Friday, May 21, 2010

A Pause to Reflect on the First 100 Issues of Starlog

After chronicling every issue of Starlog magazine's first 100 issues, I wanted to pause to reflect on this thing I call The Starlog Project (which can be found here and here). 
As a result of this effort, I've heard from many people about their memories of the magazine, questions about an article, or just a pat on the back. Barely a day goes by that I don't hear from a former Starlog writer, editor, or reader. I'm grateful for that. 

I started the Starlot Project after I noticed how much feedback I continue to get from an earlier, similar compendium I had done of Starlog's short-lived sister magazine, Future Life, a science/science-fiction hybrid published from 1978 through 1981. There, too, I hear from former writers, Disney employees looking for more information about a series of articles, college students researching a topic covered in the magazine, and just plain old fans and readers.

So I decided to embark on a version of it featuring Starlog, the long-lived (but recently deceased) science-fiction media magazine, and I began it earlier this year. (In a nice kind of payback, The Starlog Project inspired me to go back and update and expand the Future Life compendium, and I'm about two-thirds of the way through with that revamp.)

Frankly, I reached Starlog issue #100 far faster than I expected. My assumption going into this was that I would write up a few issues a week, but that I'd also go through dry spells where I was just sick of the magazine and wouldn't write anything for a month. Instead, I've probably averaged about an issue a day. I might yet have dry spells during my coverage of the remaining 274 issues, but I've learned a few things along the way that have kept up my interest and enthusiasm.

First, the magazine meant and still means a lot to people. Especially back in the late 1970s and the 1980s, when there were fewer genre films and television programs being produced, and before the internet transformed magazines from timely news organs into feature article organs (not a bad change, actually, though many magazines still fail to notice the shift), Starlog was it for the interested SF fan. I don't mean that it was the only source, but I do think that it was the best, and certainly the most successful. It was likely the place that most SF fans first learned about Harlan Ellison, The Brother from Another Planet, the King Kong remake, Ayn Rand, Boris Vallejo, the implications of Back to the Future, and much more.

Second, we readers were spoiled. From following what former Starlog company employees have posted elsewhere, it seems pretty clear that the company was arguably a creative hotspot but inarguably a home to very poorly paid staffers. So the regular turnover of all but a few editors and art staff is not a surprise. But their time in the Starlog trenches is still appreciated by us, the spoiled many.

Third, each "era" of the magazine is different and has something new to interest me. Whether it's the fun of watching the magazine's first year of frantically trying to keep up with its own breakneck pace of growth, or it's the second and third years' maturity in design and coverage, or the adaptations to rising inflation in the next year, or the dearth of new big films to cover in another year, or the addition of new staff or the return to growth or the many controversies that broke out or ... it's always something.

I've noted in this project that I'm a professional magazine (and internet) editor, and I don't note that as a way of trying to give my words more weight. I doubt anyone's impressed. But I do let people know that because it affects how I view Starlog; it means I'm not only looking back at it as an SF follower, but also as someone who's interested in why and how the company so successfully exploited its market, made mistakes, survived when so many competitors died unmourned deaths, and retains so much affection and interest today. Certainly my interest in Future Life and Starlog is affected by my hopes of creating a new magazine at some point that can serve the need those magazines did – though I think I'll pay my staff better than did Norman Jacobs and Kerry O'Quinn. (Each generation does learn something from the previous generation!)

There. That's more than enough words spent on this reflection. I'll get started on the second 100 issues in a day or so. But now you know a bit more about why I'm doing this. Enjoy.
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