Peering Into Distorted Mirrors

The first time I encountered the idea of parallel worlds — where you might encounter familiar faces existing in an altered reality — was the classic Star Trek episode “Mirror, Mirror,” written by Jerome Bixby. The episode imagines Kirk, McCoy, Scotty, and Uhura entering an alternate version of their world where a totalitarian Imperial Earth controls the galaxy instead of a benevolent Federation of Planets. Crewmembers move up in rank by assassinating superior officers and starships are sent to dominate worlds. To me, and I believe many other fans as well, it stands out as one of the more memorable episodes. Despite that, Star Trek would not revisit the “mirror universe” again until Deep Space Nine. At that time, we learn that Spock of the mirror universe attempted to affect changes to the Earth Empire, which, in turn, made the empire weak and allowed the Klingons and Cardassians to take over much of the galaxy. Of course, one wonders what the Mirror Universe equivalents of Captain Picard and the crew of the Enterprise-D were doing during this time.

Mirror Universe Collection

IDW Comics decided to explore this idea in a set of comic book miniseries which have been collected in the graphic novel Star Trek: The Next Generation, Mirror Universe Collection. The graphic novel contains three complete story arcs. The first, “Mirror Broken,” tells the story of how the mirror universe Jean-Luc Picard took command of his version of the Enterprise. This story features beautiful painted artwork by J.M. Woodward and is possibly the best artwork I’ve seen in a Star Trek comic. The story by David & Scott Tipton does a nice job of weaving a Next Generation story out of our glimpses of the mirror universe from the TV series. The second arc is “Through the Mirror” which imagines the mirror universe Picard and his crew finding a way into our universe to plunder technology and resources. Of course the Picard of our universe must do what he can to thwart the mirror Picard. The final story arc is “Terra Incognita” in which the mirror universe engineer Reginald Barclay is stranded in our universe and must find a way to blend in. This proved to be my favorite story since it focused on one character, how he was the same and different from his counterpart in “our” universe and how he had to learn to fit in to survive and thrive.

The graphic novel also contains two one-shot stories: “Origin of Data” and “Ripe for Plunder.” Both stories were interesting. The latter involves the mirror universe Data seeking out the deposed Emperor Spock in exile. The idea was interesting, but I thought the tale deserved more nuance than a one-shot story allowed.

To me, the appeal of parallel universe stories is that they allow us to explore “the road not traveled.” We can look back at history and ask what if historical figures made different choices than they did in the history we know? This is what I do in my Clockwork Legion novels. Such alternate universes don’t have to be “dark” universes like the one presented in Star Trek’s mirror universe. They can be an exploration of human drives under different conditions. They can provide for a fun character study. Although I have issues with Star Trek: Into Darkness, I still love the idea of exploring the Enterprise’s encounter with Khan Noonien Singh under different circumstances than we knew in the original series.

In an interesting piece of real-world alternate history, I gather Jerome Bixby and his son Emerson wrote a sequel to “Mirror, Mirror” called “Broken Mirror” for Star Trek: The Next Generation. This version was written before Deep Space Nine’s creation and imagined Spock from the mirror universe discovering a problem which developed when Captain Kirk and his landing party returned to their home universe many years before. Apparently matter from the two universes would have been leaking into one another creating a disaster about to happen, which required crews from both universes to work together. I would love to see this story adapted or even a published version of the screenplay.

Dark alternate universes provide an interesting approach to the cautionary tale. “Mirror, Mirror” and its sequels give us a look at what our future might be like if we give into our darker, more totalitarian natures. After all, there’s no guarantee the Star Trek universe is ours. We could be living inside the mirror.

You can explore my alternate version of the late 1800s by reading the Clockwork Legion series, which is available at:

23 comments on “Peering Into Distorted Mirrors

  1. Jack "Blimprider" Tyler says:

    Klingons and Cardassians? What were the Romulans doing? What an interesting post! At 73, I have to agree, this was the first presentation I had seen of parallel dimensions as well. Trek gets credit for a number of firsts, though not the first interracial kiss that it is so erroneously famous for… pretty sure Lucy and Ricky had been smooching it up since 1951.

    Another series of firsts (for me) occurred right after I got out of the navy, so ca. 1970. An anthology of fanfiction novellas, presumably the best of a pile they had on hand, was published under the official banner that had been publishing novelized episodes for several years. This was my first exposure to the concept of fanfiction. Don’t remember the name of the book, nor of the story; I plead old age.

    In the story, actors Shatner, Kelly, Nichols (I think), and Nimoy are filming an episode. They are positioned on the transporter set for the long shot that will subsequently be FXed into the transporter shimmer. While they’re holding their positions, a “wave” passes through, and when it stops, the actors are on the real Enterprise, a fact first made apparent to them when they see the proper “ceiling” in the room instead of the open set top with lights aimed at them. Scotty greets them at the transporter, spots them right away, and at first takes them for Klingon spies. But their story is so outrageous that he believes it. He retains acting command of the ship, but allows the actors to masquerade as their counterparts under his supervision while he works out a solution. They’re even able to spot a situation that the real crew has overlooked in regard to the story problem they’re working on at the time.

    Sounds hokey as hell just written down like this, but it was a good story, the only one from the book that I remember, in fact. My first exposure to time travel was 1960’s The Time Machine, but while a greatly entertaining movie, it made no effort to explain anything. “Some guy” built a Santa sleigh with a psychedelic umbrella on it and jaunts off to the 100th century. This novella was my first brush with time travel combined with the interdimensional existence of the real ship out there in a parallel universe several hundred years ahead of our own, and as you can tell, it made quite an impression. Trek’s schtick was always “exploring brave new worlds,” and they’ve been exploring brave new literary worlds for over half a century. Thanks for reminding us. Can’t wait to see what you get up to next!

    • “Trek gets credit for a number of firsts, though not the first interracial kiss that it is so erroneously famous for… pretty sure Lucy and Ricky had been smooching it up since 1951.”

      This is one of those things that comes down to how people define things. By the legal definition in America, Lucy and Ricky/Desi would be considered to be the same “race.” But yes, these definitions are largely arbitrary. The concept of race apparently didn’t even exist until the 18th century, but it wasn’t popular. It didn’t become a popular concept until the 19th century.

      I also read the story of our Earth’s Star Trek actors and the Star Fleet universe’s members switching places. And I agree with you that the author did a great job with a concept that, on basic description, wouldn’t seem to work as a great concept. Unfortunately, I don’t know the name of the story.

      • Jack "Blimprider" Tyler says:

        Alden, that was indeed a good story, and I wish I could remember the name. Of course, it’s 50 years later, and I don’t remember some things that I read last week, so, yeah, good story.

        On “the Kiss,” Ricky doesn’t count. Okay. Shatner himself, who describes his kiss with Uhura as the first, apparently forgot that on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1958, acting in a televised excerpt from the stage play The World of Suzie Wong, he shared a kiss with France Nuyen, giving him an earlier claim than the 1968 episode with Nichols. Wikipedia lists half a dozen well-documented examples involving Caucasian males with women of various races before Trek’s, and two from the show itself that predated the famous one, and that doesn’t include kisses between humans and aliens. I don’t personally care who kisses who, but I hate revisionist history, and Shatner of all people should know better.

        Thanks for taking the time. These things are much more entertaining when there’s a discussion afterward.

    • You make a good point about the first interracial kiss, Jack, and I wonder if Lucy and Ricky would even be the first in the narrowest definition of “interracial.” That said, my response was going to be much the same as Alden’s. I think Shatner is less trying to be revisionist and more reacting to memories of the social and political climate at the time. What it was and why it mattered in the late 1960s was that it depicted a white person and a black person kissing at a time when racial tensions were high. The network fretted about it, fearing that advertisers would pull their sponsorship. Notably, no advertiser did and what reaction the kiss did get was largely positive, as I recall.

      Pinning down the first parallel universe story is similarly tricky, but a good case of the first story in the form we know is Murray Leinster’s 1934 story “Sidewise in Time.” That said, like steampunk, you can find plenty likely parallel worlds before parallel worlds existed. Still, I don’t know a lot of parallel universe stories between “Sidewise in Time” and “Mirror, Mirror.” However, two notable stories in the genre between those points were written by none other than Jerome Bixby. One was his 1953 story “One-Way Street” and the other was his 1954 story, “Mirror, Mirror.” Elements of both stories made their way into the Star Trek script.

      The story you’re remembering is “Visit to a Weird Planet, Revisited” by Ruth Berman. It’s not technically fan fiction because it was published in the officially produced anthology Star Trek: The New Voyages in 1976. The anthology was published by Bantam Books and edited by Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath.I believe the book is out of print, but used copies are pretty easy to find. As it turns out, I published some of Ruth Berman’s poetry in my magazine Hadrosaur Tales.

      Ruth’s story was based on an earlier story by Jean Lorrah called “Visit to a Weird Planet” which imagined Kirk, Spock, and Scotty beaming down to the Desilu lot. This one was published in a fanzine. “Visit to a Weird Planet, Revisited” is not a “reworking” of “Visit to a Weird Planet” but a separate companion piece. Just to set the record straight and avoid revisionist history!

      • Jack "Blimprider" Tyler says:

        Hi, David. Great post, great discussion. I’m going to have to be argumentative one more time. I remember reading in the original preface that all the stories in that book were “fan-produced,” and it’s good to see that I haven’t completely lost it. From the Wikipedia entry: “Star Trek: The New Voyages (1976) is an anthology of short fiction based on Star Trek, edited by Sondra Marshak and Myrna Culbreath. Although published professionally, the collected stories were written and submitted by fans. Many of the stories were previously published in fanzines, or collected in fan-published anthologies.” Revisionist history, indeed!

      • Thanks, Blimprider, for pointing out some things I didn’t know. I found there’s a whole article dealing with controversy over the “first interracial kiss” at Wikipedia at

        And thanks, David, for providing the name and background of the story!

      • Jack "Blimprider" Tyler says:

        You’re most welcome, Alden. I love a discussion where nobody gets mad, and Ideas are simply exchanged without malice. I was afraid that might happen here (I don’t know you, after all), but once again, David’s audience proves itself above petty trolling. I’ll bet that a great article you’ve linked, too. I’ll be checking it out shortly. Thanks again for the knowledge and the civility!

      • I’m afraid I’m going to disagree with you here, Jack. “Fan fiction” is basically fiction written by fans for fans with no official sanctioning or pay. There was a whole heckofa lot of Star Trek fan fiction. I remember going to conventions with whole stacks of it on vendor tables.

        There’s nothing that says a pro can’t be a fan. Arguably, all the people making modern Star Trek for Paramount grew up as fans of the show. Does that make it fan fiction? I think that would be a pretty strained argument.

        Star Trek: The New Voyages was an official publication of Bantam Books under license to Paramount Pictures. Sure, the people writing for it were fans, writing in the tradition of fan fiction, but as I understand, they were paid pro rates by the rights holder. To me, that takes it out of the realm of “fan fiction” by common understanding whether or not the editors called it fan fiction.

        That said, I will concede that you may be correct that some, if not all, the stories in the anthology were originally fan fiction. I don’t have my copy here at the observatory to check what was written in the intro. Still, I’d argue that fan fiction stops being fan fiction once the rights holder has paid pro rates for it!

      • Jack "Blimprider" Tyler says:

        Illustration by example: If the pre-famous teenager J.K. Rowling wrote a story set in Peter Pan’s Neverland, it was, is, and will always remain fanfic, no matter how famous she became later, and no matter whether a publisher saw it and paid her for it after the fact. She was a fan writing in a universe she didn’t own to entertain herself and a few friends. That is fanfic, and I hold that it does not become non-fanfic just because she becomes famous later. It’s the original situation that defines the genre. And I’d better drop this before it gets ugly. Your blog, sir, the last word is yours…

      • Jack, you make a fair point about the stories in question starting out as fan fiction. And, as I think about it, you may well be correct that most, if not all, the stories in the The New Voyages anthologies started their life in fan publications. As such, it would be completely accurate to say the stories started as fan fiction.

        That said, I think you misunderstand the point I was trying to make, which could partially be my fault. It’s a work night for me, so I’m typing quickly and may not have taken the time to articulate my point as clearly as I should. Also I thought I remembered Berman’s story as being written specifically for The New Voyages anthology, but as we’ve been talking I’m not sure if I remembered that correctly.

        With that point made, I’m not saying that the stories in the The New Voyages anthologies are no longer fanfic because the authors are famous or now pro authors. I’m saying the stories in The New Voyages anthologies are no longer fanfic because the rights owner purchased the stories and presented them as official stories within the universe under their brand. At the risk of opening up a whole different can of worms, this is not necessarily the same as saying the stories are “canon” in the way Star Trek fans use the term, but I’d argue the works have become “canonized” in the sense that the rights holder bought the rights to use the stories and published them officially.

        To use your example, this would be the same as the Great Ormand Street Children’s Hospital Charity (who inherited Peter Pan from J.M. Barrie) deciding that J.K. Rowling’s Peter Pan fanfic was worthy of being an official Peter Pan story, purchasing the publishing rights from her, and then presenting it as an official Peter Pan story. J.K. Rowling’s fame or professional status is irrelevant. What matters is that a legal transaction was made to “professionalize” the fanfic.

        So yes, I do believe fanfic can be made official. But, it’s still completely fair to point out that a piece of fiction started out as fanfic before it became official, if that’s true.

      • Jack "Blimprider" Tyler says:

        Ah, David, completely understandable and a clear explanation. Glad to find we’re on the same page again. Have a great day!

  2. I definitely like “Mirror, Mirror” as a fictional episode. Realistically, such a society would not exist. A totalitarian state does not do promotions by assassinations–“Say, now that I’m in charge and in power, I’m open to anyone trying to kill me! You guys over there; I know I can’t trust you, so here, take some weapons!” But the idea of the “bad guys” killing each other on a regular basis was a common trope at the time.

    As for alternate/mirror universes, I don’t remember ever being introduced to the concept–it’s possible I thought of it on my own (although I can’t be sure–I could have heard it somewhere). I remember being very young, before kindergarten, and wondering if the person I saw in the mirror might be another version of me. I remember moving and watching my reflection very carefully, trying to catch it moving differently than I did.

    As it happens, just yesterday I was thinking about getting back to working on an idea for a parallel Earth that’s very similar to ours. Most such stories have radical differences. But I’m imagining the outcome if World War II has been just a bit different….

    • Jack "Blimprider" Tyler says:

      Got it! It was Visit to a Weird Planet Revisited, originally 1968 fanfiction by Jean Lorrah, and reworked by Ruth Berman for Star Trek: The New Voyages in 1976. Thank you, internet!

    • I agree that it’s problematic to have a society where advancement happens through assassination. As it turns out, I didn’t have a big problem with the idea in “Mirror, Mirror” since that was a one-off episode and we didn’t really take a deep dive into how such a system evolved. I had a bigger problem with the Star Trek producers adapting the idea to the Klingons in Star Trek: The Next Generation.. At the time, I think the producers just wanted to make the Klingons as violent and wild as possible without really giving thought to how Klingon society actually functioned.

      Your story about a parallel Earth that’s slightly different from ours sounds interesting. In fact, Bixby’s story “One-Way Street” that I mention earlier is like that. The hero is transported into a world that’s subtly different from ours and it takes him a bit to work out just what happened. In fact, I saw an earlier treatment of the “Mirror, Mirror” script that took that approach as well. The mirror universe was not “evil” just different, which meant the heroes from our universe had to work out just what had happened to them and why the Enterprise wasn’t exactly the same as the ship they had left.

      • I’ll look for Bixby’s “One-Way Street” to avoid the chance of seeming to be imitative. I’ve had that happen before. I was once working on a stand-up comedy routine when a famous comedian performed a brand-new routine–that had versions of about half of the same jokes as mine! So mine got dumped.

        Later I was having the rough draft of a play reviewed by a theatre professional–who told me my script had a lot of similarities to a just-released movie I knew nothing about! Arg!

  3. Jack "Blimprider" Tyler says:

    EVERYTHING has been done before. What matters is what you bring to it.

    • I would agree–but when literally half of your jokes in a routine are almost the same, and in some cases are identical, to a just-released routine by a famous comedian….

      Frankly, even I would have suspected I ripped off the pro if it hadn’t been for the fact I was writing it before his routine was first performed.

      • And I don’t think you have to worry too much about inadvertently ripping off “One-Way Street.” It’s not about subtle changes that came specifically from World War II, but about a person that came into a world that developed slightly differently than ours as a whole. It’s very much a story set in and of the 1950s and doesn’t really talk about how the differences came about as I recall.

      • OK, thanks David. My idea (which I hope to become a series of stories) deals with a parallel Earth. but will likely stick with that Earth. It’s kind of a “what if WWII went somewhat differently then technology developed somewhat differently and then societies changed as a result.” So it’s a “what if” idea, so yeah, that does sound very different than Bixby’s story.

      • That said, it’s still worth checking out Bixby’s story for a good pulp fiction read. I first read the story in Bixby’s collection Space by the Tale which you might be able to find in a good used bookstore. Otherwise, it’s in print in the collection Masters of Science Fiction, Vol. Two: Jerome Bixby which is available on Amazon.

  4. Thanks to Blimprider and David for showing that an informed, reasonable discussion is possible online!

    A lot of these things come down to definition. I’ve seen several heated arguments, both online and in person, that ultimately came down to how people defined something. I suspect sometimes those arguments can become heated largely because there’s no clear-cut, factual answer. (“Is there an elephant in the room or not? Let’s go check.”) That can apply to “is this fanfic,” “is this canon,” etc.

    For a somewhat related example, I wrote a gaming supplement that briefly talks about Vulcans. It was for Steve Jackson Games that, among other things, produces books specifically for the dimension that describe Humans, Vulcans, Romulans, Klingons, and deals with Star Fleet and the Prime Directive. The books include a notice “Elements of the Star Fleet Universe are the property of Paramount Pictures Corporation and are used with their permission.” So the books are produced by professionals working for a professional company with official approval from Paramount.

    But the phrase “Star Trek” does not appear anywhere in those books! I don’t know all the details, but apparently before Star Trek became a wildly successful franchise, Franz Joseph Schnaubelt got legal permission to produce the *Star Fleet Technical Manual* which was published in 1975. Somehow, from that (and don’t ask me how; I have virtually no idea how it works) someone can gain the legal rights to publish original, professional material for the Star Trek Universe as long as they don’t use the term “Star Trek.”

    So one could easily have a debate about, “This book is full of details about Star Trek, but never uses that term. So is this a Star Trek book or not?” (And no, I’m not trying to start a debate. Right now I’m going to go look for the elephant.)

    • Thank you, Alden and I enjoyed hearing about your example. One of the things I’ve always found great about Star Trek that over the years, is that many of the behind-the-scenes folks have really cared about fandom and have tried to find paths for works by fans become official in some way. Star Trek: The Next Generation, for example, allowed the submission of spec scripts long after the practice was discouraged in Hollywood. A friend of mine and I submitted one and it was actually considered at the producer’s level before being rejected. Of course, Paramount, like many big companies, has many nervous lawyers, who want to avoid opening doors to lawsuits. These folks have worked pretty actively over the years to contain these paths.

      Also, in the early years, before Paramount had an inkling of how popular Star Trek would become, but anxious to make some money from its property, did make a few deals without exercising a lot of control. I believe that’s the era where the Franz Joseph Schnaubelt deal got made.

      So, yeah, all of this can make it tricky to separate “official for the sake of continuity” (Or “canon” as Star Trek fans use the word), “official, licensed properties,” and “fan-made.” I think there are some clear lines, as we’ve discussed above, but there are some gray areas as well. The gray areas are worth at least another blog post (or several). So for now, I think I’ll just go enjoy a cuppa Earl Grey.

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