To be a writer is to invite criticism. It can be hard to decide with which critics, if any, one should engage. Polite critics can sometimes be acknowledged with courtesy, but as a general rule it’s best to accept their feedback in silence and not attempt to rebut their points, especially when one is discussing matters of subjective opinion.
Poison-pen critics should in nearly all cases be ignored, except when the author of such a letter offers one the possibility of a “teachable moment.” Even then, unless it’s a subject that seems in dire need of examination, most such impulses to retort to one’s detractors run the risk of leading one to self-immolation. In those rare instances when one elects to respond to a detractor, a measure of restraint still is called for.
Every once in a rare while, however, one must sound the trumpets and let slip the dogs of war.
Last August, I received an e-mail from a reader who was so offended by my inclusion of a same-sex relationship between a Vulcan woman and Klingon (disguised as human) woman in my novel Star Trek Vanguard: Harbinger that he swore off all my books forever. My public response, which I admit in hindsight was born more from passion than from reason, got noticed by a few sites.
When that post went wide, I expected to encounter some blowback and some criticism. In that respect, at least, the people of the Internet did not disappoint me. Most of the negative responses adhered to a familiar pattern: They were full of generalizations, and most lacked any recognition of the narrative context that was provided within the novel in question. Overall, they exhibited a tone of outrage unsupported by facts but chock full of assumptions bereft of merit. For the most part, I deemed those uninformed responses unworthy of my attention or response.
Until this past weekend, I would have said the same about this piece by Amanda S. Green on the Mad Genius Blog: “Don’t break canon without good reason“.
For the impatient among you, here is a quick summary of her post: Amanda S. Green, an author and blogger who appears to have no professional experience writing or editing media tie-in fiction, tried to school me on the importance of adherence to canon when working in established universes, and on how I should have answered my homophobic critic.
Though Ms. Green provides absolutely no evidence to support her assertion, she accuses me of “breaking canon” vis-a-vis Star Trek for no reason other than to be “politically correct.” Her feeble attack on my professionalism and on my novel was published the day after my original post. Because Ms. Green did not mention me by name or link to my post, I didn’t learn of her essay until this past weekend, when a friend brought it to my attention.
After reading Ms. Green’s misinformed jeremiad, my initial impulse was to go on ignoring it. I take no pleasure in “punching down,” as the saying goes. Under normal circumstances she would have more to gain from my attention than I would have to gain from granting it. What changed my mind? The context in which her article came to my attention.
You see, Ms. Amanda S. Green is one of this year’s Hugo nominees for Best Fan Writer. She was one of several individuals who was strong-armed onto the final ballot by the technically legal but ethically deplorable tactics of the Rabid Puppies and Sad Puppies, whose antics you are free to Google for yourself. Just to be clear, Ms. Green was nominated on the voting slates of both groups.
Because Ms. Green was nominated in a category that allows voters to consider its nominees’ overall corpuses of work, she included the essay in question, as well as two other unrelated articles, as her samples for the 2015 Hugo Voter Packet (you must be a registered 2015 Hugo voter to download the packet); in addition, her original post is still available on the Mad Genius Blog.
Let me pause to offer this item in the interest of full disclosure. I am not a Hugo voter this year, and I have no works on the ballot. Before learning of Ms. Green’s diatribe in the sample packet, I had considered buying a supporting membership to Sasquan so that I might cast votes on this year’s ballot. Subsequently and consequently, I have decided to abstain, as I can no longer make a reasonable claim to an unbiased opinion vis-a-vis the nominated works and individuals.
I also want to be very clear about this: If Ms. Green’s linked article criticizing my work and my professionalism had been just one of the many articles she wrote in 2014 but hadn’t featured in the 2015 Hugo Voter Packet, I wouldn’t have written this response. I’d have let it go unremarked. However, Ms. Green appears to think her essay demonstrates her bona fides as a Hugo-worthy writer. It is, therefore, incumbent upon me to tell you why this piece fails to rise to that challenge.
Unlike Ms. Green, I will at least show her the courtesy of calling her out by name and linking to her article. Go read her whole post here.
Welcome back. Now let me explain why Ms. Green’s arguments are specious.
Her stated thesis is, “you’d better not break canon without setting the groundwork and there being a pretty darned good reason for it.” It’s not a controversial stance in the world of media tie-in writing. My objection in this case is that Ms. Green made no effort to determine whether that was the case with regard to the T’Prynn-Lurqal story arc in my novel Harbinger.
Ms. Green’s essay starts to go off the rails when she continues:
“Consider this, a letter from a fan to a writer in the Star Trek Universe who states he will never again read anything from this particular author because of a break in canon by the author. While the reader didn’t approve of the homosexual affair written into the book, that wasn’t what brought such a firm stance from him.”
The quote above is a misrepresentation of the content of the poison-pen letter I received.
For your edification, in case you either didn’t follow my earlier link or have forgotten its content, here is the original poison-pen letter in its entirety, unedited and uncorrected, with only the sender’s private information redacted to protect his anonymity:
Subject: I will not be reading any of your books.
David Mack will probable never read this email but I am writing it anyway.
I purchased and started reading your book, Harbinger and stopped when I got to the part where the Vulcan was having a homosexual affair with the Klingon spy. I deleted the book from my E-reader and will never purchase another volume authored by David Mack. You can call me a homophobe or use any other excuse you choose to write me off but the truth is homosexually is not universally accepted and I get to decided what I read and I choose not to read any more of your work. And on top of that no Vulcan would consider the situation “logical”. You can’t just remold the Vulcan persona to suit yourself.
I am just letting you know that you have lost at least one reader I am not looking for a reply.
Now let’s examine Ms. Green’s characterization of this letter. If the reader’s chief objection wasn’t the same-sex relationship, why was that his lead-off argument? If the chief complaint was its relationship to Star Trek canon, why did he bury it in his penultimate sentence?
The fan who wrote this homophobic mini-rant swore off my novels principally because I had featured a same-sex relationship in the story. It was not because, as Ms. Green erroneously claims, “it was the fact that the affair was between a Vulcan and a Klingon spy.” To jump to that conclusion requires a tortured reading of the original letter and a willful act of ignorance regarding its context.
It’s amusing, then, that Ms. Green goes on to undermine her own argument:
“Read that again and you don’t even have to add the word homosexual. The important part was that there was an affair between a Vulcan and a Klingon spy. Heck an affair with anyone would have been against canon. As the reader stated, it simply wasn’t logical. Logic is the driving force with Vulcan’s (sic) and, unless the Vulcan was in the midst of the mating drive, would she be having an affair with anyone, much less a Klingon, the hereditary enemy of Vulcan?”
Gee, if only my novel’s story had justified T’Prynn’s and Lurqal’s motivations and actions. Oh, wait — it did. At length. A fact Ms. Green would have known had she read the book — or even if she had simply asked me about it — before writing a knee-jerk condemnation of one of its central story arcs.
(I should also point out that Ms. Green revealed her own ignorance of Star Trek canon in the paragraph quoted above. The ancestral enemies of the Vulcans are the Andorians, and, to a lesser degree, the Tellarites; the “hereditary” enemies of the Vulcans are the Romulans. The Klingons are the longtime foils of humanity, not the Vulcans.)
If we put aside the fact that Ms. Green’s accusation I violated canon is without merit, for what does Ms. Green seem most interested in condemning me?
“The author’s response was not to explain how the affair was justified by the plot — so I have to assume that it wasn’t — or how it was allowed by canon.”
The quote above illustrates another massive failure of logic by Ms. Green. The reason I felt no need to “justify” the story arc to the writer of the original poison-pen e-mail was twofold:
- He had already read the book and should have understood the relationship in context without me needing to spell it out again; and,
- The original critic’s e-mail had nothing to do with whether the relationship fit with Star Trek canon. His vitriol was a direct reaction to the depiction of such a relationship in the first place. He never mentioned the word “canon.” The closest that writer came to invoking the dread specter of canon was to accuse me of “remold[ing] the Vulcan persona” to suit myself — an assertion I can show to be patently false. My depictions of T’Prynn’s actions all were based on and/or extrapolated from existing canonical evidence.
That is why I felt no need to explain my storytelling decisions in my previous post: Because they weren’t relevant to the original criticism or to my rebuttal. In other words, it was a decision predicated by the context of the conversation — a fact Ms. Green either willfully ignored, or of which she was inexplicably oblivious.
However, because Ms. Green has publicly raised her unfounded criticisms, and by extension has tarred me as someone whose work runs afoul of Star Trek canon, let’s take a closer look at her assertions — and shred them, one at a time.
How do I justify the relationship between T’Prynn and Lurqal (alias Anna Sandesjo) in the first three novels of the Star Trek Vanguard saga? I don’t need to “justify” anything. That would imply T’Prynn’s and Lurqal’s relationship needs special permission to exist in a fictional context, an assumption rarely if ever made in regard to heteronormative relationships.
However, let’s afford Ms. Green a bit of slack and assume the question she meant to ask was, “How did these two ostensibly mismatched souls find each other?”
(BE ADVISED: MAJOR SPOILERS FOR STAR TREK VANGUARD FOLLOW.)
T’Prynn, daughter of Sivok and L’Nel, was a woman born on Vulcan in 2190. At a young age, like many Vulcan children, she was pledged by her parents in an arranged marriage to a Vulcan boy named Sten.
By 2212, when T’Prynn and Sten had reached the age at which they were to be wed, T’Prynn had already accepted her nature as a homosexual. She asked to be released from her marriage vow so that Sten could choose another, more suitable mate. Sten, unfortunately, was already in the throes of the plak tow, the blood fever, and he refused to release T’Prynn.
T’Prynn invoked her right to challenge Sten for her release from the marriage pledge by the koon-ut-kal-if-fee, or ritual combat. She fought and killed Sten — but at the moment of his death, entwined with T’Prynn and unwilling to accept defeat, Sten violently forced his katra (his living essence, or soul) into T’Prynn’s mind.
From that point forward, T’Prynn was unable to exorcise Sten’s katra from her mind, which left her in a permanent state of heightened violent and sexual emotions, exacerbated by clouded logic and psychological disturbances, all of which she hid from Starfleet. She had been in this state for approximately 53 years when she met Lurqal (alias Anna Sandesjo).
Lurqal was born a Quch’Ha — a smooth-browed, more human-seeming Klingon, a descendent of Klingons affected by the Augment Virus in the previous century. As such, she grew up a member of a persecuted minority in Klingon culture. Exacerbating her status issues was the fact that she was born into the political class rather than the more lauded warrior class.
In order to serve the Klingon Empire as a spy, Lurqal allowed herself to be surgically and hormonally altered so as to pass for a human. As Anna Sandesjo, she infiltrated the Federation’s diplomatic staff on Starbase Vanguard. There, her activities were detected by T’Prynn, a Starfleet Intelligence officer who coerced Lurqal into serving her as a double agent.
Over time, Lurqal and T’Prynn became intimately involved because each felt attuned to the other’s deep-seated turbulent emotions, and to the fact that both harbored potentially life-destroying secrets. Deepening their bond was the fact that both were semi-outcasts from their respective homeworlds.
At the end of their shared story arc, both women are forced to make drastic choices when torn between love and duty, and their differing philosophies lead their romance to a tragic conclusion.
Contrary to Ms. Green’s assumptions, I made extensive efforts to lay the “groundwork” for the relationship between T’Prynn and Lurqal. I ensured their clandestine relationship inspired a number of conflicts throughout the first three books of the series, and culminated in a tragedy that led to T’Prynn’s long-brewing and catastrophic mental collapse. Their relationship and its consequences were vitally important to the overall Vanguard saga story arc.
Of course, let’s pause to imagine Ms. Green’s hypothetical riposte: “How does any of that square with canon?”
Oh, I’m sorry. Did you want me to cite Star Trek canon precedents for the details that underpin their relationship? Okay, here you go:
- Katra possession: c.f., Spock and McCoy, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock
- Vulcan challenge to void a marriage pledge: Star Trek Voyager: “Blood Fever“
- Consequences of suppressed Pon farr: Star Trek: “Amok Time“
- Surgically altered Klingons: Star Trek: “The Trouble with Tribbles“
- Vulcan/Klingon compatibility: Star Trek Voyager: “Blood Fever”; Star Trek: The Next Generation: “Birthright,” Pt. 2
I can already imagine Ms. Green’s retort: “But why did the relationship have to be between two women at all?” To which I say, Why not? There is nothing illogical about homosexuality. It’s no more or less natural than being left-handed, or short, or tall.
Though Star Trek canon tells us Vulcans mate for procreation only every seven years, it never explicitly states that they refrain from all sexual congress during the intervening years. In fact, if we extrapolate from the implied hookup between Spock and The Romulan Commander in the Original Series episode “The Enterprise Incident“, there is no reason to think Vulcans incapable of intimacy outside of Pon farr. Further bolstering this argument, Saavik seems to have engaged in intimate contact multiple times with Spock during Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, when the rapidly aging Spock is dealing with repeated cycles of Pon farr while Saavik is not.
Last but not least (on this point, anyway), the key item from Star Trek canon that supports the idea that Vulcans would not condemn same-sex relationships is their core philosophy of IDIC: “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.”
Gee, there’s that word again: diversity. And right in the heart of Star Trek canon. Hmm. Where might I and other Star Trek writers have gotten the idea that a love of and respect for diversity is part and parcel of the Star Trek worldview? Isn’t it possible that promoting diversity in the context of Star Trek fiction is an integral part of respecting its canon?
Now let’s turn to the nub of Ms. Green’s rant against my blog post, and against my argument that we should support and promote all kinds of diversity in SF/F stories:
“All the author seems concerned with is the fact that the reader was closed-minded in his beliefs and the fact that he, the author, was so very proud of how he wrote the character and how she grew during the story. Now, I’m the first to say it always feels good as a writer to see your characters evolve during a story. But to put that ahead of the story, and story canon, can be disastrous.”
Because I did no such thing, Ms. Green’s entire premise is not just flawed but deeply insulting, as it questions my professionalism and my understanding of Star Trek, a venerable franchise with which I have been professionally associated for twenty years.
Ms. Green could easily have ascertained the facts of the matter regarding Harbinger, but as the following passage from her post reveals, she simply did not want to do so:
“Now, I know you guys are going to note that I haven’t linked to the post in question. I haven’t and I won’t. For those of you curious enough, I’ve given more than enough detail to let you find it through a quick search. But I frankly have no desire to send any more traffic to this person’s blog than necessary. To me, the response to the read email epitomizes the stance of the SJW/GHH crowd. To them, the message is more important than the story and to hell with what the readers want. In this case, the author broke canon, or at least appears to have and I’ve seen nothing in his response to tell me otherwise. That will lose more readers than the fact he wrote homosexual characters.”
My blog has no ads, so any bump in traffic would have been meaningless to me. I find it telling that Ms. Green seems content to label me a “SJW/GHH,” as if that were something I should be ashamed of. In addition, she seems to assume that because one reader out of tens of thousands who have enjoyed the Vanguard novels wrote to me to complain about one element in the first book, that I have somehow failed to deliver Star Trek stories that Star Trek readers want.
If Ms. Green had bothered to look up my sales figures or my Amazon rankings, she’d realize that I’m a New York Times bestselling author of more than two dozen Star Trek novels, and I’m one of the highest Amazon-ranked Star Trek authors working today.
As to her assertion that I broke with canon — something she utterly failed to investigate, never mind prove — I might remind her that as a credited writer on episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, I’m also one of the few currently working Star Trek authors who actually contributed to the canon.
Ms. Green closes her argument with this bit of redundancy:
“And for the record, unless there is a really good backstory explaining it, there’s no way I’d buy a Vulcan and a Klingon having an affair — gay, straight or otherwise.”
My novel provides exactly that great backstory she claims is necessary to sell such a story arc. But she doesn’t know that, because she didn’t read the book she was in such a hurry to write off as a violation of canon — all so she could score some cheap rhetorical points against an “SJW” author.
I wish to reiterate that a perusal of her rather limited bibliography suggests she has never written or edited professional media tie-in fiction. Consequently, she might be unaware that not only must tie-in story outlines and manuscripts be vetted and approved by their editors, they must also pass muster with the licensor who controls the copyright on the intellectual property. If my work for Star Trek had been deemed by its licensor to be in conflict with canon, it would not have been approved for publication.
Now, all this might seem to some folks like a lot of noise for very little signal. But I think it’s important to remember that as a nominee in the Best Fan Writer category, Ms. Green was offered the opportunity to submit self-selected examples of her work for the Hugo Voter Packet, to demonstrate which of her writings from 2014 show her to be worthy of taking home a Hugo award. That she chose to include the post I dissected above — an unresearched, factually deficient essay in which she lacks the basic courtesy even to name me as the author of the piece she tries (and fails) to deconstruct, never mind link to it so that readers can review the original materials and arrive at informed conclusions with regard to her arguments — speaks volumes.
I grew up knowing the Hugo awards stand for excellence in the broad and ever-changing field of science fiction and fantasy literature. Nothing I have seen in this essay from Ms. Green persuades me her work contains the insight or intellectual rigor that would make her worthy of being honored as a member of that longstanding tradition.
I also suspect she doesn’t know as much about Star Trek as she thinks she does.