Mary Sue Gives Birth

Mar 21, 16:12 by John Frost
Have you written Star Trek Fan Fiction? Do you read it? Do you see the influences? What are your thoughts?
Mar 21, 17:39 by Tracy Bovee
Have you written Star Trek Fan Fiction? Do you read it? Do you see the influences? What are your thoughts?


I've both written and read, at least the former of which the author of our article can attest to ... and I will gladly affirm that I believe he's got the point down.

Much of what David wrote describes what you see in any number of fan-fic pieces; as I was reading the article, I could not help but think of any number of items discussed in the fanfic publication Star Trek Lives! (by Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Sondra Marshak and Joan Winston). Interestingly, for those who don't know the book that trio included a section dealing rather thoroughly with early fanfic creations (including Morrow Akal Damion), and one can clearly see the parallels carrying over. Even the fangirl note is visited in Winston's enjoyable account of her time on the set of Star Trek during shooting of the final episode - "The Turnabout Intruder."

But I note with interest that insider sources I have access to say that the Trek franchise is perhaps in a crisis period which may see it die on the short-term, much as it had back in the Sixties. There are a couple of reasons for this.

First, no new movies anywhere on the horizon (Patrick Stewart, for one, has taken pains to separate himself from Trek, and has currently ruled out any reappearance of his character to the intense disappointment of many).

Second and more importantly, the current franchise entry, Enterprise, is suffering from poor ratings that have caused it to be moved off it's 8pm primetime slot, and UPN is reported as wanting the series cancelled. Many attribute this suffering of the franchise to the current lack of fan input on the story side; if you look at storylines used in current series, there are a great many parallels to previous. There seems to be a marked lack of energy on the part of Trek's current producers to head off this issue by re-involving the fandom which in so many ways resurrected Trek with the movies and TNG.

It's an interesting dichotomy, if you think about it.

On one hand, David's point is a very good one that some elements of fanfic have resulted in a prevalent characterization in Trek that is at best euphemistically viewed and at worst openly scorned. How many remember the iNet Newsgroup "alt.wesley.die.die.die"? And some of the fanfic developed along those lines was truly horrendous.

And yet perhaps the fact that this sort of input - that of popular fandom - has apparently been totally bypassed is resulting in harm to the franchise. One cannot argue there is a remarkable lack of freshness in current Trek story- and plot-lines.

So ... might the seeds of Trek's health be in the destruction of its current form, to be resurrected again as it eventually was by this same fan influence?

Perhaps so.

Just a little something to think about ...
Mar 21, 20:05 by David Gardner
There seems to be a marked lack of energy on the part of Trek's current producers to head off this issue by re-involving the fandom which in so many ways resurrected Trek with the movies and TNG.

Interesting point. I somewhat, but not totally disagree, but I think our disagreement hinges on what exactly is "fandom."

The producers are responding to some sub-set of fandom that is particularly prolific. If you look at the rec.arts.startrek groups that feature fanfic, every once in a while you'll see a recurring post that instructs posters on how to code their headers so that readers will know what stories they want to read. The posting codes all define who within the story is in a relationship with whom. There is a term for the folks who fancy this type of fanfic, somewhat as demeaning as the term Mary Sue was originally: shippers, people who read for the (often sexual) relationships, frequently to the exclusion of a conflict-generated plot.

So, when we have T'Pol and Trip having sex, the producers are responding to what the shippers want to see. (Ditto re: Riker and Trois rekindling of their romance in Insurrection and subsequent marriage in Nemesis.) Don't get me wrong (and excuse me for being the man I am, ladies), I have no issue with seeing the lovely T'Pol scantily clad. At the same time, though, I'd like to see an intriguing, compelling story to back that up, and generally Enterprise is lacking in that area, as was Voyager, as was Nemesis.

So the questions are: 1) are the shippers and other fandom writing groups (are their others? shippers are all I see referenced at this point) an extremely vocal minority of fandom, or do they truly represent fandom's interests, and 2) is there another group (fandom would call them mundanes) who would be interested in watching Trek that moved in another direction?

David
Mar 21, 21:03 by John Frost
I've both written and read, at least the former of which the author of our article can attest to ... and I will gladly affirm that I believe he's got the point down.


Wow, that's always good to hear.

As for the health of Trek as a whole, I can't help but think the franchise is simply out of steam. Even though they have introduced the 'ark' concept, the whole Enterprise series just doesn't seem to have any oomph.

Whether that is the result of diminished fan input, or the some cabal of fans dominating the input I certainly couldn't say, but it's an interesting question.
Mar 22, 09:21 by David Gardner
As for the health of Trek as a whole, I can't help but think the franchise is simply out of steam.

I think there's a lot to be said for this. Berman alone has been with the franchise since the TNG pilot (that's 15+ years), and the bulk of the upper level production staff also has a long history, slowly moving up the production ladder. While it's laudable that they want to promote from within, I think that the only hope for the franchise is an infusion of new blood. They need an outside point of view.
Mar 22, 10:08 by Tracy Bovee
Gonna try to get this comprehensively ...

Interesting point. I somewhat, but not totally disagree, but I think our disagreement hinges on what exactly is "fandom."

The producers are responding to some sub-set of fandom that is particularly prolific. If you look at the rec.arts.startrek groups that feature fanfic, every once in a while you'll see a recurring post that instructs posters on how to code their headers so that readers will know what stories they want to read. The posting codes all define who within the story is in a relationship with whom. There is a term for the folks who fancy this type of fanfic, somewhat as demeaning as the term Mary Sue was originally: shippers, people who read for the (often sexual) relationships, frequently to the exclusion of a conflict-generated plot.


A fair baseline. It has actually been some years since I frequented r.a.s-t., but no so very long that I don't recall some of the fiction that generated out of there. (I even kept some of it in order to get a better take on some of the stories that I found interesting.) Consequently, I'm not surprised that time has seen changes - including tagging for particular types.

So, when we have T'Pol and Trip having sex, the producers are responding to what the shippers want to see. (Ditto re: Riker and Trois rekindling of their romance in Insurrection and subsequent marriage in Nemesis.) Don't get me wrong (and excuse me for being the man I am, ladies), I have no issue with seeing the lovely T'Pol scantily clad. At the same time, though, I'd like to see an intriguing, compelling story to back that up, and generally Enterprise is lacking in that area, as was Voyager, as was Nemesis.

So the questions are: 1) are the shippers and other fandom writing groups (are their others? shippers are all I see referenced at this point) an extremely vocal minority of fandom, or do they truly represent fandom's interests, and 2) is there another group (fandom would call them mundanes) who would be interested in watching Trek that moved in another direction?


I think I find myself not quite so pessimistic on the topic. Let's be frank - we know that sex sells, in this day and age, and it doesn't even take the pandering of a particular type of fan to bring the problem into focus in series that we like.

Consider the fate of the Babylon 5: Crusade (and the BabFive universe in general) as point in case. The specific reason Crusade died was because of a spiral consisting of TNT (the producing network) wanting to "speed" things up that way and rendering particular changes to the story/plot/environment of the show toward that end, and J.M. Straczynski being unwilling to allow his work to devolve in such a manner. All that was despite an excellent reputation for plot and characterization painstakingly carved out over a five-year story arc that was extremely popular among its fanbase - a fan base, I might add, that was just as intolerant as J.M.S. of such meddlings for the sake of such so-called 'popular' content.

I think that Trek - starting in TNG and progressing onward - always suffered from an undue burden of producers pandering to a lowest-common-denominator content for the sake of popularity and ratings. So while it's undeniable that a certain ratio of fandom does indeed specifically dwell such issues, knowing the networks' proclivities I cannot agree that it's the driving focus behind the inclusion of these themes.

Bottom line, I think that theme was accepted as par for the course for modern programming, the result of no particular influence by one group or another - just as was attempted with the BabFive franchise, to its detriment and eventual loss. Has it been detrimental to the show? No doubt ... but I would caveat that I don't think it's ultimately responsible.

So just where is the focus of trouble in Trek? I think we get into that in the next part.

As for the health of Trek as a whole, I can't help but think the franchise is simply out of steam.

I think there's a lot to be said for this. Berman alone has been with the franchise since the TNG pilot (that's 15+ years), and the bulk of the upper level production staff also has a long history, slowly moving up the production ladder. While it's laudable that they want to promote from within, I think that the only hope for the franchise is an infusion of new blood. They need an outside point of view.


I think you're more toward the heart of the problem, here, than on focusing on the "Mary Sue" issue. As I mentioned in speaking with you last night and as you touch on here, Rick Berman (and his associate, Brannon Braga) has been with the show since TNG's inception, and has maintained an almost iron control of all Trek programming since then. I think people take a close look at that and the now-common reoccurance of themes which have been seen over and over again (for instance, one insider friend pointed out to me where a recent new episode of Enterprise was a virtually identical repeat of a TNG episode). IMO, that's an extremely telling point.

So, when you go on to say that the franchise perhaps needs "an infusion of new blood" and/or "an outside point of view" to survive, I certainly find myself agreeing on that point. It simply becomes a question of where you get that from; and is there any better base for it than fandom?

At any rate, whether for good or ill, Trek will remain tied to fandom. And if there is to be any popularity to that survival, it certainly will not be at the hands of those favoring the wilder aspects and themes from the fan culture. So much I think we can bank on.

TMB! 8-)
Mar 22, 11:28 by David Gardner
"So, when we have T'Pol and Trip having sex, the producers are responding to what the shippers want to see. (Ditto re: Riker and Trois rekindling of their romance in Insurrection and subsequent marriage in Nemesis.)

...

I think I find myself not quite so pessimistic on the topic. Let's be frank - we know that sex sells, in this day and age, and it doesn't even take the pandering of a particular type of fan to bring the problem into focus in series that we like.


Agreed re: "sex sells," but consider the crucial difference. In TOS, Kirk had sex with anything remotely female...but Janice Rand, and the other members of his crew were considered off-limits by him. Indeed, in Dagger of the Mind he has to be "convinced" that he would have allowed a phsyical relationship with Dr. Helen Noel. In fanfic, however, the relationships are within the crew. One popular series (the name escapes me) features the evolving professional, physical and emotional relationship between Kirk and Uhura. Slash, of course, is about sex between two or more crew members.

Point is, the T'Pol/Trip thing, as well as the Riker/Troi thing, has more of an impetus from fanfic than from TOS, and therefore is responding to that fandom.

I think that Trek - starting in TNG and progressing onward - always suffered from an undue burden of producers pandering to a lowest-common-denominator content for the sake of popularity and ratings. So while it's undeniable that a certain ratio of fandom does indeed specifically dwell such issues, knowing the networks' proclivities I cannot agree that it's the driving focus behind the inclusion of these themes.

I think it's dangerous to buy into the "networks are run by stupid slobs" party line. It's easy to point out their failures, and they certainly exist, but just as often they're simply acting in a way that supports good business sense. As a rep for the Sci-Fi channel said, on receiving petitions to keep Farscape on the air, "If half the people who signed this were actually watching the show, we wouldn't be canceling it."

As for the producers, while I agree with your point, it can be applied equally well to Roddenberry himself. As time progressed, Roddenberry became very jealous of having "created" Trek, and very stingy in acknowledging the contributions of others. By the time of TNG, he was exerting a control that was stultifying to the creative endeavour (and I doubt many would argue that the first season of TNG was disappointing). For all that Berman was on board with TNG in the first year, he was a line producer at that point, and it was GR himself, failing health notwithstanding, who was in charge. He set a tone for the show, bathed it in a view of the universe, and Berman and those who came after have simply followed that view unquestioningly. What would help this show would be a person who had the courage to walk in and say "Everything you know is wrong."

So, when you go on to say that the franchise perhaps needs "an infusion of new blood" and/or "an outside point of view" to survive, I certainly find myself agreeing on that point. It simply becomes a question of where you get that from; and is there any better base for it than fandom?

There was a period when Berman and Michael Piller had essentially equal status in the Trekiverse. I'd like to see a return to that model, with Berman representing fandom, and somebody who had never even read a word of science fiction, or watched an episode in any incarnation of Trek, in the complimentary role.

At any rate, whether for good or ill, Trek will remain tied to fandom. And if there is to be any popularity to that survival, it certainly will not be at the hands of those favoring the wilder aspects and themes from the fan culture.

I'm not certain that they're the wilder themes, but I think they are tied to the most prolific elements of fandom, and the audience as a whole appears to have little interest in them.
Mar 23, 15:03 by Allan Rosewarne
I may have more comments later. Another question, would it be possible to provide a lind to David Gardner's other magazine, mentioned in his bio, "The Fractal".
Mar 23, 17:04 by David Gardner
I may have more comments later. Another question, would it be possible to provide a lind to David Gardner's other magazine, mentioned in his bio, "The Fractal".

If only it was still around <g>. I quit running The Fractal c. 1994, but I was still helping the staff through c. 1997. Sometime after that, it died in its sleep.

David
Aug 8, 04:49 by A.R. Yngve
Question: If input by the fans is so crucial to the success of a sci-fi TV series -- why not let the fans write the whole darn thing?

We already have "Reality TV", which saves up on scriptwriters and actors -- heck, why not discard writers and actors/actresses altogether?

So look forward to the next series, "FAN TREK," in which average Trekkies write, act and direct episodes. It's going to be a smash hit!

Or maybe not.

-A.R.Yngve
Aug 8, 08:48 by Bluejack
I don't know about acting and directing, but the writing could be an interesting gimmick. I know you're joking but, it could still be an interesting experiment, particularly if some effort were made to give amateur writers the information necessary to writing a functional script. I am sure there would still be an enormous task of actually sifting the good out of the bad, and my hunch is that after a while the selection process would identify a handful of competant writers.

Other problems would include keeping continuity across episodes -- presumably any kind of story arc would be right out. And when you have script writiers on (or near) the set, you can make appropriate changes when something doesn't work.
Aug 8, 11:30 by Abizer Nasir
Can you imagine it?

Something like "Trek Idol". Fans get one minute to pitch their script ideas to a three member panel of Brannon Braga (The nasty one that everyone will love to hate) Rick Berman (hard headed and business like) and Jennifer Lien (Kes from Voyager - as the nice, encouraging one)

Sure, there would be some talent in there, but to balance it out you'd have the wierdo's turning up in uniform (not that there's anything wrong in wearing a uniform) and performing their pieces in character. The Ones on Edge with stories merging the Star Trek and Star Wars universes. Can't you just see the manic gleam in their eyes...?

Can't be any worse than television at the moment.
Aug 8, 12:40 by Bluejack
Trek Idol! Man, I think you've struck gold!
Oct 17, 11:29 by C. Elliot
David,

Glad to see an old Fractal editor still kicking in the SF world. Nice article.

Chris (The Fractal, non-fiction editor circa 1996 or so, if memory serves).
   

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