Out in the Open: Alexis Fegan Black's 1987 Open Letter Regarding "Courts of Honor"

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Open Letter
Title: no official title
From: Alexis Fegan Black
Addressed To: fandom
Date(s): February 1987
Medium: print
Fandom: Star Trek: TOS
Topic: Courts of Honor
External Links:
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In the second issue, the editor of On the Double wrote an open letter in response to a fan's, Jenna Sinclair, LoC to that letterzine/newsletter complaining of an unfair review of the controversial zine Courts of Honor.

The Open Letter

A few of the things I have to say on the subject of COURTS OF HONOR may be shocking or upsetting to some folks, but I feel I'm very qualified to make a few points, since I have been in Ms. Ferguson's position myself in years past.

Essentially, Ms. Sinclair, you make a few valid points that perhaps the review didn't give a plot synopsis — but as an editor who gets lots of letters and reviews, it's been my experience that most fans don't want to know the plot before they've read it. To give a plot synopsis can often turn into a book report — which is a far cry indeed from a critical or supportive review.

Additionally, I would like to point out that the zine was listed as "unavailable" because, at the time OTD#1 went to press and even at this moment, the zine is unavailable. No one can send off their money at this time knowing that the zine is in print, knowing that they will receive their copy within a few weeks or even a few months. At this point, COURTS OF HONOR exists only the form of the 100 copies which were sent out by Ms. Ferguson, and in the plans for reviving it — i.e. the campaign of six you mentioned in your letter. It does not exist in an "in print" format, so I must agree with [Miss J's, the original reviewer] availability statement. Until it is reprinted, it is unavailable.

Also, you stated that the editor should have made it her business to know of the plans for reviving COH. I do know of the plans. However, since not one of the "six" (all of whom I admire and respect for their efforts, by the way) sent me an actual ad to appear in OTD, I had nothing to go on. And I have learned through experience that "swiping" the ad from another publication such as DATAZINE, UT or NTS just isn't the "right thing to do" for several reasons. Also, if I spent the time required to track down individual ads — no matter how important they may or may not be — I'd have no time to edit OTD or any other publications. In essence, I am willing to bend for anyone — but I'm not willing to take the blame for something over which I had no control. I didn't receive a COURTS OF HONOR ad, therefore no ad appeared. And, I thank you for sending the mailing info on COH in the body of your letter, since this is the only ad information I've received for this issue.

As for your fear that the review was injudiciously timed... well... this is a newsletter — meaning that OTD is here to pass along information on any and all aspects of K/S. And though I'm certainly not comparing OTD to a newspaper, when was the last time THE NEW YORK TIMES called up Paramount Pictures before running a negative review of a STAR TREK movie? Most movie and book reviews appear long before a movie or book is widely available to the public — and I don't see the editors calling up the publisher to ask if it's "okay" to print a negative review. Since a review is an opinion, and since fans obviously know it's an opinion, it's up to them (the fans) to make the final decision for themselves. Fans aren't easily led by a ring through the nose, so I don't think any review will "make" or "break" any zine. There just isn't so much K/S that fans can pick and choose to that extent. If it's K/S, and if it has the well-known and much-liked name of Syn Ferguson to back it up, as well as being backed by six fans with, as you say, good reputations, one negative review isn't going to make a speck's worth of difference to the Cosmos.

Also, OTD does print opposing reviews (see OTD #1, and the reviews of THE PRICE OF FREEDOM. If I receive two reviews which are so far apart on their opinions, I will, in all fairness, print both side by side, if possible. The old Siskel & Ebert game. "Gene loved it and I hated it." In the end, it depends on which reviewer one chooses to believe — or, more often, it depends solely on the readers themselves.

As to the part which I feel might "upset" some folks, I can only say that a lot of people who have written to me recently have made the comment that a large segment of fandom is pretty tired of walking on egg shells around COURTS OF HONOR. I've attended a couple of the panels held by the Gang of Six (IDICon, 1986 and ShoreLeave, 1986), and the fan reaction was widely split. About 50% of those in attendance were supportive of plans for the revival of COH. The other 50% were, at best, downright hostile — with what they obviously considered to be good reason. Since most people are already aware of the pro/con controversy concerning COURTS OF HONOR, I won't go into those reasons here. But suffice it to say that COH is a controversial subject — and such being the case, there are going to be positive and negative opinions of the zine. At this point, it's entirely possible that any real objectivity on COH may have been lost in the pro/con arguments — i.e. people have waited for it so long and with such high expectations that it may be impossible for it (or any other fanzine) to live up. to those expectations. This certainly isn't the fault of the zine, the writer or least of all the Gang of Six. It's simply a fact, and because of that fact, anything said on the subject is bound to offend someone somewhere.

Also, you were critical of the fact that OTD printed the negative review while COH is still in its infancy, etc., etc., etc. As I'm sure you're aware, a very positive, practically glowing review of COH has already appeared elsewhere in fandom — in UT, if memory serves me correctly. So as far as the OTD review possibly "hurting sales", I can only say that I see this as an overreaction — or as a possible non-understanding of how fandom and K/S fans think and function. Everybody wants to read COH — and if they haven't already gotten ahold of one of the multitudinous xeroxes floating around the world, they're going to buy it -- though many will probably wait until it is definitely in print and available. That isn't to say that people don't or shouldn't trust the Gang of Six. As you said, those six fans are among the most reputable in fandom, and I personally believe — more than just "believe", I know they will publish COH if it's within their power. But, in all fairness, a lot of fans just aren't willing to take the same "risk" on the same zine twice. It's no reflection on the Gang of Six. It's a reflection on the shaky history of COH itself. I've heard the comment made at cons that "there's a curse on COH" — and while I personally don't believe in curses, I can see what those fans mean. It's been "on again, off again" for so many years that a lot of people have just adopted a "wait and see" attitude.

Like I said, I can also speak from personal experience here. Just like Ms. Ferguson, I got into very severe trouble with a zine/zines a few years back — and I know how the fans react to that. No matter how far anyone might go to "make it right" for all concerned, there are those few who will never let things be "made right".

Also, the point has been made that there have been several well-known and established editors who have gotten into "trouble" while doing zines. Diane Steiner, Trinette Kern, Linda Biggs, myself, and so on, just to name a few. All of us have had our share of problems, and I've been asked by a lot of people why no one tried to "bail us out" or "bail out our zines" when we were basically in the same boat as Ms. Ferguson. The "answer" I've heard is that "COURTS OF HONOR is special, possibly the best thing ever done in fandom." It could be. But it is a fanzine, and running it into the ground or deifying it can set a dangerous precedent.

Maybe what fandom needs is a "bail out fund" of some sort. I know, I know, there's always the danger of someone deliberately mis-using it, absconding with money, and then relying on the hard-working efforts of others to clear their name or publish their zine. But if it's K/S we're trying to preserve, maybe someone somewhere should think about it — maybe there should be a stack of donated zines in somebody's basement which could be auctioned to offset the costs of printing an excellent zine if the editor gets into trouble, dies or just plain disappears. Hopefully, we've all learned our lessons (editors, I mean). Hopefully COH will be the last "fandom scandal". Hopefully the Gang of Six will get COH into print and available to all fans who want to read it.

I think it would be the best thing that could happen at this point — not only for COH itself, but for all of us in fandom.

Okay, I've had may "say" on the COH subject. I really don't want to open up the debate all over again, so suffice it to say that IDIC must govern in this case. It's really up to each individual reader to decide for him or herself if the uproar and emotional overload.

I do wish the Gang of Six all the success in the world with this effort, and I hope everyone can understand that I'm not trying to hurt anyone by stating my opinions on the subject. Like the review, they are just opinions. A.F.B.