SPACE : 1995
SFX launch editor Matt Bielby remembers the year it all began…
When we launched SFX, in 1995, the genre wasn’t the allconquering colossus it is now – A Game Of Thrones was a year away, the first
Harry Potter novel was still being rejected by publishers, and Doctor Who was in the middle of its decade- and- a- half in the doldrums – but we had reasons to be cheerful nonetheless.
Though we only half- realised it at the time, a golden age was stuttering into life. Cyberpunk may have had its day as a literary subgenre, but its influence was everywhere; ditto Japanese animation; and a mix of old and new special effects technology was making affordable, impressive revamps of old, dead genres like the alien invasion movie ( Independence Day) or the disaster movie ( Armageddon) suddenly viable again. Soon, if you could imagine it, it would be possible to bring it in convincing enough fashion to the big screen, a first in movie history.
And other stars were aligning too. There’d be a revolution in television, with ambitious new shows bringing new audiences – teenage girls! Ageing literary SF fans! – to the media SF& F space in ever- increasing numbers. And on the bookshelves, fantasy in all its flavours – from Pratchett through Rowling and Martin, to the urban fantasy of the Anita Blake books – was starting to establish a mainstream appeal that SF has rarely enjoyed.
The mid-’ 90s was – though we didn’t fully realise this at the time either – the last great boom period for the newsstand magazine industry: technology made them cheaper and easier to put together than ever, the internet hadn’t eroded their market yet and exciting stuff was happening all over. Loaded and the modern incarnation of FHM had just launched; Wired was huge in America;
Wallpaper was on its way; and business for recent creations like Max Power, Men’s Health and Four
Four Two was booming. A few years before or a few years after, and nobody would have risked creating an in- no- way- a- sure- thing proposition like SFX – but the Goldilocks moment was now.
Notoriously SFX began with the Tank Girl film on the cover – cool, cultish, edgy, and now largely forgotten – which not everybody loved, but these days it seems the right decision. It set out our stall early, it said we’d talk about the interesting and quirky as well as the mainstream hits, and helped give the whole production a bit of British spunk and vim. ( And besides, the early summer’s two biggest SF movies – Judge Dredd and Batman
Forever – weren’t ready for us yet, didn’t know who we were, or probably both. They became our next two covers – and if they’re better remembered than
Tank Girl, they’re not better loved.)
The X- Files. Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Babylon 5. Lois & Clark. Each of SFX’s four big early shows had, in differing degrees, largely ensemble casts, series- long story arcs, detailed mythology, a nearobsessive need to juxtapose violence and threat with bantering wit, and endless foreshadowing and everything- you- thought- was- true- is- wrong plot twists – the building blocks of modern TV. Even the publicity shots, with their casts standing at angles to each other staring into the middle distance, began with these shows.
And so did a newly reinvigorated form of fandom. Characters like the X- Files’ Scully were bringing more women into sci- fi than ever before; creators like Babylon 5’s J Michael Straczynski engaged with those watching ( though Usenet newsgroups, not Twitter!) in unprecedented fashion; and everyone – not least one Russell T Davies – was inspired by the new possibilities of genre.
Oh, science fiction and fantasy were still cultish, still geeky – or whatever you want to call it. But the big hits of our world were now becoming cultural touchstones too, and SFX was here – just in time – to chronicle it all.
After a six- year break, James Bond returned in GoldenEye in our first year. Batman Forever didn’t quite make our debut cover.