A Response to Dear Kordite

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Dear Kordite: A Klingon Advice Column #1, wherein Kordite advises "Jane" to get herself a spear and dispatch her former lover and his new girlfriend was reprinted in the July 1996 SIGMA, the newsletter of PARSEC, a Pittsburgh sci-fi club. One reader (who's name has been removed from these documents) took great offense with this article and sent me a five page letter.
Rather than telling you what she thought and my response, I invite you to read these correspondences and judge for yourself. They have been edited only to protect the identity of the offended respondent.


TO: Kevin Geiselman
301 Overdale Rd.
Pittsburgh, PA 15221
FROM: ********
Pittsburgh, PA 152xx
DATE: July 9, 1996
RE: Your "Klingon Advice Column"
SIGMA July 1996, Issue 128

I sincerely hope you do not expect this to be a cocky fan letter, because it is not. I'm typing these words in a very serious frame of mind. I will preface my comments with an honest admission: I am not an official member of PARSEC, and since I have never sent the organization any dues of $10.00 -- or even the $2.00 supporting fee -- you may feel free to completely disregard my memo. However, I certainly consider myself a "friend" of PARSEC, since I have spoken about the organization and SIGMA in the spirit of friendship to other people, especially to anyone who has expressed true interest in science fiction.

I am on your mailing list and have received copies of SIGMA for a good while, but I have never been able to attend any of your meetings, which I regret. I have always looked forward to receiving SIGMA in the mail, and I have often wished I had been able to attend the last meeting described therein. Regarding the publication SIGMA, I have to say the quality of writing varies, which is proper and acceptable, considering the variety of writers submitting articles. In the pages of SIGMAs good writing can find a nice venue, tacky stuff can be handy, and the occasional pearl of sf wisdom can be appreciated; each offering has a place in a communique like SIGMA. I enjoy it and do not mind reading it aloud to my young son, ****, who is a solid "Trek-er" at six and a half years old. In my family, serious or lighthearted discussions about the latest sf movie or TV show is quite common and even expected.

However, your "Dear Kordite" column really hit below all proper expectations, and I am glad I read that part silently before I read it aloud to **** -- which I did not do, nor would I, since it was so appalling. As a writer, you surely expected your piece to be read by others, and I bet you wrote the column with the intention to amuse us. But there was no joy reading it, and it will not be shared with my son. I believe I understand what you were trying to accomplish, but the effort failed completely. If you were trying to be witty, or flip, the piece failed. If you were trying to produce something in the voice of a Klingon warrior, the piece failed miserably. Without taking a lot of time to properly research my material (and thereby increasing the chances of making some mistakes, myself), I will write directly from my heart and try to explain why I am taking the time to send you these strong objections.

First, in my opinion, a reader/writer/fan of science fiction is not automatically a devotee of murder and mayhem, which I believe belongs under the heading of "horror," especially as regards to this particular column (though "psychopathic" or "psychosexual" would be more descriptive of the piece). I understand and defend the practice of using such labels as "science fiction," "fantasy," "sf-fantasy," and so on, and it is a wise reader who refuses to debate that one genre cannot meld into another to create a legitimate work of fiction. There certainly is a place for the element of horror in mainstream sf; however, it is easier to afford true science fiction the respect it is due, when the main goal of the writer is to ultimately uplift humankind. When the writer's main goal is less than this, the story usually fails in some important way. Yes, many gems of the genre depict the wanton destruction of human lives (and other-than-human lives), but good writers generally use this kind of horror to make a legitimate point, something like, "Isn't man's inhumanity to man (or a being's incomprehensible cruelty to other beings) really awful, and shouldn't it be stopped?"

To me, the best sf upholds the best expressions of our human nature (without resorting to preaching) and deplores those activities which bring about unwarranted death, destruction, and all the ugliness that is also part of our human nature, even though the protagonist may utilize some of that ugliness to save the day. In my opinion, as a witty or flippant article, your piece failed, because there is nothing funny about plotting and performing a bloody murder based upon a perceived or actual betrayal. There is nothing witty about describing in detail how to murder a rival, especially when the account is published in a newsletter format in what normally may be referred to as "family- friendly" fare. Also, it is unnerving to behold an article (written under the banner of science fiction) that justifies a woman brutally murdering another woman (in a decidedly masculine fashion), and then repeating the crime in a way that allows the murderer to profit financially, as well as to escape punishment. Whatever the original point of your column, the average reader can only come away wondering what in the world made you think this stuff was funny? At the very least, exactly what aspect of human nature was being held up as an object lesson?

This brings me to my second major objection to your column -- your attempted portrayal of the viewpoint of a Klingon warrior. To begin, the Klingons and their culture sprang from human experience: human history, human needs, human pleasures, and even the kind of inhuman behavior exhibited by some humans during times of war. Even the codes of behavior created for Klingon society and Klingon warriors can be understood as various writers' attempts to humanize them, so that we find it acceptable that individuals nurtured by the warrior-based culture behave as they do. After all, planet Earth has experienced many such cultures down through the centuries, and each took great pains to identify and uphold some point of inner truth they could live by. Along with the slash-and-burn warrior mentality, the Klingon psyche was balanced out with a strict code of moral and ethical behavior that the "Star Trek" scripts featuring "Worf" developed extensively. For instance, their blood-and-guts fighting style was checked by the prohibition against killing the helpless for no good reason.

Consider the fact that a Klingon warrior has his/her own personal honor to create, practice and uphold, which is a major lifelong commitment. And you will notice that when a Klingon kills an enemy in battle, the death comes swiftly, abruptly, without rancor. In fact, great effort is taken to deliver a one-blow dispatch during a pitched battle. Only the skill of an opponent to thwart Klingon deathblows prolongs a battle. When a warrior harbors deep hatred for an adversary, other rules of conduct apply -- all to prevent the mere shadow of personal dishonor and to uphold Klingon expectations of familial honor. Above all, the life of a Klingon -- mere citizen or warrior -- is rife with responsibility, and no action, especially the act of killing someone, is done without attention to some kind of personal responsibility. Even a thoroughly drunken Klingon remains true to his/her many codes of honor and responsibility. He/she simply is not able to follow through properly when drunk.

In your attempted Klingon advice column, you exhibit very little understanding of the Klingon mind-set [which results in the breaking of the writer's cardinal rule, "Write only what you know about!"]. Since Kordite carries the rank of lieutenant commander, the individual has plenty of Klingon Code and Klingon Responsibility to uphold. I cannot see where "he" exhibited an ounce of responsibility in the advice given to "Deeply Wounded." To extrapolate upon what I have learned over the many years of being a devoted "Trek" fan, if I were speaking in the voice of a Klingon warrior, first I would ridicule the weakness of the letter writer, cursing both her moral and physical weakness. I would jeer at her inability to stand tall and strong and demand recompense from her intended mate the moment she caught him engaging in sex with another woman. Then I would remind her of her rights as an intended mate, advising her to approach her strongest relative and insist that he/she deliver a suit to the strongest relative of her intended mate. The suit would demand financial compensation equal to the dishonor visited upon her own family by the ineptitude of the intended mate caught in the midst of a sexual tryst. In other words, being caught created the point of dishonor. Klingons are lusty beings, so the actual tryst was no Problem. The intended's stupidity was the problem.

The strongest relative of the female intended mate would be someone equal to the task of surviving a duel that might be thrust upon him/her by the strongest relative of the male intended. After all, the male's family will be inclined to challenge the suit and demand battle to regain lost honor. However, if the male's relative is an honest individual and not one given to the same flights of irresponsibility as exhibited by the offending male, a financial settlement will be quickly forthcoming. Paying the settlement would be no point of shame, since both intended mates could then rightfully claim they had "irreconcilable differences." There would be no question about dissolving the intended marriage bond, for no self-respecting female would give herself in a mating ritual to a male she could not respect.

As for the "Jane" caught with the male, she is superfluous to the matter, for any female dense enough to be caught in bed with another female's intended mate is not worth killing. Instead, she is to be pitied and promptly dismissed, for if she had been anyone worth recognition, she would have promptly initiated combat with the intended female the moment she appeared on the scene. If "Jane" survived the battle, she could choose to claim the male as her mate (which the male would be smart to accept, otherwise he would have to fight for his freedom from her claim), or "Jane" could justly spurn the male for the same reasons previously mentioned (i.e.; the ineptitude of the male). If the intended female survived the personal combat, the whole matter would be settled as mentioned above -- with a suit for financial compensation, since the male would be unworthy of her. (If the male really wanted her, he would have to do something heroic to win her back.) If either woman died in battle, she would be remembered by her family with dignity and all the tribute that goes along with the honorable death of a Klingon warrior. Someone in the family would create a ballad in her memory, or commission an artist to write a tragic opera in the Klingon style.

In the event some proof would be uncovered suggesting the male intended mate, for some ulterior motive, deliberately created a compromising situation which resulted in the death of either or both women, the families of the women would be duty bound to seek an audience before the High Council on the home world. When granted an audience, representatives of both offended families would present charges against the male intended mate, whereupon the male or his designate would be expected to answer all questions to the satisfaction of each family. If the charges could be proved in the eyes of the Council, the male could be banished or executed, and his family could expect to lose all or a portion of all they owned.

In my view, with all contingencies (I hope!) covered, the advice column would end here, alluding that this type of situation would be handled differently in the military or during wartime. For me, those military solutions would take a whole lot of thinking and another whole memo. But I think I have made my point. So, please take care the next time you write a column, for the reader who picks up your work just might be an impressionable six-year- old. Writing anything is a real trial. [For instance, this memorandum has taken me more than twelve hours of serious work to complete, with breaks to feed my son dinner, get him to bed, etc.] Writing any kind of comedy is even harder. Writing any kind of science fiction comedy is next to impossible, especially if the writer knows little about the subject matter. In the past, I have read some comedic sf, so I know it can be done, but it is a rare achievement and is unbelievably difficult to sustain.

With that, I hereby sign off, with a command to my printer to print this long, long memorandum with all the speed and efficiency an Epson Action Printer 5000 can provide.

This letter was ended with the author's initials.
As an author, I could not let this go without a response. Read on!

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http://www.tasigh.org/kordite/memo1.html -- Revised: 18 May 2002
Copyright © 1997, 2002 Kevin A. Geiselman