Starlog Log #5

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SF is a genre tethered to its past, despite all its claims of looking ahead—prone to throwbacks, homages, or re-imaginings, reverent to its classical sacred cows, and even claiming the lineage of some of the oldest modes of storytelling. Nostalgia is a major factor in it, childhood being the place where one is supposed to discover and indulge in fantasy, before the responsibilities of adult life attempt to seize those pleasures away—the SF fan decides to keep a child-like sense of wonder in their lives regardless, chasing that same sense of possibility and innocence; that’s what fandom in general often feels like. What’s interesting is how the nostalgia can often encompass times before your own: the minds behind something like Star Wars didn’t grow up watching the Republic serials when they were new, but when they were re-aired on television in the fifties—and television may surpass even the local library for introducing fans to the products of an earlier era, hooking them onto the SF bandwagon without even needing anything in contemporary culture to do it. Rather than working their way backwards, there were whole generations of audiences who found themselves more or less at the beginning of the genre just by pure happenstance.

This was the cultural context that allowed something like Famous Monsters of Filmland to come to prominence, and was the one Starlog found itself in as well—they knew that readers would be just as interested in reading about older films and TV shows as they would the new stuff, and so lavished page upon page on the products and people of an earlier time, talking up George Pal and Buster Crabbe on a regular basis and writing about the backstories of movies like King Kong and The Day The Earth Stood Still. Of course, part of this focus on the classics could be attributed the nostalgia of the editors, foisting their own childhoods on the readers, but there could have been a reasonable assumption that many of those things would have been seen even by the younger members of the audience already, and even if they hadn’t, they could be expected to find it all very interesting anyway—because it was part of the grand tapestry of their SF-loving world. Besides, it highlighted the important, influential works of the past (for the most part…I mean, I’m sure someone really loved Voyage To The Bottom of The Sea or The Invaders), teaching people about the evolution of their hobby and filled the pages in the time before fan-targeted material became plentiful.

One commonality among the fandom, especially back in the seventies, was the desire for more—once you fell in love with SF, chances are you want to find as much of it as possible, to uncover the buried gems of the past in your manic quest to keep yourself occupied. Very few thought that they had enough, and even revisiting past favourites (which, up until the popularization of home video, was either restricted to literature or meant combing TV listings for reruns or hoping a theatrical revival was on its way—unless you were the sort who was able to order the Super 8 prints you see advertised in Starlog) could only sate you for so long; desperation and demand ruled the day and, hell, even just reading about movies you hadn’t seen was as good a substitute as any. This early feeling of marginalization and obscurity entrenched in many SF fans an openness to anything, which I think had as much to do with the continued circulation of older materials as their historical significance—it wasn’t just that you were interested in the history of the genre, it was that if it weren’t for that history, you wouldn’t have much in the genre to be a fan of…right up until near the end of the seventies.

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The blockbuster movie model had already been readily established by then, but when the decade transitioned, suddenly there were multiple big-budget SF films out every year, and the drought of fantasy adventures on the big screen was finally at an end. Fans had been gifted plenty, and conventions went from mostly mining the past with a few Hollywood presentations to a big hype bonanza for the next few years’ offerings, and Starlog went right along with them. No longer did they need to put a random picture of Kirk or Spock on every other cover—every month saw the release of a hot new thing, and sometimes you’d even get something like Battlestar Galactica or V on TV to feature as well (even though the first half of the eighties wasn’t much better than the seventies for SF shows, you still had to grin and bear it—eventually, Star Trek: The Next Generation and other shows would fix that disparity as well); the fans had finally reached their promised land. This would, predictably, have pretty major consequences for the make-up of fandom, as many future nerds would be introduced to the SF world through those movies more than anything else, and the reliance on the golden oldies became less and less prominent. That shift would not be felt to its fullest until later, of course, when those kids started growing up and becoming the majority voices in the fandom, so the magazine itself didn’t change their focus significantly, and into the eighties still had room for classics (or an entire column of L. Sprague De Camp reminiscing about the early days of feature films.) They just had to fit them in beside the countless previews and interviews for upcoming movies (which are doubly interesting when you know those movies’ eventually fate, box office-wise—oh, cast and crew of Dune, if only you saw it coming…), columns about those newfangled home video formats (all of them have been represented in my readings: VHS, Beta, multiple laserdisc formats), and also these weird video game things. Much like the fandom they catered to, as the decade rolled on, Starlog was no longer reliant on Twilight Zone episode guides and histories of This Island Earth to meet their goals, but they maintained an appreciation for the past rather than JUST trumpeting the next big thing—it wasn’t an either or scenario just yet, and the past was still something you could learn from (which didn’t stop them from printing multiple articles extolling the return of 3D movies in the early eighties, but, you know, sometimes you need to repeat errors before it sinks in…)

That’s always the worry when the hype culture sets in: you spend so much time moving from on new thing to the next, that you never give yourself the chance to go back and appreciate what’s already there. Starlog was more or less forced to seek out a wide variety of subjects when they didn’t have Hollywood providing a never-ending trough, and the old seemed to carry as much weight as the new in their pages; they never really gave up on talking about the classics, but they had to be squeezed in as the constant growing buzz for upcoming products demanded more and more attention. In both ways, they represented the make-up of fandom both in both eras, from the age where the old stuff was most of what you had, to the time of overabundance and the blockbuster-bred junior fans, and for a long time still attempted to bridge the two. Such a thing can only last for so long, though, and it’s usually the antiques that take the hit; consequently, SF fandom finally became as future-oriented as they always claimed to be, if only in regards to where they were looking for their next entertainment fix.

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