Alternate Universe 4: The Writing, The Content
|Title:||Alternate Universe 4: The Writing, The Content|
|Creator:||Virginia Tilley and Anna Mary Hall|
|Fandom:||Star Trek: TOS|
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The essay was published in Interphase #4 in 1976.
Some Topics Discussed
- Alternate Universe 4
- fan collaboration
- the challenges of physical distance, the postal service
- fanfiction decisions
- the loneliness of the long-distance fan
- shared universes
- alternate universes
- Star Trek: TOS
About the Premise of AU4
The name of the series refers to Trek universes. The canon Trek universe is the first, the Mirror Universe the second, the Kraith universe the third and this one the fourth, hence Alternate Universe 4. The premise centers around Kirk being court-martialed and eventually joining a secret organization of advanced aliens called Lightfleet (sometimes this is also called "Lightfleet Universe"). The zine is a psychological study of a hero rising out of the ashes of his own destruction.
This zine series "... ranks as one of the most outstanding Star Trek fanzines of all times. The publication gained immediate popularity, and was widely distributed." 
This series was mentioned in Star Trek Lives!.
Virginia: The Writing
It all began back in those black depths of puberty known as 9th grade, in the city of Decatur, Illinois, Soybean Capitol of the World. I was 13 years old, and typically desperate. The year was I had already written, in study halls and such boring moments, an atrocious 108-page epic about flying horses in a mythical land called "Faria", and was in the process of creating a one- dimensional character named "Aaron" who bore a vague resemblance to Napoleon Solo and who fumbled into Middle Earth and my high school in turns. I remember he was always getting wounded in the shoulder. . . . At any rate, it was no great loss when I finally stayed up 'til midnight one Saturday night to watch a show called "Star Trek", and Aaron and Faria were swept out of my mind into deserved oblivion.
That first episode [I saw of Star Trek] was "The Apple", and I hadn't the faintest idea what was going on. Transporters, pointed ears, all that foliage, all those painted people, force-fields, phasers . . . . I was lost by the first beam-down effect, but I was entranced. I clipped everything, including the blurbs in TV Guide. I was learning to touch-type, and I began pounding out episode synopses on my ancient black manual. And somehow or other, during homeroom and English class, I began to jot down the first ideas about Lightfleet.
The Lightfleet of 1967 bore little resemblance to the Lightfleet of 1975. I blush to recall some of the details, in fact; it was run by a president, and . . . well, never mind. It bore a great resemblance to Starfleet, but it was more powerful, and was run by a dark-eyed race called the "Feanorians", a name I took straight from Tolkien (and which for the purposes of Alternate Universe 4 I changed to "Velonians"). There were nine cruisers, and nine captains -- all male — to run them. I wasn't sure what the ships did — the patrol nature of Lightfleet was only a foggy seed of thought in my mind -- but they were fast and beautiful, so who cared? I fiddled with the idea for the rest of Star Trek's 2nd season, developing crucial factors like the names of the medals and the color of uniforms, until I met a kindred spirit and Star Trek fan, Cathy Minks. With in a day she was an ardent Lightfleet creator, and within three days we had created characters for ourselves: Commander T'Ares Malon (me) and her captain, Sharna Colbon (Cathy). We not only talked about them but acted them out by the hour, to the consternation of ice-cream shop owners and book store proprietors, and when my family moved to New York City in 1968 we continued to act them out through letters.
The Malon/Sharna letters -- written totally in character — were the vehicle for the real fleshing-out of Lightfleet, its purpose and nature, limitations and goals and history. During the next five years of letter-writing Lightfleet attain its raison d'etre; the preservation of peace in the galaxy. Medals and uniforms were forgotten by stages, the male dominance crumbled and fell, the militarism faded to a loose chain-of-command. By trying to imagine ourselves as command of ficers, we began to glimpse what it meant to be a command officer, to be tied to a ship or to a mission, to oe responsible for other lives. Malon and Sharna consequently began to grow, reflect ing the burden of responsibility we began to understand them to have. It was almost hard to keep up with them, though we controlled them; their experiences and growth required so much insight from us, which we often lacked and had to search for in other literature and sometimes never found. Malon and Sharna went through adventure after adventure, mission after mission, and by the fall of 1972, when I was a sophomore a t the University of Massachusetts, Malon and Lightfleet had gone from being simple images of Spock and Starfleet to being unique in their own right. In fact, in some ways, they had grown beyond my own understanding -- and I'd created them, damn it -- when I met Shirley Maiewski.Let it be known to all that Shirley is not merely the bright, cheerful, enthusiastic, ener getic mainstay of fandom so many of us know and love. There is a dark side to her character, a dark and fearsome side, the side that glowers over her cash register at wide-eyed students clutching books to be returned, and that growls out a 3rd-degree interrogation designed to do exactly what it does: sift the rip-offs from the legitimate returns.
She was still searching for flaws [in the book Virginia was returning for a refund at the University of Massachusetts Text Bookstore] and I was gulping down completely unfounded guilt when I noticed hanging on a chain around her neck, gleaming and graceful — "That's the Enterprise."My refund was in my hand in a second; I think she was ready to give me the whole cash register. We talked for an hour and met later to talk more. I introduced her to Lightfleet and lent her the Malon/Sharna letters (which rather baffled her), and she Introduced me to fandom. I was boggled by fandom; I'd had no idea any of it existed. How many of us have drifted for years in a vacuum and had fandom revealed to us all at once in all its stunning breadth and complexity? Despite all the energy I'd put Into Lightfleet, I'd always seen It as a kind of peculiar hobby, not to be discussed in mixed company, or referred to vaguely as "my writing". Suddenly my work was validated.
I kept in touch with Shirley for the rest of the year, but it wasn't until the following summer, 1973, that she mentioned that a fan from Indiana was visiting her and would I like to meet her? I blithely said yes, and in total innocence drove home from work with Shirley one evening and for the first time met Anna Mary Hall. Anna Mary Hall's one of my favorite people in the whole world. She's direct, honest, perceptive, fun, and a gold mine of imagination.
I described Lightfleet to her (that is, I fumbled and faltered in an unsuccessful effort to summarize) and somehow — to this day I don't know how — she saw through the clumsiness of my description and was interested.
We both had read one of Shirley's typically disastrous , desolating Kirk-stories called "No Tomorrow"(which is now Chapter 1 of AU4 Volume I). In it, Shirley had courtmartialed Kirk and thrown him right out of Starfleet. There is a final scene in which Kirk says goodbye to Spock and McCoy, in Shirley's original last line was "And they never saw him again." Anna Mary had written a sequel to salvage Kirk, and had titled it "Tomorrow" (now Chapter 2 of Volume I). Anna Mary mentioned sometime during the evening that she wasn't sure where Kirk went after "Tomorrow". Suddenly I got a gleam in my eye. Would it be possible. . . ? Then I saw the gleam growing in her eye too, and we both shouted almost simultaneously, "He joins Lightfleet!" And AU4 was born.We planned the plot that night, lying awake until 5 a.m. It was, of course, obvious that Kirk must meet McCoy and Spock again, and that final scene between them -- which we later called "The Scene" -- was the first to be written. We acted it out in Shirley's kitchen, I typed it up at work, and gave it to Shirley the next day. I was watching her read it , waiting for a "it needs work", when to my astonishment she began sniffling and dabbing her eyes. When she took it home to Anna Mary and got the same reaction, we felt we had something going. When we all sat down again together around it, I was told that "It's perfect, perfect! There's just one little word. . . ." We then worked on it for four straight hours and changed it totally. It was to become the classic pattern of all our work together.
But collaboration is not an easy thing. Everyone has individual "druthers", tastes, pet characters, and fondly-imagined scenes of drama and comedy, and everyone, no matter how stable and reasonable at other times, has the potential for a total regression to floor-stamping childhood when it comes to cutting cherished passages, or even words. Words, indeed!; in Volume II, we have long battles about whether a comma should be a semi-colon. And those of you who think I'm exag gerating can ask those few who have seen us in action.
We wrote Volume I between the summers of 1973 and '74, completely by letter. I had made things much more difficult by moving to my sister's farm in West Virginia, so none of us were within easy visiting of each other. The distance between us was both a problem and a blessing; a problem because it meant having to cram all our arm-waving and ardency into letters — not to mention all those typed carbon copies of one draft after another — and a blessing because emo tions never got too hot and we managed to avoid the floor-stamping stage — at least most of the time.
Part of the problem was solved, too, by the division of AU4 into chapters, each of which was written and "controlled" by just one of us. This wasn't as simple as it sounds, however, because each of us was still answerable to the other two. For example, let's say I complete a draft of the chapter "Recruitment". I then type it up and send copies to Shirley and Anna Mary. They read it, and write me reams of comments, and I struggle with rewrites and eventually send them a whole new version, which they again criticize, etc. It is not unusual for one of us to write a letter labeled "Comments on your comments on my comments on 'Recruitment'" or whatever, nor is it unusual to get a letter saying "I don't care anymore! It stays as it is!"
Also, it wasn't long before Anna Mary adopted a Lightfleet character of her own; Captain Thia Chenen (who, incidentally, appears in Volume II). It isn't easy to write letters for someone over a hundred years older than you are, and with the totally different life ex perience of being Velonian and a captain to boot, but Anna Mary handled it mas terfully. Soon Shirley, too, had adopted a character, Captain Naron Lancenol (somehow my friends always seem to out rank me), and our letters flew. In a sense, we wrote AU4 in our spare time.
It didn't occur to me at the time that we were doing anything unusual. Collaboration by mail? Why not?We met once, in New York City at the International Star Trek Con in the Americana Hotel. We compared notes, ideas, criticisms for three days, then we were apart again until summer. We met at Shirley' house in Massachusetts in July and prepared to publish.
Ah, the days of publishing! Up to several days after we arrived there, we hadn't considered putting AU4 out our selves. I'm not sure why; we hadn't much idea of how to go about it, I guess. But the idea came slowly that it was just possible, and after a few more days I found myself typing like mad at the final copy. Anna Mary and I shuttled back and forth to the printer (Shirley was still working at the Annex through all this), and somehow it was completed, stapled and baptized. There they lay, 200 copies of AU4, gleaming in the morning light .... Well, it was a moving moment. We signed each other's special copies and looked at each other with glowing eyes.
Of the three of us, I was the most nervous about AU4's reception. Unlike Anna Mary and Shirley, I had never pub ished before, and I had very little idea of how AU4 compared to fanzines in general. Also, I was worried about how little of Lightfleet, and of Malon, we had explained. Would people object to the nature of Lightfleet's work? Would Malon in spire the slightest shred of interest in those few pages where she appeared? I had known for months that Volume II was growing in our minds, but should we go ahead and write it, with Volume I's reception still unknown? Daphne Hamilton had, by this time, joined our team of writers (and had adopted the character of psychologist and captain Dival Raithan, who is a central figure in Volume II), and we planned the new plot and returned to our respective states and cities, and hesitated.Volume I sold well. Volume II went into action.
The plot of Volume II is of a different breed from that of Volume I. It is much longer, for one thing, with several subplots and quite a few more characters. It is based largely on events in the Lightfleet letters — though we have actually watered it down a bit to make it less "traumatic" — and we plunged into it with enthusiasm and a bit of apprehension.
Again, we were sending letters by the hundreds, asking advice, sending criticism, typing drafts. again we each were responsible for certain chapters, but the plot, as I said, was much longer and more complicated than before, and the chapters began to be broken up, and responsibility shuffled around. The plot got even longer and more demanding, the characterizations more difficult, By the time we met in New York City in February, we knew we had a monster on our hands. I think Shirley was the only one of us who got to "see" the Con; Anna Mary, Daphne and I spent almost the entire time in our room, exchanging drafts and debating alternatives. Again we split up. More chapters were written and sent around. Summer began to draw near, and I, for one, began to feel panicky. Volume II was approaching 150 pages and several chapters were still unwritten; how could we complete them and publish in July, as we'd planned?
We met at Shirley's in the 3rd week of July, laden with notebooks crammed with Volume II and Lightfleet data and letters. We laid everything out on the living room floor, and started to work.
It took us three days just to read through what we had. Star Trek Lives! had just come out and Shirley was snowed under with Welcommittee mail (including a host of new orders for Volume I — Shirley has handled the business end of AU4 from the beginning), and could only take short times to join us, but we struggled on. For days we debated, argued and brooded, and rewrote. We went over every word, every punctuation mark.
One semi-welcome distraction was the new cuckoo clock that hung on Shirley's living room wall. Every half hour it cuckooed, loud and depending on the hour, long. It destroyed the most impassioned speeches, lightened the gloomiest silences, and undoubtedly saved some friendships. It kept us company at 3 a.m., called us to the battle front at 9 a.m., and sometimes stopped conversation for minutes at a time simply by sounding its five-minute-warning click. To add to this, we had a record-breaking heat wave. It wasn't hot, it was paralyzing. The temperature was 98° in side, 110° outside, for days on end. Sometimes we'd get out paper and pen and then just sit there, motionless and silent, sweating. We drank literally gallons of cranapple juice, gallons more of lemonade, and kept working.
Three weeks passed, and we were weak from sitting in one spot all the time and from the heat. We had gone over Volume II again and again. We had crawled all over the furniture illustrating postures. We rumpled The Elements of Style and Roget's Thesaurus. We cut out lines and paragraphs and pages rather than deal with the changes they would have made necessary. We began to get slap-happy, and we also began to realize that we weren't going to finish.Volume II was reordered and punched together, and aside from the epilog and a few other sections it was complete — but we hadn't the energy to finish. We faced the realization bravely; in fact, we hardly had the strength to care. I found that I had been elected to type up the final copy ~ now nearly 200 pages long —and even that didn't bother me, until I'd gotten home and recovered a bit.
Anna Mary: The Content
Shirley Malewski, Virginia Tilley, and I had two major reasons for writing Alternate Universe 4. One was to explore the character of James T. Kirk. The other was to introduce Lightfleet to Star Trek fans.
Many stories have been written about Kirk, but most are about Captain Kirk of the U.S.S. Enterprise. They are adventure stories and very few try to show any growth or change in his character. We wanted to do more than merely tell a story about Kirk, we wanted to make some basic changes in him, in the way he thinks, In the way he reacts to situations. There must be reasons for such changes, so in the first section of Volume I, he makes a mistake that separates him from his familiar surroundings. The rest of the volume shows his struggle to rebuild his life.
The response to the stories has been favorable, but not free of criticism. The critics claim that Mr. Spock and Dr. McCoy would have gone with Kirk when he was kicked out of Starfleet. Though their presence would have forced drastic changes in the story we wanted to tell we did consider having them accompany Kirk. The idea works only if you think of the trio as storybook heroes. They are storybook heroes, but if you think of them that way while writing a story it will not be believable.
Real people have divided loyalties that pull them in many directions and make choices difficult. Spock and McCoy faced a painful decision. Our story was about Kirk, so we did not tell how or why Spock and McCoy decided to stay with the Enterprise, but their reasons were good. Commander Spock and Lieutenant-Commander McCoy are career officers with duties to perform, with people other than Kirk depending onthem. The doomsday machine had damaged the Enterprise. McCoy had taken injured crewmen under his care. Other doctors could have taken over once the ship reached the Starbase, but McCoy takes his profession seriously. The injured were his chosen responsibility. He would not abandon them, and there was another more subtle healing in which he would have a part.
Spock had the welfare of the entire crew to consider. Kirk bore the brunt of the blame for the destruction of the planets. It was his fault, and would have been his responsibility in any case. But the crew's confidence in themselves had been badly shaken. They had a part in the destruction; they shared in the blame and the guilt. Spock must get these people back into shape to do their jobs. There will be a new captain, but he will be an outsider free of guilt, possibly more of a hindrance than a help. It will be years before "I'm on the Enterprise," is once again a statement which people will make proudly.
Spock and McCoy gave Kirk the help they could. They kept him out of the penal colony. They saved his life. Spock gave him what mental help he could. There was nothing more they could do forKirk. There is a point past which help can no longer be given. Kirk had to live his own life, or end up an emotional cripple forever dependent on others. This was Kirk's decision, too. Spock and McCoy love him. Had he called they would have come. He did not call. He had wrecked his life; he did not wish to ruin theirs. He left them each other, and what had been his ship, to care for.
As Virginia told in her article, Lightfleet had existed nearly as long as Star Trek, but it has had a very limited audience for most of this time. Then Virginia met Shirley, learned of Star Trek fandom, and knew she had found the readers for her stories, if she could find some way to tie the two together. Shirley introduced Virginia and I while I was writing "Tomorrow" and wondering about Kirk's next move. We solved both our problems by having Kirk join Lightfleet. He once more had tasks worthy of his abilities, and the stories could be sold as Star Trek fiction.
Lightfleet exists beyond the limits established by the television series Star Trek. It looks at the Federation from outside. This viewpoint alters attitudes and assumptions. Klingons are evil and treacherous? Romulans are warlike and violent? The Federation is peace-loving and dependable? . . . not necessarily when seen from Lightfleet's point of view!Lightfleet has an extensive history, a large cast of regular characters, and many adventures that have no connection with Star Trek. We could write of life on Velona, of the action around Avas, of the Velts or the Anvysos and never mention a familiar Star Trek character or location. But since we had two purposes, Kirk has had a part in all the stories we've published. He is an expert on the Federation, so that is where the stories have taken place. If his part in the action is smaller than in his Starfleet days, if he is no longer certain his solution is the correct one, that is the way we meant it to be. James T. Kirk has changed.
- from Boldly Writing