Saturday, March 27, 2010

The Starlog Project: Starlog #33, April 1980: Harlan Ellison Smashes Star Trek

In many ways, this issue is what a great science fiction media magazine should be. Even covering some less-than-stellar SF productions (The Black Hole, Saturn 3, Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea), Starlog does a good job of getting the goods and informing and entertaining its readers. Throw in some high-impact controversy, a little science, a new column by Bjo Trimble, and an episode guide, and you've got an issue so strong the reader doesn't mind the recent hike in cover and subscription prices.

Starlog #33
76 pages (including covers)
Cover price: $2.25

Harlan! Ellison! Reviews! Star! Trek! Okay, Starlog didn't use the exclamation marks when it put that statement in the roof text on the cover, but it might as well have. This would prove to be arguably the most controversial article in Starlog's history, and deservedly so. After all, some of the other controversies (such as Ellison vs. Mark Hamill) simply really didn't matter beyond the spectacle of famous people arguing. But the multi-issue brouhaha that would ensue from Ellison's negative review of Star Trek -- The Motion Picture was important, because it got to the heart of whether SF fans (and Starlog) just placidly accepted whatever was handed to them by the movie studios, and whether they could handle criticism with which they didn't agree, and whether Gene Roddenberry could be called on the carpet in front of his most fervent fans. What's sometimes overlooked is that this issue also included negative Trek reviews from Howard Zimmerman and David Gerrold, but -- though there are plenty of Gerrold detractors out there -- Harlan Ellison is in a category all his own. A side note: Ellison's review in this issue would lead to him pitching a movie column to Starlog, but he was instead offered a regular slot in sister magazine Future Life, where beginning later this year (1980) he would begin an excellent column (his best nonfiction since The Glass Teat years, in my opinion) that would run until that magazine's untimely death a couple years later. It's worth searching for Ellison's collection of those columns in book form, An Edge in My Voice.

Kerry O'Quinn uses his From the Bridge column to talk about true success (and no, it's not about money); Communications letters include two full pages of positive and negative reader reviews of Star Trek -- The Motion Picture, plus some thoughts on The Black Hole and praise for the magazine's 1980 Space Art Calendar from greats Chesley Bonestell and Ludek Pesek (the latter writing from Switzerland); short Log Entries news items include more on The Empire Strikes Back, Captain Kangeroo's Robot B1, artist Wayne Barlowe's extraterrestrials guide, the premiere of the Star Trek movie, Galactica 1980, and more.

Alan Brender interviews producer and director Stanley Donen in his Saturn 3 preview; David Gerrold's Rumblings reviews Star Trek -- The Motion Picture ("When the film was over, there was half-hearted applause. And the professionals walked out without waiting for all the credits. A bad sign that."); scientist Jesco von Puttkamer shares his 1978 memorandum to Gene Roddenberry about how a wormhole functions; Samuel J. Maronie interviews Dr. William J. Kaufman, who -- in the wake of Disney's The Black Hole film -- talks about real black holes in space; fan extraordinaire Bjo Trimble (the woman who led the letter-writing campaign that saved the original Star Trek television series) launches her new column, Fan Scene, which takes the place of former columnist Susan Sackett's Star Trek Report; David Houston examines "The Kids from KAOS or The Not Ready for Reality Players"; Mike Clark and Bill Cotter make their first appearance in the magazine by researching and writing the complete episode guide to Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea, printed on an eight-page yellow-pages insert; Samuel J. Maronie interviews veteran actor Maximilian Schell, who plays Dr. Hans Reinhardt in The Black Hole; Karen E. Willson talks with Bob Fletcher, costume designer for the Star Trek film; reader talents on view in the Quest pages include a poet and an SF model maker; Harlan Ellison reviews Star Trek -- The Motion Picture across three glorious black-and-white pages, and the world would never be the same; James H. Burns (aka Jim Burns) examines Star Trek comic books; Gerry Anderson's Space Report looks at Barry Gray's music; David Hutchison looks at Joe Hale's animation that makes special effects come to life in movies; David Houston re-assumes control of his Visions column by looking at "The Visual Art of Science Fiction Cinema"; and editor Howard Zimmerman wraps up a busy issue with his own intelligent reaction to the Star Trek movie.
"The mark of Gene Roddenberry's limits as a creator of stories is heavily, indelibly, inescapably on this production. ... The script has all the same dumb flaws that were perpetrated in the series ... with bigger, prettier pictures. ... The basic story, for all its 'latest state of the art' and its tricked-up trekkiness, is Gene's standard idea, done so often in the series: we go into space, we find God, and God is (pick one) malevolent, crazy, or a child."
--Harlan Ellison, writer, "Ellison Reviews Trek"
To view previous Starlog Archive issues, click on "Starlog Internet Archive Project" in the keywords below.
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