Posts from July 2012

July 14th, 2012

Notes for a Star Trek Bibliography: Last Word from the Team!

We last left Star Trek fiction in a state of what the show’s techno-babble experts might call ‘temporal flux.’ After a long period wandering in the wilderness (sustained only by the manna of sometimes spotty and often manic fan fiction, fanzines, and fan conventions), the old cancelled TV show had at last reached the promised land of a big-screen Hollywood movie, and although reviews of that movie were decidedly mixed (as were reviews of the Gene Roddenberry novelization), it unleashed a shock wave into Trek continuity that changed everything. Before that movie, the fanzines could speculate all they liked about the future of our beloved U.S.S. Enterprise and its valiant crew, but all we knew was what the three seasons of the original TV series had shown us. That series showed us neither the beginning of Captain James T. Kirk’s five-year mission in deep space nor, more importantly, its ending. There was all the room in the galaxy to wonder what those familiar characters were doing – most fans imagined an endless sequence of planet-hopping adventures, and most fans imagined nothing more.

Star Trek: The Motion Picture (movie and book) shattered the static peace of such a situation, and it did this by bringing one previously minor element to the fore: time. In the original series, characters had pasts (Spock served for a long time with the Enterprise‘s former captain, for instance, and Kirk and Scotty, we knew, had had many service postings before they joined the ship), so time was always a background note. But in the new movie, we’re dunked in it: years have passed since the time of the original show’s setting. When the movie opens, Kirk has taken a desk job at Starfleet, and both Spock and McCoy have left the service – and perhaps more importantly, the whole world of those original TV adventures is over: the captain is an admiral, the bridge crew is visibly older, the celebrated five-year mission is completed … time has passed, and unlike in so many sci-fi series, it’s passed inside the story, not just outside it.

Fans were slow to adopt this new reality – not just because they weren’t in any way finished with the old reality but also because they weren’t alone in this new one: they had corporate suits as company. Paramount had invested a lot of money in STTMP and its various movie tie-in products – and investments need to be watched by trained, responsible adults. Suddenly Star Trek was too important to be left in the hands of the people who’d safeguarded it all those hopeless years: the fans.

This very much extended to the series of Star Trek novels that was given renewed energy (and funding) with the launch of the movie. The movie could clearly stand as the beginning of a franchise, which meant, among other things, that corporate creatures who knew nothing about Star Trek would now have the authority to dictate the very parameters of the concept. You can tell by the book-covers: the drawings of our familiar characters are patterned (traced?) on the appearances in the movie – older, weather-beaten, clearly no longer the same people who went on all those original adventures.

A new fictional reality obtained. From a corporate standpoint, the first movie in a new franchise establishes the shape of that reality, the tenor, everything. In STTMP, our heroes re-unite to save the Earth from an alien space probe of awesome power. They succeed, and they all decide to stay on the newly-refitted Enterprise and head out for more space-adventures. In Paramount’s consideration, those future adventures will be movie-adventures, so writers of Star Trek books now faced two huge obstacles: they had to set their novels in the new ‘present’ of the movies, and they couldn’t radically change things without having corporate suits shutting the whole thing down.

Two of the earliest of these new Trek novels didn’t quite manage to clear either of these obstacles. mainly because they were written by the writing team least likely to adapt to this radical new reality. Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath had been among the original organizing forces behind written Star Trek adventures – they were gathering fan fiction, polishing fan fiction, and essentially writing fan fiction long before there seemed to be any hope of such fiction ever having a market, and so their roots were deep in the fanzine world – which, as we’ve seen, could get a little rough. In the early 1980s, Marshak and Culbreath wrote two books – The Prometheus Design and Triangle – that could fairly be called the last Star Trek fanzine stories ever published. The characters might have been wearing those periwinkle new uniforms on the covers, but these stories belonged to an earlier era.

That earlier era had some defining writing-tics. It was fond of racy sadomasochism, for instance – characters are frequently either naked or tortured or tortured while naked. It was also fond of Spock-worship, making the Enterprise‘s half-Vulcan science officer into a kind of super-powered demi-god who routinely through the rest of the crew into the shade. These things are true in both these novels – Spock (and, in The Prometheus Design, the Vulcan admiral Savaj) is repeatedly shown to be much stronger and faster than Kirk and his fellow humans, but unlike in all future variations of Trek (where the fact that Vulcans are much stronger than humans is still true), in the world of these novels, Spock’s Vulcan strength always seems to matter more than it should. Fan fiction was also enamored of the idea that Spock’s suppressed emotions were always on the verge of breaking free; Marshak and Culbreath did more than anybody to create that idea, and they’re doggedly faithful to it in these pages, where Spock is always coldly furious (a faint echo of this tic lasted for decades and turned up in Tim Russ’ portrayal of Commander Tuvok onStar Trek: Voyager, as we’ll see).

In The Prometheus Design, the Enterprise is threatened by a race of super-beings who are using sentient life throughout the galaxy in an enormous experiment involving aggression and risk. The ship has been commandeered by Admiral Savaj and placed under the command of Mr. Spock, both Vulcans having decided that poor, human Kirk is too weak to withstand the aliens’ influence. Fans of Trek fiction – especially present-day fans who’ve been spoon-fed corporately-vetted Trekkie-baby food for twenty years – have always found the undertones of this stuff unpalatable, and I admit, our authors lay it on a bit thick in this book, contriving their plot in such a way that not only does Spock spend a significant amount of time wearing (and apparently forgetting that he’s wearing) large prosthetic horns on his forehead, but Kirk spends a significant amount of time wearing (and apparently forgetting he’s wearing) a virginal white speedo and nothing else. But the fans who complain about Marshak and Culbreath’s oft-displayed willingness to humiliate Kirk aren’t reading far enough into the novels – these authors are at their best in celebrating the inner qualities of their heroes, the inner conflicts that make them who they are, as even Savaj is forced to admit in one nifty scene in which he confronts the super-aliens:

“Why do the subjects choose to return to the danger-aggression zones?” Savaj asked very clearly.

Trath stopped in midstride and turned to look at Savaj.

“Is it possible,” Savaj asked, “that the greatness cannot exist without the violence?”

“Who has raised with you such questions?” Trath said dangerously.

I have,” Savaj said. “We have.” He indicated Kirk. “They are implied in the oldest fire myth of these Humans’ world.” He nodded then toward Spock. “This one, bred to their world and born to mine, went out to the stars to investigate the duality of his heritage, and his soul, in the zone of danger – and greatness. This one” – he indicated McCoy – “is a born healer who chooses to fight death in the battle zone. The three together may be a lesson neither I nor my world has yet learned fully.”

That same inquest is very much taking place in Marshak & Culbreath’s next novel, the much-mocked Triangle, in which Kirk, Spock, and the Enterprise crew are caught in an invisible war between two group-mind entities, each one determined to co-opt these starship crewpeople, the foremost avatars of rugged individuality. Both the Oneness and the Totality try to practice mind-control on various crew members, and Kirk and Spock are distracted by the arrival of Sola Thane, an alluring Federation Free Agent who (here we go again) has the authority to relieve Kirk of his command and take over the Enterprise herself – and our two heroes aren’t just distracted by her power-play: they’re also both attracted to her, setting up the lust-triangle of the book’s title. That part of the plot is more than faintly ridiculous, and yet Triangle is full of the break-neck action and exotic scenes that are these authors’ signature – and again, the inner qualities of heroism and individuality are the things ultimately being celebrated here:

“Why?” Kirk asked suddenly. “Why should plurality and diversity mean enmity? Even we singletons have learned friendship, love – a oneness which does not have to mean Oneness. For us, at least, Oneness means the end of the unique entity – dehumanizing, depersonalizing loss of identity. But our kind of oneness” – he gestured toward Sola and Spock – “is a celebration of individual identity, of difference. There is no love, passion, no friendship, no ultimate personal choice which does not depend on the unique, irreplaceable one. It is what we would miss in Oneness, and why we have fought against you with our lives.”

That kind of stuff may be dorky, but there’s an unapologetic grandeur to it as well – a boldness and a willingness to grapple with big ideas, all the mongrel energy of the old fanzines and decked out in new uniforms (and sporting footnotes – our writing team loved annotating their references). The small canon of Marshak and Culbreath – a short story in The New Voyages 2, The Price of the Phoenix, The Fate of the Phoenix, and these two novels – is fairly small, and much as I love these books (I re-read them all far more often than I re-read any other Star Trek fiction), I realize it couldn’t ever have been much bigger. If the cautious, corporate exponents we saw last time – lifeless things like The Abode of Life – represented one path Star Trek fiction could take as it expanded into the strange new world of successful franchise-support, The Prometheus Design and Triangle represented another path, equally untenable: from this point on, fan fiction must go back underground where it began, and Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath disappear from the Star Trek story.

But they laid the groundwork for a third way before they disappeared. In the wake of the big movie (and borne aloft by the subsequent ones), Star Trek fiction was now a vital, paying concern – it wouldn’t take long for such a venue to attract writers who not only embraced the new fictional reality of the movies but also embraced the need – the freedom – to move well beyond the hell-bent shoot-em-ups of our retiring team, however entertaining those shoot-em-ups were.

Star Trek fiction so far had known passionate amateurs and dispassionate professionals. Up next: the passionate professionals!

February 1st, 2011

Notes for a Star Trek Bibliography: The End of an Era!

All things work toward their own perfection, and unless you’re a horseshoe crab, that perfection tends to presage your doom. As true as this is for cheetahs and concert violinists, it’s also true for Star Trek fiction – specifically, the first, wild-and-woolly type of Star Trek fiction we’ve been chronicling in this series so far.

That type, as some of you will recall, was born in boozy convention rooms and lonely basements across the country even before the original series left the airwaves, written by fans so desperate to read more adventures of these characters they loved that they were willing to write those adventures themselves. And they did, in unprecedented numbers, and fanzines were born of that samizdat fervor. Random chance has almost always smiled on Star Trek (a free book to the first of you who can tell me the Star Trek quote that acknowledges this phenomenon), and here was no exception: some of those fans turned out to be talented writers, and some talented writers turned out to be fans. Actual, honest-to-gosh novels were born.

As we’ve discovered, they were of unequal quality (we haven’t done a full-length breakdown of every single one, but we will – once this series has finished drawing the big picture of Star Trek fiction up to the present, we’ll go back and gradually fill in all the books we skipped along the way, as insane and painful as that process will be). They were syrupy and sentimental. They were inconsistent (different books would hand out different fates to the same supporting characters, until it became almost a game to find out what crazy thing would happen to T’Pring or Doctor M’Benga this time). And once professional hacks learned there was a little money to be made, a great many of those earliest novels were the unthinkable: bland.

The one thing all of it had in common was simple: it was all still largely unnoticed by its nominal parent company, Paramount Pictures. Spin-off novels about a canceled series? Somebody somewhere in the vast motion picture conglomerate might have cared a bit, but the corporation sure as hell didn’t.

And the way to tell that somebody somewhere cared at least a little? Those early Star Trek novels steered further and further away from the sado-erotic excesses of the earliest fan fiction. Even with the earliest professional novels, somebody somewhere must have said ‘Kirk and Spock can’t die, or be tortured, or kill out of anger’ – even though those three things were staples of fan fiction.

So it’s only fitting that this whole era of Star Trek fiction would end not only a pair of novels that actually dare to revive almost the whole of fan fiction’s bag of naughty tricks – but a pair of novels that also beat out all the rest for sheer entertainment. This era of Star Trek fiction goes out with one hell of a bang.

Of course I’m referring to The Price of the Phoenix and The Fate of the Phoenix, by the writing team of Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath.

I’ve praised these two before, but here they come into their own for the first time: here they write the Star Trek fan fiction novels to end all Star Trek fan fiction novels.

The Price of the Phoenix came out in 1977 and is, I make no secret of it, my favorite Star Trek novel of them all (not all the novels featuring the original cast, but all the novels – this is my favorite out of 700, not 70) – a designation rendered all the more melancholy for me by the realization that this book could never be published today. Even though its every page is glowing not only with knowledge of the show (this writing team was even briefly in love with the idea of footnotes in Star Trek novels – imagine if that had caught on! They’d be running at Gibbon-esque length in the most recent books!) but with fidelity to its spirit, these books are too violent, too sexually charged, too adult to get green-lighted in today’s franchise sci-fi market. Not to mention the fact that all of those fan fiction staples feature prominently here: our logical, unemotional Mr. Spock threatens murder with savage ferocity; characters are tortured with sheer brute force; and best of all, somebody dies – Captain Kirk, no less, and he’s dead before the book opens with these crackerjack lines:

The transporter shimmered.

The two Enterprise security men materialized, took a firmer grip on the anti-grav lifts, and stepped carefully off the platform with the stretcher that bore the body of Captain James T. Kirk.

The scene is quickly filled in: Omne, an enigmatic rebel inventor, has created a ‘black hole planet’ covered in impregnable shielding, and he’s invited hundreds of ‘delegates’ to gather there in opposition to the United Federation of Planets. Omne believes the Federation honors its non-interference Prime Directive mostly in the breach, and he claims to be worried about a future of ‘wall-to-wall super empires.’ Naturally, the Federation is concerned – it sends Kirk and the Enterprise to Omne’s planet to assess the situation – and to assess Omne.

He’s a fascinating villain, Omne, and he’s the cornerstone of why this novel and its sequel work so well – only a great villain, somebody who challenges our heroes on many levels, can bring out the best in those heroes. The Star Trek novels that try to do this by the introduction of a point-of-view good guy (the infamous “Mary Sue saves the universe” gambit that we’ll have reason to discuss in a later chapter) almost always fail, because they distract our attention from the heroes who should be at the center of things.

Omne centers the attention like nobody’s business. He appears human, though he’s very tall, broad, and heavy with muscle (he’s called a “giant” many times) – but he isn’t human: his blood is blue-green, and he’s at least as strong as a Vulcan or a Romulan. And the reason we know that is because Vulcans and Romulans play a vital part in these books. The Vulcan of course is Mr. Spock. The Romulan, as Kirk and Spock discover when they arrive at Omne’s black hole planet, is the same female Romulan Commander they once encountered in the original series episode “The Enterprise Incident” and tricked out of the fledgling Romulan cloaking device.

The Romulan Commander (we never learn her public name, although she whispers her private one to Spock at one point) in that episode was played with magisterial, entirely believable authority by Joanne Linville, and her performance is so memorable that the Commander immediately became a favorite character in fan fiction and in many Star Trek novels. In The Price of the Phoenix she’s come to Omne’s world (with the three starships under her command) on a mission analogous to that of Captain Kirk: to assess Omne’s potential to disrupt the current balance of power (the book’s major logistical flaw is that the Klingon Empire would certainly also have sent a representative, yet there be no Klingons here).

Kirk and Spock don’t like the look of Omne (and they naturally dislike those impregnable planetary shields), but they figure they’ve walked into worse places and managed to walk out again. And that’s how things seem to be progressing – until in one of the alien dioramas Omne’s set up, Kirk sees a woman run into a burning house with a baby in her arms. He instinctively rushes in after her – and Spock watches as the whole building comes down on his captain. Hence the opening – Spock and Omne’s Romulan guards gather Kirk’s remains from the wreckage, and Omne allows Spock to beam back up to the Enterprise.

But it turns out Omne is playing a deadly double – even triple – game, using both a normal transporter to whisk Kirk from death a moment before the whole roof caved in (but after he was blocked from Spock’s sight) and a new kind of transporter technology to make a perfect duplicate of the captain (“we always knew we were close with the transporter process,” Omne hints, of the revelatory new process his calls the Phoenix), down to the last microbe and thought and feeling. The game Omne is playing is multi-layered – one part of it is a rather improbable attempt to split the Federation along the rift of the Prime Directive by which Starfleet is bound not to interfere with the native cultures of the planets it visits … Omne points out that it was part of that woman’s culture to seek suicide in such a manner, to which Kirk responds that the baby couldn’t have made such a choice. Omne challenges this kind of morality:

Omne spread his hands. “It’s not possible to have it both ways, Captain. Custom is custom, or it is not. Noninterference is noninterference, or it is not. Anything else is moral judgment on the basis of feeling – and the self-indulgence of imposing your gut reaction on the universe.”

Kirk straightened gravely and stood quiet. “No,” he said solemnly. “It can be – which is the reason for having a Prime Directive. But there is a logic to moral judgments, and there are judgments which have to be made. That is the reason for having men who will make them on the tough ones. Right or wrong, but make them and stand responsible. There is no sanctity to custom. The many can be as wrong as the one, and antiquity as wrong as tomorrow. The sanctity is in life – and in the freedom needed to preserve and enjoy it. Custom is the frozen form of men’s choices, not to be shattered lightly, but it does not abolish the need to choose.”

Omne was looking at him thoughtfully, one eyebrow rising. “So – you are the true antithesis,” he said. “No mere thoughtless bundle of reactions, and no apologist, but the true son of moral certainty.” He nodded as if pleased. “It was what I had wanted to learn.”

But Omne also has a darker motive, something entirely more reminiscent of the bad old days of fan fiction: he wants to use his Vulcanoid physical strength to humiliate Kirk – physically. To make him beg – not for principle or for the lives of his friends, but personally, for himself. And Kirk knows it’s possible:

Kirk had no illusions. The giant would regain sight and speed and precision in a moment. Kirk could not beat him. And the uncanny strength, the vicious imagination, could cause the Human body pain beyond its capacity to endure.

And the soul, also. Humiliation. A sickness of soul which could be felt through the body.

At some point he would beg abjectly, and for himself.

No illusions. Tough universe. It could be done to a man, any man. He had always known it could be done to him. He had been very lucky.

For this humiliation and much more, Spock surrenders to the rage that’s welling up against his peaceful Vulcan training, and the novel climaxes in a long and brutal fight between him and Omne, a fight that ends with Omne risking everything – risking that his own pre-set Phoenix machinery will work to duplicate himself – by killing himself. When he returns and confronts his adversaries – Kirk, Spock, the Romulan Commander, the duplicate Kirk, and Dr. McCoy in the Enterprise‘s Sick Bay, he finally realizes that these heroes will sacrifice almost anything to prevent his miracle from becoming an evil let loose on the galaxy:

Each of them had lived for a long time on the final frontier of death, and still dared to love. It had been necessary. It was the nature of the universe, and what man, what all intelligent life had had to live with, always. And it had always been unendurable, and endured.

But now it was not the nature of the universe.

She undertook to speak for all. “We would give anything for it – except what we are.”

“So say you all?” Omne said, and his eyes were darkly impressed as he felt the weight of common assent like a solid unity among them. Even McCoy lifted his head and met the black eyes with a searing look of loathing and icy, bleak pride – he who fought death on his own ground  and too often lost, and would fight again.

Omne nodded. “So you will not, after all, quite sell soul, flag, fortune, and sacred honor?”

“We will not sell what makes love possible,” the Commander said.

“But that is the price of the Phoenix,” Omne said.

The book is rip-snortingly fast-paced (the whole of the main action hardly takes longer than a day), but it’s raw and avid with emotion – it’s take-no-prisoners fan fiction in which both Kirk and Spock get roughed up well beyond what later fiction would countenance. This of course is the allure of fan fiction: you can’t be certain at any point what will and won’t happen. The Price of the Phoenix ends with a cliffhanger, and the following year Marshak and Culbreath brought out the sequel, The Fate of the Phoenix, again starring Kirk, Spock, the Romulan Commander, and the duplicate Kirk (now called James and surgically altered to pass as a Romulan and live with the Commander in the Romulan Empire, rather than have the presence of two Kirks in the Federation reveal the existence of the Phoenix process), all again pitted not only against Omne but also against a Phoenix-generated duplicate of Omne – wearing a copy of Mr. Spock’s body.

The Fate of the Phoenix is a longer novel by a third than its predecessor  – and in every way it’s also a bigger novel, grander in scope, wilder in action, more sweeping in its moral and philosophical debates. Those debates once again center on the ethics behind the Prime Directive, but such a description shouldn’t lead you to imagine this is a book lost in intellectual maneuvering – like the first volume, The Fate of the Phoenix is first and foremost a character-driven action-yarn in the classic Star Trek tradition – space opera with brains. Omne’s Spock-double (here called the Other, if only for simplicity’s sake) has his own agenda – and a biological dead-man’s switch, a time bomb lodged in his Phoenix-generated body that will kill him if he can’t coerce the original Omne to counter it. The Commander is facing the threat of blood vengeance from a headstrong planetary princess in her own Empire, and the Federation is facing secession by a gigantic consortium of worlds who might like to ally themselves with the Romulans, or Omne … and who would certainly rip apart the galaxy to possess the Phoenix device, if they knew it existed. Add some great action sequences, some nifty quotes, a curiously believable mountain-climbing scene, and some prehistoric monsters, and you still have only a fraction of what’s going on in this fat, satisfying sequel.

The Price of the Phoenix and The Fate of the Phoenix sold very well, but more importantly, they were very much loved by Star Trek fans eager for the novels they were reading to more faithfully mirror the show they loved. Both books have been reprinted several times with an array of different cover illustrations – including one for The Fate of the Phoenix that features Kirk kneeling before a shadowy figure we only see from the rear and must assume is Omne – reflecting the fact that in the entire course of both books, Culbreath and Marshak never once explicitly tell us what color Omne’s skin is – he’s called Black Omne, but that’s easily interpreted as a reflection of his malevolence only, and sometimes our authors will refer to his ‘heathen idol face’ – but again, the truly telling specifics simply aren’t included.

In the interval between The Price of the Phoenix and its sequel, our two authors came out with yet another sequel: Star Trek the New Voyages 2, the sequel to their first volume of fan-generated short stories.  There’s the usual mix of quality in the second volume, but the whole thing is bracketed by two short stories by Culbreath and Marshak themselves – the first story in the collection, “Surprise!” a somewhat fluffy little lark about an alien gremlin playing pranks on the Enterprise, and the final story in the book, the horrendously titled “The Procrustean Petard,” in which Kirk and crew are abducted by inscrutable alien technology – and have their genders reversed on a genetic level. In the story’s brief interval during which they wonder if they’ll have to spend the rest of their lives that way, the characters do some fun and surprisingly knowing introspection about the deeper roles gender has played in their lives without them realizing it. The moment in the story where the now-voluptuous Kirk is nearly raped by a Klingon is not only classic Star Trek thought-provoking but classic fanzine erotic overkill. It and the Phoenix volumes couldn’t help but remind long-time fans of some of the truly atrocious fan-generated fiction they’d read in messy dot-matrix printings over the years – and given the popularity of Culbreath and Marshak’s books, those fans might have been forgiven for thinking that in addition to the more sanitized ‘mainstream’ volumes being published regularly, there’d always be a place for this rougher, more suggestive, and entirely more entertaining branch of the genre.

Those fans were wrong, however. Something was about to happen to the world of Star Trek fiction – something so vast and all-pervasive that not the most optimistic fan in the entire world could have seen it coming. After ten long years of cult status and endless syndicated reruns, Star Trek was about to become a billion-dollar world-wide juggernaut. Star Trek: The Motion Picture came to theaters in 1979, and the world of Star Trek fiction would never be the same again.

October 2nd, 2010

Notes for a Star Trek Bibliography: The First Ladies of Fandom!

forgive me - I couldn't resist

As we’ve noticed occasionally in our bibliographical notes, there are two kinds of Star Trek fiction. There’s the kind where the outward garments of Star Trek – a captain named Kirk, a ship called Enterprise, etc. – are simply and crudely draped over a pre-existing science fiction hobbyhorse. And there’s the kind where the essence of Star Trek comes first and finds the stories it wants to tell. In a very real sense, this division is established during the original three seasons of the TV show itself – some of those episodes (a great many of them, to be honest) are pure sci-fi potboilers into which elements of Gene Roddenberry’s creation are inserted with greater or lesser degrees of success, and some of them (the best of them, with one or two exceptions) are pure Trek, operating on its own principles.

As with the show, so too with the fiction. On the one hand, we have James Blish’s dutiful script adaptations – sometimes heartfelt, yes, but most often mechanical yarns churned out on deadline, featuring wandering terminology and interchangeable characters. And on the other hand, there were all those fanzines, evangelical, written by fans, for fans.

The script adaptations were financially successful beyond anybody’s wildest dreams, and they weren’t the only sign that something unprecedented was going on in the wake of Star Trek‘s cancellation. Conventions were springing up all over the country, informally organized, fueled by enthusiasm and beer, swarmed by fans who came out of the woodwork to meet other people infected with a love of this particular show. That might sound routine these days, but it was Star Trek that created that mindframe and set it in motion.

So then: a confluence of passion and profit, generated by a TV show that was no longer on the air. Inevitably, books. And with books, the haploid nature of Star Trek fiction, blossoming to manuscript length. 1976 was the scene.

In that year, the first official exponents of each strain of Star Trek fiction appeared almost simultaneously: a novel called Spock, Messiah! (by Theodore Cogswell and Charles Spano), and a story anthology called Star Trek: The New Voyages (edited by Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath).

Spock, Messiah gives away its nature in its very attribution. Spano was a new writer, a diehard fan of the show who knew his kevas from his trillium – and Bantam Books, acting at the behest of Paramount, partnered him with Cogswell, an old, practiced hand at sci-fi potboilers. And the result is … a sci-fi potboiler in which the newcomer has been allowed to interject some weird, show-specific details. Our crew is monitoring the explosive situation on the planet Kryos when a subverted Vulcan mind-meld traps Mr. Spock in the sway of a religious zealot intent on inflaming the entire planet to war. Kirk and company must somehow save Spock and restore order without violating the Prime Directive that forbids Starfleet officers from interfering in the normal development of pre-spaceflight civilizations. Thanks to Cogswell, gigantic swaths of pages are devoted to scene-setting and Amazing Fantasy-style descriptions of the people and society of Kryos. When our characters do traipse onstage, they hardly ever sound or act like themselves, as in the quick dressing-down Captain Kirk gives poor Ensign Chekhov for breaking character around the natives:

“I wasn’t talking about that,” Kirk snapped. “You’re Beshwa, you idiot! You’re never supposed to have handled a sword in your entire life. If you don’t act as if you don’t know one end of a sword from the other when you get out there, you’re going to blow our cover. On the other hand, if you kill Greth, we won’t be in any better shape. Either way, we’ll be dead by morning. Well, we’ve got a couple of hours yet. Maybe we can think of something. Bones, you’d better get to work on the wounded.”

For those of us who bought a copy of Spock, Messiah the instant we saw it (for the pause-inducing price of $1.75), the book represented a classic win-lose scenario. It was original Star Trek fiction, at least technically – the first since Spock Must Die, a new adventure in which there was no pre-memorized dialogue. But it was all so, well, dull. By the numbers. Impersonal. Without knowing it or meaning to, this novel set the template for an endless torrent of Star Trek novels to come – and if it was the only such novel you read in 1976, you might have had cause for a bit of depression.

But there was another Star Trek book published that year, and to put it mildly, it wasn’t impersonal.

Star Trek: The New Voyages was born of those earliest conventions, and it owes its genesis to the first ladies of fandom, the girls who were geeks before the word existed, who banded together initially to save the show from cancellation and then stayed banded together to keep its memory alive. It’s easy to see the appeal for these particular fans: not only did Star Trek feature dozens of incredibly memorable female guest-characters – a forlornly brave ice age exile (“a very inventive mind, that man”), a fiercely independent blind diplomat (“I could play tennis with you, Captain Kirk – I might even beat you”), an imperious, calculating Vulcan princess (“And as the years went by, I came to know that I did not want to be the consort of a legend”), and perhaps most incredibly of all, a Romulan woman in command of her own starship (“We can appreciate the Vulcans, our distant brothers”) – but its central cast had three refreshingly realized female characters: Yeoman Janice Rand, who could be feisty and sardonic when the occasion demanded, Nurse Christine Chapel, in whom tenderness and professionalism never clashed, and most of all Lieutenant Uhura, mainstay of the bridge crew itself, voice of the Enterprise and voice of common sense to her male comrades. For the first time, young women could look at a science fiction world and feel invited instead of excluded.

They took to it with a passion. Most of those primitive fanzines we’ve already discussed were the brain-children of women, who did all the typing, all the proofreading, all the story-solicitation, all the tedious mailing – and most of the best writing. Most of those earliest conventions were organized by women. The two mega-selling nonfiction (hence, outside our purview) books about Star TrekThe World of Star Trek and especially Star Trek Lives – were mostly written by women, about women.

These first ladies of fandom are the ones who first realized the potential in all those Star Trek stories written by countless fans who could expect no possibility of publication. That potential was brought to the attention of Fred Pohl at Bantam, and he pounced on it, using his bottomless charm (and the seemingly limitless number of connections he had, everywhere) to get an actual book authorized. Suddenly, these first ladies had a shot at creating some new legends of their own.

The result was Star Trek: The New Voyages, and it was mainly the prodigy of two of that first generation of fans: Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath. Their infectious enthusiasm got the project off the ground and helped it soar – and unlike in a production such as Spock, Messiah, that enthusiasm is palpable on every page of this anthology (in which, in yet another industry first inaugurated by Star Trek, there are no stories by men). Here there is no question of precedent: these are stories that grew entirely out of love for the show and its characters. So the characters are in character, from first to last – the passions, the wisecracks, the ethical dilemmas … everything reads as if these, too, were novelizations of broadcast episodes, as though this were a companion volume to the fourth season original fans never got.

Virtually all the first ladies are represented here. There’s Claire Gabriel (in “Ni Var” Spock is genetically separated into two beings – one human, one Vulcan, both Spock), Juanita Coulson (in “Intersection Point” the Enterprise crashes into something that isn’t there), Ruth Berman (in “Visit to a Weird Planet Revisited,” William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, and DeForest Kelley find themselves accidentally beamed onto the real Enterprise during a crisis – the companion and continuation of the fanzine story “Visit to a Weird Planet”), and in the best story of the collection, Shirley Maiewski (in “Mind-Sifter,” a memory-shattered Kirk is stranded in a 20th century mental hospital) – and many others.

Although they will later be quite prolific, Marshak and Culbreath give us no story of their own in this first anthology – although their prose is all over it in other guises. Paramount requested that each of the stars of the original series pen a short introduction to one of the stories in the collection, and, well, several of these introductions sound quite a bit like our editors, writing in their telltale breathlessly, charmingly hyperbolic diction. And there’s their introduction, a short piece of prose in which the clean breath of vindication moves like a wind through the barley:

Here are not merely bold knights and fair damsels, but flesh-and-blood men and women of courage and achievement, knowing the value of love, and of laughter. They know also tears and terrors, doubts and divisions, frailties and fears, yet they do not bemoan their fate, and they do not merely endure; they prevail.

If Camelot and Man of La Mancha are legends of glorious quests for the unattainable, and Star Trek is our new dream, the possible dream – to reach for the reachable stars.

No, we have not forgotten Camelot.

But if this be our new Camelot, even more shining – make the most of it.

Spock, Messiah racked up decent sales numbers – fans clearly did their duty and bought it – but Star Trek: The New Voyages was a meteor: fans bought two or three copies apiece, passed them around, read them until they were falling apart, underlined, annotated, cross-referenced. This was the first true taste of Star Trek fiction – the first real taste of Star Trek itself since the show went off the air. A calm retrospective now can hardly convey the water-in-the-desert perfect satisfaction it produced – long before there was firm talk of a new movie, these women had been tending the flame and writing the further adventures, and this book stands as a monument to their dedication. A geeky monument, but a monument all the same.