I haven’t always been a die hard fan of science fiction. Surprised?
Well, let me clarify. While I certainly enjoyed science fiction movies, I did not discover my intense fondness for science fiction as written word until I was an adult. Regardless, that doesn’t mean science fiction has not been a huge part of my entire life.
I distinctly remember the wampa scene in Empire Strikes Back as my first theater moment. I had to have been only two years old. I didn’t know who Han Solo was, but I distinctly remember Bespin and the Cloud Cars. It has taken me thirty-two years to get them, but I finally own the original Kenner Cloud Car. And I also own the first piece of the Bespin Micro Set – I got the Carbon Freeze Chamber for a hell of a steal from my local Star Wars Toy Store, Order 66. Yes, my hometown that you’ve never heard of has a store dedicated solely to Star Wars Toys.
I also remember seeing E.T. in the theater when I was four years old. I remember this one a bit more vividly, but both of these movies were in my daily VHS rotation. I’d wake up at around six everyday and watch Empire Strikes Back that I had recorded off HBO, and then usually later in the day I’d watch E.T. or Dragonslayer.
That was about the limit of my exposure to science fiction until I could read novels and understand them. While I very likely would have gone straight for science fiction if given the chance, I was diverted by fantasy at a very early age.
My cousin had a bookshelf, in his abandoned room at my grandparents’ house, that was full of sword and sorcery titles like Conan and high fantasy like Dragonlance. It was in these realms that I first became fully immersed, and not science fiction, as it might have turned out.
I “borrowed” the Chronicles of Narnia, Lone Wolf, Greyhawk, and others, and it was these books that began a very long affair with the fantasy side of speculative fiction. It wasn’t long before I was reading The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. My aunt and uncle, parents to the cousin who fueled my new obsession with fantasy by abandoning so many fantasy books while off at college, continued the trend by buying me Robert Aspirin and Piers Anthony novels. On my own, I discovered R.A. Salvatore, Raymond Feist, and others.
It seemed like it was meant to be. Fantasy books led to fantasy games, and science fiction was all but forgotten.
In High School, my loyalties shifted. I read the Great Gatsby as a freshman, and it changed me. I had written a few short pieces in fantasy settings, but hadn’t developed a style. I found myself copying typical plots of high fantasy, gods become mortal, evil grows in the forest, dragons return, etc. Gatsby was not something I wanted to read, but I read it in one day – and then I read it again, and again, and again.
I realized that my writing was missing the human element. I wrote dwarves and elves and ogres and kender, but I shied away from humans. They were boring. They were violent, and they were stupid.
I finished Gatsby thinking, that could have been me – not just one of the characters, but Fitzgerald as well. I began to get the first inkling of a notion that I had the vision required to write, and I saw my potential for the first time.
Fitzgerald led to odd leaps in literature. I explored Burgess and Ballard, Palahniuk and Miller, Steinbeck and Kerouac. I dived into Fleming and L’Amour, devoured Crichton and King, cringed through Barker and a host of Splatterpunks. Fantasy was left behind, and soon I began writing straight fiction instead of just reading it.
I wrote about psychopathic heroes, corrupt humans, sick and twisted individuals that you didn’t know whether to love or hate them. I wrote shockers, twist endings, and I made my readers speculate on the dark side of the human condition.
You’ll never read these stories – ever.
It was about seven or eight years ago that I found myself in a terrible place. I had no money and no direction. I lived in my own private hell of debt and filth, and it seemed as if I would never recover from it.
In this hell, a terrible tragedy occurred. I ran out of books to read.
I didn’t have gas to drive to a major city that had the kind of books I wanted to read. I was working for a failing newspaper at the time, and had just run an ad for a used book fair to be held at the local civic building. I decided to walk over on my lunch break and check it out.
I had two dollars and fifteen cents – enough money to buy two burrito especials from the taco stand down the street. I starved that day and left the civic building with a shabby hardback copy of Kurt Vonnegut’s Jailbird and a battered and faded paperback copy of Isaac Asimov’s Foundation. The combination of those two novels, read in rapid succession, led me to a revelation:
Humans are amusingly stupid, and no matter how far into the future our species may stretch, and no matter how advanced our technology becomes, we will take all that amusing stupidity into the future with us.
I find it comforting … and that is why I write science fiction.