Association for Readable TREK

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Event
Event: Association for Readable TREK
Name(s): Julia Ecklar and Lisa Wahl
Date(s): 1983
Type: boycott/Letter Campaign
Fandom: Star Trek
URL:
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Association for Readable TREK was a fan-proposed boycott by Julia Ecklar and Lisa Wahl. The boycott was announced in Interstat #68 in June 1983 and discarded (mostly) two months later.

It was created to protest what many fans considered to be the poor quality of Star Trek pro books. It asked fans to not buy pro books during October and November 1983.

The Proposal

First of all, an announcement. After our brainstorm that resulted in our letter to you, Julia Ecklar and I are forming the Association for Readable Trek (ART) the goal of which is to improve the quality of professionally published Trek. While the letter campaign that we tried to start up then is still something that we're working on, we agree with Joan Marie Verba, that a letter campaign is not enough. And so, we are trying to instigate a boycott of all Timescape books during the months of October and November. Please, all folks reading this and agreeing that the quality of the pro books should be improved, don't buy Timescape during those months. Ask your friends not to buy the books, especially let it be known that you don't want Timescape books for Christmas (or whatever holiday you celebrate during December). Writing to Timescape is still a good idea, and we encourage it, but the boycott is our first priority. And my thanks to all those who wrote to INTERSTAT about our ideas…. I solved my difficulty with the pro Trek books the same way— by not buying them. But people kept telling me that THIS book was different, head and shoulders above the rest, and mostly, I have been disappointed. And I realized that the fact that I kept buying these books, given the horrible things I'd read in the past, meant that I really wanted to sec good Trek in pro form. I want to pay $3.00 for a book containing the equivalent in stories to about $20 in fanzines. I want the folks who love ST but aren't in fandom to see what good ST fiction is about I've heard complaints about "Trekkies" who don't seem to know how to read, but perhaps they would be more interested in reading if they had easy access to books on their favorite subjects. And EVERYONE would gain by this The fans, the writers and Timescape who would make even more money. That's why it's so frustrating to view the present situation, and why Julia and I want to do our best to change it, not merely refuse to buy the books. I know that Timescape editors are not Trek fans. But that's no excuse. They could easily find a dozen fans who would love to read manuscripts submitted to them and give their opinions. They would have no trouble getting excellent advice on what good Trek is. If they bothered. And I don't see that they're even bothering to edit the Trek books they publish to make them sound like they were written by pros. You may be right that we have little hope in educating the publishing industry. But I think that it's worth a try. I think that we can gain a lot if we succeed and will get nothing if we don't even try. [1]

Shelved

My thanks to all of you who wrote in response to my announcement about the formation of The Association for Readable Trek and its October and November boycott. In truth, I have to agree with what many of you said: our timing is lousy. I would like, therefore, to announce a cancellation of the ART boycott. ART is not disbanded, however, and will continue its efforts to improve the quality of professionally published Trek with a letter campaign, telling Timescape what we would like to see in the future. In truth, when I read Web of the Romulans, my feelings were very mixed. Was I overjoyed because a decent pro book had been published? Was I mad because they did it only after ART was founded? Was I hopeful that this was a new trend? Was I suspicious suspicious that this was a fluke, never to be repeated? Well, all at once, I suppose. The joy and the hope cause the cancellation of the boycott, the anger was short-lived, and the suspicion is keeping ART alive. I would, actually, love to disband ART entirely, as being quite unnecessary, but I'm too much of a cynic to think I'll be able to do that. I don't however, consider Web to be great Trek. But it was very good. [Susan Beth S] and [Astra T] pointed out its strengths, so I won't repeat all that. And where it was weak was in particularly fannish ways, which I find the easiest to forgive, indeed, almost endearing. I found the Romulan romance to be excessively corny. And it was so typically fannish to emphasize how difficult it would be to get the aliens (I'm sorry, I lent my copy of the book to Julia Ecklar and can't look up the name) to change their minds, but have Kirk show up and say, "Oh, please!" to save the day. But like Astra, it seems that a ST story immediately finds a way into my heart when it includes the minor characters, like Kyle and Riley. I hope that Ms. Murdock will be published again in the near future and that her book does indicate a trend in the pro novels. [2]

Reactions and Reviews

Howard Weinstein, the person who wrote the forward to the pro book, "Yesterday's Child," commented:

I know it's a damn good book—and real STAR TREK—because I was lucky enough to read the manuscript. I asked Ann if I could write the introduction for the book and she graciously said yes...Lisa and Julia get no argument from me when they complain that not all the pro STAR TREK novels are as good as they might be. But have we forgotten that not all of STAR TREK's TV episodes were great? The third season is best forgotten, isn't it? And even during the first two seasons. Gene Roddenberry occasionally presided over an episode that didn't work. That's the nature of any series—there is inevitable variation in quality. But that's no reason to boycott the whole series, is it?... That strikes me as a passive cop-out. It's like people who complain about the quality of TV—who straps them to their chairs and forbids them to change the channel, or turn the set off? Viewers and readers have the right and responsibility to be selective, and to voice either approval or disapproval to the decision-makers who choose what will be published or aired. [3]
Mary S. S wrote:
Lisa Wahl and Julia Ecklar may be a pair of Edith Keelers. They have the right idea. Yet their timing may be wrong. My opinion of Timescape books hit an all-time low after Black Fire. It knits. (Spell that backwards, Sonni.) Anything that wretched surely justifies a boycott. Then, I heard from reliable sources that M.S. Murdock's book wasn't half-bad, so I bought it. What a surprise! I found it to be a satisfying action-adventure tale, well-plotted and well-paced. Can there be hope for Timescape? Perhaps so. I also have it...and from impeccable sources, that their next release. Yesterday's Son, is an all-around winner. More to the point: authors Murdock and Crispin are like us. Fen. They know what real Trek is, and they are able to give it to us. These books are not the work of spoiled "pros" who could get their laundry lists into print. These people care! Again let's not harm ourselves. First, by boycotting quality Treklit during the heavy retail season. And second, by depriving ourselves of (finally!) decent, professionally written Treklit. We can teach Timescape a lesson by showing them that they arc on the right path and that wc support this. Above all, let's make this a time in which we show the world what we are. We think for ourselves, we are not a flock of bleating sheep! [4]
Mary S. B wrote:
In response to those calling for a boycott of the ST books, count me out. My addiction is too strong to pass up any fix—even one I suspect may be adulterated. Similarly, if the box office of ST III doesn't contain a contribution from me you'll know you should have sent a wreath. No matter how many people describe the plot as ludicrous, no matter how many fans cry that the dialog is terrible, no matter how many critics hold their noses over the acting, I WANT TO SEE IT FOR MYSELF. The problem with my attitude, of course, is that the best way to draw the attention of the publisher/producer to our discontent is with a fast blow to their profit line. The solution with movies is fairly obvious, since few people who dislike a film will watch it a second (or more) time or buy the videotape, and the producer's profit will drop correspondingly. However, once a publisher has pocketed your $3, he has no further interest in you. Even if you love a book it's unlikely you'd buy more than a single copy, and a letter saying I bought your book and didn't like it will have little impact. Instead of a blanket boycott (you might miss a good book and hurt its sales inadvertently) I'd like to suggest that you try what I have just done: Pick out your most-hated Trek novel (by the current publisher, naturally) and mail it back to the attention of the editor responsible. Include a calmly written, reasonable, polite, and most important, adult explanation of the reason you are dissatisfied with his product and request a full refund of your purchase price. (In my case, I complained that it did not fulfill its cover claim, i.e. it wasn't in the least "breathtaking" and the actions (specific examples given) of its characters show that they were impostors, unworthy of bearing the title Star Trek.) Others must stand behind the quality of their goods, why not publishers? The book was unsuitable for its ordinary, implied purpose of entertainment. To paraphrase, I was not amused. Even if I never receive my money back, for I know Truth in Advertising doesn't apply to "puffery", I hope to accomplish some other things: 1) I will have shown that at least one member of their potential audience isn't a child; 2) I will have proved, even if they consider me a crank, that I am a crank who was willing and able to lay out cash on their wares and might do so in the future; 3) 1 will have put them to a measure of inconvenience in having to reply to my letter—or at least read it before throwing it away; and 4) I have had the relief of expressing my unhappiness to the party responsible . [5]
  • Judith G wrote:
    "Association for Readable Trek" — I love it! As Mary Ann Drach pointed out, the problem of the pro novels is that they sell more or less the same number of copies (around 200,000, last I heard) regardless of quality, and that the producers have determined, through some obscure process of their own, that the target audience is the young adolescent (male?) aged 12-15. The boycott is a good idea — after all, a consumer boycott brought Gallo Wine and the California growers to their knees — and persuading the 1000 or so active ST fans to participate should be easy. The problem is how to reach and convince the 199,000 passifans who are left. It might not hurt to use some additional methods, such as a market survey showing that Timescape's sales would skyrocket if they produced mature, high-quality ST novels. The survey would have to appear very "objective" and professional to have the necessary credibility. And — having done industrial market research in the past — I can testify that it can be very hard to get a company to read, let alone pay serious attention to, even the studies that they've commissioned and paid big bucks for — much less an unsolicited study. Oh well, it's just a thought. [6]
Mary Ann D wrote:
Having held out for the free marketing even of merchandise of suspicious origin, I am now about to complain about the free exercise of one of that market's strongest protest techniques, the boycott. Lisa Wahl announced in I#68 that she and Julia Ecklar wished to instigate Trek fans to boycott Timescape books during October and November. I most earnestly hope that they will reconsider. A boycott is effective when it is big enough to sting the area directly under the wallet, and when it stings the perpetrator of the offense. This proposed boycott seems likely to do neither. Besides a couple I'd rather not hear in Trek context, there were names so basic to Trek and so well-regarded as authors of quality fiction that it seems to me we would damage everyone but Pocket Books/Timescape with a boycott. The boycott would hit the good books and the bad ones (potentially very likely) without the discrimination that might show Timescape what we value in mass market Trek fiction. I like your letter writing campaign much better, Lisa and Julia. Write to praise and BE SPECIFIC about what you wish to praise. We are not numerous enough in the paperback market to make a very big dent — just big enough though to make Timescape dubious about followup contracts for Duane, Ford, Bear -- all writers of the caliber we should be pleased to see interested in Trek. It might possibly be true that we could make more of a difference in the quality of published Trek by working on the authors, letting them know what we want, than we are ever likely to make on Pocket Books.[7]
Deborah L. B writes:
A boycott would do more harm than good at this time. By all means write to Timescape and explain your reasons for being dissatisfied, but don't do any thing to give ST fans a bad name. Timescape is planning something special in connection with ST III, and I for one, do not want to see it jeopardized in any way. [8]

From Ann Crispin, the author of a pro novel, Yesterday's Son:

Today I learned that a group called the "Association for Readable Trek" (ART) has proposed a boycott of all professionally-published Star Trek fiction in time for Christimas, "83. As one of Timescape's new crop of "fan-oriented" writers (my Star Trek novel. Yesterday's Son, will be the next release by Timescape), this suggestion disturbed me profoundly. I would like Lisa Wahl and Julia Ecklar to know that I sympathize with their frustration over some of the published Trek books over the years. Yet in promoting a boycott of Trek fiction, they may well be throwing the baby out with the bathwater, for I have it on good authority (the Timescape editors) that Paramount at long last has relaxed the strictures levied against would-be Star Trek writers, allowing them more latitude to experiment with and create in the Trek universe. This increased latitude in theme and structure can result in nothing but more creative, better, and more fan-oriented published Trek. Melinda Murdock's Web of the Romulans is an excellent example. I found it to be well-written, fast-paced, recognizable Star Trek. The characters were perfectly in accord with aired Trek. It is a matter of record that a recent issue of Starlog carried a statement from the Timescape editors saying that many new faces will be featured in the upcoming books, as well as some of the better-known fan-oriented writers, in particular, Howard Weinstein. Let's give Timescape a chance to make good on their stated commitment to improve the quality of the pro Trek novels! My own novel, Yesterday's Son, is definitely a fan-written story. I wrote it originally for my own amusement, with no thought of publication in mind. Its theme is one that has been done many times in fan fiction — and the fact that Timescape and Paramount would allow a story of this type to be published augers well for the future. (As to what the story is about, the title is a strong hint. More than that must wait for publication.) I've been a die-hard Star Trek fan since the third aired episode, and I think those who read my story will be able to tell that it was written by someone who loves Trek and did her damndest to produce a story in keeping with aired Trek. Thanks, Teri, for allowing me to express myself on the proposed boycott. I hope the readers of INTERSTAT (including Lisa and Julia) will like my story and give Timescape a chance to carry through their good intentions. I'd love to hear from you after Yesterday's Son is released (August), as to whether you (and your readers) felt I succeeded. [9]
From Deborah A. M:
I am very disturbed to hear of a possible boycott of professional Star Trek books, proposed by Lisa Wahl and Julia Ecklar of the Association for Readable Trek (ART). I share Ms. Wahl's and Ms. Ecklar's concerns for good, readable Star Trek fiction. Certainly many stories published in fanzines are superior to some of the professionally published titles. And I've known the disappointment that many other fans have had, I think — plunking down $2.95 plus tax for a book that turns out to be populated with declaiming and oddly- motivated strangers instead of the Kirk, Spock, McCoy, et al. that I know and love. It's like setting your mouth for Haagen-Dazs ice cream when you're at the super market, only to discover that you got ice-milk instead (and melted at that). However, a nationwide fan boycott isn't the answer. If fans stop buying Star Trek books, then the publishing companies will stop printing them, and there will be no more Star Trek books, good or bad. Period. And no one would benefit from that. A more positive approach is to write to Pocket Books and/or the author(s) to express your specific gripes, the things you do or do not want to see in Star Trek literature. I believe that authors and publishers listen to the reading (and buying) public, that they must listen...and it is a louder and more courageous voice who cares enough to express how he/she feels, rather than those who protest passive ly (and silently). [10]
From Sally F:
Wouldn't it be ironic if, during those proposed boycott months of October and November, Time- scape happened to publish the best pro-written Trek novel to ever hit the bookstands? One that even you agreed lived up to your standards? If you think that's impossible, consider Star Trek II. In the months before its release, during the "Spock must not die!" controversy, a boycott of the movie was suggested. We fans were urged not to see it and not to buy any novelizations or videotapes of it. Unfortunately for the boycott supporters, ST II turned out to be a very good movie. I never heard of any boycott after its release. So—before you commit yourselves to a scheduled boycott—see if the item is worth it. [11]
From Tony L. W:
Thank God for reasonable Trekkers in fandom. Everyone heed the wise words of A.C. Crispen [sic] and Howard Weinstein— DO NOT join the Association for Readable Trek. Buying books, or buying ANYTHING for that matter, should be and is the personal choice of every individual. We don't need censorship committees or "associations" to set guidelines. Anyway, Pocket Books must have done SOMETHING right—or Web of the Romulans wouldn't have been on the best seller lists for so long. [12]
From Lucia J:
As I sit here reading I#68, I find myself agreeing with J. Elizabeth Ginty about Pro novels. For those lucky fans who do have access to TV stations that show "Star Trek", they can afford to be choosy about reading material. But those of us who have no such luck have to make do. What we don't need are people ostracizing us because we choose to buy the Pro novels! [13]
From D. Booker:
Boycotting Timescape books might turn out to be a pyrrhic victory. Pocket Books is a commercial operation whose goal is to make money. If a particular product does not produce an acceptable margin of profit it is likely to be dropped completely, rather than revamped to suit what are, by any one's standards, the rather specialized tastes of the Trek fanatic. Brief, civil, positive letters of comment are as likely as anything to encourage higher standards in the pro novels published. Even if you think that a particular novel had no redeeming features at all, you could at least give them credit for trying. [14]
From Gennie S:
Lisa Wahl suggests that we boycott Timescape books. I've got my own solution: I don't buy the pro novels new. I get them second hand. That way I'm not paying the publishers for them, and I still get to read them. It isn't that I wouldn't buy them new, it's just that I never can find them in this small town, and besides, I'm cheap. Someone sent me BLACK FIRE or I wouldn't be reading that yet. [15]
From Vel Jaeger:
I can't think of anything that would be more damaging. To hurt a business where they really listen, i.e. the pocketbook, would only cause them to cease production of that product. Though I admire [Susan S's] innovative solution (of mailing back books they don't like), wouldn't a better strategy be one of positive reinforcement? Why not buy extra copies of those pro Trek books that you did like, and thereby boost the sales of what you feel is the quality merchandise. With that in mind, and knowing that M.S. Murdock's WEB OF THE ROMULANS is her first pro sale, I bought two copies. Mind you, I haven't had time to read it yet, but I intend to do the same with Ann Crispin's book, too. I've always maintained that fan is better than pro when it comes to Trek, and I'm sure I won't be disappointed. Wouldn't it be nice to blow the roof off the sales chart for the first two fan novels to join pro ranks?

References

  1. from Lisa Wahl in Interstat #68
  2. from Lisa Wahl in Interstat #70
  3. from Interstat #69
  4. from Interstat #69
  5. from Interstat #69
  6. from Interstat #69
  7. from Interstat #69
  8. from Interstat #69
  9. from Interstat #69
  10. from Interstat #70
  11. from Interstat #70
  12. from Interstat #70
  13. from Interstat #70
  14. from Interstat #70
  15. from Interstat #70