A few months ago, I briefly mentioned “The Ring of Soshern,” an early example of Kirk/Spock slashfiction. Since then, searching for “Ring of Soshern”-related information has led a number of intrepid netizens to this blog. Thus, I’ve decided to devote some time to talking about this story as well as Star Trek fandom in general. You see, growing up, one of my best friends was a self-described “Trekkie” (he identified me, with my lesser devotion to the franchise, as a “Trekker”). I think his enthusiasm has waned some since 5th grade, but my point is that I was exposed to a wealth of Trek-related phenomena in my formative years. Hell, I used to play a game that involved listing off TNG episode titles for fun. (Did I mention I was a weird kid?)
The point of this autobiographical detour is to say that I have some small experience in the world of fandom, which is sometimes funny, sometimes depressing, and other times enjoyable. And Star Trek fandom is one of the oldest, best-established realms of nerdiness. The original series (aka ST:TOS), in its original run, lasted only from 1966-69, but had a profound impact – eventually leading to a Trek resurgence in the form of a film series, 5 (and counting) additional TV shows, and a wealth of peripheral media, including countless novels.
Then there’s everything made by fans, and that’s where we find “The Ring of Soshern.” Unfortunately, I can’t find the story online. I’m not sure why it hasn’t made the jump to the Internet; you’d think that as a nonprofessional, pseudonymous, but highly sought-after work, it’d be easily accessible. And yet. I’ve discerned that it was first distributed via photocopies around 1976, so about 7 years after TOS ended. In her essay “Feminism, Psychoanalysis, and the Study of Popular Culture” (published in, among other places, Cultural Studies), Prof. Constance Penley of UC Santa Barbara describes “Soshern” as a “highly revered and imitated story.” In 1987, it was anthologized in Alien Brothers, a high-quality fanzine that collected K/S stories.
From there, however, I have no idea where “Soshern” is gone or how to find it. Tracking down a copy of Alien Brothers would probably be the next step. As Penley’s essay suggests, K/S slashfic, and slashfic in general, evokes some worthwhile questions about free speech, homoeroticism, and the subjectivity of female fans. E.g., issues of obscenity – since slashfic is usually just glorified porn – or, for Penley, whether Kirk and Spock, as portrayed, are intended to actually be homosexuals, or whether other psychosexual processes are at work here in the mind of the author.
Something else I find fascinating (as Mr. Spock would put it) is the aesthetic divergences that fanfics and fan artwork can take from the original material. For example, just glance over the covers depicted in this index of Trek fanzines dating from around 1970-2005. I’m a huge fan of zines in general, looking at the evolution of independently printed publications prior to the existence of the Internet, and so for me, these are just gold. Nowhere in the canon of Star Trek would you find a visual sensibility like those on the cover of Spockanalia 5, Precessional, Two-Dimensional Thinking, Nova Trek (by the editor of Alien Brothers), or Spock 61. It’s just beautiful.
I feel like these little discoveries should at least somewhat counteract the popular perception of diehard Star Trek fans as nerdy losers who resemble Comic Book Guy; instead, they’ve sometimes been revolutionaries in terms of creative independent press and sexual openness in amateur literature. Decades ago, they took material produced for commercial television and adapted it into something personal, prized, and different, a format through which they could explore freedom and desire. In short, they went where no one had gone before.