Apr 26 2012 11:15am

Mary Sue Fights Fascism: Diane Carey’s Dreadnought! and Battlestations!

Dreadnought by Diane CareyThere 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.

Battlestations by Diane CareyAnd 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.

Eugene R.
1. Eugene R.
Were I only worthy to individually strive to read these books! Thank you, Ms. Cheeseman-Meyer for having sufficient spunk, charm, and scrappy "Can do" attitude to undertake the task for us.

Now, to find that historically determined vehicle under which I need to be inserted to STOP. THE. NAZIS.
2. herewiss13
The phrase "bends the Enterprise" sticks in the head quite fervently and _almost_ drives me to read the novels just to get to that point.
Eugene R.
3. mechazoidal
Ah, yes, the Piper books. In elementary school I'd always see ST paperbacks like these on supermarket wire-racks, and petition the parents. Later on, with the speed I read them, it was easier to wait for the library to get them.

IIRC these are also from the same time when writers were borrowing canonicity from Star Fleet Battles, as starships suddenly have space fighters onboard(because a Mary Sue would never stoop to using a shuttlecraft). They're also conveniently left unguarded,, just because.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
4. EllenMCM
Herewiss13, just do it! It won't take long.

The unguarded fighters were a plot thing, I thought. I took them as evidence that Kirk was Arranging Things behind the scenes so Piper could get on to the dreadnought and get to the bottom of the situation, somehow. Kirk's omnipotence is pretty overwhelming in these books.
Eugene R.
5. Earl Rogers
I haven't read these since I was 11. I seem to remember entire chapters of the first book were devoted to establishing that yes, Piper thinks the Enterprise crew are totally the bees knees. And she totally has a BFF from each of the Federation homeworlds. And unicorns fear the innate purity of her blood.
Pamela Adams
6. PamAdams
They are now ordered from the library, with a chaser of How Much for Just the Planet?
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
7. EllenMCM
ITA on the diverse range of BFFs. My favorite example is the Gorn roommate. Who is, for some mysterious reason, serving on board a Federation vessel without using a translation device, as a consequence of which, when she meets Piper, she communicates entirely through hissing and groping. One of Piper's other roommates (who is from Tennessee, and is not a Gorn) helpfully explains that the Gorn is serving on the Enterprise because of her family connections, and then you never, ever see the Gorn again.

I imagine that she spends the rest of both books sobbing in the shower.
Eugene R.
8. wiredog
How Much for Just the Planet? is a great book. Very subversive of much of Trek, and extremely funny.
alastair chadwin
9. a-j
These were my first exposure to the Mary Sue thing. I remember reading them with an ear-burning embarrassment for the author.
Eugene R.
10. scotty21
Just to say something nice about the author, Diane Carey wrote one of the very best Star Trek novels, Final Frontier, which is about Kirk's father serving under Robert April on the first voyage of the Enterprise. Excellent and highly recommended.
Eugene R.
11. Earl Rogers
#10- I recall that novel was one of the best of the line.

A lot of them were in the frustrating "almost good" category. D.C. Fontana once wrote a novel that was a fascinating look at Spock's career under Pike (years almost completely unexplored by the canon), but it kept getting derailed into this rather uninteresting, predictable murder mystery.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
12. EllenMCM
I don't think there's any reason for D. Carey to be embarassed here. She wrote a popular book. It found its audience. It hit the NYT bestseller list and she got to write a sequel. There will always be someone who loves Mary Sue. And Carey is on record acknowledging the unapologetic Mary Sue-ness of Lt. Piper. It's not like she wrote it by accident.
Michael Poteet
13. MikePoteet
Yeah, they're Mary Sues, but they're darned good ones, sez I. Those technical specs for vehicles at the back of each book were one of the cooler things about the novels (as a teenaged boy at the time, I guess the smushy-mushy stuff was lost on me). I get why Pocket didn't publish more like these, but I think they have some redeeming value beyond the typical "Mary Sues" - if anything, it reminds me more of what TNG would later do in "Lower Decks," and maybe these novels even helped pave the way for non-Enterprise centric novel series like "New Frontier," "Vanguard," et al.
Shelly wb
14. shellywb
Make fun of them all you want, they're two of the best Star Trek novels out there for the original series. They're exciting and fun, and focus on what makes Start Trek so good for me at least, the camaraderie and optimism.
Eugene R.
15. mechazoidal
No disrespect earlier: like Mike@13 these were fun reads as a kid, along with "Final Frontier".

Earl@11: Do you mean "Vulcan's Glory"? You have to admit it, the book was worth it just for the subplot about newbie engineer Scotty's radiation-infused engine-room whiskey.
Sheila McEvoy
16. SuffatheDamane
Okay, so I simply have to read these after the phrase "bends the Enterprise" and the references in to comments to the Gorn-ette roommate.

FWIW, a good Mary Sue story is nothing to sneeze at.

(hell, I am living the dream playing Star Trek Online, as Captain T'vin McHugh, the red-headed Vulcan-human captain of the U.S.S. Atalanta!)
Eugene R.
17. Ricevermicelli
Mary Sue is necessary for Dreadnought!, which is a going off to college story with the Enterprise standing in for college, and Starfleet academy doing a cameo as high school. (Compare and contrast the behavior of Piper's roommates with that of Judy Abbot's roommates in the movie version of Daddy Long-Legs.)

You could no more write this story without Mary Sue then you could write "Herb Kent, West Point Fullback" or "Mimi at Sheridan School" without her. Or, in the case of Herb, him. The going off to college story is always a self-insertion fic, a thinly disguised instruction manual for the next phase of adolescent life (and/or a quasi-religious tract intended to convince you to put up with high school). It's pretty delightful to have an instruction manual for finding your feet as the newest junior office on the Enterprise - makes it easy to embrace the Mary Sue with verve and abandon (especially when she exhibits so much verve and abandon herself).
Eugene R.
18. Dave MC
These books are wonderful because, YOU ARE mary jane. They are written almost entriely in first person. Crazy circumstances keep draging YOU into situations that you learn to deal with. They are a fun pair of books to read and defintely a guily pleasure.

If you ever wanted to get aboard the Enterprise and have an adventure, read these two books. Otherwise read the other greats (Uhura's Song, Dwellers in the Crucible, Pawns and Symbols, Strangers from the Sky, My Enemy/My ally,etc ) about the adventures themselves, but you won't be there like you will in these 2 carey books.
Eugene R.
19. SueQ
My favourite of them all were 'Ishmael' and 'Uhura's Song'. You just can not get better than Spock in a western and Uhura singing to sea critters (who were not aliens, because they were where they were supposed to be -- the folks from the Enterprise were the aliens).
Pamela Adams
20. PamAdams
I've now finished Dreadnoughts- all I can say is THE BUNNY HOP?
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
21. EllenMCM
I KNOW!! It's just weird. But also really creative and unexpected and an interesting approach to the problem at hand, even though one team member needed remedial bunny hop instruction.
Michael Poteet
22. MikePoteet
@18 - Great point, Dave! It also makes me wish there were some true Star Trek "Choose Your Own Adventures" out there. I know William Rotsler wrote a "Plot Your Own Adventure" book post-Star Trek II, but I believe it is written in the third person, without YOU being the star of the show. (Of course, with the rise of computer gaming and Star Trek Online and the like, I guess such a book isn't really needed... still, my nostalgia as a child of the 80s sometimes knows no bounds...!)
Pamela Adams
23. PamAdams
and then you never, ever see the Gorn again.

I figured that this is because Saint Jim Kirk doesn't have a Gorn friend. Spock equivalent- check; McCoy equivalent- check; Scotty equivalent- check. No need for a Gorn.

I also kept hoping that some character would come up with the line Scanner lived in vain during Battlestations.
Eugene R.
24. Peter Tupper
I read these when I was 14, and thought that you could write and have published Star Trek novels that are basically about your own characters. I wrote part of a terrible Gary Stu novel, fully believing it had a decent chance of being published.

I bet you that after the Piper duology was published, the Star Trek publishers were flooded with every Mary Sue and Gary Stu fanfiction story ever written.

Mary Sue and Gary Stu have their place, on Livejournal or They have no business being published by license holders.
Ellen Cheeseman-Meyer
25. EllenMCM
Making 14-year-olds think that they too can one day publish a novel is not a crime. Publishing Mary Sues appears to be a profitable business for license holders.
Eugene R.
26. Jake McCloud
I've been watching Star Trek since the series began in 1966 and I've read over a hundred Star Trek novels, including the two reviewed here and while I have to say that Diane Carey's work is excellent, it is obvious to me that the author of this article knows little about Star Trek and understands even less.

Subscribe to this thread

Receive notification by email when a new comment is added. You must be a registered user to subscribe to threads.
Post a comment