Great Treasure, Discovered

When I was in high school, I lived in a small town in Wisconsin. I don’t remember if we had regular curbside trash removal, but I do remember making periodic trips to the local dump, located a few miles outside of town. Like many poor kids, I thought this was a good excuse to snoop through garbage and look for anything that struck me as cool or worth saving.

The last trip I ever remember taking to the dump, I happened upon a plain cardboard box with the flaps folded closed at the top. It must’ve been recently dumped, since the box was totally intact and not at all weather-beaten. So of course I had to open it.

What I found inside… well, I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that it changed my life. The box contained about four years’ worth of OMNI magazines, roughly 1984 through 1987, all perfectly preserved.

If you’ve never heard of or read OMNI magazine, I would describe it as a magazine that covered science fact, science fiction, and science maybe. It was published from the late 1970s through the 1990s, though the sweet spot for me was definitely during the mid-1980s. It was the first place I encountered ideas like nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and terraforming. It was the first place I encountered writers like Orson Scott Card, George R. R. Martin, Arthur C. Clarke, Roger Zelazny, Kate Wilhelm, Greg Bear, and God knows how many others. It was a magazine that gave equal coverage to astronomers and fantasy artists. (The covers by Ralle still rank among my favorite works of art EVER.)

In short, it legitimized a genre of entertainment that I’d never before seen presented as art.

I may not always (or even usually) write science fiction now, but no matter what I work on, I still feel like a speculative fiction writer. And thanks to¬†OMNI, that’s a pretty awesome feeling to have.

I still have that precious cache of magazines stored away; every so often I’ll come across them and get lost for hours in them. But you know what’s great about the Internet? You don’t have to wander through the local dump in hopes of finding such a treasure.

The Internet Archive has an almost-complete run of OMNI magazine available for free download. The scans may not be the best; you certainly can’t appreciate the artwork in the same way as on the original pages. And I’ve heard the OCR for the text-based files is spotty (though I personally view the pdfs). But if you have patience and an eye for treasure, your search won’t be in vain.

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