a variety of buttons reading everything from Dumbledore's Rainbow to My Wolf Is Deafer Than Yours. I recognised most of them, though one reading i'm in ur law wearin ur wigz had me stumped.

And she had exactly the same grey eyes and the same freckles as Ben.

I suddenly realised how he'd managed to grow up so fad-null. I had visions of a tiny Ben in an Elfquest onesie and a slightly larger Ben unwrapping presents under a tree decorated with tiny light sabers. He was trying to choose normal, in as much as he bothered to choose anything. It was just that he had no more idea of what normal was than his orphan bat did.

I squeezed his arm. "She looks nice," I said. "It's going to be OK."

"I know you'll get on with her," Ben said in a voice that was a bit less laden with doom. "She's a mainstay of the local library system. Hi, Mom."

 

[6]


MATCHBOOK!FIC (2001). Fic distribution fad in which short fic was 'released into the wild' on the backs of matchbooks. Died out due to various factors including unavailability of matchbooks in an increasingly smoking-averse era, though its main drawback had always been the inherent difficulty in giving or receiving feedback on two hundred words of Mulder/Krycek that was left under a park bench. Never revived, though there was a brief craze in 2008 for releasing even shorter fic into the wild on the tops of cupcakes.

 

The next day, Ben's mother Jean emailed me. I wondered how it was that non-work email had gone from being new and exciting to being kind of sweetly old-fashioned, in less time than it took for Romantic Wedding Barbie to start showing up on eBay as vintage and her predecessor Country Bride Barbie as antique. Toivo probably thought having an email address was a bit like owning a portable telegraph.

I remembered what I was about to tell you when the server showed up to take our order, Jean wrote. I met Pepper1 last month at a con in Glendale, Arizona. I don't think I saw her at her best, because her partner had just left her for his dental nurse, but she told me that Porphyria Dante was starting an ebook publishing company and was going to give her a contract. Maybe that's why she took her fic down? I know of an FTP site where it's still archived if you need it.

I thought I could manage without Pepper1's fic, but something was nagging at the back of my head.

The lark's on the wing, the snail's on the thorn...

Something to do with Robert Browning? But Browning fandom was absolutely moribund – a couple of pieces from previous Yuletides and one rather eyebrow-raising piece written from the point of view of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's spaniel. I remembered the spaniel!fic: it had had sparked off allegations of plagiarism despite the author claiming never to have heard of Virginia Woolf's Flush, and caused a rash of icons proclaiming plaintively 'but its not a woolf its a spaneil' in various illiterate fonts. Not Browning, then.

No, not Browning. Flip.

Flip had moved to Arizona in lovelorn search of Darrell the dentist, who she met through the personals while she was doing her level best to thwart me and incidentally ensuring that we were awarded the Niebnitz Grant.

I looked back at the screen.

Flip. Philippa. Pippa. Pepper1.

It couldn't be, surely. Flip had the language skills of a bright eleven-year-old and the attention span of a stunned gnat. Writing fanfic took time and attention.

But then she'd lavished time and attention on the personals. And writing fanfic was one of those fads where the entry bar was set as high as you wanted it: you could write ill-spelled drivel or better prose than Porphyria Dante's or almost any increment you liked along the continuum in between, and someone would probably read it. And comment on it. And rec it to all their friends. And someone else would post about how they hated it, and maybe spork it, and all that attention drove the flywheel of incremental chaos until it coalesced at a higher level and everyone on Dreamwidth knew your name.

Maybe what you really needed to make it in fandom was a nose for the latest big thing and a skin thicker than Bennett's cellphone. And also, I thought (trying to be fair to Flip, though even after two years it was an effort) a kind of wayward innocence; a vast, uninformed hopefulness that a book contract or a dentist called Darrell or a whole new identity really was over that horizon.

The door flung open. I looked up, expecting Ben or maybe Dr. Nakazawa. Instead, it was Toivo. He was wearing a neck scarf, a pair of knee-high riding boots and more of an expression on his face than I'd ever seen previously. "Did you know about this?" he demanded.

"Know about what?" I said. "Is Ben OK? And the bats?"

"You're not supposed to ask the facility team interfacing associate to run personal errands or give out personal information," said Toivo reprovingly. "Did you know that I'm supposed to have an assistant? There's funding for one."

"Hire someone who smokes," I said, thinking of Shirl.

"Making threats in the workplace is against the code of employee safety and morale," said Toivo. "I should file a report." He scowled thoughtfully. "I don't think it's fair that it's the person who's discriminated against who has to do all the work of filling the form in. They should pay for someone else to do it."

"I wasn't threatening you."

"Yes, you were, you said you hoped I died of cancer."

"I didn't say that, Toivo. I just meant that I hoped the new assistant would be..." I remembered Shirl and her nicotine-stained fingers. Her mysteriously non-stained fingers, the last time I saw her. I supposed it was possible that Toivo was hiding a heart of gold too. My majors were stats and sociology, but I'd taken an elective in chemistry and learned that gold was notoriously unreactive. "Why don't you suggest they set up a committee to find you an assistant?"

Toivo grunted. He slouched closer, uninvited, and looked over my shoulder at the screen. "Oh, Pepper1! I love her. She's, like, so braws."

"Braws?" I said, wondering whether Scottish was going to be the next big thing after Finnish. Or maybe it was a new management initiative. Or the conclusion of Ben's research. Bats Reveal: Adoption Works Socially.

"Braws," Toivo said, pityingly. "It's, like, the opposite of swarb."