Simple Gifts (Star Trek: TOS zine)
|Publisher:||Alien Hands Productions|
|Cover Artist(s):||Rosalie Blazej|
|Date(s):||1987, 1991 (second edition)|
|Fandom:||Star Trek: TOS|
|External Links:||online here; also online here|
|Click here for related articles on Fanlore.|
Simple Gifts is a Spock/OFC het novel by Claire Gabriel. It has the subtitle, "Blacktower 1." The cover is by Rosalie Blazej and was edited by Kathy Johnson. It has two sequels: one called The Porcelain of Twilight and the other is Music I Heard With You. It won the 1989 Fan Q Award for best Star Trek novel. This zine also won a 1988 Surak Award.
Explores the complex ties of love, family, friendship that bind Kirk and Spock to Sarah Halstead, a Human physician. Unique in its scope and sweeping vision: along with Spock and Sarah, the reader will embark on a journey of learning and discovery. 
Discussion Regarding Age Statements and This ZineIn a Star Trek letterzine, the author had these comments:
I'd like to comment on your EDITOR'S CORNER column in TREKLINK #12. It's not that I disagree with what you said about age statements. In essence, I agree. But some of your points disturbed and confused me for a personal reason that has wide applicability for the authors and editors of fanzines that contain sexually explicit scenes and/or so-called four letter words. I think the matter should be discussed further, and TREKLINK might be the best place for this discussion As I understand your editorial policy, such a discussion would fall within your guidelines. If this is printed in the July issue of TREKLINK, I anticipate that a new fanzine of mine, SIMPLE GIFTS, will have been in print for about a month (in time for Media*West Con). This zine contains seven chronological ST stories of mine that take place between the end of third season and the beginning of ST III — an episodic novel, if you will, with one sequel already in the works and another planned. After much soul-searching, soliciting of opinions from first-readers, and consultation with the editor, I made the decision that SIMPLE GIFTS would not be an "age statement zine." But on reading your column, I wonder if that decision was the correct one. Take vocabulary. In one of the stories, a character (not a ST regular), uses the slang obscenity for copulation. This is not a sex scene. The character is angry and retaliating emotionally; I used the word for a powerful emotional effect,
which I think is necessary in context. In a later scene, the word is repeated as the victim of this verbal attack recapitulates it for another character. These are the only two times that this or any other sex-related obscenity is used in the zine. But according to your column (as I understand what you said) SIMPLE GIFTS should be an age statement zine if there are any four letter words in it. Additionally, this is a zine which, to quote EDITOR'S CORNER, " ...sex and the discussion of sex are part of the plot, [although] not the bulk of the plot." There are several hetero sex scenes in these stories, and the last two are quite explicit. Body parts and acts of penetration are not named, either clinically or with slang terms. My creed with regard to this type of scene is "Dramatize, don't describe." Judging by my first-reader's comments, I was successful in achieving that obj ective. Imagine my chagrin when I read your opinion that the criterion for an age statement should be the rating that the movie would get if these scenes were filmed. My zine would get an R rating for sure, and possibly even an X. One first-reader commented that there is more explicit stuff than this on open shelves in the library; another said the same thing in the context of the paperbaok racks. There is no question of gratuitousness; the sex scenes are necessary to the plot, even though there is much more to the plot than sex. Yet I remained uncertain until I received a comment to the effect that the person making the comment would have no objection to her daughter (now a child) reading this kind of story as a teenager because it depicts two people who love each other in the act of making love. Okay, says I. That does it. It goes without the age statement. But now I wonder if I was wrong. The question onthe table is this: Should zine editors require an age statement for any story that contains material that would be rated R if it were filmed? If not, what is the criterion in this area?And what about vocabulary? If ONE character says ONE four letter obsoenity ONCE in a story, does that mean the zine should have an age statement? 
Reactions and Reviews
Let's get a few things straight up front—I love action stories. I like adventure, excitement, a mobile plot and, to a certain extent, hurt/comfort. Simple Gifts is not that kind of story. It is, well, something altogether different.
Ms. Gabriel, as she explains in the preface of the second edition, wrote the novel in sections, two of which were incorporated into the whole in the second edition, the third standing alone as a separate novella (Ni Var). There are ample footnotes to help the reader along and I did not necessarily find them distracting.
The story can be summarized in a few sentences. Spock meets human woman. They find "mutual compatabihty," or in human terms, fall in love. We are given a bird's-eye view of their lives together and apart for the next twenty years or so—family life with Spock, family life without Spock. So what is the attraction the story had for me? At this point in my review I had to delete a page and a half of rambling. Why is it so difficult to describe this story? Perhaps because, in its own way, it is intensely average. Now wait. Before you skip to the next review, let me explain what I mean by that. In my brief sojourn in the fan world, I have come to realize that by and large, the people who read the zines are interested in the characters— they're not interested necessarily in what they do, but what they are. They want to know what goes on inside those individuals who people the world of Trek; what makes them tick.
Often we read tales which call Kirk, Spock, et al, to draw upon reserves of human strength or endurance, or battle some deep emotional trauma. While these stories are entertaining and often high drama, they still tell us little about the foundation of the characters. After all, many of us lead rather ordinary lives (outside of Trek, that is), but can recount times when we, too, were brought outside ourselves, as it were, to meet a crisis. Yet our actions would tell the bystander little about us personally. Ms. Gabriel has attempted to let us "move in" with the characters for a while, particularly the core and extended family of Spock himself. She has succeeded very well.
Though Ms. Gabriel leads us into the ordinary, the journey is far from mundane. In fact, we begin to see extraordinary individuals emerging in ordinary circumstances—we begin to know, admire, and perhaps love the new characters Ms. Gabriel introduces—marriage partners, lovers, children, friends and elders, working companions.
There are the usual number of family crises, don't misunderstand me. Miscarriages, cross-species conflicts, bi-racial children in multi-racial cultures, families coping with one partner in the marriage being absent the greater part of the years recounted here. (I should point out the tale spans the years from the original mission until just before the U.S.S. Bounty returns to Earth from Vulcan via the 20th century.)
Ms. Gabriel's grasp of the Vulcan mind and heart rivals (and perhaps surpasses) that of Jean Lorrah (The Vulcan Academy Murders). And there's more. Mystery, intrigue, pathos, humor. Oh, tremendous humor. Ms. Gabriel either has children of her own or is intensely fond of (and uncannily tapped into) the psyches of little ones. Only if you read this tale can you fully appreciate the word "mup."
Ms. Gabriel has a tremendous gift. She opens up a private world and puts you smack in the middle of it. She touches the spirit of the reader—I believe there is something for everyone, with all diversity of tastes, in this novel. When I finished it, I was moved far more than I can relate here— you need hand gestures and handkerchiefs for that.In short I can only give my highest recommendation to spend your money wisely and get this novel. My copy is in the "to be read again section" of my zine collection. A beautiful, poignant, deeply emotional read. Ten out of ten just isn't adequate. Ms. Gabriel's name is one I will certainly look for in the future. 
Through a complex set of circumstances, Spock and Sarah, a young woman who had a brief 'fling' with Kirk, become stranded on a post-apocalyptic world for several years. Through a deft weaving of canon, including material from TAS, the author spins a highly credible tale of Spock juggling the demands of a relationship and family with his duties in Starfleet right through the span of the Trek movies. When I first began reading this novel, my immediate reaction was, "Yeah, right, another Mary Sue who sleeps with both Kirk *and* Spock," but I was quickly drawn into the powerful narrative. This is a very powerful and moving novel. Its sequel, "The Porcelain of Twilight," can be found on the author's home page. 
Through a complex set of circumstances, Spock and Sarah, a young woman who had a brief 'fling' with Kirk, become stranded on a post-apocalyptic world for several years. Through a deft weaving of canon, including material from TAS, the author spins a highly credible tale of Spock juggling the demands of a relationship and family with his duties in Starfleet right through the span of the Trek movies. When I first began reading this novel, my immediate reaction was, "Yeah, right, another Mary Sue who sleeps with both Kirk *and* Spock," but I was quickly drawn into the powerful narrative. This is a very powerful and moving novel. 
"What kind of fanzine story have you always wanted to see written?" Well, I think I've already found that story, and it's one I hadn't even been looking for. I am referring to a novel by Claire Gabriel titled Simple Gifts... Simple Gifts is basically a "Spock gets married" story, but it's got so many neat twists in it, so many insights into the Star Trek characters we all know so well, that even non-romantics like me enjoy it! I normally shy away from Star Trek romance stories, since I find the characterizations—"off." Not so with Simple Gifts. Ms. Gabriel is wise in the ways of people, and she has applied that wisdom with such effectiveness that I really did believe that not only could these characters exist, but that they would interact in just the way she described. Add to this splendid character development superb writing ability, and you've got top-notch Star Trek fiction!
I know what I like to read. More definitely than that, I know what I do not like to read.
Upon starting to read Simple Gifts, you realize that it is mainly going to be about this woman named Sarah. Sarah is young, gorgeous, and a doctor—genius is inferred, as she has received a hard-to-come-by Federation research grant in her still-tender years. She holds an honor rarely conferred on a human, a position at the Vulcan Science Academy Medical Center. Well, she's only three-quarters human, which allows her to be not only highly telepathic, but empathic. The other one-quarter of her heritage is from, of all places, Sarpeidon. It doesn't stop there: she's actually a direct descendant of Zarabeth (through a child she'd had before she was sent to her planet's ice age), and looks exactly like her great-grandmother.
Further, in short order, Sarah meets Kirk, charms him, beds him, tells him their relationship can't work, then finds herself pregnant, and quickly follows all this by being stranded for years on a planet with Spock, whose pon farr is approaching.
Once that formula was clear, I flipped through the zine and found that great chunks of it were going to involve (horrors!) children. One fathered by Kirk, two fathered by Spock.
Normally, I'd have closed the zine at that point and put it on the doorstop pile.
Two things prevented this. First, the zine was a present from a dear friend, in whose taste and perception I place great faith, and who knows my tastes very well. There had to be a reason why she thought I should read this novel. Second, yes, I was being fed a blatantly Mary-Sue formula, but wrapped in such a compelling narrative style, and spiced with so many intriguing insights, that it was going down more smoothly than I would've expected. That last distinction, of course, is what separates (he bad or the mediocre writer from the good writer. Claire Gabriel is a damn good writer. Fan writing is not overpopulated by them. When you find one, you owe it to yourself to bury your personal preferences (or prejudices) and read the work.
What is wrong with Simple Gifts?
One: Coincidences and contrivances. What plotting there is at the beginning only serves to hang relationships on; some of it even gets wasted. The writer establishes a planetary system, its human and alien inhabitants, their cultures, problems, and jeopardies, only to blow them all away promptly so that Sarah and Spock can get stranded. She involves the Federation, and thus the Enterprise, in a four-year-long war, just to treat it as a mere footnote (well, log note) to explain why Kirk doesn't return for Spock sooner. She blithely glides over the war, and from all indications, these extensive hostilities have left no scars, nor even impressions, on its participants.
Sarah's being a dead ringer for Zarabeth is almost unbearably contrived, but, mercifully, not too much is made of it, and, as the heroine has to be part alien from a presently nonexistent planet to create a medical jeopardy, I suppose Sarpeidon serves as well as anything else would have. It's the chicken-or-the-egg problem. After all, though, it must be noted that the contrivances in the novel do not, in fact, stick out like sore thumbs. Ms. Gabriel is too deft a writer to make that mistake.
Two: Patchiness. In the later parts of the story, the plotting is supplied by "canon" while the writer patches her variations onto its edges. Sometimes the patchwork is smooth. At other times it's not (ie the "tap-dancing" to explain away the absence of the most essential factor of Spock 's existence-his wife-from the major occurrences of his life, the events on Mount Seleya being one of them).
Three: Indulgences. In fact, "indulgent" is an accurate term to describe Simple Gifts. In the Afterword, the writer states that one of her reasons for writing the novel was that "Spock needs to win one for a change." Her boundless affection for Spock (not a thing wrong with that, mind you; this reviewer happens to have the same predilection) overwhelms the story, and sometimes overwhelms the credulity. Every character close to Spock seems to love him unreservedly and hold his interests and well-being as an unquestioned first priority--so much so that I found myself perversely wishing for at least a brief appearance by T'Pring, or someone similarly inclined, just for a break from all this concern for Spock. When Sarah finally suffered the backlash of resentment from constantly putting Spock and his needs first, of letting Spock be Kirk's First Officer and friend first, and her husband second, I was relieved. I don't believe in saints. Don't much like 'em, either. Her reaction was a bit "too little, too late," but at least it was there.
I also find basing parts of the novel on previous works of the same author indulgent, in a sense, and irritating for people like me who have not read those stories. In all fairness, though, the writer's footnotes give enough information to make the references comprehensible.
What is right about Simple Gifts?
One: Indulgences. This is to point out that indulgence is not necessarily a bad word. After all, what is the basic raison d'etre for fan fiction, or even speculative fiction? Statements like, "I want to see Kirk break down and cry," or "I want to see Spock reach out and hug a friend," and so on, often constitute a fan writer's impetus for starting a story, challenging her or him to create the plausible means to this end. It's what fans like to read, described and commended among us with that catch-all phrase, "good stuff."
Simpk Gifts has wonderful "good stuff." (No, that's not redundant, simply accurate in this instance.) If you're a Spock fan or a fan of The Kirk and Spock Relationship, there are moments of unbearable heartbreak, utter elation, and all the phases in between waiting for you in the novel. Maybe not as many or as frequent as the fan of the latter category might prefer, but, hell, we read a lot of coprolites in our search for the gems, and in this case, you'll be privileged to read a well-written-in places, lyrical-novel, with good character and interrelationship studies and illuminating intercultural comments, so you could do a lot worse than spending your money on this publication.
Two: Depth. With respect to both individual characters and cultural characteristics. The characters, both the established and the original ones, are real and interesting and likable. There are many perceptive insightsinto the Vulcan culture and language, and to the nuances of intent and interpretation that lead to differences between people of divergent races. You may not like them all (as I didn't when something went against my own convictions on the issue of abortion), but you have to admire and, in the end, respect them.
Three: Emotional satisfaction. Which, after all, is the most important thing to me when I've closed the last page on a fan publication.
There's one point I'd like to raise which fits into neither the "right" nor the "wrong" category: With Sarah as the constant factor, the writer creates a parallel microcosm, so to speak, of Kirk and Spock, in their respective offspring, Jill and T'Ara. She calls this her lodestar premise. As an analogous reprise of Kirk and Spock's special relationship, it works very well-sort of like the variable-sized geometric patterns an artist repeats for balance in a composition. However, what I was most interested in seeing in that reprise was the birth and growth of that relationship, something we never got to see in its first infancy with Kirk and Spock. I didn't want it presented to me as a given, as was the case with their elders in the series. In my opinion, that's a missed chance, but that's just my preference.
The presentation of Simple Gifts is clean and crisp. The cover and its symbolism, which is portrayed in the novel, is lovely.
One thing: This publication is in its second edition. The second edition is twice again as long as the first, with what should've been a sequel or a volume two tacked right onto the original story. I consider that a disservice to the folks who've already bought and paid for the first edition. Sounds like there might be more written in this universe. I sincerely hope there are no plans for a still lengthier third edition. That would be adding injury to injury.Four trees -with a bit of a reservation,  but really, Claire Gabriel is such a good crafter of words and emotions that I can't find it in my heart to drop it down to three trees. Use your own discretion if you have objections to reading a ST novel taken up mostly by characters you've never seen in the series. 
I read it without realizing what it was about, and to be honest, had I known, I wouldn't have. Not because I dislike romance stories; quite the opposite. But I am currently enmeshed in my own novel (which happens to be a Spock romance), and I don't want to be influenced by anyone else's vision. But Ms. Gabriel's Spock is not mine; nor is her lead character, Sarah, anything like mine. Whew! But what the novel is is a beautifully written, honest, adult story about a marriage—and not a storybook "happily ever after" one, either. It takes wisdom and great skill to write about the ups and downs of a relationship and make the reader care; witness the number of romance novels that are merely exercises in soppy sentimentality or semi-pornographic fantasy. I found that the ghost of Sarah Halstead (Claire's character) hovered over my shoulder for some weeks after as I was writing the first few chapters of my own novel, making comments about my character's behavior. (Sarah would definitely not do some of the things my leading lady does!) She became that real to me. And this is not something that happens often. So if quality writing and presentation are important (graphically, the novel is a real treat—no illos, alas, but professionally and lovingly laid out) then run, don't walk, and get this zine, and enjoy. 
Just a note to correct a factual error in Suzan Lovett's review of Simple Gifts, Second Edition. Both the editor's Foreword and the author's Preface explicitly state that Music I Heard With You was published separately before being incorporated into SG2. This was a very high priority with me, and I did everything I could to ensure that no one who wanted a copy of the solo edition of MTHWY would have to order SG2 to get it. When Kathy Johnson took over the publication of my zines and Bill Hupe took over their distribution early in 1991, all three of us agreed that everyone who had ordered MTHWY from Carol Lynn or SASEd her about it would be notified that it was available from Bill, that all orders for it would be filled by him before SG2 became available, and that if there were any solo copies of MTHWY left, they would remain available until they were sold. This was almost three years after the publication of the original Simple Gifts wherein I told readers (in the original Afterword) that MTHWY was in the works and that they should SASE Carol if they were interested. Bill spent a lot of time, effort, and energy answering all the SASEs and filling all the orders that Carol, who was most cooperative during the transition, had turned over to him. Given that, I think it's a valid assumption that any SGI readers who wanted MTHWY solo had plenty of opportunity to purchase it. Otherwise, all true. 
Now I admit that my reaction to "Simple Gifts" so far is more strongly negative than it should be, because of something in the first scene where Sarek & Spock are talking together. They go to The Concourse of Evolution and see a diorama of pre-Vulcanoids in Pon Farr, two males fighting while:
"A female watched them--detached, passive, waiting to become the spoils of the victor."
Now, speaking as a biologist, this is a lie. And I guess that later on, when Kirk sees the diorama, he knows it's a lie, too, Because the female is not passive, any more than T'Pring was truly passive. Or, of course, any more than Sarah is passive.
The Spock in "Simple Gifts" is interestingly alien, but not for me canonical. Spock touches others (especially Kirk, heh heh heh) a lot more in canon than many writers seem to realize, and he's more forthright about his feelings. For me, the conversation with McCoy in "Bread and Circuses" is pretty much a "smoking gun" that well before the end of the 5YM Spock knows (and is not ashamed of) how he feels about Jim, and McCoy knows he knows.
And the Vulcans-view-sexuality-as-an-aberration thing does not accord with what I see when Spock is with that lucky gal, the Romulan Commander. I think what we see on screen with them counts as pretty heavy petting, and Spock never acts ashamed of it.
Not to mention that (as a biologist) I have never been able to believe in any resolution of Spock's first PF that doesn't involve honest-to-goodness sex or at least explicitly sexual reactions -- and we all know who the outstanding candidate for partner is.
What is almost amusing in a way about "Simple Gifts" is how close the dynamics are to [Gayle F's] "Cave of the Heart." Yet unlike that story, Spock's bondmate doesn't seem to have an "inside view" of his feelings toward Jim. In fact up to where I have read so far (end of "Tara") we have had *no* inside views of K&S's feelings for each other. It's hard for me to read it as other than, as in "Bitter Glass," that Jim is the central truth of Spock's life, and he should admit the logic of the situation.So I end up feeling like I'm watching someone go to incredible gymnastics to have K&S uninvolved, but what she has proved with almost mathematical precision is the only set of viable solutions to the equations of their lives are K/S. 
This is not just the story of another Mary Sue who has a relationship with both Kirk *and* Spock (not simultaneously), but a deft weaving of canon (including material from TAS) in which the author spins a highly credible tale of Spock juggling the demands of a relationship and family with his duties in Starfleet. The time frame runs through the span of the Trek movies, including Spock's dramatic death and rebirth. A very powerful and moving novel, with incredibly vivid and realistic settings and descriptions. 
- from Media Monitor
- from Treklink #13
- from The Trekzine Times v.2 n.2/3
- Zeb's Novel Length Recs.
- Novel-Length Recs, Archived version
- from Trekzine Times V.1 N.4
- The reviewers in "Psst... Hey Kid, Wanna Buy a Fanzine?" rated zines on a 1-5 tree/star scale. See that page for more explanation.
- from Psst... Hey Kid, Wanna Buy a Fanzine? #3. The reviewer, [S L], gives it "4 trees." The reviewers in "Psst... Hey Kid, Wanna Buy a Fanzine?" rated zines on a 1-5 tree/star scale.
- from The Trekzine Times v.2 n.1
- from a LoC by the author in Psst... Hey Kid, Wanna Buy a Fanzine? #4
- comments on a private mailing list, quoted anonymously (September 1999)
- by Rocky at Crack Van, posted September 1, 2005, accessed March 25, 2013