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Old July 6 2013, 02:17 AM   #24
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Re: Just reread Dreadnaught!

Therin of Andor wrote: View Post
When it first came out, "Dreadnought!" was so fresh and innovative! The first person narrative had not been done by ST tie-ins before. We recognised it as the author having fun with the Mary Sue fanzine trope, but not replicating it. And yeah, Kirk and his colleagues were always way ahead of Piper and her team.
I think its innovative nature was part of the reason it's so widely misunderstood. These days, we have a bunch of book series focusing on characters other than the main cast, often with TV cast members appearing as guest stars. But at the time, there was nothing else like the Piper books; there'd never been a professional novel that approached ST from such a radically new perspective, a first-person narrative as told by a junior officer aboard the Enterprise. So the only thing there was to compare it to, the only thing that was even remotely similar, was the Mary Sue formula.

That said, one thing people forget today, as I alluded to before, is that it was commonplace in '60s and '70s series television to do stories centered on guest stars rather than the leads -- since the classiest TV dramas in the early days had been anthologies, and thus many shows with continuing characters still aspired to a somewhat anthology-like approach, giving us shows like The Fugitive and The Time Tunnel and, to an extent, Star Trek, shows designed to move a familiar lead or leads into a totally different, self-contained story every week, often built around the dramatic arcs of guest characters. Mary Sue stories, as I said, represent this trope handled badly, with the guest characters not worthy of the spotlight given to them; yet these days the convention has become less familiar, and thus many readers assume that any guest character who becomes the focus of a story is a Mary Sue -- such as Evan Wilson from Uhura's Song.

Granted, it was pretty common in early Trek Lit for authors to introduce impressive new female characters who took center stage -- Mandala Flynn from The Entropy Effect, Evan Wilson, Ael from My Enemy, My Ally, Anitra Lanter from Demons, etc. But there was much more to the introduction of these characters than the authorial self-indulgence or self-insertion underlying the Mary Sue trope. After all, the vast majority of Trek Lit writers at the time, and about half the readers, were female, yet TOS was notably lacking in strong, central female characters. It's natural enough that writers would've sought to correct that deficiency by adding new ones to the mix.

Although sometimes, yes, the guest characters were outright Mary Sues. The classic examples IMHO are Elizabeth Schafer in Death's Angel and Sola Thane in Triangle, and Anitra Lanter fits the pattern pretty well too, though I found her to be better-written than the others. (No trope is always bad. Even Mary Sues can be entertaining sometimes.)
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