An Interview with Jacqueline Lichtenberg (1978)

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Interviews by Fans
Title: An Interview with Jacqueline Lichtenberg
Interviewer: the editor of Axanar
Interviewee: Jacqueline Lichtenberg
Date(s): 1978
Medium: print, online
Fandom(s): Star Trek, Science Fiction, Science Fiction
External Links:
Click here for related articles on Fanlore.

An Interview with Jacqueline Lichtenberg was printed in Axanar.

Also see An Interview with Jacqueline Lichtenberg (1980).

Some Topics Discussed


first page of the ten-page interview

I honestly believe that a woman is at an advantage in our culture, if you want to be a writer, because it's acceptable to allow your husband to support you. Maybe more so now than even two or three years ago, it's acceptable for men to be in that position, but, even today, there's a stigma attached to a man who wants to be a house man... househusband? ... to stay home and take care of the kids and write, be an artist, or whatever, while the woman goes out and holds a 9-to-5 job. That's still considered unmanly. People think, there* s something queer about that family.

So I really do feel that a woman is at a certain psychological advantage, because we are in a position where it's acceptable to say, "Oh, I'm a housewife, and I write," or say, "I'm a writer, and I also keep house and raise kids." To say, "I'm a woman, and I have a job, and I keep house and raise kids," now that's, "Gee, how do yon do it?" It's brownie points, it* s not only acceptable, it's laudable, and it's admirable. But to say, "I'm a husband, and my wife works, and I stay home and take care of the kids, and I'm trying to be a writer," ...uh-uh!

So we have a certain advantage, being women, and I'm making full use of it. It's part of my life plan. I figured, sell, I'm a woman, and I'm going to get married, and have kids, and while I'm raising them I'll try to be a writer.

It just so happens that I am also an idealist. I BELIEVE IN SCIENCE FICTION. To me, Star Trek is a Cause, with a capital "C, but it's more than Star Trek, it's science fiction. Star Trek is the only real science fiction on television. And I believe in Star Trek as a Cause and in science fiction as a Cause, and people go round... You know, like Kurt Vonnegut, and Harlan Ellison, and... They have made big names for themselves in science fiction, and now their biggest ambition is to, somehow or other, divorce themselves from the opprobrium science fiction has attached to it.

I don't happen to care for Harlan's all that much. I prefer well-structured stories with heroes, and inevitability of plot progression, and I like to understand what I'm reading. I know it's an irrational prejudice, but I really like it when I have the feeling that I'm understanding what I'm reading. And, although I can appreciate Harlan's art, I think his major talent is the way he creates titles. You read this amorphous mass that you didn't understand and then you look back at the title and you begin to see there's something more here, and you get into it.

I have my disagreements with Harlan on story structure. I think the 'City on the Edge of Forever' that appeared on the screen is structurally and artistically much, such superior to his original idea. I can't convince him of that. I met him at a SFWA party in New York once and told him that I had read it and his introduction in the book, "Six Science Fiction Plays", and I, very respectfully, disagreed with him. He said to me, "When you have won a couple of Hugos and Nebulas, then I'll listen to you." And I took him up on it. So I'm busily trying to win some Hugos and Nebulas so Harlan Ellison will listen to me.

This is the story of my life, really. I mean, the world, the way it's set up today, it's an authoritarian world. And if there is anything that I'm hysterically allergic to, it's an authoritarian approach to life.

In order for the world to believe you, you have to have achieved certain credits. Hugos, Nebulas, and Emmies are, in my field, the kind of credits that you have to achieve. I consider the Hugo and the Nebula the master's degree of the writing craft. Your bachelor's degree is your first sale, and your master's degree is your first award. And your doctorate, of course, would be something like the Pulitzer Prize, you know, something that's larger than that. But, to take it count, it has to be for science fiction. I REALLY AND FIRMLY AND TRULY BELIEVE THAT SCIENCE FICTION IS THE ONLY REAL LITERATURE THAT HUMANITY HAS EVER CREATED. (CRUNCH!) That's me eating an apple. You transcribe that crunch! I consider Star Trek is a branch of science fiction, find I CONSIDER STAR TREK THE MOST IMPORTANT THING THAT'S HAPPENED TO HUMANITY SINCE THE AGRICULTURAL REVOLUTION.

That's powerful, but it's true. I think that we proved it in "Star Trek Lives". If you really study that book, point for point, and if you go out, you can do the research yourself and substantiate it. In no other literature can you explore the basic philosophical questions of existence by the scientific method of problem solving.

One of the accepted methods of proving a theory is to assume it is not so, and examine the consequences. The only way to understand the nature of humanity is to assume a non-human. And the only field in which you can do that, create a non-human, intelligent being, is science fiction. That is why Gene Roddenberry fought tooth and nail to keep Spock on the original Star Trek. Because it's the Vulcan that makes Star Trek science fiction. If it didn't have a Vulcan, it wouldn't be science fiction; it would simply be a bunch of people out there going around from planet to planet. And that's why "Kraith" is about Vulcan culture, because my only interest in Star Trek is Star Trek as science fiction.

When I was a kid in college, I discovered the Darkover books as Marion was writing then. I ran into "Planet Savers" and "Sword of Aldones" in an Ace Double, and fell in love instantly. There is a deep karmic relationship between Marion and me. I think that one of the reasons ... one of the kinds of tailored effects that evinces an overwhelming response from a person is this totally overwhelming, consuming ... there are a lot of good things in the world, but this one peaks so far above the others .... It generally means that this person is speaking to you on a very deep philosophical level and, very often, at least in my experience, means that there is a very deep karmic relationship between the two people.

I felt very drawn to Marion, but I also felt very exasperated at her because she writes action-adventure science fiction, and has a tendency to exclude the philosophical story. I mean, there'd be little hints of the story she was telling, and I'd get all wound up in that, and then we'd rip away to the action-adventure, and Boom! the book was over and ...(sob!) know.

So I wrote Marion one of my famous twenty page letters about what she was doing wrong with the Darkover series. And, of course, to substantiate my claims I had to mention Kraith and Simes, and we got to corresponding, and I eventually sent her a copy of "House of Zeor" when it was in the raw, in manuscript, and she liked it. She said it was professional level...

So Marion and I, from that time (it was about 1971, I think), have been very close friends. Little by little she's read all I've written and she kind of took me on as a student.

Marion doesn't even know how she does what she does. But, like Roddenberry, a lot of what she does is on purpose. That was a big discovery, and I give Sondra Marshak all the credit. I didn't believe it. We had a big knock-down, drag-out fight, Sondra and I, while we were writing "Star Trek Lives". In our very first discussions about Star Trek, I claimed that it was all an accident, that Roddenberry hadn't the foggiest notion of what he was doing, and neither did anybody else. And she said, "No, it's not possible. The universe is not constructed in such a way that great art is created by accident." Hell, two empirical scientists... Put your money where your mouth is... Prove it! so she took her tape recorder in hand and traipsed all over the country. By dint of supreme heroics ... I can't begin to tell you what heroic stories are involved, she has chutzpah.

What's going to make Leonard Nimoy sit down for six or seven hours and talk into a tape recorder with somebody from nowhere who says they're writing a book and doesn't even have a contract? It takes chutzpah to do that! And the long and the short of it is that Roddenberry and all the others did Star Trek on purpose.

Marion was doing a panel with Katherine Kurtz and discovered that Katherine was a Darkover fan. When you have a situation where a whole lot of different authors all seem to speak in the same colours or at the same tone level, in the same key, you'll find there is some sort of connection like that. This is what I call the Tailored Effect. We're all painting in the same tailored effects, different intensities, different combinations but the sane basic materials, and if you're resonating on that frequency you'll pick it up. There's a whole bunch of us, basically women, taking over the science fiction field, coming out of the Star Trek fanzines and taking over. Within twenty years by 1995 — you're going to see — well, look at the situation right now.

In the 1930's and the early 40's just before the second World War and just after it, when they started to put together the World Science Fiction Conventions, there were about two or three dozen gangling adolescent kids, some too young for the army, some just out of the army, some of them 4-F, living in and around the northeast area of New York who got together and started science fiction fandom. Who were these people? They were members of First Fandom: Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov, Hal Clement, Lester delRey, Heinlein, James Blish, and so on, all of the top ten or twelve writers in the field today. The top influential writers in the science fiction world all came out of that vortex of energy around New York City at that time. They all had some connection. They'd published a fanzine or they were in a club or they did this or they did that. They were just there. They were part of that group. Hell, twenty years from now the top twelve names in science fiction will all be women who were writing in Star Trek fanzines and are part of our group now. I predict that. I really do. And we'll all be connected, as some of us are now: Steve Barnes, Eleanor Arnason, Ruth Berman, Leslie Lilker...

There is a tremendous vortex of energy being created by these people. They're teaching each other to write just like the science fiction people taught each other to write. The science fiction people taught each other to write gadget stories and action-adventure: adolescent, without sex, wooden, without dimension, without psychology. What are the Star Trek women teaching themselves to write - Obsc'zine notwithstanding - well, even that, because it's a psychological study. What they're teaching themselves to write is science fiction soap opera, with a little action-adventure thrown in just for fun, because we know that within every woman there's a hidden man. He all like that 'zap' little bang. He like it. It's nice. I like a little action, you know, somebody crosses you, you,punch him in the nose. It's a nice solution. There comes a time when the simplest solution is the most satisfying and it's in us, don't deny it. we're all masculine to a certain extent and there's nothing wrong with it.

[Roddenberry knew what he was doing]. That was the major discovery of STAR TREK LIVES. It changed the shape of the whole book. STAR TREK LIVES was very badly received within fandom, because people expected something they didn't get. They expected a history of fandom. There's no commercial market for that. What they wanted was ego-boo. Hell, they got that with Joannie's book. You know the flap copy of HOUSE OF ZEOR hard cover said that I was working on three Star Trek books. Number 1 was STAR TREK LIVES; Number 2, NEW VOYAGES #1, which was supposed to be the middle section of STAR TREK LIVES. If you notice, STAR TREK LIVES is a bit heavy philosophically. If you read the first, I think, five chapters of STAR TREK LIVES and then read NEW VOYAGES #1 and then read the second five chapters you'll get the effect of the first book that we wanted to publish, a much lighter and more realistic, in-depth treatment with the stories. Picture an outsider, reading the stories and then reading the reason for the stories. You see, without those concrete examples of the stories you're talking about it all gets rather theoretical and hard to grasp, difficult to read. But with those stories as examples of the things we are talking about, philosophically it begins to make better sense. So Number 2 was NEW VOYAGES #1, an anthology, a 50,000 word anthology, a 65,000 word anthology of Star Trek fan fiction. Number 3 is Joannie Winston's book on the conventions, which delves into the psychology of operative fandom.... [Roddenberry] was trying to prove what I have dedicated my life to proving: that science fiction has a much wider mass appeal than anyone ever suspected before; and he did that by using tailored effects rather than formula. It's very clearly described in STAR TREK LIVES, and I think the proof of the pudding is in the eating - Gene Roddenberry assigned STAR TREK LIVES as required reading to the people who were to produce and direct the Star Trek movie. Roddenberry, himself, really feels that we have expressed something.

Maybe not word for word or concept for concept, but we have expressed something in the total thrust of the book: an optimism that is not expressed in any of the other books about Star Trek. ...and that is very true to the essence of Star Trek. And it's difficult.

I agree that STAR TREK LIVES is not perfect. The things that we were trying to say are things that had never been said before. We're talking about concepts and ideas and techniques which had never existed before, never been used before, never been defined before, never been taught before. Something unique. A unique happening because Star Trek itself is unique.