Wednesday, April 11, 2007


I beg the reader's indulgence. This last post has been kicking around in draft for way too long and won't come together. I'm sticking it up anyway, otherwise nothing will get posted for even longer, turning this from a blog to a bleg. Read at your own peril.

The first taste is free.
Now and for a long while probably half of my recreational reading is science fiction or fantasy.
I started reading science fiction because of Boy's Life magazine and Robert A. Heinlein. Back in the 50's Heinlein wrote a series of novels on contract to be serialized in the Boy Scouts' magazine. Much later, when I was a subscriber, a couple of those novels were reprinted in the magazine in comic form. Much like "classic comics", a lot of the meat of the book ("Between Planets") didn't make it into print. Nonetheless, it was a revelation to me. At that point, I had read mostly history and biography as well as juvenile fiction. The latter tended toward boy classics like "Robin Hood" and "The Swiss Family Robinson", "White Fang", "Little Men", Big Red and similar things. A story which began on a passenger liner between Mars and Venus and featuring Venusian lizards was something completely different. Consequently, once the serial ended I hove myself to the library and read what little of Heinlein it possessed. Later, we moved to a larger town with a bigger library and more Heinlein. In the interim, gifts and purchases constituted more Heinlein and I cautiously branched out into reading other authors, most from the Golden Age.

As a long time reader of speculative fiction, I am continually surprised by the disdain many people hold for science fiction/fantasy. The bug eyed monsters on the covers must have scared them away, as I cannot comprehend any fiction reader not being drawn in by the endless worlds, pasts, and futures which sustain the genres. It can't just be a problem with suspension of disbelief, any person who can follow the ridiculous exploits of Jack Ryan and his many compatriots with a straight face should be able to deal with the occasional extraterrestrial intelligence or faster than light travel. Their loss. For that matter, anyone who has not read Terry Pratchett's Discworld novels has done himself a grave disservice, as no better collection of humorous novels is currently being written. He's prolific, too, so you have a new book to look forward to nearly every year.

I recently reread Heinlein's "Starship Troopers" after a twenty-year hiatus, having recommended it to someone looking for military science fiction and wanting to check my memory of the book. I am surprised by how timely the novel remains. Further, as a bildungsroman it is top-notch. The awakening (yet always self-deprecating) social conscience of the protagonist remains as appealing as the first day I read the novel.

Heinlein's early work (pre-1970), epitomizes most of the virtues of the genre of science fiction. For myself, two novels remain seminal political novels: "Starship Troopers" and "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress". Several juveniles retain their charm despite discoveries which have rendered any science speculated upon unlikely or impossible. If you want to hook a kid on science fiction, I don't think you can make a better try than by providing a copy of "Have Spacesuit, Will Travel", "Citizen of the Galaxy", or even "Between Planets" and standing out of the way.

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