There is a fine art to reading a Mary Sue. You have to remember how much work the character has put into getting to the point of whatever fabulous opportunity she is going to conquer with her wits, her love, and whatever skills she happens to have at the moment. You have to respect the challenges of that moment. You have to allow yourself to be glad to see her. You have to be ready to throw your arms around her, and wish her all the best. You have to welcome the opportunity.
Diane Carey’ 1986 novels, Dreadnought! and Battlestations! offer a fabulous opportunity to practice your Mary Sue appreciation skills. Lieutenant Piper wants to command a starship. She’s spent years in Starfleet Academy and in command training. She’s worked hard to hone her skills in the hope that she will one day be almost as awesome as her idol, James T. Kirk. And that day has finally arrived.
As Dreadnought! opens, Piper is facing the Kobayashi Maru with nothing but her wits and the communicator in her pocket. She endears herself to Kirk by using the communicator to crash the simulation computers, winning herself reassignment from a posting on the Magellan to a more prestigious berth on the Enterprise, because that is how personnel assignment works in Jim Kirk’s fleet. Taking the only sensible course available to her, she dumps her boyfriend, because he is distracting and she is fabulous, which you already knew if you looked at the awe-inspiring 80s-perm on the cover of the book. She heads for the Enterprise and gets acquainted with her culturally diverse and co-educational group of roommates. Piper also has a Vulcan frenemy, Sarda, who hates her because she revealed his interest in weapons design to Starfleet, resulting in his being ostracized by Vulcan society. This seems like a pretty good guarantee that her life will be interesting.
Before she can even change into a proper uniform, Piper is be dragged into a struggle involving a fascist plot to take over the galaxy and a phone call from Piper’s ex that the Enterprise can only answer if Piper is physically present on the bridge. It’s an entertaining story, with bad guys who are really bad, a dash of moral ambiguity, and a hefty dose of hero-worship for one Captain James T. Kirk. Mainly, it’s a vehicle for Piper to show her stuff. And show it she does.
While locked in the fascists’ brig with Sarda, she shows her libertarianism. Since he can’t run away, she lectures him on the Third World War and the importance of individual striving. As any Vulcan would, Sarda assures her that hers is a completely logical vision of how the world works, and then individually strives to escape their shared cell the second the power goes out. Because he’s a nice guy, he lets her out too. Piper then proceeds to individually strive to release Captain Kirk from captivity by persuading her friends to join her in doing the bunny hop to create a diversion. Somehow, the fascists are then defeated, and Piper gets a medal and a promotion.
And what does a newly-promoted Lt. Commander who is also the youngest ever recipient of a seriously shiny medal do next? She goes sailing with James T. Kirk on a ship named after the social worker he loved and all but shoved under a truck to defeat the Nazis. Piper knows none of this, but it adds some interesting textures to the scene. This seems like a high-pressure vacation for someone with no sailing experience, and indeed, she spends a lot of time trying to eavesdrop on her superiors, who seem to be talking about her a lot. When they aren’t correcting her knots. If we learn nothing else from Piper, let us learn that competitive sailing with people you want to impress does not make for a relaxing vacation. Especially when they get arrested mid-cruise.
It turns out that Sarda has joined a bunch of scientists who have gone rogue with a new transwarp drive and who need to be brought back into the fold. Kirk gets hauled off the boat to testify about it. Piper gets a ship to assist in tracking down the rogue scientists, because Kirk respects her and she knows Sarda better than anyone else not involved in the dastardly plot.
Piper has a huge crush on Sarda. There are no touching scenes in a turbolift or anything, but she thinks about him all the time. She feels his reassuring psychic presence in the back of her mind when he’s around. She’s obsesses over every time he touches anyone, especially her. She’s constantly thinking about how rare and special he is, because he’s from the more rural areas of Vulcan, rather than the major cities where most Vulcan Starfleet recruits come from. With some help from an ethically twisty mentor Spock found for him, Sarda has been attempting to acquire the mental disciplines common to most Vulcan adults, which accounts for his involvement in the conspiracy.
To rescue her not-yet-appropriately-stoic love from bad people with a transwarp drive, Piper and her roomies cross the galaxy in a construction tug, and put on disguises to infiltrate the planet where Kirk once encountered Jack the Ripper (as a libertarian, Piper has a lot to say about the Argelian people, none of it flattering). We find out that Piper makes an unconvincing exotic dancer, and she blows her cover to hurl racial epithets at some Klingons. Kirk shows up just in time to create a distraction with some pigs, Sarda is rescued, and after a series of wacky hijinks in which Piper bends the Enterprise, the day is saved. She’s covered in glory, and Mr. Scott wants a word with her. Piper insists that she’s declining a promotion this time, and she really needs a nap, but if you throw your arms around her, she’ll show you a real good time.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer has read these books so often the spines are falling apart, despite the four-page lecture on Earth history and individual striving.