The Procrustean Petard

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Star Trek Fanfiction
Title: The Procrustean Petard
Author(s): Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath
Date(s): 1978
Length:
Genre: gen, though debatable
Fandom: Star Trek: The Original Series
External Links:

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The Procrustean Petard is a Star Trek: TOS story by Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath.

Publishing History

It was printed in Star Trek: The New Voyages #2 and is one of the seven stories/poems (out of ten) in the book that was not published earlier in a fanzine.

Description

"A distress call lures the Enterprise to a strange planet where crew members are plucked from the ship and sent through a machine that changes them into the opposite sex. It’s up to Kirk and the Enterprise crew to find a way to return everyone to his or her normal gender in "The Procrustean Petard" written by the editors of the book." [1]

"... a story written by Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath, published in the second volume of—mostly—fan fiction stories that they edited under the title of Star Trek: The New Voyages. In this particular story, male crewmembers were changed into females, and female crewmembers were changed into males. The only exception was Spock, who instead got a double dose of “what makes men men.” [2]

As the crew investigates what's happened, they discover a Klingon ship in the same predicament and the adversaries have to work together to solve it. James Kirk is now an extremely attractive woman, but weak and fragile. Spock immediately begins treating him as a helpless, defenseless girl, as he sees all Earthwomen as "fragile porcelain dolls". He and McCoy emphasize this to Kirk repeatedly. Not only is the "no female captains" rule from the TOS episode "Turnabout Intruder" still in effect, but his sexual magnetism as a female would cause him not to be taken seriously, and probably raped by every male he dealt with, everywhere he went. The Klingon males, now females, are described as feeling degraded and ashamed. Only Klingon captain Kang and Spock remain unchanged, and are later found to have been given an extra Y chromosome. They speculate this is due to their being "the strongest", although they acknowledge there may be other factors.

The solution is to fly over the planet again with the changed crewmembers, so that the machine will change them back. Only a woman security guard (now a man) and her fiance (now a woman) elect to stay as they are. Spock, passing through the machine again, is given another Y chromosome. In the 1970s, the "XYY male" was a popular concept. These "supermales" were assumed to be extremely aggressive and sexually dominant. This false premise is still used in crime novels and police procedurals and was used in this story, including a reference to Chicago murderer Richard Speck, who had brain abnormalities but not XYY:

"You remember the big dust - up in the twentieth century about the YY chromosome effect? They learned that there could be double - even triple - Y chromosomes in the male, often linked to hyper-masculinity, aggressiveness, even violence and crime. There were even a number of mass-murderers who had it. A famous one killed seven nurses --"

The Writers' Introduction in "The New Voyages"

You'll have to let us know what you think of this one.

And we don't doubt that you will...

Meanwhile we'll say only that this is an example of what may prove to be a vanishingly rare species: a short story from us.

Shall we admit that our Star Trek novel, The Price of the Phoenix, started as a short story for New Voyages (1)?

You should only see what happens when we set out to write a novel...

This one could have handily have turned into a novel, and threatened to, but we exercised monumental restraint. It could easily have gotten a little to hot to handle. And if you wonder what happened off camera -- we aren't talking. Maybe we'll write a sequel...[3]

Fanworks Based on This Story

  • One Way Street by Leigh Bideaux ("Based on Marshak and Culbreath’s short story, The Procrustean Petard. Kirk and Spock must deal with Kirk having been female… the repercussions from which are far from what either might have expected.")
  • One Winged Angels by Gina Moretti ("Okay, so something on the planet had changed the members of the landing party into the opposite sex... all but Spock... and now they have to face the reality of men who are now women, women who are now men. They're all sophisticated members of Starfleet, they can handle it. Can't they?")

Reactions and Reviews

1978

I've had the chance to put Susan's and my arguments attacking "Procrustean Petard" to its authors, Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath. They said (and gave me permission to print) that they set up a prejudiced Starfleet based on "Turnabout Intruder" for the purpose of attacking it in future stories. I hope it's soon. [4][5]
After reading ‘Care to Debate That?: Antifeminism in Treklit, the K/S Premise’...I honestly can’t see the two strongest men on the Enterprise being sexually involved with each other. The only time it was remotely possible is in ‘Procustean Petard’ in NV 2. With as much love and trust between Kirk and Spock, I think Spock couldn’t help being attracted to Kirk as a woman.” [6]
My principal reaction to "Procrustean Petard" was one of distress at a number of scientific errors which constitute part of the basis for the plot. My objection is not literary. I hope that the readers will bear with me for a short course on genetics... These comments arise from a very real concern for the damage that can be done by the spread of this sort of stigmatizing idea, not from some desire on my part to cause trouble. I am perfectly aware that the willing suspension of disbelief is an integral part of all science fiction but... [7]
Permit me a timid squeak on the subject of "Procrustean Petard." I agree 100% with [Ann P] but there's something I'd like to add. Look, this is an alien planet, right? Now I don't know all that much about genetics, but it seems to me that it's highly improbable the double-helix would be identical with Terran genes, in which case you got a lot of mixed-up Terrans drifting around the galaxy—not to mention Spock! I always thought it a miracle that Amanda didn't die of copper poisoning, but this is ridiculous! Look, assume the inhabitants of this planet are humanoid, Go further, and say that they're genetically identical to Terrans. Carry the whole thing to the point of absurdity, and say Sargon was right and Terrans are descended from these people. OK—WHAT ABOUT SPOCK? He's got copper-based blood and a Vulcan arrangement of organs—if these people are like Terrans—and if they aren't you have a worse problem—the machine would probably reject him. If not, being a computer—and computers I do know something about—it would follow its programming, reassemble Spock (in a Terran pattern, remember) and continue operations. In which case, Marshak and Culbreath, you don't have an XYY male, you have, to put it bluntly, one very dead Terro-Vulcan hybrid and one heck of a mess on the floor. I may be completely wrong, but that's the way it seems to me. If this be treason, make the most of it! [8]

1998

Although there is no overt sexuality in those books, there is enough going on beneath the surface to keep psychoanalysts and K/S hurt-comfort writers working for years. In direct language the books were very proper but in feel they should have made my hands sticky <EEW!>. Marshak and Culbreath made a lot of noise about Federation culture and the male dominated Starfleet that was interesting. the cultural stuff bears looking at and thinking about. The gender issues always seemed anachronistic and a touch hysterical to me. One of their Short Stories in "New Voyages" called the "Protruscan Petard" <sp?> was a delightful story just because they put the characters in a wonderfully bad spot. I didn't quite care for Spock with the double X chromosome, or the testosterone charged madness that came from it. Actually I thought the whole "Alpha Male" thing was way, way over done, but the basic idea was sound. Anyway, I take it from the context of your post, Meg, that K/S is something you like. The Phoenix books are loaded with sexual energy even if they aren't really allowed to say so directly. K/S, hurt-comfort, and dominance games are just not my cup of tea, but they're in there.... [9]

2001

The Procrustean Petard is a good example of the problems I have with Marshak and Culbreath, and how very far their vision of K/S (which, since they were writing pro, is not explicit, but it's pretty obvious) is from any attempt at achieving equality.

In "Procrustean Petard," all crewmembers have their sexes swapped, except for Spock, who has an additional Y chromosome tacked on to his genetic structure that's supposed to turn him into a violent, testosterone laden "hypermale." Never mind the fact that a, Spock is already such a weird genetic mixture that it's unlikely *anything* could have such an effect without seriously messing him up, that b, the studies they were using to justify this (which have turned out to be seriously flawed) indicated that double-Y is associated with violence, criminality, and *retardation*, but Spock stays a genius, and that c, Spock is genetically, by human standards, *already* a violent being, and his methods of control were designed to reign in a people that were naturally more like Klingons than like humans. No, Spock proceeds to become a sexist, domineering hypermale, snarling at McCoy for daring to treat him now that McCoy is female. Blah blah blah.

Meanwhile, Kirk has become physically feeble. He can't fly a shuttlecraft. Even though he observes that women *can* fly shuttlecrafts (and damned if he knows how), the authors don't seem to guess from the fact that women fly shuttlecrafts, and that we're shown that people fly shuttlecrafts by punching buttons, that maybe it *doesn't* take physical strength to fly the things. Yes, I can imagine that having become weaker than he was before, Kirk is not experienced with the level of strength he needs to apply to do everyday things, but this is a man who's dealt with dying of weird illnesses, being poisoned, aging too fast... he knows about physical weakness. And being a healthy woman should be a lot stronger than being a poisoned or seriously elderly man.

Marshak and Culbreath seem to *want* to picture a world where Kirk's command ability is seriously compromised because of his physical

weakness in comparison to Vulcans (which they exaggerate in this story to be "in comparison to males" as well), while Spock's physical strength is coupled with a sense of bubbling under-the-surface animal violence, Vulcans are bigoted against humans and see themselves as deserving to be in control, and so Spock comes across as the Gothic romance hero to Kirk's heroine, Kirk being plucky and smart but too physically weak to keep himself out of trouble or protect himself against various threats that Spock has to save him from like a damsel tied to the train tracks. Procrustean Petard is the one that *literally* turns Kirk into a woman, but all of them do, and I don't mean this in a good way. [10]

References

  1. by Christopher Randolph in Enterprise Incidents #6 in The Many Faces of Fan Fiction
  2. from The Sound and the Fury: Early Lettercols and Letterzines 1975-1981
  3. from Star Trek: The New Voyages #2
  4. from Johanna Cantor in R & R #6/7
  5. A prejudiced Starfleet and the challenge to the "no female captains" rule are the subject of the Star Trek Continues episode "Embracing the Winds" with Vic Mignona as James Kirk and Todd Haberkorn as Spock.
  6. In R & R #8, the author of that article (Johanna Cantor), responds in a letter: "This is a comment several fans have made. Which only goes to reinforce my annoyed opinion that the ‘Procustean Petard’ premise is only K/S disguised, and pretty thinly disguised at that. There is still so much to explore in the Kirk and Spock presented in ST. Why this need to stretch/chop them out of shape?
  7. a long letter by Ann P in Interstat #5 which she comments on "The Procrustean Petard" and discusses genetics and humans who have an extra chromosome.
  8. Meredith M in a letter to Interstat #6
  9. comment by Jay P. Hailey alt.startrek.creative, February 25, 1998
  10. 2001 comments by Alara Rogers at ASCEML