How Did You Get Started on This Stuff?

Two_birds_300px_1Aside from Tom Swift books (which I read alongside the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew in third grade) and Silverberg’s Revolt in Alpha C that I got through the Scholastic books program at school (and recall liking a great deal), I did not start reading a lot of science fiction until the summer after fourth grade.

That was when my dad was in Viet Nam and my mom insisted that, for every two Hardy Boys books I checked out of the library, I had to get and read one book that was something else. When she called me away from the Hardy Boys shelf at the library to check out I panicked and grabbed the nearest book I could find. This turned out to be Danger: Dinosaurs! and I became thoroughly hooked on science fiction.

I don’t believe my mom was too thrilled by this, at least not up until the point that all that reading got me a perfect score on the vocabulary portion of my SAT. For all of that I was still a pretty ignorant kid and snubbed most fantasy (with a few favored exceptions such as Lloyd Alexander’s Prydain series, and the first six books of Narnia). This continued until I got hooked on Dungeons & Dragons my freshman year of college at Auburn and then started “researching” source material—it was only another two years before I met Gary Gygax and got him to sign my Dungeon Master’s Guide.

It probably helped that my absolute favorite author at the time, the epitome of hard science fiction writers, Larry Niven, also wrote fantasy. Another two years saw me at a tiny convention in Columbia, Missouri where I got to talk with him and, very briefly, with Jerry Pournelle. Also there was Glen Cook (not as guest of honor but running a used paperback booth!) who was (and remains) one of my favorite writers of fantasy even if it does tend to be darker and grittier than my own. I recall we (by which I mean mostly I) talked a bit about how very cool the scene where all of the Ten Who Were Taken started bursting out of their imprisonment in the wildly frightening Barrow Lands. The passage isn’t very long but the buildup over the course of the book makes it absolute soul-chilling when it finally happens. In his reserved way, he seemed fascinated by my enthusiasm at it and it wasn’t long before I started seeing more of the Black Company books from him (granted, he undoubtedly had a lot of other fans urging  him on).

Sidenote: I still love hard science fiction, too, but it’s hard to find these days. Most of what passes itself off as that is actually space opera (a kind of fantasy, with gadgets in place of magic, and aliens in place of elves and giants and trolls and goblins and such). A lot of that space-opera these days is a sub-genre called military sci-fi. I enjoy it, too, but in moderation. The same way I like pizza but don’t want to eat it every day, or even on the majority of them. There is definitely room for more hard science fiction. I’m eager to write one myself, but not until Tethera’s tale is done and (hopefully) done right.

 

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