I hear it all the time. "Larry, you seem like a reasonably okay guy. You write in complete sentences and generally wear clean shirts. But really, are you just a little bit of a nerd?"

Of course I'm a nerd. I own several Rush CDs. I've been known to pair white athletic socks with brown shoes. This column arrived late because I spent a good chunk of the morning trolling through comments about last night's "Lost" on the Entertainment Weekly and USA Today "Pop Candy" boards. (My random, totally-not-justified-by-the-evidence-at-hand theory: there are two sets of Others on the island.)

So technically, Starlog should be right up my alley. It's a fan magazine in the truest sense: every word in every story is written by and for fans. Perusing it, you get the impression that its editors and contributors had a hell of a time putting it together.

Unfortunately, while this may make for a happy tribe of office nerdlings, it doesn't necessarily make for much of a magazine. I know, I know: Starlog has survived and prospered for 30 years, so the opinion of some pissant nerd/writer doesn't mean diddly. Let me come right out and state it in the strongest possible terms, then: Starlog ain't long for this galaxy, or any other, unless it decides to enter the 21st century from a publishing perspective. Pretty futuristic, huh?

Oh, sure, the mag could slog along in its current format for awhile, coasting on its name and king-dork rep. But unless it takes drastic steps -- we're talking head-to-toe plastic surgery here, plus a rethinking of its fanboy approach -- it can't expect to hold readers' attention for much longer, especially given the more immediate and interactive online competition.

There isn't a single item in the November Starlog that doesn't lend itself to rich illustration, yet the mag all too often is content to pair its stories with a few blah film stills. The fonts, colors and layouts seem poached from a circa-1987 Premiere; the issue's most imaginative graphic flourish is a gaggle of magician hats with pithy trivia tidbits popping out of them (accompanying the story on the upcoming flick "The Prestige").

Additionally, Starlog lacks any coherent organizational scheme, simply running one story after the next. Sections? Starlog don't need no stinkin' sections, outside of a handful of front-of-book pages devoted to TV listings and DVD reviews. Even when the magazine serves up an entertaining bit -- the four "Log Toons," including one featuring "Yao Ming the Merciless" -- it manages to diminish the overall effect, in this case by placing them on a page with the ownership/circulation statement.

The stories themselves positively teem with information, and Starlog affords them plenty of space. But it's pretty clear that enthusiast approach or no, the mag needs writers more capable of keeping an editorial distance. The writer assigned to the interview with William Shatner seems genuinely awed by his subject, throwing out poofy questions like "Anything else coming up?" (Nerd interjection: I own and dig Shatner's "Has Been" record from last year; it's a quirky, mostly sober meditation on life and death that features no "Rocket Man" moments.)

Other pieces in the November issue come across as similarly overimpressed with their topics. The story on animated flick "Open Season" reads as if it were written by a studio publicist, while the overlong profile of Dominic Monaghan ("Lost," "Lord of the Rings"... talk about hitting the dork daily double) offers spoilers like "I really did make friends for life on 'Lord'" and "I enjoy new and interesting parts, and I would like people to recognize that I have the ability to play different characters." As for the feature on "Smallville" babe Erica Durance, gosh, set your phasers on "stunning" -- less for her looks than for the nigh-tragic inclusion of a "Dirty Durancing" subhed.

And then there are the tens of captions, boring at best ("Hurley has a huge heart, but even he would find it hard to forgive Charlie's abduction of Sun in Season Two") and nonsensical at worst ("Let no one say the Ood aren't odd as well as quite disturbing"... and yes, I'm hip to all things Doctor Who). There's a little bit of self-congratulation here as well, in the last-page "Liner Notes" that chronicle the creation of the issue. Do readers really give a hoot about the order in which stories were laid out, or that a certain piece would have run earlier if the mag had more art? All signs point to no.

My unsolicited advice to Starlog: wind down the print pub and pump more and more resources into the Web site. The Starlog brand name still has considerable pull with the pocket-protected crowd, but this audience will go wherever its inside-information needs are best served. Assuming Starlog continues to snare access to film sets and sci-fi deities like The Shatner, it can compete in cyberspace -- and probably better serve rich-media-happy advertisers, not to mention make a few bucks, in the process. But the magazine, barring an extreme Vulcan makeover, looks like toast from where I'm sitting.

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