Notes for a Star Trek Bibliography: The First Ladies of Fandom!

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News Media Commentary
Title: Notes for a Star Trek Bibliography: The First Ladies of Fandom!
Commentator: Steve Donoghue
Date(s): October 2, 2002
Venue: online
Fandom: Star Trek: TOS
External Links: Notes for a Star Trek Bibliography: The First Ladies of Fandom!, Archived version
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Notes for a Star Trek Bibliography: The First Ladies of Fandom! is an article by Steve Donoghue.

It includes an unattributed photo of some early fans: Paula Block, Lori Chapek-Carleton and three others.

Topics Discussed

Excerpts

As we’ve noticed occasionally in our bibliographical notes, there are two kinds of Star Trek fiction. There’s the kind where the outward garments of Star Trek – a captain named Kirk, a ship called Enterprise, etc. – are simply and crudely draped over a pre-existing science fiction hobbyhorse. And there’s the kind where the essence of Star Trek comes first and finds the stories it wants to tell. In a very real sense, this division is established during the original three seasons of the TV show itself – some of those episodes (a great many of them, to be honest) are pure sci-fi potboilers into which elements of Gene Roddenberry’s creation are inserted with greater or lesser degrees of success, and some of them (the best of them, with one or two exceptions) are pure Trek, operating on its own principles. As with the show, so too with the fiction. On the one hand, we have James Blish’s dutiful script adaptations – sometimes heartfelt, yes, but most often mechanical yarns churned out on deadline, featuring wandering terminology and interchangeable characters. And on the other hand, there were all those fanzines, evangelical, written by fans, for fans.
The script adaptations were financially successful beyond anybody’s wildest dreams, and they weren’t the only sign that something unprecedented was going on in the wake of Star Trek‘s cancellation. Conventions were springing up all over the country, informally organized, fueled by enthusiasm and beer, swarmed by fans who came out of the woodwork to meet other people infected with a love of this particular show. That might sound routine these days, but it was Star Trek that created that mindframe and set it in motion. So then: a confluence of passion and profit, generated by a TV show that was no longer on the air. Inevitably, books. And with books, the haploid nature of Star Trek fiction, blossoming to manuscript length. 1976 was the scene.
Star Trek: The New Voyages was born of those earliest conventions, and it owes its genesis to the first ladies of fandom, the girls who were geeks before the word existed, who banded together initially to save the show from cancellation and then stayed banded together to keep its memory alive. It’s easy to see the appeal for these particular fans: not only did Star Trek feature dozens of incredibly memorable female guest-characters – a forlornly brave ice age exile (“a very inventive mind, that man”), a fiercely independent blind diplomat (“I could play tennis with you, Captain Kirk – I might even beat you”), an imperious, calculating Vulcan princess (“And as the years went by, I came to know that I did not want to be the consort of a legend”), and perhaps most incredibly of all, a Romulan woman in command of her own starship (“We can appreciate the Vulcans, our distant brothers”) – but its central cast had three refreshingly realized female characters: Yeoman Janice Rand, who could be feisty and sardonic when the occasion demanded, Nurse Christine Chapel, in whom tenderness and professionalism never clashed, and most of all Lieutenant Uhura, mainstay of the bridge crew itself, voice of the Enterprise and voice of common sense to her male comrades. For the first time, young women could look at a science fiction world and feel invited instead of excluded.
They took to it with a passion. Most of those primitive fanzines we’ve already discussed were the brain-children of women, who did all the typing, all the proofreading, all the story-solicitation, all the tedious mailing – and most of the best writing. Most of those earliest conventions were organized by women. The two mega-selling nonfiction (hence, outside our purview) books about Star Trek – The World of Star Trek and especially Star Trek Lives – were mostly written by women, about women. These first ladies of fandom are the ones who first realized the potential in all those Star Trek stories written by countless fans who could expect no possibility of publication. That potential was brought to the attention of Fred Pohl at Bantam, and he pounced on it, using his bottomless charm (and the seemingly limitless number of connections he had, everywhere) to get an actual book authorized. Suddenly, these first ladies had a shot at creating some new legends of their own.
Spock, Messiah racked up decent sales numbers – fans clearly did their duty and bought it – but Star Trek: The New Voyages was a meteor: fans bought two or three copies apiece, passed them around, read them until they were falling apart, underlined, annotated, cross-referenced. This was the first true taste of Star Trek fiction – the first real taste of Star Trek itself since the show went off the air. A calm retrospective now can hardly convey the water-in-the-desert perfect satisfaction it produced – long before there was firm talk of a new movie, these women had been tending the flame and writing the further adventures, and this book stands as a monument to their dedication. A geeky monument, but a monument all the same.