Monday, 25 June 2007

Sci-Fi Now #3 - What Works and What Doesn't

Another month, another issue of Imagine's new SF title, and as day follows night, another review.

The Letters pages were very entertaining, on the face of it identical to the letters pages in almost every other genre mag, but SFN's seemed sparkier. Much fun to be had here.

The news section, Launch, does pretty much what it says on the tin, nothing new for fans tracking their faves online, but a lot to be learned anyway, we go into more detail here.

The Convention Report was a four page whopper on the Bristol Comics Expo and we liked this a lot. You got the feeling there wasn't all that much happening there but SFN made the most of it and wrote it up with some genuine enthusiasm. Even if cons aren't your thing this was a good read anyway.

The Spoilers pages again give you what it says on the tin. Four pages giving you detailed rundowns on Lost, Jericho, Heroes and Smallville. I really wish they'd include some sort of ratings but the synopsises are so detailed you can easily draw your own conclusions. Maybe that's a better way to go ?

New Series gives us a four page dissection of The Dresden Files. For a show that I'd written off after the pilot I found this informative and entertaining. I may just give this series a second look.

The Op-Eds were mixed, Danny Graydon's look at the UK scene probably could've been condensed into a single paragraph, a bit meh to be honest. Gray Nicholson's look at how our colonial cousins are faring was a much better read, I think his piece on the afterlife in American TV overlooked one point though, 9/11. Is it a coincidence that since that day a lot of high profile US shows have had death as a central theme ? Six Feet Under ? Dead Like Me ?

Now we come to the cover feature, which this month was focused on Heroes. I tried to like this, I really did, but in the end it felt like nine wasted pages. The feature was riddled with factual errors, it was grammatically questionable and personally I didn't care for the writing style at all. It was out of date ("As season one, now coming to a close as you read this...") when in fact season one had finished a full eight days before the issue went to press and at least four weeks before it hit the shelves. The Missing Links bit was neither informative or entertaining, and the whole feature felt like it was written by someone was paid to write it. Sorry if that seem obvious but there was no love, enthusiasm or even informed criticism of the subject matter here.

Top 10 was as ever a snorefest for me. This month we're told what are the ten best SF weapons, and five of the worst.

The Nicholas Cage Interview was interesting, good art, good layout, we liked this. It's a shame these interviews are sourced from syndication because they lack the personal touch.

Danny Graydon's feature on the second FF movie was pretty good, ticked all the right boxes and looked great. The only criticism here is that his writing tone seemed a bit "chummy" at times, a bit SFXy. On the whole it was an informed piece written with a dash of enthusiasm, for which he deserves a beer or three given the subject matter.

Robocop vs Predator oh Jim, oh Jim, oh Jim. I have the feeling this was a writer making the best of a bad idea and being told to run with it. Let's just say the Forum Feature on next season's TV look's a lot more interesting and worthwhile.

Now it's the meat and potatoes of every good SF mag, the Reviews section. When it's a bit a fallow period in the cinemas, most mags will try and big up one of the releases, adds a bit of feelgood factor I suppose. Not so SFN! Fair crack to you guys, you were watching turkeys, you called 'em turkeys, this is what the readers want. No pandering to PR hacks or studios wishes, call a spade a spade. Top marks for the cinema and DVD reviews, Tristan Burke made his critique's very entertaining. His reviews are the ones I'll be reading first next month.

Comics and books though.... I know you said in the letters page that books at least would be getting more coverage in future, but two pages ?? Three books ??? SF fans read a lot and from what I've read in other forums you're losing readers by not giving them more coverage.

Podcasts and Videogames, you got them pretty much right, can't fault them.

Ahhh Timewarp, how I've missed thy subtle charms... Darran Jones' feature on the Aliens movies was great, well written, good art, if I liked it any better I'd have it framed. If you guys are gonna do a "Year in Review" or "Best of..." special edition towards Christmas time this is a must-have.

The Taken article was another pleasant surprise, I haven't watched this since its initial US transmission and memory, being the fickle mistress she is, had confined this to Turkey department. I think I'll probably dig it out again and give it another whirl after reading your take on it. Cheers guys.

Lost in Space, B5, ahh the hits just keep on coming. Timewarp is now accounting for the fact it's taking me two days to review this issue. Manimal and Farscape, OMFG, I can't fault Timewarp at all, it's bliss, it's a fine wine in printed form.

Whatever you're doing in the Timewarp section at the moment, don't stop, don't change a thing, you've got it just right.

After the orgasmic bliss of Timewarp we get that strange burning sensation when you pee that is Dissected. FFS guys you have to label advertorials, sponsored sections or whatever the hell you call them, for what they are. I'll bet dollars to donuts the Advertising Standards Authority has some directives on this.

Fanboys is an area I've never been much interested in. The Collectors Guide to... Dr Who though made me blush a little when I realised how much tat I'd accumulated over the years. The Coventions section, like the Bristol Expo feature in Launch, was a real eye opener for me. A darn good read, and made me think I'd like to see a few before I emigrate. Memorabilia left me cold though, nothing against the article itself it just doesn't press any buttons.

The Nitpickers Guide to... Flash Gordon was a lot of fun, although it did feel like you were shooting fish in a barrel. I'm still waiting for a guide to RTD's Dr Who.

Literary SF felt like you were treading water this issue, just two more months 'til you get to the 1930s, when things get really interesting. In fact I think you'll have to break down the remaining decades because there was simply too much going on to fit it into Literary's page space at the moment.

TV-Guide...meh. It's there, a couple of the sidebars are nice.

Obsessed was okay, but I think you could use a little more pizaz in this section.

Overall this is a huge improvement over an already impressive debut. It feels like you're really finding your voice now and, it seems to me anyway, you're listening to your readers. I noticed the omission of the gadgets feature this issue, I think that was a good decision.

Fair crack to you guys, SFN's getting better, you're on the right course. First star to the right, then straight on 'til morning...