A Political Argument
|Title:||A Political Argument|
|Fandom:||Star Trek: The Original Series|
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It was published in the print zine T'hy'la #9.
"Uhura is raped and imprisoned on a planet which denies the rights of women. The diplomatic tightrope Kirk and Spock must walk to rescue her has many repercussions, both professionally and personally."
Reactions and Reviews
In this excellent continuing-relationship story, the K/S relationship is skillfully integrated into an underlying "political" plot. Kirk, Spock, and the ever-changing current of their relationship are drawn with an economy. subtlety and feel for the characters that is nothing short of exquisite. Ms. Stuart has a remarkable ability to balance and play off against each other -- in a single story and societies even a single sentence -- the seeming contradictions in her characters and their relationship. Her Kirk and Spock work hard to maintain the boundaries between their roles as lovers and as Captain and First Officer, yet those boundaries are often ambiguous. Each deeply respects the other's individuality, yet neither, especially Kirk, can avoid a tendency to presume on the other's emotional commitment. These dialectical tensions provide much of the dramatic movement of this story... [much omitted due to the extreme length of the review] ... The Arabic-Islamic parallels in the society that holds Uhura prisoner are so obvious as to suggest the author was using them to make a point. (The parallels include a language seemingly based on triliteral roots, with prefixes, suffixes, articles and patronyaics resembling those of certain colloquial Arabic dialects; a dominant religion of radical monotheism based on a "Book": calligraphy employed as an art form: "an ancient history of medical sophistication," and so on in considerable detail: there is even a character who seems to be an analogy to Terry Waite. though without the 23rd-century of an Oliver North connection. I hope.) However, it's hard to see the point of the comparison, unless it is imply to advance an Orientalist agenda. Ms. Stuart's "Seif" society combines attributes of quite different societies on our own planet -- for example,the social mores of post-colonial tribal regimes created with the encourageaent of the imperial powers (e.g. Saudi Arabia), the theological rigidity of contemporary lower middle-class fundaaentalism and the high culture of medieval Islamic empires. This is the timeless, a-historical "Arab world" of Orientalist fantasy. The notion that the population of an entire planet would conform to an arbitrary collection of social structures, traditions, attitudes and practices drawn from a wide variety of vastly different historical and social circumstances is unrealistic in our world; why should it be any more realistic on another planet? The effect would be similar had the story taken place on a 23rd century "Christian" planet in which the status of all women resembled that of women in early Mormon times; the single religious orthodoxy was televangelism; and inhabitants laid claim to the cultural heritage of the Italian Renaissance. As good as I found this story. I couldn't help feeling the author, by choosing to tell a story of a political dilemma caused by 'their' fanaticism vs. 'our' rationalism, had missed an opportunity to tell a deeper story — a story in which the dilemma was caused by a clash between opposing values and interests that, though different, are both defensible. Since Ms. Stuart clearly has the skills and ability to tell such a story. I wondered why the opportunity was missed. Did the sheer availability of the "Orientalist" fantasy to Europeans and Americans make the one-dimensional villains of this story so easy to write? Perhaps the answer lies in the meaning of the title phrase 'a political argument.' As used in this story, the phrase means an abstract ideological argument, divorced from the real interests and needs of real people. However, there is another, deeper, and much more challenging kind of political argument": one that pits the legitimate interests of real people against equally legitimate, but conflicting interests of other real people. It is my fervent hope that Ms. Stuart will one day turn her considerable writing talents and her interest in alien societies to writing about a 'political argument' in the latter sense of the term. 
Eva Stuart is one of a handful of authors who has been steadily publishing very good K/S stories for decades. Since most of that work has been printed in UK zines and her stories have never been put on the web, Stuart may be a new name to some of you. Discovering this author will be a treat.
Stuart’s K/S universe is a natural, established relationship extension of ST TOS with stories beginning in the ST TOS time frame and following long, successful Star Fleet careers which diverge from the movies. The excellent storytelling in A Political Argument takes place in the early part of this timeline and is worthy of review here for several reasons. This story was serious, timely social commentary on several levels when it was published in 1990. Like the best of ST TOS, it remains serious, timely social commentary as relevant today as it was then. Stuart cannily sidesteps the plot traps that plague many authors. This universe is much broader than the Enterprise. This Enterprise is crewed by able professionals who are sometimes more qualified for assignments than the Big Three and who can adamantly disagree with Kirk’s decisions without violating discipline or chain-of-command. Star Fleet Command and diplomatic corps personnel are competent, capable and insightful. The K/S relationship experiences common commitment difficulties which don’t involve a wandering eye or differing sexual expectations, and which the guys have to recognize, discuss and commit to work through in order to keep their relationship viable and healthy. In the process, there’s some damn fine storytelling. The plot is complex, realistic, even and well paced. Secondary characters are very well drawn and necessary to move the story along and a continuing side story that follows the female security guard team assigned to the captain adds more depth than expected. As the story opens the Enterprise is assigned to deliver medical supplies to Sejf, a closed planet with an aggressive history of independence. The culture of Sejf is relatively new and mirrors the rigid, fundamentalist Islam of Saudi Arabia. Kirk and Spock beam down alone to meet with the Sejf ruler, the M’hallem, to complete the transfer and must be careful to do nothing that would disclose their relationship because it violates the planetary religion, It-Teieqa. Almost everything we think of as Western violates It-Teieqa. Kirk carefully tiptoes through the meeting only to have the M’Hallem remind them that Sejf is a planet of peace which cannot possibly be understood by the endemically violent Federation and when Spock speaks in defence of his people, Vulcan is dismissed because the Vulcan people do not believe in a Creator. Hospitality is an important aspect of the Sejf culture; however, so at the audience conclusion, the M’Hallem suggests that they might like to view the planet’s artistic treasures. Kirk has had enough but the fabled books, tapestries and graphic art have rarely been viewed by outsiders. At Spock’s prompting, Kirk accepts. The decision is one he soon regrets. All of the crewmembers who take advantage of the invitation, return to the ship except Uhura. When she can’t be reached by communicator, an appeal to the M’Hallem finally locates her in detention. She has been arrested for instigating her own rape. It-Teieqa required her to go ashore completely covered. She stands accused of enticing the perpetrator to sin because she dropped her veil in an open area in order to speak into her communicator to request beam-up. McCoy assigns an older female doctor to attend her in the women’s facility. Dr. Rae is a no nonsense, call ‘em like she sees ‘em medic with some baggage in her past that colors her reaction to the situation. Though the cursory description sounds like McCoy, she’s a distinct, tough, likeable character. It does make a person wonder, though. Practitioners of certain technical professions have amazingly similar backstories. Why? I don’t know. But perhaps, starship medical personnel are one of these. Kirk is often lauded and applauded for his diplomatic skills and he certainly does know how to be charming and persuasive, but his modus operandi is always to follow the most direct path from point A to point B. That’s not really diplomacy. Here, Kirk wants to lead a jailbreak, his senior security guard wants to lead a jailbreak. Spock may be the only one aboard counselling against it. Even Komack may be leaning toward a guerrilla action, but the upper echelon orders the Enterprise to stand down and await the arrival of a negotiator from the ex-Federation Peaceforce. The Peaceforce has a history of successful dealings with Sejf. While he waits, Kirk takes out his frustration by setting a new record traversing the ship’s massive climbing wall, nicknamed El Capitan, without the benefit of an anti-gravity fall-bed and by being brusque, rough and ill-tempered with Spock. The negotiator turns out to be a savvy guy. He probably would have gotten Uhura’s release relatively quickly if Uhura hadn’t taken the initiative, broken jail, retrieved a communicator and had herself beamed aboard. Kirk would have been forced to return her to Sejf custody if the negotiator hadn’t used an effective, circumspective approach to prevent it. The captain understands that Uhura needs psychotherapy to integrate the rape but has a difficult time understanding that the best treatment protocol also involves a return to her regular schedule. He’s uncomfortable with the attack. A conference with Dr. Rae helps him put the situation in perspective.Finally, Kirk is able to admit that his pride was hurt because he was helpless. That made him angry and he took out his anger on Spock. It’s a recurring pattern for him and he realizes that his behavior is jeopardizing their relationship. He questions certain aspects of their sexual politics. Spock worries that they have never discussed the possibility that their relationship could jeopardize a mission. Their relationship is strong but clearly a work in progress.