When is a Mary Sue not a Mary Sue?

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Title: When is a Mary Sue not a Mary Sue?
Creator: LJC
Date(s): March 14, 2000
Medium: online
Fandom: Star Trek: Voyager
Topic: Mary Sues in canon vs. in fanfiction
External Links: When is a Mary Sue not a Mary Sue?, Archived version
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Other Essays by ljc

When is a Mary Sue not a Mary Sue? is an essay by LJC.

In one section, it applies a Mary Sue Litmus Test to an "Ashes to Ashes" an episode of Star Trek: Voyager.


While Star Trek is known for having regular and supporting characters that fit the Mary Sue criterion (for example, Wesley Crusher is widely regarded as Gene Roddenberry's Mary Sue, as Janeway was Jeri Taylor's, and Seven of Nine is Brannon Braga's), there are rarely examples of original protagonists that fulfil so many of the criterion for the dreaded label of Mary Sue...
Question: When is a Mary Sue not a Mary Sue? Answer: When she's so damned entertaining, you don't care...
Mary Sues are a tricky subject, because the fan's reaction to them is so volatile. We don't like to see screentime taken away from the characters we know and love to make room for a newcomer—particularly one who is so perfect she makes you want to heave. Not to mention, Mary Sues are often all in the eye of the beholder—an original character some may find fascinating, others may believe the biggest waste of time since Shatner's music career. But the fact remains that they have limited appeal. In fact, the person who usually enjoys them the most is the author, rather than her or his intended audience. But what makes an original character entertaining to me personally is the believability and realism. A large part of this has to do with scale. If the author is going for operatic—as, alas, Jeri Taylor did in her truly appallingly dreadful novel Mosaic illustrating Kathy Janeway's early years—rather than realistic, you're going to lose me. It's awfully hard to sympathise and identify with someone living through the Nibelungen. I much prefer my original characters kept to human (or alien of your choice here) scale, because that makes them more believable.
I can't help but wonder, had I read Ashes to Ashes in a 'zine or online, if I would have enjoyed it as much?

Would I have been as forgiving of the contrivances and continuity errors (for example, Ballard being able to catch up to and locate Voyager since, in the past 2+ years she'd been gone, Voyager had made huge leaps across the Delta Quadrant using the transwarp drive, and other Plot Devices of the Week)? If a fan had sent me a story where Harry confesses he had always been in love with a girl he'd known for ten years that mysteriously we'd never heard mentioned before, would I have bought it? Particularly given that our favourite ensign conveniently forgets about the existence of Libby (the woman to whom he remained loyal, rather than submitting to the amorous attentions of the comely Jenny Delaney first and second season), who was practically his fiancée at the time that he was apparently too shy to ask Lyndsay out? Braga may not give a toss about character continuity, but I have a hard time believing I'd let a fan get away with it...

What, double standard? Me?

You betcha. I except better of my peers than I do the show, given its track record. If that sounds bizarre, you've got to understand that folks who read Voyager fan fiction tend to do so because it's better than the show.