Manticoran News Bureau
“Can’t Stop The Signal“
Admiral of the Fleet Lessem looks with pride at the rebuilt booth at BayCon 2014.
The Past, The FLA, and the Future
Admiral of the Fleet Lessem sits down with BuComm
2015.05.20 CE / 346.13.06 AL (MNB) – If you never meet him, one might get the impression that the First Lord of the Admiralty (or FLA for short) only communicates in Admiralty Orders, and only appears at big cons to give out awards. It’s easy to forget that Martin Lessem is a fanboy like the rest of us. Sitting down with BuComm, the FLA granted us an interview to find discover more about the past, present, and future of TRMN.
Lessem himself is immersed in sci-fi. He came to the States when he was five, and returned to his native Sweden between high school and college to serve in the Royal Swedish Navy, and then spent the last twenty years in fandom. After reaching the rank of Lieutenant General in StarFleet Marine Corps, he noticed that, “There had been a lot of problems and I figured ‘I can do this better than they can!’” With all the political infighting, Martin looked for a new outlet. In 2007, “There was no other Honor group anywhere, save for an online roleplaying group out of Germany (we’ve reached out to them, and although they didn’t join us, we got a few of their members),” and the future FLA decided to start one. “The Czech group came a year later,” he explained.
So Martin and Bruce Zimmerman got together and started thinking about the kind of group he wanted. “I have an old journal that I kept with all the ideas that I had originally. The chapter I was on in StarFleet had four admirals and two captains… and that would never happen in real life, it just wouldn’t! So we wanted to implement things that make it realistic.” These were the first steps that started on a long road to meeting with BuNine, the Webers, and finally going active with TRMN in February 2011.
“TRMN has grown a lot more than my wildest dreams,” Lessem nodded. “In 2007, I would have never guessed we would have been at 3000 members and growing barely six years later – I would‘ve been happy with half that. We’ve grown a lot faster than what we planned.” Unfortunately, “we haven’t had a chance to get everything in place before that happened.” So to catch up to our rapid expansion, orders had to be written. “A lot of those Admiralty Orders are stuff we planned a long time ago. Some AO’s are reactions to things, and that happens. The Webers leave the running of the club to the Royal Council” which is the heads of each of the subgroups (RMN, GSN, RMMC, et al), however “we have started to reach down to the Space Lords more frequently, to bring them into the discussion.”
Martin in full regalia at Convergence 2014.
With expansion comes new problems for senior leadership. “When we were 500 members, I had met almost everybody. We’re now so large that unless I go to every single event, there’s no way I can meet every member. It means I have to be more predictive – what do I think the members want? The CO’s and Fleet Commanders can report to me, but what about the member who never came to a meeting, but did a ton of tests online? We need to figure out what TRMN provides that others don’t.”
One of those things is that “We provide for free what other organizations charge for – but if we didn’t have the Order of Queen Elizabeth or the BuTrain store (which is now self-sustaining), we’d still be mostly out of my pocket. We’re now doing activities that are more expensive and time-consuming. We’ve done stuff in the past year that’s just amazing for a sci-fi fan organization. We run two conventions within TRMN – there’s not many other organizations that can say that. Last year’s HonorCon was profitable! That in of itself is a huge milestone for us. As was our Treecats In Near Space (T.I.N.S.). A science fiction group actually doing science!””
However, there is a downside to free membership, “if you’re not paying for it, the likelihood of [your] regular attendance is not as high. At the same time, however, it lets us attract those that would otherwise not afford to be members. There’s a certain percentage of fandom that a $15 membership means they might be late on a phone bill or have to skip a meal. Why would we charge when there’s other ways to fund ourselves? Donations are plentiful enough that it helped us start our initial funding of BuSup, and that allows us to provide things that we wouldn’t be able to have. What do you get for $15? A newsletter? A printed newsletter in 2015 is ridiculous!”
Recently, lot of emphasis is placed on permission and brand protection. Where is the line between fan appreciation and copyright infringement? “Tough question,” Martin admits, and “a lot of it has to do with the licensing agreement that we have with Worlds of Weber and BuNine. We want to make sure that David is protected, since he lets us play in his sandbox. We are the licensed vendor for the uniform accessories – so we can’t let other people sell them… not because we don’t want to, but for every rank pip we sell, half of that is profit, but there are royalties that come out of it. Out of a $3 purchase, we get back about $1.10. We could make more money if we doubled the price, but instead, we have more people in uniform.”
“I have no problem with people finding alternate ways of outfitting their uniforms, but just go through BuSup to be consistent,” Lessem clarified. “Ship crests are approved [by BuComm] because if someone accuses us of artwork infringement, they assume that David gave permission, and we don’t want people suing the Webers. And that’s the real reason we do it.” Having interactions with Marketing at work, the Admiral of the Fleet can say “A brand is a very powerful thing. If you look at a brand, you want someone to identify it without being told what it is, and we’re trying to reach that level with TRMN.” This brand recognition is another reason behind the approval process. “That way, fan orgs… and vendors will see the brand, know who we are, know the quality that we stand for, and keep being willing to work with us.”
Of course, with all that talk about costume and brands, the Admiral of the Fleet then went on to explain that “We are going to de-emphasize the uniforms this year. People think that TRMN has to be cosplayers, and that’s so not the case. We have a ‘convention minimum’ for recruiting tables. But we’re deemphasizing it, so I’m showing up to cons in minimum, to emphasize the fun,” not the uniform.
Martin—and his very fine hat—in convention minimum at Shore Leave 2014.
“Right now we are working on MantiCon and gearing up for HonorCon,” Martin answered when asked about current projects. “With the success of MantiCon –we’re looking to add a third con, maybe in 8th Fleet! That’s a big project underway to build a new con out west, under the leadership of Admiral John Roberts, in his home city of Albequerque. We have the ongoing database, ongoing discussions with BuComm, and getting TINS (Treecats in Near Space) reborn as TILEO (Treecats In Low Earth Orbit).” He’d really like to get a treecat into low Earth orbit, but Lessem will admit that “I have very few contacts at NASA, so it’s a hunting game to find people who might help.” With the success of the San Martino Cup, the FLA believes that the “Reading challenges should be expanding – encouraging double credit for TRMN authors. It encourages reading… and our own members’ own writing.” There’s also talk of creating Radio Manticore, bringing David Weber’s in-joke of Preston of the Spaceways, a radio serial story, to life. “The tests of the system didn’t work quite well,” he admitted, but “Once we get that up and running, and get the music licensing with BMI, we’ll be an actual radio station… It would be fun to bring that to life.”
For the health of the Fleet and future chapters, Martin says “I’d like to see our foreign contingent become more active. I visited the UK, Germany, and even South Africa… but I didn’t get to meet our one member there due to distance and size of the country. I’m going to Italy to meet with Emilio and the other fan groups there in June. My fiancée and I are going to Australia and New Zealand for our honeymoon, but naturally, not a lot of business while we’re there, although we will try for a meetup in Sydney. It’s important that members in other countries realize they’re just as important to senior leadership as the folks down the street. I might not be as frequent [with my visits], but it’s important to convey that although we’re a US-based organization, we’re not US-centric.”
“If we keep growing the way we have been, and Evergreen produces the TV show or the Movie, then we’ll grow to 5-6,000 members,” the Admiral of the Fleet preened. “I’d like to see TRMN step up to fandom the same way the 501st has [and] be recognized in the outside world. The stormtroopers are recognized for their charity work… and we do the same thing! Whatever we’re raising money for, I’d like to see that publicized. We all love sci-fi, and the 501st Legion’s work at hospitals is great, but all these small efforts we do get lost in the shuffle.”
One of the great things about our group is that “We have a very large prevalence of members who are successful in their chosen professions. We have people who are generally well read. We have a higher percentage of military personnel (active duty and veterans) than most orgs, because the literature lends itself to it.” This gives TRMN a great brain trust to draw upon and some really dedicated members to flesh out the Honorverse. To reward this great dedication, “Peerage should be 1% of the members… something we’re going to fix at MantiCon and finish at HonorCon.”
Despite all the challenges, Martin Lessem loves being the First Lord of the Admiralty. “My favorite part is all the members in general. We have so many cool members that it’s cool to meet everybody. I have the fundage to go to events and meet people – and meeting people is the coolest part of the job.” So eight years after that first outline was written down, the Admiral of the Fleet is pleased that TRMN has achieved his initial vision. “Fandom needs to be a ‘good thing,’ not a bad thing.”
Martin sitting down with Sharon Rice-Weber at BayCon 2014.
Copyright © 2015, Bureau of Communications, The Royal Manticoran Navy: The
Official Honor Harrington Fan Association, Inc.
CAPT (JG) Marcus Johnston, Director of Publications, BuComm. All pictures used with permission or used in a way that qualifies as fair use under US copyright law.