Remembering the giddy futurism of Omni magazine.

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Dec. 30 2009 12:27 PM

In 2010, We Will Live on the Moon

Remembering the giddy futurism of Omni magazine.

(Continued from Page 1)

Ah, if only.

It's hard to say when Omni lost its momentum: Perhaps it was when the future itself changed and shuttle missions started looking like an expensive way of going nowhere. Perhaps it was Time Inc.'s launch of Discover or the time when two Omni editors—and then Guccione's own daughter—publicly resigned in 1990 in protest over ads on the magazine's cover. The ads, ironically, were probably the newest thing about Omni's look: It hadn't been updated in two decades, and the far-out future once promised to ELO listeners appeared desperately unhip in a never mind era.

Other magazines ate their lunch: Subscribers to the newly launched Wired looked suspiciously like Omni readers who'd moved on and gotten MBAs. By 1995, Omni's thinning page count was stuffed with more marginal stories, and—in the most gloriously desperate move I've ever seen in a collapsing magazine—it ran ads for "a breakthrough in interactive publishing": a 900 line that provided "a direct link to our editorial staff."

That's right: for just 95 cents a minute, you could talk to real, live—and horny, one assumes—"editorial assistants" at Omni.

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The print edition folded a year later, though Guccione and Keeton spun this into a startling achievement: Omni became the first major newsstand title to go online-only. Omnimag.com lacked the gloss and heft of old, but the Continuum items read much the same as before, and it continued a strong suit in interviews by expanding them into interactive forums with Omni readers.

And, of course, there were UFOs—lots of UFOs.

Woo-woo science is always fun until someone gets hurt; and, alas, that someone may have been publisher Kathy Keeton. Omni was her baby, and even as it pumped out more Antimatter coverage, Keeton battled the earthly ailment of breast cancer with largely discredited hydrazine-sulfate therapy. Wide-eyed futurism may not have lent itself to judging cancer treatments. Within days of Keeton's death in September 1997, Omni's site fell silent, save for a link directing readers to a Hydrazine Sulfate advocacy site. These days the (now NSFW) Omnimag.com domain redirects readers to ... Penthouse.

And yet old copies of Omni can still stop grown nerds in their tracks: "Oh god, I remember this!" Curiously, so does the Guccione family—son Bob Jr. occasionally speaks of reviving the magazine. If he ever does, I'll look forward to watching my sons reading it. Though some kinds of future, I fear, can only be found in the past.

Click here to view a slide show on Omni magazine.

Paul Collins teaches in the MFA writing program at Portland State University. His latest book is The Book of William: How Shakespeare's First Folio Conquered the World.

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