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Coming soon: On Translations and Translators

1. A history of Russian-language fanfiction: Overall picture

*1970's - 1980's*

To trace the beginnings of Russian-language fanfiction, one doesn't have to go as far back as the 1960's – at least when talking about "classic" fanfic in the narrow sense of the word – but rather search in the murky pre-Internet times of the 1970's, when two Russian translations of JRR Tolkien (1975 and 1982) were published and illegal movie videos first appeared.

One must take into account the state Russia was in back then. We were called the Soviet Union, and we were securely locked up behind the Iron Curtain: No movies (and especially no TV-shows) from Western Europe and US were permitted; Western books were translated and published only when they were believed to be ideologically safe. (JRR Tolkien was lucky: They apparently thought it was an innocent children's story; but anyway, after the first edition of The Hobbit and The Fellowship of the Ring, translation work on the trilogy was stopped; there were no further editions till the collapse of the Soviet system in the late 1980's).

Only VCRs brought us access to Western movies. However, VCR's were a rarity: the Soviet models didn't function at all (and even a simple TV was a luxury), Japanese VCRs were not imported, so only people who could travel abroad could purchase the whole magnificent set: a Sony/Panasonic/JVC/whatever double with a remote control (another miracle). And of course they also bought a couple of home-videos, although bringing Western tapes to the Soviet Union and watching them was strictly prohibited and prosecuted by the law. But those people were not really afraid, and they had a good reason: Those who were allowed to go abroad at all were usually very well-situated members of higher echelons of power: like the Communist party, diplomatic corps, upper layers of industry, etc. – They were immune to hassles by custom officials anyway.

Luckily, those guys had children, and those kids had friends, and some of those friends were very inventive and entrepreneurial, and so the huge net of illegal copying, translation and distribution was born. One translator usually did the whole movie, pinching his nose with his fingers, so that his voice became unrecognizable: Since then "a nasal translator" has become a Myth and a Hero of the whole Soviet subculture. The movies were then often shown in organized underground meetings, and confrontations with the police, arrests etc. were not seldom: Organizers were known to throw the video-players out of the window to get rid of the evidence.

Because of the whole illegality, it is very hard to get any sort of information about the actual fandoms of those days. An acquaintance of mine wrote Star Wars stories as a school-kid with a couple of friends; many of us were Beatle-maniacs and called ourselves John, Paul etc., some wrote stories, too… On the whole, most of the communities were insular, unconnected, and "accidental." The only fandom that I know about which produced a true fanfiction subculture was the Tolkien community.

*Late 1980's – early 1990's*

In 1987-89, the regime was crumbling, and gradually illegal smuggling began to give way to more appropriate ways to get to know the cultures all around us (Although illegal practices have never really ceased: There are still more or less illegal copies being made; many series which are not broadcast in Russia are distributed exclusively on video, etc.; E.g. Queer As Folk and many anime series.). Foreign videos were officially shown in legal video-"salons"(the copies were still unlicensed); first children's animes were broadcast (Sailormoon came in the 90's; one of the very first popular animes was called Macron 1 and gained huge popularity; I know of some fanartists, but unfortunately there is no information about fanfiction.).

One could go and watch virtually every Western movie – but still no series: Those who brought the movies from abroad were just not interested in TV-shows. This explains the curious fact that although most of the Russian communities correlate with Western and Eastern ones nowadays, we never had and still don't have a significant Star Trek fandom. They started to broadcast it in the late 90's, but it didn't gain popularity: People were already "spoiled" by numerous other shows, I guess. (Voyager is beginning to excite interest, though).

Although subcultures were finally able to emerge from the underground, no printed fanzine tradition was formed – obviously because of technical problems: To print something privately was next to impossible. On the other hand, more-established fandoms managed to break-through into the mainstream publishing: Soviets were never too fussy about international copyright laws, and the publication of "sequels" or "works based on…" was generally accepted. Siberian Sherlockians (Ural S.H. Society) published a 2-volume anthology of Holmes-based fanfiction, both Russian and foreign (in translation); Tolkien fen in Novossibirsk issued a Tolkien-based collection of poetry; and Nik Perumov published a lengthy sequel to Lord of the Rings which triggered an interest for Tolkien among broader audiences. Role-playing games based on LotR and Silmarrillion became highly popular throughout the country.

*Later 1990's - now*

In the mid-90's, Russia got connected, and a new era began.

The first fandom websites not surprisingly belonged to the Tolkien community – fanfiction and other creative output (parodies, poetry, essays) flourished and continue to thrive till this day; then came Anime sites; then Babylon 5 (1997)… the process was unstoppable and has been expanding ever since. The following is a tentative list of fandom communities where I traced any fic-writing activity – it is surely incomplete:

Anime (Ai no Kusabi; Evangelion; Gravitation; Gudnam Wing; Sailormoon;
Transformers; Utena; Weiss Kreuz); Anne Rice; Babylon 5; Buffy; Charmed;
Due South; Everwood; Harry Potter; Highlander; La Femme Nikita;
Labyrinth; Laurell Hamilton; Lord of the Rings; Luis M. Bujold; Patrick
O'Brian (Master and Commander); Phantom of the Opera; Pirates of the
Caribbean; Roger Zelazny; RPF; Queer as Folk; Russian fantasy literature
(Vera Kamsha; Olga Gromyko, S. Lukyanenko…); Russian TV-shows (Bednaya
Nastya – Poor Nastya); Sherlock Holmes; Smallville; Terry Pratchett;
Star Wars; Wizard of Oz; Xena; X-Files; X-Men.

Each fandom usually has extensive websites and discussion forums; lately many also have founded Livejournal-communities; but there is still no major relocation of the activities from forums and sites to LJ.

The attitude towards slash differs from fandom to fandom; usually, slash-fics appear pretty early in every fandom development, and are either embraced or banned (some fandoms are very prudish). Nowadays, slashers from different fandoms have a loose community with a web-ring and a forum network; SlashCons and SlashFests are organized every year.

The information on communities was gathered with help of many people whom I'd like to thank:

agnia, algine, Allie Mc, Allora, Arelat, anna_iva, Anni, Black Bird, blacky, Brigita, carioca, Chakra, Comma, Cornelia, Curie, D_Thorne, Daarhon, Dara, Elena, Eleni, Faith S., Frakira, Geroneja, Helga, HildaA, Irbis, Irina, Jenny, Jetta, Jude, Karina, Katriona, Kate-Kapella, Klea, Koroviev-Fagot, Kruil, lowrensiya, Merri, Mittas, Naisica, Narcissa Malfoy, Natalie, Nataliya, Nyctalus, Olga Bash, Pandora, Rada_S, Rene, Saint-Olga, Salome, Schuldich, Sessemaru, Sharman, Strazh, Taelle, Tanya Geller, Tenar, Tihho, tokyo, veejay, Viltis, William Berry, Xsha.


2. Communities Information and Timelines.

Communities' Timelines & RuFF History is a commision for halegirl's Fanfiction History Zine (still to come).

2005 (c)Daria Oblomskaya
editorial assistance A.F. Busek