Where no (wo)man will go again?

Where have all the women writers gone in Star Trek literature? And other fables.

Once upon a time in a decade not so long ago, a series of books began introducing new stories to a beloved franchise.  Some of the stories were very, very bad;  a selection of the stories were ‘alright’, and happily, a good portion was inspired.

One of the other most exciting things about this series of books was that the publishers, in their desire for new and exciting content, cast their nets wide in order to capitalize on the success of their franchise.  This resulted in a whole range of writers being published.  Some were professional, published authors in their own right, others were fans and amateurs with promise, others still were scraping the bottom of the barrel – what were the editors thinking? I’ve asked myself after reading some of the more problematic love letters to the franchise.

The numbers vary in any year but if you look at the distribution of the author’s something becomes very clear; at the beginning of the Pocket Books Star Trek TOS novel series, there is broadly an even spread of male and female authors.

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It’s fitting.  Women were the driving force behind the petitions to keep Star Trek on the air.  Many of the most prominent fans were women, running a myriad of star trek fanzines, letterzines, conventions.  Female fans wrote ‘Star Trek Lives!’, female fans influenced the film productions, female fans wrote prolifically.  

And yet the enduring image of a fan of Star Trek is of a fat, unattractive man, wearing ‘Spock’ ears, and arguing which episode was the best and which female alien was the most attractive.  Historically, this simply isn’t true and it certainly isn’t representative of the Star Trek community on the whole.

It certainly isn’t true of me.

And it certainly isn’t true of those female authors of the Pocket Books Star Trek TOS series which began in 1979 with Gene Roddenberry’s novel adaptation of Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Out of the 97 numbered Star Trek TOS novels, 58 of them are written by women… 60%!  That is quite a clear majority, the results of controversial referendums have been enacted on with smaller majorities!  These 58 books were written by 30 women, authors including Diane Duane, D.C. Fontana, A.C. Crispin and J.M. Dillard.  Some names should be leaping out at you from that list: D.C. Fontana should definitely be ringing bells (if not, you should be ashamed) and Diane Duane should be familiar.

Keep that number in your head 60%.  From 1979 to 2002, spanning 97 numbered books, 60% of them were written by women.

How many (Star Trek TOS novels) do you reckon were written by women in 2016 in our forward-thinking present?

Guess.

I’ll wait.

Did you guess ZERO?  Well, if you did (you cynical bastards) you’d be absolutely correct.  Yep, zip. Diddly squat.

In fact, the last TOS novel written by a woman to have been published by Pocket Books was in 2010 – Unspoken Truth by Margaret Wander Bonanno (her first TOS book was in 1985!).   Before that, you have to reach back to 2008 for a book written by two women (Vulcan’s Soul – Book 3 by Josepha Sherman and Susan Schwartz) and then again to 2007 for another book by the same pair.

Since 2010 the TOS novel series has been dominated by the following male authors:

  • Greg Cox
  • Dayton Ward
  • James Swallow
  • Dave Galanter
  • Tony Daniel

There are others of course, but I think the above are the main contributors.

People have noticed.  In 2016 a discussion on Facebook and Tumblr addressed the lack of female authors aided by this gif:

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Gif compiled by aconitum-trek 08/01/2016

You can see how the proportion of women (red) declined until a total of zero novels written by female authors were being published within the TOS series.

You can read excerpts from this discussion here:  https://fanlore.org/wiki/Tie-in

What really got me, and what actually got me thinking about this topic many moons ago, was when I read the forward to the Star Trek 50th Anniversary Trilogy about how this trilogy came about.  For those not in the know, the Star Trek 50th Anniversary Trilogy has four authors, all male, who basically were chummy and decided to work on the series together.  That’s great, I don’t really have anything against a group of authors wanting to work with each other… but imagine if one of them had reached out to a female author, or even taken a stand and invited a woman onto the team.  

Imagine, there’s a pool of amazing female authors who are still alive and still writing and who have already written TOS novels, or even they could have pulled an up and coming writer into the fold, so she could have a foothold to write more TOS novels in the future.

I’m not going to pretend to have inside information, but that doesn’t seem to have happened.

Now I’m on a journey, and that journey is to read every single TOS novel published.  I review (in my style) the novels I read.  Sometimes I really like them and lavish them with such praises to make a virgin blush, and sometimes I rip them apart into tiny little pieces, a bitch going for the jugular.  The point is, however, I review to help me remember and see trends in writing, and also to start conversations with other people.  There’s one lady whom I share a few words with who has supported me from the beginning and she has confirmed many of my thoughts.  One thing that seems to correlate whether reading contemporary reviews or discussing novels:

Women tend to enjoy novels written by women.

As with anything, it isn’t a hard and fast rule.  There are many male authors I have very much enjoyed reading the work of, even within the Star Trek TOS novels, but generally I will even enjoy a ‘bad’ novel by a female author more than a ‘bad’ novel by a male author; and a good ‘5/5’ novel by a woman will be more enjoyable for me than a ‘5/5’ novel by a male author.  

Why?

Well… from my perspective it seems to be that while male authors play by the rules and write very much ‘nuts and bolts’ stories, women write more emotional stories with rules that are embellished a little bit which generally women like.  For me, unless there’s some character building involved I don’t need to know the science, and I’m quite capable of suspending disbelief for the most ridiculous reasons so long as the author makes everything work out in the end.  We (as women) write characters differently, we write Spock, Kirk and McCoy differently, we tend to write things that are more introspective – and we like reading that kind of stuff too.  Perhaps men and women read things for different reasons – but being exposed to new stuff isn’t bad either.

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Now maybe, as a man, you’re reading this and you’re thinking well… what you’re describing doesn’t appeal to me, I wouldn’t buy it… well ok, you’re well within your right not to like it!  However I think that it’s ok for women to be catered for too, and if you’re catering for that group every so often, you’ll get more sales when they try and read stuff that isn’t necessarily aimed at them.

Personally, I find much of the stuff coming out from the likes of Cox, Gallanter, and Ward quite formulaic and often… frankly dull.  Some chaps go off on an adventure, oh ah, all’s well time for tea!  No character building, no clever narrative tricks or interesting OCs.  Perhaps it’s the restrictive guidelines?  Perhaps it is the fact that Simon & Schuster are only accepting agented submissions is making a bad situation worse.  Perhaps women would rather write what they want as fanfiction as opposed to being dictated to by the publisher.

Perhaps they (S&S) think only men are reading their newer novels and so they are only catering to them.  Well, in that case, it’s a vicious circle, a self-fulfilling prophecy of course women are going to stop reading the newer releases if you stop catering to them!

They are aware of the differences in readership too, look at their reboot of the Voyager novel series… two female authors writing for a series which had the highest female viewership. Sirs, it isn’t rocket science to extrapolate the reasoning behind the dearth of female TOS writers, and it sucks.  Women have written wonderful fiction for Star Trek and done wonders for TOS fandom from the beginning. Disregarding them at a time when interest in Star Trek is high after the reboots and in supposedly an age of greater equality is utterly ridiculous.

Women are writing.  Women are using TOS as their literary stomping ground.  The reboots have inspired a new generation of young women… where is their representation in the novels, not as characters… but as creators?

Women are both creators and consumers. I don’t know where it went wrong for the TOS novelizations, but it’s time to put it right.

If you’d like to join Jennifer on her journey through the STAR TREK TOS novel series have a look at her blog https://startrektales.blogspot.co.uk/


» Photo Credit: CBS/Paramount