Starlog Log #4


What is the long term goal of fandom? You’d think it’d just be enjoyment, using something you already love and branching it off into a thousand other avenues to seek out more of that personal fulfillment for however long it lasts (and while to some fans that commitment is life-long, there’s no guarantee it will—tastes change, no matter how strongly people cling to the remnants of their childhoods.) It should be easily understood, same as any other hobby and pastime, something to do when the important stuff is over, albeit most fandoms seem to go an extra step compared to what most people do during their free time (although if you compared it to the time and effort spent by sports fans or people who modify cars or other kinds of hobbies no one really bats an eye at, they might end up looking pretty similar.) But is it just a pastime, or does a love of SF media mark you out as someone more, someone with potential to do truly great things?

This has been a recurring theme in editorials of Starlog (as I briefly mentioned in a previous entry), seen when they’re reassuring lonely fans who feel downtrodden by the people around them not understanding their love of fantasy, castigating those same people for their unjust dismissal of the imaginative and the different, or in reminding the readers that they are the only ones who can make their dreams come true if they put the effort in and don’t give up. This is the point where SF fandom goes from just being something to do to being a lifestyle, one where you don’t give up your childlike sense of wonderment for the “adult” world of diminished expectations, cynicism, and endless monotony—in some ways, it’s SF fandom as part of the self-help/pop-psych movement that swept American civilization in the final decades of the century. Being of fan of science fiction and fantasy is not just nothing to be ashamed of, Starlog’s editors are telling you, it actually gives you an advantage over the non-fans around you: you have creativity, you have learning, you have rationality, oh, only if you can apply it to the whole of your life. Read on to find out how!

SF is supposed to be the “literature of ideas” (forget that, historically, it’s often been the literature of other peoples’ ideas), mind-expanding and intellectually stimulating, and encouraging a positive trend upward in human civilization; fans have had a tendency to use that to believe that they’re the ones advancing and creating the future that those “mundanes” just can’t comprehend, with their nine-to-five workaday existence and love of base pleasures—they were the ones with the potential to make the future, either through direct contributions to the sciences of the day or with art that connects with those sciences. Only by rising above your own irrational fears and the ones of those around you will you become one of the Great Geniuses who demonstrate that gifted nature—it’

s only somewhat surprising to see some uncritical references to things like Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead in Starlog, as this stuff was written back when the philosophies of Ayn Rand were associated with young artists trying to assert their self-proclaimed extraordinary talents in a mediocre world, rather than with grossly mismanaging the world economy. The idea here among the writers is almost certainly just to encourage people to find their true happiness through their hobby, but delusions of superior intelligence and potential has been the undercurrent of the nerd class for a very long time, bubbling up to the surface every once in a while in very revealing, unflattering ways.


Going back to the lifestyle idea, the pages of Starlog in its first decade-and-a-half were also used to manifest another aspect of fandom-as-philosophy: connecting a love of SF with a love of real science. News stories and entire longform articles were devoted to the latest (and potential) developments in technology (especially space travel), new discoveries about Venus mixed in with the latest movies and TV series as if they were all on equal terms; when the Reagan administration threatened cuts to NASA, one column called for a letter-writing campaign to one’s congressman (instigated by the same influential fan, Bjo Trimble, who had once organized the letter-writing campaign to save Star Trek from cancellation); every once in a while, you’d get an interview with an actual scientist or astronaut alongside the actors and writers. It was thought that anyone who loved fictional tales of future societies and interstellar journeys should want to see those ideas come to fruition in their own world, or and maybe even spearhead those campaigns themselves—joining the space program, becoming a doctor, a researcher, whatever else, the loftiest of lofty goals. This was a carryover from the golden age of science fiction from the forties and the fifties, when it really was thought of as literature ABOUT science, and the idea that those stories had in some way encouraged real world developments in science; you couldn’t write particularly interesting SF if you weren’t up on the latest developments, and so fictional and real science became intertwined. The idea of SF predicting/inspiring future technologies has stuck around (your phone is kind of like a Star Trek communicator if you squint real hard), and so you have Starlog making sure to include both aspects, likely hoping to prove that SF not only benefits one imaginatively, but serves even more practical purposes.

Having read some issues even further along, into nineties, I can see the presence of real science in the magazine diminish over time—I won’t say it disappeared entirely (having not read every issue at this point), but definitely faded further and further into the background. Maybe it was decided at some point that the deluge of new fantasy media at the turn of the decade (even more than in the post-Star Wars years, partly because Hollywood eventually discovered how to make SF television that lasted more than a season) needed more space than ever; maybe the world of science seemed less relevant or exciting to them in those years, when the possibility of space exploration just sorta removed itself from the equation and most new discoveries didn’t seem as earth-shattering (I wonder if and when I’ll see Starlog report on the so-called “world wide web”); or maybe it was decided that a lot of their readership was, in fact, perfectly fine sticking just to the fiction without the real world intruding. After years of hammering the idea that SF fans had something going for themselves, it’s entirely possible that they thought everyone already understood that being a fan was perfectly fine, that there was no danger of anyone giving up on the fandom life due to mockery from a world increasingly accepting of fantasy, and so they stuck with informing them about the products themselves. Fandom no longer needed to prove its practicality (or superiority): even by the early nineties SF was more mainstream than ever before, and there was no longer a need to define yourself against the world, the battle seemingly won.