SF Signal asks what book turned you into an SF Fan, with reference to Bob Wallace’s enjoying the swords and blasters stylings of Burroughs.
I had never seen anything like it. The cover had two huge moons floating in the night sky above a city of spires and towers. There were what appeared to be three huge airships floating high in the sky. In the foreground were two men, one flying through the air with a dagger in his hand, the other, with his Roman centurion-type helmet flying off of his head, turning toward his attacker with his hands coming up to defend himself. He looked really surprised, with the implication being his attempt at defense wasn’t going to do him any good. Why this fight, with a knife aimed at this man’s heart? If there was ever a cover that would make me open a book, that was it.
That’s certainly not Earth, I thought about that cover. But it’s not Mars, either. At least it wasn’t the uninhabited and barren Mars I knew from school. So, then, what was this place? Lying there on the couch, next to the fire in the fireplace, I opened that copy of A Fighting Man.
It was Mars, alright, but it was a Mars that existed only in Burroughs’ imagination. It wasn’t called Mars, though. It was called Barsoom (Earth was “Jasoom”). At least that’s what the natives called Mars, natives who happened to be green-skinned men. Well, sort of “men.” The women laid eggs, which hatched little Martians. Until then, I assumed only chickens came out of eggs. But Martians? Ones that carried swords!?
My book was Childhood’s End, by Arthur C. Clarke, appropriately enough.
I’d read other novels before then. My mother weaned me into novels with Clive Cussler. We lived on a boat, and I liked ocean-based stuff. I think I was like 5, if I remember right, maybe 6. I liked the Cussler books better than the reading primers because interesting stuff happened. The world was at stake, heros were at large, and villains were devising complicated schemes to gain power. It kept me moving along. It was easier to read a Cussler novel than to read a textbook.
When I had trouble with words my mother would hand me the dictionary. ‘Look it up.’ From this early behavior comes all my success in this world. I know all information if somewhere in print for me to tease out, even in fiction there are these things that teach me about the world as a child. I loved mystery, and devoured mum’s Sherlock Holmes collection over and over, trying to commit them to memory and struggling with the morality of Holme’s cocaine usage (I looked up cocaine in the dictionary, and was aware of the general idea of drug use from the age of 6, how’s that for ‘look it up?’). I moved onto westerns, reading Calamity Jane and other westerns people would buy for me from the used book store.
I lived on a boat without TV and must have been a minor blessing to my mother that a book would basically take me out of action for an afternoon. I admit, I was also fascinated by space ships a bit thanks to a Star Wars picture book someone gave me. Astronomy fascinated me a bit, I’d always ask my mom about the moon and what it took to get people there. I’d asked someone who was going to the states for something on the stars, and I got back a Michael Jackson T-Shirt.
Now this was back when he was popular, and I was still really bummed.
Then one day, on my dad’s boat, I was looking for reading material. I’d paged through a book about the founding of the United States and read the constitution, bill of rights, and declaration of independence, when I found two books back in a small shelf. They were Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke and Foundation, by Isaac Asimov.
Foundation, though I read it, was a struggle. Nothing really happened to me. But I’ll never forget the idea of a planet-wide city. That image stuck in my head and never left.
Childhood’s End blew my brain. I was never the same after it. My imagination had been stretched, and I was lead to question more of the world around me. It was entirely feasible to me that religion could have sprung up as a chance encounter with advanced aliens thousands of years ago, though I didn’t think that. I started becoming interested in early history.
And of course, look for me stuff like this. It was hard to find, where I was as a child. I still read voraciously, often getting into trouble so I could get ‘exiled’ to the library for an hour or so by my teachers.
But as I moved to the Virgin Islands from Grenada I started finding more SF. A few books a month or so. I encountered the Lord of The Rings in 4th grade and read the whole thing. Loved the Hobbit, still do, LOTR didn’t do as much for me, but the teacher that year let me read the whole school library as it was a small private school and I was the only 4th grader.
By 6th grade I started getting into large enough schools and finding swap libraries that my reading could veer substantially towards SF/F. Luckily, since I wasn’t the one picking them, but by chance, I got exposed to all sorts of random stuff, and by the time I was in the US Virgin Islands in 7th grade I was reading a book a day, most of it fantastic fiction.
My parents, well my stepdad in particular, did not think to start filtering the books until 10th grade or so, and by then there was nothing I hadn’t encountered in fiction that really surprised me. They worried about my obsession with SF/F, and asked why I didn’t read ‘other’ books. But I did. I probably read 1 non-SF book a week, more than most adults read, let alone any kids I knew of, but the fact that I read 2 or 3 SF/F books on top of the 1 non-SF made it look like I was obsessed.
It was a fun ride.