MIND MELD: What Was Your Introduction to Fantasy and Science Fiction?

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Where and how people (fans, reviewers and authors alike) were first introduced to genre often gives insight into how they think and write about genre. With that in mind, we asked this week’s panelists…

Q: Where, when and how were you introduced to Fantasy and Science Fiction?

Here’s what they said…

James MacDonald
James D. Macdonald is an author of over 35 fantasy and science fiction novels, often in collaboration with his wife Debra Doyle.

My dad introduced me to genre. He’d been what I guess you’d call a fan since the 1920s. The specific incident I recall was when he took me to the White Plains (New York) Public Library, back when I was in first or second grade, and we checked out Have Space Suit Will Travel and Sea Siege.

Violette Malan
Violette Malan is the author of the Dhulyn and Parno series. Her next book is The Shadowlands, a sequel to The Mirror Prince, out in August 2012. Join her on Facebook, follow her on Twitter, or check her website: www.violettemalan.com

The circumstances are such that this is a particularly easy question for me to answer. I was around 8 years old – or whatever age you generally are in grade 3. My family lived in Toronto at the time, and my brother Oscar started telling me about this book he thought I should read called The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. I was so impressed with what he was telling me that I could hardly wait for the next time my class walked down to the Riverdale Boys and Girls Library.

I was so focused on getting the book that I went straight up to the librarian who was supposed to be helping us choose books and asked for it. I remember now that she tried to dissuade me, no doubt thinking that I wouldn’t be able to read it. I was adamant, and I think my teacher supported me. A male classmate overheard me asking for the book, and was so impressed that he asked me what it was about. After I’d finished telling him, he signed up to read it next. Not only that, but he asked if he could walk me home from school, and call for me the next day.

So not only did I have one of the best reading experiences of my life, but my first actual boyfriend as well. (I don’t count the boy who kissed me in Kindergarten).

I don’t think it was more than a year or so later that Oscar recommended a book called Have Space Suit – Will Travel, by Robert Heinlein. That started me off on a life-long love of SF.

Over the next few years I read and re-read all the YA (or juveniles as they were called then) that I could get my hands on. All the Lewis, the Heinlein, Andre Norton, E. Nesbit – anyone and everyone I could find. This was pre-Harry Potter, and there wasn’t a great deal available in YA, so I also read a books that wouldn’t be considered YA by anyone’s standards – luckily the grownups didn’t know that most of the F and SF being written was actually for adults. I know I first read Tolkien at age 11, and had read all the Leiber I could get my hands on by 15 or 16. Unfortunately I don’t have the space to tell you who else I was reading (and in some cases read still).

And in case you’re interested, I started reading mystery novels when I was 14. I picked up a copy of Christie’s Mystery on the Blue Train, the only English language book available in a Spanish train station shop.

My brother is still recommending books for me to read, by the way. He owns Novel Idea, the only independent bookstore in Kingston, Ontario. He doesn’t read much fantasy these days (except for mine, he hastens to add) but he’s still reading a ton of SF.

Gini Koch
Gini Koch lives in Hell’s Orientation Area (aka Phoenix, AZ), works her butt off (sadly, not literally) by day, and writes by night with the rest of the beautiful people. She writes the fast, fresh and funny Alien/Katherine Kitty Katt series for DAW Books and the Martian Alliance Chronicles series for Musa Publishing. She also writes under a variety of pen names (including G.J. Koch, Anita Ensal, Jemma Chase, A.E. Stanton, and J.C. Koch), listens to rock music 24/7, and is a proud comics geek-girl willing to discuss at any time why Wolverine is the best superhero ever (even if Deadpool does get all the best lines). She speaks frequently on what it takes to become a successful author and other aspects of writing and the publishing business. She can be reached through her website at www.ginikoch.com.

My grandmother and mother were avid readers, of anything and everything, and they instilled that in me early. My first genre was mystery, and not just Nancy Drew. When I was little there were a lot of mysteries for kids options, including The Three Investigators, and I read them all. I moved pretty quickly into adult mysteries, starting with Sherlock Holmes. But my grandmother was a HUGE science fiction fan, and she also introduced me to science fiction early. My first science fiction was probably A Wrinkle In Time. I found some old Robert Benchley books in our garage when I was nine and fell in love with both his writing and humor as a genre.

I was raised to believe that a book was a book — worthy of being read cover to cover before judgment was passed, regardless of where it shelved in the library or bookstore.

So, the short answer (too late!) is my grandmother and mother, at home, and by the time I was nine years old.

Laura Resnick
Laura Resnick is the author of such fantasy novels as Disappearing Nightly, In Legend Born, The Destroyer Goddess, The White Dragon, which made the “Year’s Best” lists of Publishers Weekly and Voya, The Purifying Fire, Doppelgangster, and Unsympathetic Magic: An Esther Diamond Novel. She is also the Campbell Award-winning author of sixty short stories. Her most recent book is Rejection, Romance, and Royalties: The Wacky World of a Working Writer, a nonfiction collection of her columns and essays on the writing life. Laura’s next book will be Vamparazzi: An Esther Diamond Novel. You can find her on the Web at www.LauraResnick.com.

Fantasy fiction played a strong role throughout my childhood, as it does in most people’s childhoods (I assume), since so much literature aimed at kids is fantastical. I think there was a hiatus of several years between reading Narnia and then picking up books like T.H. White’s The Once and Future King and John Bellairs’ The Face in the Frost, so I suppose someone would say those latter books were my intro to fantasy reading. But, really, I regard fantasy literature as a continual presence in my life, without a remembered introduction or a startling transition between childhood and adulthood.

Science fiction, on the other hand… WELL.

My father, Mike Resnick, is a lifelong science fiction reader and was already a science fiction writer by the time I was old enough to start processing bedtime stories. Instead of reading to me, my dad would invent bedtime stories wherein I was the heroine who rescued Tarzan, John Carter of Mars, Batman, Superman, and Spider-Man from their misadventures. That was my introduction to story, though not my introduction to reading–

And, in fact, I had trouble learning to read when I got to school; nothing that required a tutor or created concern, but I struggled with reading throughout first grade. Part of the problem (one now knows) was that I was just about the youngest kid in my class, and 4-6-8 months of brain development makes a big difference at that age. But I’ve always believed that the main reason I struggled with learning to read is that school made it so BORING! God Good, man, who CARES if Sally sees Jane, or if Dick and Spot run up the hill? Are you KIDDING me? This was someone’s idea of a STORY? Fugghedaboudit. My idea of a story was one wherein I rescued Tarzan from some terrible fate. So reading didn’t engage me at all.

However, when I was seven years old, a friend put a Nancy Drew mystery into my hands, and that turned me into a reader. The story has a sinister mansion, a trip to Amish country, a mysterious hex symbol, and a teenage girl try to catch a cunning thief. Now that was my idea of a story! And I’ve been a reader of mysteries and adventures ever since—and particularly a reader of stories with bold and capable female protagonists, rather than stories with women who are just handy accessories for the hero.

But I never became a science fiction reader. This is in large part because, even before I could read, my dad was trying to get me to read science fiction novels—or at least to let him read them to me. And very little science fiction can hold the attention of a four year old. So I usually vetoed his suggestions (his nagging, his pleading, his exhortations, his bargaining, his attempts to trick me, etc.) to agree to a hearing a science fiction novel as my bedtime story.

After I learned to read, my dad’s nagging to read science fiction got worse. Thus, by the time I was eight years old, I hated science fiction. As a pastime, reading science fiction ranked right down there with cleaning my room or doing my homework. In the decades since then, I’ve occasionally tried to read a science fiction novel… but I’ve never overcome my childhood sense of it as a chore forced on me by my father.

Let that be a lesson to the old man—and to naggy parents everywhere!

Ellen Datlow
Ellen Datlow has been an editor of short science fiction, fantasy, and horror for almost thirty years. She was co-editor of The Year’s Best Fantasy and Horror for twenty-one years and currently edits The Best Horror of the Year. Her most recent anthologies are Inferno, The Del Rey Book of Science Fiction and Fantasy, Poe: 19 New Tales of Suspense, Dark fantasy, and Horror Inspired by Edgar Allan Poe, Lovecraft Unbound, and The Coyote Road: Trickster Tales and Troll’s Eye View (the latter two with Terri Windling). Also available are Darkness: Two Decades of Modern Horror, Tails of Wonder and Imagination, Digital Domains, Best Horror of the Year, volume 2, Naked City: New Tales of Urban Fantasy, The Beastly Bride and Other Tales of the Animal People (with Terri Windling), and Haunted Legends (with Nick Mamatas). Datlow is the winner of multiple awards for her editing, including the World Fantasy Award, Locus Award, Hugo Award, International Horror Guild Award, the Shirley Jackson Award, and the Bram Stoker Award. She was named recipient of the 2007 Karl Edward Wagner Award, given at the British Fantasy Convention for “outstanding contribution to the genre.” She co-hosts the popular Fantastic Fiction at KGB Bar series of readings in New York City where she lives in close proximity to too many books and some very frightening (although not to her) doll heads.

I’ve been reading genre since I was reading. But my mother read me fairy tales (I vividly remember Oscar Wilde’s)outside on spring days in the Bronx, where I lived until I was 8.

The first genre books I remember taking out of the Yonkers (where we moved to) public library were The Wonderful Trip to the Mushroom Planet and Mr. Bass’s Planetoid, both written by Eleanor Cameron.

When I was a little older I read the books my parents owned: A big Bullfinch’s Mythology, The Odyssey (not the Iliad though–no obvious fantasy in it and so I found it boring), Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short stories (these latter two in their Modern Library editions).

Basically, I can’t remember a time that I wasn’t reading genre fiction.

Brenda Cooper
Brenda Cooper is a technology professional, a science fiction and fantasy writer, and a futurist. Her recent books include the Endeavor award winning Silver Ship and The Sea and a sequel, Reading the Wind. See www.brenda-cooper.com for more info, and for periodic reading recommendations.

Wow. I don’t ever recall either not reading (I was three when I started reading) or not reading genre. The very first genre books I have a memory of reading are Madeline L’Engle’s wonderful A Wrinkle in Time, and the Oz books (many of them in first editions, which I unfortunately over-read, to put what I did to those books in a kind light). I think I was about seven when I destroyed a whole shelf of Oz books by carrying them everywhere with me. The next two genre books that I read and re-read and re-read where Heinlein’s Stranger in a Strange Land which described exactly what I wanted (Money by the door, a hot tub fill of friends who’d always have your back, and a lot of guilt-free love), and Dune.

I suppose in a way my father introduced me to the stuff. I don’t remember which of them taught me to read, but my dad is a rocket scientist (yes, he still works in the field), and that was a powerful pull for an imaginative little girl. Dad worked at Douglas at the time and we lived in Southern California. And by the way, for those of who know how awful and over-freewayed and ugly it is now, the California of the 60’s and 70’s was beautiful and not nearly so crowded nor so broken. I rode horses for hours without crossing roads and raced through orange groves throwing green oranges at boys. All of that is gone now, but it was a lovely place to sit about and read in the sunshine and daydream about far off planets.

Matt Forbeck
Matt Forbeck has been a full-time creator of award-winning games and fiction since 1989. His latest novel — Carpathia — hit stores at the end of February, and he recently launched 12 for ’12, a mad scheme to write a dozen novels in 2012. For more about him and his work, visit Forbeck.com.

I was an asthmatic kid who learned how to read at an early age, and some of that material included Spider-Man comics, especially Spidey, the title Marvel created with the Electric Company on PBS. My father had read lots of comics growing up too, and he always encouraged me to read anything I liked. To him and my mother, the subject didn’t matter nearly as much as inculcating a love for reading.

I used to visit a pediatric asthma specialist in Madison, Wisconsin — Dr. Marcus Cohen, who saved my life — and on the way back from the appointments, my mother would take me to Capital City Comics as a reward. Once my father brought me there and decided to stop by a bookstore in town instead. He described my reading habits to the bookseller and asked about fantasy novels that might be good for me. She recommended Patricia McKillip’s The Riddle-Master of Hed.

I’d never read anything like it before, and it hooked me good. It wasn’t long before I was tearing up the shelves reading all sorts of science-fiction and fantasy. My local library in Beloit, Wisconsin, had a section dedicated to genre books, and I made it my plan to read them all. I don’t think I came close to taking on even half of them, but I had a wonderful time trying.

Mike Brotherton
Mike Brotherton is the author of the hard science fiction novels Spider Star (2008) and Star Dragon (2003), the latter being a finalist for the Campbell award. He’s also a professor of astronomy at the University of Wyoming, Clarion West graduate, and founder of the Launch Pad Astronomy Workshop for Writers (www.launchpadworkshop.org). He blogs at www.mikebrotherton.com.

My first real science fiction reading experience followed my 8th birthday party. One of my friends gave me a a copy of A PRIVATE COSMOS by Philip Jose Farmer. I devoured it and loved it, read the rest of the books in his WORLD OF TIERS series, and went on to read the Riverworld books, and about anything by Farmer I could find at the bookstore or library. THE LOVERS wasn’t exactly normal reading for a 4th grader, but I loved it also. From there it was Lord of the Rings, Dune, John Carter of Mars, and many hundreds of books since then.

Brendan Connell
Brendan Connell has had fiction published in numerous magazines, literary journals and anthologies, including RE:AL, The Journal of Experimental Fiction, Fishdrum, Fantastic Metropolis, Flesh and Blood, Leviathan 3 (The Ministry of Whimsy 2002), Further Tales from Tartarus (Tartarus Press 2003), The Thackery T. Lambshead Pocket Guide to Eccentric and Discredited Diseases (Nightshade 2003), and Album Zutique (The Ministry of Whimsy 2003). He has had translations published in Literature of Asia, Africa and Latin America (Prentice Hall 1999).

Children generally start off reading genre fiction, and I was no different. I devoured almost all of L. Frank Baum’s books and carried The Hunchback of Notre-Dame around as if it were a bible. My mother gave me this latter, when I was around eight. My father also always read strange books to me and told me strange stories, generally involving supernatural powers, lost races, animals that could talk and so forth.

Later I pretty much abandoned reading things of that sort and only read ‘serious’ literature—dark Russian novels, early American realism, and French romances. It was this latter however that re-ignited my interest in genre. The romantics led me to the decadents and the decadents to the symbolists. Inevitably many of these stories were clear fantasy, clear horror. And from the classy prose of Huysmans it was easy enough to lose my footing and descend to the delightfully debased novels of Ponson du Terrail, Gustave Le Rouge, and Paul Féval.

Galen Dara
Galen Dara is an artist whose work can be found in Rigor Amortis, Cthulhurotica, Broken Time Blues, Monsters and Mormons, the Lovecraft ezine, as well as other anthologies and magazines. She blogs for the Functional Nerds and the Inkpunks. Her website is www.galendara.com.

What comes to my mind are a series of early memories mapping the start of my preference for speculative fiction. Since my family moved around quite a bit (plus I was a fairly shy child) my introduction to the sf genre came by way of it’s prevalence in my familial environment and from my own independent explorations in libraries and book stores.

My childhood was immersed in speculative fiction tv and movies: Flash Gordon, Dr Who, Battlestar Galactica, Buck Rogers, Star Trek, The Hobbit, The Black Hole, Krull, Willow, The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, Star Wars, The NeverEnding Story, etc. Deeply imprinted on my young mind was the imagery of the other-world; weaponry, costuming and creatures that reflected a fantastic realm outside of my mundane life.

There was this time in elementary school when we were drawing life-sized self portraits. (Remember having your outline traced on a big piece of butcher paper then drawing in the details?) Well I somehow got it into my head that a little creative license was expected and therefore decked out my “self” portrait with a fancy winged headdress, dramatic flowing robes and lots of mystical looking bling. I can’t remember if I gave myself a magical staff or a sword. One of the two. Anyhow, I finally looked up from my creation to discover that all the rest of my classmates had merely drawn nice conservative replications of what they were wearing that day. Oh… Hm…

I have memories of my mom reading to us every night from the likes of C.S. Lewis, Lloyd Alexander, Madeleine L’Engle, or J.R.R. Tolkien . She’d read a chapter and everyone else would go to bed, but I’d grab the book and continue reading on through the night. Later on while perusing school and public libraries for my own reads, I found I had a sweet spot for dragons: Michael Whelan’s cover art plunged me into Anne McCafferey’s world of Dragonriders. Likewise Darrell K Sweet’s cover of Dragon on a Pedestal was my gateway drug into Piers Anthony’s Xanth universe. (Incidentally, Micheal Whelan also did some of those Xanth covers).

The only time I recall being specifically introduced to a particular book or author was when a boyfriend insisted I *had* to read Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time saga. (More Darrel K. Sweet artwork, btw.) I stayed with the series longer than I stayed with the boyfriend. (Though I eventually had to cut Robert loose too. Just too long and winding.)

My reading tastes are eclectic, ranging through fiction, non-fiction and across many genres. However I have retained a persistent sweet-spot for the speculative that, if not hardwired from birth, was certainly cemented at a very young age.

12 thoughts on “MIND MELD: What Was Your Introduction to Fantasy and Science Fiction?”

  1. I envy people that can reminisce on their “introduction” to the genre.

    I cant, I have no memory of ever having such an introduction…It is just something that was always there.

  2. My introduction to the genre was Doctor Who, but not so much the TV series as the Target novelisations. Those books actually helped foster a love of reading, as well as giving me a slightly different slant on the history of the show than if I’d only seen it on television…

  3. I started reading early, but came to SF and fantasy later than many here–I was in 9th grade, so probably 14-15. Early reading was mostly horse and dog stories (not the modern kind, but the kind available in the late ’40s and early ’50s, much more realistic. _Misty of Chincoteague_ was the first “real” book I read all by myself, at age six. By age 8, I was starting to read my mother’s Reader’s Digest Condensed Books (mostly boring grownup stuff, but it grew on me) and discovered one of my all-time favorite writers, Nevil Shute. I read magazine fiction (Saturday Evening Post, Colliers, Lady’s Home Journal) and nonfiction (Reader’s Digest, newsmagazines, later Flying–I was crazy about aviation as well as horses and dogs.) I also started reading paperback mysteries. Somewhere around 11, I started in on my mother’s older books–historicals, mysteries, political novels, psychological novels. That’s where I ran into Daphne du Maurier; I read _The King’s General_ before _Rebecca_ Library reading started with kids’ books (avoiding the gooey ones and fantasy for some reason, and sticking to horses, dogs, adventure tales) and then moving into nonfiction (history, war memoirs, science–esp. aviation and space, etc.)

    So I arrived at 9th grade and the discovery of science fiction as an already reading-addicted, adventure-addicted, science-addicted person and it took me only about 1-2 years to read all the science fiction in the junior high library, high school library, and town library. In high school I could use my lunch money to buy paperbacks (2 days lunch money–one paperback, five books in two weeks) or extra paper for writing (1 day lunch money, 1 package of notebook paper.) Some days I was too hungry, but not many. Not all the books were SF/F. Some were aviation-related; some were science; some were spy stories (James Bond.)

  4. The Illustrate Man by Ray Bradbury was my first. I would lean more towards Fantasy than scifi soon after, but I still think about those stories and read a certain amount of classic scifi. Marion Zimmer Bradley’s Darkover books have been a lasting influence on me as well. My own Fantasy writing has taken a turn towards Steampunk most recently, what could compare with the adventures of an airship pirate?

  5. I suppose, as Wrangler, I can give an answer?

    My introduction to Genre was thanks to my older brother Greg. He (7 years my senior) was already a genre fan, and so helped introduce me to Asimov, Bradbury, Tolkien, Zelazny, Heinlein…and there was no turning back after that.

  6. I remember being around 6 or 7 and finding my father’s SF books stored up in the attic. I was fascinated by them. Le Guin, Herbert, Simak… my dad had good taste.

    But when I was around 10 or so, Howard Chaykin’s graphic novel collaborations and adaptations of the late ’70s were published, which introduced me to what are probably my three favorite SF writers: Bester, Moorcock, and Delany. So it was my love for comics and illustration (and Chaykin’s art in particular) which pointed me toward what became my own personal SF center.

  7. I can’t remember a time I hadn’t been exposed to fantasy/SF or didn’t like it. I remember watching the Star Wars Christmas special for crying out loud.

  8. I have loved fantasy and SF since I can remember. The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe; Alice in Wonderland; Startrek; V – I remember those so far back I believe they were my very first ones, followed by reading Enders Game (I can’t wait for the movie!!!Yes!!!!)and A Door Into Ocean by Joan Slonczewski. I was hooked. The thought of foreign worlds and people and powers and aliens is fascinating to me, and always has been. I also love the creativity required that so many of these authors have displayed with the technology and descriptions…and now have started my own SF books and have a fantasy on the brain (one done, 2nd one started…and wow do I appreciate now all the hard work that goes into these books and making them awesome!)

  9. I’d have to say my first taste of sci-fi was the Mushroom books, also Danny Dunn and whatever amazing thing he was in the middle of. I also read the Tom Swift books. All of this was during the 6th. grade, the late 50’s.

    After that I got into Burroughs, and also the Lucky Star series by Asimov.

  10. Like some others here my first taste of sci fi / fantasy was The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. This was in the early 70s and I was in first grade where my teacher would a read a chapter or two of it every day to us since C.S. Lewis was a Christian author and at that time I went to a private Christian school. I loved the story and couldn’t wait to hear what was coming next each day. A year or so later I got hooked on a new sci fi series on TV called “Space: 1999″ which ran for a few years and was a cool show, Martin Landau starred as the capt. At the same time I began to watch the original Star Trek every day after school. They were syndicated reruns but brand new to me, I also watched a made for TV movie around the same time called “Logan’s Run.” I had to talk my mom into letting me stay up late just to finish it. This was mid 1970s by then and I was a full fledged sci fi fan. I saw Jaws, not sure if monster sharks count, and a few other movies but then.. I went to see a new movie with my brother and cousins called Star Wars. The rest is history and my addiction, affection, admiration was complete. Frak :P

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