This partially explains the predominance of women in the community: male fans of the show generally balk at the restriction and prefer to engage in activities such as costuming or crafts, for which payment is not a traditional reward. Women, who traditionally spend large portions of their lives working in relative isolation for little or no pay, bring a different set of motivations to their writing and art. They want to talk to other women, to express themselves in the science fiction form that until recently has all but excluded them. The writers cannot sell their work, but they don't have to meet commercial criteria for success either: they must please only the predominantly female ''Star Trek'' fan community. For the past 10 years, at least, women have accounted for over 90 percent of the writing and graphic arts and for almost all the editing of the ''Star Trek'' fan publications. Together the writers, editors, artists and reader-critics form an artistic community that shares work and appreciation.
The first thing I discovered about ''Star Trek'' is that individual, ''unique'' creation is not as important to these women as sharing a fantasy universe in which real-life concerns such as sexuality and equality can be discussed in the metaphorical language of ''Star Trek.'' This sharing may take the form of a story tree, a group of stories, poems, pieces of artwork, or novels by one or more authors. The most characteristic feature of the story tree is that the stories do not fall in a linear sequence. A root story may offer unresolved situations, secondary characters whose actions during the main events are not described or a resolution that is unsatisfactory to some readers. Writers then branch out from that story, completing dropped subplots, exploring the reactions of minor characters to major events. Differences of opinion do occur: a writer may reconstruct someone's story from a new perspective or offer a completely different ending. Raising the dead has long been a popular option in the latter category.
ONE example of a story tree is the ''Kraith'' universe, created by Jacqueline Lichtenberg in 1968. In a few short stories written as group, Ms. Lichtenberg set up the basic cultural milieu and the course of events the story tree would follow. The Kraith is a cup, a religious symbol integral to the most important rituals on Vulcan, the home planet of Sarek, who is the father of the half-alien Spock. In the basic story line, the cup has been lost, and Sarek has been kidnapped. Though he is only a minor character in the television series and in the third movie, in the ''Kraith'' universe he becomes, as so often happens in story trees, a central figure.
Ms. Lichtenberg created both the cup and the rituals, yet she depended on her readers' knowledge of Vulcan culture and physiology (as established in the television episode ''Amok Time'') and the relationship between Spock and his father (as established in another episode, ''Journey to Babel'') to ground the new material in the familiar. A classic Grail quest might have followed from the author's invention, but she resolved that quest early in the series. Sarek and then the cup are found, and what for Ms. Lichtenberg is the real quest, to discover the self as it grows in relationships with others, openly moves to the fore. ''Star Trek'' provides the metaphorical means Continued on page 28 for it to do so. Fan writers explore telepathy both as an integral part of Vulcan culture and as a device to examine relationships between characters. In the ''Kraith'' series, Captain Kirk, a highly intuitive military officer, develops into a telepath. Spock's family adopts the captain to train him in Vulcan techniques for controlling his talent. To ''Kraith'' writers this development of one of Spock's more important relationships, his friendship with Captain Kirk, was inevitable. But telepathy means more to them than this. It represents the possibility of complete understanding of another person, of incorporating into the self that other being with all its strangeness and of exposing the self to the stranger. The theme of the individual in tension with the whole is never far from the surface here.
''Kraith'' excited the community to rejoinder, as Ms. Lichtenberg had hoped. Fan publications printed stories by Ruth Berman offering alternative ''Kraith'' experiences. Other writers asked to join the story tree, and Ms. Lichtenberg published a ''Timeline'' so new participants, who might have read only a few of the growing number of stories, could fit their work into the body of the multiwriter universe. Judy Segal wrote ''Understanding Kraith,'' a dictionary of special terms in the ''Kraith'' universe for both writers and readers.
COMMUNITY members continue to write ''Kraith'' stories. The most recent ''Kraith'' story I have seen, ''Death's Crystal Kingdom,'' appears in the fanzine Maine (ly) Trek 4, issued in late 1985. The story tree continues to offer an expanded vocabulary of metaphors with which ''Star Trek'' fan writers discuss friendship and family loyalty, marriage, sex and religion. Ms. Lichtenberg has since gone on to become a commercially successful science fiction writer. She continues her policy of encouraging writers within the community of noncommercial ''Star Trek'' fans to share both her ''Kraith'' universe and the world she created for her commercially published ''Sime-Gen'' science fiction series.
Story trees like ''Kraith'' are a response to a concern I hear from many of the writers. The women in the ''Star Trek'' community see their art not in terms of self-sufficient units but as an expression of a continuing experience. Traditional closure doesn't makes sense to them. At the end of a story, they feel, characters go on living in the nebulous world of the not yet written. They develop, modify their relationships over time, age, raise families.
Nor do these stories begin in a vacuum when the characters are all 35 years old. Spock has a childhood - sometimes happy, sometimes strained. Jean Lorrah's ''Night of the Twin Moons'' story tree, named after the fan novel that inspired it, concentrates on the relationship of Sarek and his human wife, Amanda, from their first meeting to their later years.
Ms. Lorrah's story tree is notable for two reasons. It deals explicitly with sexual love in marriage, focusing on the main characters as young newlyweds and as an older, well-established couple. With didactic intent, the author takes the relationship of Amanda and Sarek, the human and the alien, beyond the romance to the point at which women meet the ''alien'' male in their homes and bedrooms.
Through the ''Night of the Twin Moons'' story tree, Ms. Lorrah teaches young women quite specifically that, though men may seem rough and strange, a committed and equal relationship is possible with the sacrifice of neither partner's identity. Amanda is a professor and ambassador like her husband. She often works with him but is not subservient to him. In the story ''The Tenth Night'' she teaches Sarek the importance of an equal partnership in bed as well as in professional life. Amanda has grown tired of taking the passive role in their sexual relationship. On the night in question, she asks her husband to grip a bedpost while she takes over the dominant sexual role. By the end of the story, the brass bedpost has taken the imprint of Sarek's hand, and he has come to understand his wife's sexual frustration. In fact, Amanda's brass bed has become a symbol in the community for the ideal of sexual equality.
The ''Night of the Twin Moons'' story tree begins where the traditional romance ends. It explores the equality possible in a committed relationship, a concept to which the romance pays lip service while denying it in action. Jean Lorrah's universe is a popular one, and echoes of it can be found in her ''Vulcan Academy Murders,'' published by Pocket Books in 1984. A reader of the ''Night of the Twin Moons'' story tree finds a dense code of references here, calling up a rich, shared lifetime for fans. The reader unfamiliar with the noncommercial story tree will find the book fairly typical of Pocket Book's line of ''Star Trek'' novels. Thirty-one have been released, five of them best sellers; and the publisher has just initiated a new series of ''Giant Star Trek'' novels with the best-selling ''Enterprise: The First Adventure,'' by Vonda N. McIntyre.
A number of writers Pocket Books has published since 1984 come out of the fan community. While fan writers are pleased to be paid for their work, the move has caused serious debate. The very nature of commercial publishing is antithetical to the forms and structures of fan fiction. Pocket Books requires its ''Star Trek'' writers to return all characters to the status quo by the end of each book. The restriction reasonably excludes stories that end with the deaths of central characters, but it also means that children, wives, lovers must be eliminated or left behind by the final chapter. For the same reason characters cannot learn from their mistakes and grow.
In the commercial world there is room for only one vision of ''Star Trek,'' and alternative universes have no place. The amount and nature of erotic material in the commercial publications is also more limited than some fanzine publications allow. Books such as ''Vulcan Academy Murders,'' however, do offer community members an experience of shared knowledge within the publisher's constraints.
IN surveys I have conducted, ''Star Trek'' fan writers have said that they do not watch television soap operas. Since most of them work full time to support themselves and devote much of their free time to fan activities, this is understandable. But the similarities in the esthetic form of the story tree and the soap opera cannot be overlooked. Fan writers, like soap opera fans, want to see characters change and evolve, have families and rise to the challenge of internal and external crises in a nonlinear, dense tapestry of experience. Whether because of innate qualities or socialization, women perceive their lives in this way, and they like to see that structure reproduced in their literature.
Fan writers, as a group, are highly educated and verbally skilled (the average educational level attained is that of a master's degree). These women are not satisfied to accept passively the creations of others but exercise their esthetic preferences in their own stories, art, poetry and commentary. The writing experience then becomes one of participation in the lives of the characters. It is living day to day that matters, not the single events that make up individual plots, an esthetic preference these artists share with the wider community of women readers. Experiences shared with a like-minded community take priority over the status of the solitary individual laboring alone on her art. It is to communicate, within the code of ''Star Trek,'' that the community expends so much creative energy.Continue reading the main story
In a century that has taken us from the horse and buggy to the world wide web, science fiction has established itself as the literature to explore the ways in which technology transforms society while its counterpart, genre fantasy, insistently reminds us of the magical transformations of the individual in response to the demands of the social. So it should come as no surprise that the fans and producers of these genres come together to create the culture of the future around the ideal that tales of wonder about the future and the imaginary past can be shared as both symbolic communication and social capital.
In Science Fiction Culture, Camille Bacon-Smith explores the science fiction community and its relationships with the industries that sustain it, including the publishing, computer, and hotel/convention industries, and explores the issue of power in those relationships: Who seems to have it? Who does have it? How do they use it? What are the results of that use? In the process, Bacon-Smith rejects the two major theoretical perspectives on mass culture reception. Consumers are not passive receivers of popular culture produced by the hegemonic ideology machine that is the mass media industry, nor are they rebels valiantly resisting that machine by reading against the grain of the interpretation designed into the products they consume.
Bacon-Smith argues that the relationship between consumers of science fiction and producers is much more complex than either of these theories suggests. Using a wide range of theoretical perspectives, she shows that this relationship is based on a series of continuing negotiations across a broad spectrum of cultural interests.