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

(Read Part One if you have not)

Penthesilea, the world on which Night of the Twin Moons is set, is a female-led culture. The name of the planet suggests that, if you know your mythology. Penthesilea was a queen of the Amazons, sister to the more-familiar Hippolyte, whom she had killed in a hunting accident, making her queen. In Greek myth, the Amazons were not, like Wonder Woman’s Amazons, women who lived without men on an island. They were warrior women who dominated their timid husbands, lopped off one of their breasts to make them better archers, and lived in the city-state of Themiscyra. 

Lorrah’s Penthesileans are likewise women who dominate their men, with the added wrinkle that there is a tremendous IQ differential between the women and the men, with few of the men being of even average intelligence, compared to humans, while the women’s intellects are comparable to those of earth people, or even Vulcans. The women therefore use men for breeding, swap men, retire (and castrate) men when they become too old to be attractive. It is heresy on Penthesilea to even suggest that a man could be as intelligent as a woman. Men are, essentially, livestock. Indeed, “one man” is a unit of currency. But Penthesileans are not Amazons, for the very simple reason that they are not warriors. War has never occurred on their world, because there is literally no competition between the sexes, and the choosing of a mate is so well regulated that there is no jealousy. 

Into this unusual paradise comes the Starship Enterprise, on a diplomatic mission to negotiate rights for the planet’s dilithium resources. Two big challenges are evident: One, the ambassador has to be female, since Penthesileans don’t believe men can think: two, the Penthesileans expect, if trade is to be opened with the Federation, to be paid in men. 

Ambassador Amanda and her female team bring Sarek along in hopes of letting Penthesilea’s rulers learn firsthand how intelligent a man can be. An elite group of women does learn this. Sarek instructs them in archery, (one hopes they will not later lop off their breasts!) and construction of musical instruments. Amanda, limited by the prohibition against even discussing male equality, still manages to get across the idea of marriage to them. And she’s (mostly) successful in convincing them that Sarek’s services as a stud are not for sale. 

Laced into this narrative is back-story about Sarek and Amanda’s first meeting, the consummation of their romance, how Amanda learned the hard way that there is nothing romantic about Vulcan’s idea of a marriage ceremony, how their son Spock was born and why he was an only child, and how Sarek hid from his wife a near-fatal heart condition. Turns out Sarek was told not to have sex any longer by his Vulcan doctor, and he decided he’d rather die. 

Illogical? You bet. The Sarek we met in his brief TV appearances was likewise illogical, and there was never time to explore it fully. Jean Lorrah made part of a career out of exploring just that illogic of which Vulcans are capable, as well as the fact that they feel love, anger and jealousy. They just use their discipline of logic to deal with it. Sarek respects Amanda’s strength of will and intelligence, yet doesn’t know her well enough to know that it is the joining of their minds that she treasures most in their relationship. Lorrah thoroughly explores what it means to be in a relationship where the telepathic joining of minds accompanies the physical joining of bodies. It’s still possible to hide things from each other, but, as a result, partners know each other—and love each other—at a much deeper level. 

What emerges through all of this is a portrait of two very complex, interesting, strong people who make each other better. We didn’t see this side of them on TV because we largely saw them through Spock’s lens. And we rarely see our parents for the people they actually are. For some idiotic reason, we especially assume that their sex lives were already long dead when we came along. That is not true for sixty-something Amanda and century-old Sarek in Lorrah’s stories. 

So I liked Jean Lorrah’s work, okay. So she made two minor characters into two very important characters through fan fic. Yay. Why does it matter? It matters, to me, because, as with revisiting The Wrath of Khan, revisiting Night of the Twin Moons has reminded me of how rich the Trek universe was for me long before sequel series began to be made. In many ways, those sequel series—to an extent even the Classic Trek films—have limited the scope of that universe, dulling the vision that fan creators brought to the table while Star Trek was still nothing more than a ten-years canceled TV show that was lucky enough to get an enjoyable Saturday morning cartoon version. 

How have they limited that scope? By telling us too much. By filling in too many gaps, and by doing it all in a spirit of “closing the books”—showing us what happened to our favorite characters long after we knew them, and doing so in a way that truncates their possibilities. I would reference Star Trek: Generations, which tells us that James T. Kirk got a few months in after retiring as Captain of the Enterprise, and then was cast into the Nexus for 80 years, where he lived in limbo, then died to give fans a cheap thrill. Similarly, Scotty, in the Next Gen episode “Relics,” was on his way to enjoy retirement shortly after the events in ST6, when he was locked into transporter stasis for 80 years. Scotty, at least, got to survive the experience and explore a new century; but, for both characters, their story just stopped the last time we saw them, limiting their growth, and basically saying their lives don’t matter unless they’re appearing in a movie or special TV episode.

Sure, they’re just fictional characters, but the point of, “And they lived happily ever after” in all those fairy tales is that the audience wants to know that, when our heroes aren’t slaying dragons and bringing down megalomaniacs, they get to enjoy their lives. To steal the closing line that the movie Ever After added to the famous phrase, “The point, gentlemen, is that they lived.” (Emphasis mine.) When the audience learns that Kirk and Scotty didn’t actually get to enjoy retirement (although Scotty’s didn’t sound like much fun), or that Ripley overslept by 57 years and missed her daughter’s entire life, or that Hicks and Newt effing died in their sleep between films, they’re gonna feel cheated. (In the case of Aliens, that was the point, and it was a strong creative choice. Most other times it’s just half-assed storytelling.) 

Sarek reappeared in four of the six Classic Trek films, set only 15-20 years after the series. Most of these did not damage the scope of his character, but Star Trek V did sting him a bit. First because Mark Lenard did not appear as Sarek, he only voiced the line “So human,” over another actor’s portrayal. Second because a major piece of (very disappointing) backstory was added to his biography. Sarek had a son, and, fans now insist, a wife before Amanda. She was a Vulcan princess. 

Read that again. A. Princess. 

On a planet obsessed with logic, where the highest authorities are scientists and philosophers, there was some chick runnin’ around callin’ herself a princess. And one of the smartest men on that planet had a child by her at best—an idiot child at that—and married her at worst. Vulcan was not a royalist culture. They had pomp and circumstance, yes, and they hung out in the desert way too much when you know they had nice, sleek, air-conditioned buildings. But I don’t believe they had princesses and I don’t believe they bore their children in caves. It’s just not logical. 

Someone recently said to me that my not liking a story doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Well, that’s true of some stories. I didn’t like Election 2016 at all, but it happened. But fictional stories only happen if they find a port of entry into the mind of the reader, viewer or listener. This story was rejected at the border to my mind. To be fair to the person who made the statement, he was talking about whether or not a particular story was “canon.” I think I’ve made it pretty clear that, unless I’m being paid to write for the franchise, I don’t care what is and isn’t canon.

The Star Trek: The Next Generation episode “Sarek” also brought back Spock’s father, most likely during sweeps week, whenever that is. Here they really did some life truncation. At the end of Night of the Twin Moons, Sarek tells Amanda that he’s looking forward to the next hundred years of their marriage. Realistic for him, and outside possibility for her. But it’s nice to think it could happen. And I think most readers share my sentiment that we really didn’t need to know if it didn’t. Next Gen specified on Day One that Leonard McCoy was still alive in the 24th Century, aged 137 years. I think that’s a bit young for Bones, given that he had an adult daughter during the time of the original series. I would think he was more like 45 – 50 at that time, making him 150 in Next Gen’s time. Even so, if one human could live to be a healthy 137, it’s not crazy to believe that another human, living with the best medical care available, and a woman with a statistically longer average life span than a man, might live into her 160s. 

So Amanda could realistically have been alive at the time of “Sarek.” More, Jane Wyatt was alive, well, and still acting when the episode was made. She was still trotting out the “Margaret Anderson” character for shows like The Love Boat and Baby Boom. I doubt she would have turned down playing Amanda again, unless perhaps she declined to wear heavy age makeup. Next Gen did love it its ugly makeup. I honestly don’t know why the writers and/or producers decided not to hire her for the episode. The upshot was that Amanda was dead, and Sarek had remarried—another human woman named Perrin. In the course of the episode, we learn that Sarek was never able to tell Amanda that he loved her. 

And Jean Lorrah’s body of Sarek and Amanda work went right out the window. 

I get it, I do. What fans or other writers concoct has no bearing on what the actual copyright holders decide to do with their trademark characters. I’m pissing and moaning the way the longtime Star Wars fans did when the Expanded Universe got shot down by Disney’s sequels. Of course, I didn’t exactly dismiss their complaints, I just said, “Welcome to the club.” Writers of Trek prose—both fannish and professionally licensed—have long been used to the idea that our stories may be rendered extraneous at any moment with the keystroke of a screenwriter’s laptop. I’ve written in both camps. 

I’ve often wondered why the late A.C. Crispin was selected to write a biographical novel of Sarek’s life, instead of Jean Lorrah, who had done so much with the character in both fan and pro fiction. I haven’t asked Jean, and I can no longer ask Ann, but I would imagine that Sarek’s declaration in Next Gen that there was always that emotional wall probably had something to do with it. That episode made him very alien to the version of Sarek Jean Lorrah had written about. 

Ann did a fantastic job with that book, by the way. She softened the blow of the “my brother, Sybok” reveal by specifying that Sarek was unaware of his elder son’s existence for a long time. She also brought real emotion to Amanda’s story, especially its end. 

And, if I’m honest, I really enjoyed the Next Gen episode, “Sarek.” It’s a good story. It’s just not in keeping with the version of the character I’d learned to enjoy for many years before I saw it. Reading NTM again, I realize I like Jean’s version better, and I wish he could live on in the hearts and minds of fans. 

Instead, baffling as it is, Sarek has become unpopular in many fan circles. He’s derided as a bad parent. A lot of that is growing out of the latest Trek series, and the revelation that Sarek had yet a third child, Michael Burnham, his and Amanda’s adopted daughter. For me, that latest detail just fills in too many gaps, leaves too little of the landscape untouched to be enjoyed, kills too many possibilities. 

Sometimes it’s not a good thing to have all your questions answered. Or maybe it’s just better if they’re answered in the realm of fan fic, where everyone expects to encounter many different answers. 

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