Variations on a Theme (Star Trek TOS zine)

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Title: Variations on a Theme
Publisher: ScoTpress
Editor(s): Valerie Piacentini, Sheila Clark
Date(s): 1977-1984
Series?: Yes
Medium: print zine
Fandom: Star Trek: TOS
Language: English
External Links: Variations on a Theme online
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Variations on a Theme is a Scottish gen Star Trek: TOS fanzine, written by Valerie Piacentini and Sheila Clark. There is a non-explicit description of rape, both past and present. The zine was very popular and after its initial UK print runs, was reprinted and sold in the US via Bill Hupe.


Each issue can stand alone despite being a sequel to the one before. The series was inspired by Kraith in that it follows Commodore Spock from the parallel universe in Kraith. That alternate Spock tries to kidnap the Kirk from the Kraith universe, believing he was abused by his Spock (because of the domestic discipline scene in Kraith). In this AU that alternate Commodore Spock tries to find and rescue a Kirk who was abused for real.

He encountered many universes before he found one where his counterpart, Captain Spock of the Enterprise, was a sadist who delighted in torturing and humiliating his young and vulnerable First Officer, Commander James Kirk. In pity and outrage the Commodore crossed into the alternate universe to help Kirk escape—but found himself unable to leave when Kirk killed the Captain to save the Commodore’s life.

The Variations universe is then an alternate universe of an alternate universe of an alternate universe.

Its Kraith Connection

"Variations on a Theme" originated from Valerie's utilizing one character from a Kraith alternate universe story, one who was never going to appear again in Kraith, and writing him into yet another alternate universe. This makes the "Variations on a Theme universe" an alternate universe of an alternate universe of an alternate universe.

From A 2007 Interview with Valerie Piacentini:
Often an idea came from another writer’s story; many of us wrote what we called “creative responses,” though it was considered courteous to ask the original writer’s permission first. I did once make a bad mistake, though. I wrote what was intended to be a short story based on Kraith, inspired by a version of Spock who appeared briefly. I didn’t ask permission, thinking it was too minor, but the short story grew into what became the Variations on a Theme series. (That’s another of my favourites, co-authored with Fiona, but as it’s gen, I didn’t include it.) Some years later I received a very gracious letter from Jacqueline Lichtenberg saying she would have allocated it an official Kraith number.

Its Genre

While the zine series is officially gen, at least one fan, however, feels a sexual tension in this series: {{Quotation|The series has a unique K&S relationship, a [[bonded friendship with no sexual intercourse. In my opinion, however, there is a strong sexual undercurrent of sexual tension in each zine. Although, it is clearly stated why these two would never physically join, and the authors have no intention of having them do so, the subject is brought up so often that all the smoke in the air sends you searching for the fire they say isn’t burning. [1]}}

Yes, these zines are X-rated, but not because they contain any strongly sexual material; the only sex scene in either issue is disposed of in 7 words and is in only to show the reader the situation in which the young, shy and lonely Commander Kirk is trapped by a ruthless and brutal Captain, but both zines are X-rated because references are necessarily made to the cruelty to which he was subjected before Variations 1 started. Admitted, Captain Spock was homosexually inclined, but he was not 'our' Spock but an alternative universe Spock - the one who never adjusted to his Human blood, and he is disposed of early in Variations 1, although there are references to him throughout both issues. The zines in fact deny a sexual relationship between our characters. [2]

General Reactions and Reviews

'Variations on a Theme' is a Kirk Spock story with difference. At the end of 'Spock's Pilgrimage' (Kraith), we left behind a Spock whose Kirk had died, and who was searching the alternate timelines for a Kirk who might need him. He finds one, a young and vulnerable science officer, who has been ruthlessly subjugated by a sadistic Captain Spock. This is a powerful story, and there will be, thank goodness, a sequel. [3]
Another alternate universe series that I can highly recommend is Vrariations on a Theme by Valerie Piacentini and Sheila Clark. This is where it becomes complicated: they take a brief incident in Kraith as their starting point, and a Spock whose Kirk has died. He finds, in another alternate universe, a Kirk who is being tortured by his Spock, who is also Captain of the Enterprise. He reduces Kirk, with Captain Spock being murdered in the process, and the series continues with alternate versions of TV episodes, combined with a very different friendship between the two characters than wa the case in the TV episode. Look out for these -- as far as I know there are 8 of them… [4]
How does on rehabilitate a damaged but still alive persona? This is the task Speck has set himself here. As Commodore Spock in this universe, James Kirk has died from a Mindsifter Torture. Spock had never ceased to mourn as he felt responsible. Then he discovered parallel universes and found a James Kirk whom he could help. But how? By an accident on his first visit he is compelled to stay and slowly he takes over as "Captain Spock". The lonely, bruised James Kirk is gradually made whole again for here Spock's human traits have dominated is life, giving and receiving becomes naturally. But there is a price. The Vulcan family council forces the issue of succession - and by consent. Kirk agrees to become Spock's bondmate. Therefore each will no longer be alone. Later, Spock hopes there will be a 'secondary wife' as allowed by custom. This does eventuate and the results are accepted by all. These stories are well-written and illustrated and follow the series loosely. I have found them enjoyable and touching in places especially in the first days while Kirk is still unsure. This Spock is a little too protective and as previously expressed this universe is too pat. I only felt the danger in the sections dealing with Sarek and the 'other Vulcan.' Perhaps later stories would tighten up this point. Altogether a very good read and addition to Trek fan literature. Expressions of feelings about these stories are given by the various poems featured in #4 - 6.[5]

Issue 1

cover of issue #1

Variations on a Theme 1 was published in September 1977 and is 44 pages long

Originally intended to be a single short story, this fanzine presented a universe in which Captain Spock was a probably insane sadist who failed to adjust to his human heritage, showing his contempt for humans by his vicious treatment of his First Officer, Commander James T. Kirk. During Commodore Spock’s attempt to rescue the human, the Captain is killed. Kirk refuses to ensure his own safety by abandoning the Enterprise in Klingon space, accepting that he would face trial if his ‘crime’ was discovered. To conceal this, the Commodore therefore assumes the Captain’s place, joining with McCoy in the difficult task of restoring Kirk’s shattered confidence.

Reactions and Reviews: Issue 1

This is a story of a love between two men that cements a friendship that will last a lifetime. The story explores the deep, abiding bond which exists between Kirk and Spock in most universes... Done in good quality mimeo. I found this zine to be well-written and thoroughly enjoyable. It goes on my recommended list, and I would urge anyone who enjoys the intricacies of the relationship between Kirk and Spock (And I do not mean the porno crap -- this zine does not descend to that level) to get 'Variations.' [6]

Issue 2

cover of issue #2

Variations on a Theme 2 was published in June 1978 and is 67 pages long. A fan has stated that it contains one of the earliest uses of the term "K/S" (in the form of "K/Sex"). [7]

The crew of the Enterprise had accepted the Commodore without suspicion, but the authors realized that there would be other problems for Spock and Kirk to overcome. Spock was called home to face his ‘father’ on a Vulcan where reason and logic did not hold total sway—and where the punishment for murder was cruel and barbaric. Sarek’s reaction, when he eventually discovered that his son was dead, was unexpected, and freed Kirk and Spock to return to the Enterprise—where Kirk’s long-lost brother had been posted to the Security section.

Years earlier Sam Kirk had deserted his young brother; on Deneva, we learned how each had developed during the years apart. The end of Variations 2 saw Kirk as the capable, confident First Officer of the Enterprise, serving his Captain with whole-hearted loyalty, but still haunted by a deep personal insecurity.

Reactions and Reviews: Issue 2

KRAITH is one of those rare worlds—Villon' s "Ballad of Dead Ladies" and Luther's "Mighty Fortress" are the only others that spring readily to mind—which read better in translation than in the original, Eileen Roy's "Kirk's Challenge", Paula Smith's regrettably brief excursions into this universe, and even Sheryl Roberts' blatant Mary Sues, all deal with the basic materials in honestly human terms and are the stronger for it. Sheila Clark's and Valerie Piacentini's VARIATIONS has carried this tendency so far that the stories are no longer recognizable as having anything to do with Jacqueline Lichtenberg's epic. Whatever its other virtues, there is very little compassion in KRAITH; and compassion, for and by the characters, is one of VARIATIONS' most clearly distinguishing features. On one level, this in stallment deals with the alternate Spock's further establishment of himself in his counterpart's place; Kirk's reunion with and second betrayal by his brother Sam; and another of those damnable alien moral and ethical ordeals, (Don't any of these people maintain diplomatic and/or intelligence corps? Grrrr....) On another, it traces the growing love between Kirk and Spock, together with the latter's dawning realization that his brutalized Science Officer possesses a depth of character lacking in the dead Captain Kirk. Tandem with this is Kirk's own increasing confidence and self-respect, though a core of deep-seated uncertainty remains. This man is not a leader, and knows it. The grace with which he accepts his limitations, and Spock's in assuming responsibilities a KRAITH Vulcan could neither understand nor bear, make this one of the best Trek stories to see print in a long time. Not, mind you, that it's without faults. The people in this universe exhibit an appalling tendency to yatter damaging information into their tape recorders and leave the tapes lying carelessly about; surely a little more thought would have obviated the necessity for this awkward device, One could wish, too, that Sam had not come quite so tidily to a nasty end. But these flaws are minor, and the clean, clear prose carries one past them easily, Gerry Downes' equally lucid illos are frosting on the cake. Try this; I promise you, you'll like it. Highly recommended. [8]

Issue 3

cover of issue #3

Variations on a Theme 3 was published in August 1979 and is 64 pages long. The initial STAG Press print run in August 1979 was 400 copies. By July 1981, and after three reprints, another 400 copies had been printed. The zine was also issued an ISBN number: 0260-1478.

Although Sarek knew the truth and accepted it, the rest of the family did not. If they did discover the truth, Kirk might very well be called to account for killing the Captain, and punished for it with the full rigour of Vulcan law. The truth therefore had to be kept hidden. Spock’s family council insisted that he marry. In this universe the bonding ceremony triggered pon farr—and it was established in Kraith Collected that the Commodore was immune to pon farr. He would therefore be unable to consummate a Vulcan bonding, his wife would complain, the imposture would be detected, and Kirk would be in danger.

Kirk also, because of the sexual assaults he had suffered from the Captain, was impotent—psychologically so—and afraid to enter into any sort of personal relationship with anyone apart from Spock. Realising the situation that both men were in, McCoy suggested that they bond—something that he had discovered was acceptable on Vulcan—and Spock and Kirk were formally bonded. In the same issue, Kirk's Academy friend Gary Mitchell came on board as a navigator. Basically lazy, he finally settled down to become a steady, uninspired member of the crew.

There is a story in Duet #12 (1985) which is a slash version of this story. See "Variations 3 1/2 or The Other Choice" by Martin Coates.

Issue 4

cover of issue #4

Variations on a Theme 4 was published in May 1980 and is 64 pages long.

McCoy discovered that he had xenopolycythemia. Spock remembered Yonada—but in this universe, the Enterprise had encountered Yonada before Spock’s entry into Kirk’s life—a plague ship crewed by only a handful of immune disease carriers. To stop them spreading the disease or crashing into an inhabited world, the Captain had destroyed Yonada. Spock therefore decided to go back to his own universe, find McCoy there, and obtain the cure from him. When he failed to return, Kirk went in search of him leaving Charlene Masters in command of the Enterprise, only to discover that Spock had been arrested, accused of being AWOL.

Issue 5

cover of issue #5

Variations on a Theme 5 was published in October 1981 and contains 73 pages. The initial print run was 400 copies.

The Enterprise is being used by Starfleet on basically political missions. They go first to the Amerind planet where Kirk, as the god Kirok, has to persuade a native tribe to leave their lands ‘because the gods wanted them’—in fact, Starfleet had discovered traces of the Preservers there and wanted to investigate them. This done, the Enterprise was assigned to take the Dohlman Elaan to Troyius—with an overbearing Petri determined to find fault with everything the shy princess-to-be did.

Reactions and Reviews: Issue 5

This issue continues the adventures of Kirk and Spock in a significantly different way than from aired Trek. These are different people. In the first variations, a Spock who has lost his Kirk searched the universe until he found a Kirk abused by his Spock. When that Spock dies, this Spock steps in to take over his life. Throughout the series, the authors do a great job of keeping their Spocks separate. The relationship of the abused First Officer Kirk and his new, kind Captain Spock, develops with each volume. Each issue shows us episodes from aired Trek as they occurred in this other universe… In number five, Kirk returns to Miramanee’s planet on Federation business. The middle of this part is divided by a flashback of an experience Kirk had with his first cruel Captain Spock, a technique the authors use to further characterization and provided continuity for the series. The authors seem to get particular joy at recounting one or more of these flashbacks… If it weren’t so effective, it would seem a little sadistic. However, you can’t tell about a sadist without touching on sadistic things. The story continues with this universe’s version of the Troyilus and Elan story, with very effective embellishment. It gives insights into Kirk and Spock’s bonding. The series has a unique K&S relationship, a bonded friendship with no sexual intercourse. In my opinion, however, there is a strong sexual undercurrent of sexual tension in each zine. Although, it is clearly stated why these two would never physically join, and the authors have no intention of having them do so, the subject is brought up so often that all the smoke in the air sends you searching for the fire they say isn’t burning. It intensifies the story – a technique that is very effective, but I can’t determine if it is deliberate! VoaT5 is illustrated competently by Virginia Lee Smith, well mimeod by Janet Quarton, is 73 pages of that slightly larger overseas paper and sells for $6.50. The price is reasonable considering this is an overseas zine. Earlier issues cost less. This Kirk and Spock aren’t the ones you know from the series, but they’re interesting to know… Though each issue stands alone, start with the first one. [9]

Issue 6

cover of issue #6

Variations on a Theme 6 was published in February 1982 and is 91 pages long. Art by Virginia Lee Smith. The zine was issued an ISSN 0260-1478.

This has analogues of Galileo 7 and Journey to Babel. The Enterprise carries on with more diplomatic duties—to take a number of Federation delegates to Babel for a conference. On The way, Kirk becomes involved twice in scientific missions…and is tricked into taking a wife.

Issue 7

cover of issue #7

Variations On A Theme 7 was published in August 1983 and is 68 pages long.

Variations #7 includes more episode analogues, this time Plato’s Stepchildren and Alternative Factor. The visit to Platonius saw them decide to complete their bond link, and this was vital to the success of their next mission, an analogue of Alternate Factor, in which Spock for the first time encountered T’Pring, who was terrified of the Captain she had rejected in favour of Stonn. He also met, presumably for the last time, McCoy and Scott from his original universe.

Reactions and Reviews: Issue 7

Although I like these, I find one thing irritating, you should never do, I mean come in on a series half-way through. I started reading this after reading #8 therefore I have missed all that has gone on previously. The storyline follows two adventures from the series fairly closely, characters are believable and as true to the "new setting" as possible. The universe is still too pat - I did not feel the danger perhaps they should resume more original forms of setting to bring this about. [10]

Issue 8

cover of issue #8

Variations on a Theme 8 was published in August 1984 and contains 114 pages.

In Issue 8 they go on leave, first to Earth and then to Vulcan. In Scotland they run into Scotty's brother… who wants revenge for Scotty's death; then the twins (Kirk's children - see Issue 6) are kidnapped - vengeance against Spock for something that happened many years previously.

  • Alternative Universe by Ann Smith
  • Quiet Evening Doubts by Lorraine Goodison
  • Scotty by Gene Delapenia
  • The Infinite Necessity Of You by Lee Owers
  • Though Now We Speak by Lee Owers

Reactions and Reviews: Issue 8

Like it very much, good writing and description, keeps your interest. Sheila and Valerie certainly know how to persuade people to visit Scotland. This Spock is certainly a more responsive person! Only one flaw -- this universe is a wee bit too pat. However, as this is my first time reading a story set there, it may prove different in another type of storyline. [11]
This edition is prefaced by a beautiful poem by Aussie Sheryl Peterson and lovingly illustrated by Virginia Lee Smith. Definitely a great addition to this series of zines. [12]


  1. an excerpt from a review in Datazine #17
  2. from the editors in a letter to STAG #30 in 1978
  3. from Stardate: Unknown #4
  4. from IDIC #11
  5. from Beyond Antares #28
  6. from Scuttlebutt #10
  7. Science Fiction Citations
  8. by Jane Aumerle in Star Canticle #2
  9. from Datazine #17
  10. from Beyond Antares #28
  11. from Beyond Antares #28
  12. from Beyond Antares #28