Kraith Review (Whap! Crunch! Ow!)

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Title: Kraith Review (Whap! Crunch! Ow!)
Creator: Cara Sherman
Date(s): 1974
Medium: print
Fandom: Star Trek: TOS
Topic:
External Links:
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Kraith Review (Whap! Crunch! Ow!) is a 1974 review by Cara Sherman of the Kraith fanfiction series by Jacqueline Lichtenberg and other fans.

first page of the essay

It was printed in Romulan Wine #3 where it ran four (dense, single-spaced) pages.

Some Topics Discussed

  • telling fans that Jacqueline Lichtenberg said that "The real hero is the Vulcan culture."
  • fan created universes and control
  • Star Trek: TOS and limitations of the show
  • various Kraith stories, where they shine, where they fail
  • Lichtenberg's imperious zine preface
  • Kraith is not Star Trek
  • Lichtenberg as a "Vulcan Margaret Mead"

Excerpts

The book itself is quite unprepossessing in appearance, only 67 pages, especially since they charge three dollars for it. As fanzines go, from what I've seen, that's absurd, even if it was offset. After all, the art was sparse and what there was of it was lousy. However, Kraith isn't a fanzine. It's a novel, 200,000 words in length. Each page has the equivalent of four pages reduces and trying to read it like ordinary print causes eyestrain.

It would be great if the Star Trek people could read Collected Kraith and say, "Here's our movie." The first story alone, "Spock's Affirmation," would run almost three hours, none of the time wasted. Affirmation is a very busy story. I've read the whole book several times over and still lose a lot of the details.

In addition to the stories, there are appendices having to do with Surak's Construct, Archived version , postulating the meaning behind the Vulcan philosophy of Nome as it is presented in the Vulcan hand-salute, and it helps if you read these. In fact, in a couple of places in fiction you get a subliminal message to flip over to page such-and-such and looks something up. It is immensely detailed.
Once you have read the thing four or five times, you will notice that Kraith is not Star Trek. It's one of the things Star Trek could be if the producers, when they come back, aren't afraid to take the bits in their teeth and do something not just intelligent and meaningful, but radical and complex. You may disagree with Jacqueline Lichtenberg in some of the things she says — I do — but you can't deny she has written something (with a little help from other Kraith authors) that will cause ripples, at least in Star Trek fandom. You either dislike Kraith, or you love it, if you form any opinions at all. Of course there's my reaction, which is confused — at times -- I hate it, at times I love it — but it's merely the predictable reaction of an unbalanced schizoid personality and is hardly representative of the bulk of fandom...COUGH.

Before getting into a critique of the material itself, I'd like to discuss the author a little. I have never met her or seen her, but I've written to people who have and their feelings are sharply divergent. Personalities have nothing provable to do with writing — I'm talking about her Author's Preface, in which she comments on Strekfen who dislike Kraith, particularly Kraith's characterization of Spock, offering the pages of the preface as a forum, where those who dislike KRAITH can formulate their views. After examining my own feelings about the matter, I find it isn't Kraith I dislike at all, it's Jacqueline Lichtenberg's attitude. You get the distinct impression from things, like her calling Kraith Critics "Johnny One-notes of fandom," that her theories and ideas are the Word Made Flesh and that Kraith is the only and best explanation for all the of Vulcan. She sure as hell has gotten into aspects of Vulcan society and culture that apparently most authors on the subject don't touch, and given time we'll have a veritable Vulcan Margaret Mead... She writes with incisive perceptions and really scientific authority on Vulcan philosophy, mating habits, mores and psychology. It's only natural that, having seen nothing comparable in the criticisms of those who write and complain, she might feel put upon and react with prejudice.

But if she wants an explanation as to why Kraith is alienating, have someone read her her Author's Prefacd and a few key phrases from her stories, and if she's as openminded as I suspect she is under all the defense-mechanisms (one person I'm writing to told me that arguing Kraith with Jacqueline Lichtenberg is a one-way thing — "you just can't win" — sort of like arguing the Bible with a Fundamentalist — arguing in a closed set ultimately proves only which participant has the better memory), she'll see it herself.

Perhaps not. Kraith is a cherished thing, a beautiful thing, in places nearly a magical outline of what Vulcan society is and what our society could be if we were to apply Kraith — Vulcan principles to living our own lives. Well, if and when you see the collection, read the foreword.
As a piece of writing, Kraith is frequently flawed by unexplained mysteries which you have to read some other Kraith story and/or an appendix to understand. Any one having read Dune probably experienced some of the same frustrations. There were also purely mechanical things like typos and misspellings, but to get on those would be bitchy, and I'm determined not to be bitchy in this review—Lord nose I'm. bitchy enough on Kraith talking about it. The first tale, Spock's Affirmation, moves rapidly, a great deal happens. During the course of it Spock gets put through some pretty rigorous paces, from being charged with conducting an Affirmation (l can't begin to explain even the paucity I understand about the Affirmation) to the Enterprise being attacked by a Romulan raider propelled by a cyborg, which lands on a desert planet; Spock, in command because of Kirk's having been incapacitated during a previous fight with the raider, goes down with McCoy to find it and the two get marooned on this planet and to be rescued Spock induces the pon farr in himself, which comes to fruition in a few hours, because he is sort of falling for T'Rruel, this Tokiel dancer who's going to Feda XII to participate in the Affirmation, as a result of which the Enterprise finds them, Spock and T'Rruel are married, T'Rruel becomes pregnant and dies as a result of trying to Affirm, while with child...I don't know if Leonard Nimoy could keep up with that. I hardly could.

The best and most Star Trek of all the entries is A Matter of Priority. It reads well, smoothly, no jarring character inconsistencies (Strekfen will likely be disgruntled at the unbelievable insensitivity, ignorance, and superficiality of all the human characters as handled by Lichtenberg and also Doris Beteem) a quirk not shared by Ann Mary Hall, the author ofA Matter of Priority). It exemplifies what Star Trek could have and should have been on all levels, not just the treatment of the Vulcan Culture. Kirk, Spock, McCoy, and the rest of the crew interact as they should; a fine, tense, articulate, if not particularly heavy story. A Matter of Priority ties with The Disaffirmed, by Ruth Berman. It is also STAR TREK — she was closely associated with the show — and it shares with A Matter of Priority the characteristic of making the human beings human beings, not just foils to the Vulcans. In fact, you might end up disliking the Kraith Spock a trace from this episode, which was written by Berman as a fictional refutation of some of the ideas in Kraith (as a result, Lichtenberg made some amendments, apparently; that's how l know she's openminded).

There is a marked difference between the way Berman and Hall write and Lichtenberg's approach, even though all three use the same basic narrative form — third person omniscient, subjective, Berman writes sympathetically, as does Hall, with a sharp understanding of how her characters think. Her portrayal of Lieutenant Uhura is of a woman who is firm, intelligent, responsible, responsive, and human. Lichtenberg's Christine Chapel, in contrast, is horribly shallow and unmotivated in her behavior, almost, like Kirk and McCoy, right out of the Star Trek format. In Spock's Affirmation she scoops to the I-Love-Lucy level of being jealous of Spock's attentions to T'Rruel and even goes so far as to try to squelch the Vulcan woman by telling her Spock is half human. It's true that the aired Star Trek itself shared this deficiency, but kindly remember that in 1966 when it was first put on the air the producers were fighting for even THAT much from NBC executives who thought television programs should he written on the level of lobotomized Rhesus monkeys and that Star Trek novelists, as Jacqueline herself pointed out, shouldn't have to put up with this attitude in fens and can write intelligently. It's great to make Spock capable of doing the innumerable things he did in Kraith , especially if it's supported, as it was. But why only expand Spock's capabilities? Lichtenberg writes about humans as though she were observing them with no knowledge of what they were like, not only when she writes from the viewpoint of a Vulcan, but always.
Perhaps this problem sheds a little light on why people don't like Kraith's Spock. It's not that that Kraith Spock is so fantastic, it's just that has grown, while all the people around him are still stuck in the second season someplace. Perhaps Jacqueline felt that she could write comfortably only about Vulcan and Vulcans, where she had a firm and authoritative foothold, whereby her humans must suffer.
With A Matter of Priority and The Disaffirmed struggling together as the two best stories, the last Lichtenberg story, Spock's Argument, which should really have been called SPOCK AND T'ANTYEH'S ARGUMENT except that it's admittedly unwieldy, runs into The Tanya Entry for second. Tanya suffers from being too short, but is, despite a couple nauseatingly cute lines like "HE was thinking like a psychologist, but I was thinking like a woman" much more sensitive than most of the other stories in the collection. It's also the only one written in first person, and it was also not written by Lichtenberg; it owes its existence to Pat Zotti. It shows the Kraith Spock struggling to relate to his chosen fiancé, a human telepath raised on Vulcan as a Vulcan, as well as Tanya struggling to accept her feelings and reconcile them with her self-image in an echoing of Spock's conflict. Spock's Argument, like most of Jacqueline's Kraith stories, is long on plot and short an character motivations, with the exception of her handling of Spock's parents, Sarek and Amanda, which was excellent, full of insight, and quite in character. Contrast it with Doris Beteem's Death of a Flame (Amanda's Mission), which was undeveloped and unsatisfying, made Sarek out to be an echo of the caricature Spock was in "THAT WHICH SURVIVES, " one of the awful offerings of the 3d season, and left Amanda with even less of a personality than she appeared to have in "JOURNEY TO BABEL; and you'll see what I mean. There was also, for one of the few times in the whole Lichtenberg collocation, an intensely lyrical and even moving scene where, preparatory to going to help Kirk and McCoy deal with a transporter-room full of half-wild Vulcan children, Spock and T'Aniyeh (Tanya) join minds and form a link to give them both inner peace, so as to give peace to the frantic children. It's one of the few places where Lichtenberg lets her hair down and shows what she can do to stir yoor soul, as a writer and as a person. Reading what she can do, and how seldom she'll do it, is frustrating. (One of her most lyrical pieces, Spock's Mission, details Kirk, Spock and McCoy's sojourn on the planet Vulcan, staying with Amanda at Spock's family's ancestral home; here she let her imagination roam with her theories and gave an indication of what she may later create, since Kraith is by no means finished).
Anybody who has gotten into a three-hour brainstorming session on Star Trek (or comix, for that matter) knows what a head-trip it can turn into. There are times a discussion just shows how much you know about a subject compared to another person, but there are also times, admittedly more rare, when something dynamic happens and you find yourself INTO the universe which has been opened up. You start theorizing beyond what you saw and throwing ideas around the circle and sometimes you come up with magic. The creators of Kraith did. More importantly, the magic they came up with is intended to stimulate the readers of the thing into making magic of our own.

Fan Comments

KRAITH review was good and informative, considering that I haven't read much Kraith and haven't liked what I have read. [1]
The KRAITH review was the most interesting short article of the issue. I'll have to buy it soon as I can scrape up the 3 bucks. [2]

The KRAITH review. Hmm. Can't really disagree with you much here, Cara, since what bothered you seems to be pretty much what bothered me -- the super-perfection of the Vulcans, the cloddishness of the humans, and JL's attitude. Not necessarily in that order. I fact, JL's attitude bums me out the worst of a all -- I hate having it assumed that I'm not intelligent or open-minded enough to understand something, which the KRAITH preface seemed indeed to assume. Infuriating. Sort of "We have the Truth here for you, kiddies, if your little minds can encompass the farout radical new concepts of it all." Granted KRAITH has some stunning brilliant and new ideas in it, but not so stunning or so new that numerous thoughtful reading can't bring it to you.

But, Lord, is it lovely stuff -- intricate, complex, beautiful in many places -- so I'M hardly going to bitch too much over JL's presentation. The whole feeling , the "Vulcaness" if you will, of it is carried over so well. I especially liked the idea of tokiel as the highest form of the language -- lovely idea, that, as well as the structure of the Affirmation and the Kraith itself, not that I pretend to understand THAT yet -- I've only read it three times. I think the instance on the human unpronouncibility of kraith and the family name of Spock's house -- I defy anyone to handle THAT! ((JL CLAIMS SHE CAN... I BELIEVE HER -- Cara)) - is over-doing it a little, but it does serve to draw the line between the superlative Vulcans and the rest of us clods... ((A LINE WHICH DOES NOT HAVE TO BE DRAWN -- Cara)).

Which is my next complaint-- the humans of KRAITH are indeed dolts. Some of them are oversexed dolts, like Chekov -- his assault on T'Zorel is disgusting -- and some of them are jealous dolts like Christine Chapel (AAGH!) But they are all markedly inferior to the Vulcans involved. This is a viewpoint I can fully comprehend and empathize with -- I don't like humans myself -- but I think it tends to detract from what KRAITH and the KRAITH Spoke could be if their brilliant

Vulcans could Interact with if-not-egually-brilliant-at-least-somewhat-advanced-humans. With the notable exception of the Uhura-S'darmeg scene in THE DISAFFIRMED!' (ALSO THE SPOCK-KIRK SOME IN THE SAME STORY), humans and Vulcans are lightyears apart in all respects in KRAITH, and next to the cultural, artistic, logical and near-magical superstardcm of the Vulcans involved the humans come out just plain boorish. YECCH. ((ONE OF JL 'S COMMENTS ON THE REVIEW I DID WAS THAT I HAD IMPROPERLY CHOSEN HER CHARACTERIZATION TO PICK ON INSTEAD OF HER PLOTTING. PLOTTING MAY BE A PERSONAL BUG-BEAR WITH THIS LADY — I DON'T KNOW FROM PLOTTING — BUT THE FACT THAT THOSE DREADFUL INSTANCES OF REVERSE-XENOPHOBIA WERE DELIBERATE DOES NOT MAKE THEM ANY LESS DREADFUL. MAYBE THE WRITERS JUST WEREN'T AWARE OF HOW EXTREME THE DICHOTOMY IS -- Cara))

(I was deeply grieved by the death of T'Rruel, who struck me as a remarkable character, incidentally, sensitive, dignified, wise and exquisitely talented. A tragic thing, that —though it made possible the completion of her motek by T'Antyeh, a splendid moment. It is all for the best, I guess...)

Still, in the scenes like those in Spock's home ("that you may never know confusion in my house" — the peace of Vulcan, a beautiful thing), an almost all of SPOCK'S AFFIRMATION and characters like the Schillian Ssarsun, delightful soul that he is, and T'Aniyeh and T'Zorel and T'Rruel.. .I'd feel a little silly bitching any more. KRAITH is marvelous stuff, attitude or no —in spite of my noted objections I really do love it. [3]

References

  1. from a letter of comment in Romulan Wine #4
  2. from a letter of comment in Romulan Wine #4
  3. from a letter of comment in Romulan Wine #4