DIVERSE UNIVERSE

Newsletter for the club "SPACED OUT"

Issue Number One - September 1999



 Parental discretion is advised for some of the material that may appear in this newsletter.
Opinions herein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of the editors or club members.


Let's start at the beginning: CLUB LAUNCHED!




SPACED OUT was founded by a gay man who decided to see if other g&l science fiction fans were 'out there', living around Melbourne.

With the help of a lesbian friend, he placed some community advertisements in Melbourne's gay press commencing in April 1999 and they received a keen response.

Monthly meetings began in June 1999. Those who attended that first meeting agreed that such a club is very much needed because other SF clubs do not necessarily cater for our needs.

At our second meeting, in July 1999, members chose the club name SPACED OUT and they named their forthcoming newsletter, DIVERSE UNIVERSE. During the following meeting, in August 1999, members adopted the club's Ten-Point Charter of Aims.

Ten people have attended each meeting so far, braving Melbourne's cold and wet winter in order to meet others and to offer their support for the club. Three new members were welcomed at our latest meeting and it is hoped that they will also stay. From such small and humble beginnings, a solid foundation seems to be forming for SPACED OUT.

Our primary aim is to provide a social outlet and opportunities to link in with other science fiction groups and activities; to break down the barriers.

Where to from here? Hopefully, the sky's the limit.

"Diverse Universe Number 1" ©1999 by Spaced Out. Permission is granted to reprint this material provided it remains intact and acknowledgement is given to "Spaced Out" and its individual contributors. The rights for all original contributions are hereby returned to the contributors.




 

REAL LIFE SPACE NEWS:

When Will NASA Break Its Final Barrier?

The latest flight of the space shuttle featured the first female commander of a US space mission, astronaut Eileen Collins. The earthbound media, apparently unable to accept her gender, still made references to her having a "bad hair day" in space. Much was also made of her husband and infant daughter welcoming her back to Earth after the flight.

The President of the US National Organisation of Women has stated: "When Eileen Collins lifts off, she will not only break through the Earth's atmosphere, she will break through the glass ceiling at NASA."

This latest generation of NASA astronauts is a far cry from the early 1960s, when white, Anglo-Saxon male-only "hunkonauts" took flight, demonstrating that their "right stuff" usually included a super-macho male constitution, a picture-perfect marriage (with children), military background and a conservative middle-American church life.

That perception changed in the 1970s, when Nichelle Nichols, the actress who played Lieutenant Uhura in "Star Trek", was recruited by NASA in a public campaign to encourage women and "other minorities" to consider astronaut training.

Since the first space shuttle flight in 1981, astronauts have come from a variety of backgrounds and professions, especially scientists and engineers. Astronauts have included military officers and civilians, both single and married (and a married couple), American Senators, a teacher, an oceanographer, doctors and even a retired astronaut hero. NASA has flown African-American astronauts and others from Canada, Australia, Japan, Mexico, Costa Rica, Germany, England, France, Russia, Spain, Belgium, Switzerland, Italy and even a Saudi Arabian prince.

One "minority group" continues to be ignored or overlooked. NASA has conspicuously failed to fly one openly "out" gay or lesbian astronaut. It appears that, for some of us, real "equal opportunity" has yet to reach the final frontier.


AN OLDIE BUT A GOODIE...

Robert A. Heinlein's short story, "All You Zombies -", ©1960 by Mercury Press Inc., is perhaps a little dated in its vocabulary and views on women, but it remains possibly the ultimate SF short story on alternate sexualities. It shamelessly combines transgender issues with time travel and unwed mothers, time detectives and sympathetic publicans who serve as counsellors. It lives up to its own words: "A Paradox May be Paradoctored".

Highly recommended reading ****



 

BABYLON 5: boldly going where no
media SF has gone before
 

Episodes: Confessions and Lamentations

and

Divided Loyalties,

both written by J. Michael Straczynski.

Reviewed by KR.

In the increasingly complex and interwoven story arcs of this five-year series, many of the later episodes may seem difficult to understand for any newcomers who are not fully conversant with the many threads and plotlines of the show.

These two episodes, however, from the second season, not only stand up well to repeated viewings, but they demonstrate the potential of television.

"Confessions and Lamentations" is an episode that is challenging to watch because of the gritty nature of the material. Clearly a metaphor for the AIDS crisis in America, it examines the self-righteous and self-destructive consequences of bigotry and wilful ignorance.

Babylon 5's resident doctor, Stephen Franklin, comes to realise that an alien race, the Markab, is threatened with extinction from a plague. To make matters worse, the Markab leadership will not accept commonsense advice on disease containment because they refuse to accept that their people are at risk - they proclaim that this disease is sent by the gods to punish only the immoral.

Consequently, their decisions and actions reflect this ignorant approach - and cause maximum disaster.

Meanwhile, Dr. Franklin is not only frustrated by his professional inability to fight this disease within the necessary time constraints, but he must also watch his close friend and Markab colleague, Doctor Lazarenn, struggle against the platitudes of his own leaders and the enemy within his own genetic code. Perhaps Lazarenn's name, very close to the Biblical name Lazarus, has a symbolic message regarding death and rebirth through enlightenment.

A special twist in this episode is the examination of other people's apathy - or worse, mockery - towards the afflicted. Their only concern is whether they are themselves at risk. How accurately this reflects so many people who remain unconcerned about AIDS, cancer or any of the other afflictions of their fellow humans. One assumes that Delenn's tears in the Quarantine Bay are not only for the medical victims, but also for all of us.

There are other chilling moments in this episode. At one point, Babylon 5's command staff look grim and concerned as they discuss quarantining the whole station. Later, we empathise with Delenn as we see the horror on her face when a little Markab girl stumbles in the Quarantine Bay.

By the end of this episode, the viewer feels like one has watched - and somehow, participated in - an epic of television. While failing to fully recapture the terror and social hysteria of the early days of AIDS, this episode comes close enough to remind us that, in the doctor's words, nothing really changes. In the fight between ideology and epidemiology, too many people are caught up as genuinely "innocent victims". Those who condemn real-life AIDS "safe sex" campaigns or practices should watch this episode and ponder the real morality of their position.

Most chillingly, this episode reminds us that, beneath the veneer, the pillars of civilisation run very thin.

"Divided Loyalties" is an episode with a good "thriller" plot involving telepaths and spies - but most tellingly, it breaks ground as the watershed episode in which two of the leading female characters end up in a relationship together.

Talia Winters and Susan Ivanova have spent many previous episodes locked in verbal conflict, but by now, their differences have been resolved. Their past heterosexual affairs with men have given way to a same-sex relationship.

The course of true love never runs smooth, and during this episode, we discover through Susan's metaphoric "coming out" confession exactly why she has been both attracted to Talia Winters and simultaneously repulsed by these feelings. Her "coming out" as a latent telepath is handled sensitively, tastefully and with a great deal of empathy towards those who struggle to "come out" in another real-life way.

Their affair is brief and oh so discreet, but is confirmed in a later episode when Susan admits to Delenn that she loved Talia.

Of course, running true to Hollywood form, the same-sex couple cannot stay together and their relationship is forcefully terminated with no chance of any future revisit. But for characters to even get this far on television is an achievement for gay and lesbian viewers.

Other plot lines are tantalising, too. For long-time viewers of the series, some light-hearted verbal interplay between Garibaldi and Sheridan regarding telepathic influences will come back to haunt them two years later.

But the main effect of this episode is that it will cause "Babylon 5" to be remembered as a watershed SF series for gay/lesbian human rights, hinting that the full variety of human experiences will remain with us in the future, and acknowledging a Vorlon-like truth that gays, lesbians and bisexuals "have always been here".

These episodes are two of the many Babylon 5 episodes that are available for sale in video shops.


"We are all in the gutter,
but some of us are looking at the stars."
      - Oscar Wilde

Perverse Universes:

SLASH FAN FICTION

by Mirna Cicioni.

What is 'Slash'?

In the movie "Star Trek V", Captain Kirk is beamed up into a Klingon ship, where he discovers that the person who has just saved his life is his own Science Officer, Mr. Spock. His eyes misting, he walks up to Spock and is about to hug him. Spock replies, straight-faced but with a twinkle in his eye, "Captain! Not in front of the Klingons!"

Long before that film came out, in the mid-1970s, some female fans of "Star Trek" began to take moments of closeness between Kirk and Spock in the various episodes of the series, and then to reconstruct them in new stories where the bond between the two men "spoke its name" and became a priotity emotional and sexual commitment.

This sub-genre of fan fiction became known as 'slash' from its graphic code: a slash between the initial letters of the characters' names (as in K/S = Kirk/Spock) denotes potential or actual homosexual content in the story.

In the past 25 years, slash fan fiction has developed from cheap photocopies to desktop published 'fanzines' and is quickly growing on the Web. It has also extended from "Star Trek" to practically every television programme featuring close male pair-bonds. A few examples in SF series are Picard/Q ("Star Trek: The Next Generation"), Sinclair/Garibaldi (Babylon 5) and Chakotay/Paris or Paris/Kim ("Star Trek: Voyager").

There isn't very much lesbian slash fiction around, apart from a few stories featuring Janeway/L'Kar ("Star Trek: Voyager") and Ivanova/Winters (whose relationship, however, is "Babylon 5" canon).

This can be briefly, and (due to constraints of keeping this article short) superficially explained with the fact that the majority of slash writers are heterosexual women, although there is a growing number of bisexual/female and lesbian authors. Gay male slash writers comprise only about 5% of the overall number.

Is it Authentic?

Soon after the first slash stories started appearing, the majority of fans of the various shows objected strongly that, since the show's characters were presented as heterosexual or non-sexual, any homosexual reconstruction was being untrue to those characters.

Two counter-objections are that (1) in some episodes of each show, there may be a suggestive subtext, namely moments where the friendship between the two same-sex characters is stronger than any heterosexual involvements; and (2) even where there are no suggestive moments on the show, fans are often fascinated by the notion of A and B as lovers, and subversely, feel free to reconstruct the characters in ways not intended by the authors or creators.

The Italian playwright Pirandello said (notably in "Six Characters In Search of an Author") that the tragedy of fictional characters is to be fixed forever, repeating the same words and the same actions for eternity; it can be argued that slash "frees" characters, allowing them to develop by exploring new emotional dimensions as well as new worlds and new civilisations.

The appeal of 'Slash'

Some fans enjoy slash for its aspect of priority commitment; once the affection and trust between partners have found a physical expression, each of the partners becomes the most important person in the other's life and the relationship takes priority over any other involvements. [Editor's Note: the popularity of the recent series "Xena" can be attributed, in part, to the obvious Xena/Gabrielle slash subtext.] Thus the institution of heterosexuality is defeated by a stronger form of pair-bonding.

Slash fiction stories range from those with no actual sexual references at all to those with extremely explicit scenes that take up most of the story.

On email slash lists, there are periodic discussions on whether slash is pornography. My own position is that it is not because it is set in the context of deep emotional need and closeness between the partners.

Further Reading:

1. Henry Jenkins, "Textual Poachers: Television Fans and Participatory Culture", New York, Routledge, 1992.

2. Camille Bacon-Smith, "Enterprising Women: Television Fandom and the Creation of Popular Myth", Philadelphia, University of Pennsylvania Press, 1992.

3. Cheryl Harris and Alison Alexander (eds.), "Theorising Fandom: Fans, Subcultures and Identity", Cresskill, N.J., Hampton Press, 1998. (Contains a delightful multi-voiced discussion of slash, and a chapter by yours truly).

Further information on this topic is available from Mirna!



Alternative Universes:
Reporting the Unconventional
at a Convention

by Members of Spaced Out.

Aussiecon 3, the 57th World Science Fiction Convention, was held at the Melbourne Convention Centre between 2nd to 6th September 1999.

During that convention, members of the science fiction and gay/lesbian communities joined with members of Spaced Out to run a discussion panel entitled: "Alternative Science Fiction, Alternative Sexuality".

Six panellists led a lively discussion, with keen onlookers and participants contributing various views.

The discussion explored why alternative sexuality is frequently overlooked by a genre that, so often, prides itself in its willingness to explore other types of new worlds and new possibilities.

This is a topic that, to the best of our knowledge, has never been actively explored before in an Australian science fiction forum.

Is it Queer?

Some members of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and related communities like to claim the term 'Queer' as a political act of taking new ownership of an otherwise offensive label.

The discussion panel considered the question that all science fiction might, by its very nature, be a genre that examines people, aliens, worlds or situations that are themselves 'queer' in a generic sense.

The apparent exclusion of gay, lesbian or other alternative characters in general science fiction would therefore seem to be a paradox. How can a genre claim to examine diverse worlds and human-alien interactions when it generally avoids human-human interaction concerning an estimated 10% of the planet's population?

One SF author spoke of the wider availability of gay/lesbian science fiction material in the United States, particularly in the 'Queer' community. It was discussed that such material commonly often stays out of the 'mainstream'.

Another SF author spoke of her series of books, in which the leading male characters ended up in a gay relationship, to which she admitted that no-one had been more surprised than herself. Unfortunately, her exploration of such new ground remains largely unexplored by other mainstream SF authors.

Quick as a 'Slash'?

One popular area of discussion centred around 'slash' fiction and why this remains an "underground", fan-driven phenomenon. The popularity of such material was attested to by the amount of time it took up during the available hour, and by the fact that a 'slash' panel was held later that afternoon at the same convention. Given the popularity of 'slash', it seems strange that no commercial science fiction has picked up on this theme.

Moving along, the concept of alien sexuality was also raised, but it was seen that relatively few SF stories appear to seriously explore this topic. Time ran out before this area could be fully examined.

Audience Response

The panel took place in one of the smaller rooms at the convention, with seating available for probably fifty or sixty people. Consequently, audience members overflowed from available seating onto the floor, sitting or standing in all available spaces. Others had to be turned away when the room became full.

Many positive responses were received afterwards. There was even one serious request for a similar panel to be conducted at the next available SF convention in Melbourne later this year. That's a possibility worth considering!

Some respondents were thankful that gay/lesbian and related topics were finally being raised among the Australian science fiction community. Other feedback was received to suggest that the human-alien territory was worth further exploration in future forums.

Whom to Blame?

We thank all our panellists and audience members!

Geoff led the discussion (and tried to keep things on track when the discussion heated up concerning 'slash'!). Miriam organised the panel, and she contributed ideas and suggestions on available reading material. Mirna led our 'slash' component of the discussion.

Lawrence impressed many people with his knowledge of gay/lesbian SF novels. Kerry opened up the topic to explore wider definitions of 'queer', and explained the constraints placed upon authors by publishers. Jan discussed her views as the editor of a lesbian magazine and she linked science fiction to our current cultural norms.

Thanks to Barrett from the Washington DC Lambda SF Group, who distributed helpful reading lists. Thanks also to Carson, who hosted a G&L room party at Aussiecon 3.

Carpe Astra - seize the stars!


Have YOU got something to say???
Contributions wanted NOW for the next issue of this newsletter.
Any relevant texts or artwork are welcome.
(Original short fiction, reviews, cartoons, original illustrations, etc.)
Please contact Geoff or Alex, care of the club.
 
 


Original Fiction



Alien Odyssey

PART I: THE UN-CONVENTIONAL
©1999 by Stephen Stonewall

Presented in honour of the
30th anniversary of Apollo 11
and in recognition of Aussiecon 3.



 
 

"Sometimes I wonder where I've been,
Who I am, do I fit in...?"
    -Irene Cara, Out Here On My Own,
      from the movie, "Fame"
.

That he was an alien should have been a surprise to no-one; least of all himself.

One of his earliest childhood memories was that of sitting cross–legged on the floor of his primary school library, together with hundreds of restless young students. Together, they had watched flickering black and white TV images of suited characters taking clumsy and tentative first steps on the Moon.

He sat alone, even though surrounded by his friends. Despite their chatter, he was unaware of all but the crackling radio sounds of those ghostly, far-off people. Thus began his first transcendental experience.

He sat transfixed as he worshipped and studied the strange images, seeing the mute monotones in a full, orchestral celebration of joyful colour. He saw their agonisingly over-cautious footsteps as graceful choreography, and their cumbersome stumbling as the uninhibited soaring of spirits that had broken the surly bonds of Earth. The stern, inky black of their foreign sky was more familiar to him than were the warm blues of his own world.

Here were people who had touched the sky. They had dared to swim in foreign black oceans with the confidence of untroubled fish; their dancing was as free as the silent soaring of birds. Their nature was to explore nature.

His heart sang as he yearned to join them - and from that moment, he knew he was different.

He had felt that difference as he continued to grow. While others enjoyed the mundane, day-to-day simplicities of petty life; he would watch the stars and ponder the complexities of eternity. He could not share their interest in the fleeting chatter of politicians nor their intense involvement in such minute daily matters as were gone with the setting of each sunset.

Instead, he felt the call of the night-time stars and pondered the nature of the planets and the comforting embrace of womblike darkness. He felt himself to be a child of a Universe that was bigger than weekly sports games or lotto draws. He was puzzled at the mindless rites, religions and routines that comforted others while his own spirit yearned to shout and sing and soar in the freedom of nonconformity. They were content with pat answers, while he sought further questions. His soul sought to free itself from the shackles of this world's conventions and traditions.

He knew that his soul would never fit in to the small boundaries imposed by "daily" life. His nature dictated that he would continue to seek and enquire as long as he had breath; and even beyond - for after his death, surely his component atoms would continue this quest as they were recycled into the bodies and souls of those who would follow.

His truest companion was the whisper of the winds that united him with the immortal questions of time and space as posed by Archimedes and Asimov; Hypatia and Hawking; Zarathustra and Zelazny. Books hinted of kindred spirits - but could he find companions as he sought a home outside of his known world?

He was an alien - and he felt alone...

Until one day, as he glanced through the newspapers in search of further learning, he saw a cryptic item that hinted of the existence of others who were like him. He rejoiced that there might be others seeking to make contact. They invited him to join them.

He accepted their invitation and communed with those who shared his nature. For they, too, were aliens of a kind, in that they also dared to be different; each unique and yet united by their uniqueness. They were wonderfully and fearfully strange, challenging his mind beyond the ordinary and sharing his pleasure in the challenge.

He had found another form of convention - and he was no longer alone.


Diverse Universe #1. ©1999 by Spaced Out
ISSN: 1445 - 0011
Release date: 21 September 1999
Newsletter Editors: Alex and Geoff
Spaced Out is the gay/lesbian SF Club of Victoria,
P.O. Box 363, Preston 3073 Victoria AUSTRALIA.
html://www.vicnet.net.au/~spaceout/
email us at spaceout@vicnet.net.au