Starlog Log #11

LOG41

I don’t know if I should be surprised how many times you see an interview subject in Starlog spout about how their latest sci-fi project is “about characters”, not just technology/alien monsters/special effects/etc.—it ends up the common method in which people working in genre can convince their potential audience that they aren’t just doing another brainless thrill-a-second, even if that’s exactly what they are doing. I mean, it gets said so many times about so many different things that it’s just basic mathematics to assume a percentage of it is just hype with nothing to back it up. The part that would be surprising is that these directors, writers, actors, or producers would feel the need to address that point at all, why they need to make it seem like their project is more than what it is—who are they trying to impress, exactly? And why do the reporters at Starlog just let it sort of lie there, unquestioned?

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Starlog Log #10

LOG34

Once you get into the history of fandom and genre fiction, you’ll notice that is often a history of constant, humiliating failure. I guess when you fill your head with fantasy, it sometimes leads to incredible ambitions alongside a crippling naivety about the limitations of one’s own capacity to bring those ambitions to life (at least without compromises.) The pages of Starlog are littered with tales of movie and television projects that go nowhere, the ones that did end up being made only to be utterly ignored, or cons that went south due to over-promising (they spent good portions of an issue talking about a specific late-seventies con where editorial staff and several Star Trek cast members ended up confused and marooned and possibly without their proper compensation)—and as SF became more mainstream popular, it never really brought with it an equal increase in business competence, and (as I mentioned before) actually led to even more failures due to the glut of content. Of course, if the magazine’s editorials are to be believed, failure is just an inevitable part of the process of reaching for the stars and making your dreams reality and what have you; that’s of course true to a degree, but there gets to be a point where you have to wonder if those dreams ever had much thought put into them in the first place, and whether seeing things falling flat on their face time and time again means that maybe it might be a good idea to go back to the drawing board.

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Starlog Log #9

LOG25

I chose not to read the Starlog archives in any particular order—I thought it’d be more interesting to jump around to different years and understand the changes to the magazine and the fandom more gradually. I generally use the default option of ordering the individual files by views, which also gives me insight into which issues people reading the archives are interested in. Of course, early issues and especially early coverage of The Big Stuff dominate the early goings, with special anniversary issues (at one point a yearly thing for the magazine, which must have been exhausting) and the odd entry from later in the run (the second most-viewed has The Mask and The Shadow share a cover, the first and last time those two movies will ever be spoken of in the same breath) dropping in between, which only means that my fellow archive diggers are interested in the older historical artifacts, especially when they’re about things they know (not as many people reading when its Nightflyer or Brainstorm on the cover—or Suburban Commando, or Time Trax…) When it was an era of big movies (like Star Wars or Alien) or big TV shows (like Star Trek: The Next Generation), it’s pretty understandable that many are interested in seeing just how people reacted to those things when they were entirely new.

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Starlog Log #8

LOG20

Success came to SF when it broadened itself—or, to be more accurate, when SF ideas were being draped over more broad-minded formulas, high adventures and comedies and horror stories. These combinations (and many others) had existed for as long as SF has, of course, but for whatever reason they didn’t really become the centre of the whole enterprise until the beginning of the blockbuster film era, when Star Wars, Alien, Superman and the like came and made space stuff mainstream in a way it never had been before. With a ton of money to throw around, you can have all the crazy stuff onscreen you could ever want, married to plots and characters that a general audience can get a grip on—compared to earlier of the seventies, when SF was mostly inscrutable, heady enterprises where action and romance were a rarity, and what was there was usually delivered in way that was either cheap or bizarre and off-putting. All those things made those movies feel closer to actual SF literature (although they still ended up being more clumsy than profound, generally), but maybe that was the lesson the movie business had to learn—the key to making SF a financial viability is to make it look as little like established SF as possible. In the following decades, most, if not all, of the most films that made it big that were “SF” were usually followed by a hyphen—Back to the Future is mostly a comedy, after all, as is Ghostbusters, and something like Robocop is primarily an action movie (although it’s also a comedy…man, is there anything Robocop CAN’T do?) Spielberg didn’t even want to call Close Encounters of the Third Kind SF, and in the case of E.T this may have played a part in the decision to focus the movie’s publicity entirely on mainstream media while leaving genre publications like Starlog out (which led to month after month of consternation in Starlog’s editorials in 1982.)

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Starlog Log #7

LOG4

As an aside, if you’re looking for a more detailed and ordered history of Starlog’s run, I recommend this site, which goes issue-by-issue and provides a very interesting timeline of how it developed as a publication over time.

SF is a literary genre—the written word is where it began, where it’s purpose and method were developed, and even if visual media has jockeyed itself into being the mainstream face of SF, well, those movies and TV shows still have to steal all their ideas from somewhere. Although it’s much easier to avoid SF in its basal book form now, whole swathes of fandom have ended up going back to the literature for a host of reasons; for example, using the ubiquitous tie-in novel to tide you over until a beloved series returns (if it ever does.) There remains some kind of reverence for written fantasy, going all the way back to the early days of the genre when literature (be it a novel or a short story) was one of the only games in town, and was certainly more consistent in wild imagination (and quality) than the movies and TV shows of the earlier eras—eventually the movies would catch up in terms of what could appear on screen, and there was a transition period where the forerunners of then-modern SF were still venerated and given prime real estate at conventions, because if you liked movies like Star Wars, you still had to thank Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke, Dick, and way too many others for helping develop what you liked about the genre.

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Starlog Log #6

LOG7

I’ve read enough of Starlog to have seen two decade transitions—from the seventies to the eighties and from the eighties to the nineties, and with them came a number of changes to the world of SF fandom, though it usually took a few years for people to notice. That tends to be the way we view these sort of cultural eras retroactively: the trends (or stereotypes) that define those decades take a few years to really make their mark, and the first few years resemble the previous decade more often than not.

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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.

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