Sondra Marshak

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Name: Sondra Marshak
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Type: writer
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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 and The Fate of the Phoenix (for Bantam Books) and The Prometheus Design and Triangle (for Pocket Books). The pair also had a couple of stories in the New Voyages collections of short stories that many fans felt were the closest fandom ever came to professionally published slash.

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 the 2006 compendium 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.

Aside from the Voyages of the Imagination interview, the pair disappeared from fandom in the early '80s. Their last professional Star Trek novel, Triangle, appeared in 1983.

Marshak and Kraith

Starting in 1973, Marshak co-authored Kraith stories with Jacqueline Lichtenberg beginning with the novella "Spock's Decision", 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.)"[1]

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.[2]

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."[3]

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 the authors' knowledge, control or permission. The authors did not receive copies of their contracts before the book went to press. 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 copyrighted fanzine, and no fanzine was mentioned or credited.[4]

Never Published

In Star Trek: The New Voyages 2, Marshak and Culbreath announced plans to write a novel with Nichelle Nichols, to be called Uhura!. This book was also referred to as The Uhura Connection. 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 Jesco von Puttkamer.) According to Ian McLean, of the website Have Phaser, Will Travel, "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. [5]

Marshak's "Slashy Subtext"

Many fans have observed that Marshak and Culbreath's Star Trek writing is thinly veiled (or not so veiled) Kirk/Spock slash. The pulp-romantic style and the abundance of nude scenes and bondage situations contribute to this impression. Kirk is often feminized, repeatedly described as impressed by or yielding to Spock's immeasurable physical strength, etc., etc.[6]

A fan wrote in 2013: "It's my understanding that blackmarket K/S "bonus chapters" for all four of their ST novels were available in the "slash" fanfic circles." [7]

In 1998, another fan commented: "Although there is no overt sexuality in those books, there is enough going on beneath the surface to keep psychoanalysts and K/S hurt-comfort writers working for years. In direct language the books were very proper but in feel they should have made my hands sticky <EEW!>. Marshak and Culbreath made a lot of noise about Federation culture and the male dominated Starfleet that was interesting. the cultural stuff bears looking at and thinking about. The gender issues always seemed anachronistic and a touch hysterical to me. One of their Short Stories in "New Voyages" called the "Protruscan Petard" <sp?> was a delightful story just because they put the characters in a wonderfully bad spot. I didn't quite care for Spock with the double X chromosome, or the testosterone charged madness that came from it.[8] Actually I thought the whole "Alpha Male" thing was way, way over done,[9] but the basic idea was sound. Anyway, I take it from the context of your post, Meg, that K/S is something you like. The Phoenix books are loaded with sexual energy even if they aren't really allowed to say so directly. K/S, hurt-comfort, and dominance games are just not my cup of tea, but they're in there...." [10]

Another comment in 1998: "Re: Shatner's biography. If there are any still out there, Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath's novels might be of interest to you-- hint: their "agenda" oozes throughout their writing, and is so heavy handed that it becomes difficult to read. (I'm referring to the Phoenix novels). I tried to re-read it again recently (my 6th time now?) but find other fan writing much more desireable. (Thanks K/Sers!)" [11]

A review of "Surprise!", a story by Marshak, Culbreath and Nichelle Nichols in New Voyages 2, characterized it as "the slashiest thing I have read so far in this fandom", citing Spock's attempts to get Kirk to go to bed, a discussion of birthday spanking, and references to a secret alcove between their bedrooms where they have an ongoing chess match (presumably the reviewer thinks this is a euphemism). However, slash historian klangley56 responds that this screwball comedy was probably not intended as slash, but as "an intended humorous story that just ends up being silly and out of character and a bit too 'precious'."[12]

And, of course, Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath were the fans who managed to maneuver Gene Roddenberry into comparing Kirk and Spock to Alexander the Great and Hephaistion, including a mention of "the Greek ideal" causing some fans to believe that he'd intended "physical love between the two" as canon all along. [13]

Without mentioning their names, Star Trek writer/advisor David Gerrold, who is gay, spoke scathingly of their aggressive promotion of The Premise in the 1988 edition of his book The World of Star Trek and in several online open letters.

In one of these letters, printed in Not Tonight, Spock! #5 in September 1984, Gerrold revealed that "The people who created STAR TREK neither share nor endorse the belief that Kirk & Spock are gay lovers. Indeed, two of the most aggressive promulgators of this belief have been barred from the lot and from the offices of those who produce ST."

In his 1985 Open Letter to K/S Fandom, Gerrold said he and his editor had had experience dealing with
...some of the more... uh, aggressive individuals. (These particular individuals have managed to alienate — and offend — 3 publishers, several members of the STAR TREK cast & production crew, & Paramount Pictures legal department. These individuals are very probably the main reason why K/S fandom has generated such a tarnished reputation in TREK fandom.)

Exactly what Marshak and Culbreath did that got them banished is unknown, but it is possible this has something to do with their campaign to make sure Leonard Nimoy would be cast in the upcoming Star Trek: The Motion Picture.[14][15][16]

In 2013 Gerrold returned to this subject, describing "the two most aggressive women behind the phenomenon", saying that they had once turned down a story submitted to them (presumably for a third edition of Star Trek: The New Voyages) by a young gay man, telling him that he didn't understand male homosexuality. Gerrold added, "I met those two women once. One of them began her conversation with, 'What you Star Trek writers don't understand--' Oh, really? I was trained by Gene L. Coon and D.C. Fontana. '--is that Kirk secretly wants to be raped by Spock.' I gnawed off a leg and escaped."[17]

Avoid ALL by Marshak and Culbreath who cowrote at least 4 novels. They also were the earliest fan fic writers and may have created slash Kirk/Spock but not certain. Very masochistic novels. Kirk is almost always near death or close to it. I just read their published novels. ... Yesterday I wrote that Marshak was involved in early ST fan fiction and may have created slash. I did research on her. She was heavily involved with kraith. It is heavily Vulcan centric stories. Marshak got involved seems like midway and had Sarek adopt Kirk and be Spock's student. On other sites I found one description of Spock spanking Kirk for disobeying. Kraith seems to focus at least from wikipedia definition on the main object at the start how Star Trek's federation is Earth centric and Kirk pushes not just Earth centric ideas but white male. Kraith seems like it did impact Roddenberry, Spock's death and rebirth appears to have Kraith foundations. Marshak's slash was one of hurt/heal a precursor to the modern slash.[18]

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."[19]

Personal Recollections

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

In her memoir Reminisce With Me, the late Nancy Kippax spoke about how she and her sister Bev, inspired by the section on fanfiction in Star Trek Lives!, created the fanzine Contact. It featured Kirk-Spock relationship and hurt/comfort stories. The sisters began sending out flyers asking for material. A few weeks later, Marshak contacted the sisters:

The Great and Powerful Sondra, one of the authors of our "bible"! This was mind-boggling, indeed! I wondered what we had done to rate such attention. Little did we know that we had bitten into one of the largest apples in Star Trek fandom, and the particular orchard of Sondra and Myrna Culbraith. When we had sent out our flyers, with the heading, "A New Fanzine Devoted to the Kirk-Spock Relationship", we had sent out a fireball to the people who would be interested.

Bev went on to relate that The Mighty One had demanded that we send her everything we had. That meant stories, pieces of stories, submissions, story ideas and outlines, every scrap of paper we had with anything at all written on it. She wanted to know all about us, where we got our ideas, what we liked and didn't like, how we saw the Kirk-Spock relationship, and on and on. [20]

Kippax subsequently spoke about "complying with Sondra Marshak's demands" and later expressed impatience with Sondra's behavior at an unnamed convention in Atlanta (perhaps Star Trek Atlanta in 1978):

It was a great convention, marred only by the unrelenting presence of Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbraith [sic]. One day, Bev wore a teeshirt with the cover illo from Contact IV, which Sondra almost ripped from her body, saying, "I want that shirt!" We did a panel on the Kirk-Spock relationship with them, as I recall.[21]

Steve Donoghue, in his ongoing analysis of Star Trek fandom, refers to Marshak and Culbreath as among the "first ladies of fandom"[22] 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[23], 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.

See also

Marshak & Culbreath - Psychological H/C?

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. Jacqueline Lichtenberg, preface to "Spock's Pilgrimage", Kraith Collected vol. 4.
  2. 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.
  3. Jeff Ayers, Voyages of Imagination: The Star Trek Fiction Companion. Pocket Books, 2006.
  4. More in A Piece of the Action 37, April 1976.
  5. Star Trek: The Lost Books.
  6. In a tribute to Nimoy after his death, Shatner mentioned in passing that Nimoy really was "very powerful, he was a swimmer". He said this was something he would remember as much as Nimoy's sense of humor; "his laughter, entwined in mine." Shatner on Nimoy, 'Spock would not have been the same' at Youtube, Feb. 27, 2015.
  7. Therin of Andor, writing on a thread discussing Marshak & Culbreath on TrekBBS, April 25, 2013. He made the same claim three years earlier in this thread about The Price of the Phoenix.
  8. Marshak and Culbreath portrayed Spock as having induced XXY syndrome, which he retained at the end of the story. At the time they were writing, XXY syndrome had been in the news a good deal, with the popular assumption that it caused hypermasculine, aggressive "supermales". It's come in for numerous misunderstandings and mischaracterizations since it was first identified in the 1960s.
  9. The "alpha male", a pet theory of Marshak and Culbreath's, was based on the research of Canadian anthropologist Lionel Tiger, particularly his book Men in Groups, which has since been discredited.
  10. comment by Jay P. Hailey alt.startrek.creative, February 25, 1998
  11. Susie Bowers, July 17, 1998 at alt.startrek.creative.erotica.moderated
  12. Spock Shaped Snickerdoodles, review by delmarsdoll and discussion with klangley56, 2009-07-14 - 27.
  13. D.C. Fontana was asked about this in May 2016 in regards to "Amok Time", and replied as follows: "In answer to your question, NO - there were no homosexual double-entendres in the script - at least none that were deliberate. If some viewers chose to read that into the dialogue, etc. that's their point of view, but certainly not ours. Writer Theodore Sturgeon was trying to reveal Spock's inner human in a struggle with what his culture, his upbringing and his half-human/half-Vulcan heritage had instilled in him about emotion and controlling it in an out-of-control situation. It also was a peek into the Vulcan culture that no one had seen before. That's ALL we were doing. I've heard this nonsense (especially about Kirk/Spock) for years. There is no basis to it. I hope this answer is helpful to you." D.C. Fontana, personal correspondence with Bluejay Young, email dated 2016-05-10.
  14. "It was a very tough time, complicated by the fact that I was pursuing a lawsuit against Paramount at the time, that had to do with merchandising royalties that I had failed to receive. We had a rather important lawsuit pending, and it was difficult to find my way through this process of dealing with Paramount, where they were calling me to go to work for them, while at the same time I had a lawsuit outstanding against them. It takes a little organization of the mind to be able to compartmentalize those things and be able to put them in perspective, and I had a tough time with that." Also, Gene Roddenberry had engaged him for something else and then abruptly dropped him, so he had refused to be in the film, so Spock was left out of the screenplay. It wasn't until Robert Wise arranged to have the promised royalties paid to Nimoy that he agreed to return.
  15. Details of the lawsuit and Nimoy's grievances against Roddenberry are in "How Leonard Nimoy Was Convinced to Join the First 'Star Trek' Movie" (Hollywood Reporter, 2-27-15).
  16. Asked by Marshak and Culbreath about the prevalence of slash and other sexual premises in fan fiction, Nimoy with his characteristic reserve refused to speculate, merely stating that he and Shatner must have done something they were unaware of which caused fans to respond with such ideas.
  17. David Gerrold, Facebook article Somebody asked me again what I thought about K/S fans, 2013-08-27.
  18. Blogger EisenBolan writing in Groupthink, 2014-03-16 and 7.
  19. Mary Jo Lawrence, A New Year's Revolution, reprinted in Best of Trek 2, Signet 1979, pp 106-115.
  20. Nancy Kippax, Reminisce With Me/Entering Star Trek Fandom.
  21. Nancy Kippax, Reminisce With Me/The Late '70s Part II.
  22. 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.
  23. 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.