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Fanfic / A Trekkie's Tale

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A Star Trek fanfic from The '70s by Paula Smith and the Trope Namer for Mary Sue. The fic is a Parody of a Self-Insert Fic in which Lt. Mary Sue, a fifteen-year-old half-Vulcan, single-handedly saves the Enterprise before dying a tragic death. The full text can be found here.

In the early '70s, fan fiction was emerging, much of it based on Star Trek: The Original Series and The Man from U.N.C.L.E.. In those days, fan fiction was published in fan-made magazines called "fanzines" and distributed at fan conventions. Paula Smith was a fan who happened to notice that many of the bad Star Trek stories had the same plot. They always centered on a female Original Character, who is the youngest whatever in Starfleet. Everyone falls in love with her and they go on adventures with her, typically ending with her meeting a tragic death to be mourned by all. After seeing a particularly egregious example of this storyline, Paula Smith wrote a parody, which was published in the second issue of the fanzine Menagerie, which she edited with her friend Sharon Ferraro.

A Trekkie's Tale and Mary Sue could have easily been forgotten after that issue ran, but Paula Smith later started doing letters of comment and reviews for other zines. She and Sharon Ferraro started using the term "Lt. Mary Sue story" as a shorthand to refer to further instances of that plot and the term spread. Regarding the increasingly widespread use of the term "Mary Sue", Paula Smith says that "I simply named a bug, I found a new fern. I identified a piece of humanity and put a name to it, but that's all I did. Everything I know about Mary Sue I was told by somebody else."

This fanfic provides examples of:

  • Beige Prose: This story is only four paragraphs long, all fairly short and straightforward.
  • Department of Redundancy Department: "...her beautiful youth and youthful beauty..." is used to describe Mary Sue.
  • Ephebophile: Kirk immediately wants to have sex with fifteen-year-old Mary Sue, but changes his mind when she says "I'm not that kind of girl!"
  • External Retcon: This Memory Gamma article gives the original Mary Sue a sensible history and Hand Waves most of her more egregious Sueness. It also Ret Cons her into being Only Mostly Dead so that she could live to the Next Generation era.
  • Flash Fiction: The story has only four paragraphs.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: Mary Sue is half-Human, half-Vulcan.
  • Numbered Homeworld: Parodied: "Rigel XXXVII".
  • Out of Character: Parodied, like everything else in the fic. Spock "weeping unashamedly".
  • Overranked Soldier: The "youngest lieutenant in the fleet" at "fifteen-and-a-half years old".
  • Parody Sue: Parody of Mary Sue Classic, to be specific, though the "tragic death" part is (sadly) much less common these days.
  • Soap Opera Disease: The jumping cold robbies are a mysterious alien disease that disables much of the Senior Staff so Mary Sue can run the ship herself. While Sue's case is less severe, going untreated is what leads to her death.
  • Too Good for This Sinful Earth: All of the Enterprise weeps at the loss of her because of her general niceness.
  • Unbuilt Trope: Of a sort. Mary Sue herself is ironically somewhat lacking in Common Mary Sue Traits, especially the ones which would be played up in most modern-day Mary Sue parodies. Her name is ordinary, aside from the mentions of her beauty, her appearance is not described in any specifics, and it's simply never mentioned what clothing or accessories she wears. In other words, her Sueness is based entirely on her being the center of attention and stealing the spotlight from the canon heroes. If this were written now, it would be a Double Subversion of the Parody Sue trope.