20 Glorious Years

This SFX comes rolling off the presses twenty years after the first issue, which was dated June 1995, priced at "£3 of your Earth Money" and imaginatively numbered #1. In the light of hindsight, true ubergeeks or William Gibson would have started the count at zero. Somehow, over the decades, I'd mercifully forgotten that my first column drafts were titled "Supercritical" – a quirk which inaugural SFX editor Matt Bielby wisely ignored.

Ah, nostalgia. Those were the days when paperbacks cost £4.99, the hot new cover-billed film was Tank Girl, Glasgow's first World SF Convention took a full-page ad, the tie-in merchandise spot was headed "Objets d'arse", and readers were carefully briefed on this new-fangled Internet thingy: "All you need to connect to Futurenet is an Internet account, such as Demon or Cityscape, or a direct college connection. Then simply use your World Wide Web browser ..." But first, switch the computer on.

Reviewers were seemingly in short supply for the first half-year of SFX. In those seven issues, besides the first seven Langford columns and an interview with Christopher Priest, I had 53 book reviews. To the relief of all concerned, this glut of me was never repeated.

The first-written review was of Terry Pratchett's Soul Music in paperback, Discworld novel #15. Now there are forty of them (with one last Tiffany Aching YA tale to come), this feels like an early book of the series but it certainly didn't then. As I write, the day after Sir Terry's all too early death at age 66, the tributes and obituaries are everywhere. He leaves a big jagged hole in the world.

I was always a tiny bit nervous about reviewing Discworld novels, because I suspected I should declare an interest. Once upon a time I wrote an enthusiastic reader's report on Equal Rites for Gollancz, which may have helped persuade them that they needed Terry. But they probably didn't need telling.

That led to many years of reading Pratchett for corrupt personal gain, first for Gollancz and later for Doubleday – going through the early drafts and reporting on plot holes, continuity problems, jokes that seemed to need more polishing or went right over my head... "Langfordization" of Discworld novels became a tradition, continuing from Mort through to Thud!, but of course I can't take any credit for the results. Mostly it was a matter of prodding Terry to tackle issues he vaguely knew about but hadn't yet got around to. It was fun.

Amazing revelations will not follow, since this tinkering was all in deadly confidence. As our man would add to email when he remembered that I also publish an SF scandal sheet: "NFA,YB!" (Not For Ansible, You Bastard.)

I'm endlessly grateful for all the silly conversations at conventions in places as far-flung as Australia; for the introductions Terry generously wrote for my own comic novel The Leaky Establishment and my two Discworld quizbooks (those were Gollancz's bright idea, but Terry indulgently allowed them to happen); and for the opportunity to write about him in dozens of reference books and, very nearly, an official British Council "Writers and Their Work" booklet. Although it was the British Council's own publishers who approached me about writing this official acceptance of Terry into the UK literary pantheon, he predicted that a backlash of literary snobbery would ensure "that this will wither away"... and he was right.

My joky prediction in the September 1998 SFX: "A few decades hence, perhaps Sir Terry Pratchett will celebrate his 80th birthday by launching the First Church of Discworld." Right about the Sir, which followed in 2009. Wrong about the 80th birthday – but how I wish I hadn't been.

David Langford notes that SFX #1 also had an interview with Iain M Banks. Another good man lost too soon.