Sunday, January 13, 2013

Omni

In the 1980s and 1990s, Ray Bradbury's stories and essays would pop up from time to time in Omni, a glossy magazine which always claimed to be devoted to science fact and science fiction. (In fact, I seem to recall the magazine carrying articles on UFOs and other non-science topics, and the Bradbury fiction they published was almost entirely fantasy rather than SF.)

All four of Bradbury's fiction pieces in Omni were first appearances:

  • "Colonel Stonesteel's Genuine Home-Made Truly Egyptian Mummy" (May 1981)
  • "I Suppose You Are Wondering Why We Are Here?" (October 1984)
  • "Trapdoor" (April 1985)
  • "Once More, Legato" (Fall 1995)
 The first three of these were later collected in Bradbury's book The Toynbee Convector (1988). The fourth was collected in Quicker Than The Eye (1996). Although these stories were what appeared to be a late flourishing of Bradbury's short story output, appearances can be deceptive. "Colonel Stonesteel..." was originally written in the late 1940s, and I think "Trapdoor" might also have originated in the '40s.

As for non-fiction, Bradbury supplied Omni with two essays:

  • "Beyond Eden" (April 1980)
  • "The God in ScienceFiction" (October 1980)
"Beyond Eden" was another of Bradbury's celebrations of the manned space programme, in this case extolling the potential of the Space Shuttle to inspire us. Writing at least a year before the first flight of Columbia, Bradbury wrote:

The Space Shuttle.

How will it profit the men of New Bedford? How many kegs of oil can it bring to your Nantucket Market? Is there a seed farmer in the American fields, a churchwarden on his knees, an idler on Manhattan's docks who, looking up and seeing the Shuttle fly high, will be a penny richer, a  half-ounce of philosophy better, less given to ill tempers, more filled with salvation? 

So might Starbuck have queried Ahab re the White Whale 50,000 nights ago. My answer must  imitate Ahab's, who said, touching his chest, "It will reward me here, Starbuck, here!" 

For if the Space Shuttle is not as much heart and blood as it is mind and fact, then we shouldn't fly in Space at all.
 Of course, at this time many proponents of the Shuttle were advocating the idea of the space truck, a rather mundane delivery vehicle that would get the job done routinely, quickly and cheaply. From this quotation we can see that Bradbury took a much loftier view. As so often with his pronouncements on space, Bradbury couldn't resist ending his essay with one of his poems, this one being "They Have Not Seen The Stars".

In "The God in Science Fiction", Bradbury observes that humankind's understanding of deities has evolved over time:
Somewhere back in time, the Sun God Apollo became the Sun God Christ, born in the week of the winter solstice to prove that the world had not died but would rise again in the New Year that was truly that week and not January 1.

Somewhere further along in Time. Christ moves in Space, cargoed on missions that, for Now anyway, take the name of Apollo. So old myth and new circumnavigate the stars, rebuild old dreams, promise again better destinies on faraway worlds we cannot now imagine.
From this premise, Bradbury then proposes that "Science-fiction writers will lean more and more into theology, forced by NASA's blasphemous intrusion on the Lord's-territorial imperatives to question where we  have come from and just where in Heaven or Hell we are going."  The remainder of the essay sees him accounting for his own handling of themes of religion in his science fiction stories, ranging from The Martian Chronicles to the then-unpublished Leviathan '99.

An almost complete run of Omni magazine is now available online via the Internet Archive. This allows us to read Bradbury's compositions as they originally appeared, complete with the lavish illustrations that the magazine was known for. Here are direct links to the Bradbury issues, which can be viewed/downloaded in various file formats:


April 1980
October 1980
May 1981
October 1984
April 1985
Fall 1995


3 comments:

Richard Simpson said...

Huge Bradbury fan here. It's so funny I just found your blog. I recently was searching eBay for some Ray memorabilia and I came across a copy of Omni magazine with an interview with him entitled "Ray Bradbury: Meditations on Life, Space, Stars and Carl Sagan." Was wondering if you've read it??? I can't seem to find a digital copy so I'm thinking of buying it.
(You can see it here, if you're interested http://guccionecollection.com/store/?myvar=http://stores.ebay.com/completeconsignment/Omni-/_i.html?_fsub=4093115013&_sid=1067985663&_trksid=p4634.c0.m322)

Richard Simpson said...

Huge Bradbury fan here. It's so funny I just found your blog. I recently was searching eBay for some Ray memorabilia and I came across a copy of Omni magazine with an interview with him entitled "Ray Bradbury: Meditations on Life, Space, Stars and Carl Sagan." Was wondering if you've read it??? I can't seem to find a digital copy so I'm thinking of buying it.
(You can see it here, if you're interested http://guccionecollection.com/store/?myvar=http://stores.ebay.com/completeconsignment/Omni-/_i.html?_fsub=4093115013&_sid=1067985663&_trksid=p4634.c0.m322)

Phil said...

Hi Richard,

That title ("Ray Bradbury: Meditations on Life, Space, Stars and Carl Sagan") is just the cover blurb on the April 1980 issue, and it refers to Bradbury's essay inside that issue. The essay is "Beyond Eden", which is one that I referred to in my post!

Here's a direct link to the read-online version of it on the Internet Archive:

http://archive.org/stream/omni-magazine-1980-04/OMNI_1980_04#page/n47/mode/2up

If you use the link for "Beyond Eden" in my original post, it will take you to a page where you can download the issue in different formats.