Life-Long Fascination

Paul’s comment last week about how seeing the movie of The Thing led him

The Door Into Simak

 to the realization that a movie might be based on a story – and how that awareness contributed to a life-long fascination with the roots of things – made my mind do one of those sideways jumps.

In this case, I started thinking about how I came to my fascination with Science Fiction and Fantasy. For me, the gateway was mythology. Unlike many SF/F readers, I can’t tell you what was the first SF/F book I read. Nor am I going to claim to be one of those precocious readers who wasn’t even out of diapers before I was reading the encyclopedia.

As far as I know, I learned to read when I was in first grade. Whatever Sister Stephanie did to teach me, she must have done it right. Certainly, my mother must have played a big role in contributing to my enthusiasm. I don’t remember her reading to me specifically, but do I remember her reading to me and my siblings. By second grade, Miss O’Donnell was arranging for me to read with her sister’s – also Miss O’Donnell, a source of endless fascination for some reason – third graders.

Believe it or not, this is going somewhere…

When I was in third grade, my family moved. The new area’s school system had a reputation for being excellent. It might well have been. What it lacked was order and discipline. My parents had no way of knowing that I was doing well in third grade because most of the material was a repeat of second grade. My teacher, Mrs. Cox, was a nice woman. She read to us, too. I remember her reading from the Beverly Cleary books about Henry and her laughing so hard that she choked when Henry (in a contest with another boy over who really owns the dog Ribsy) yells something like: “Horsemeat, Ribsy! Horsemeat!”

In fourth grade, my world changed. I was put in what was called an Open Classroom. My teacher was a sweet young thing named Miss Campbell. Her mandate was based on a philosophy that children learn best at their own pace and doing what they want.

They expected me to learn long-division. They gave me a free pass to the library. What do you think I did? I read. That’s when I became seriously addicted to mythology. My favorites were two books by the D’Aulaire’s, their lavishly illustrated Greek and Norse myths. I took these out so often I came to think of them as “mine.” Later on that same year, I read both the Iliad and the Odyssey – adult versions – because so many of the characters were already old friends.

And somehow this led to Science Fiction and Fantasy. As I said, I don’t recall my first venture into either. I do remember that one of the reasons I started seeking out SF/F was because of summer reading. Once a week, my mom took us with pretty regular fidelity to the local library. I don’t recall her editing our choices. Her only rule was that we could take out as many books as we could carry.

I’d been reading “children’s books,” but the chapter books I liked (often horse stories or things like Nancy Drew) were bulky and heavy. Science Fiction and Fantasy came in paperbacks, lots and lots of them displayed on a big spinning wire rack. Westerns came in paperback, too. (This rack was up against a wall). I read a bunch of those as well. Oddly, I didn’t get into adult mysteries until a year or so later, when I started babysitting.

However, if weight and bulk considerations led me to SF/F, it was SF/F that led me back into the hard cover shelves. I still remember the first author whose books I went looking for, going to the card catalog, then to the intimidating, dusty reaches of the adult shelves.

Clifford Simak. I don’t remember which book I found there, but when I’d read all the paperbacks the library had of his stories, I had to find more of his odd, twisting perspective.

So what led you to SF/F? A specific book? Movies? Comics? A television show?

Oh… And I’m still lousy at long-division, but at least there are calculators to help with that!

19 Responses to “Life-Long Fascination”

  1. Julie Hagan Bloch Says:

    I don’t remember what led me to SF/F. I do remember that I was fascinated by mythology as a child… that is, as soon as I was able to get hold of the books ( I remember Bullfinch’s Mythology, but I don’t remember if it was a library copy or my own… too many years ago!) My Aunt Marce led me to Shakespeare, and in some convoluted way, to the memorization of the recipe from MacBeth (you know, “snail of dragon, tooth of wolf, witch’s mummy, maw and gulf of the ravined salt sea shark…)… and I looked up “maw”, “fen” (for fenny snake), and so on… and when I saw the Harry Potter film with the choral group, I was hitting my forehead and saying, “No, no, no, it’s ‘Double, double toil and trouble…’, not ‘bubble bubble toil and trouble…’!” You know, with the bad rep that witches get, Shakespeare had them rooting for “double trouble, double toil” and all that, not “bubble bubble”, which sounds more like an ad for bath salts…?
    At any rate, yeah, Shakespeare, mostly the ones with the magic, like “The Tempest” and “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and whatnot. And MacBeth.
    Okay, so Bullfinch and Billy S…. but I don’t remember any specific SF/F until my hippie/commune days in 1970 or thereabouts, and The Lord of the Rings. I’ve read hundreds of SF/F since then, but that’s not a lot if you figure 40 years, then even two thousand is only 50 a year. And I’ve read some mysteries in that time, too.
    … What was the question?

  2. Sue Estell Says:

    Clifford D. Simak! “Time and Again” singlehandedly pulled me into SF, never to leave. There had been early forays into it with “The Forgotten Door” by Alexander Key, and “Runaway Robot” by Lester Del Rey and Wayne Blickenstaff, purchased through the Scholastic book club, but Simak’s books were the first ‘grown-up’ SF I read. And I think they were also found on the wire rack at the library, from which we carried home armloads of books each weekend. (Mom let us use bags, too.) What great memories!

  3. Katie Says:

    One of my earliest memories is of sitting on my dad’s lap on the couch taking turns reading passages in /The Chronicles of Narnia./ So the first books I remember reading were fantasy.

    I went through a long mystery–Nancy Drew, Encyclopedia Brown–and horse book phase, but there was a lot of fantasy, at least, thrown in. Robin McKinley, Madeleine L’Engle, Phillip Pullman (I read and re-read /The Golden Compass/ and /The Subtle Knife/ so many times when I was a kid, and was just devestated by how terrible the third one was when it finally came out). All the books with talking animals–/Redwall/, /Watership Down/. Do the Animorphs books count? Does anyone remember them?

    Then about fifth or sixth grade my mom suggested I read Anne McCaffrey’s Dragonriders of Pern books, and that’s what really led me into adult sci-fi and fantasy.

    This thread really makes me want to go back and read all those old books! There’s just not enough time in the day. ^_^

  4. Debbie Says:

    As a child I was reading mostly horror and mysteries. But when I was in 8th grade, my English teacher, Mrs. Herbst, gave me the first book in Lord of the Rings to read. She said after I read it, if I liked it, she’d give me the second. That was it. Thanks to Mrs. Herbst I began my love affair with fantasy. Science fiction came later. My first real memory of reading science fiction was Clark’s Against the Fall of Night. I loved, loved, loved that book.

    I have to agree with Katie. I’ve read Lord of the Rings numerous times — but this thread makes me want to read Clark’s book again. However, I always fear I’ll have the same experience I recently had with Lovecraft — the stories that so intrigued and entertained me as a child are so difficult to read as an adult writer. Sigh.

  5. Patrick Doris Says:

    The first SF story I can recall reading was “A Pail of Air” I used to love short story collections “Against the Sea of Stars ” was a favorite.. such a wonderful title. I read everything Andre Norton wrote. Her writing got me to expected stories to have sequels. Speaking of which does anyone remember the name of her novel about the Scientists who escape from a concentration camp in a space ship they built.?

  6. Nicholas Wells Says:

    Star Trek, pure and simple. I grew up on it, watched it often, still have all 79 episodes of the original series on VHS – in superb condition I might add. From there I grew to enjoy anything that was in space with a good story. Star Wars, Andromeda, a little Power Rangers I guess (I was young after all). I just loved all that space-faring stuff. With Earth so well explored, I always wished I could live in those times, so I could see things no one else has seen. When I didn’t know better, I wanted the adventures and battles too.

    Now…. who am I kidding? I’d still want adventures. I’d just be more careful about them.

    Not sure when I grew a taste for fantasy. It just kind of evolved out of nowhere, though the Firekeeper series really gave it a growth spurt. I think somewhere inside I always had a thing for dragons (who dosen’t?). Sentient ones were my preference, as they added the ability to really become one with a magnificent creature.

    Not sure what else did it. Maybe nothing. To a point it’s like my love of wolves and foxes. I can tell you now why I love them, but I can’t for the life of me truly say where or how it started. As I got older, the interest just grew.

  7. Alan Robson Says:

    Oh gosh — what a subject to raise. Please stop me if I go on too long…

    I have very vivid memories of my mother reading stories to me and I remember wanting so much to be able to read for myself so that I could have stories whenever I wanted, rather than having to wait for special times with my mother. I’m not sure what age I was when I first started to read, but I do know that once I grasped the idea of just how the whole thing worked, I quickly became an omnivorous reader. I joined a library. I was in heaven!

    I didn’t really make any genre distinctions at that time. As far as I was concerned, I was just reading stories. Anything and everything passed over my eyeballs and I just soaked it all up.

    However there were a lot of science fiction stories aimed specifically at children, though I am not sure I recognised them as such. To me they were just stories, just like everything else. I made no other distinction.

    Much of that children’s SF was very English so I suspect that it probably never appeared at all in America. Equally, much of the American SF that influenced you was simply not available to me at all in England (we are talking about the 1950s here).

    Captain W. E. Johns (more famous as the author of the Biggles books) had a series of stories involving flying saucers and aliens and asteroids. Angus MacVicar wrote a series of novels set on Hesikos, the Lost Planet. Some of those stories also appeared as an early TV series on the BBC. Hugh Walters had a series of books about British scientists exploring space. Their space ships blasted off from Woomera in Australia, so I assume that Walters was probably Australian. But his books were very popular in England and I think that at least one of them was also adapted for television. Then there were the Kemlo books by E. C. Eliot — the stories were really very silly; but I didn’t care — I enjoyed them anyway. They were all about a society who lived in satellites in earth orbit. The people were perfectly adapted for satellite living because they could breath vacuum! I vaguely recall that newborn babies were thrown out of the airlock to accustom them to breathing vacuum right from birth! Kemlo lived on satellite K (which is why his name began with the letter K) and had lots of thrilling adventures.

    And then one day my mother came home from the library with a book for herself which she read and enjoyed.

    “I think you might like this book, Alan,” she said. “It’s a science fiction novel called ‘The Day Of The Triffids'”

    I think that was the first time I realised there was such a thing as science fiction. I don’t recall ever hearing the words before. Anyway, I read the book, loved it to bits, and the drug kicked in. I’ve been addicted to science fiction ever since.

    So I blame my mother. If she hadn’t told me there was such a thing as science fiction (and if she hadn’t given me ‘The Day Of The Triffids’ to read) I’d probably have never realised that the genre even existed…

    And without it, my life would probably have been very different and much poorer. Without science fiction I’d never have met Jane, for example; something that doesn’t even bear thinking about.

  8. Paul Says:

    This blog has obviously struck a chord and elicited some extended responses, of which this will probably be another. Two things led me into SF/F at about the same time: a book, and a comic book. The book was “Peter and Prue” by Mary Dickerson Donahey, published in 1928. A family friend loaned it to my mother to read to me, and I was fascinated by the tale of two runaway kids who end up visiting the moon, planets and asteroids by supernatural means before deciding “there’s no place like home.” The nature of the planets and all is accurate, as of 1928 (breathing and surviving on them was accomplished by supernatural means), but each planet is also occupied by the appropriate mythological god, so the kids get to interact with Mercury, Mars, Venus, and even the man in the moon.

    About the same time, I was reading the Captain Marvel comics where a boy can shout “Shazam” and turn into “the world’s mightiest moral.” The magic word is an acronym for the gods whose powers Captain Marvel possesses and, in one of the early stories I read, Captain Marvel actually visits Mount Olympus and interacts with those deities, the same ones (I came to realize) I had met in that much-prized book.

    Other comics came and went. I once bought a copy of Planet Stories (the comic book, not the pulp), and stories featuring Captain Science, and Superman, of course (Superman was SF because he was from another planet, Captain Marvel was fantasy because he was magic. But the Superman people sued CM anyway claiming he was a copy and eventually CM’s publisher got out of the comic book business rather than continue in court. CM’s arch enemy was Dr. Sivana, “the world’s maddest scientist,” but it would be years before I got the joke.

    I debated for weeks before buying the comic-book adaptation of the movie, “Destination Moon” (a dime was a dime back then!) but, once I did, there was no looking back. I even managed 35 cents to buy a paperback called “Invasion from Mars,” featuring the script of the 1938 radio show that frightened listeners and short stories supposedly selected by Orson Welles — Asimov, Heinlein, Del Rey, Bradbury. I probably didn’t understand those stories all that well on first reading, but obviously I was starting at the top of the field.

    That was it. When my school librarian aunt worried about weaning me from those “awful” comic books (this was a time when Dr. Wertham saw all kinds of evil in them), she not only steered me toward the Hardy Boys and Tom Swift but a writer named Asimov. Again, there was no looking back. This was a time when I could visit the spinnerack of my local newsstand and literally buy every SF paperback that came out. The genre had not really taken off back then, and a new one was a cause for celebration. The ACE doubles (many of which, I know now, reprinted stories from the old pulp magazines) kept me entertained for years.

    (I won’t even start on my progression in western
    comics/movies/paperbacks here, but I found it amusing that the rack of westerns in Jane’s library was in the gunfighter’s position — back against the wall.

  9. Sean Says:

    My first memory of SF/F was watching the “Hobbit” at the local library. I remember my mom taking me to see it three or four times in its short run at the library. I also remember at that same time watching Star Trek reruns with my father. My first fantasy book that I remember was when my father read to my family the “Enourmous Egg” about a boy who hatches a Triceratops. Shortly after my father followed up with 20,000 Leagues under the Sea, Journey to the Cente of the Earth, Around the World in 80-days by Verne and The Lost World by Conan Doyle. He also exposed our young minds to his favorite SF/F films from the 50’s and 60’s like the “Day the Earth Stood Still ” and “The Time Machine”.

    At a fairly young age, around third or fourth grade I was given Madeleine L’Engle’s Wrinle in Time books, Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydian, and Narnia. Shortly there after I was pirating books from my father’s SF/F shelf including the Lord of the Rings, Tarzan and Inner Earth by Edgar Rice Burroughs and the various works of EE Doc Smith. At the time my father also belonged to a Science-Fiction book of the month club. My father already had Asimov, H Beam Piper and Arthur C. Clarke. Now new books started showing up by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, Greg Bear, Alan Dean Foster (Flinx and FLux) and others.

    Finally the Icing on the cake – one christmas my parents gave my my first Robert A. Heinlein novels — Starship Troopers and Stranger in a Strange Land. I was only in fifth or sixth grade at the time. I also remember thinking I had read all of Asimovs books (Robots, and the early Empire books — yea right, I am still finding non-fiction by him I have never read) by the time I was in seventh grade, then my friend introduced me to the Foundation series which I had somehow overlooked.

    Of course this is only SF/F, it doesn’t even touch on all those other books I loved as a kid like Alistair McLean, Louis L’Amour and Zane Grey, Sabatini, Conan Doyle, Encycolopedia Brown, the Great Brain, the Bobbsey Twins and Old Mother West Wind.

  10. heteromeles Says:

    Gee, my first memory? Which do you want: my mom reading the “Oz” books to me (at least some of them), or my mom reading “The Hobbit?”

    That was before I learned to read, of course.

  11. Debbie Says:

    Oh, a Wrinkle in Time. I’d forgotten. I so loved that book. I guess that was my first genre novel. I also loved The Stegasaurus of Cricket Creek.

  12. Laura Says:

    I too had weekly summer library trips, and delved deep in the Children’s section, (fairy tales, pirates and adventures, mysteries, historical novels, war stories, sports stories, anything and everything) before finally getting an adult library card at about 11 or 12.

    I loved fairy tales and mythology, Andrew Lang, Edith Hamilton, etc, because you could get a collection in one book, with a bunch of different stories. I can remember reading a story and being positive it had a color illustration associated with it, when it didn’t. I had just visualized the story so strongly.

    But Andre Norton was my ‘gateway’ SF author (found not at the library but in my brother’s book stash) with Robert Heinlein (library) a close second.

  13. Jane Says:

    I remember loving the Bevery Cleary “Henry” books…and Scott Corbetts’ “trick” books (The Lemonade Trick, The Mailbox Trick…). Up until 6th grade or so I was reading mysteries like Agatha Christie. But…then the school system made me hate reading. I didn’t start into fantasy and sf until I was out of high school. D&D got me into fantasy. Lord of the Rings (still a favorite), Amber Chronicles, Dragon Riders of Pern and Katherine Kurtz’s Deryni Series.

  14. janelindskold Says:

    I’ve really enjoyed the comments here… So many different roads and, even more interestingly, so many people who came to the SF/F genre relatively late.

    I had a couple of folks over yesterday, and although all of them are avid devotees now, some did not discover SF/F until high school or later.

    Andre Norton was another early favorite of mine… Jim’s too. We still have a long shelf of her books.

  15. Emily Says:

    I know I started off on fairy tales. My Grandma had one of those big books with every sort of fairy tale I could’ve ever wanted. She read them to me when was too young to read and the book almost seemed like a magic item. Whe I entered 1st grade that was excuse enough for my grandma to take me to the library. So I started devouring whatever looked interesting. I slipped into Chronicles of Narnia in third grade and remembered why I wanted to learn to read so badly and now I have the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe sitting beside the “magic” book of fairy tales that I still have.

  16. Eric Says:

    My love of SF/F definitely stems my childhood. My grandmother had a masters degree in library sciences. I never got clothes or things like that for birthdays or Christmas, I always got books. My mother, being my grandmother’s daughter, also had a deep love of books, so she read to me all the time. I remember particularly loving books like Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. My love of fantastical adventures has never waned. Once I discovered my local library’s 25 cents per paperback used book sale, I quickly bought everything I could find. The rest is history.

  17. janelindskold Says:

    I wonder how many of us — I’m grouping me and Emily and a few others here — still have those battered old “gateway” books?

    I not only do, they’re the ones that get the “shelf of honor” in my bedroom.

    And used book sales… That’s where I found Tarzan and a lot of old mysteries… Random discoveries can be the best, although word of mouth has probably done more. Three of the books I have on my “to read” shelf were recommended by someone else.

    But that’s another topic!

  18. Tom M. Says:

    What led me to Science Fiction? Reality. I was a very little kid, sitting on the floor, in front of a black and white TV, watching people go into space- live. Short, sub-orbital missions were a snap. Getting my parents to let me stay glued for the four and a half hours of an orbital flight was a battle. The books exceeded our (then, and sadly still) grasp, but showed the path(s) to the future(s). By Gemini, the hook was in so deep even surgery wouldn’t help.
    Fantasy? Hmmm. Grade school. J.R.R. Tolkien. After a few cycles of starting at the begining after finishing, I started looking for more. A lot of what I found was distinctly second-rate. Then, in my freshman year at Boston, I was on my way to an SCA dance practice, when I overheard some guys in the back of the truck talking about running into some where-bears the night before. Gaming led me to ‘roll your own’ fantasy, and no more excuses-the product was as cool as you could make it.

  19. Jake King Says:

    Hmmm. That’s a complicated question. first off, though they are often lumped together as one, I really see Science Fiction, and Fantasy as two very separate genres. My original foray into reading came from my mother, who used to read to me every night, and I was always enraptured with the stories. somehow I yearned to read (though I’ve always been somewhat lazy about learning new ‘hard’ things). My babysitter at the time (my mother was a single working mom, so I had a full time babysitter who lived across the street from me) taught how to read by the age of 3, and since then, I have been absolutely hooked on reading. (in school, teachers had a standing rule to take a book away from me if they caught me reading non-school work in class. Of course, this just meant I took another book out of my back, and started reading it in a manner the teacher wouldn’t notice. I don’t remember exactly where or how I got into SF or F. I remember reading ‘The forgotten Door’ by Alexander Key in 2nd Grade (I still have that copy, it made a pretty good impression on me), but beyond that, I don’t remember what specifically brought me into either avidly. I do also remember getting a bunch of books from my mother’s co-workers, and ended up with one of the books from the Spellsinger saga by Alan Dean Foster, and loving the series (of which I eventually picked up all of them), But Fantasy always seemed like an exception for me, not a rule. I of course ended up hooked on Star Trek as a kid (started on TNG when it was airing, and then went back to TOS when I found them airing late at night. This led to me reading Star Trek novels almost exclusively for awhile.) For some time, I read almost exclusively Science Fiction entirely, and avoided Fantasy (Seeing it as all just rehashes of Tolkien-esque mythos, so, beyond some rare exceptions, it was mostly SciFi) It wasn’t until I was house sitting for a friend of mine (when I was 21 or 22) and came across a copy of ‘Through Wolf’s eyes’ that I saw Fantasy as a viable option. (mostly because Jane did such a fantastic job creating a world with such a rich tapestry all it’s own) that I started to give fantasy a real chance. This was also back when there wasn’t a second firekeeper book, which saddened me greatly, because I desperately wanted to read the next book, and there wasn’t one. Though I have read other Fantasy novels before Lindskold’s books. (the Alan Dean Foster books, Piers Anthony, etc), it wasn’t until the firekeeper books that I believed in fantasy as having such potential. Since then I have found a few similarly awesome authors. (Jennifer Fallon is a favorite. Both her Wolfblade/Demon Child books, and the Second Sons trilogy are easily worth they’re weight in gold if you like political maneuvering set in a rich, and detailed fantasy setting (the second sons trilogy is actually more like SF in the vein that the dragonrider novels are.) Unfortunately, I don’t like wasting money by buying unknowns, and there isn’t a library too close by, so it gets harder to try new things. Kinda why I own every book Ms Lindskold has put out. (even managed to get some first signed, which was awesome!)

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