Star Trek Created One Of Fandom’s Most Important Contributions

By Chris Snellgrove | Published

You may or may not be a Star Trek fan, but what if we told you this legendary series made the biggest possible contribution to fan culture over half a century ago? Though it was considered niche when it came out in 1966, Star Trek: The Original Series was such a hit with audiences that the most dedicated Trekkies created fanzines. Those fanzines contained original Star Trek stories that often romantically paired Captain Kirk and Spock together, meaning we can credit Gene Roddenberry’s famous franchise for giving us the dual phenomena of fanfiction and slash fiction.

Star Trek Fans Created Fanfiction

Now, before anyone splits hairs with us, we’re aware that before Star Trek, some had created their own versions of fanfiction that ranged from unauthorized sequels to famous novels to short stories in other fanzines featuring characters from other sci-fi and fantasy franchises. Why does Star Trek deserve the credit for creating fanfiction as we know it? In short, earlier fan works were difficult to access, but Trek fanzines rode the wave of emerging zine culture in the 1960s and 1970s, and so many people read these fan stories that it ultimately influenced the franchise itself.

Gene Roddenberry Supported Fanzines

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For example, Star Trek creator Gene Roddenberry was a major supporter of the fanzine Spockanalia. He even went so far as to tell the zine’s creators (Devra Langsam and Sherna Comerford) that their magazine was now “required reading” for “every new writer, and anyone who makes decisions on show policy.” In this way, Trek permanently legitimized fanfiction: its writers were shaping the franchise they love, chipping away at any perceived division between official Trek creators and prolific fans. 

Shipping Was Started By Star Trek Fans

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Of course, Star Trek as a franchise was slow to embrace the content found in some of its most popular fanfiction. As Vulture points out, many of the “mimeographed pages” of these early zines contained works from “female Trekkers” who “wrote of Mr. Spock swooning in the arms of an ardent Captain Kirk.” Star Trek didn’t have any openly gay characters until the introduction of Paul Stamets and Dr. Hugh Culber in Discovery. However, Trek being late to the inclusion party also highlights another important function of fanfiction: providing fans with the kinds of stories that the official franchise would not.

Blame Benniffer And Brangelina On Star Trek Fans

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Those fan-penned love affairs between Kirk and Spock (or “Spirk,” as fans have named the fictional power couple) came to be known as “slash fiction,” and the same-sex romantic pairing of characters from various genres and franchises has now become incredibly common. Interestingly, this isn’t the only major fanfiction concept introduced by Star Trek fans.

Mary Sue was Coined by Trek Fans

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In the fanzine Menagerie, Paula Smith wrote “A Trekkie’s Tale,” a parody of the well-known phenomenon in which writers would introduce brand new Starfleet officers who were seemingly perfect at everything and were obvious stand-ins for the author. These characters were usually female (like the writers…again, most early Trek fanfiction authors were women), so Smith created the now familiar term “Mary Sue.” In a fun bit of cosmic irony, fans would later use that label to describe Wesley Crusher: he was perfect at everything and shared Gene Roddenberry’s middle name, leading many to think he was essentially Roddenberry’s self-insert character. 

Star Trek Fans Flooded The Early Internet With Fanfiction

Unsurprisingly, Star Trek fans were early adopters of the internet, and while fanzines persisted, it didn’t take long for most fanfiction to migrate online. There, fanfiction has become a major cultural phenomenon that has now touched on every single character and fandom you can imagine. For better or for worse, we’d never have mountains of fan-created stories on sites like Archive of Our Own and Wattpad and more slash than you can shake Sulu’s saber at if early Star Trek writers hadn’t written risque stories of Kirk and Spock hooking up.