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Tuesday, December 8, 2020

Why write science fiction?


In case you haven’t heard, Chuck Yeager checked out for the last time yesterday. This morning I intended to re-run an article I wrote about 15 years ago on the subject of his remarkable life and career, but can’t find it now. 

That’s the problem with having had a 40-year writing career. You collect an enormous pile of crap, all of it in a terrible state of disorganization, because you’re always too busy working on your next project to have the time to go back and clean up the mess left behind by your last project. So while I know I wrote that article on the late General Yeager and his career, and I know it was published somewhere, this morning it remains lost. 

In the meantime, though, my search for it turned up this piece from 15 years ago, which seems worth resurfacing and is perhaps even more relevant today.


 

This must be one of those Interviewing 101 questions, because, like poorly refrigerated leftover chicken, it keeps coming back up.

   “When did you first discover that you liked science fiction?”

I’m never quite sure how to answer this one. Do I dare give the honest answer and say that it was when I was 4 years old and Ruff and Reddy got abducted by the Munimula Men? Or maybe it was when I was 6 or 7, and got hooked on Supercar and the vastly superior Fireball XL-5? Or perhaps these two just explain why I find Team America so gosh-darn ROTFLMAO funny.

Was it when I was 8 or 9, and discovered those dusty old hardcovers of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea and The Swiss Family Robinson up in the attic? Or maybe it was when I was 10 and finally got my own library card, and discovered that Llewellyn Library had two whole bookcases full of Jules Verne, Andre Norton, Madeline L’Engle, and Heinlein, Clarke, and Asimov juveniles—including the full-length versions of those Heinlein serials that Boy’s Life was rerunning!

Perhaps it was when I was 11, and read War of the Worlds and The Time Machine for the first time. Or maybe it was when I was 12 or 13, and discovered Ray Bradbury. (I wrote a lot of Bad Imitation Bradbury when I was in junior high.) Maybe it was when I was 14 and first read The Lord of the Rings, or then again maybe it was when I was 15 or 16, and discovered Theodore Sturgeon, Harlan Ellison, and Kurt Vonnegut.

One thing I know for certain. It was definitely not from watching Star Trek.

Maybe it happened in my later teens and early twenties, when I discovered Philip K. Dick, Tom Disch, Brian Aldiss, J.G. Ballard, John Sladek, Ursula LeGuin, Robert Silverberg. (Or God forgive me, Keith Laumer and Ron Goulart.)

Or perhaps we are asking the wrong question here. Maybe I never “discovered” science fiction at all. Maybe my interest is the natural result of having lived through a half-century that could only have been predicted, explained, and described by the branch of literature known as science fiction. Maybe it’s the side-effect of having watched the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs unfold as news, not as history, and of being more excited about Chuck Yeager and the Mercury Seven than the starting lineup of the Milwaukee Braves. (Okay, so I vaguely remember Warren Spahn, Eddie Mathews, and that new kid they signed—Henry Aaron, I think. Very promising. Did he ever amount to anything?)

There, that’s it. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it. The next time someone asks me this question, I’ll answer that it’s all Ted Turner’s fault, for moving the Braves to Atlanta. Deprived of the usual boyhood athlete-heroes, I had to idolize test pilots and astronauts instead, and thrill to their exploits in the pages of National Geographic and Aviation Week & Space Technology.

What’s your excuse?

1 comment:

ray p daley said...

Those writers we enjoy, who are our route to the world of what I lovingly call "made-up crap", those are the giants whose shoulders we stand on. They raise us to the heights our dreams drive us to aim at.

I blame Douglas Adams. I was 9, I bought Hitch Hikers, the 1st book I ever got with my own money. My life was Doctor Who (Jon Pertwee to Tom Baker), Space:1999, Star Trek, Blake's 7.

With the 1st Space Shuttle launches, the future was now.

As a young boy, I was given all the room I wanted by a teacher to write whatever the hell I wanted to. Sure, it might have been a weak rip-off of the last Doctor Who episode I'd seen, but it was me throwing every ounce of my imagination into it.

Douglas Adams was one of many who piggybacked me towards my dreams. And every time I write a new story, I honour his memory.