Sondra Marshak

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Name: Sondra Marshak
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Type: writer
Fandoms: Star Trek
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Contents

Ever seen a kitten wound up in a ball of yarn? That’s the kind of plot Sondra turns. - Jacqueline Lichtenberg, preface to "Spock's Pilgrimage" in Kraith Collected 4.

Sondra Marshak was an early Star Trek fan. She was one of the authors of Star Trek Lives! and Shatner: Where No Man. She also co-wrote and edited some commercial Star Trek books such as the early collection Star Trek: The New Voyages. With her writing partner, Myrna Culbreath, she wrote four professionally published Star Trek novels, The Price of the Phoenix, The Fate of the Phoenix, The Prometheus Design and Triangle. The pair also had a couple of stories in the New Voyages series that many fans felt were the closest fandom ever came to professionally published slash.

In the anthology Star Trek: The New Voyages 2, Marshak and Culbreath announced plans to write a novel with Nichelle Nichols, Uhura!. They claim that getting started on this book "set her and us off on a NASA trek which helped to shape not only Uhura! but this New Voyages, with its NASA connection." (One of the stories in New Voyages 2 was written by NASA engineer Jesscoe von Puttkamer.) This book was also referred to as The Uhura Connection. According to Ian MacLean on his website Therin of Andor, "the book would have been a mix of fact and fiction about Nichols and Uhura, with Uhura exploring the life of her ancestor, Nichols, who had worked with NASA, among other things." (In the 1970s, Nichols worked with NASA to recruit astronauts from minority groups.) Marshak and Culbreath also planned a book called Mr. Spock's Guide to the Planet Vulcan (circa 1979), according to the "About the Authors" note in The Fate of the Phoenix. [1]

Marshak was an avowed Objectivist (a devotee of Ayn Rand) from the age of thirteen, and believed that Star Trek advanced Objectivist ideals. She explained these ideals at several points in Star Trek Lives!

According to Marshak and Culbreath answering questions "jointly" in Star Trek: Voyages of the Imagination, Marshak "earned a Master's degree in history, with straight-A honors" and planned to earn a Ph.D., teach university classes and "write culture-changing nonfiction". When she discovered Star Trek, the "powerful relationship between Kirk and Spock and the focus on moral and philosophical issues", she decided to devote her energy to the show and to writing fan fiction.

Marshak and Kraith

Starting in 1973, Marshak co-authored Kraith stories with Jacqueline Lichtenberg beginning with the novella "Spock's Pilgrimage", in Kraith Collected #4. By Lichtenberg's description in her preface to "Spock's Pilgrimage", Marshak all but took over the plot plans for Kraith, leaving Lichtenberg a bit breathless and slightly annoyed:

"I had planned for Kirk’s Vulcan education to soak up about a year of his life. Several of Sondra’s brainstorms later, it seems it is going to take Kirk several years to extricate himself from increasingly complex entanglements with Vulcan women, Vulcan politics, Vulcan customs, and Spock’s Warder-Liege Control. It makes for several hundred thousand words of good drama if any of us have the courage to publish it. We’ve been talking in a semi-facetious way about a volume of Kraith for Grups Only! Otherwise, there’s going to have to be some hatchet editing done!"

Lichtenberg speaks of Marshak's "incredible mind" and states that "For those of you who don’t know Sondra -- well, suffice it to say that when it comes to logical argument, Spock had just better watch out if he goes up against her! (I lost.)"[2]

In 2012, Lichtenberg contributed a comment to Steve Donoghue's blog Notes for a Star Trek Bibliography as follows:

I was browsing the sales statistics on my current, newly released, novels in my Sime~Gen universe on Amazon, when I remembered how House of Zeor was mentioned in STAR TREK LIVES! and so remembered Sondra Marshak.

I keep looking for her online, but I don’t find a homepage or Facebook presence for her. Since Joan Winston passed, and I don’t have touch with her heirs, there’s no hope that we can re-release STAR TREK LIVES! in ebook format, as most of my other books have been. Since I basically live online these days, with a presence on a wide variety of social networks (Google+, Facebook, Tumblr, blogger etc etc)I can’t understand why I haven’t run into Sondra.

But google tossed up this blog item and I was glad to find it! Thank you.[3]

The New Voyages

According to Marshak and Culbreath in Voyages of Imagination, Bantam editor Fred Pohl had initially turned down the proposal for Star Trek Lives!, then later accepted it, realizing that the Star Trek phenomenon was by no means dead. While it was in production, Marshak and Culbreath proposed that "with the right editing, the best of the fan fiction could be made professionally publishable.... New Voyages was to become the true mass-marketing breakthrough. It has been widely credited with helping fuel the growing fan phenomenon that led to increasingly massive Star Trek conventions and eventually to the revival of Star Trek in movies, then in ongoing new formats." Marshak and Culbreath refer to this period as "the birth of new Star Trek fiction."[4]

Response to New Voyages was mixed. Many fans saw it as another sign that fan fiction was being taken seriously by the mainstream culture and by the Star Trek producers. Thanks to their friendship with Joan Winston, Marshak and Culbreath had long portrayed themselves as having a special "in" with the likes of Roddenberry, Shatner and Nimoy, as seen in Star Trek Lives! and other publications. However, the stories in New Voyages were heavily edited and in some places completely rewritten from the originals, without permission from the authors. None of the material was ever returned to the authors, and the stories were presented as "never before published", which was untrue: every one of them had appeared in a fanzine, and no fanzine was mentioned or credited.[5]

Marshak's "Slashy Subtext"

It's my understanding that blackmarket K/S "bonus chapters" for all four of their ST novels were available in the "slash" fanfic circles. - Therin of Andor, writing on a thread discussing Marshak & Culbreath on TrekBBS, April 25, 2013.

In a blog entry entitled "Spock Shaped Snickerdoodles" one reviewer writes: "I have only read the first story [in New Voyages 2] so far, and the slash doesn't just drip from the page, in pours in cascading buckets. This story, Surprise!, was written by Marshak and Culbreath, and, wait for it...Nichelle Nichols! That's right ladies and gents, our very own Miss Uhura took part in writing the slashiest thing I have read so far in this fandom. (Of course I'm speaking of, ahem, subtext). And the copyright is held by Paramount, which at the time, probably meant, Roddenberry. Completely sanctioned slash."

Other fans disagree that these works can be read as "sanctioned slash". KLangley56‎ says: "Well, no--I don't find this story slashy at all, much less by the bucketful. Even though Marshak and Culbreath do have, as seen in their other works, a tendency to "slashy subtext" (that they would deny completely, as they were not K/S fans), there's none of it in this story. My opinion of it has not changed since I read it at publication--it's an intended humorous story that just ends up being silly and out of character and a bit too "precious." Dated July 27, 2009, accessed Feb 9, 2011; WebCite

The story is a screwball comedy involving the crew conspiring to a surprise birthday party and gifts for Captain Kirk. It mentions an antechamber Spock built between Kirk's and Spock's quarters accessed through their bathrooms, which the two use for an ongoing chess match. In one scene, Uhura goes into the antechamber from Spock's cabin (with his permission) while Spock watches on a viewer from the bridge. She wants to put something in Kirk's cabin while he's not there, but finds the Captain coming out of the shower wearing only a towel. Her reactions are described; Spock's are not. There are numerous references to Uhura kissing and flirting with Spock in this story and several hints that if anyone is intimate with him, it is she.[6]

Controversy

Marshak's approach to fandom and fan fiction were criticized by some of the writers who had been left out of her inner circle. In an article in Trek magazine in the fall of 1979, author Mary Jo Lawrence described her experiences as a "late bloomer" Trek fan, having encountered the show for the first time by way of James Blish's stories. Determined to be a Trekker, not a Trekkie, Lawrence wanted to contribute to the culture of Trek fandom and began writing to Marshak and Culbreath after the publication of the two New Voyages books, wherein they had issued what appeared to be an open invitation to amateur authors to submit material for further volumes. Taking this literally, Lawrence did send a short story. However, she then read Joan Winston's The Making of the Trek Conventions, which gave her the impression that "Miss Winston and her cronies were on the 'inside Trek' and she obviously wanted us to know it.

"My concern deepened as I found a dismal pattern emerging. Joan Winston, Jackie Lichtenberg, and Sondra Marshak (who collaborated on the popular Star Trek Lives!) were right in the center of an elitist group which expanded, as the narrative progressed, to include Myrna Culbreath (of course) and, to my growing consternation, such people as Shirley Maiewski and Connie Faddis. Now, these are all very versatile and extremely talented people, but, as I checked back over the list of contributing authors in my volumes of The New Voyages, I found my suspicions completely confirmed. It was these, along with such obvious insiders as Nichelle Nichols and Jescoe von Puttkamer [a prominent NASA engineer], Russell Bates (who wrote a script for the animateds) and Jennifer Guttridge (who was published in both volumes) who were getting their work into print. This was in direct conflict with what Marshak and Culbreath were purporting in their prefaces. It seemed that if you wanted to get anywhere in Star Trek fandom it wasn't what you knew, it was who you knew. There are thousands of artistic Trekkers in the world, but only a handful of mutually supportive individuals are getting to share their talent and ideas with the rest of us. I was angered and hurt by what I felt was a betrayal of everything Star Trek fandom stood for. I could feel my enthusiasm ebb and my momentum come to a grinding halt."[7]

Steve Donoghue, in his ongoing analysis of Star Trek fandom, refers to Marshak and Culbreath as among the "first ladies of fandom"[8] and cites their fan novels as "the Star Trek fan fiction novels to end all Star Trek fan fiction novels."

Claiming that "sado-erotic excesses" were a staple of the earliest fan fiction[9], he speaks glowingly about the professionally published novels as steering away from that. Then he enthuses:

... [The Price of the Phoenix could never be published today. Even though its every page is glowing not only with knowledge of the show ... 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.

External Links

Discussion of Marshak and Culbreath and their writing at TrekBBS.

Price of the Phoenix in Five Minutes

Prometheus Design in Five Minutes

References

  1. Star Trek: The Lost Books.
  2. Jacqueline Lichtenberg, preface to "Spock's Pilgrimage", Kraith Collected vol. 4.
  3. Jacqueline Lichtenberg, April 17, 2012 comment to Steve Donoghue, The End of an Era, blog post written 2011-02-01 for Notes for a Star Trek Bibliography.
  4. Jeff Ayers, Voyages of Imagination: The Star Trek Fiction Companion. Pocket Books, 2006.
  5. More in A Piece of the Action 37, April 1976.
  6. If you want to read it and judge for yourself, you can find it here.
  7. Mary Jo Lawrence, A New Year's Revolution, reprinted in Best of Trek 2, Signet 1979, pp 106-115.
  8. Steve Donoghue, The First Ladies of Fandom!, blog post written 2010-10-02 for Notes for a Star Trek Bibliography, page found 2012-06-24.
  9. In The End of an Era, blog post written 2011-02-01 for Notes for a Star Trek Bibliography, page found 2012-06-24. Needless to say, he doesn't provide a single example.
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