Notes from Captain Dunsel

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Title: Notes from Captain Dunsel
Creator: Sharon Ferraro
Medium: print
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"Notes from Captain Dunsel" is a loose continuation of the zine review column by Sharon Ferraro in Menagerie between 1973 and 1976

The early "Notes from Captain Dunsel" were very brief and were mostly quick zine descriptions. The column in issue #3 included a con report for NYST Con (February 15-18, 1974). Issue #5 had some very, very brief comments about zines' quality. While the column ran between 1973 and 1976, formal reviews only appeared in three issues in 1976.

This column was replicated in tone and style by Paula Smith in Bored of Review in Warped Space between 1981-83.

Content and Vision

In the last issue of Menagerie (1981, Paula Smith wrote:

We started the first review column ('Notes From Cap'n Dunsel," later "Bored of Review") because we wanted to publish our reactions to the zines we read. Our only positive crusade, good writing, we carried out in part by refusing what we considered poor stories and critiquing in depth the ones we took on.

From Sharon Ferraro preceding her zine reviews:

The spring/summer crop of fanzines has not been all that impressive, fellow fen. Outside of the splendors of INTERPHASE, the consistent humor and improving art and graphics of WARPED SPACE and the surprise of STARDATE: UNKNOWN, the field has hit a dry spell. As a possible long-range side effect of "Communication the Hard Way" (the booklet I produced for STW on fan publishing mechanics— 75 cents plus 2 stamps, or $1.00 postpaid) and its emphasis on offset printing, many zines have recently carried the characteristically high pricetag of the media, with little redeeming quality of content. We are seeing zines with 1 1/2 or 2 spaces between lines and mediocre to bad illos, accompanied in many cases by equally mediocre fiction, selling for $2.50 and up simply because they are offset.

True, editorial standards are acquired as good artists and writers are acquired, and the first issue is almost universally bad for every zine (excepting always INTERPHASE and a few others); and allowances must be made. I am trying to enter a plea for mimeo or ditto on a first effort (MEN was mimeod, in the beginning) — it is much less of an invest ment (or loss) for the editors and the readers. OR, if mimeo or ditto are impossble [sic] to locate in your area, you can at least single space — clear, well printed single space typing is no trouble even for fen with bottle-bottom eyeglasses. Onwards. What this tendency — high prices/low quality — means is that Captain Dunsel will have 3 ratings or grades per zine reviewed; scale one to five, with five being high.


1) barely readable
2) spottily readable;
3) clear
4) mostly good with a few bad spots
5) excellent


1) bad writing, ignorant of punctuation and spelling, not to mention plot, characterization, etc.
2) not quite as bad as 1
3) average, nothing outstanding
4) mixed bag, some good, some mediocre
5) consistently good writing

$ Worth:

1) if you want to read it, borrow it
2) okay if you like lay Spock, Mary Sue, Kirk-Spock stories
3) tossup, up to you
4) recommended, worth it even counting the postage
5) must have—worth twice the price—a plague on you if you don't buy it


Well, fellow fen, there's my two cents worth. Temper the acid with a little of the 'Stinking Fish' syndrome: 'Well, it's my opinion' holding the fish in two fingers at distance, other fingers pinching nose. Maybe I'm not seeing the good zines. I'd like to see a new zine come out costing $1, $1.50. It can be done. WIth good writing; no stereotypical stories, no more Spock poems or Kirk-Spock stories, whether they are just friends or bedmates, and lotsa art.


Issue 9

Star Trek: The New Voyages #1, Rigel #2, The Other Side of Paradise #1, Alternate Universe 4 #2, Stardate

Issue 10

Contact #2, Night of the Twin Moons, Independent Entity #3, R & R #1, Alternative: Epilogue to Orion, Sol Plus #2, Pegasus #1

Issue 11

Sol Plus #3, Beyond Orion, Fantasia #1, Furaha #4, Masiform D #5, Alnitah #5

Fan Comments

"Notes from Captain Dunsel" is a good idea. [1]

The "Notes From Captain Dunsel" was interesting and informative. The "Childs Garden of Space" was amusing and quite apt...Thank you for everything. [2]

{{Quotation| "Notes from Captain Dunsel" is also ego-ridden and arrogant. Look, I don't know anyone who is not in favor of high literary standards in Treklit. But subject matter is not a valid critical criterion, nor is a personal quirk of taste. Trek writers, like writers of any other literature, deal with characters and situations which move them. The fact that the reviewer does not like stories based on given figures and circumstances doea not relieve her of the obligation to judge them on the basis of craftsmanship and on no other basis whatsoever. Certainly it does not give her the right to "call for a moratorium" on such work, or to suggest that other zines make them selves over in [[MEN's image. This is destructive criticism at its worst. There is no justification for it. [3]}}

...Re "Notes from Captain Dunsel," not to mention the editorials in 9&10: a less pedantic and censorious tone would be very welcome in the future. Your editorial preferences are naturally your prerogative, but when you carry your openly-stated prejudices into your review column, I think that's rather narrow. A bit more objectivity is warranted there. No one ever said reviewing was an easy task, but has it occurred to you that just because you don't like a particular story theme that doesn't necessarily make it worthless, unentertaining, or invalid?...Can you separate the theme from the other factors in a story and give an objective review when you dislike the theme intensely? I think you try to be objective, but sometimes I question your...ah...modesty. Oh, well, being a critic isn't a good life. At least until some disgruntled faned puts a contract out on you two! [4]


  1. ^ comment by Joan Verba in Menagerie #4
  2. ^ comment by Paula Casey in "Menagerie" #4
  3. ^ a letter of comment by Penny Warren in "Menagerie" #11
  4. ^ a letter of comment by Diane Steiner in "Menagerie" #11