Two hundred and fifty years of SFX! Science fiction has been through many changes since 1764, when Brian Aldiss was a mere stripling and the year's hot SF novels were Enrico Wanton's Travels to the Unknown Lands of the Southern Hemisphere and to the Kingdoms of the Monkeys and of the Dog-Headed People by Zaccaria Seriman, written in Italian, and for English readers the first rib-tickling volume of A Trip to the Moon: Containing an Account of the Island of Noibla, its Inhabitants, Religious and Political Customs, Etc by the subtly pseudonymous Sir Humphry Lunatic. Noibla is of course Albion backwards. I am not making this up.
Oh, you said 250 issues of SFX? I'd better start again.
It's strange to have become the white-whiskered Oldest Inhabitant here, occasionally struggling feebly from an antique rocking-chair to belabour subeditors with my crutch. When I were a lad, magazines with Langford columns had the life expectancy of confetti at thermonuclear ground zero. Typhoid Langford, they called me.
For example, I had a regular news column titled "Fission Fragments" in Ad Astra, which was typeset by a million monkeys and occasionally spelt me Davd Largford. I came aboard at issue 9: Ad Astra bit the dust with issue 16.
At Million: The Magazine of Popular Fiction (a spinoff from Interzone, which unkind fans then suggested should be subtitled The Magazine of Unpopular Fiction), my merry column "Slightly Foxed" launched in the debut issue and went down with the ship when Million hit the Iceberg of Insufficient Sales two years later. By then I'd started another gig in the Brighton-based Nexus. After #3, alas, Nexus was absorbed into the Brighton-based multinational conglomerate of Interzone. The town wasn't big enough to hold them both.
In 1997 came Odyssey, where I revived the "Critical Mass" column title I'd used for 1980s book reviews. Odyssey indulged me by letting me write quite hefty essays, and paid the price by folding in 1999. "If you must have Langford, keep him to a tight word count" was the message to other editors.
Putting me on the masthead as editor was even more reliably disastrous. Extro, the professional relaunch of a Northern Irish fanzine, made me nonfiction editor at issue #2 and never reached #4 – for which I'd commissioned Duncan Lunan to write an article on Comet Swift-Tuttle that he eventually recycled in book form thirty years later. Oops.
What's more, I was a consulting editor for The Omni Book of the Future, a bizarre project run from the UK office of the then huge, glossy and high-paying SF/science-fact magazine Omni (stablemate of Penthouse). For some weird reason BotF was planned as a weekly partwork along the lines of 101 DIY Projects You Will Never Finish, and got killed off before release when market tests revealed that no one wanted to buy a partwork that over the years would build into a mighty encyclopedia of, er, SF stories and articles on UFOs. I never got paid for such vital expertise as saying "This Asimov story is one of his worst – there must be something better for the launch issue?" and being told "We're going with that one because we want ISAAC ASIMOV! on the cover."
Then there was the time I destroyed New Worlds in its quarterly paperback incarnation, by selling them a Moorcock parody. I've always liked to think the timid publishers axed NW rather than risk printing the story....
So I'm raising a glass of champagne to SFX, one of the rare robust magazines – Interzone is the other – to reach 250 issues despite the curse of a long-running Langford column. Amazing!
David Langford, together with John Clute, was recently interviewed for Amazing Stories: see the beans spilt at http://tinyurl.com/nqjbm3k.