Monday, May 2, 2011

Unidentified Schwarzenegger Object: The Starlog Project, Starlog #192, July 1993

Over the nearly two decades of its existence, Starlog has occasionally reported on the UFO phenomenon. Except for its film-related reporting (Close Encounters of the Third Kind, for example), the magazine was blessedly free of the gullible reportage of much of the popular press. Unlike Omni magazine, for example, Starlog never drank the Kool-aid. Instead, it published articles such as James Oberg's intelligent examination of flying saucer claims. That was back in issue #12 in March 1978. The late 1970s were a cyclical high point of alien visitation claims, but things calmed down for a while after that time.

In the July 1993 issue, though, former publisher Kerry O’Quinn takes the bull by the horns (he’s from Texas, see) and lambasts claims that aliens are landing in Alabama and mutilating cows. About midway through the column, O’Quinn writes, “Whenever I meet someone new, and they learn that I am involved in science fiction, their first question is usually, ‘Do you believe in UFOs?’ To me, this is insulting. Let me make myself absolutely clear – NO, I do not believe in flying saucers, alien abductions or little green people from beyond our solar system who have the incredible technology to travel light years to our planet, sustain themselves somehow with endless fuel and food while they play cat-and-mouse games in our cloud layers….”

Sometimes a bit of controversy can be a positive spark for a magazine. When it comes with a dose of rationality, it is like a welcome cup of water to a desert wanderer.

Starlog #192
84 pages (including covers)
Cover price: $4.95

This is Starlog’s 17th anniversary issue, which is celebrated with all of the pomp and circumstance of the royal wedding, except for the pomp and circumstance part. In fact, there are no extra pages or special features or any indication at all that it’s an anniversary issue aside from a badge on the front cover and the editor’s column at the end of the magazine. What, are they ashamed of being a 17-year-old magazine? Or is it because Starlog would suffer a premature death at the age of 33 in 2009, so the mag's editors and publishers somehow realized they had reached publishing middle-age?

The rundown: The cover features Arnold Schwarzenegger and his Last Action Hero co-star Austin O’Brien; a slightly different take on that same pose is on the contents page (the change is so slight, it might require many readers to look closely to see how the two images are different). A neat touch, that. Meanwhile, in his Medialog column, David McDonnell notes that early discussions have taken place about a feature film version of the old Lost in Space TV series. Michael McAvennie’s Gamelog reviews a number of Star Wars games, including Super Nintendo’s Super Star Wars, Game Boy’s The Empire Strikes Back, and others. And reader letters in the Communications pages include an official response from the Sci-Fi Channel regarding hopes and fears Starlog readers have expressed about the new channel, plus there’s an unbelievably long letter about Beauty & the Beast, and Mike Fisher’s Creature Profile features Gorgo.

In the early 1990s, VHS video cassettes were the relatively cheapest and easiest way to experience your favorite movies and old TV shows in the comfort of your own home. As David Hutchison notes in his Videolog column, various episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation as well as the Trek movies are available for just $14.95 each, but that was in the days before commentary tracks and hours and oodles of hours of extras packed onto DVDs and Blu-rays. Booklog reviews Isaac Asimov’s Forward the Foundation (reviewer Jean-Marc Lofficier loved it), as well as Caliban, Dreams Underfoot, Path of the Hero, The Wall at the Edge of the World, A Sword for a Dragon, Redline the Stars, Retro Lives, The Element of Fire, A Wizard in Absentia, Warlords of Jupiter, Athyra, and Sandman, Sleep. The fan network includes Scott Briggs’ directory of clubs and publications, plus the convention calendar. And, as noted, Kerry O’Quinn shoots down UFOs, in his From the Bridge column.

Speaking of questionable claims, on page 21 of this issue, there is an advertisement for L. Ron Hubbard’s Battlefield Earth. Among the blurbs promoting the book is this from novelist Frederik Pohl: “I read [Battlefield Earth] straight through in one sitting although it’s immense … I was fascinated by it.” Really? According to Amazon.com, the book’s 1,004 pages long. I’m not calling Mr. Pohl a liar, but surely he was mistaken when he said he read it entirely in one sitting. Was he on some strange drugs that kept him awake long enough to reach the last page? Even if he could read a quite-fast 60 pages an hour, it would still take more than 16 hours. Any slower than that, and it soon takes a full day and night to complete this sucker. I’ve never read Battlefield Earth – nor any other book attributed to Hubbard – though I did sacrifice $9 that never did anything wrong to me so I could see the film made from it. The movie felt like it was 16 hours. But I have a good friend who is in no way a devotee of Hubbard’s religion who nonetheless says this book was a hell of an enjoyable novel, so I will grant the possibility that Pohl, too, found the book fascinating in some non-ironic way. But to spend anywhere from 16 to 24 hours “in one sitting” reading it? I guess I am calling him a liar.

Anyway, back to the issue. Star Trek: The Next Generation’s Data, actor Brent Spiner, is interviewed by Joe Nazzaro. Author (and climate change skeptic) Michael Crichton is interviewed by Bill Warren, discussing the Steven Spielberg adaptation of his book Jurassic Park as well as other adaptations of his work, such as Runaway and Rising Sun. Marc Shapiro visits the set of Last Action Hero. He talks to the director, John McTiernan, and others involved in the movie, including star Schwarzenegger, who admits that it is “not necessarily the most challenging role I’ve ever had,” and that “I’m the first one to laugh at the silliness of the films I’ve done.” Kim Howard Johnson profiles producer Robert Solo and his Body Snatchers film. And Dan Yakir previews Super Mario Brothers, the $42 million film starring Bob Hoskins and John Leguizamo.

Stan Nicholls and Michael McCarty separately interviewed legendary writer (and reader!) Frederick Pohl, and Starlog combines their two interviews into one quite interesting six-page article. Pat Jankiewicz talks with screenwriter Jon Povill, who discusses his many projects (with a resume that is quite Trek-heavy), but the article starts off with a fascinating story about how he and Gene Roddenberry got involved with a group of people who claimed to be in telepathic contact with aliens. And editor David McDonnell wraps it all up with an anniversary Liner Notes column, citing numerous people responsible for the magazine reaching the magic age of 17.
“I was in Paris in August 1945, and I was getting a haircut in a barber shop. ... I was looking over the shoulder of the man next to me, and he had a newspaper with a big headline, ‘Le Bomb et Amique.’ And the first thing I thought was that these crazy French will print anything in their papers. And then when I looked a little closer and realized it actually had happened, I felt – well, I knew it all along and I had. Everybody who read science fiction knew that this was a good possibility. There are several kinds of science fiction that you can’t write anymore. You can’t write about the first intelligent robot, the first trip to the Moon or the first nuclear war, because they’ve happened, but the consequences of all these things are just getting clearer every day.”
–Frederick Pohl, novelist, interviewed by Stan Nicholls and Michael McCarty: “The View from a Distant Star”
For more, click on Starlog Internet Archive Project below or visit the Starlog Project's permanent site.
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