Monday, June 4, 2012

Another Century: The Starlog Project, Starlog 200, March 1994

Even though publishing 200 editions of a magazine is a huge achievement, it just doesn’t have the same celebratory sense of accomplishment as publishing the first 100. It’s not rational, really; magazine publishing has always been a risky business, so the longer you can keep going, the bigger the achievement.

Nonetheless, Starlog probably didn’t help itself with this special 100-page issue by basically repeating the formula of issue 100: The core of the magazine is made up of short profiles of the “200 most important people” in science fiction and fantasy. Not a bad idea, but after issue 100, not an original one, either. (It's a formula the magazine would repeat in issue #300.) The 200 referenced in that name actually refers to brief recaps of those first 100 people, then longer (though still short) profiles of VIPs 101-200.

Starlog #200
100 pages (including covers)
Cover price: $6.95

So what happened in the years since the company published Starlog 100? Quite a lot, really. The United States went from having basically three commercial broadcast networks plus public television and a smattering of cable to having four commercial networks plus public, lots of cable (including a science-fiction channel all to itself), burgeoning numbers of independent stations, and an expanding international market. All of that means there was greater demand for content, or, in the words of Hollywood money people, “product.” As a result, Starlog and other SF mags had a lot more genre programs (and movies) to write about.

Starlog itself had changed quite a bit over those 100 issues, though not as much as it had from issue 1 through 100. By March 1994, Starlog was still the core of a multi-title magazine publishing company, but many of those sister titles had changed. The page count of Starlog was higher, the cover price higher, the paper quality better, and many of the names on the masthead different – most significantly, arguably, was the departure from the company of co-founder Kerry O’Quinn, who had sold his share of the business and taken on a consultant's role.

The mid-1980s, when Starlog 100 was published, was a time when people weren’t sure where the economy was going. Things were still on an upswing from the brutal early 1980s recession, and that decade saw constant changes and uncertainty. But by the mid-1990s, when #200 was published, Starlog was in the middle of a solid decade of very low inflation (so no constant cover price increases every year or two) and apparently strong circulation and readership.

The rundown: The cover is a shiny standout that probably caught eyes on the newsstand, so in that sense, it might be a success. But as a well-designed cover, it just doesn’t make it; the Starlog logo is hard to see, the photos at the bottom of the cover aren’t the people listed right above the photos who are interviewed inside; and the background really serves no purpose other than to catch the eye – it’s not as if it’s a science-fictiony design. It’s just shiny. As for the contents page, it’s actually kind of cool: a large Frank Frazetta Barsoom painting sprawls over one full page and edges onto the next.

David McDonnell kicks off the celebratory section with an introduction to the 200 most etc., etc., etc. First we get the brief overviews of the first 100 folks; then begins the many, many pages devoted to the second 100 people, which fills up much of the remainder of the magazine, interspersed with a few normal articles (about which more in a moment).

There are some obvious choices on the 100 new additions to this list, of course, but the real pleasure of going through the profiles is finding people about whom you know nothing; never heard of them. For example, before you read the following name, August W. Derleth, had you ever heard of him? Before re-examining this issue, neither had I. But I was pleased to find that he came from my former home state of Wisconsin and was something of a pioneering editor, publisher, and writer. So I immediately began looking for his work and for information about him online. Philip Wylie, Arch Oboler, and John P. Fulton are other names on the list that might have sparked an interest among other readers. Taken together, this list can help enrich your appreciation of the history and breadth of science fiction and fantasy.

There can be an endless but sometimes fun game played with the list of the genre’s most important people. Who deserved to be on the list but was left off? I would add Starlog’s own former columnist David Gerrold, for one. Or you can go negative and ask who was on the list but shouldn’t be.

Such lists are inherently subjective, of course, but if they’re done well, they can burnish the publication’s authority. One of Starlog’s assets through much of its life was its assumed role as a standard-bearer of establishment SF; it helped define important topics, trends, and people. So, even with my basic skepticism about featuring a big list for a second time in Starlog’s every-100-issues tradition, the editors and writers have acquitted themselves well.

In other content this issue, Kerry O’Quinn uses his From the Bridge column to recount a speech he gave to a Mexican university, where he found a lot of Starlog readers. Stan Nicholls interviews longtime Starlog favorite Arthur C. Clarke, who discusses his latest novel, The Hammer of God, and some of his other works, including the Rama books. Bill Warren profiles filmmaker Joe Dante, who talks at length about the craze for remakes (and big-screen reinventions of old TV shows). And Kim Howard Johnson talks with director Terry Gilliam about films – live action and animated.

Marc Shapiro checks in with producer Gale Anne Hurd about Penal Colony, though she also discusses her work on Aliens and the Terminator series. James Mitchell contributes his first Starlog article, an interview with filmmaker Tim Burton; they discuss Batman, The Nightmare Before Christmas, Cabin Boy, and his upcoming Ed Wood, among other projects. Stan Nicholls talks with writer/editor/science-evangelist Ben Bova. And another first-time contributor, J. Stephen Bolhafner, interviews author William Gibson, who talks all things cyberpunk (including his experiences with and about Billy Idol).
“[L]ife was almost wiped out on our planet many times in the past, most recently 65 million years ago, give or take a week. The current thinking is that a large meteor or comet hit the Earth, causing an ecological catastrophe–the dinosaurs and three-quarters of all other species on land, sea and air were destroyed. Now, there are lots of craters on Mars, including one so big it’s not called a crater, it’s the Plain of helos. It’s 1,000 kilometers across. If something that large hit Mars, it might very well have destroyed any life there by blowing away the atmosphere. Whatever it was sent out a shock wave so powerful that it liquified the rock as it went through. Imagine sitting down to tea when THAT happened!”
–Ben Bova, interviewed by Stan Nicholls: “The Promise of Space”
For more, click on Starlog Internet Archive Project below or visit the Starlog Project's permanent site.
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