Looking Ahead With Optimism

As we bid goodbye to a year of COVID-19 and world upheaval,
let’s remember that the human adventure is just beginning.

“O brave new world, that has such people in ‘t!” – The Tempest

Diane Marchant with Star Trek actor Walter Koenig (‘Chekov’) at a convention in Melbourne, 29 Sept 1986. Photo courtesy of Irene Grynbaum.

A lot of populist art and literature is dystopian in nature, possibly none more so than the genre of science fiction and fantasy. As we look ahead, it seems a natural human inclination to anticipate the worst. But not always.

As a young SF fan, I was lucky: I discovered the utopian visions of the original Star Trek TV series.

Star Trek was born in the 1960s, during the era of the Vietnam War, the hippie counter-culture, and civil rights. The series aspired to reflect progressive ideas and to ‘boldly go’ where TV had seldom ventured. It portrayed noble people who were living in a utopian future that had arisen from the ashes of a conflict-ravaged 21st century. Such ambitious ideals are sorely needed today.

Star Trek introduced me to an extended family of fans who shared this optimism for the future, including two women who I was proud to call friends: Diane Marchant (above) and Theresa De Gabriele (left). Their lives as fans was one of service to others and living as an example of lofty aspirations. Tessie and Diane demonstrated everything noble and optimistic that I believe may lie ahead in humanity’s future, if we have the courage to make it so. They are both loved and missed.

Diane (1939 – 2006) was a long-time fan who personally knew Gene Roddenberry (the creator of Star Trek), and in many ways she became the mother figure of Star Trek fandom in Australia. She helped to found an international fan organisation called the Star Trek Welcommittee, and for many years was its overseas and/or Australian representative. In the days before the Internet, mobile phones or social media, she connected fans to support/friendship networks and local clubs, including my own fledgling effort at the time. Her informal Friday night home gatherings became a tradition for many fans. Diane dabbled in fan fiction (published in paper fanzines, not online), sometimes using the pen name of Kert Rats (or ‘Star Trek‘ backwards), and she helped to make fanfic history (see below). Today would have been her birthday. Happy birthday, my friend. May your ideals live long and prosper.

Tessie (1947 – 2020) was also a mother figure within local fandom; offering caring advice and support to any fan who needed it, and happy to befriend everybody. She was known for her hospitality to taxi others safely to and from fan activities in her combi van. She edited fanzines and newsletters, helped to organise and run conventions, and assisted in hosting tourism activities for international science fiction notables when they visited Melbourne. Tessie had strong opinions on various topics, but she always listened respectfully to the opinions of others – I miss her impassioned late-night phone calls to discuss how the latest TV science fiction program may have treated an issue of social justice. Tessie was a no-nonsense social justice warrior: always rolling up her sleeves to help others; initiating ‘Book Day’ wherein we could swap used books while also raising money for charity; I even know a fan whom she rescued from an abusive family situation.

Diane and Tessie were both raised in a particular religious faith, but they offered unconditional friendship and support to everyone, without fear or favour. They both remained single, but loved their families deeply, and broadened that perspective to include their extended fan families. They not only believed in the Star Trek philosophy of Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations (IDIC), but they actually lived it, celebrating diversity and difference. Tessie once wrote admiringly of, “IDIC in action” (see the Fanzine of the Captain’s Log, Austrek, 1990, p. 32) and her earliest cosplay character (to my recollection) was Gem, a Star Trek character who was so empathic that she took on the burdens of others. Diane wrote what has been identified as the first published ‘slash’ fan fiction story – one which endorsed same-sex relationships – while Tessie befriended some of the first openly-LGBT people that I ever met. Such was their loyalty to the principles of a TV series that had been created by a humanist and which reflected the spirit of the era, a time when other science fiction programs such as Thunderbirds and Doctor Who also promoted our common humanity, and our human capabilities for responsible activism to make a difference in the world around us.

For the 25th anniversary of Star Trek in 1991, Diane wrote about the inspirational influence of the original series, ideas which I have no doubt were shared by Tessie and many of our fannish friends:

“Here many of us beheld ourselves, our dreams, our ideals… Tenets we hold dear and by which we fashioned our lives… Life is valuable, there’s a lot more to everything than just mundanity… humane ideals will win through, mankind will survive… ever growing, ever striving for peace, harmony, equality, tolerance and revelation, and that even with success in all these areas, will still go on to greater and more magnificent challenges.” – Captain’s Log #170, Austrek, September 1991, p. 9

Such optimism was a reflection of the original Star Trek concept:

“‘Star Trek’ speaks to some basic human needs: that there is a tomorrow – it’s not all going to be over with a big flash and a bomb; that the human race is improving; that we have things to be proud of as humans.
” – Gene Roddenberry

To have shared Tessie’s and Diane’s joyous, pragmatic optimism – and to have been their friend – is both an honour and a privilege.

The world has changed over the last fifty years, and during that time, Star Trek has remained a topical context for a variety of morality tales that reflect each era, from civil rights and the Cold War to the fall of the Iron Curtain, the arrival of a post-911 world, and the 2020 world of trauma and darkness. I do not know how Tessie and Diane would have responded to the current shift away from utopian idealism within the Star Trek franchise, but I suspect they would have acknowledged its metaphor while remaining loyal to Star Trek‘s original philosophies such as ‘Let Me Help’ and IDIC. Theirs are the heights, the principles, and the nobility to which we must all aspire as we rebuild a post-COVID world.

Tessie and Diane could not have anticipated 2020 as a year of COVID, but they would have believed that something better had the potential to rise from its ashes. While many of us look ahead to what we hope will be a Happy New Year and Happy New Decade – and better times for our world – Diane and Tessie would simply smile and say that this is to expected… and that we should not only make it so but make it soon.

To boldly go.

© 2020 Geoff Allshorn

We Are Astronomers (‘We Three Kings’)


In honour of Sir Isaac Newton’s birthday, 25 December 1642, here is a filk song that reminds us of the glories of science and celebrates humanity’s universal role as astronomers.

To be sung to the tune of We Three Kings*
(*With acknowledgement to Reverend John Henry Hopkins, Jr.)

We are astronomers diverse,
Gazing up at the universe,
Standing under cosmic wonder –
Both awesome and perverse!

Chorus: Oh! Stars bring wonder, stars are bright,
Stars have mass and heat and light.
They strong twinkle, while we wrinkle
They live on in cosmic might!

Gas and fury, they formed the Earth,
From star dust, all life had its birth.
Fire and nova, they watch over
Galaxies, depth and girth.


Earth is ours, filled with death and war,
Makes us wonder what it’s all for.
Fear and blight, but in starlight
Our potential fills us with awe.


Stars that birthed us, our history
The whole cosmos our legacy.
Laniakea, Milky Way,
A vista for you and me.


Astronomers, teach and enthrall,
Scanning skies and heeding their call.
Aiming high, your dreams may fly
Into the skies for us all.


© 2020 Geoff Allshorn

Mythical Guy (‘Silent Night’)

NASA Photo: ‘The Blue Marble’ photo taken on 7 December 1972 by Apollo 17 (the last human mission to the Moon), some 29,000 km from Earth on the way out to the Moon. Wikimedia Commons.

In honour of advancing critical thinking and placing myth and tradition in a place of cultural memory, this filk song is to be sung to the tune of Silent Night*
(*With acknowledgement to Franz Xaver Gruber and Joseph Mohr)

Mythical guy, cultural lie.
We believe – why, oh why?
Jesus, Moses and Abraham,
Each of them is a mythical man.
Use your brain to make good,
They’re fiction like Robin Hood.

Critical thought, freedom long fought,
Adult life – much hard bought.
Accept your responsibility,
Live up to capability.
God and his holy cause
They’re as real as Santa Claus.

Life is too short, do as you ought,
Use your critical thought.
Superstition we leave behind,
Forge a future that’s hopeful and kind.
Use your passion to live,
Use your compassion to give.

Racism? No. Sexism? No.
Watch our education grow.
Prejudice and homophobia,
Hatred and Islamophobia.
We reject as we grow.
We look ahead as we grow.

No reliance upon what’s past,
Use science to make life last.
Education and evidence,
Using reason and your common sense.
Learn and research and share,
The future is ours if we dare.

© 2020 Geoff Allshorn

In Praise of Human Rights

In honour of Human Rights Day, 10 December.

“…What is loved endures…” (J. Michael Straczynski).

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay

10 December each year marks the anniversary of the signing of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, a document compiled by many people including possibly LGBT-aligned Eleanor Roosevelt. It has shaped much of our modern world with a secular humanist framework against which some modern forces of religious intolerance are actively agitating.

We should pause every day to commemorate our human rights and recommit ourselves to protecting and enacting these precepts. Most emphatically, we should celebrate the human rights activism that is undertaken by many people around the world.

I pay homage to the activism of Ruth Coker Burks*, who, back in the days before modern medications turned HIV into a largely manageable medical condition, worked selflessly to help those afflicted with AIDS. She recalls her first AIDS patient, a young man dying alone in hospital after being abandoned by family, and whose pleas for his mother were being ignored by nursing staff. When she – a visitor to the hospital and a total stranger – went into his room to comfort him, he had an emotional reaction:

“”Oh Mama, I knew you’d come,” he said, in that small, reaching voice. I was so confused that I just stood there, my feet glued to the floor. Then he started to cry…
…But then he tried to reach his hand out to me. I couldn’t not take his hand in mine.
“Mama,” he said again.
“Yes,” I said, squeezing his hand gently, “I’m here.”
(“All The Young Men ”, by Ruth Coker Burks)

I also celebrate the courage of Philonise Floyd and Judy Shepherd and Ziauddin Yousafzai and Rebiya Kadeer and Mordechai Vanunu and Nelson Mandela and many others who seek to turn their personal tragedies or tribulations into a larger triumph for the human rights of others.

I pay testimony to those who look beyond their own civil rights and seek to promote wider human rights, such as those activists who look beyond Marriage Equality in their own country and seek to assist LGBTQIA+ people who face much harsher conditions in Africa or Russia or across the Commonwealth or elsewhere.

Human rights are not simply about whether or not people should feel compelled to wear face masks in order to protect themselves and others from a viral pandemic (that is not human rights, that is basic human decency); nor is it about granting special rights to an elite group and allowing them to discriminate against others. Human rights is about recognising the equality of all people: our right to life, to joy, to kindness and to dignity, to be treated as part of our human family. Sascha Sagan encapsulates this in her recent book:

“Being alive was presented to me as profoundly beautiful and staggeringly unlikely, a sacred miracle of random chance. My parents taught me that the universe is enormous and we humans are tiny beings who get to live on an out-of-the-way planet for a blink of an eye. And they taught me that, as they once wrote, “for small creatures such as we, the vastness is bearable only through love”.”
(“For Small Creatures Such As We ”, by Sasha Sagan, p. 5)

We do not need to seek meaning or purpose in esoteric, supernatural or external sources. Our search ends much closer to home: in our common humanity. In our human quest for significance, we can find no greater purpose than to enrich the lives of others; anyone seeking immortality should ponder how fighting for human rights leaves a legacy that endures.

© 2020 Geoff Allshorn



(*My study of HIV/AIDS has been connected to a PhD study. This work was supported by an Australian Government Research Training Program Scholarship.)