When a reader wrote in to say that a recent plotline in David Mack's Star Trek books — one where a Vulcan had an affair with a Klingon spy, and they both happened to be women — meant that they wouldn't be reading his books anymore, they didn't expect a response. But they got one. Oh boy, did they get one.
David Mack has co-written two-episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, "Starship Down" and "It's Only a Paper Moon," and a plethora of Star Trek novels. He says in his blog that he usually responds to fans with a simple "Thank you," or a "Sorry that story didn't work for you." But not this time.
Yesterday, Mack posted a letter he received and his response. Here's the letter he got:
Subject: I will not be reading any of your books.
David Mack will probable never read this email but I am writing it anyway.
I purchased and started reading your book, Harbinger and stopped when I got to the part where the Vulcan was having a homosexual affair with the Klingon spy. I deleted the book from my E-reader and will never purchase another volume authored by David Mack. You can call me a homophobe or use any other excuse you choose to write me off but the truth is homosexually [sic] is not universally accepted and I get to decided [sic] what I read and I choose not to read any more of your work. And on top of that no Vulcan would consider the situation "logical". You can't just remold the Vulcan persona to suit yourself.
I am just letting you know that you have lost at least one reader I am not looking for a reply.
Mack redacted the identifying information of the reader, but gave a response that perfectly summed up why he and other writers include diversity — in all forms — in their work:
If he thinks the fear of alienating a few closed-minded readers is going to stop me from writing stories that feature and promote characters of diverse backgrounds—including LGBTQ characters, persons of color, and people who belong to ideological or philosophical minorities—he must be out of his mind. I'm a fucking Star Trek writer. Hasn't he ever heard of IDIC—"Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations"?
Most of my writing work to date has been for Star Trek. Although the various television series could have done more in their respective times to portray ethnic and gender diversity, those of us who write the licensed Trek fiction continue to do our best to depict a more progressive, enlightened, open, and harmonious future, not just for humanity but for all sentient beings. One in which love, equality, and compassion are the touchstones of civilized society.
To that end, we've tried to make our literary dramatis personae more closely resemble the people of Earth. We've tried to include more people of African, Asian, and Southeast Asian ancestry than were seen in the televised and feature-film stories. We've tried to incorporate characters who hail from many cultures and viewpoints. We've tried to imagine a future in which people of all faiths have learned to live in harmony with people of other creeds as well as those who prefer to lead purely secular lives. We've tried to depict a future in which people's gender identities are no longer limited to some arbitrary binary social construct, but rather reflect a more fluid sense of personal identity.
I will never be made to feel shame for doing this. I am proud that we've been able to do this. I know we've still got more work to do, and we can do better at integrating more diverse viewpoints and characters into the ever-expanding universe of Star Trek.
Mack goes on to explain why the idea that something isn't accepted means it shouldn't be included is so wrong:
The author of the quoted e-mail tries to justify his screed by declaring that "homosexually (sic) is not universally accepted". So what? Neither are human rights of a fundamental nature. In fact, I can't think of any notion of justice or equality that is universally accepted. Why should that limit our vision of a more open, egalitarian, meritocratic future? I reject this aspect of the author's rant as fundamentally illogical.
As for the author's subsequent assertion that "no Vulcan would consider the situation 'logical'," I would rebut that Spock himself told Valeris in Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, "Logic is the beginning of wisdom, not the end." What Spock had learned that the author of this morning's e-mail apparently has not is that there are many ingredients to wisdom — including, but not limited to, compassion and empathy.
Mack says that not only is he not ashamed of his writing of these two characters' relationship, he thinks it's one of the best character and story arcs he's written. He adds that another reason to embrace diversity and talk about it in our writers and stories to help make a world where these letters don't get written. He then concludes:
I'm not so starry-eyed as to think that day will ever come, at least not in my lifetime. I suspect that humanity will always have to contend with prejudice in one form or another. But that doesn't give us license to stop struggling against it. It is exactly the reason we must press on and continue to do better, to demand better, to show that it's possible.
The effort is its own reward.
Mack is absolutely right that these conversations need to keep happening until questioning inclusion is no longer an issue. Mack's response to this reader is eloquent and clearly lays out why he and others do what they do. It's commendable that he didn't ignore the letter or simply hold it up for ridicule. Read the whole thing at Mack's blog.