Spotlight: The Bridge from Texas to the Stars


Kerry O'Quinn believes in making your dreams come true. "When I was a kid, I imagined traveling to the moon and all that science would bring. Everything I looked forward to in my life seemed to come down to science fictionmonorails, glass elevatorsall the futuristic stuff I dreamed about. It was an optimistic view of the future."

In the process of making his own dream (being "100 percent master of my own fate") come true by publishing Starlog, the largest science-fiction fan magazine, he encourages his 250,000 mostly mid-teen to mid-twenties readers to do likewise. Files bulging with fan mail attest to the inspiration provided by his opening editorials, "From the Bridge."

In his writing, O'Quinn goes beyond tolerance of human differences to glorify the "Star Trek" ideal of "Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations," which celebrates the multiplicity of races, colors, ages, goals, beliefs, and lifestyles of all sorts.

His editorial subjects have ranged from a defense of nuclear power to a eulogy to novelist-philosopher Ayn Randwhom he knewto a tale of traveling with friends to watch a space launch. The magazine, featuring garish covers and interviews with people involved in science-fiction movies, is read by such SF luminaries as Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke.

For O'Quinn, the path to "the bridge" was a tortuous one. He grew up in Austin, Texas, his father an attorney, his mother a journalist. As a child, Kerry drew cartoon strips and put on magic shows. On Halloweens, he turned the family home into a "fun house," complete with weird lighting effects and props like slimy liver to scare the kids. His high-school grades were average, but he was good in art, acted in school plays, and made movies on weekends.

From the day he got his driver's license at age 15, he loved driving out to the hills and lakes of central Texas, all by himself. He left the radio off "because there was too much glorious music playing inside my head." It was part of finding himself, a rather drawn-out process.

He registered at the University of Texas in 1956 as a drama major, intending to be an actor. But he fell in love with set design, then with fine arts. His college career stretched to six years. While creating a cartoon for the campus humor magazine late one night, he "accidentally" slipped in the f-word. The magazine was suspended and O'Quinn's U.T. career pretty much ended.

At 24, he designed sets for summer musicals in Ohio, then headed for New York. Without connections, it was a hard city to crack, and he learned the coarse art of inexpensive dining. Most cheap hot dogs were 15 cents, but he found a stand at 42nd Street and 6th Avenue that sold two for a quarter. He changed jobs as frequently as he'd changed majors in college. At age 30, he still didn't know what he wanted to be when he grew up.

During this period, a friend took him to a lecture at Rand's Nathaniel Branden Institute (NBI). "Branden was talking about the existence of God. I had never heard anyone talk like that; it was quite exciting." Kerry designed covers for three NBI books and also designed, animated, and filmed an introduction to splice to the beginning of old movies: "NBI presents The Romantic Screen.'" Under this aegis, he ran a weekend theater in his apartment for several years.

Working in the art department of a magazine publisher, he met Norman Jacobs. "He was this Yankee with a Brooklyn accent with a Jewish backgroundhe was so different from me, a slow walking, slow talking hick from Texas."

He and Jacobs teamed up to start what is now Starlog Press. With $900 of their own money and an advance from a national distributor, they started with a one-shot magazine, The Beatles Forever, on which they did all the work. It sold 100,000 copies and made "tons of money"money that helped sustain them during the first three and a half years, while they paid other people poverty wages and themselves nothing.

"Norman had a wife and two kids to support. I could go without eating for a day and it didn't kill me," recalls O'Quinn. "What kept us going was money from free-lancing and my teaching a children's art class on Saturday morningsplus Norm's Wednesday night poker games in Brooklyn."

They published magazines, a newsletter, and a nationally syndicated newspaper columnall devoted to soap operasthen, in 1976, the first issue of Starlog. It featured "Star Trek. " Distributors said, "Great, but there will never be a second issue because there's nothing to put into it."

But the duo found a winning combination of "nostalgic SFFlash Gordon, The Day the Earth Stood Still—with the current offerings'Space: 1999' and the bionic person shows," Jacobs recalled in an editorial celebrating the magazine's 100th issue. Starlog Press is now in "a beautiful high-rise building in the center of New York City."

It's hard not to be ground down by conformist pressures in one's youth, O'Quinn tells his readers, but "it is the individuals who do not sand themselves down to a smooth, nondescript shape who are the people who solve great problems, forge new trails, invent important wonders and create magnificence." With his example and encouragement, many "Starloggers" may also make their dreams come true.

John Dentinger is a free-lance writer in Los Angeles.