When I first saw the announcement for a new science magazine back in 1978, I was intrigued and excited. Omni promised to fulfill my geek girl dreams with plenty of science articles written for the layperson along with hard-hitting science fiction from all the best writers. The magazine wasn’t just about science, it was about the future—and I wanted to know as much about the future as possible. I wanted to be the future. Indeed, at the time I was studying Criminology under Laurin A. Wollan, Jr., a Futurist at Florida State University.
But I have to admit it was the mind-blowing artwork that initially drew me to become a Charter Member and one of the earliest subscribers. I have every single issue that was published—I even bought those black slipcases with gold lettering to house them, specifically designed and made for Omni. This began my serious love affair with SF short stories, art and magazines. Yes, there were other less-serious (let’s call them puppy) loves before Omni but this was my grown-up introduction to the potential of science fiction.
It was within the pages of Omni that I was first introduced to so many visionaries—including the Swiss artist H.R. Giger, who would design the sets for what would become for me a life-changing movie, Ridley Scott’s Alien. Omni also provided amazing photographs; close-ups of the internal workings of computers and other technology that eventually inspired me to migrate to Computer Science while still in graduate school studying psychobiology and crime prevention. The images didn’t just show the world of outer space but inner space as well, something that appealed to my insatiable sense of curiosity.
Some of the artwork was so amazingly mind-blowing that I would buy an extra newsstand copy so I could cut out the art and put it up on my walls. The artwork, along with my punk-rock posters, transformed my dull college apartment into a vision of what the future could be.
So you can imagine how thrilled I was to discover The Mind’s Eye: The Art of Omni, edited by Jeremy Frommer and Rick Schwartz. It showcases some of what made Omni so great: an essential uncommercial strangeness and a willingness embrace the alien that set the tone for the times and made things cross over from “cult” to “pop culture.”
Here are some of my favorite images from the book.
I really like that at first glance the whale still presents as “whale,” before you realize it too is some kind of spaceship. There’s also a kind of retro nod to the 1950s that appeals; those small bronze spaceships definitely exist at a different level of tech. But it may be the texture here that I particularly love—not just in the spaceships but in the details of the waves, which contrast nicely with the ridges on, for example, the whale ship.
This piece has a real pop-art feel to it, and the blending of plant and sea life fascinates, along with the sense of people being immersed in their environment. You’re kind of floating there weightless, observing, as if you too are lost in the vegetation and the person in the center of the painting is staring at you.
Schoenherr’s art was my first introduction to a Frank Herbert sandworm, in this classic representation. The rising mouth and the darkness of that maw are what really creates a sense of scale here, more than the figures that surround the worm. Yet the worm also has a kind of architectural integrity, caught here at the moment of least motion. Even the sand drifts around the mouth suggest this, falling off the lip not bursting up in clouds of fury. The artist has really thought about what such a scene might look like in real life.
I love the colors here—muted and yet bright—and the texture created by the odd sense of some images being out-of-focus because of its reliance on a jagged form of impressionism. There’s a sophisticated depth—depth perception, yes, but also a kind of layering. It’s more effective than any photograph or more naturalistic approach could be in portraying space and spacecraft.
As portraiture goes, I prefer non-naturalistic attempts more interested in capturing some essential element of the person or character. The human eye creates a great focal point and the blue-metal and silver sections are so carefully composed around the eye as to seem organic, like this could be a real “creature,” but also as if someone is wearing a particularly baroque spacesuit. There’s an almost fractal sense to parts of it.
This image feeds into my dual love of dinosaurs and the surrealists. Basically it’s a bunch of dinosaur heads or snakeheads created in the decalcomania style of Max Ernst—whether that effect is intentional or not. In decalcomania you paint over a rough surface and then look for whatever shapes suggest themselves from the whorls and flaws in the paint. The painter starts in a kind of alien place anyway using that technique, and here it’s literally creating an alien landscape.
When I see this image it tells me that being smart is sexy. It’s an excellent example of how the magazine could dramatize aspects of science or the body through use of bold images. At times this approach could seem abstract or bloodless, but here there’s a kind of essential drama in the tangle of synapses, a sense of movement, and a strong sense of emotion as well.
How can you go wrong when you add a cat to Giger? Or, in this case, strap on a cat to a Giger…I don’t know what I can really add to an appreciation of Giger’s art, except to say there are unexpected moments of playfulness in some of his paintings—and particularly here. It’s worth noting how quizzical and curious the cat is, how good Giger is at evoking some kind of essential cat nature.
It’s hard to imagine this piece appearing in any newsstand magazine other than Omni. The commingling of Bosch and Dali with the artist’s own unique perspective creates something more than just a surrealist pastiche. The lovely way the piece plays with perspective, feeling slightly off but also wide and large and infinite, suggests a Ballardian influence as well.
Ann VanderMeer is a Hugo Award and World Fantasy Award winning editor who serves as an acquiring editor for Tor.com. Her latest anthology, The Time Traveler’s Almanac, co-edited with her husband, the writer, Jeff VanderMeer, collects a century of time-travel stories. Her next project is The Big Book of Science Fiction for Vintage, covering a century of SF. She also served for five years as only the second female editor of Weird Tales in its 90-year history, published award-winning books through her Buzzcity Press, founded a surrealist art-and-fiction mag in the 1980s, and played in a punk-rock band in college.
To learn more about The Mind’s Eye: The Art of Omni, click here.