After I was introduced to pulp magazines in the 70s and read Isaac Asimov’s stories of his encounters with John Campbell back in the Golden Age, I started seriously looking for science fiction. For one thing, I picked up the rest of the Early Asimov. My parents noticed, and they got my brother (equally interested) and me a subscription to Omni.
Omni was a rare thing in the late 70s – maybe unique. It wanted to be a serious science and science fiction magazine, and it had the means to do it. It was staffed (and soon fronted) by Ben Bova, who had edited Analog after John Campbell. And it had the financial backing of Bob Guccione of Penthouse fame.
Omni wanted to be mainstream. It had a large format, glossy covers, slick paper, and fancy layouts. It had serious popular science articles. columns on new developments, colorful art, and some great fiction. it was forward looking.
I didn’t like it. I’m not sure why, now, especially looking back to see some of the terrific stories that Omni featured. I remember reading some of them, though it’s also true that they didn’t stick in my mind anywhere near as well as the ones from Analog and F&SF – even though some issues of each magazine were edited by the same man – Ben Bova. I recall that I didn’t find the factual articles anywhere near as interesting as the fiction. I read the magazine cover to cover. But I enjoyed the stories far more than anything else. I think, frankly, that I was put off by Omni’s slick feel. Not just the pages, but the magazine itself. They wanted that slick, mainstream feel, of course. But to me, they seemed to be going out of their way to be eye-catching, rather than substantive or entertaining – aimed at the kind of people that buy clothing with visible brands, rather than clothing that fits, or lasts, or works.
We let the subscription lapse, after a year, partly for convenience (as we moved around), partly for lack of interest. I picked it up now and then in the school library, but it never really grabbed me, and it didn’t break my heart to see it slowly fade away.
The good news is that all of Omni is available online – for free. You can find it here.
If you’re looking for a particular issue, but don’t recall the date, try going here to find good quality cover images and work back from there.
Did you read Omni? What did you think of it? Could we use a glossy SF magazine now? Is there an online magazine that you think is similar?
(Ed. Note: a new incarnation of Omni – Omni Rebbot – recently debuted and can be found here.)