Sunday, October 28, 2007

Looking at Star Trek Magazine

I still remember the day, back around 1986, when I found an issue of the official Star Trek fan club magazine in a comic shop. Star Trek, nothing but Star Trek, and official, too. I think the first issue I found had a very brief news item added at the last minute about a new Star Trek TV series coming soon, more info to come in the next issue... I made sure to get that issue, and every one since. But the enthusiasm eventually faded. It's partly because, by the time the magazine expired (under the title Star Trek Communicator), the Trek series I was really interested in were long off the air; it was partly because in the Internet age I didn't need a bimonthly magazine with a long lead time trying to present time-sensitive information; and it was partly because I had come to decide the magazine itself just wasn't as good as it used to be. Reading it had become homework, not fun.

Star Trek Communicator was painfully earnest and stuck in the past. There was long past his best before date alleged Trek insider Richard Arnold, answering readers' questions with a lot of attitude where anything post-TNG and anything in print form were concerned, and occasionally giving just plain wrong answers as well. Several pages of information detailing everything everyone ever on Trek was currently doing, often too out of date by publication time to be useful. (If you really wanted to see the two guys who played aliens without dialogue in an episode from eight years ago appearing in a little theatre production in Pasadena, they'd have the information for you a few weeks after the end of the play's run.) Way too many "Trek fans are special people" articles, in which people announce proudly that without Star Trek they wouldn't know it's wrong to be a racist and they wouldn't have any idea what career to get into. Dull and prolonged science articles (there are plenty of other sources that cover that ground much better). And the regular interview with Rick Berman, in which he invariably said nothing at all except "You'll love it" and "We don't know why the fans didn't love it, we thought it was wonderful." And, for some time during Decipher's ownership, a lot of material on Decipher's Trek products and not much on the books.

Sure, they still did some good stuff, like Rich Handey's stuff on the Trek comic strips. But there didn't seem to be enough of it.

A couple of years ago, I posted a blog entry called Improving Star Trek Communicator. In light of the financial underperformance of Nemesis and the cancellation of Enterprise, I said that a Trek magazine needs to recognize that the future of Star Trek is in the books for the time being. (J.J. who?)

Anyway, now we have more than a year's worth of the American version of Star Trek Magazine. No Richard Arnold, a lot less space on which actor's doing what, less space on science articles, less of that earnest fan self-worship, and lots and lots of book coverage.

Mission accomplished.

... What? I should actually talk about the magazine? Oh, okay. Though the magazine has been running in the UK for quite a few years, the American launch felt like the beginning of a new magazine. In the first issue we get the first installment of a decade-by-decade look at the series, interviews with every series captain, and generally a solid mix of retrospective and current features, from an interview with DC Fontana to an excerpt from David R. George III's novel Crucible: McCoy: Provenance of Shadows and some new movie news. There's also an episode-in-depth look back at "Friday's Child." It all works as a statement of purpose, telling readers that this magazine is going to celebrate the whole Star Trek universe, new and old, filmed and otherwise. And fourteen or fifteen pages of book-related content -- interview with Marco Palmieri, book excerpt, reviews, schedule, etc.

The magazine seems to be more flexible in structure than its predecessor, some issues looking at a particular episode in depth, others looking at a series or the movies. Given the limited number of series and great number of episodes, I wouldn't be surprised if the series/movies specials are part of the foundation-building, and Flashback may become a more regular feature. Doctor Who Magazine has had similar regular looks back at old stories in depth; it's a reliable way to get some new tidbits for the longtime fans and some basic knowledge for the new fans. I hope the fiction extract remains as a regular feature, too, though I don't actually read that section; I buy every book, after all. But it's important to promote the books to the fans.

Overall, the balance of interviews and features is good, there are some good writers showing up (getting Trek novelists to contribute nonfiction pieces is a good idea, even if Communicator already did a bit of it).

If I have a criticism, it would be to remind the magazine's designer that less is more. DWM has a much simpler, cleaner design, with straight text columns and a lot more pages with black on white text, and as a result it is a lot easier to read. The Star Trek Magazine looks more like it's trying to hard to impress the kids. It doesn't really look like a magazine that a 44-year-old would generally be seen reading in public. I also can't say that any of the covers so far really do much for me. (On the other hand, Starlog has managed to last more than thirty years with consistently appalling and ugly cover design, so what do I know?)

How the coming of a new movie will effect the magazine's balance of articles, its inclusion of books and fanfilms and computer games as worthwhile subject matter, remains to be seen, but I'm hopeful. And I'm actually looking forward to new issues.


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