Liz and Anika go back to the ‘70s and discuss a write-up of a panel on feminism in Treklit. “Treklit?” you ask. We young’uns call it fan fiction these days.
You can read the full write-up on Fanlore.
Topics covered include:
- Changes in the way we talk about fic
- Reminiscences about mailing lists
- How fic reflects the time it’s written
- Early fandom racism
- Anti-feminism in fic
- The thorny question of content curation, warnings, ratings and acceptable content in fic
- Fic as a valid subject for critical analysis
- Liz makes a confession about her sockpuppet past
- “Again, I don’t wanna be an anti…”
- A brief digression into X-Men, Anika’s Mary Sue marriage to Sarek, and WandaVision
- “Are women people?” (Related: How do you write a good female character? We are still having these discussions?)
- Is it possible to have … too much feminism?!
- “At least a third of Trekfen are male.” Why is fic dominated by women? The ladies of the ’70s had some theories…
Please note there’s a discussion about incest in fic around the 31 minute mark.
Anika: Welcome to Antimatter Pod, a Star Trek podcast where we discuss fashion, feminism, subtext and subspace, hosted by Anika and Liz. This week, we’re taking a trip back to 1977 to discuss a write up of a panel on ‘feminism in Treklit’.
Liz: And I pushed for this one because I promised us [an episode about] zines, and I had misremembered where the zine archive was. And then I stumbled across this essay, and it was so interesting and wild, and I figured we could probably get some discussion out of it.
Anika: Absolutely. I just want to start by saying that ‘Treklit’ is the cutest little word ever.
Liz: I know!
Anika: ‘Treklit’. I love it so much.
Liz: And there’s no, “Oh, no, we mustn’t call it literature. It’s just fan fiction” about it. Because there were no tie-in novels back then, there were just a handful of novelizations and so forth. So go for it, ladies!
Anika: Really bad ones, too.
Liz: Yeah, yeah.
Anika: I’ve read those. They’re bad.
Liz: The panelists in this discussion were Sharon Ferraro, who was a zine publisher, fic writer and con organizer, and Jean Lorrah, a fic writer, novelist and editor, who would go on to write tie-in fiction, including The Vulcan Academy Murders and the TNG novel Survivors, which we discussed in our tie-in fiction episode. And this panel took place at SekwesterCon in 1976. It was tape-recorded by one fan and written up by the [convention] organizers for a zine.
Anika: Which is also adorable.
Liz: I know! And it sounds like just the whole room got into it. And it was so interesting! I can only imagine the drama if this panel was held today, because they sit down and start calling out authors and fics by name and title. And one of the authors stands up and argues back. And it’s just wildly interesting, and a snapshot of fandom, and fic writing fandom, at the time.
Anika: Amazing. You put that note, you know, “Can you imagine if this panel was held today,” and I was thinking about it, I was like, it sort of is, but it’s in social media and in comments.
Anika: But like, even there, there’s not really so much of a — there’s a lot of discourse, you know how we use that word now, “discourse”, sort of to mean something completely different than what it actually means.
But if there’s that there’s still sort of this, etiquette to it, I would say. If someone leaves you a nasty comment on a fic and you didn’t ask for it, everybody will come in and say, “That was inappropriate, you shouldn’t have done that.”
And even online, if you’re going to say, “Oh, I’ve just read this horrible Star Trek fan fiction, it was so bad and so ridiculous,” like you don’t use the names and you don’t link to it. You protect the anonymity of the person. And so it’s sort of like, yeah, even even though we can still be just as vicious and just as critical, there is sort of this accepted way of doing things.
Anika: That this discussion sort of flies in the face of, which is interesting, it’s like, huh, you know, they can you can go both ways on that. That has pros and cons.
Liz: Yeah, there was a discussion on Twitter a few weeks ago about racism in fandom and on AO3. One person cited a very specific Michael/Lorca slavery AU, and I knew exactly which fic she was talking about. And I have shared her opinion, and that fic is vile, and I hate it. And I hate that it’s on AO3 and there’s no way to block it when I search for Lorca fic.
But no one was linking to it. No one was saying this to the author’s face. Apparently people have tried to go, “This is a very bad idea for a fic,” and she’s just like, “LOL, whatevs!”
We are critical. But there’s also just too many people in fandom to get all of us in a room or on one mailing list to be part of this discussion.
Anika: It’s so interesting that you mention mailing lists, because I was there for the mailing list, um, Trek stuff. And I do remember, you know, there was a lot of — I guess it was like camps, you know, people who would be on one side or the other of a discussion. And that could get pretty intense sometimes. I don’t have any — it was sort of the end of it when I was involved, so I feel like I witnessed the move from email list to online, I don’t know–
Anika: Yeah, like blogs and all, your own space, I guess.
Anika: As opposed to — we would like email each other our fan fictions, and they wouldn’t go anywhere else, it would just be on this email list, and the copy of the email list that was in Yahoogroups, or whatever.
Liz: And if you were, for example, part of a Janeway/Chakotay group, you weren’t necessarily with your friends or people you knew. Certainly for me, my first mailing group was JetC22, and I just signed up and was allocated to this particular group. And there were some people there that I liked very much, and there were some people there that I really, really disliked. And–
Liz: –from there that gave me a foundation to go to the people I did like, “Hey, let’s start our own group with hookers and booze.”
Anika: Right. It’s amazing and crazy to think, “Oh, we could just all have a conversation in one room and discuss it all.” And that was cool.
Liz: I’m sort of glad that we don’t have to go back to those days, but at the same time, like, I like to think that these ladies would look at my fic and go, “Oh, yeah, she’s totally feminist by the standards of 1976.”
Because the essay starts off, “Feminism in much of Treklit can be regarded as non-existent, particularly in GRUP type stories.” And GRUP was an adult content zine which took its name from the slang for grown ups in the TOS episode “Miri. And I’m like, I can’t think of a worse thing to name your smut zine.
Anika: I know! That’s so, so bad. I’m turned off immediately, but that’s just me here in 2021.
Liz: Right. And it’s interesting that they’re complaining here that the smut fic was very much generic, which I think is still a complaint these days. Sometimes you read a fic and you’re like, “I don’t think that really taught me anything new about the characters, I have no insight into how this author feels about them, save that she’s sort of mashing her action figures together.” Which is not a bad thing, but it’s not what I enjoy in fic
Anika: Right, it’s definitely not what I enjoy in fic. I think that my interests are very well known at this point, and it’s pretty much never sex.
Anika: So. Oh, well!
Liz: It goes on to say, “Some stories are anti-feminist in that women are segregated out of them. Action is all concerned with the male characters. And the implication is that women are not liable to participate in such matters.” I like to think that fandom has moved on.
Anika: Yes. Yes, fandom has moved on, but has society?
Liz: Well, no. I think what’s notable here is that they’re not specifically talking about slash fic, they’re probably talking about, I guess what in The X-Files fandom was called case files or casefics, where it’s basically, “I’m writing a Star Trek episode, but in prose format.” And they’re sort of reflecting The Original Series in that it is very dudely.
Anika: Yeah, absolutely.
Liz: You know, we say, “Oh, fandom is so subversive, fic is about reclaiming the narrative.” But honestly, some people write fic because they like the narrative and they want more of it. And there’s nothing inherently wrong with that, but if you’re not applying a critical eye to your source then maybe you’re reproducing its problems.
Anika: Hmm, it’s interesting. I mean, I just said I, I have very specific likes and dislikes. And there’s a lot of stuff like — casefic, I don’t really need, because I can watch the show for that. But curtain fic, which is, like —
Liz: The domestic…
Anika: — the characters just, like washing the dishes or arguing about Netflix, like that. I eat it up. That’s my favorite thing. There’s no saving the world, there’s just, “We saved the world, and now we’re going home to relax and, and decompress–“
Anika: “– and do whatever we want to do.” Like, those are the fics that I like.
Liz: And “what happens after you save the world?” is a good story.
Anika: It’s not subversive, but it is something that’s not in the fiction as it stands.
Liz: I think it is subversive in a small way, because you’re adding the domesticity which has been excluded from the primary narrative, and in doing so, highlighting that it, too, has value.
Anika: It definitely has value.
Liz: I really like casefic that’s character-driven, that’s about the people. And I used to have that itch scratched by tie-in fiction, and it doesn’t so much anymore — Una McCormack, thank God, she exists. But, yeah, it’s not really something we see so much now that tie-in fiction exists.
And also, I think there’s a stronger impetus to file serial numbers off and turn a fic into an original work. And if you’re going into all the effort of writing a plot anyway, just throw in that little bit more effort and make it original. I feel like there’s less need for casefic.
Anika: Yeah, I agree. But I don’t search it out, so maybe it’s there, and I just don’t read it.
Liz: Yeah, possibly. I have this idea for a Lorca/Cornwell casefic, where they’re in their thirties, and they have to go undercover as a married couple on, like, a human settlement that’s outside of the Federation. And the reason I haven’t started writing it is that I’m like, well, it’s not very shippy, so where’s where’s the hook?
Anika: “Right. So why am I doing it?”
Anika: I get that.
Liz: The essay goes on, “Other fics concern women, but in a very negative light,” and they go on to discuss two fics in particular. One has the rather spectacular title of “Murder, Rape and Other Unsocial Acts”. And it’s — I looked it up, it has a Fanlore page of its own. — it’s about a Klingon family, and there’s a lot of comedy rape because it’s the ’70s. And … yeah, it seems like something that would not really fly these days, and obviously, it was subject to criticism at the time.
And the other fic is titled “An Abortive Attempt”, in which a human gynecologist is effectively extradited to Vulcan to face charges for performing an abortion on a Vulcan woman.
Liz: This is such a specifically 1970s concept. And I have to disagree that this is not a feminist story. This, to me, is a wildly feminist story. Just because something bad happens to a woman — I’m guessing that this — I couldn’t find it online, but I’m assuming that this is not actually pro-life propaganda, and therefore it is a feminist story, defending choice. I guess? Probably?
Anika: I guess. It’s amazing that — just thinking about, you know, what do Vulcans think about abortion is like — oh, my goodness! What a great thing.
Liz: Because we would go, “Well, obviously reproductive rights and controlling fertility down to the micro level is very logical.” Pardon me, I’m losing my voice. We would think that extreme reproductive rights and micromanaging fertility is very logical.
But then you think, “Well, they’ve got these arranged marriages, and it’s really hard to get a divorce, and Spock is actually quite sexist in The Original Series.” He’s sort of the logic over feelings guy, as opposed to feminist Jim Kirk, who’s like, “But feelings, Spock! They have their place. Women! They’re so beautiful!” So, for the ’70s, it’s a logical extrapolation of Vulcan culture
Anika: Of pro-life Vulcans?
Liz: I guess?
Anika: I mean, yeah, I get it, I get it, but it’s also — I can’t imagine it would happen very often on Vulcan, just because they know their cycles so well — that sounds so weird. And so, if something came up, I feel like there would be a logical reason for it to be needed. I don’t know. I just I feel like you could use logic to come up with [a reason] why you should have an abortion easier than why you shouldn’t.
Liz: No, I agree. Like, I kind of perceive the Star Trek universe as being a lot like Lois McMaster Bujold’s future, where we just control fertility so well and we have extra-uterine gestation anyway, so unwanted pregnancies aren’t really an issue for people very often?
Anika: We can only hope.
Liz: It’s a nice idea. But it’s just interesting to me that this fic is such a reflection of the time in which it’s written. And in twenty years, will people be looking back — on their podcast that’s broadcast straight into people’s brains — and going, “Wow, there were a lot of fics about gay marriage back then. Gosh, that’s such a product of its time.”
Anika: Oh, my goodness. I mean, again, we can only hope.
Anika: I would love for our progressive future to actually be progressive.
Liz: Yes, yes! I would love to do a thesis on something or something about tracking social progress through issues in fan fiction and depictions in fan fiction. One day, when I have time to do a PhD, and can also go to Iowa to go through their zine archive.
Liz: Then we get to the discussion of specifically anti-feminist stories. And here they discuss a fic called “How About a Raffle?” in which — it’s a Kirk/Uhura fic, and Kirk accidentally sells Uhura into slavery.
Anika: Yikes. I don’t think that just happens. Like I was gonna say it happens, but no. No, that’s not not true. It doesn’t just happen.
Liz: They’re dealing with some Orions, and Uhura enters a dance contest, but it turns out that the winner is, like, the top slave or something.
Anika: Oh my God.
Liz: It’s still racist.
Anika: I like the attempt to world build for the Orions
Liz: Don’t get carried away. Mary Louise Dodge, the author, quote, “Rose and astonished the floor by stating that they were anti-feminist, and anyway, the Orion dancers were only humanoid, not human or intelligent.”
Anika: Big yikes!
Liz: Big yikes indeed!
Anika: That is straight up from, you know, stories about masters–
Liz: Straight up slavery?
Anika: Yeah. Like, you know, and, yeah, bad. Bad. Don’t ever go there ever. [laughs] I don’t want to be an anti…
Liz: Well, it’s interesting! I looked up Mary Louise Dodge, and she was involved in fandom for a really long time. She was on the Welcommittee, she ran the mailroom, she organized cons. She wrote a lot of fic. And I feel like we would have crossed paths, had I been in fandom at the time, because she was very much a het writer. And she wrote a lot of Kirk/Uhura, which I probably would have shipped back then.
And she was very vocally anti-slash and anti-porn. I’ve actually put a note here, that I guess you could call her fandom’s first anti. After one con, she wrote a famous letter to a bunch of zines, complaining that there was smut — smutty zines and smutty art openly displayed on the floor and in the art show. And, you know, “why can’t we get back to the good wholesome values of the 1960s?”
Anika: Yay for concern trolling having a deep history.
Liz: You know, I do think smut should be opt-in. And certainly, she is the person responsible for, like, age statements in zines and stuff. And there were a lot of things in fan culture at the time that wouldn’t be acceptable today, like dressing up as Spock and Kirk’s erect penises. Can you imagine going to, like, Comic Con in that costume?
Anika: And seeing that?
Liz: Yeah, yeah. But at the same time, like, she’s not talking about consent, she’s talking about — she just hates smut and hates slash, and is quite deeply homophobic.
Liz: And doesn’t apologize, which I enjoy, but I’ve sort of started thinking of her as the Phyllis Schlafly of fandom.
Anika: You’re Wrong About, the podcast, just did a deep dive into Tipper Gore versus, you know, like heavy metal, basically,
Liz: It’s sitting in my podcast feed, but the Reply All expose on Bon Appetit came up and took precedence.
Anika: I understand your priorities. But it really reminds me of all this stuff. Not just what we’re talking about here with Mary Louise, but also with the whole anti culture now.
Anika: And even in academia, the idea that should you put a content warning or not on your syllabus? And there is a difference between opting in, like, having it having it be clear what something is, versus censorship.
Anika: And it’s like, we’ve been talking about this for fifty years, and we still haven’t figured that out. And it’s just really interesting.
And the issue is that if you look at what Mary Louise has problems with, versus what Tipper Gore has problems with, versus what the whole anti-Reylo crowd have problems with, it’s like the bar shifts, but what it comes down to is, “I don’t like this, and therefore, it shouldn’t be a part of society.”
Liz: Yeah, as opposed to, “I don’t like this, therefore, I don’t want to see it.”
Anika: Right. Which is the whole argument for, you know, using tags.
Anika: And using databases and having the little sticker that says explicit lyrics. It’s not hurting anyone. But if there was like — they wanted the occult stickers, and it’s like, guys, you can’t just go around saying, you know, “This is the occult.” There are certain things that are subjective, and you can’t decide to have a label that has that level of subjectivity.
Liz: Yeah. Yeah.
Anika: That’s a slippery slope towards, you know, “Oh, now we’re gonna have Muslim stickers, or we’re gonna have Jewish stickers.” You know, it gets really bad really quickly.
Liz: And there are certainly parts of America where Catholicism would get an occult sticker.
Anika: Exactly. So it’s just really — there are levels. And this is a conversation that, like I said, we’ve been having for a long time, and I think we’re going to continue having for a long time.
Liz: I think it’s good that we keep having this conversation, because the context is always changing. And we need to keep examining it.
Anika: As much as we were talking about the Lorca and Michael slave fic, that I’m not going to read and I’m not going to encourage in any way. But I also am not going to say she can’t write it or post it. I just want to opt out.
And the same with Mary Louise and her “Let’s accidentally sell Uhura into slavery.” Like, that’s nothing I ever want to read, and I’m kind of upset hearing about it. But okay, you’re, you’re allowed to do that. I don’t want to read it. And I want to know that it’s gonna happen so that I don’t have to read it.
Liz: And, you know, the problem with AO3 is that there is no way to block this author, or to stop this fic from appearing in every single tag that the author applies. And I think particularly blocking someone is an option that they really need. When you look at zines, it’s much, much harder to avoid — unless you only subscribe to zines whose editors won’t publish Mary Louise Dodge. And I’m sure that there were some, she seems to have been incredibly polarizing. But what if you want, you know, Nice Hetfic Zine issue three, and it has five great stories and one Mary Louise Dodge?
Anika: Right, exactly. The reason that we keep talking about it is there’s no easy answer. There’s just compromises. And it’s hard. It’s a thorny question.
Liz: And for the record, I would have subscribed to Nice Hetfic Zine issue three. And then I would have written a snarky letter to its letter column complaining about Mary Louise Dodge and her terrible fic, because that was acceptable at the time.
Anika: Exactly. That’s the other thing. It’s so interesting.
Anika: It’s so interesting. And then, you know, comments on AO3 are – I would say at least eighty percent positive.
Liz: Yeah. And I think that’s because comments are for the author. Whereas this is a review culture rather than a feedback culture.
Anika: Oooh, that’s good.
Liz: So the discussion is less — it’s more readers talking to readers, than readers talking to writers.
Anika: Yes. That’s another thing that I kind of wish we still had, fanfic treated as — like, I would love to read some reviews or a deep dive into one author’s recurring themes, or something like that. I would be super into it. I understand that people wouldn’t like it — the authors. But I would love it. And honestly, I wouldn’t mind if people did it for me.
Liz: I was just going to say, the themes of domesticity — and you write a lot of baby fic, but it’s not because [you’re going], “Oh, babies are so cute. I love children!” I’m sure you do, babies are cute. But it’s about, “What do we, as flawed parents, pass on to our children? And how do we make them better than — how do we make their lives better than what we’ve had?” And this seems to recur in all of your fics that I’ve read in any fandom.
Anika: So strange that I’m obsessed with the relationship between parents and children and their parents! Mm, so strange. And trauma. I know the things that I focus on. I focus on adoption, I focus on identity. I focus on sibling relationships. Like, these are things that are — I think I’ve said before that everything I write is actually about me. I don’t have to put a Mary Sue in anything, and I don’t have very many original characters. But I one hundred percent give Katrina Cornwell my own backstory.
Liz: Right. And I’ve seen that in your fic. She — often in your fics, she has lost a parent at a young age, and is dealing with that even into adulthood. But it doesn’t feel like, oh, yeah, that’s just Anika putting her own thing on Kat. It feels like exploring.
Anika: Yeah. Yeah, at least that’s my intention. But yeah, so I would love to be even a part of like, a book club, or something where we meet each other and talk about it. Like, I think that would be so fun. And I’m sort of sad that that culture doesn’t exist anymore.
Liz: It’s sort of like how bookmarks on AO3 are for readers rather than writers. And sometimes, like, there’s a piece of feedback that was attached — it wasn’t feedback, it was just a note attached to a bookmark of one of my fics that said, “really good handling of disability.” And I was like, “This is the greatest feedback I have ever not really received.”
But the other thing is, quite a few years ago, in Doctor Who fandom, I created a sock puppet and started reviewing the fics that were nominated for an award. It started out as a very mean, bitchy sort of thing to do, because I thought that the fics being nominated were not award-worthy — note my own fics were nominated. So I was not a neutral observer.
But I wound up finding like it was a really interesting way of reading outside of my usual field and going, “Okay, well, this is a Ten/Rose fic, and I don’t ship that. And this fic is almost entirely made up of things that don’t resonate with me at all, and now I understand why I don’t read this fit this sort of in this genre. But this is actually a really good fic, and I think that if you were a Ten/Rose shipper, you would really like it.”
And then, you know, one of my so-called friends revealed my identity on an anon meme, and there was wank, and people still think I’m one of the worst people in Doctor Who fandom which, yeah, it was a whole thing. I don’t recommend doing this. It was not great. But in terms of reviewing fics as pieces of literature, it was a really interesting experience. And I actually had people say, “Hey, will you review my fic?”
Anika: I don’t use beta readers very often, because I have a very particular way of writing, and I like my style, and I don’t want to change it. So I don’t give it to people and say, “Does this make sense? Did I forget something? You know, is this good?” I just don’t need someone to tell me that before it’s published.
Anika: But once it’s published, I would love someone to read it and critique it. I don’t know why.
Liz: You are flying without a wire!
Anika: I just don’t want to change it while I’m writing it. But I would love to know what people think of it after the fact.
Liz: That’s — that’s very interesting!
And I do use a beta reader — hi, I know you’re listening — because I have this problem where I don’t close quotation marks, and she’s very good at finding stuff like that. And she also knows when to tell me that I’m disappearing up my own butt, and when I am doing something really cool that she’s enjoying, and I appreciate that. I appreciate you a lot.
Back to the essay, Jean Lorrah replied that it was not the treatment of the Orion women that was irritating, but Kirk’s condescending good old boy attitude, “the cute little girl is drunk,” and that that attitude coming from the female characters was unfortunately common in Trek literature. “Do my thinking for me.”
Liz: They sort of move on to original characters. And apparently there was a trend of pairing off McCoy with a sweet, innocent eighteen-year-old girls.
Anika: Again, I don’t want to be an anti. But why? What is that about?
Liz: Yeah, it’s not the sort of thing that I find appealing.
Anika: My note here is just “yikes”. I mean, doesn’t McCoy have an eighteen-year-old daughter?
Liz: Yes. And according to Mary Louise, there was a lot of fic where he slept with his daughter. And I know–
Anika: No, no.
Liz: But because I don’t fully trust Mary Louise is a source, I’m like, is that one fic she saw and it was an outlier and probably written to shock, like the notorious Draco/Lucius skullfucking fic, or was it an actual trend? And I’m pretty sure I really–
Anika: I’m disturbed. But I’m also like, wow, what was going on? What was that about? I’m very curious. I mean, I guess because McCoy is the oldest, and is the most paternal, but he’s also the most, like, I don’t want to say feminine, but, like, feminine.
Liz: He’s a very caring person.
Anika: And so it’s interesting. It’s very interesting, you know, and I could definitely imagine being an eighteen-year-old girl, and deciding that I wanted to date, McCoy. Or like, I could imagine, of all of the people in Star Trek, he would be the best relationship, I can sort of see it going that way, and ending up with this crazy fic. But if it was a trend … I’m just so interested. It’s so weird.
Liz: And the thing is, these weren’t eighteen-year-old girls generally writing these fics, these were, like housewives?
Anika: Yeah, housewives.
Liz: Yeah, adult women.
Anika: It’s like the whole “Twilight is read by teenage girls and their mothers” thing.
Anika: This is what it sounds like. To me.
Liz: This is not to disparage either housewives or mothers who read Twilight, because I feel like housewives, stereotypically, and middle-aged women are as dismissed as teenage girls. But it’s just interesting.
Anika: And they don’t make anybody any money.
Liz: There’s a very nice remark here. “Some of the reasons for badly drawn female characters is simply bad writing, and male characters are just as unrealistic, but this can improve.” And then they talk about a specific series again, it looks like a series, like, pairing Sarek with a lady named Lorna. So Sarek gets his own Mary Sue.
Anika: I have to go off on a tangent on this because Lorna is a very specific name. It’s pretty old fashioned at this point, like now, but my last name, Dane, is taken from Lorna Dane, who was an X Men character created in 1968. She was introduced in 1968, but then she joined the team in the late ’70s. So Lorna Dane is Polaris, and she is Magneto’s daughter, at least seventy-five percent of the time.
Liz: Right. His kids seem to have fluctuating identities.
Anika: And she’s my favorite X Men, X Men, X Woman, whatever. X. My favorite X. So when I was published in a book of comic book essays, I was published under the name Anika Dane Milik. And so when I got divorced, and I changed my name, I just went to Dane.
Liz: That makes sense. Yes.
Anika: But it’s like, it’s Lorna, it’s Lorna Dane, that’s who it is. And this idea that this character that was created in the mid to late ’70s, as Sarek’s wife after Amanda died, I’m like, so, Sarek is now a part of my identity. And I am really excited about that! And apparently, Lorna’s last name is Mitchell, so it’s like Gary Mitchell’s daughter, Lorna. But she’s from the past. Everything about it is amazing. Everything about this, I had to look it up, and I’m so excited by the whole idea.
Liz: This sounds fantastic.
Anika: I love it. I love it, and now I get to be, in some universes, married to Sarek.
Liz: I am deeply sorry for you.
Then they go on to remark that from Lorna in one fic to Lorna in another, “there has been a vast elevation of consciousness”. And it’s like, as I read that, like my clothes turned into flares and my hair centre-parted… just peak ’77
Anika: Yeah, you started hearing … what’s that song from Hair.
Liz: Oh, I was dreaming about Hair last night.
Anika: It was like in my head. But, you know, the morning song.
Liz: Yeah, yeah.
Anika: “In the… nah, nah, nah.” That song. Anyway, you start hearing that song, I start hearing that song, just can’t remember the lyrics.
And that sentence is also so supremely Lorna Dane. The reason that I love Lorna Dane so much is that she’s completely different every single time you meet her. She has all of these like, weird relationships with her parents, both Magneto and then her adoptive parents. Her relationships are all crazy. And she never feels good enough, and she’s an only child, and all she ever wants is siblings. And she’s — there’s so much. And it’s literally crazy. I mean, everything in the X Men is crazy. But she is, by far, one of the most — like just the fact that every other story she’s either Magneto’s daughter or not is enough.
Liz: Honestly, I’m getting very powerful Wanda Maximoff vibes from this?
Anika: Oh, yeah, exactly.
Liz: I find it interesting that Magneto’s daughters tend to be sort of very fluid, dynamic characters whose personalities and backstories are always changing.
Anika: And going back to something we were just discussing in this essay, there’s this sort of idea that Magneto can be super powerful, and be able to destroy the planet at a whim, and he is very serious and sad, and we have a lot of respect for him even if we don’t agree with him.
Whereas Wanda and Lorna have the same amount of power and can destroy things, and they are crazy. And they need to be, have to be–
Liz: They’re unstable and they need to be stopped.
Anika: –locked up, and are a danger to themselves and others. And it’s like, okay, so Magneto definitely tried to take over the world four times, but he’s not a danger to himself or others? You created an entire prison for him that no one else would ever need, yet he’s not considered crazy or unstable or dangerous the way that Wanda and Lorna are.
Anika: That’s a thing.
Liz: The next note in this essay is that a common theme in feminist Treklit is responsibility, and stories about women being given responsibility and handling it properly, or needing to learn responsibility and doing so.
My note here was, “Are women people?” but it turns out that this is a story that the comics and superhero genre, at least, is still grappling with, and I think WandaVision is doing it in a really interesting way. And Wanda’s allies are Monica and what’s her face? Darcy.
Liz: Yeah. And Jimmy Wu, and to a lesser extent right now, Vision. But these, with one exception, are not white people — sorry, not white men. And–
Anika: And Vision is played by a white man but I don’t — like he’s one of those on the line kind of people.
Liz: Yeah, I’m just — Paul Bettany…
Anika: He is a white man but he’s also not, in the context of the story.
Liz: My feelings about Paul Bettany are very complicated for Johnny Depp reasons. So I’m lukewarm on wanting to see him, ever. But his performance is great, and all. And I just think it’s depressing that this [storyline] is still something that media struggles with.
Anika: And it one hundred percent is. It’s something that — I mean, look at Rey.
Liz: Yes. So–
Anika: That’s gonna be my answer to everything. Yeah, women are not people is generally the key. Women are vessels that we can put ideas onto, I guess, is the way it goes.
Liz: Yeah. And then the other issue they discuss is issues that are of specific concern to women, or of special concern to women, rather, and they talk about a fic where, quote, “a rape case threatens to obscure the issue of a female officer’s rights by triggering an overprotective reaction”.
Which, again, going by TOS alone, seems like a pretty valid basis for a fic — look at look at all those episodes where Janice Rand is attacked, and the only people she has to go to about it are Kirk, Spock and McCoy. Even if it was Kirk’s evil double that attacked her.
Anika: It’s just bad.
Liz: It’s — yeah.
Anika: Again, I’m really interested in this idea that they wrote — they were writing stories about rape, and not — I mean, I haven’t read the story, but it doesn’t seem like it was sensationalizing rape. It seems like it was, “Hey, this is a thing that happened in canon that didn’t get the treatment that I want. And so let’s talk about that.”
Liz: Yes. “And let’s talk about how, not not the rape itself, but the reaction afterwards impedes justice, and recovery.” That’s super interesting, and still contemporary!
Anika: And still contemporary.
Liz: And then they talk about Mary Sue, and, you know, everyone on the Enterprise is extraordinary. But if you create a woman who is extraordinary, then she’s a Mary Sue. And they debate, you know, do you write a male character and then make it female? Or do you try and create a three-dimensional woman?
And I still see these discussions now, and I’m like, whatever gets you to a good character is a valid technique.
Anika: A couple of things really jumped out at me. One was “showed some problems Spock could have if he had been female, as well as first officer.”
Anika: I’m very picky about gender swap fic. Because it can be done so poorly, so easily.
Anika: But that’s a really interesting question. If everything was the same, except Spock was a woman, what would that mean? I’m interested in that. And if it was done well, then it could be a really amazing story.
Anika: So I love that they’re bringing these questions up. And then another one was, “when one writes a female officer onto the ship, and part of this usually lies with her occupation: what does she do? Why is she on the ship, and what is her function when she is sent down to the planet?”
And I’m just like, uh, I’m pretty sure you’d have to ask those questions about any original character that you made up?
Liz: Yeah. Men can have jobs too!
Anika: And so what it comes down to is that — it goes back to the earlier comment about how there weren’t women in the show, and the women that were in the show didn’t get to do what the men did, that Uhura got to take command once, ever.
Anika: And it was too late, basically.
Liz: And it was in the animated series. Which to an extent–
Anika: Which, who even watched?
Liz: Yeah, I don’t want to say it doesn’t count. But it’s only just now being treated as a serious and valid part of the Star Trek universe. Aside from “Yesteryear”.
Anika: So really, it’s really interesting that they were sort of asking these questions seriously, amongst themselves, you know, and treating it with any kind of gravity, ‘cos (a) I think the answer is obvious.
Anika: And (b), we shouldn’t have to answer this. What it’s just the whole thing of “let’s create a male character and, and write it as a man and then switch it at the end.” Like, yeah, sure. And if you’re not going to do that, which is fine, because gender does have an impact — or you know, can, I should say can have an impact — it’s okay for someone’s gender to have a meaning to them. But you shouldn’t have an emotional and intellectual quandary about why this woman is on this ship.
Liz: If you wouldn’t have that same quandary for a male character, why are you having it for this lady?
Anika: Right! They belong on the ship. That’s my answer.
Liz: She’s on the ship because that’s her job. It’s where Starfleet told her to be, the end.
Anika: Finally, the one that really, you know, just made me smile. “One dead giveaway of a Mary Sue is when everyone on the ship loves her except Kirk.” That is my favorite fun fact that I’ve never heard before.
Liz: No, me neither. I’ve seen Mary Sues where Kirk loves her and Spock doesn’t. And I’ve seen all sorts of Mary Sues, and they’re all great.
Anika: It was just amazing. I I loved that idea. The idea that people are reading a story, and all of a sudden Kirk doesn’t like someone, and they’re like, “Mary Sue!” And that’s it, that character is tainted and you can’t see that character as anything other than a Mary Sue. It’s just crazy. But amazing. And I’m not saying that it’s not true. I just think it’s hilarious.
Liz: I don’t think it’s a data point that became universal. Like you don’t see this in Star Trek Mary Sue litmus tests. Remember litmus tests? Wow. Speaking of fandom history!
Anika: They were like 80 questions long.
Liz: I know!
Anika: And you had to put it in, and then it would tell you if your original character was a Mary Sue or not. And I will tell you, I don’t write a lot of original characters, like I said, I never put in any original characters. But I constantly put in my version of canon characters. And the thing is that more than fifty percent of my answers were canon. I wasn’t making things up about these people.I was reading the canon, when I was answering the question as my interpretation of the character that I saw on screen.
Liz: No, this makes perfect sense to me because — I think it’s Seanan McGuire who had an essay on LiveJournal, pointing out that “Mary Sue” is just another word for protagonist.
Anika: Exactly. So usually I would get, “You are close to the line of crossing over into Mary Sue-dom and you should take away at least one flaw,” or, you know, something like that. It’s just like, okay!
Anika: I will tell Gene Roddenberry?
Liz: Yeah, yeah. I’m sorry, I need to summon the ghost of Sir Arthur Conan Doyle to tell him that Sherlock Holmes is a Mary Sue.
Anika: You know who’s a real Mary Sue? Watson.
Anika: One hundred percent a Mary Sue.
Liz: I feel like Holmes is the idealized Mary Sue and Watson is the self-insert Mary Sue.
Anika: Mm, I can see that.
Liz: “The panel then fled from Mary Sue stories.”
Anika: As did we all.
Liz: And they talk about how it’s difficult to create a good female character, because there aren’t many templates to draw from in Star Trek. And–
Anika: Like I said.
Liz: Yeah. “There are plenty of strong masculine characters to work from, but very few women.”
Anika: And that’s the thing. Again, here in 2021, every woman in Star Trek has been called a Mary Sue at least once.
Liz: And honestly, most of [the women in TOS] are pretty interesting. Like, they’re not necessarily strong people. But generally, they’re more complex than we give credit for.
Anika: Right. So it’s –first of all, just stop talking about Mary Sues and let it go. That’s that’s my take number one. And take number two, just because a woman is a woman and a new character in an old fandom does not mean that they are a Mary Sue automatically.
Then they talk about — it’s sort of a digression, which obviously we’re familiar with here. “Most blonde women were dependent and ineffectual, well, brunettes were usually forceful, and control their own destinies.” And they give the example of Majel Barrett, who goes from Number One to Chapel.
I had never thought of this, and I think overall, as a pattern, it holds for The Original Series. But I also think that there were, you know, existing stereotypes about blondes versus brunettes.
Anika: Yeah, I don’t think that Star Trek—
Anika: I don’t think Star Trek created that idea.
Liz: No, you know, [in] Marilyn Monroe movies, she always has a brunette offsider, who’s a lot smarter and more together than she is.
Anika: So strange, it’s like, blondes are more beautiful and have more fun, and people are more interested in them. But the brunettes are the smart ones. And the ones with depth. That is just — like, this is weird, okay?
Liz: Unless you get the sort of Hitchcock blonde who is terribly intelligent, but also cold and damaged. And that’s Seven of Nine.
Liz: But it’s also interesting that they cite Chapel, because the whole reason that I wanted to do an episode on zines is that I have a paper copy of issue 25 of T-negative, which has a wonderful essay about Christine Chapel, basically saying, everyone writes her off as a dumb blonde with no agency who’s only in love with Kirk. [Obviously I meant Spock, don’t @ me…] And actually she is a really, really interesting character. And then the author goes on to discuss Christine in both canon and in fiction.
It was a wonderful essay, and I was going to cite it — we talked about doing a Chapel episode, but Women at Warp had just done one. Justice for Christine Chapel, who’s not even a character I really care about. But this essay made me want to.
Anika: Right, that’s my take on a lot — you know, there’s the characters that I really, really, really care about, and everybody who listens to this podcast could name them. And then there’s all the other women characters who — like, I will meet you in an alley and punch you–
Anika: –to protect them, I will one hundred percent go to battle for every woman on Star Trek.
Liz: Yes. Even the ones I don’t like
Anika: Because all of the arguments against them are sexist. That’s where I’m at.
Liz: One day, I’m going to present the argument that Lwaxana Troi is narcissistic, and not necessarily fully abusive to Deanna, but she is not good to Deanna. And that’s the only argument that I will accept against Lwaxana.
Anika: And the difference is that that is a critique of Lwaxana as a person, which is totally fair.
Liz: It’s not just “she’s middle aged and thinks she’s sexy.”
Anika: Right, we shouldn’t put women on a pedestal, either. But the critiques aren’t critiques, they’re just, “I don’t like” — again, it’s, “I don’t like this, and I’m going to write them off.” I just watched Star Trek 2009.
Liz: You did!
Anika: And I am so ready to go to battle for Uhura. Like, it’s upsetting to me. I’ve seen that movie many times now. You know, like a dozen, let’s say, — I don’t know.
Liz: I’ve seen it twice!
Anika: And I can just hear all the negative comments as I’m watching the show. Like, I’m sitting here and I’m watching the movie, and I just hear all this chatter. You know, Uhura is telling Spock to put her on the Enterprise, and there’s eight hundred voices in my head saying how she’s a nagging girlfriend. And I just like, “No, no, she is not!” She is standing up for herself the way that any person should, and the fact — their relationship is a wrinkle to it. It is not the reason for it. And if Kirk did exactly the same thing, people would be applauding him.
Liz: Yes, yes.
Anika: So I can’t. As I was watching the movie, every single thing that Uhura did, I imagined Kirk doing it, and having all of the people like you know, saying “Oh, he was the best version of Kirk.” I was just like, ugh! And I know I’m saying that as someone who thinks that Chris Pine is the best version of Kirk…
Liz: You know, there are credible rumours that Strange New Worlds is going to feature a young Uhura. There’s a casting call for a young African American woman to play a comms officer, whose name in the casting call is African, just as Uhura is based on the Swahili.
And I see people going, “Oh, good, Strange New Worlds is going to fix Uhura, they’re going to do her properly.” And I’m like, no, they’re just going to do her differently. Peck!Spock is not better than Quinto!Spock. They’re just different interpretations of Nimoy!Spock.
Anika: Mm hmm.
Anika: Yeah, so sorry, tangent, but I just get super defensive of these women characters because people are against them for really silly reasons.
Liz: Moving on, we hit a marvelous piece of fake news. “Another problem with female characters is that feminism can become too much an issue.”
Anika: Oh, dear. I love this because literally like two paragraphs before that, they’re saying that feminism is the reason like — that the lack of female characters is the reason that it’s hard to write female characters. It’s like, guess what, guys, you’re being feminist in that argument. And so now, these women are saying that there’s too much feminism in my Star Trek, and I — again, I’m pretty defensive.
Liz: They cite this amazing-sounding fic when Number One is now — it says in this recap, she is now an alien ambassador. But according to the Fanlore page for the fic itself, she is the captain of the USS Hood. And any Friends of DeSoto can just take a moment to say, “Best boss I ever had.”
She sits down with a Romulan commander and they both, quote, “bitch interminably about being trodden on by the men in their lives, losing the plot amongst the complaints.”
And like, maybe the fic is sort of hijacked by this, and the story it promised to tell is not the story that eventually came out. I just really, really want to read this fic.
Anika: I really want to read it too. And that’s what I’m saying, that is the kind of stuff that I love to read and write in fic, which has absolutely nothing to do with the plot, but is all about their feelings and their lives and their interpretation of what’s going on.
Liz: And I just love the idea of Number One and a Romulan, comparing notes. I’m just saying, the Romulans had women in command before the Federation.
Anika: Yeah. I ship it.
Liz: And they note that the theme of women cooperating with women is a good one, and just beginning to develop. And, you know, I still get a weird warm, self-righteous glow whenever I write that in my fic, so I’m glad it’s still a thing. I wish it was more of a thing. And then they move on–
Anika: This is the best.
Liz: –to the most important question. What about the men?
Anika: Okay, so again, I have to tell a story about today. My most popular fanvid on YouTube is a vid about the animated women in Star Wars. So it’s all animation, Rebels and Clone Wars. And that’s — actually, I made it before Resistance. So that’s it, Rebels and Clone Wars. And this one is what I’m one of, if not my best — and it’s my most popular, right? And it’s ages old now. Like I said, pre the last season of Rebels.
And I still get comments all the time, because, again, it’s the one that shows up in the algorithm or whatever. And today I got this amazing comment that was just one question. Four words. “What about man person?”
Liz: Man person!
Anika: Man person! And I just started laughing and laughing. I was like, Okay, I’m designing a T-shirt that just says, “What about man person?” and I’m buying one for all of my friends, because that is an amazing comment.
Liz: I think that we need to release stickers on RedBubble that say, “What about man person?”
Anika: “What about man person?” Like, that — it was just so good. That’s how I ended up with “social justice Klingon warrior” in my Twitter bio, because somebody accused me of being a social justice warrior for Klingons, and I was like, yup, yes I am.
Liz: Well, we’ve found this episode’s title.
[I realise that Anika specifies that it’s four words, and then I used three in the title, but, ummmmm, anyway, changing these things post-release is a pain.]
Anika: What about man person?
Liz: What about man person?
Anika: Like, okay, dude, this video is literally a celebration of women. That’s, that’s the title. That’s what it says, Star Wars: Women. I made one for Star Trek, too: Star Trek: Women.
Liz: But, Anika, what about man person?
Anika: Go watch Star Trek! Go watch, literally the entire original trilogy and most of the rest. And you can find all the man person you want.
Liz: So the discussion here, what about man person? Why aren’t men writing Trek fic? “There are many males in Trek, why aren’t they writing? One suggestion was that men can’t take criticism very well. And women are used to it.”
Anika: I mean, every answer that they come up with is actually kind of great.
Liz: It is! But I’m like, people call us misandrists, and look at this!
“Criticism is a good tool. The Star Trek world would seem to appeal to males. One expects Marty Sues but gets Mary Sues. But many male Trekfen don’t want to write about it, instead want to be in it.”
And I think this is really interesting, because if you look at the fanworks which are dominated by men at the writing and production level, it’s fan films. And there’s the perennial post on the Star Trek subreddit, “Hey, I just wrote a Star Trek novel, how do I get it published?” And they never want my AO3 invite.
Anika: Yeah! I mean, I think that this is actually a really amazing insight that is absolutely true. Like, in, in all fandom–
Liz: Yeah. And I think–
Liz: Go on.
Anika: Do that. Like women — I think we’ve discussed before how there’s the transformative versus, like, critical or or–
Anika: Collector, yeah. Yeah. And, again, we just said there aren’t enough women doing stuff in Star Trek in 1977. And so they were, they were saying, “Hey, I’m going to create a woman character who does something.” And whereas the men are like, “I’m going to, you know, make a movie where I play Captain Kirk.”
Anika: And somehow, they don’t see that as fanfic?
[Note from Liz: it’s not that there’s anything wrong with that approach! I just find it weird how things like Star Trek Continues are treated as semi-canonical, whereas fic mostly … is not.]
[Oh no, do we need to start doing eps on fic the way other podcasts do eps on fan films?]
Liz: No, no. A few years ago, pre pandemic, I saw the play Puffs, which is essentially a Gary Stu fic in the form of a play. And it’s a professional piece of theatre! You can see it on Broadway Online or something, and I highly recommend it. It was a good evening. I have very mixed feelings about Harry Potter these days, but it was a lot of fun.
But it struck me that “the ordinary kid gets his Hogwarts letter and goes to Hogwarts and is on the periphery of the events of Harry’s school years” is a fic that I have seen many, many times. And the difference is–
Anika: So many times.
Liz: The difference is like those fics were mostly written by women. And this guy was like, “Oh, yeah, that’s a valid idea. I’m going to write a play, and I am going to make it enough of a parody that it is a professional endeavor.” And it’s just interesting that men are more–
Anika: Willing to do that.
Liz: Yeah! And I think it’s — I love fan fiction, and I love that we have this community of amateur writers who love something, but do we, as the women and marginalized people of fandom, need to be more open to also being professionals? Or does something get lost in that?
Anika: Yeah. It’s a really good question because I am very much of the opinion that if all you want to do is write fan fiction, more power to you.
Anika: That is absolutely valid. That is you’re still a writer. You can call yourself a writer. You are a creative. You are coming up with something that someone else didn’t do. Your fic is original, even if it’s fanfic.
Liz: Right, and even if it’s using tropes and ideas that have been used before, unless you are literally copying and pasting from someone else’s story, it is still unique.
Liz: They speculate that boys aren’t interested in writing. “It’s cute in girls and effeminate in boys in the high school years, and boys should go out and do it, not daydream.” And I think there might be some level of truth in that. Or certainly, there may have been then. And, you know, toxic masculinity and all of that.
Anika: So here’s what I wrote after I copied that over into my notes, that sentence, “writing is looked upon as cute in girls, effeminate in boys”. And the sentence that I wrote is, “Hey, is it possible that this nonsense is why we have so few women writing Trek novels right now?”
Anika: Just an idea. Just a thought.
Liz: They do go on to note, “most SF writers and men, but that that isn’t Trek.”
Anika: And also, that’s not true.
Liz: Yeah. Even back then that was not true.
Anika: Sorry. That definitely wasn’t true in the ’70s. There were many women writing science fiction in the ’70s.
Liz: This was the age of McCaffrey and Butler and Le Guin. And more. Those are just the ones we remember!
Anika: Literally everything I read in the ’80s was written in the ’70s. So that’s just wrong.
Liz: Joanna Russ was writing Kirk/Spock fic and also science fiction novels.
Anika: Exactly. It’s society. It’s not us. It’s not me and you who’s keeping Una McCormack as the only woman allowed to write Star Trek right now.
Liz: Right, right.
Anika: Like, it’s the people in charge. And the people in charge have decided that science fiction should only be written by men, and they are going to like, make that happen.
Liz: Right? And so it’s interesting that men seem to self-exclude from fan fiction. I think that’s less true now than it was then. But it’s certainly interesting because they go on, there’s a bit down here, “at least a third of Trekfen are male.” [laughs] I died!
But they speculate that “perhaps the dearth of men in zines is self-perpetuating, since male writers are reluctant to submit their precious manuscripts to female criticism.”
Anika: That is true. Like, I will say, I know some male writers who have not submitted their manuscripts because they don’t want to hear it. And I said a while ago that I don’t have a beta reader for the same reason, so I’m not saying that they shouldn’t be like that. But it is a thing.
Liz: No, no. What struck me was that with the internet, like the gatekeepers in the editorial process disappeared for fan fiction and we see some more men now than we had then. But still not that many. And it’s like it’s a mystery to me.
Anika: I don’t know any.
Liz: Writing fan fiction is great. Why would you not?
Anika: There aren’t any men in our Kat Cornwell discord. There are a couple of non binary people, but no men?
Liz: Certainly no cis men. Is it just not a community that’s appealing to cis men?
Anika: And why? Is it because they’re not paid for it and you have to like, you know, “I hunt and gather and bring everything in”? Again, the patriarchy is bad for everybody. Capitalism is bad for everybody.
Liz: There’s a very strange and amusing digression here: “Cogswell and Spano ((MAY SLIME DEVILS INFEST THEIR TYPEWRITER)) were mentioned as trotting around at cons, getting opinions for Spock Mess–but again, those are pros ((SUCH AS THEY ARE)).”
And I assume that Cogswell and Spano are nicknames. I don’t know what Spock Mess is. I didn’t really get any useful Google results. It might be a zine.
I was wondering if maybe they were nicknames for Harlan Ellison or Isaac Asimov or David Gerrold, who were all part of the fan community and were certainly known as people who trotted around at cons. Gerrold was deeply hated by a lot of women in fandom because he’s a complete donkey, and was not able to say “I don’t care for slash” without also saying, “slash is written by fat ugly housewives who need to get laid.”
Anika: Ugh. Yeah, so–
Liz: Thanks for the tribbles, mate, you can just move along.
Anika: Again, fine, you don’t have to read the slash. But that’s just “I don’t like this thing….”
Liz: If anyone out there knows who this aside refers to please, tell us because I require much gossip.
Anika: Also, I kind of want to have an opinion on Spock Mess.
Liz: Yeah, I would very much like to know what it is so that I can have an opinion on it.
Anika: I’d really like to have an opinion about it. So let me know what that means.
Liz: “It’s a waste if we can get mediocre rotten and fairly good ideas from female authors, why not from male?”
Anika: Okay, look, I don’t actually need men to have a bigger footprint in fandom, because they have reality.
Liz: It’s true. It’s true. But fandom was so female dominated back then, “at least a third of Trekren are male,” that I understand why, in these formative years, it would have been nicer to have 50/50.
And then it goes, “Masculine domination of straight SF was brought up again, with the observation that SF is written by and large for adolescent males.”
No, that is not true! That was not true in the 70s!
“And that the field has been changing to human relationship or alien relationship stories, largely on account of the female writers.” Who did exist!
And I love that they discuss original SF alongside fic. “Treklit.”
Anika: Yeah, that they’re basically talking about them the same way. Like, these are both forms of science fiction writing.
Liz: Right. And like I said, Joanna Russ was writing Kirk/Spock fic. And these days, Naomi Novik is the founder of AO3, and also writing acclaimed novels, which I personally do not care for, but I don’t read them and don’t complain that they exist.
Anika: Because there’s a lot of stuff that I don’t read and don’t complain that it exists. I’ll just put that out there.
Liz: Because I’m sort of in the con organizing scene, I pay a lot of attention to the Hugos, and I nominate and I try to read as many of the nominated works as I can. And sometimes I’m like, no, no, this is a bad year for works specifically designed to appeal to me.
Anika: I probably read more fan fiction than published science fiction. I’ll be honest.
Liz: A lot of people do.
Anika: Partly because it’s free. Partly because it’s about characters I already love.
Liz: Yeah. And it is so hard to care — like it takes real skill to create original characters that other people care about. It’s hard!
Anika: That is true.
Liz: It’s a real skill!
Anika: That is very true. And even when you do — like, let’s take Daenerys Targaryen–
Anika: George R R Martin created her, right? Whatever. Him
Liz: Yes. He made you care about her.
Anika: I guarantee that I care more about Daenerys Targaryen than he does. And I also guarantee I care more about Daenerys Targaryen than DB or the other D.
Liz: I don’t know about GRRM, but I absolutely agree with you on that. You win that easily.
Anika: So that’s why I’m gonna go read fan fiction about Daenerys Targaryen instead of caring about when Winds of Winter ever comes out.
Liz: But also, you know, you’re entering into a contract with a fic writer where they’re saying, “Look, I love this character, and I care about them too.” And you’re like, “Cool, I’m gonna sit with you and we’re going to care together.”
Anika: Right, we’re gonna care together, I’m — we’re going to fix — like, you know, fix it fic is like a really popular tag for every fandom because every fandom needs to be fixed for someone.
Liz: I was very against the idea of fix it fic as a concept because I’m like, Sure you can change and you can alter what the show does, but ultimately, you know, what I love is canon. And then they blew someone up and I am very pro fix it fic. I am a Cornwell denialist.
Anika: It’s interesting. This is where my love of alternate universes comes in, where I can — like a fix it fic is just an alternate universe, it doesn’t mean that the canon didn’t happen. It’s like, here’s a different way it could have gone.
And I love that, because characters who are thrown into many different plots and many different situations and circumstances and the way things went, seeing the similarities, the throughlines, and their strengths and their skills and their innermost being, like, how it comes out? That’s what’s interesting to me, that’s the identity stuff that I’m always talking about. That’s like, this is what matters to this character.
Liz: And there’s a really interesting writing trick where, if you’re not sure you understand your original character, you should go and write an AU of them. So if you’re trying to write a fantasy, go scribble out a coffee shop AU and see, see what is actually essential to that character.
Anika: Exactly, yes.
Liz: And now I’m wondering, is the reason for the whole Mary Sue discourse, and this whole discussion about original characters in fan fiction, because a lot of these writers were novices and didn’t have the skills to make people care about their original characters?
Anika: Absolutely! I still have some of my fanfic that I wrote when I was 13. And it is bad. Even — there are two Voyager fics that I wrote way back when that I put on my AO3, because they’re the two that I think are acceptable, and they are still bad.
Liz: Oh, yeah.
Anika: They are … like, I put them up because I’m proud of them. But I’m proud of them twenty years ago. You know, it’s like, thank God, I have improved since this time.
Liz: The first fic I actually finished was a Savage Garden songfic where Q watches Janeway and Chakotay dance. It is not good at all. But in my defense, I was 14 years old.
Anika: Exactly. And I think that that’s, that matters. One thing that I really love about fanfic, and that I love about having a profile on Archive of Our Own, is that I can go back to this stuff that is fifteen years old, and I can say like, Oh, this is like, I’m telling this, this story again, in this new fic. But look at how much I’ve improved, look at how I’ve been able to, like, tease those ideas into something so much like — into so much more of a blossom.
Liz: And with these women who are writing fic in the ’70s — you know, the general profile of a Trekkie back then was a middle-aged, college educated woman who had married straight after college, had children. Maybe she had a part-time job as a receptionist, or a secretary or something like that. But this was her first creative outlet in decades. And her first writing work in decades. And it is the work of intelligent, educated but untrained writers who are practicing. And – – –
Anika: Exactly, practicing.
I love that fanfic doesn’t have to have a beginning, a middle and an end. You don’t have to waste time on telling them about the character, you can just tell them about what the character is feeling right now, because I already know who Spock is.
So you don’t have to tell me who Spock is. You just have to tell me what Spock is doing right now, and how it makes him feel, and how it’s different from what he feels in the episode I just watched.
It allows you to hone your skills with a very low like bar. You don’t have to prove anything. The worst thing that happens is someone doesn’t like your fic.
Liz: And we talked at the beginning, and I guess this brings us full circle, but we talked at the beginning about how the criticisms in this panel were not the sorts of things that would fly today, and people could be really upfront about not liking stuff.
But I read some of the letters of comment for big fics around this time, and there was one, and it’s a very well known writer, and I cannot remember who she was – possibly even Paula — no, not Paula Smith.
Anyway, the letter of comment was basically, “You need to slow down,” or, no, “she needs to slow down,” it was a letter to the zine, not to the writer.
“She needs to slow down and consider her pacing and really take time to settle into a scene and let things unfold. Because she is not a bad writer now, but she is going to be really, really good when she’s comfortable enough to take her time.”
And that’s really, really fantastic feedback. And put really kindly. And so yeah, fandom hasn’t changed that much.
Anika: You know, you can go to college for literature, or whatever, and mostly you get beaten down. And you get told, you know, this is what you’re doing wrong, and this is the way you need to do better.
And fanfic is the opposite, where it’s like, they’re not going to tell you how to fix things necessarily. They’re gonna encourage you, and even when they say something negative, it’s in an encouraging way. And I think that the balance of both is the perfect, you know, that the best way to make a writer is to have both.
Are we done? Should I outro?
Anika: I think so.
Liz: Okay. It’s really hot here. I need another shower.
Anika: I’m sorry.
Liz: I’m sorry for Texas!
Anika: It is. Yeah, it is cold and snowing here.
Liz: If I could send you my excess heat…
Anika: And I’m not in Texas. Thank God.
Liz: Thank you for listening to Antimatter Pod. You can find our show notes at antimatterpod.tumblr.com, including links to our social media and credits for our theme music.
You can follow us on Twitter at @Antimatter Pod, and on Facebook, because as far as Facebook is concerned, we are not a news source. That’s a bit of Australian humour for you.
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Anika: It will be great!