trio, together, seventh year

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Classic Zines: Contact #1 (Star Trek: TOS)
trio, together, seventh year
intrigueing
My first zine review was of the 1977 Starsky & Hutch zine "Zebra Three #1" which can be read here, if you're interested (always open to more comments!). However, since the zine not posted online, I unfortunately can't link to it and go "Read This!" The 1974-75 Star Trek TOS zines Contact #1 and #2 (and the rest of the issues), on the other hand, are posted online at contactzine.com - pdf and cbz scans are downloadable there, and several of the stories have been transcribed and posted in normal text too. I'm reviewing Issue #1 and Issue #2, so this time, you can read them yourselves if you want to see what I'm talking about. I'll review Issue #1 in this post, Issue #2 should be finished in a day or two (since this post was getting just way too long).

Briefly, from fanlore: Contact was perhaps the most influential Kirk & Spock relationship zine, and it has a well-deserved reputation for “heavy” stories that lavished a great deal of hurt/comfort on the characters...and the readers.

Yeah, that's pretty much Contact in a nutshell. It was all gen, mostly h/c, with a large number of proto-slashy fics. It was edited by two sisters, Nancy Kippax and Beverly Volker (both have since passed away, but Nancy Kippax has many glorious posts about old early fandom memories in a series called "Reminisce With Me" on her LJ.) Contactzine.com is run by Steven H. WIlson, Beverly Volker's son-in-law who is now a pretty big fanfic writer Star Trek tie-in writer and sci-fi profic writer. I peeked into the zine scans for the first time this past summer, and then read issue 1 and 2 cover to cover this October. While I'm a fanfic omnivore, gen is my biggest fandom love and my slash goggles have heavy-duty black spray paint on both lenses, so usually the only way I can ever really get into a slashy groove is when reading 100% unambiguous slash fics with a big black label reading "TYPE: SLASH" at the top, so if even I was eyebrow-raising Spock-style on multiple occasions, that's saying something. Not that every fic in these zines is like that, of course, but there's a distinct pattern.

Star Trek: The Original Series was one of my very first online fandoms. The very first fics - ever, in any fandom - I remember reading were the gen stories dating from 1975 by Sheila Clark and Valerie Piacentini at Scotpress.co.uk when I was 14. Back then I had absolutely no idea what a zine was, or for that matter what fanfic was, even though I'd been "writing" it in my head since I was 6 (fix-fics/missing-scene fics of Grimm's Fairy Tales, natch), so it was complete coincidence that some of the first fanfic I ever read was also some of the first fanfic ever published. However, given how interested I am now in fandom history, it's a pretty appropriate coincidence. I can't remember for the life of me what my reaction to the revelation that fanfic was a thing that existed outside my head was, but after all these years I still remember that my reaction to Scotpress was that I was taken aback by the description at the top: "stories mostly involve character interaction in an action-adventure format, leaning heavily on the relationship between Kirk, Spock and sometimes McCoy." I basically huffed "Sometimes McCoy? Why's Kirk and Spock the center of everything? Huh, these two chicks be crazy, with their weird Kirk & Spock obsession which sure as hell isn't shared by all TOS fans, right? Right?"

It took a good bit of discovery, including getting to know the movies and Kirk/Spock slash, before I realized the majority of fans, not just Sheila and Valerie, were All About That Kirk, And That Spock, No Others. Don't get me wrong, Kirk & Spock is one of my favorite fictional relationships in the universe, but dude! Everything else about the show! I understand (and definitely sympathize with) the focus, but it makes me a little sad. But it was very common especially in the early days. Contact, like Scotpress, is focused on The Kirk-Spock Relationship -- capitalization intended. The complexities of this Relationship can be simplified to a triangle between Kirk & Spock, Kirk/Spock slash, and hurt/comfort. Or maybe it's more like a pyramid.

One of the big early conflicts in TOS fandom is about slash - Kirk/Spock, to be specific. It was actually a lot more complicated than slash is ew! vs slash is great!, but it's all more than a bit stupid and far more than a bit hilarious, like every shipping controversy since the saga of Jo and Laurie. But most of all, it's really really fascinating. Many long-running slash fans and slash writers who are veterans of Star Trek TOS claim that slash grew out of hurt/comfort, since it took a while for people to either a) accept their own desires, or b) realize no one was going to give them shit for writing actual honest-to-god slash rather than trying to do a free-rider of slashy squee out of the chaste loving touches in hurt/comfort fics. It's sad, though, that this couldn't just be the start of an era of variety and exploration, as slash and gen fans immediately started to play my-toys-are-better-than-your-toys. Slash vs gen arguments are universally offensively dumb, in my humble opinion. Not that the difference between a platonic relationship and a romantic one is an insignificant one when it comes to characterization and analysis, or that there aren't a lot of great thoughtful defenses of slash against gen-only ideology or of gen against slash-only ideology, but taking sides "for" one "position" as a "more correct" way of thinking -- as if that's how human relationships work -- invariably winds up as an competition for the prize of More Narrow-Minded Than Thou -- unsympathetic, purist anti-romanticism and homophobia and hostility to creative readings of fiction on one side; and creepy, dogmatic essentialism about gender and non-romantic human affection and relationships on the other side. They're really unnervingly similar, only with different parameters for their narrow-mindedness.

Of course, I said "mostly" because the other conflict involving Kirk/Spock slash is not about the nature of the relationship, but whether their relationship should have primacy in the first place.

In a show like, say, Starsky & Hutch, which I talked about last time, you are not going to find a single fan anywhere who will disagree with the claim that, whether gen or slash, the relationship between Starsky and Hutch is the main point of the show. There may be dissatisfaction with stories that completely neglect all the other elements of Starsky & Hutch that are essential to their relationship -- the police-work stuff, the counter-cultural stuff, the underlying themes about violence and compassion and pluralism and anti-authoritarianism and socioeconomic injustice, or the untrustworthiness of institutions like the police and government and who can be trusted in such a disillusioned, dangerous, unstable world as inner-city 1970s America, et cetera-et cetera-et cetera. But no one's going to say Starsky & Hutch stories should not be focused on Starsky and Hutch.

In Star Trek: TOS it is not so clear cut. Sure, you have a lot of people who say the relationship between Kirk and Spock is the main point of the show. But then there are those who say no, it's the relationship between Kirk, Spock and McCoy, or people who say no, it's the mission of the Enterprise and the worldview of humanity's future, or no, it's the social messages and sci-fi ideas and the various alien races, or no, it's the whole ensemble of the Enterprise's crew together. And these people's beef with stories that are all about the relationship between Kirk and Spock is that they don't agree that it's the point of the show, or just wish that there were more fanfics that focused on something else. But slash stories I think get the most flack for the same reason het stories get flack in ensemble shows -- they're the most obvious culprit for drawing attention away from the other stuff because shippy fanfic is just so damn easy to write in large quantities. The fifth time you run across an author who has written twelve 10,000+ word fics about Kirk and Spock's undying love for each other in which the Enterprise crew all get their turn to play Yenta, and one 2,000 word fic about how "McCoy is, like, totally awesome, really!", you're going to notice. It's more about the pattern than the fics themselves.

I really, really, really love the relationship between Kirk and Spock. In fact, if really pressed, I'll say it is my single favorite friendship in all fiction ever (and with me, that's saying a lot), and I love Kirk/Spock slash (even if it has a lot of fanon and tropes I'm not a fan of). In theory, their relationship actually is much more similar to Starsky and Hutch than it seems when it comes to how deeply it is entwined with the other elements present in the show and how it is central without being exclusionary. The relationship between Kirk and Spock is an encapsulating metaphor that resonates with and reinforces the themes of TOS -- IDIC, the celebration of difference, the triumph of contact between wildly disparate cultures, the principle that civilizations grow through mutual acceptance of new and alien ideas and learning from one another rather than building walls and shunning outsiders.

But honestly, Contact has very little of this. I don't mean to say that every single TOS fanfic focused on Kirk and Spock should cover all the stuff I said in the previous paragraph. That would be preposterous, not to mention boringly samey and diffused to the point of meaninglessness. I'm talking only about the pattern, not the individual stories. But the pattern of Contact is that Kirk and Spock's relationship is just so damn amazing that all the other elements of the show just aren't all that important compared to them, which is vaguely dissatisfying.

I'm highly skeptical of the idea that this is some slash-only phenomenon, as if slashers just can't ever focus on anything else outside their OTP's romance -- a ridiculous and inaccurate assumption. But on the other hand, I've read so many comments from actual slash fans who, unlike me, were actually there, saying that Contact was essential in creating the slash genre and helping them to realize that they actually wanted to be writing and reading slash. So I dunno. Maybe it's the yearning that reinforces the all-consuming Kirk-and-Spock-focused pattern in these stories -- you always acquire a heightened obsession with the element that you want but can't have. Or it's one of those "everyone else here is doing it, I'm gonna do it too but even moreso" feedback loops that includes both gen and proto-slash writers getting into a highly Kirk-and-Spock-focused "mode." Or both.

But in any case, when reading, it's still impossible not to appreciate the level of obvious love and deep meaningful inspiration these editors and writers have taken from the relationship, no matter what your opinion of the primacy of Kirk and Spock is. So I'll stop blabbing and get to the first review.

Review of Contact #1

In my review of Zebra Three I went over all the stories, but that's because it contained two very long stories and therefore the number of stories in the zine was low. There are no very long stories in Contact so I'll have to skim a bit:

Contents: a few pieces of art, five short stories, some poems, an in-character letter from McCoy to Spock, songsheets for filks, a crossword (!!!!), and trivia games.

As I said, the amount of emotional investment in this zine's focus and central relationship is really very touching. The cover art and the editor's note are so sweet. And it really reinforces the sense that Starsky & Hutch and Star Trek TOS originated from the same sources, because while Starsky & Hutch fandom started out a lot more polished that Star Trek fandom (because the writers had cut their teeth on Star Trek fandom already), there's a strong though hard-to-pin-down sense of shared-ness, continuity, in the way they try to express and articulate how meaningful, how inspirational, and how compelling such a powerful fictional friendship is for the fans. I'm very much swayed by the writers' sympathetic intent, however, I can still see that for the most part, the actual expression of their emotional investment is a bit funny because it's, well, mostly not that good. There's no hint of laziness or cheapness, but there's very little power or effectiveness to most of the writing, Most of the stories are quite clunky or unintentionally funny. In my opinion, that just makes it all the more charming and I'm wary of throwing stones in glass houses, but I gotta mention it.

And I'll just say it: all the artwork in Issue #1 is excruciatingly terrible. Sorry. I really have no other spin to put on that statement.

None of the stories in this first issue, taken by themselves, are slashy, in my opinion. But most of them do have a certain prosaic, static quality that makes you want to look for some sort of hidden undertone just out of sheer boredom, and these stories don't offer much in terms of friendship complexity or character study, so....

The tone gets pretty set by the first story, "Not Of That Feather" by Nancy Kippax and Beverly Volker. It's, um. Well, Kirk gets hurt in a life-threatening way, an evil colonist says he can help him, but says he will only do it if Spock gets on his knees and begs. No, that's not a metaphor, that's literally what happens. So Spock obviously does it, right? Wrong! He goes "Klingons never bluff!"...uh, wait, I mean..."A Vulcan does not beg!!" and has a big existential crisis about it before doing it, and then angsts with shame. Spock, you petted a tribble in canon. Get over yourself. But still, you can't accuse the story of not trying. It's not a lazy story, it's just that the writers can't write very well, at least at the point in time when they wrote this. And...you know, this was before Star Trek: The Franchise. Before the immense fleshing out and crystallization of themes and species traits and in-universe logic that occurred in the films/TNG/DS9. It's hard for me to say whether certain conceptions of the characters could seem implausible or not. Another story by them, The Silent Connection, is similarly crappy-but-sincere.

Eulogy, a Spock-deathfic, really tries to be non-static and daring. It's blunted a bit by being 1/2 past-tense exposition explaining how Spock was dead and how he died, and 1/2 funeral scene. A bit reminiscent of Wrath of Khan, actually, but without the context to give it real weight. Still, like I said, it's all very heartfelt on the part of the writer's intent. Even if there is no such thing as "a plethora of pain." Also, it ends with an Author's Note going "DON'T PANIC. THIS IS A DRILL NOTHING BUT WHAT-IF SPECULATION. HE'S NOT ACTUALLY DEAD." Which is hilarious and adorable and sort of ruins the effect.

And speaking of trying, the poems. Technically, they're a bit shit. You know, goofy phrasing, clunky rhymes, very on-the-nose repetitive points. But again, when you read them, you can just feel how hard they were trying to make connections and analysis with poems like Understanding or The Better Way. Even if those poems really can't be called good.

One piece which I do really like is "In A Pig's Eye." It's a (never sent) letter from McCoy to Spock, obviously drawing on that awesome moment at the end of Amok Time where McCoy pretends to accept Spock's "logical" excuse for being concerned about Kirk before going "lol @ u you dumbshit hobgoblin." It's wonderfully in-character, unadulterated McCoy-sarcasm all the way through and it is awesome -- if you keep in mind that it was written back when this point hadn't been made about 538745 times before. It's all about the Kirk & Spock relationship, but this time through McCoy's eyes -- McCoy's Eyes are the single most useful narrative tool that has ever existed or ever will exist in fanfiction. They are the precursors of every great fan-surrogate fic device ever invented, and still do it better than any subsequent fandom has ever done it. This aspect of the letter also reminds me vividly of that time last summer when I was re-reading the early slash fic "Poses" by Leslie Fish for the bajillionth time (I unironically love every line of that fic, goofy '70s psychobabble, anthurium penis, and all) and thinking it was strange that, while I really enjoyed the the Kirk/Spock scenes, my favorite scene by a wide margin was the one where McCoy verbally rips Spock a new one right before the climax over his gay Vulcan-panic induced attempt to abandon Kirk. And then I realized that all this time, my brain had parsed the whole fic as not a Kirk/Spock romance fic, but a Spock & McCoy friendship fic with a Kirk/Spock romantic subplot, and I had to put down the laptop for a bit to laugh at myself, because apparently that's how my brain works. In any case, that theme and McCoy's voice really works in "In A Pig's Eye", whether it's read from a slashy point of view or not.

And another piece I really liked is "De Profundis" by Connie Faddis. It's a McCoy deathfic, and the only thing that happens in it is Spock and Kirk sharing their grief after McCoy is killed. It's real shame that it's in the same zine as "Eulogy" because when the two fics are put together, the effect is unfortunately reminiscent of those "Doing It Wrong" and "Doing It Right" juxtapositions in writing textbooks. "De Profundis" was presumably written around 1974 like everything else in Contact, at least three years before she wrote Mojave Crossing, and it shows (noticeable wordiness and wobbly POV issues in conveying the images in the first half, though it gets a whole lot better in the second half), but it is about eight times better than most of the other stuff in the zine, so very, very tender, with infinitely more dynamism, depth, and maturity, and no platitudes. It's also only three pages long, so just a snippet, really, quite simple, but with a lot of narrative "reach" or whatever the technical term for far-piercing provocation in very few words is. The title - from the depths - really means something relevant to Kirk's mindstate though, it's not just a cool-sounding title.

The last story was "Star Trek: Phase II" by Nancy Kippax and Beverly Volker (not to be confused with the ill-fated pre-TNG attempt at a Star Trek resurrection that never got out of development). I'll review this in a separate section along with Issue #2, partly because it's part one of a multi-part story that continues in issue #2, and partly because...well, you'll see.

To sum up: I love this stuff so much, but far more for the context and the things between the lines and the general feeling of deep appreciation and excitement that you absorb from reading through this zine, rather than because the content is all that good.


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