Mimsy Were the Borogoves

Book Reviews: From political histories to bad comics, to bad comics of political histories. And the occasional rant about fiction and writing.

Mimsy Review: The Best of Omni Science Fiction No. 2

Reviewed by Jerry Stratton, April 23, 2015

“Dream mapping,” they call it. Maurice says there’s nothing interesting in his lab… recording machines and computers and like that… Only you won’t catch me laying out my dreams on tape!”

I always enjoyed Omni, but, unlike its sister publication, I enjoyed it for its photos more than for the stories. It’s best, however, was not too bad, at least from 1978-1980.

Length143 pages
Magazine Rating6
Transfer Quality7
Overall Rating7

I bought this magazine-sized collection of Omni fiction mostly out of nostalgia—while I loved reading Omni back in the day, and always looked forward to the next issue, I was never impressed by its fiction. Unlike its sister publication, which of course one bought for the articles, Omni was famous for its graphics and its science interviews and articles. Of all the science fiction I remember reading from that era as really affecting me—David Gerrold’s The Man Who Folded Himself, Walter M. Miller’s A Canticle for Leibowitz come to mind, as well as pretty much the entire contents of The Science Fiction Hall of Fame—none are from Omni. But I also considered that perhaps they were simply over my then very young head and that they would thus be more interesting now; and also, of course, that this, being the best of Omni, would indeed be worth reading.

But Robert Sheckley’s introduction did not bode well. Sheckley was smarter than this:

Before the Eighties we lived in an apparently inexhaustible earth; now the end of our resources is in sight… American hegemony in space, once taken for granted, is now uncertain as the Russians move ahead of us in the exploration of space.

Malthus and Malthusians had been talking up the end of our resources since 1798 and science fiction has taken up Malthusian pessimism almost since it existed—from the moment Morlocks began feeding on Eloi.

In more modern science fiction I have, sitting right next to this collection in my to-read pile, Harry Harrison’s Make Room! Make Room! from 1966, so obscure it was turned into the oft-quoted 1973 movie Soylent Green, in which, spoiler, the end of our resources results, yet again, in humans feeding on humans.1

And if “American hegemony in space” had ever been “taken for granted”, it must have been a very temporary window in the seventies—the space race began with the Russians snagging an early lead on us. And the fear remained even during and after Apollo that they might be ahead of us on the military applications of satellites and space travel while we were focused on moon landings and Tang.

Fortunately, the fiction is not as myopic as the introduction. While it starts out with a twisted anti-Catholic anti-happiness screed (happiness only comes from being duped, a common dormitory faith), Dean Ing’s Down and Out on Ellfive Prime was a nice story of revolution and hardware. And Suzy McKee Charnas’s vampire-ish The Ancient Mind at Work was more uplifting and more interesting.

The Soviets play heavily in these stories, as is to be expected from the introduction. Only the story that looks to the past, William G. Shepherd’s The Chessman successfully grokked the Soviet weakness. The futurists of Omni had no inkling that the demise of the Soviet behemoth was only a decade away.2

This was even true of Orson Scott Card, whose A Thousand Deaths is a brilliant story of an America that has made its peace with the Soviets and given in to the wonderful fairness and humanity of communism. Card suggests (but does not show) that they will be sacked only from the outside. But there was no need of barbarians from the outside. The Soviets were sacked from within.

Omni was probably known more for its artwork than for its fiction, and there are several vaguely-themed painting collections as well, from Dune to space travel, and they are amazing. I especially enjoyed the illustrations for the reprinted excerpt of Arthur C. Clarke’s 1959 The Challenge of the Spaceship.

If I ever see any other of these collections, I’ll definitely pick them up. The best of Omni is pretty good, and this is by far the best-illustrated science fiction collection I have ever seen.

  1. Further spoiler: Soylent Green is purple!

  2. For all its talk about how enlightened the eighties are, this collection is copyrighted 1981; the stories are from 1978, 1979, and 1980.

The Best of Omni Science Fiction No. 2

Recommendation: Purchase