Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Early influences

At the Locus Roundtable, Adrienne Martini asks what title pulled you into the science fiction and fantasy genre and what made you stay?

I’ll take the opportunity to get nostalgic:

My earliest memories include reading (or being read to) Nathaniel Hawthorne’s Tanglewood Tales (1852), a rewriting of Greek myths, and Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories (1902). These remain some of the greatest fables for young readers I have encountered. There was a volume of tales about Robin Hood for young readers, which edition I don’t know.

I have very clear memories of my father reading C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe (1950), to me and my older brother at bedtime, when I was age five or six, and how desperate we were for each new chapter. A couple years later, my grandmother brought us Turkish Delight and we finally tasted the exotic treat with which Edmund had been tempted.

At age 11, I borrowed Ray Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man (1951), which my brother had been reading. I enjoyed it, even though parts of it were a bit too scary.

When I was 13, a friend at school recommended a book he had found in the school library, Robert Silverberg’s The Gate of Worlds (1967), which is perhaps Silverberg’s best young adult book, and remains overlooked by many, I believe.

That same year, over dinner, my mother (who had been a science fiction fan since long before I was born) and brother discussed a book they were both reading. It was about a desert planet, giant sandworms, and a mysterious drug called “spice” that was in all the food and turned the whites of people’s eyes blue. I borrowed it next, even though Frank Herbert's Dune (1965) was larger in scope and scale than anything I had read before. After that I was off to the races, reading voraciously.

Please add your own early reading memories in the comments here, or at the Locus Roundtable.


  1. Thank a librarian. Having found a couple Bradbury anthologies and a handful of Heinlein's early works in the juvenile section, I approached a librarian for more and was ushered into the realm of infinite possibilities and mind-expanding perspectives.

    Weekly sojourns to the library soon mined out their selections from the genre, and in those days the science fiction "section" of a bookstore was generally just a couple shelves way in the back, so I was soon spending most of my allowance on 75¢ mail-order paperbacks, including the abovementioned copy of The Illustrated Man. But it was a librarian who brought me in, and F&SF still comprises more than a third of my reading.

    What made me stay? Infinite possibilities and mind-expanding perspectives.

  2. Hi Grano:

    Yes, the public library was a blessing to me, too. It was the perfect spot to scratch my new science fiction itch. I grew up in a small town (about 20,000 population at the time) and the library was a modest one, housed in a small converted storefront in the tiny commercial district. The science fiction section was probably two or three hundred books, which seemed like a lot at the time. I would check out six books every two weeks, the maximum for children. I worked my way by author: Silverberg, Herbert, Poul Anderson, and Roger Zelazny. Significant early discoveries included Herbert’s The Dragon in the Sea (1956) (aka Under Pressure) and Zelazny’s Lord of Light (1967), both of which are rewarding to reread as an adult.

    Someone, my brother I think, gave me a copy of Galaxy magazine. I got a subscription and I discovered that there was a science fiction community. Through the book reviews (by Theodore Sturgeon), opinion columns, letters to the editor, and convention listings, it became clear that it was a community that was lively and argumentative. I think it was the sense of community that made me stay (along with, as you say, the infinite possibilities and mind-expanding perspectives).