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Thursday, October 29, 2009


This was written for a fanzine, some time ago. I can't recall which one, alas! But I think it's worth a re-visit.

I have recently read a glut of fantasy novels and have been re-reading the original classic Lord of the Rings in preparation for the films and it has occurred to me that no one in any of them ever seems to explain how all those elves can be aristocrats. Tolkien, I’m afraid, much as I love him, is the worst offender. All his elves are rulers; we’re never told who they rule.

At a literature conference I attended recently, Tamora Pierce, a great Tolkien fan, remarked - not without affection - that no one ever seems to go to the bathroom in Tolkien, but it’s worse than that. We know Bilbo Baggins can cook, from The Hobbit, which may be why he is so welcome in Rivendell, because no one else appears to do any menial work, yet they seem to have no trouble whipping up a feast. The Elves who meet Frodo and Sam early on their quest apologize for their plain fare, but of course, it tastes superb - bread, fruit, wine - as you would expect of Elvish cuisine.

Everyone in Rivendell is a warrior or a musician or a scholar. No one is ever seen growing food or preparing it, let alone cleaning up after the party. There are elven smiths, true, but they are all too occupied creating magical rings or repairing swords for long-lost kings to be bothered doing horse-shoes or nails or anything so plebeian. I keep picturing some pointy-eared elven smith wiping his sweaty forehead as he says apologetically, “Sorry, sir, we’re a-makin’ of a mass order of armour for Ragnarok next week, no time to look after your ‘oss’s cast shoe. You tried the hobbit smith down the road?”

We know that Galadriel and her maidens in Lothlorien weave fabulous cloth for magical cloaks, but this, like making magic rings, is an acceptable aristocratic occupation. Somebody makes the lembas (journey bread), I suppose, but we’re not told who - or where the ingredients come from. Come to think of it, who looks after the sheep whose wool is used in elven cloaks or grows the cotton or flax?

They do make rope in Lothlorien; when Sam is leaving, he's told that actually, they would have shown him how if they had known he was into rope-making. But it's magical rope, of course!

Possibly they trade with the communities of Men or hobbits, but this wouldn’t be a very practical way to survive in out-of-the-way Rivendell or Lothlorien - what if you were cut off from your suppliers by war or the Dark Lord or something?

In folklore, we are told that the Fair Folk live on illusion. Their palaces only seem to be beautiful, their clothes grand. In fact, they live in holes, their clothes are rags and their food, if you’re silly enough to eat it and be stuck in Faerie, is tasteless. Not only that, but their gold turns into dead leaves overnight. My theory is that the reason for this is because they’re all aristocrats and find it beneath their dignity to cook, clean or make and repair clothes.

To be fair, we do see some plebeian Elves in The Hobbit - but this is in Mirkwood, whose Elves are not of the High variety and never went to the West back in the earlier ages.

Perhaps Rivendell and Lothlorien are Elvish artist colonies? ;-)

If anyone knows of a serious fantasy novel that presents elves, Faerie, whatever, who actually work for a living - or go to the bathroom - I’d be interested to hear of it.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Jacinta washes dishes for the tsunami victims

It's nearly 4.00 p.m. on a Friday afternoon. I am the last person left in the library. The last three weeks have been exhausting if satisfying. I meant to be out of here by 3.30.

Jacinta didn't care for the other Girlfriend book, but is now reading my book, Crime Time: Australians behaving badly, which has short chapters and is easy for a reluctant reader to get through in bites.

This afternoon, she and some other girls were washing dishes that had been donated for the Samoa appeal. Some were so filthy that they simply couldn't bring themselves to send them out, even though the recipients will wash them anyway. It is disrespectful.

They continued to pack boxes. We can't get anywhere near enough boxes for all the donations flowing in!

The girls who had made cakes and sweets finished selling them to staff and students and raised $82.30 in all.

Three students went to the local charity shops today and picked up what must have been $2000 worth of second-hand - but clean - toys for about $160. They had raised the money and were entitled to have a say in how it was spent. The token male student made sure there were toys for boys.

These will go to the children who have lost homes and perhaps parents through the tsunami.

Two of my students designed a card to go with each box. They asked me for suggestions about what they should write, but I advised them to write what was in their hearts - and they did. One of them, James, had shown a gift for design, so I asked him to do it, while Adrian had been on the shopping trip for the toys - which range from small plastic dolls of both genders to huge fluffy toys. We scored a Pooh Bear, giant animals, and someone seems to have donated a purple elephant!

We hope that next week we can get one or both of our large newspapers to come and grab the photo opportunity, as long as they don't dismiss it as an education story.

And yet, the kids have learned a lot - some have discovered talents they never knew they had. They have shown entrepreneurial skills which will stand them in good stead later.

This is all I can say about it for now. Stand by for some book reviews - I have the new Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy title, the new Juliet Marrillier book and the latest Scott Westerfeld YA title.

Forgive the diversion!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Writing, small press and technology

I seem to have gotten into such a nice discussion with Adelaide about technology, I thought it might be better to do a post than continue with the comments chatter.

Recently, I did a panel on small press at the Continuum 5 SF convention. On my way to the panel, I found a lot of tables in the dealers' room, all selling small press science fiction books. That, of course, included my own, the Andromeda table.

Small press has been around for a very long time,as I remember from my early days in SF fandom. In Australia we had several, over the years - Norstrilia, Aphelion, Corey and Collins to name just a few off the top of my head. And those are just the ones that did books.

They worked hard and got their stuff printed and they published writers and artists who went on to become famous. Sean Tan, who did art for Aurealis when he was very young, has become an award-winner with many books under his belt.

But since computers became available to everyone who wanted them and then the Internet arrived, it has become a lot easier to publish. There's do-it-yourself desktop publishing that lets you do something that looks good without worrying about hiring someone to do the layout, and publishing on-line and artists can submit their work overseas if they want, by email; we commission plenty of overseas artists to do work for Andromeda Spaceways, both covers and internals, and we don't have to wait days and days for it to arrive and worry about whether it might have been damaged on the way. I remember the wonderful Marilyn Pride telling me once that she couldn't send her work overseas because publishers had tight deadlines. Well, Andromeda is done entirely on-line, until the printer gets the hard-copy to us. We meet on-line, slush on-line, edit and receive the finished product on-line; I've never even met most of the Andromeda co-op members.

Technologically, it is a wonderful time for small press to flourish. And technology means I no longer have to re-type entire manuscripts. Mind you, I do copy and paste into a new file when I am going to edit, so any future university academic who wants to do a PhD on the works of Sue Bursztynski - if any - will have no problem accessing my original MSS.

My last few books have been done almost entirely on computer, the editing done by email. I do like to meet editors, but there are some I have never met at all. My second editor, Sarah Brenan, was just a voice on the phone to me till after I had handed in the full manuscript of Potions To Pulsars: Women Doing Science, although I must admit it was a little before the time of email for me; we exchanged letters.

Research has become easier for me since the Internet. I do still use plenty of books, but because I am a librarian I can understand the difference between a good site and one that isn't likely to be of use, and it's amazing what you can find on the web. My book Rolling Right Along, a history of the wheel, included a chapter on the Ferris wheel, with a description of what the builder's wife was wearing at the launch. "Are you sure?" asked my editor. I was fairly sure, because my Internet research had unearthed a newspaper article written at the time by someone who was there. The World Wide Web is, for me, a massive library on the other side of the screen, just waiting for good researchers to use it properly.

For my book Crime Time: Australians behaving badly, I did research in books, web sites and newspapers. Many of those newspapers were on-line archives. Only a few years ago, I would have had to go to the State Library and spend the evening hunting through microfilm - and I would have had to know exactly what I was looking for and when it happened before starting. Now I just need some keywords - well, duh - librarian! Pity the newspapers are planning to start charging to view their sites.

Now I'm off to do something a bit less technological - I am spending the rest of the day researching guitars for a possible book on musical instruments, and reading photocopies and printouts somewhere quiet with coffee...

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Jacinta and the Tsunami

Jacinta came back from holidays with the book read and enjoyed. I have made arrangements with her literacy teacher to see if she can tempt her with another humorous Girlfriend book. (See my earlier post, "Jacinta and the Girlfriend Fiction boook"). Stand by for further information.

Meanwhile, a disaster happened in a number of countries in the last few weeks. If you have been reading the papers you will know. In Samoa, it was a tsunami. Because we have some Samoan students at the school, Amanda and I decided to pool our Year 8 homeroom students and get them collecting, fundraising and packing to send supplies to Samoa, with the help of the local primary school, whose Principal has contacts.

They have gone to it with a huge good will, and while all my students have made me proud the last two weeks, Jacinta has blossomed! This has become important to her and she has been rushing around with other students, packing and organizing. Because it meant so much to her, her sister Jamaine, who was in my class last year, had a word with their mother, who works for St Vincent De Paul, and they have sent a truckload of goods.

Jacinta is not only reading more, she's done some things to make her mother proud - and her homeroom teacher - me!

Monday, October 12, 2009

What if Conan Moved In Next Door?

Originally published in Janine Stinson's fanzine Peregrine Nations. PN is now on-line among other on-line zines and very good it is too, though it closed down some time ago. I am a fan of Robert E. Howard and in recent years I have discovered Kull as well, in the beautifully-illustrated omnibus editions. The Kull adventures are generally more light-hearted than the Conan ones and because Kull isn't travelling around as Conan does, there can be a number of regular characters.

But I wrote the article below in a fit of whimsy. It should be read in that spirit.

First, I’d like to make one thing quite clear: as a female fan of Robert E. Howard’s work, I have no desire to be crushed, panting, to Conan’s mailed breast, and never did have. If I was going to go out with a heroic fantasy hero, I’d rather have Tolkien’s hero Faramir, thanks. He’s a guy who’d not only be able to protect you from the baddies, but would remember your birthday and take you to some nice Minas Tirith restaurant for a birthday dinner, where you’d discuss art and music. If Conan remembered your birthday, he’d probably bring you a treasure from some ancient cursed tomb and you’d spend most of dinner watching in terror as he battled a slimy monster from before the dawn of time, come to take back its possession.

No - Conan wouldn’t be my idea of a boyfriend.

But he would make a very good next-door neighbour. He might not mow your lawn, and probably he’d have noisy feasts every other night, but he would make you feel utterly safe. Any stalker or burglar to invade your property would find himself hanging in midair, staring into a blazing pair of blue eyes under a long black mane, probably the last sight he ever saw. Any ex-boyfriend who tried to keep up a relationship you no longer wanted would be shaken thoroughly to make him understand that no means no and that a man of honour should understand this - then would be kicked down the street like a football. He would also knock on your door when you came home late from work to make sure everything was okay, or even come and pick you up from the station.

Conan appreciates an attractive woman, as we know from most of his adventures, and is only too happy to accept an offer from a charming lady - or a buxom wench - but never, ever forces himself on one. (You can’t really count the Frost Giant’s daughter - she’s just a challenge like any other, and Conan never turns down a challenge). It’s a part of his barbarian honour. In story after story, his behaviour is contrasted with that of arrogant, depraved noblemen of decadent civilizations. (I’m getting these visions of Conan showing his contempt for chardonnay-sipping yuppie males... Probably not a good idea to invite him to your dinner-party, though the backyard barbecue should be safe.)

I always liked it that the love of Conan’s life was Belit, a pirate queen. He had no problem with strong women, just with the ones who were trying to sacrifice him to some ancient demon, but the same applied to male priests who were doing the same. So he should have no problem with a strong professional woman living next door, as long as she showed him courtesy.

Well, Conan isn’t my next-door neighbour, alas, though the gentleman who lives in the next flat is nice enough. I can only find him between the covers of a book - in my case, one of the old Lancer editions which I first picked up on a remainders table, many years ago. I remember the wonderful Frank Frazetta covers, with Conan battling some monster or other, and the sheer joy of losing myself in his adventures. He may not be sitting with me in my study when I write, but I would probably never have had a go at heroic fantasy if not for those tales, or have joined the Society for Creative Anachronism, where I learned, at least, what you can’t do with a sword (it would have been much more fun to learn from Conan. I think he’d laugh at the idea, but help you out if you really wanted to learn).

The only thing is, if Conan moved in next door, he wouldn’t stay long. He would become restless for the next horizon - and probably run out of money and need another job. I think I’d miss him, too. Then again, he would probably leave you a souvenir ... such as a treasure from some ancient cursed tomb from before the dawn of time...


Sunday, October 11, 2009

Welcome Merrilee Faber - and - er, the other one

Welcome to my blog, Merrilee. I see you are also a writer, and an artist (I'm not!) and seem to be writing a novel. And you enjoy spec fic, among other things which is great. I did enjoy your post about the iPaq, whatever that is. I grew up in the generation when computers were the size of rooms and we were all very impressed with Isaac Amaterstein, who had a tape recorder, which he kindly brought over to let us record our radio show for school. Even video was a long way in the future!

Which basically means that I have revelled in every new bit of technology that has made it easier for me to write and research and listen to music. So I know where you're coming from.

I see I also have a new follower who is signed in as a number of upper keyboard thingies and while I assume he/she has a blog, I can't find it, only the others
(s)he follows. I hope I will get to know who you are, person without a profile!

Superman The TV Series

This was originally published in one of the last issues of Centero, Nikki's White's wonderful media-based letterzine. It went for over 100 issues and I had something in nearly every one of them. I honed my reviewing skills in it, and sometimes I just wrote letters or raved about old favourite films or TV shows with which I had become reacquainted through video or - later - DVD. I love the way DVD has brought them back, and all the extras on the better ones.

Superman the TV series was a childhood favourite - and now I'm reading and loving Michael Chabon's The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier And Klay, about a couple of Jewish boys in the 1930s, creating a superhero comic, a bit like the ones who created Superman. When I was a child, I was not allowed to read comics at home, so I went to visit my friend Denise, who lived in her parents' boarding house. We exchanged soft drink bottles left by the boarders for deposit money with which we bought more drinks, ice cream and Superman comic books, which we read as we feasted. It's a fond memory for me.

So here's a re-run of my comments on the DVD version of the George Reeves Superman series. Enjoy!
* * *

I have been re-viewing old favourites over the last couple of months.

I bought the first season of the George Reeves Adventures of Superman and binged on it. Strange to watch it all again, after Christopher Reeve’s films and Lois and Clark, Smallville and this latest movie.

The scenery wobbles and the effects are primitive, but each episode is like a mini-movie. You’re surprised when it’s over in twenty-five minutes. The SF is minimised. There is, of course, the opening episode which brings the baby to Earth (and by the way, the Kents are not called Jonathan and Martha, as we’re used to). There’s also the one with the robot and the one where the scientist has created a mind-controlling machine. Mostly, though, it’s Superman versus crooks. Even the Jimmy Olsen episode, The Haunted Lighthouse, hasn’t any actual ghosts in it, and the voice crying for help is a parrot. I’m pretty sure there was kryptonite eventually, but not in this season.

I always did wonder what happened to Clark’s suit while he was in his Superman costume - he always seems to be able to change back to Clark Kent no matter where he is - and where his Superman costume was stashed meanwhile. This series made it even more interesting. It’s implied that he’s wearing the Superman costume under his regular clothes (hopefully there’s a fly in those shorts), because in one episode he has to go for a staff medical and leaves it in the wardrobe, where a crook finds it and steals it. This means he can’t tell anyone what has been stolen from his cupboard! That’s the one where he has to leave the crooks on a mountain top till he can decide what to do with them, because they know his secret identity - fortunately, they get killed while trying to climb down. Not his fault - he did tell them to stay there and seek shelter in a nearby hut.

Which brings us to the next point - anyone who finds out his identity is doomed. They always, always end up dead by the end of the episode. The show is specifically set in 1951, when it was made, so the crooks still seem to be gangsters and their molls, wearing 1940s clothes.

George Reeves’s Clark Kent is not Christopher Reeve’s bumbling ,”Aw, gee, Lois...” character. He’s the one who solves mysteries - Superman just mops up and comes on the scene when speed or strength is needed. Lois competes with him for the best stories. Like Dean Cain’s later Clark, he can stand up to her. He doesn’t even pretend to be a bumbler, and has a regular arrangement with the police, who seem to respect him.

First season Lois is Phyllis Coates. This Lois Lane is a tough chick, not scared of anything. She’ll go anywhere for a good story, but has never heard of the word “teamwork” and as a result tends to rush off when the villains send a note, without letting anyone know where she’s going. The villains are usually very, very sorry they have tangled with her, but she still needs to be rescued by Superman. In one episode, the villain has been sticking a drug into coffee that turns you into an obedient zombie. Lois is suspicious of the coffee, saying she’ll pour it, then lets herself be distracted and still drinks the coffee!

Jimmy Olsen is played by Jack Larsen, who is perfect for the role. He is a wonderful comic relief, who can make his eyes bulge when he’s having a “Jimmy” moment.

John Hamilton is Perry White and also perfect for the role. This Perry is a long way from the Elvis-loving Perry White of Lois and Clark. He’s the “Don’t call me chief!” and “Great Caesar’s ghost!”, cigar-chomping editor of “a great metropolitan newspaper”. Interestingly enough, he never seems to tell the reporters to stop investigating crime and get on with meeting the deadline.

There are two extra features and commentary on four episodes. One of the extras is a delightful little featurette about the making of the series, and fascinating it is, too. Among those interviewed is Jack Larsen, who is a LOT older than when he was playing Jimmy, but whose voice is still recognisable. The other extra, “Pony Express Days” remind you that George Reeves had a life before Superman. In it, he plays a young - very young - Buffalo Bill Cody. If you’ve ever seen Gone With The Wind, of course, you might remember him as one of the Tarleton twins.

A classic series and well worth a re-viewing.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Two more SF links

I figured, since I mentioned Specusphere and Of Science And Swords bookshop, I should add links to make them easier to check out. If you're either living in, or visiting, Melbourne, Of Science And Swords is in the Strand Arcade in Lonsdale Street. It's small and friendly and the proprietors know their SF and know your name once you've been there a couple of times. Since we lost both Space Age and the SF bookshop run in the same spot by Justin Ackroyd, it's nice to still have a fannish shop in the CBD. Justin is still dealing in books and turns up to conventions, but it's just not the same. The shop's web site has an attached blog with chatter about the new books. Well worth checking out.

Welcome Satima!

Welcome to my blog, Satima Flavell! I see Satima has joined my small list of "followers" and I have done the same for her. Satima has been involved in Australian SF for some time and has written dance stuff for the newspapers as well. She has recently joined our list of Andromeda slushers and reviews for Specusphere, the SF review site. Go take a look at Specusphere for a whole lot of SF stuff, and a review of my crime book by "Hypatia", another reviewer - and have a peek at Satima's blog as well. It's a good one. See the side of this web page for a link.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

A Whale of a Tale

Last night when I got home, I found something new in my letterbox. It was a parcel I had been expecting but it was wonderful to open up and take the book out, as well as the handmade ceramic whale tail pendant. Edwina Harvey's novel The Whale's Tale has been coming for a long time. Looking at the book, I remembered when the cover artist, young Eleanor Clarke, was born. She is the daughter of my friend Susan Batho, whom I have known for years, and has grown up into a beautiful, talented young woman who can produce amazing art. As well as the gorgeous cover painting of a whale diving into the ocean, she designed the delightful logo for the new publishing imprint, Peggy Bright Books, a clothes peg clasping a star.

I remembered when Edwina started writing for children and young adults. She had been a penpal, back in the days before email, and never realised that her whimsical over-the-top style was just right for kids. Then she started entering the Mary Grant Bruce Award for Children's Literature and got a Highly Commended, twice.

The second time it was for the original short story on which this novel is based, "Restitution." I was the judge that year. I read the stories "blind", but the style was unmistakable. When Adrian Penniston-Bird, the head of the Victorian Fellowship of Australian Writers, told me the story was by "Edwina -" I was able to finish it. "Edwina Harvey, right?"

Well, it deserved the prize. I actually gave the short list to children to read, and they decided on the order.

Then Edwina turned it into a novel. It was the novel of her heart and she was determined to see it in print. I read the original MS and had some suggestions to make about it, but on a flip-through, I think the problems have been fixed. I'll do a proper review a bit later, with the cover image. At the time, I also handed the MS to a young reader, Samantha Wilson, who loved it.

It's a joyous piece of writing. I think I will love it too.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Welcome Ruzkin!

I have added a link to the new web site of Ruzkin, writer extraordinaire and enthusiastic counter gent at Of Science And Swords Bookshop. Ruzkin, aka Chris, is a writer of speculative fiction who would like to be published in Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine and hopefully will be at some stage. We read our slush blind, so I have no way of knowing if I have rejected any of his work or not.

Go take a look at Ruzkin's blog. It's worth the time.

Nobel Prizes and other blogs

Checking out a comment on a January Magazine review I did, I found another free blog site and visited it out of curiosity. One of the "blogs" linked to the main page was a CNN report that "three Americans" had won the Nobel prize for Medicine. There was no option to comment on that site, so I am mentioning it here. Sorry, CNN, but Elizabeth Blackburn, one of the winners, is not American, she's Australian. She lives and works in the US, but isn't American.

She is, in fact, the first Aussie woman to win the big one and I couldn't be more pleased. Pity I didn't know about her when I was writing my book on women scientists some years ago!

Friday, October 02, 2009

Comments and Spam

I don't get many comments, though I know plenty of people are reading my blog, due to my "invisible" counter. (Until I got the counter, I was wondering if anyone ever checked out my site!) Sometimes I get a comment with a name on it; mostly, for some reason, the most innocuous comments are added anonymously. Don't know why - do you think I'm going to sue you? Or stalk you? :-)

I do prefer to have people name themselves, but I have published a number of anonymous comments - only one was rejected, because it was having a personal go at someone whose book I had reviewed and that's not what this site is for.

However, today I came across four "comments" on the moderation page and guess what? They were all spam. So as of now, those of you who do want to comment - and I do urge you to do so, even if you disagree with me - will have to put your names on your comments. I have changed my settings so that the ID is necessary. I have a burning hatred of "direct marketing". Especially when the "direct marketers have bought their lists from people who had no right to sell them my personal information.

From here on, any comments will hopefully be real ones.

Sweet Mary Sue: Female “types” In Fan Fiction

First published, in a somewhat different form, in Centero and in Spaced Out #17

I first wrote on this topic for Nikki White’s letterzine Centero, back in the days when fan fiction was limited to print fanzines, when there were a relatively small number of media fanzines in Australia and only a few SF/F universes in which to write. Now, on the Internet, there is more opportunity than ever before to write about Mary Sue and the mind boggles at what they’re doing with it. When I was writing fan fiction - and doing the occasional Mary Sue for fun - we were writing original Trek and Blake’s 7 and not much else(I think I recall coming across a Dr Who Mary Sue once, involving the Tom Baker version and a companion who never appeared in the live series). Nowadays, no universe is safe. There’s even an entire sub-genre that pokes fun at the Tolkien-related Mary Sue. I can’t quite bring myself to read the stories at which they are laughing, but judging by the send-ups, the genre hasn’t changed much. The object of Mary Sue’s affections is still pointy-eared, but these days his name is Legolas or Elrond. Poor J.R.R. would turn in his grave. For the purposes of this article, I’m going to stick to the universes I know best, though I think the sub-categories apply well enough across the board.

So, who is Mary Sue? What is the Mary Sue story? She is the heroine of a sub-genre of fan fiction, though she occasionally turns up even in the shows on which the fan stories are based, or even in regular print fiction - hey, I have even reviewed one on this blog!

Originally, the term as applied to fan fiction really only covered the area I'd call Supergirl. It has grown to the point where it falls roughly into three broad categories, each containing its sub-categories. Let’s call them, for convenience, "The Sweet Young, Thing", "The Nightclub Singer" and “Supergirl”.

The Sweet Young Thing comes in a variety of flavours. She is a priestess, a princess in distress, a slave-girl or a rebel leader's daughter - occasionally a scientist's daughter. Her usual function is to tend the hero's wounds and nurse him back to health. As her reward, she gets his undying love and conceives his child.

Alas, his undying love is often her death sentence! Our pregnant heroine would be a bit awkward to take back to the Liberator or Enterprise , wouldn't she? For an excellent example of this, see the original Trek episode "The Paradise Syndrome". Poor Miramanee - she was doomed from the moment Kirk fell in 1ove with her.

If the Sweet Young Thing is a princess, however, she has some chance of survival. Firstly, she has an "out" - her duty to her people, which doesn't allow her to run off with brooding Vulcans or handsome rebel computer experts. Secondly, for some reason, fan-writers seem to like the idea of Avon/Spock/whoever becoming the father of royalty. It's next best to his being a ruler himself.

The Nightclub Singer is mostly to be found in the Blake’s 7 universe, far more rarely in the Trek universe. (If you're old enough to know what I'm talking about when I mention Blake's 7, good on you. If not, go and find it on DVD - it's well worth it! )

She is a little older than the Sweet Young Thing. Often, she is a widow, with or without children, making her living singing for her supper. Her husband died fighting in the rebellion, which has understandably soured her on the whole business, but she ends up helping our heroes anyhow, complaining all the way, and has a quiet romance with one of them(usually Avon) before waving them goodbye; at least she survives the story and rarely gets pregnant! One Australian fan-writer who made this variety of Mary Sue her own was the late Monica Mitchell, who showed how well the genre could be done in the hands of a competent writer. Her heroines usually had romances with the villains of Blake’s 7 - Travis was a favourite - but occasionally leered lustfully at Avon.

The Nightclub Singer may also be a professional woman - a doctor or scientist, for example, who was working for the Federation and has broken away. She boards the Liberator and saves the crew before continuing on her way. She usually fancies Vila or Avon. If it’s Avon, she spars with him for most of the story, of course

Third is "Supergirl", who is more a Trek type than anything else, but sometimes appears in other fan fiction, and often in mainstream fantasy, such as Kylie Chan's White Tiger.

She may be even younger than the Sweet Young Thing - usually about sixteen. Despite this, she has a string of university degrees and a pilot's licence. In the original Trek universe (I assume there are parallels in the spin-offs), she will probably be telepathic and brought up on Vulcan. Despite the difference in their ages, she usually knew Spock back home.

All the male characters fall in love with her, but sadly, she is not for any of them, in the end; she sacrifices herself saving the Liberator or Enterprise and is remembered fondly by all, or she flies off into the sunset(so to speak) to save the day elsewhere. Or - sometimes - she marries the hero of the author's choice and live happily ever after, playing a major role in the civilization of which her man is the leader...

Jacqueline Lichtenberg’s classic “Kraith” series had a Mary Sue of this variety (well, she may have been over sixteen, but she had been brought up on Vulcan, etc.). She became pregnant by Spock and died in an ancient Vulcan ceremony that had a tendency to kill pregnant women, but had to be performed.

Although Lichtenberg was a big-name fan writer at the time and went on to write professionally, the Supergirl story is mostly created by younger writers trying their hand, and is the female equivalent of the space-battle stories written by earnest young boys. Possibly the author will progress beyond it, but if not, she is having fun and so are her readers.

I rather suspect there are professional writers out there still writing Mary Sue stories for their own enjoyment! In fact, I know there are; at least one major Australian novelist admitted at a conference that she did this.

And when you've written a whole lot of mainstream books, or even worthwhile genre novels, it's very relaxing to kick off your shoes, turn on the computer and wander the galaxy with sweet Mary Sue.