Do you know when "canon," like as a concept, became like a standard nerd thing?
The amazing thing about
the term “canon” is that it didn’t bubble up from the undifferentiated mass of
fandom (who actually knows who came
up with memes?). We know exactly and specifically where the word comes from when used in this context: an
essay written by a Sherlock Holmes fan in 1911, who compared the wild and
crazy veneration that fanatical Holmes fans have for the original stories, to holy writ.
Another name for the books assembled in the Bible was the canon, as opposed to other books that, for various reasons, were
left out of the Bible and “didn’t count.” In other words, the term was
originally used ironically and in a self-deprecating way to talk about the almost religious intensity of Holmes fans.
Part of the reason the
term canon caught on was because, even in the 1910s, the public was so mad for
Sherlock Holmes that there were all kinds of illegal imitators and non-Conan
Doyle authors and knockoffs, and yes, there were even amateur works that were distributed by mail (what today we’d call “fanfiction,” some of which even survives today), so a crucial distinction began to arise between the stuff
that was “official” and the stuff that wasn’t. So, here we have the three
things that we need to even have the concept of canon as we define it: 1) a group
dedicated enough to actually care, who can communicate, 2) a necessary
distinction between “official” and not, particularly due to the presence of amateur works (what today we’d call fanfiction), 3) a long term property that could
sustain that devotion.
Now, of the three, which
do you think was the one that was absent from a lot of science fiction fandom’s first few decades? It’s
actually 3. Canon only matters if it’s something other than just a single
story, which the business model of the pulps discouraged. Like TV in the 1960s, every story had to be compartmentalized and serial storytelling was mostly discouraged.
One fandom, big from the 1930s to the 1960s was E.E. Smith’s space opera Lensman series. The Lensman stories were so popular
that it received 5 sequels, all of which were planned from the outset. Some Lensman
fanfiction from the 1940s is actually still available for reading. Part of the reason the Lensman stories were so popular is that it described a consistent world with consistent attributes: Inertialess Drives, aliens like Chickladorians, Vegians, Rigellians, pressor beams, space axes, Valerian Space Marines, superdreadnoughts, “the Hell Hole in Space,” the works. It was way easier to get sucked into this than it was with the usual “one and done.”
Take for example, this amateur guide to the Lensman series, with art by Betty Jo Trimble.
Canon “policy” as we know it today, as a part of a corporate strategy, started with Star Trek: the Next Generation. Before that, there was no “multimedia property” big enough to necessitate it; Star Wars just didn’t care, which is why pre-Zahn “expanded universe” stories like the Marvel comics were so bonkers. There was no reason to believe that the Trek novels, including good ones by John M. Ford and Diane Duane, were anything else than totally official. Roddenberry, though, was deeply angry about losing control of the film series, and due to his illness (hidden from the public at the time), his canon policy was enforced by his overly zealous attorney. In Star Trek canon, for a long time, the only thing that counted was what was on screen. And not even that…the Star Trek animated series, for several decades, was decanonized. (It wasn’t until Deep Space 9 that animated references crept back in, and today, it’s as canon as everything else).
I don’t want to scare anyone, and this is hearsay, but I’ve heard from three people who were there that Next Generation writers, at least as long as Roddenberry and his attorney were around, were encouraged to not think of the original series as canon at all. References to Spock and even an episode that had an appearance by the Gorn were rewritten.
The Star Trek canon policy was so harsh and unexpected that rules were invented deliberately to kick out popular reference sources, like the rule that starships could only have even numbered nacelles, which meant much of the Franz Joseph guides, published in the millions and praised by Roddenberry and others as official, were vindictively decanonized.
Star Wars canon is interesting because it was entirely created by the West End Roleplaying Game. It was the only major Star Wars product printed in the Star Wars Dark Age, the 5-6 years between 1986-1991 when all toy lines and comics were canceled and the fandom was effectively in a coma or dead. The Roleplaying Game was the first place that information was collected from diverse sources like the comics and novels. Every single Star Wars novelist read the West End game because it was the only time all this information was in one place.
Marvel Comics canon is a very interesting example because it was a harbinger of things to come: superhero comics were one of the earliest places in geek culture where the “inmates started to run the asylum”…that is to say, fans produced the comics, guys like Roy Thomas (creator of the Vision and Ultron) who started off as a fanzine writer. Because of the back and forth in letters pages, there was an emphasis on everyone keeping it all together that didn’t exist at DC, which at last count, had 5 (!) totally contradictory versions of Atlantis.
My first real attempt at a humans are space orcs story. Written on my mobile, so excuse any spelling errors, I have proof read and tried to correct, but some may have slipped through the cracks.
Queen Krillix clicked her mandibles together in anticipation as he surveyed the situation upon his scanners.
The Vespula fleet consisted of five hundred dreadnoughts, two hundred heavy support vehicles, one hundred attack fighters, and one flagship; a Nova-class heavy bomber, a type aptly nicknamed by their enemies “planet smasher”.
The fleet of the United Sol fleet however, was a dozen warships, half a dozen battle cruisers, and a hundred mongrels; ships which had previously cargo haulers, research vessels, and transport ships meant to carry colonists to new worlds, all of them had been stripped down and retrofitted with heavier weapons and armour. They were not ascetically pleasing but were serviceable enough. For humans.
From her throne room aboard the planet-smasher “Iron Sting” (loosely translated into galactic common.) the queen extended her will to her army. The hive was not of mindless drones, her soldiers could think for themselves, their intelligence, their instincts, guided the hive to victory. But their will was the queens will and the queens will was their will. She guided them, drove them, gave them reason to live. The hive without their queen was a bunch of soldiers without a cause, without desire to do anything to eat and procreate. With billions of mouths that feed already the hive was running out of food in the handful of systems their already controlled. Expansion was the only key to their survival. So the queen drove them on, ever forward, ever outward, to new worlds and new foods.
So it had passed that the hive had found this small system, with an unassuming little star. Colonised worlds and strange fleshy-bipeds running around their little homes and growing food. No armies, no defences; none that bothered the hive anyway. Not even space worthy vessels.
The hive had descended and claimed this world. There had been but a paltry resistance from the bipeds. But farmers with pitchforks and lasers were no match against a single attack ship and the well trained soldiers of the Vespula when the will of the queen was behind them.
There in the ashes of the settlement, the hive had learned the name of the bipeds; humans. They had come to learn the name of their world; New Earth. They came to learn the fleshy bipeds were not born to this planet but another.
They were much like the hive, in their own primitive way. They dominated their homeworld and had spread. First across their own system and then, when they ran out of room, to others. Anywhere they found suitable they planet their two feet and claimed it for their own. Yet they also did something the hive did not. The humans called it Terraforming; to force a world to be suitable for your kind. The science caste had put their minds to this terraforming as a way for the hive to claim more worlds. But the process was slow, taking several hundred cycles. Dozens of queens would come and go before even one world was made suitable for the Vespula. An unnecessary waste of resources for too long a goal. Expansion of suitable planets was deemed the only true way forward.
The queen acknowledged a slight kinship with the humans, despite them being fleshy bipeds of dull colouring, and the Vespula were the great insectoids of the royal black and noble yellow. Like the Vespula, they were driven as the hive was driven, by the need to grow and survive.
The feeling of kinship did not make the queen stay her tarsal claw. If anything it encouraged her. These humans were not just prey, or a nuisance, they were competition. They needed worlds and food as did the hive. They had great, ever expanding numbers, as did the hive. How long before they came to battle over territory? The queen considered and decided to strike first. These humans were primitive. They had only recently discovered the means to travel faster than light. They had strange notions of peaceful exploration and learning. They took only those worlds which were not already owned by sentient beings. This was surely a hindrance. It was a weakness, if nothing else. When something stood in the way of your food you should strike it down. It was the only way to be strong. The only way for the majority to survive. No wonder they hadn’t expanded too far.
“Status?” The queen asked and the solder of the tactician caste responded.
“Scans show no other human ships in the sector.”
Then this paltry number was their whole fleet.
“Weapons appear to be high intensity lasers. Radiation signatures on the warships and battle cruisers indicate nuclear weaponry”
Primitive. Nuclear weapons, such a barbaric people. Yet effective enough in its own way. If it were not for their shield generators the queen might have been worried.
If the humans concentrated fire on one ship at a time the humans could break the shields and take down a dreadnaught or two. Such ha tactic would have even worked against the planet smashing Nova-class vessel. But during that time they would be taking fire from every other ship around them. They would surely be destroyed before any shields collapsed.
As it was, all the Vespula ships had shields and the human weapons would crash against them as they tried to attack ten times their number. The Vespula would cut through this pitiful fleet with their quantum cannons and proceed through this Sol system, claiming every inhabitable planet along the way until they reached the human homeworld. Glory to the hive!
The queen bent her will, her fighters felt her and obeyed as her will became their own. The weapons began charging, their ships took positions for attack. In a few more seconds the humans ships would be in range of their cannons.
Then there was a voice she had not expected. “My queen.”
It came from a drone of the technician caste, manning the communications station. He seemed confused, this concerned the queen. “We are receiving a message from the flagship of the human fleet.”
Thirty seconds until the ships were in range.
The queen waved a claw dismissively. “I have no patience for long speeches about how they will not be defeated how they will make their stand and-” the technician interrupted her, another unexpected thing.
“My queen, the translator states only two words.”
The queens antennae raised upwards- the equivalent of a smile to their race. “Let me guess, ‘we surrender’?”
Ten seconds and the ships would be in range.
“No my queen.”
The queen looked at him expectantly, “no?”
The technician looked again at his screen, which had translated the strange language of the humans into a written transcript. “It says, 'Leeroy Jenkins.’”
The queen’s mandibles clicked, her antennae dropped, the signs of confusion “Leeroy Jenkins?”
The ships came into range. The human ships raced at great speed. The Vespula ships fired. The human ships did not engage them?! They did not slow to attack speeds! They did not shoot. They charged onwards. Their movement was too fast. The quantum cannons missed! The targeting combat computers of the Vespula worked best on ships that had slowed to a proper attack speed. This was the speed of fleeing, but the humans were still heading toward them?! The queen was confused as were her soldiers, but their wills were found one thought, one desire; shoot the human ships.
Some ships hit, but they were only glancing blows off the armour of the speedy and agile human vessels. Then a luck shot! One human vessel, a war ship, exploded as the quantum laser caught its nacelles. The other vessels raced past, igniting their fallen comrades. They didn’t fire against the attack fighters, they ignored the cruisers and dreadnoughts. The puny human vessels penetrated into the very heart of the seam of hive ships.
Too late the queen realised their course; they were targeting the flagship, only the flagship. HER SHIP!
“All power to shields!”
Half a dozen nuclear weapons were launched at once, less than 500ft from the hull.
Just in time did the technician pour the auxiliary power into the shield generators. The shockwaves of the explosions made the shields rumble like a violent ocean. Radiation detectors signalled that the outside of the ship was already a hotbed of fallout. Their thick hull and shields were keeping the interior safe.
A second wave of missiles were launched. A third were close behind. Before those nukes even hit their shields, the ships of the first wave were in range and launching another wave.
Where was her ships? Her soldiers? Their powerful weapons? The queen already knew the answer, the hive was too afraid of the swift and agile
Human ships. They couldn’t fire upon them for the risk of hitting the flagship.
The fourth wave of missiles impacted. Alarms signalled the collapse of the shields and radiation penetrating the outer layers of the hull.
The tiny human ships were massing again, launching their fifth strike. Nuclear missiles and lasers fired simultaneously. All their fire was concentrated one one place; the bridge.
Far and away, across the void of space. The princess Noxi was torn from her rest in her sleeping chamber. Emerging from the warmth of her cocoon she scrambled to an opening and looked to the stars. For the hive they had always been warm and inviting, promising new planets, food and resources for the glory of The Hive. Now they looked cold and frightening. Promising unknown dangers and darkness. She felt a shiver run through her thorax.
Across the hive cries went up as the realisation dawned on each member of the Vespula race. Males, females, and larvae were all feeling as one the terrible loss and grief not only of so many brothers and sisters, but their beloved queen.
Princess Noxi felt an ache in the back of her head. There was no stopping it. It began instinctively as soon as her mother had died. She felt the ache grow in intensity, almost searing her brain, as her connection to the hive grew and solidified.
Within minutes the pain faded. Queen Noxi looked upon her hive with fresh eyes. The will of the hive was her will. Her will was the will of the hive.
These Humans. Not long ago their desire had been to destroy these fleshy bipeds. They were supposed to be primitive. They were supposed to be weak. They were supposed to fall to the hive like so many had before.
The soldiers in the sol system. Her soldiers now. Their fight was on hold. Their shock was fresh. They had just witnessed the death of their queen while they’d been stuck, helpless, lest they harm the queen they were trying to protect. They needed her guidance now, more than any other in the hive. They were waiting for it. Waiting for the will of their queen to guide them.
Queen Noxi gave her will out to all of the hive across all their worlds, the billions of minds received her, “Run. Run from the humans.”
You know what I wanna see in my science fiction? Brand new starships launching with v1.0 operating software on critical systems.
Software does not ship in states of perfection. There’s always some patch or critical upgrade that comes out four days after software launch day. You know that sometimes that patch has to come out four days after starship launch day, though, much to the consternation of the engineering and helms crew who have been flying at a 45-degree tilt because the right nacelle is cutting out every other cycle, but everyone’s too busy coping with the effects to look for the cause.
Like, obviously, if v1.0 weren’t able to drive the starship in most cases, it would still be in beta, and if it caused the anti-matter drive to overload under general usage conditions, it would never see release, but even though SpaceNavy coders are generally proud of their work and really hate when bad code goes out it does happen, usually due to ignorantly rushed timetables from Fleet brass. But you know there’s a coder somewhere waiting four days for the fuel injection code to compile only to find that it causes immediate catastrophic Total Ship Annihilation as soon as it’s turned on because she placed an extra closed bracket at the end of that seven-thousandth nested function. After 72-straight hours of line-by-line debugging, she finds it and starts the recompile all over again.
And no matter what they do, coders can’t contend with the actual user community. Like, SpaceNavy is chock full of modders posing as engineers and you know they’re always tampering and tweaking the code “to improve efficiency, Captain.”
In fact, “engineering conferences” are basically just modding community conventions, and the mod that gets all the acclaim is the one that makes the big glowy drive core glow green instead of blue. Half the attendees vow to come back next year with code that will cycle through all the human-visible colors.
I want to see replicators that just, no matter what beverage is requested, will only provide the absolute worst coffee anyone’s ever tasted. Of course, not having any real coffee while in transit, the crew just makes due. Of course after the patch FINALLY gets rolled out, orders come down from the Captain to roll it back because the new version gives other beverages, but can’t seem to make the terrible coffee anymore and everyone has become literally addicted.
Basically, give me actual corporate and military software in space. With mods.
*sees The Enterprise zooming through space, starlight glinting off her nacelles*
🖖👀🖖👀🖖👀🖖👀🖖👀 thats a good ship go౦ԁ sHip🖖 thats ✔ a good🖖🖖ship right🖖🖖th 🖖 ere🖖🖖🖖 right✔there ✔✔if i do ƽaү so my selｆ 💯 i say so 💯 thats what im talking about right there right there (chorus: ʳᶦᵍʰᵗ ᵗʰᵉʳᵉ) mMMMMᎷМ💯 🖖🖖 🖖НO0ОଠＯOOＯOОଠଠOoooᵒᵒᵒᵒᵒᵒᵒᵒᵒ🖖 🖖🖖 🖖 💯 🖖 👀 👀 👀 🖖🖖Good ship
A short guide to the survivors, and how to quickly identify them.
Aircraft Guaranty Title Corp. Trustee
Unpainted fuselage, olive drab inner cowlings, red-and-white painted rudders, Red Bull nose art. This aircraft was formerly owned by the CAF and flown as White Lightning until it was sold after a forced landing. She is operated out of Salzburg, Austria, by the Red Bull company.
41-7630, Lewis Air Legends
Olive drab fuselage and wings, pre-war national insignia, yellow identification markings. This aircraft was crashed in Greenland in 1942 on the way to England, and eventually recovered after over a decade of hunting for the “Lost Squadron.” She is based out of San Antonio, Texas.
42-12652, WestPac Restorations
Dark green fuselage, blue propeller spinners, “33″ numbers on vertical fins and nose, white shark-tooth markings on engine nacelles. This aircraft served in New Guinea and Australia with the 475th and 8th Fighter Groups before crashing in 1944 and being written off. She is currently based out of Colorado Springs, Colorado.
44-23314, Planes of Fame
Olive drab fuselage, yellow detailing on propeller spinners, vertical fins, and tail booms, “162″ aircraft number on fins and nose. This aircraft entered civilian hands shortly after the end of WWII and has been flown by the Planes of Fame since 1988 in various colors. She is based out of Chino, California.
44-26981, Allied Fighters
Unpainted fuselage, invasion stripes under the outer wing panels and tail booms, red propeller spinners, aircraft number 981 on the nose. This aircraft entered civilian hands in 1946, and has changed hands dozens of times since. She is based out of Sun Valley, Idaho.
44-27053, War Eagles Air Museum
Glossy black fuselage, silver propeller blades. This aircraft was used as an aerial surveyor after the end of WWII, before being purchased by the museum in 1994. She is based out of Santa Teresa, New Mexico.
44-27083, Erickson Aircraft Collection
Olive drab upper fuselage, light grey lower fuselage, yellow detailing on propeller spinners and vertical fins, extensive nose art on both sides of the nose. This aircraft was sold into civilian hands in 1946 and restored to airworthiness in 1996. She is based out of Madras, Oregon.
44-27183, Yanks Air Museum
Unpainted except for national insignia, original F-5 camera nose fitted instead of a fighter nose. This aircraft is airworthy although not flown by the museum. She is based out of Chino, California.
44-27231, Fagen Fighters WWII Museum
Dark green fuselage, “W” code on inside of vertical fins, “SCAT III” nose art, red rudders. This aircraft flew as a racer post-war, before being restored in 1999. She is based out of Granite Falls, Minnesota.
Thoughts of Midnite,
44-53095, Comanche Fighters LCC
Olive drab fuselage, red band on propeller spinners, red band on tail booms, aircraft number “120″ on fins and nose, nose art of port side. This aircraft served with the Honduran Air Force postwar, before being returned to the US in 1960; she flew formerly as Putt Putt Maru. She is based out of Houston, Texas.
P-38 airframes are exceedingly rare today, although there are several under restoration for either display or airworthiness. Hopefully more of these rare fighters will return to the air again soon.
You mentioned that the X-Men usurped Legion fandom. I'm surprised you didn't mention that the Shi'ar Imperial Guard (featured frequently in X-Men space adventurers) were a more-or-less direct translation of the Legion to the Marvel universe. The Wikipedia page for the Imperial Guard even gives the intended Legion equivalents!
You’re absolutely correct! There was a lot of cross-pollination of creative people and ideas between the two comics, which is a major reason that X-Men had a similar approach to Legion (long-form “fan friendly” arc storytelling, love triangles, etc.)
The connections between the X-Men and Legion of Super-Heroes are so numerous that they exceeded the scope of that post, and the main connection is through the “All New, All Different” X-Men’s chief artist, Dave Cockrum, who was also THE Legion artist of the 1970s. Cockrum was also a huge Star Trek fan, which is why the Legion-Future’s starships and technology (transporter rooms, starships with saucers and warp nacelles) suggested Trek.
Here’s one of the major connections between X-Men and the LSH: Cockrum created Nightcrawler to be a member of the Legion of Super-Heroes (and later was in his Outsiders pitch), but Paul Levitz said he was “too weird looking.” Here’s the original proposal sheet for Nightcrawler:
One of the longest-standing complaints about LSH is that there were never enough alien looking members, so Nightcrawler fit that one to a T. The original concept is that Nightcrawler was from an alien race who resembled devils and are responsible for legends of them, kind of like in Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End. The Outsiders pitch also included a villain team designed to fight them (kind of their Masters of Evil or Brotherhood of Evil Mutants), which also featured another character who later appeared in the Legion, the villainous robot-handed, mohawked alien warlord Tyr. By the way, notice the feral bad guy standing behind him. Cockrum named him Wolverine.
Incidentally, the Legion of Super-Heroes eventually did get a spin-off comic, the Wanderers. If LSH is a dead fandom, the Wanderers are in complete oblivion, which is a shame. Their last series started with all of them dying, only to be cloned again to solve the mystery of who killed the originals.
The start point for the Marvel character we know as Storm was as a character Cockrum created for the Legion universe, the Black Cat. Cockrum liked the costume and look so much he repurposed it into the Storm we know:
Another sign of the cross-pollination between X-Men and Legion of Super-Heroes is Jim Sherman, a breathtaking artist who never got as much work as he deserved and did maybe the greatest Legion of Super-Heroes story ever told, Earthwar. Sherman also did numerous X-Men arcs that had a disproportionate impact in the comic’s glory days.
Rating: PG for language and CHARACTER DEATH MENTION
A/N: Oh, Pavel Chekov, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. Surprise, they’re all that he’s adorable and deserves love. I wish I could have done more today (curse an impromptu Texas highway drive with my dad), but I hope this is a good enough note to end things on. :)