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OMNI Magazine



What Wired is to Dr. Dobb's Journal, OMNI magazine was to Scientific American. OMNI, published by Penthouse's Bob Guccione, tried to make science sexy. Yeah, no foolin'. Never letting something like hard data verified by double-blind, repeatable experiments get in the way of a good 1,200 word feature, OMNI tried to tackle serious major freaky next-level shit like cryogenics, antimatter, fusion, psychotherapy, artificial intelligence, lucid dreaming, Dyson spheres, and alternative AIDS theories. You name it, OMNI was so there.

Physically, OMNI was slick. What Wired tries to do with a river of neon orange and green printers ink, OMNI tried to do with muted silver, slate blue, glossy black, and umber. OMNI paid a premium for good art work. H.R. Giger was an early and regular contributor.

OMNI began publication in November 1978 as a bimonthly magazine. OMNI folded in the mid'90s but was quickly reborn as a web site in September 1996. The web site version ceased publication in 1998.

The magazine was headed from the beginning by Bob Guccione's wife Kathy Keeton Guccione (a former stripper from South Africa). After nearly two decades at the helm of OMNI, she died in 1997 of cancer.

While OMNI delved into a lot of material that people today would recognize as "that bloody new age crap", OMNI maintained a respectable compliment of hard science writers. For example, NASA golden child and expert on the Soviet space program James Oberg wrote a skeptical column on UFOs.

For the hard-bitten skeptic, OMNI was science porn. For the wide-eyed, tinfoil-hat-wearing UFO nut who believes an alien implant lies beneath every pimple and scar, OMNI was scientific validation of the truth that was out there. What can be said about OMNI is, regardless of where you stood on issues of UFOs and the paranormal, each issue of OMNI probably had something enjoyable to read by anyone with an interest in science.

Favorites of many readers were the "Continuum" and "Antimatter" sections. Continuum featured small, gee whiz news item about interesting discoveries in the world of harder science. Antimatter published gee whiz items on the world of the paranormal and cryptozoology.

And, no, I won't let this history end without talking about OMNI's contribution to the world of Science Fiction. OMNI paid one of the highest per-word rates in the world of publishing (possibly exceeded only by Playboy). It's no consequence that OMNI published short stories and novelette-sized works by many legendary science fiction authors including the ABC of Sci Fi: Isaac Asimov ("Found", 1978) Alfred Bester ("Galatea Galante", 1979), and Arthur C. Clarke ("The Songs of Distant Earth", 1979). (What about Ray Bradbury? He had "Colonel Stonesteel's Genuine Home-Made Truly Egyptian Mummy" published in 1981! I'm aware of his work!). OMNI also shepherded along today's giants in their more primordial phase. William Gibson ("Johnny Mnemonic", 1981), Bruce Sterling ("Sunken Gardens", 1984), and Orson Scott Card ("A Thousand Deaths", 1978) all had early short stories and novelettes published in OMNI.

Of course, who could ever forget reading George R. R. Martin's "Sandkings", first published in OMNI.

The credit for much of OMNI's groundbreaking Sci Fi in the '80s can be firmly laid at the feet of its fiction editor Ellen Datlow, who edited the magazine's fiction section between 1981 and 1998.

In 1981 OMNI won the American Society of Journalists and Authors' Magazine of the Year. Nine years later, in 1990, OMNI caused some controversy in the journalistic world when it allowed Motorola to completely take over the front page with an ad. Motorola's featured the first ever ad to contain a hologram. Guccione felt this was "out there" enough to warrant the front cover. Two of its editors quit in protest. The magazine earned a "dart" from the Columbia Journalism Review.




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Copyright 2003 Karl Mamer

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