Two hundred issues of SFX! I think my carefully hoarded sense of wonder just exploded. Hardly anyone now remembers those early days when publishing technology was so primitive that J.K. Rowling had yet to be invented; when email attachments were carried by cleft stick; when burly typesetters assembled SFX pages one letter at a time and never had enough X's to spell out the more exotic alien names. Not a lot of people know that Klingons were originally Xlinxons but had to be changed owing to the shortage of type.
There'd be a terrific flutter of quill pens as our interviewers raced to record the latest epigram from H.G. Wells: "No, dammit, I do not write sci-fi and most certainly not steampunk. I am an author of Scientific Romance." Stanley Kubrick responded to a typically cheeky film review titled "The Milky Bar Kid" with a telegram that's still framed in a place of honour on the office wall: YOU BASTARDS STOP AM BANNING A CLOCKWORK ORANGE FROM EVER BEING SCREENED AGAIN STOP LOVE STAN. Who said this magazine wasn't influential?
SFX coverage of the first ever science fiction convention – January 1937, in the Leeds Theosophical Hall – set the tone for later hard-hitting reports by focusing on the unforgivable lack of a bar for Langford to hang out in. Future cons took heed. The Couch Potato department was also very different in its early days, with the team listening intently to a huge-horned gramophone playing scratchy 78rpm records of BBC Radio's Journey into Space or the more science-fictional episodes of The Goon Show.
As for the famous guests we've had in these pages... Mary Shelley's editorial was a slight disappointment, banging on about feminism when everyone hoped for her candid opinions on the Hammer classic Frankenstein and the Wolfman Meet Dracula's Mummy, and Lewis Carroll's artistic photos of naked child stars (including early Doctor Who companions) couldn't be published because the subjects' toenails were all exquisitely trimmed – SFX feared a tabloid witch-hunt against pedicure. But guest editor Russell T. Davies was bitingly funny about how Terry Pratchett's Discworld is total pants as SF, and Isaac Asimov also gave great value. Celebrated as the author who crammed the history of the entire world into one volume and his own autobiography into two, he granted SFX an exclusive 250,000-word interview that had to be run in microdot form. The souvenir fridge magnet on which it appeared is a highly coveted collectible.
Our most iconic front cover must be the photo of Philip K. Dick, who was having a Pink Beam or possibly a White Powder experience and lurched sideways so that, hilariously, his head covered a letter of the title and it looked as though the magazine was called SF. San Francisco! How we all laughed. But one of our designers was inspired: "We could adapt this concept..." Yet again, Dick had profoundly and prophetically influenced the future.
Now at issue 200, SFX continues to narrow the lead of my own newsletter Ansible, which has 277 issues as I write. Since this appears monthly and SFX can squeeze in thirteen editions a year by inventing new months like Summer or Christmas, my days of supremacy are numbered. The two publications should be neck-and-neck in a mere 71 years, by which time SFX will have celebrated its 1000th and indeed 1100th issues. More parties – I can hardly wait.
David Langford, on the occasion of his 200th column, has been promised a champagne breakfast. He merely has to bring the champagne. And the cornflakes.