Forgive Us Our Trespasses
|Title:||Forgive Us Our Trespasses|
|Author(s):||Karen Miller and Mary G.T. Webber|
|Date(s):||July 1990 (in time for The Ezekiel Project)|
|Fandom:||War of the Worlds|
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Reactions and Reviews
I've finally read a first season Mancuso story — Foreive Us Our Trespasses — only it's much better written than Mancuso's stuff. The writing is good, but the characters, especially Ironhorse, are 'off.' The Ironhorse of this story is the one Mancuso saw, the regulation army officer. This Ironhorse didn't shoot Blackwood (Blackwood points this out) but the character here would have done it because of Harrison's extreme value to the project. A friend who likes 'get' stories read it, altho she had seen only a couple of WOW episodes -- all first season -- and liked it, but said she didn't remember Ironhorse as being like that. 
It's very difficult for me to review this novel. Mary Wheeler asked me to, but I agreed with the understanding that this is a first-season story and its final two pages remove it from that category. (Of course, one can surgically excise those final two pages....)
In one respect -- writing quality -- "Trespasses" is probably the most professional work this fandom has seen. This is a case where the zine qualifies as amateur only because nobody got paid. The authors' attention to medical detail is what one would expect from a physician; there's no "nice" suffering here. Moral issues are faced with painful honesty, death is not pretty.... it's an extremely impressive piece of work, some of the most powerful writing I've read in any fandom — or anywhere else, for that matter. Reading "Trespasses" with an eye to technique -- sentence structure, dialog, the rhythm and the flavor of the words themselves « is very instructive. I think Webber and Miller should "file off the serial numbers," make this an original novel, and get it out into mainstream SF where it could very well win a Hugo. It's brilliant. I can't honestly say I "enjoyed" it.
"Trespasses" will, I think, appeal very strongly to the WOW fen who have come in from BLAKE'S 7. The universe is quite similar—the emotional tone comes in varying shades of black, and sarcasm is the preferred mode of communication — when the characters are getting along, you know it's just a breather while they gear up for another set-to. Only Norton seems to be himself, and a hundred and eighty pages is a bit much for him to carry.
And aside from the mood (relentlessly grim), there are a few details that I have trouble believing. The first is the timing. By the end of first season -- and this is set after "Soul to Keep," apparently after the whole of Season One -- the team had gone through a considerable amount of hell together. They were a team, rather than a random collection of individuals. The sniping and power games going on in this novel might have happened within the timeframe of the first five or six episodes, but by the time this story takes place, I'd have expected a reverse ratio of positive to negative interactions. However, while this is not the universe I saw in 1st season WOW, the authors1 characterization of the Blackwood team is well-drawn and consistent.
The second problem is a bit simpler while I can accept that Ironhorse would volunteer to be a test subject for a biological weapon against the aliens (I always thought Suzanne's blithe guarantees that her concoctions would be "harmless to humans" were awfully premature), I cannot believe for an instant that testing of a potentially lethal toxinogen would proceed directly from an alien to a human. Any kind of scientific testing would begin with "lower" mammals -- probably genetically identical (cloned) mice -- before the team ever got its alien test subject. If a substance killed a few hundred mice, testing would proceed to "higher order" mammals while the investigators tried to figure out what killed the mice and whether the mortality was due to a factor common to mice and humans. (Much of what they gleaned from Ironhorse's ordeal might well have been learned from a rabbit's.) Yes, there was a time factor, but mice are short-lived; that's one reason they are common experimental animals. Ironhorse's life would be worth the slight delay. Dumping the stuff directly down the Colonel was dramatic as hell, but pretty hard to swallow.
A third problem, a tiny one, really, is that I have never known an American named Nigel. The name is so quintessentially British that I immediately pictured their original character as someone like David Niven. This is a very picky quibble, admittedly, but it was a pebble in my shoe while reading, as incongruous as a Londoner named "Jesse James'. And I did not really care for Nigel and his manipulative superiority, despite his tortured conscience and heart of gold.
Overall.... One measure of a good writing is the strength of a reader's reaction, and in this respect "Trespasses" is superb. As I said before, B7 fans will probably love this novel. People are clever and quarrelsome, and heroes die. This is also a story for those who enjoy second season, because this universe -- certainly a distant parallel to the one I watched during first season -- could readily segue into "The Second Wave." The good doctor (Webber) and I had a long discussion at Ezekiel over the final epilog — (Ironhorse and Norton are alive on p. 182 and long-dead on 183). She says the epilog is a triumph, I say it's ashes on the tongue. Mary has a great talent for tragedy, and a voice made to read Antigone, and I have the highest regard for her and for Karen. But I'm no tragedian; as far as I'm concerned, second season is a particularly nasty hallucination....Trespasses" is definitely worth reading, and overwhelmingly well-written. You will love it or hate it, but you will not be bored. 
Forgive Us Our Trespasses concerns the efforts of the Blackwood Team to create a biological weapon--in effect, a vaccine that will make it impossible for an alien to possess a living human. This simple (sort of) task has many repercussions, from the opening of several major ethical cans of worms to the choice of which particular human gets to be the guinea pig. There's also a new member of the Blackwood Team, an army doctor called Nigel Ellis. (Apparently American. Don't ask me why he's called Nigel.) But don't be frightened by the idea. He doesn't show up until about halfway through the zine, he has a very good reason for being there, he doesn't upstage the others—and, believe it or not, he's a great character. In fact, characterization is perhaps this zine's greatest strength. The authors aren't afraid to let the characters' reactions dictate the movement of the plot, nor do they feel compelled to depict them as consistently noble, ethical, logical, or infallible. Forgive Us Our Trespasses is all the better for this. They're also not afraid to take their time to tell their story, or to go into detail when appropriate. But again, don't be frightened. They know how to seed description into their writing without cataloguing every stick of furniture in the Cottage. This isn't a potential nominee for the Six Course Breakfast Award. It's very rare to find a fanzine that provides as rich a reading experience as a "real" book (pretty scary, considering the state of pro writing these days), but this is definitely one. Small but memorable moments abound. To cite one example, there's a portion of a scene in which Ellis works on the comatose Ironhorse (I know, I know, how could he tell?), and has to hook him up to a respirator. In only a few words, the reader is given a restrained but definite sensory impression of how it feels to do this to another human being. This is the difference between reading about a medical procedure in the Merck manual (and, God knows, few enough writers even bother to do that!) and going to the trouble of asking what it feels like to stick a breathing tube up somebody's face. (Of course, it does help that one of the authors is a doctor, herself.) The scary thing—and you can be frightened now, if you like—is that it's so rare to find a fan story in which doctors get to practice medicine, scientists do science, and soldiers go about the business of soldiering. I mean, when's the last time you read a McCoy story where you actually got an idea of what went on in his head while he was working on a patient? I like this. I could get used to this. There are some puzzling points about the WOTW universe that are given logical explanations, such as why the American government would depend on a team of four not entirely stable people to lead its war effort (it didn't), or why Harrison Blackwood, pacifist, was so adept at handling a gun by the time second season rolled around. Be warned; you may not like the answers. The problem of no artwork (if that is in fact a problem) is balanced by outstanding production values and simple good taste. The zine has a photo cover, but the photo was carefully selected and graced with appropriate and well-placed type. The interior is typeset—and this leads to my only serious criticism of the zine. The use of italics bites. Some elements that should be italicized aren't; other are italicized inconsistently. And the italic font is often displaced by an oversized, over-decorative calligraphic font that distracts from the text rather than enhancing the words. It's important to remember that the more sophisticated the methods used for producing a fanzine, the more important it is that they be used properly.... While the intended audience of Forgive Us Our Trespasses is obviously WOTW fandom, and a working knowledge of first season WOTW (or an accommodating friend with a copy of The Forrester Papers) is helpful, you don't have to be a fan of the series to follow the story. Some of the jokes may be lost on you, though. If you're a member of the Second-Season-WOTW-Doesn't-Exist crowd (a.k.a. Chaves' Jihad), you might be pissed off by the denouement. Tough. Anyone who likes a well-constructed, well-written fan novel by authors with considerably more than two brain cells to rub together and a pleasingly warped outlook should consider purchasing this zine. 
This is the best type of fan fiction - writing so good that it transcends the media on which it's based. Production values are clean, crisp and elegant—nothing spectacular in the art or layout department. But a cracking good read. 
Intelligent, well-structured, with deeply-drawn characterizations. This zine rules. 
- from The Blackwood Project #9
- from The Blackwood Project #9
- from a longer review in Psst... Hey Kid, Wanna Buy a Fanzine? #2. The reviewer gives it "5 trees." The reviewers in "Psst... Hey Kid, Wanna Buy a Fanzine?" rated zines on a 1-5 tree/star scale.
- from Psst... Hey Kid, Wanna Buy a Fanzine? #4
- comment by kslangley at What was your first fandom?, August 28, 2016