“Long live the Empire!”: Star Trek’s Mirror Universe as a form of fanfiction

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter (peer-reviewed)peer-review

Abstract

The “multiform story” recognised by Janet H. Murray (1997:30) is a term that describes “a written or dramatic narrative that presents a single situation or plotline in multiple versions, versions that would be mutually exclusive in our ordinary experience.” This seems to be a foundational tenet of the multiverse, a popular form of franchise storytelling now used in Hollywood and across multiple media industries. However, I set out in this chapter that it was a common style of narrative through which Star Trek told its stories; experimenting with character and scenarios by depicting alternative views of the familiar turned upside down. This is most famously played out through the “Mirror Universe”, starting with The Original Series and through to later incarnations of including Star Trek: Discovery and Lower Decks.

In the original episode “Mirror, Mirror” (1967) Captain Kirk is accidentally transported onto a mirror version of the Enterprise where the normally peace-loving Federation is replaced by the war-mongering Terran Empire. He tries to persuade the opposite version of Spock to change in order for that timeline to be more like his own. This brings about a short-term improvement for the alternate Enterprise but in the long-term Kirk’s message of change proves to be the downfall of the Empire. We see the results of this in Deep Space Nine crossover episodes where humans have become galactic slaves to the Klingon and Cardassian alliance: See “Crossover” (1994), “Through the Looking Glass” (1995), “Shattered Mirror” (1996), “Resurrection” (1997), and “The Emperor’s New Cloak” (1998). Subsequent prequels Star Trek: Enterprise and Discovery have also used the “Mirror Universe” to set up stories that merge timelines and cross over characters; often playing with and revising historical canon: See “In a Mirror, Darkly, 1&2” (2005); multiple Discovery episodes including “Into the Forest I Go” (2017) and “What’s Past is Prologue” (2018). These episodes play out distinct plotlines in which established characters are different to the originals and provide alternative dystopic versions of the Star Trek universe in which the moralistic characters are switched to tell often more dark and violent stories.

I argue in this chapter that Star Trek continues to return to the “Mirror Universe” thanks to the existence of fanfiction, because fans expect the series to use different modes of storytelling that can accommodate different possibilities . Indeed, fans have written and read fanfiction for decades as a means to understand and get closer to their favourite characters, seeing them change, interact and encounter new scenarios not usually depicted on screen. Fanfiction writers and readers see narrative as a means of reimaging their complex and changing relationship with the canonical text. Therefore, the “Mirror Universe” as multiform story provides that means because it illustrates various alternative plots and outcomes often played out in fanfiction. As Murray further states,

[The multiform narrative’s] alternate versions of reality are now part of the way we think, part of the way we experience the world. To be alive in the twentieth century is to be aware of the alternative possible selves, of alternative possible worlds, and of the limitless intersecting stories of the actual world. (1997:38)

In Star Trek, the “Mirror Universe” works as multiform story because it plays with established narrative canon just like fanfiction; there is already a narrative framework in place with which with multiple plots can intersect and characters interact. For fans, Star Trek’s “alternate versions of reality” are part of the way they experience the franchise and, as a result, part of how they negotiate their relationship as fans with the Star Trek universe .
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEntering the Multiverse
Subtitle of host publicationPerspectives on Alternate Universes and Parallel Worlds
EditorsPaul Booth
PublisherRoutledge
Publication statusAccepted for publication - 2023

Keywords

  • Star Trek
  • Mirror Universe
  • fanfiction
  • multiverse
  • parallel worlds
  • narrative

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