A few weeks ago, I ordered a zine. Well, two zines, actually. Issue #1 and Issue #3 of the Starsky & Hutch zine Zebra Three. They were published way back in 1977 and 1979 and issue #1 was the first Starsky & Hutch zine to ever be published. I guess I'm a huge nerd, because I was like OMG HISTORY and think this stuff is cool.
If you don't know what a zine is, just go here or here, because this post is already too long, tbh. And if you don't know much about Starsky & Hutch (hey that rhymes!), skim this, because the info there is a hell of a lot more relevant to the interests of someone reading about fandom than stuff like wikipedia.
See, for the past year or so, I've been on a huge fandom history kick, waxing and waning depending on how busy I was. I re-read the MsScribe Story for the ninth or so time of course, but I started reading up on a lot of older stuff too -- information about the history of certain fandom/fanfic tropes, and of old fandoms I was in. (You can’t grasp the sheer awesome that is X-Files fandom without understanding Usenet.) Out of the fandoms I'm in (not counting Sherlock Holmes, whose fandom was just...different) the oldest ones are Star Trek TOS, M*A*S*H, Star Wars, and Starsky & Hutch. And the goldmine of info about these is fanlore.org It has been my new addiction, the past few months.
I got particularly fascinated by the fanlore pages that had loads of excerpts from various old Starsky & Hutch letterzines, which were the discussion forums of the time,
arguing about analyzing the show and the characters and the fandom and sending in envy-inducingly long and detailed reviews of then-current popular/good fanfics. The biggest takeaway I got from all this nerdy research was that a) seriously, zines were fascinating things, and b) the text of lots of fanfic in those zines has never made it to the internet and that is the saddest thing. Obviously, I just had to get my hands on one. So I did, and read it.
There were a whole bunch of different aspects to this, uh, experience, I guess. So I separated them out by category so you don't have to read the whole thing if you're not interested. But really -- no matter how long it's been since posting when you stumble across this review, I just wanna say that if anyone who reads this has read this zine or the stories in it before, I would be delighted to have your input and opinions in the comments :) There's just not enough of it online!
Zines and Fandom History: in which I use the word “old” to describe stuff from the ‘70s several times and piss off everyone who remembers the decade
First, I’m talking about shit that happened long before I was even born, so if anyone who actually was alive in the ‘70s – or, you know, anyone who, unlike me, actually knows what the fuck they’re talking about from more reliable sources – wants to tell me I’m talking out of my ass about something, please let me know. But here’s what I’ve gleaned so far:
Before the internet, fans would type stories and then either keep them privately for themselves or hand them around to personal friends, or send them in to zines. Published zines operated by an editor (or an editing team – which I suspect just meant three or more nerdy chicks who had experience with their school paper in high school or college) who was a fan with access to a mimeograph or whatever the hell other mass-printing technology existed in the 1970s and had the time, connections, and know-how to solicit stories and artwork from a number of authors (usually via personal connections or advertisements in other amateur zines), edit, copy-edit, format, compile, print, bind, advertise, and distribute to a mailing list of fans willing to purchase the stories. Sometimes they did it by committee, in a big party. Really, I never appreciate the internet enough until I’m reminded of how hard it is to do things without it. No seriously, if you're at all intrigued by old fandom history or fan culture, read those pages I linked to. They are the most amazing fandom-related things I've ever seen and it makes me grin happily until my face hurts just thinking about it. Fans are so awesome.
These zines were published in large quantities, 100, 200, or more. Popular ones, like Zebra Three, could be reprinted later. But any way, by the early 1990s or somewhere around there, zines were out, Usenet was in, Geocites was looming, and lots of authors in many older fandoms underwent the effort of transferring their typewriter-typed stories into digital format and uploading them on the internet. However, lots of authors didn’t, usually because, AFAIK, either a) this is an undertaking that takes up lots of time and effort, and if the writer had left fandom it was hard for other fans to contact them to ask permission to do it themselves, or b) because they used their real names on the stories, or for other reasons, they didn’t want their work to be available for just anyone’s eyes on the internet.
So the only way to get some of these zines is to buy physical copies from various sellers. While the actual text of these stories is nowhere online, a lot of information about them is available on fanlore.org when it comes to well-developed, long-lived, dedicated fandoms -- like the Starsky & Hutch fandom. Fanlore has pages of information about the zine Zebra Three, among a shitload of other Starsky & Hutch fandom stuff. I love especially how the reviews/recommendations worked then -- because if a fic was bad, you didn't just waste an hour of your life, you also wasted money. But you also couldn't just google something like "Spike/Angel fanfic recs" and find good fics like that. You had to hear about them first. So all the information up there is a collection of excerpts from discussions, letters, and reviews in letterzines or in other zines. The Starsky & Hutch fandom was really built and founded by Star Trek: TOS fans, so there’s a huge overlap between the two fandoms and this probably really contributed to the Starsky & Hutch fanfic/discussion fandom's base early on.
Anyhow, few months ago, my "research" led me to pdf scans of several issues of the TOS zine "Contact" at contactzine.com (though the site seems to have recently expired :( ) The first issue was from 1974 and the best story in it was "De Profundis", a very short McCoy deathfic that actually made me feel dismay -- and I was in M*A*S*H fandom! (If there’s one area in which M*A*S*H fandom utterly kicks the asses of all other fandoms, it’s deathfic.) Afterwards, I noticed that the author was a Connie Faddis. I don't know if that's her real name, but back then, fans used to use pseudonyms that were "real" sounding names, not SnapesGal87 or midnight_dreary or xXxJack-and-Daniel-4EvaxXx or misspelled synonyms for “fascinating.” That pricked up my ears because I had heard her fic and artwork and zine editing mentioned and praised a lot in all the Star Trek and Starsky & Hutch stuff I looked up on fanlore, though I had never paid it a second thought.
I also noticed one of her most famous stories, "Mojave Crossing," was in the first Starsky & Hutch zine ever, Zebra Three. That story was apparently a Really Big Deal, it was really influential in the hurt/comfort genre, and really kick-started a lot of the Starsky & Hutch fandom. Seriously, read that fanlore page, it’s pretty damn fascinating. And lo and behold, Zebra Three was selling for $20 an issue on ebay and it looked like all the other stories in it had good reviews too (reviews from the 1970s, but still). So no shit, I (well, actually my friend cinderlight, but hey I’m taking credit for this undertaking, damnit) was like “hey, you know, why the hell not?”
Zines on ebay are usually categorized as “collectibles” a la posters and action figures and the like. I dunno why I mentioned that. That just made me laugh. Amateur-produced fan stories are "collectibles"! You have no idea how delighted that makes me. Anyway, I finally decided “okay, I’m gonna do it” and bought two issues of it, and…wow. It was an experience.
The Zine Itself: Let’s party-post like it’s…uh…1977?
First off, I first read issue #1 and this thing is...well, ancient as fuck. In every way. It's printed in mimeo, in print that looks like bold Andale Mono font on tough cardboard-y paper like the stuff used by artists for sketches, though the paper is worn and faded and soft and brown with time, the edges all curly and frayed. Every page is embedded with layers of god-knows-what -- sawdust, tiny particles of paint, tiny fragments of peeled-off letters, tiny bits of scrubbed-off paper pulp. There is not a single page in the entire thing where the print has not left a ghostly, blotchy, crooked imprints from the other side (although a lot of that is the effects of mimeo), and there are loads of places where serifs or tails, or even complete letters, have been completely rubbed off and it takes a second to figure out what the word is. Is that a p or an n? An a or a d? Is that half-a-word supposed to start with a W or an M? It's three-hole-punched and bound with those prong fasteners with a head and two flexible tails that you have to spread apart to secure the pages. The stories in here were first published in 1977, but this one is a reprint from 1979. No indication that it's a reprint any newer than that. So, if I understand correctly, this physical object I am holding is 35 years old. Yikes.
The content is really fun: there are a handful of poems, some jokes, some cartoons, some GREAT art, a couple of trivia games, an essay on the appeal of Starsky & Hutch, a couple of short stories, a parody, some doodles, and two long stories about the length of shortish novellas. It’s all kinds of different fannish stuff put together and you can really feel how much love and fun the editors had putting this thing together. It also has two editor’s notes by a Lorraine Bartlett, who was the main person who put the zine together and you can really feel the love and investment and the tongue-in-cheek irritation at the amount of trouble it was to produce in her notes.
The front page says the zine cost $4.60 to order by first-class mail in 1979. Fuck my life.
The art varies in quality, but some of it is amazing. The best artists seem to be Signe Landon, Connie Faddis and Marty Siegrist. Some are portraits of the characters or concept art, but others are illustrations of scenes from the stores. My favorite is probably a panorama of the desert from "Mojave Crossing" which is already scanned on fanlore. There’s also a couple of photographs, which are pointless, look like they took up a fuckload of ink, and according to the editor’s note, were an excruciating pain in the ass. The art is all black-and-white and appears to be reproductions of pen or pencil illustrations. I really like this illustration-style of fanart - they're not photorealistic, so imperfections don't immediately throw the characters into the realm of Uncanny Valley, but not highly stylized cartoons either, so they convey a feeling of realism even though they're not completely realistic.
All the stories here are gen. As far as I can figure, during this period, people were throwing bitchfits in Star Trek fandom over various topics of fanwank bait, particularly slash. Both sides of the great war of IT MUST ONLY BE GEN/SLASH AND EVERYTHING ELSE IS A BLIND/PERVERTED LIIIIIIEEEE drowned out all the “hey, that’s good too, but don’t diss what I like” and "but isn't elasticity and breadth of interpretation the best part?" people in the middle. So probably to keep things peaceful, the guidelines were “no AUs, no slash, and no deathfic.” This is okay with me -- I love both gen and slash but I love gen even more, mostly because I'm more interested across the board in stories about friendship than in stories about romance. However, in my fanfic-reading experience, it's harder to write a compelling and satisfying gen fic than a compelling and satisfying slash or het fic of the same length because the former takes a lot more imagination and has a lot fewer templates to go off of (romantic storylines and tropes cross-pollinate between all genres and canons with minimal translation. Other types of stories? Takes a lot more work to adapt). And I know plenty of writers who write amazing shippy fic but who can't write a good fic about anything else to save their life. So I tend to be a bit more demanding about good gen.
Both long stories - "Bomb Scare" and "Mojave Crossing" are really, really good gen, which is especially impressive in the case of Mojave Crossing, which is all about love confessions and love revelations and shifts in the nature of Starsky and Hutch's relationship, but without feeling either incomplete or suggestive because of the honesty of the writing. Actually, it's extremely gen, not just technically gen -- the mechanisms and revelations are entirely platonic, and sincerely so; no insecure, anxious little "no homo!"s to be found. There's a big difference, in my opinion, between platonic-ness defined as the presence of a particular kind of love and platonic-ness defined merely as not-romance. The former is vastly better and much harder to capture.
The long stories are both fantastic, I'll review them further down. The short stories are good, though not spectacular. I don't think the vignette fanfic format had been really perfected at this point, since fanfic-vignette is a very unique genre of fic that AFAIK cannot be found anywhere except fanfic. One of them ("Second Chances") has a unique premise though -- that Starsky and Hutch were friends in the academy, but then drifted apart afterwards for a couple of years, which both of them regretted deeply, before they rediscovered their friendship later (as shown in this story). I'd never seen that "what if?" toyed with before. The other one ("The Apology") is mostly notable for articulating a glorious snippet of Hutch's series-long completely ineffective and non-serious (and therefore adorable) ongoing campaign to gaslight Starsky into tumbling down to Hutch's level on the self-esteem ladder, which neither of them are really serious about, a la Spock and McCoy's neverending culture war over in Star Trek. The story is a bit too on-the-nose about it, though.
The poems are slightly clunky but also enjoyable. One of them is glorious utter crack too – it’s secretly narrated by the Torino, though that's not clear until the last couple stanzas. She (of course she’s a ‘she’! How could she not be a ‘she’?) is madly in love with Starsky (no shit, Sherlock), and the poem gets a bit steamy -- yes, that kind of steamy -- before you realize who's narrating, so props to the author for making me lol like crazy after the lightbulb clicked on in my head. I mean hey, whose engine wouldn’t purr with that man inside of – okay, okay I’ll stop now.
#cough# ANYway, the parody is a Star Wars parody, I guess since Star Wars came out that summer and was bigger than Elvis. It's dumb but hilarious, and was probably more unique when it was written than it is now. It's possible that it’s one of the earliest Star Wars parodies, though I’m sure Saturday Night Live did some that year too….
The zine ends with a great essay about the appeal of Starsky & Hutch. In all different long-running fandoms, it's awesome to see how similarly fans at the beginning saw the canon compared to fans nowadays. The essay is mostly ideas I've also seen recently -- about how friendship is something lots of people value deeply but culturally don't know how to express very well, and how hurt/comfort unearths the depth and extent of a friendship by making the characters prove it. What made this essay different from today's opinions was that it was contemporary – the authors talked specifically about how the 1970s and the social upheaval and rising divorce rates, delayed marriages, frequency of single independent living, increased geographical mobility, etc, was a good thing overall, but it also caused loneliness and alienation, with people often not having close ties to their family or hometown anymore, combined with cynicism over Watergate, a major recession, etc, so shows portraying close, trustworthy, satisfying friendships were kind of wish fulfillment for then-current viewers. That was really cool and something I hadn't thought about before.
Another part that fascinated me were the little in-joke-y cartoons. Not just about the show itself, but also about the fandom and the process of zine production. It's like the 1970s equivalent of a gif-filled picspam party post. The medium changes, but fans never change. ;)
Review of “Bomb Scare:” In which I compare Fanon to folklore to sound more self-important, and also make wild generalizations about casefic
On to reviews of the long stories! I've always preferred to write long, detailed reviews of fics, but rarely have the time or energy anymore what with full-time work and all. Well, I took a few weeks after reading the zine to write this up slowly bit by bit to cover everything, so here goes:
The first long story was “Bomb Scare” by Jan Lindner. It's very good, not only does it have a well-paced, well-written, well-structured plot, but it has well-crafted underlying themes too -- the whole thing is about courage.
Also, it’s loooooaaaaded with Star Wars references. Of course, it's because Starsky keeps making lame Darmok And Jalad At Tanagra-type Star Wars metaphors all story long and begging Hutch to watch it with him for the 298548757th time, while Hutch crabs about it and makes fun of him and is a big wet blanket about the whole thing for shiggles. I love these characters so much you guys.
The plot of the fic is about a military explosives expert who chickened out of completing an emergency bomb defusing years ago in Vietnam and abandoned his team to save his own skin instead, got lots of people killed, and whom Starsky testified against in the ensuing court martial, and now is Out Of Jail And Out For Revenge (TM) by mad-bombing various places and leaving them threatening messages and the like. Then he eventually targets Starsky and Hutch directly in a scheme to prove they are just as cowardly and selfish as him and they would totally abandon each other to save their own skins too. This is a bit like expecting Gandalf to let you pass on the bridge of Khazad-Dum in exchange for an all-expenses-paid trip to the Bahamas with a bonus luxury spa eyebrow trimming, but no matter how much a foregone conclusion it is, this is the sort of cast-iron bulletproof gold that somehow never, ever, ever gets old in fanfic, ever, provided it's well-written enough.
Mostly, it's a casefic -- plot-focused, about an investigation, with a setup similar to an episode. Casefic is a weird animal. Lots of fans like it in theory, but it's very difficult to do well. But I don't think many fans want their casefic to feel exactly like just another episode of the show. I'm one of those fans who tends to enjoy fic that gives me more of the things I see in the canon show, but the keyword here is more. Most casefics need something more than what a canon episode can provide. A fic that is "like an episode" usually isn't satisfying if it reads like an episode script tweaked into narrative rather than script format. It needs some kind of extra element, usually an It's Personal for the main characters, or worldbuilding, or added background or context for the canon events: say, it's like an episode, but it's like a special episode centered on a crisis with a main character (eg, in the S&H fandom, The Fix or Pariah or something.) Or it has a meaningful or illuminating personal subplot (not necessarily a serious one, mind you). Or it's like an episode event-wise, but with an added layer of personality when it comes to how the main characters observe it or talk about it or are affected by it. Fanfic, even casefic, has different strengths and priorities than episodes.
The element that, in fanfic for movies and TV shows, is the biggest and most satisfying advantage fic has over canon, is probably POV narrative. Whether third person omniscient, third person limited, first person, or even second person, in a fic, the thoughts and motivations and observations of characters can be described and explained, and can do so without being rushed and structured to move at the speed of real life or faster. Bomb Scare uses this very well in the last part of the story to dwell on the characters' thoughts to create suspense and depth. The swift shift as the story turns from casefic focused on stopping a bad guy to personal horror, with a tight, narrow point-of-view is done really well, no jarring or incongruous feelings in the transition. After said bad guy captures Hutch and wires him to a bomb and then leaves him for Starsky to find, wanting to see if Starsky will stay and risk dying with Hutch or not, the story transforms into a three-way battle of wills, Hutch wanting Starsky to leave him and save himself, Starsky determined to die with Hutch if or when he blows sky-high, and both of them trying to suppress these goals by trying to figure out a way to escape instead. The transformation is gradual and smooth and never feels like they've suddenly been knocked into a totally different story, which is the mark of a good storyteller in my opinion.
But the really, especially cool part was what it shows about fanon. I’m sure everyone is familiar with fanons in their own fandoms, whether really dumb or not, but they’re especially prevalent in older fandoms, because they’ve had such a long time to accumulate. In S&H fandom, there's a piece of fanon that is basically universally accepted, which is that Starsky was in combat in the Vietnam War. The only canon basis for this is a throwaway scene in "The Plague, Part I" where Starsky grumbles "Wait, wait, wait.... I thought I got done with this in the army" while on a tense stakeout waiting for some Big Shit to go down. Nothing else.
Granted, it's not a big leap of logic to assume that, when a police officer in his early 30s, in the USA, in 1977, who has been a police officer for about a decade, is talking about how he was in a situation like this in the army, he means Vietnam. But everyone takes this Vietnam War fanon as a given, treats it as canon, and devote whole fics to Vietnam-War-related PTSD/nightmares/guilt/angst/rape/old war buddies/old war enemies/gay sex in foxholes/Even More PTSD/yadayadayada. It's pretty odd just how widely accepted it is, given how tiny the canon reference is, even though it's in-character IMO, and I have zero problems with it. I kind of love it, actually. This is one of the things I love most about fanon -- the way it migrates and takes on a life of its own, like the way folklore and fairy tales get modified and passed on and how adaptations of works come up with new and creative ideas to add to the original story that then take on a life of their own as well, but in a smaller space like fandom, it happens so much faster.
There’s an obvious reason for why it took off as a story topic – it’s Grade A Prime angst and h/c and bonding fodder. However, it’s so accepted that it's not just a story trope -- it's also used as a random, throwaway reference in fics that have absolutely nothing to do with Vietnam or with the characters’ backstories. It just gets tossed in as if it was a canon fact.
However this is where it gets weird: a quick google reveals that “The Plague, part I” aired in November 1977 -- and if this zine really was published in 1977 like it says, there's just no way the author saw that episode before writing this fic. Like I said, I wasn't alive back then so if anyone knows anything and can correct me, please do, but I can't figure it any other way. Even if the zine was published in December, I don't see how the fic could possibly have been conceived of, written, sent in, reproduced, compiled, and published that fast.
So unless I'm missing something here, the Vietnam backstory here has nothing to do with the canon reference in “The Plague” at all. It might be just this author going "hey, how about some awesome dramatic Vietnam War backstory fic! The timeline fits!" and everyone copied her. Perhaps it's just an example of reverse-Jossing, where Jan Lindner's headcanon just happened to be validated by the show after she wrote this fic and it morphed into fanon over time. Maybe the universality of this fanon is more because Vietnam was such a big part of the recent past in 1977; and because of how it fits Starsky’s personality – it may not be explicitly canon backstory, but you could argue it ought to be canon backstory, because it makes for a good explanation of why he is the way he is – his tough and accepting personality, his soldier-like loyalty, the surprising level of authority and intimidation he can project whenever he wants to in contrast to his equally strong natural cheerfulness and childlike streak. I can think of a few similar fanons in other fandoms that have worked this way.
Also, in this particular fic, Hutch was in Vietnam too, and actually met Starsky there. Hutch being in Vietnam occurs in a couple other really old fics I've read, but never, as far as I know, in more recent fics (by "more recent" I mean "anything since the late 1980s as far as I can tell"... c'mon give me a break, this IS a really old show, you know.) In almost all prequel fics, Hutch was in college (perhaps chanting "Hey, Hey, LBJ, How Many Kids Did You Kill Today?" at student protests, if you want some added narrative flair) while Starsky was getting his ass napalmed off on the other side of the planet. So my theory is that somewhere along the lines, the fanon morphed and writers must have started connecting their Vietnam fic to that canon reference, which included only Starsky.
The general fanon itself also ties in with what the aforementioned essay said about how the contemporary cultural upheavals and issues of the 1970s influenced the fans' appreciation for Starsky & Hutch. Starsky & Hutch is a really intensely post-Vietnam show, culturally/socially/politically speaking. It's even moreso a post-Watergate show – it's possibly THE most intensely post-Watergate show I've ever seen in my life – but it's also distinctly post-Vietnam.
Review of “Mojave Crossing:” In which I claim sublimity is impossible to define, but then spend six paragraphs yakking about it anyway. Also, musings about the hurt/comfort genre
The other long fic was "Mojave Crossing" by Connie Faddis. This is gonna be a long review. My excuse is, hey, this fic isn’t online. I have no idea how many other people who are active in fandom have read it, or can read it, much less are willing to review it now. AND all the reviews I’ve seen of it are decades – emphasis on the plural – old. So, I guess if I never do anything else, I’ll at least contribute a nice long damn review to the Starsky & Hutch fandom.
Anyway, as I said, this is a fic I'd already heard a LOT about before from ancient 1970s-80s reviews quoted on fanlore.org, and they were all raves: omg, this fic is so good, omg, the h/c is so beautiful. Omg this is so much better than that tiresome contrived cloying crap in other fandoms. Etc. I was very curious to read it, because it was history, but I was also pretty damn certain that "well, this is the first zine in the fandom ever, it's not like they had much basis for comparison back then" and so I lol'd politely at all the fangirling and took it all with a heap of salt.
Uh. Okay. So there are fics that are highly-praised and popular because they appeal to a big lowest common denominator, rather than because they are good. There are also fics that are well-loved by fans because they were The First Big Thing Ever and are perpetually seen through nostalgia goggles. And there are fics that are really good, but are so overhyped that they wind up being a huge letdown.
Mojave Crossing, to put it mildly, is not one of those fics. Everything hyped about it was woefully inadequate, not hyperbolic.
Okay, I'm not gushing because the fic was OMG THE BEST, because I don't think it's the very best fic I’ve ever read. It’s probably not even the very best Starsky & Hutch fic I’ve ever read, though it's up there. It’s not perfect or anything. Some (though very little) of the writing sounds dated, there’s a couple clunky places and pieces of dialogue that are unrealistically on-the-nose, and I personally think that the last chapter is just a tiny bit too Happy Happy Joy Joy (though I can appreciate the readers' need for reassurance after all the trauma in the main plot). It is, however, everything I love and have ever loved about fiction, fandom, and fanfiction, with no aspects that I have a real problem with, all condensed into one modest little story. Therefore, half the appeal for me was the way it made me make all kinds of connections about what I love most in fanfic in general. So if anyone who has read the story reads this post and side-eyes me for sapping all over the place disproportionately, I’m not claiming that everyone would get as psyched as me. Honestly, while I later figured out a lot of logical reasons for my liking it, when I first read it I was mostly just going omgIlovethissomuch.
The thing that impressed me the most, I think, is that it accomplishes the sublime in an incredibly powerful and memorable way, but with a very modest framework – I mean, dude, it IS a fairly straightforwardly-plotted zine fanfic for a 1970s network cop show. Lots of big literature experts way smarter than me and with material a lot more sophisticated than cop show zine fanfic write loads of essays trying to define “sublime,” so I’m kind of out of my element here. But my personal way of explaining it, back when I was first discussing the Latin cathedral rant scene in the The West Wing episode “Two Cathedrals” was to compare a sublime fictional scene to a) clouds of hydrogen fusing into helium in a protostar and becoming luminous, and b) a bit of metal being suspended in mid-air by the fields between two magnets.
Basically, sublime is when the scene is more than the sum of its parts – it causes the viewer to make leaps of understanding and feel emotions that aren’t explicitly spelled out in the text and/or cannot be described in a shooting script or transcript, because the feelings are invoked through invisible interactions between different elements of the story written by a good enough (or lucky enough) writer. I'm sure a lot of people say that this only counts in “highbrow” works and would be huffing You Keep Using That Word. I Do Not Think It Means What You Think It Means, but the people who made up this rule in the first place were pretty much a bunch of pretentious classist exclusionary ivory tower elites who didn’t believe that it was possible to write well if you weren’t educated expensively enough to articulate exactly what you were writing beforehand, and they're all dead now, so well, fuck them. I mean, not that the stuff they liked wasn’t brilliant, because it was, but it wasn’t the only stuff that contained brilliance.
It's 99% subjective, mostly just labeled as such by common agreement, so not everyone will react in the same way to a given moment. But I’m sure everyone has had experiences with a fictional moment that makes them break out in goosebumps, or get a tightening in the stomach or lungs, a lump in the throat, a hot flash, chills, a claustrophobic sensation, or a burning sensation in the eyes, or a painful pulling feeling in the chest – for reasons that you either can’t completely encapsulate or can’t precisely pinpoint. Or in a less physical sense, feeling that the experience of watching a scene was so intense that you don’t want to re-read or re-watch it because the first-impression effect was such a delicate, unreproducible experience. More universally, it’s a scene where not just the events, but also the things the events made you feel, stick in your head for a long, long time, even after you’ve forgotten the details.
A scene doesn’t have to be nearly as epic or ambitious as that The West Wing scene to be sublime. In Starsky & Hutch itself, That Scene from “Gillian” is a prime example of a much rougher and more modest version that’s just as powerful and unforgettable (the fact that I can refer to it as "That Scene" and everyone who's seen the show knows exactly which scene I mean is a pretty big indicator). And this may be arguable, but IMO, it’s theoretically easier to create a sublime moment in fanfiction than in original fiction, because you already have the canon material to work against, and you know your readers are all holding the canon material in their minds as they read, so there’s a lot less you have to spell out for your readers. Like explaining a joke, spelling out the wrong things at the wrong times tends to ruin the effect in a story, and even moreso in fanfic. This is very pronounced for fandoms like Starsky & Hutch where the intangible but unanimously understood spark between the main characters is the central point of the show.
There’s many S&H fanfics with sublime scenes – my favorite is probably the blinding moment in the last part of Suzan Lovett's “The Thousandth Man” when Starsky suddenly remembers the newspaper cartoon he had stashed away – but nowadays, it’s hard to do it in a physical hurt/comfort scene because hurt/comfort fanfic is so…well…overdone. No1curr if you threaten the character’s life or not, because everyone’s seen it all before. Not just in S&H fandom, but in all fandom, everywhere. Doesn’t mean brilliant hurt/comfort isn’t possible, but that luminous, suspended sublime moment is hard to write if you have too much of the 287573 other hurt/comfort fics you’ve previously read for these particular characters floating in your mind, because it’s very hard to be caught off guard by it – to be caught off-guard, the writer has to be unique in how they write it, not just what they write.
Maybe the reason this fic managed to hit me so hard, in such a fresh-feeling, unpredictable way, is because it was one of the first ones in this fandom (and a change from the most common style of early Star Trek h/c), and so it was written just a little bit differently, and perhaps Connie Faddis's thoughts while writing it were just a bit different, than the gajillion hurt/comfort fics written in the decades afterwards, enough for the aura of freshness to carry over 35 years later.
Okay, well, about the actual fic: first of all, Connie Faddis can write. As in, she knows how to use her writing as a tool to achieve a desired effect. This is harder and rarer than it sounds, as it requires both perspective and dexterity. And as per Sturgeon’s Law, 90% of everything is crap. I’d say Connie Faddis is great, though. Particularly because the greatness sneaks up on you unawares, with the writer in complete control of her typing fingers and big red editing pen. Except in a few brief flashes, and then a longer, sustained blaze at the climax, and then a slow-burning cathartic crackle in the relieved aftermath, it doesn’t insistently exude mind-blowing amazingness from every pore or anything. It's content to be just a good story for most of its length. Her writing is subsumed in its content and in the images and reactions her writing invokes, so that the focus is on what she's saying, not how she's saying it, an amazing, humble, and wonderfully effective writing style that in my opinion has been declining for a long time now, as authors more and more want their readers to notice and be impressed with their words, rather than allowing their words be invisible tools and scaffolding for their story, unnoticed unless you're actively examining them. 90% of the language in "Mojave Crossing" is nice and crisp and clean and humble, only breaking into eloquence when it's important and appropriate to do so - in well-chosen crystallizing moments, where the intensity of the characters' emotions or the terrifying beauty of the desert or the power of their thoughts and memories overwhelmingly well up in vivid images. It doesn’t have many symbolism or metaphors, but it has the desert, and it has the desert in spades. Its format and narrative devices aren’t flashy or unique, but that makes the content work all the better.
Its parameters are very modest: Starsky and Hutch flee renegade FBI agents who want to bump them off to stop them from testifying about the events of the season 2 episode “The Set-Up” and get chased into the Mojave Desert on foot, where all the agony you can expect from being pursued by hitmen across a desert unprepared on foot awaits them. In the desert, they take up with Maggie Landis, the widow of one of their recently-dead cop friends, an archeologist with a big chip on her shoulder and a lot of resentment, which brings up memories of her husband’s death and makes all three of them confront what all the misery of being cops is good for. At the end, after getting their asses thoroughly kicked by gunfights and nature survival and enduring a stretch of time where they are forced to wait helplessly, absolutely convinced that they are going to die before the next day comes, they are rescued, and all of them have tangibly grown and changed from the deeply self-actualizing experience.
That’s all that happens. Nice and humble (I keep using that word, sorry). It's brilliant because of how vividly the thoughts and feelings these particular characters would understandably have during these events are revealed without being overly wordy (not like I’m doing here!), and how honestly and unpretentiously they are tackled. The story's modest, easily-understood, straightforward framework is the best vessel possible for exploring and distilling the truth in the story's content, in a way that you can feel and believe. Rawness, I guess.
A good sign of its good writing is that it manages a very hard trope – the good OC (the archeologist widow I mentioned). A full believable character who is not just a 2-D prop for the plot and has her own arc going on, yet at the same time, is also a character whose existence is totally entwined with the "real" characters' story so the reader doesn’t go "yawwwnnn, why am I reading this? I don't actually care about her, I care about the main characters, can we get back to them?" Her arc is really crucial the story and to the character arcs of Starsky and Hutch in it, which is all about responsibility, and appreciation, and what makes something worth any pain or sacrifice, and their arc is crucial to hers. The first 2/3rds of the story, including most of Maggie’s disgruntledness and venting over her cop husband’s “pointless” death and her attempts to convince the boys they’re throwing their lives away, is written from Hutch’s POV. The extent to which her subplot affects him, and how he processes his suppressed grief over Maggie’s husband’s death, is important groundwork for the later 1/3rd of the story.
Also she's an amazing narrative device: during most of the fic, Maggie is right there with Starsky and Hutch and her presence stops them from being exclusively focused on each other because they talk to and care about and interact and love her too. Her presence doesn't -- uh, what's the gen equivalent of cockblock? -- their feelings or the way they interact, but her presence holds their intimacy down a bit because their feelings and compassion are generous and open and kind, not exclusionary and selfish and hierarchical, and it makes you like them as people even more because they care about and pay attention to her too. And then, when she does leave them all alone together -- it makes that giant wham of mutual electricity that has always been the most unique part of the partnership, as the emotional circuit suddenly closes, and the universe suddenly drops away, and their whole world is each other, and their existence is only each other, a hundred times more stunning and intimate.
Also, very importantly, is that the relationship is not static – not just threatened and regained. Their friendship is transformed and indelibly marked by the whole thing. They explicitly speak about it to each other and revel in it later on, in the hospital, and it brings them self-perpetuating joy and belief in themselves and each other that you can imagine lasting for the rest of their lives after the ordeal is over. It manages to not be a cop-out when they survive in the end, because it's all about acquiring new understandings of themselves and their friendship, new ways of relating, new views of the future based on their experiences – the part about the future is really important for preventing that hard-to-avoid aura of cop-out-ness in h/c fics where it looks like a character is actually going to die.
At the beginning, the plot and the suspense and action are in the foreground. The beauty of the story unfolds slowly, layer by layer. It’s intensely emotional, colorfully dramatic, keenly perceptive, elegantly controlled, thoughtfully worded, and deeply heartfelt, all at the same time. The author loves good storytelling, but she loves her characters and source material even more. The love and emotion between Starsky and Hutch that's expressed in her writing builds and builds, suddenly blooming and deepening in crescendos of well-turned, never-too-wordy revelation, and becomes more and more open and emotional and lyrical and poetic and visual until it catches fire in the long climactic hurt/comfort scene -- Hutch is slowly bleeding to death from a bullet wound, Starsky is blinded and trying to comfort him, both of them are stranded in the desert, weak with exhaustion and exposure and dehydration, waiting for help to arrive before they die. And everything else is stripped away to show the extent of their adoration of and tenderness for each other, of the suffering from their injuries and strain and trauma, of the even worse suffering of not being able to save their best friend, and of the terror and desolation of knowing their partner is going to die.
This comes to the hurt/comfort, which is...wow. I've been in fandom, reading h/c fic, for eight years, and even I was absolutely bowled over and caught off-guard by it. It's very controlled and restrained, doesn’t try to reach for too much outside the modest scenario and at the same time doesn’t skirt around any of Starsky and Hutch’s thoughts or feelings within the scenario. It’s simply exquisite, just like that reviewer quoted up in that fanlore page said. Incredibly tender, very harsh, and very bold. One of my biggest frustrations with h/c is how mediocre h/c is so static and unsurprising -- "Oh noes, he's hurt!"/"Oh good, he's okay!" and that's all she wrote. Blah, blah, tell us something we don't know. This fic is not just h/c. It contains the “oh noes! He’s hurt!” gut-punch factor, but that's just the red herring, not the main point. Other stuff, all interrelated, is going on, but the main point of the story is the illumination and revelation of how much love and selflessness they are capable of, how entwined they are, how intense the link between them is, how much pain a loved one’s death causes.
It's almost like a deathfic (but like I said, avoids the cop-out syndrome) – slow, sweet, dark, ruthless, and aching with love being ripped cruelly away by death. Their interaction reaches a fever pitch of emotional torque where it becomes, like I said before, luminous and hushed and delicately suspended in a little pocket universe. Like so many great scenes in fiction where the interaction between multiple characters or elements in a story makes the scene more than the sum of its parts.
It’s probably assholish to say this kind of stuff without having a link on hand, so I’ll just give an example: there's a moment in it, near the end, soon before the POV switches away and help arrives, where after an exhausting stretch of struggling, pleading, cursing, arguing, darkly joking, fake-insulting, and undergoing the process of trying to articulate how much they love each other, Hutch has finally fallen unconscious after insisting on telling Starsky goodbye and is dying, and Starsky shields his body, whispering to Hutch that he will always take care of him, so brokenhearted that he rejoices in the realization that he is going to die too, and silently promises Hutch that he'll follow him into death and will be with him soon. Describing it just doesn't cut it -- it's how it's written, so in-character and unapologetic, and how that moment is positioned in the following the previous scenes and entire story that preceded it, that makes completely, completely soul-destroying. It brings the number of fics I can remember crying over in my life up to a whopping grand total of…uh, well, four. I don’t cry very much, even though I’m easily emotionally affected by fiction.
But after all that...I gotta be honest: it doesn’t really matter whether the fic was great or not. Because then, Starsky uselessly tries to shoot down an approaching rescue helicopter with a handgun, while blind, in a fever-delirious fit of protective grief and fury over Hutch’s supposedly-dead body. If the rest of the fic had been complete crap, I would still love Connie Faddis for giving me that image. Mental images just don’t get better than that, guys.
Anyhow, thanks for reading all that tl;dr, if you did! This post is too long (and so are my paragraphs), but if you enjoyed reading it, I'm glad. And if you have additions or corrections to my claims, let me know so I don't sound like a dum-dum. I haven't felt this affectionate towards fandom in quite a while -- sometimes I forget what a fascinating and unique phenomenon and culture it all is.
I guess my next post will be about the Star Trek TOS zine “Contact” although that will be more difficult since contactzine.com went perflunkt sometime this summer and like an idiot, I never downloaded any of the pdfs. I’ll have to rely on whatever I can remember and what I can get on the wayback machine. But that post will probably be a LOT shorter, and a lot more bitchy and less sappy than this one.
And remember - I would always love to hear memories and opinions from anyone who has read Zebra Three, no matter how much time has passed since I posted this review ;)
ETA: Contactzine.com is back up! Hallelujah!
ETA 2: I edited this a little, because I think I was a little too self-conscious and wishy-washy about a few of my claims, and also to add some things I neglected.