|SFX magazine column by David Langford: issue #100, January 2003|
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Doesn't time fly? In 1995 I insinuated myself into SFX #1 using subtle techniques known only to freelance writers ("Dear Editor, You are feeling sleepy ... very sleepy ... You are helpless to resist ..."). Now we're at number 100 and I'm still here, feeling like the oldest inhabitant and awaiting a telegram from the Queen. Though nowadays she probably sends e-mail.
Anyway, champers all round! Not many British SF magazines last this long. I should know: I've been in enough of them. Long ago Bob Shaw complained, resignedly, that every new SF magazine seemed to have a column from this wretchedly ubiquitous Langford.
At least I wasn't in SF Monthly, the 1970s tabloid crammed with full-page poster versions of SF cover art designed to look best at paperback size. That lasted 28 issues before collapsing into the smaller SF Digest, which with amazing publishing acumen was cancelled before its single issue appeared. I still treasure my collection of SF Monthly rejection slips. It was perhaps unwise to submit a savage parody of one particularly awful New English Library SF series, since NEL also published SF Monthly.
Then came the 1970s/1980s Ad Astra, an ineffably tatty production which ran to 16 issues, most containing news columns by me. Payment ranged from insufficient to nonexistent. Somewhere out there are fans with complete runs of Ad Astra who don't realize the terrible power of Langford blackmail which they wield.
I actually became Non-Fiction Editor of Extro when, after a past fanzine incarnation, it launched as a professional mag in 1982. Sadly, Extro's publisher relied on a bank overdraft while building up sales. The bank manager dishonoured the overdraft agreement and the magazine foundered after three issues – nobbled by the Curse of Langford.
Interzone also emerged in 1982, and is miraculously still with us despite buying several stories from me and running my monthly news column ever since issue #62 in 1992. Number 186 is due out approximately now – can SFX ever catch up? Well, Interzone editor David Pringle's second proudest boast (after his 1995 Hugo win) is that he publishes more often than the American fiction magazines, which appear only 11 times a year to Interzone's 12. Since SFX manages 13 thanks to the innovative month of Spring, we should draw level in 2088 and then surge ahead!
(An appreciative word from Mr Pringle: "Please, please send a £34 subscription fee to Interzone, 217 Preston Drove, Brighton, BN1 6FL. Do it now. Act without thinking.")
Another long stint began in 1983 when I wormed my way into Games Workshop's role-playing games magazine White Dwarf. The "Critical Mass" book review page brought me the simple pleasures of stimulating readers to howls of outrage, merely by being rude about Stephen R. Donaldson. Weirdly, I still get fan mail: "Are you the Dave Langford who reviewed for White Dwarf back when it was almost good?"
I might still be there, but developed cold feet as, inexorably, Dwarf phased out independent games reviews in favour of plugs for Games Workshop products. When GW started planning spinoff novels based on their Warhammer game, I sensed (correctly) that independent book reviews were likewise doomed. So, having failed to kill off Albino of Restricted Growth, I moved the column to its new rival GM (GamesMaster) in 1988, destroyed that magazine by 1990, and transferred the Langford Curse to the even newer GM International, which lasted 15 issues before succumbing in 1991.
The venerable New Worlds (established 1946, or 1936 if you count its fanzine ancestor Novae Terrae) was the toughest market to crack. Its paperback incarnation folded in the 1970s after accepting, but before publishing, my lampoon of long-time NW editor Michael Moorcock. But I managed to sneak some critical essays into the revived 1990s New Worlds – which then, after just four appearances, joined the choir invisible. Total run: 220 issues. Mike Moorcock still owns the title and makes Etna-like rumblings about publishing number 221. That is not dead which can eternal lie ...
Starburst printed Langford reviews from 1985 to 1993, but may owe its continued existence to having rebuffed me ever since. Another early-1990s column ran for two instalments in Nexus SF before this hastily merged with Interzone; a fate worse than death? I brought back "Critical Mass" for the new venture Odyssey, which lasted from 1997 until, er, 1999. I deftly terminated the Waterstone's on-line SF newsletter Frontiers with a series of 13 contributions which proved fatal by late 2001. Can Big Engine's new magazine 3SF (see www.3sfmag.co.uk) survive the Langford story they bought even before the launch? [See footnote]
I hope the editor of SFX isn't getting worried.
David Langford insists that despite appearances he is not in fact, yet, 100.
Footnote: Oh, the embarrassment. The column appeared in the January 2003 SFX: Big Engine annnounced its insolvency and the suspension of 3SF at the end of March. My curse usually takes a bit longer than that.
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