throwback thursday

Throwback Thursday: “It Takes A Village”: An Analysis of Lazulisong’s “Graduate Vulcan For Fun and For Profit”

“It Takes A Village”: An Analysis of Lazulisong’s “Graduate Vulcan For Fun and For Profit”

There are, at this moment, 28,933 fan fiction based on the rebooted Star Trek movies on the site Archive of Our Own (AO3), not including the fanfictions on other sites, or for other series of Star Trek itself. The rebooted Star Trek movies are often referred to as Nu!Trek, the alternate original series (AOS), or the Kelvin Timeline, so named after the event which diverged the timelines of the original Star Trek series from the sixties and that of the movie series. This paper will analyze the fan fiction “Graduate Vulcan for Fun and For Profit” by Lazulisong. Lazulisong is an active fan fiction writer, with 196 published works, 21 of which are based on Star Trek. 

A fanfiction scholar named Maria Leavenworth puts forth two definitions relating fanfiction to its canon. The term “Hypotext” refers to the original text, or the canon upon which the fanfiction is based, and  the term “hypertext” refers to what is added to the original, including fanworks such as fanfiction (Leavenworth, 42). In this case, there are two hypotexts: the original Star Trek series from the 1960s which serves as our original hypotext, and the 2009 reboot movie which serves as both hypertext to the original and a second hypotext to our fanfiction.  

To understand Lazulisong’s story, the reader must have an understanding of both hypotexts. The movie establishes the key difference in it’s timeline versus the original’s: the Kelvin, the ship on which George Kirk and a pregnant Winona Kirk were serving, is destroyed, and George Kirk sacrificed his life to buy time for other crew members to escape. It is during this chaos that James Tiberius Kirk is born. The movies establish Jim Kirk to be over a decade younger, considerably more reckless, and less confident in his own ability than the original series Kirk. While the movie focuses on how Kirk becomes Captain, the series establishes Kirk as captain, and a longtime Starfleet member from the beginning. The story requires in-depth knowledge of its primary source material, the 2009 Star Trek, as well as passing familiarity with the original series. The story makes reference to events of the movie without recapping them, preferring to explore events before and after the destruction of Vulcan. Elements from the original series are also inserted into the story. For example, the events of Tarsus IV, Jim Kirk’s propensity for “flirting with everything with a nervous system,” (Lazulisong) and the existence of Vulcan katras (souls).

Lazulisong’s story explores what Jim Kirk’s life would be like if he had fellow Kelvin survivors, in particular an original character named Sakel, taking care of him following the massacre on Tarsus IV. Sakel is a vulcan who takes an interest in Jim’s wellbeing and education post Tarsus IV, as he feels that the Kelvin survivors owe Jim a debt for his father’s sacrifice. 

The story is told in two interwoven narrative streams, with one looking at Jim’s childhood and the other looking at Jim at Starfleet academy and after the events of the movie. The narrative of the past, and the academy itself, explores possible missing scenes that may or may not be possible to have happened in the canon of the movie, filling in the blanks the movie gives us. The narrative stream showing the possible events post-movie shows the type of fanfiction which is speculative and explores new scenarios for beloved characters. Between these two narrative streams, Lazulisong covers the three broad categorizations of fanfiction as defined by Leavenworth.

Leavenworth gives name to three broad categorizations of fanfiction, based around how the fanfiction in question uses (or ignores) the canon to which it is borrowing. The first category is “reduction” where “authors remove undesired elements to create stories which because of the excision follow an alternative narrative path” (Leavenworth, 43). Lazulisong’s story features a reduction of the movie canon, including the excision of a majority of Christopher Pike’s role in Jim Kirk’s life, and the exclusion of Jim’s preoccupation with living up to his father’s legacy. 

The second category is “amplification” where “small details in the hypotext are exaggerated and come to form the focal point of a developed story” (Leavenworth, 43). Amplification is a category widely used in Lazulisong’s story. Small details such as the existence of other survivors of the Kelvin are expanded into original characters, including Sakel who plays a prominent role as one of the narrators but also side characters such as “Pike’s assistant [who] was a yeoman on the Last Trip, and the goddamn RA of Jim’s goddamn dorm [who] was the son of someone who died” (Lazulisong). There is also the amplification of ideas, such the addition of Jim having an eating disorder, based on canonical malnutrition he suffered post Tarsus IV. The story also makes reference to Jim’s “empath-type psi-talent” (Lazulisong) which moves Jim’s extreme emotionality from being the very human trait he has in canon, to an extraordinary, almost alien one, amplifying the ways in which he is different in this timeline. 

The third category is “transmotivization” where “hypertexts,” that is works that build upon the original, canonical work, “can give a character motivations lacking in the hypotext” (Leavenworth, 43) where the hypotext refers to the original, canonical work. Transmotivization is demonstrated in Lazulisong’s story in the entire original premise she builds. They take the concepts of the Kelvin survivors and Jim’s survival of the Tarsus IV massacre and give a full, fleshed out story of how those events in his life combine to create a Jim Kirk in the  movie who is very different than the original series Jim Kirk. Lazulisong also places Tarsus IV into the context as to why Jim tends to act dumber than he is in the movie, giving the backstory that Jim acts this  way because of what happened on Tarsus IV “when Jim hadn’t hid his intelligence, before he knew what being better and brighter could mean” (Lazulisong). 

“Graduate Vulcan for Fun and For Profit” not only emcompasses all three broad catagorizations of fanfiction types, but is effective as a story. The story is well written, with easily marked transitions between time periods, and two clear voices narrating (Sakel for the past, Jim for the present). There is a balance between scene description, internal narration, and dialogue which makes the story, both the canonical and original elements, easy to read. The prominent original character of Sakel, while being original to the story, is true to the characteristics of vulcans in canon, making him a compelling a realistic figure. One of Jim’s descriptions of Sakel also demonstrates the humor found throughout the story, “Sakel’s kind of gray around the edges, but as far as Jim knows, that defines every Vulcan from the age of about eighty until ‘older than God’” (Lazulisong). 

Effective as a story, “Graduate Vulcan for Fun and for Profit” is also effective as a fanfiction, and skillfully combines canon elements with fanon elements. Fanon draws on a combination of amplification and transmotivization though fanon is distinguished from these categories by being widely accepted among, and being continuously built upon, by fans, rather than being the work of a single fan’s interpretation. This in turn allows a story to become more widely accepted and enjoyed by active readers in a fandom, as it confirms their own interpretations being shared. An example of this fanon includes the exploration of Jim’s allergies, which are a common topic in Star Trek fanfiction despite no canonical evidence of Jim having widespread allergies. Fandom has taken an isolated movement of McCoy induces an allergic reaction in Kirk, and amplified it into the widespread idea that Jim Kirk has severe allergies. Lazulisong makes reference to this fanon with: “Jim’s magical beepy allergy wand.” This relates to another fanon element: McCoy acting like a mother hen. While McCoy in the reboot movies is more worried about Kirk’s health than the original series McCoy, neither would be considered a mother hen in canon. As such, this McCoy is a fanon interpretation of him.

When fanon is taken into account, a story resonantes more deeply with fans, and becomes more effective by virtue of confirming the interpretations the reader may already hold of canon, creating a common place of approach and a willingness to see where the author may lead. By having a shared understanding, not only of canon, but of accepted interpretations among fans, Lazulisong’s story becomes more resonant and more effective as a fanfiction to readers.

The first sentence of the short summary to Lazulisong’s “Graduate Vulcan for Fun and For Profit” is: “It really does take a village to raise a Jim.” For the story, this play on the idiom “it takes a village” is referring to the cast of characters (including the ever present Spock and McCoy, as well as the original character Sakel and the various original survivors of the Kelvin Disaster) which influence the course of Jim Kirk’s life. This web of influence of a broad theme of the story, but moreover, is a broad theme of fanfiction in general. Fanfiction exists in relation to canon, as well as other stories in the fandom, influencing ideas and themes which become fanon interpretation, and in turn make a story more appealing to readers. Fanfiction itself “takes a village” of readers, writers, and fans to consume and create compelling stories, to share interpretations of those stories, and create their own community of storytelling and creativity. Without two hypertexts and a wide variety of existing fanfiction to read, Lazulisong’s “Graduate Vulcan for Fun and For Profit” would not exist, and would not exist with such resonancy as it does together. In short, it takes a village  to raise Jim Kirk, and it takes a village to write about it.

Works Cited

Abrams, J.J., director. Star Trek. Paramount, 2009.

Lazulisong. Graduate Vulcan for Fun and for Profit. Archive of Our Own, 2009., Gene., creator. Star Trek. NBC, 1966.

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