Re-reading Jean Lorrah’s “Night of the Twin Moons” (Part One of Two)

Time was Star Trek books were very different from what fans have known for the past 37 years. The novels were not carefully reviewed by Paramount licensing for accuracy and continuity. They were not written by people who were Star Trek fans and knew every episode by heart. They were science fiction novels by professional science fiction authors who had no previous tie to the series, and the stories they produced bore little resemblance to the TV show whose title graced the books’ covers. 

In April, 1976, when Jean Lorrah first published Night of the Twin Moons, there had been only a single original Star Trek novel published. It was Spock Must Die! By James Blish, the veteran SF author who had thus far novelized 71 episodes of the original series, making Trek the first TV series in history to have (almost) all of its episodes turned into prose stories. (Blish never novelized the Kirk-era parts of “The Menagerie,” although he did novelize the original pilot episode, “The Cage.”) 

For the next five years, Joe Haldeman, Kathleen Sky, Stephen Goldin, Gordon Eklund and Jack C. Haldeman II would write these original SF novels called “Star Trek,” but not really reading like Star Trek. (Although I found Eklund’s novels the closest, and really enjoyed Devil World.) David Gerrold would novelize a rejected script from the original series, and fans Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath would turn out two pieces of actual fan fiction in mass market form. 

But fans weren’t counting on license-holder Bantam Books to provide them with more adventures of the Starship Enterprise during those long years between the cancellation of the original series and the release of the first Trek film. No, fans had all the adventures they could possibly want, and more, in the form of fan fiction. There was no Internet in those days (at least not outside military circles!), so the fan fic came on paper, in fanzines published as labors of love. Some were crude-looking and printed on mimeo machines (look it up!) and some were slick, glossy productions with painted covers and offset print pages. Eventually, some were even professionally typeset. 

Fan fiction answered the pressing questions from the series long before the studios could. “Does the Enterprise actually have a bowling alley?” Of course! “Can Vulcans Love?” Yes. “Why did Spock’s father marry a human?” See above. “What is Spock’s last name?” Xtmprsqzntwlfd. (I believe D.C. Fontana actually provided that answer in the pages of the zine Spockanalia, and the fans ran with it.) “How did a being with iron-based blood carry the child of a being with copper-based blood?” It’s complicated, but we’ll give it a go. “Are Kirk and Spock lovers?” 

Sigh…

Yes, No and Sometimes. 

As is the case today, some of the fan fiction was atrocious, some was mediocre, and some was glorious. Some of it launched the careers of professional authors and artists, like Jacqueline Lichtenberg, Jean Lorrah, Sonia Hillios, Peter David, and Howard Weinstein. “Fan2Pro” panels are still held at conventions, with eager young (and not-so-young!) creators hoping to learn how to bridge that gap. And some still do. Fifty Shades of Gray, notably, was fan fic that found a home. And it was even really bad fan fic! I would argue, however, that the days of fan-to-pro conversions have never again reached the heights they reached in the 1970s. Comics fandom as well had many success stories then—Roy Thomas, Paul Levitz, Paul Kupperberg, Bob Greenberger—an almost endless list. But comics writers now are as likely to be screenwriters or best-selling novelists first, and new novelists are drawn from the ranks, not as much of fans who published fan fic (although most of the YA section of the bookstore now reads like fan fic) but of canny aspiring pros who knew the right people to schmooze at endless cons, and who deleted their first million words, rather than distributing them to the masses. 

All of that intro is by way of saying that media fans of my vintage were as likely to be influenced by the ideas and writings of other fans as we were to be by TV shows or licensed fiction. There was about one new SF show per year back when I was growing up. The only Star Trek was re-runs, and an SF movie was considered by studios to be a huge risk. There wasn’t even video tape in most of our homes! So if we wanted to devour a whole lot of, say, Star Trek, we needed to turn to each other. 

As mentioned above, Jean Lorrah was one of the fan writers who built a career well beyond fanzines. She created her own Savage Empire universe, wrote in Jacqueline Lichtenberg’s original Sime/Gen universe, and even authored two Star Trek novels for Pocket Books in the 1980s, after the trend had moved away from publishing Trek novels that didn’t read like Trek. She also wrote two novels based on its sequel series, Star Trek: The Next Generation. 

But first, she was a fan fiction writer, publishing in many of the earliest Trek zines. She developed a name as the expert on Spock’s parents, Sarek and Amanda, and consequently on Vulcan culture. Her stories (and one novel) of this Vulcan/Human couple, how they met, how their hybrid son came to be born, and how their relationship grew over their forty years (at that time) together answered pretty much all those unanswered questions about the couple.

Again, remember that, when Lorrah was writing, Sarek and Amanda had appeared only twice in any incarnation of Star Trek. In the live action episode “Journey to Babel,” we learned that Sarek and his son had not spoken in 18 years, that Sarek disapproved of his son’s military career, that Sarek had a heart condition and was lying to his wife about it, and that Amanda loved her husband very, very much. So much that she made it clear to Spock that, given the chance to save his father’s life, she expected him to act upon it, on pain of her hating him for the rest of his life if he did not. Finally, we learned that a Vulcan married a human because, “At the time, it seemed the logical thing to do.” (Generating even more questions!)

Sarek and Amanda appeared again in the animated episode “Yesteryear,” famously the only one of the animated episodes to be considered “canon.” Damn shame that, considering that that means that, say, “The Time Trap” is not canon, but Star Trek V is. More on that next time. Amanda is sadly not voiced by Jane Wyatt in this episode, which tells the tale of Spock becoming a man by Vulcan law, after an ordeal in the desert. Mark Lenard did return to voice Sarek. 

Building on about fifteen minutes’ actual dialogue, plus tidbits about the characters and the culture slipped in across 101 episodes of original Trek and its animated successor, Lorrah created an entire history for Sarek and Amanda, and a fairly rich background for Sarek and Spock’s culture. She also turned Amanda from someone who appeared onscreen as little more accomplished than Jane Wyatt’s other TV alter-ego (Margaret Anderson, the mom on Father Knows Best) into a galactically renowned linguist and philosopher, and an ambassador in her own right. She was not merely tolerated on Vulcan, she was selected by their ruling elders to represent Vulcan to other worlds. 

Recently, while I’ve been editing the OCR of my zine Enterprise Lost, it’s occurred to me how influential Jean Lorrah’s work was on my early writing. So I pulled her fan-published novel Night of the Twin Moons off my shelf. I’m glad I did. I hadn’t read it since buying it from Jean herself, by mail, back in 1984. That was during the peak of my own fan fiction writing career, and right after a fellow fan at Shore Leave had told me that Pocket Books was about to publish a Trek novel by the great Jean Lorrah. Well, I had to find out who that was, and why she was great!

And she is great. I realized it on first reading, and I realize it again all these years later. 

So what is this Trek novel that didn’t sell on bookstore shelves all about? Well, it’s not about worldships, which is what damn near every Bantam Star Trek novel was about. It’s not about a planet that’s about to explode, or the nature of which is about to destroy the Enterprise, causing the crew to have to solve a complex “science-puzzle” in order to prevent said explosion. Seriously? I mean, isn’t that the plot of a video game? And yet Pocket Books editor John Ordover told me, back in the days that I was trying to sell a Trek novel, that that is what Paramount had declared must be the plot of all Star Trek stories. It sure explains some of the really tiresome episodes of Next Gen they turned out in later years. 

No, Night of the Twin Moons is another somewhat-typical-of-its-time kind of story, but not in a tiresome way. From the time that the women’s lib movement really took hold with Gloria Steinem as its advocate, and even occasionally before that, science fiction stories explored the idea of a female-led or even female-only society. Take a caricature of the patriarchal society that dominates Europe and America (and it must be a caricature, because reality is a bit too nuanced to make for a good story) and turn it on its ear. Put the women in charge. Make the men slaves, or get rid of them entirely. Star Trek played with this in the lamentable “Spock’s Brain.” (Which I love, so, if you’re a fan, don’t be offended.) Lost in Space turned out the equally lamentable “The Colonists.” Gene Roddenberry’s second Dylan Hunt pilot, Planet Earth, had John Saxon squaring off against Diana Muldaur’s matriarchal culture, where men were servants called “dinks.” 

Philip Wylie’s The Disappearance was published before Gloria Steinem came to prominence and was probably more inspired by the phenomenon of Rosie the Riveter during World War II than by women’s lib. Nonetheless, it told the tale of a world in which the men disappeared and the women had to step into roles that, in Western-dominated culture, they had not traditionally filled. Such stories can open up quite a discussion about what our gender roles are, why they exist, if they’re necessary or even rational, and if we can do better. Good fiction is always there to help us learn more about ourselves. 

(And that’s enough words for this week. Part two next Wednesday.)

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