Fan fiction. It’s usually considered to be stories written by amateurs about licensed characters (usually from film or TV) without permission, nowadays posted on the internet.
My own definition is a bit more literal and inclusive. If you’re using someone else’s characters (whether in licensed novels or because the characters are out of copyright) and you’re using them because you’re a fan of them, that should be fan fiction too. Consider all of the post-Doyle Sherlock Holmes stories, for example. Enthusiasm as your motivation for writing is key.
Here’s how today’s story was written: Ellison was putting together the anthology Dangerous Visions. He received Robert Bloch’s story ‘A Toy for Juliette’ (which I talked about here) and was inspired to write a sequel, exploring and expanding on Bloch’s themes and characters. I feel this counts as fan fiction, simply as a term to describe the connection it has to another story. (By the way, a quick googling shows I’m not the first to use the ‘fan fiction’ label on this story.)
Anyway, the story takes place immediately after ‘A Toy for Juliette’. As I don’t want to spoil the former story’s ending I will be vaguer than usual. It’s about someone brought forward in time and how they react, both to the city and in understanding themselves.
The difference in style between Bloch and Ellison is fascinating. Both are excellent; while Bloch is spare and suggestive, Ellison is graphic and poetic. Consider the opening:
First there was the city, never night. Tin and reflective, walls of antiseptic metal like an immense autoclave. Pure and dust-free, so silent that even the whirling innards of its heart and mind were sheathed from notice. The city was self-contained, and footfalls echoed up and around—flat slapped notes of an exotic leatherfooted instrument. Sounds that reverberated back to the maker like yodels thrown out across mountain valleys. Sounds made by humbled inhabitants whose lives were as ordered, as sanitary, as metallic as the city they had caused to hold them bosom-tight against the years. The city was a complex artery, the people were the blood that flowed icily through the artery. They were a gestalt with one another, forming a unified whole. It was a city shining in permanence; eternal in concept, flinging itself up in a formed and molded statement of exaltation; most modern of all modern structures, conceived as the pluperfect residence for the perfect people The final end-result of all sociological blueprints aimed at Utopia. Living space, it had been called, and so, doomed to live they were, in that Erewhon of graphed respectability and cleanliness.
The Prowler in the City at the Edge of the World by Harlan Ellison
Availability: print, e-book
Word count: 8,100
Warning: graphic violence
First published: Dangerous Visions, edited by Harlan Ellison, 1967, Doubleday
Where to find it: Dangerous Visions has been reprinted many times, most recently in 2012 by Gollancz
The Essential Ellison, collection, 1997, Morpheus International
Partners in Wonder, collection of Ellison’s collaboration stories, 2009, e-reads (e-book available here)