The tendonitis in my hand and wrist is getting better. Yay! Thanks for all the well wishes from everyone. Hopefully with a bit more rest, in a few days all will be completely better. Between resting and the horrible heatwave that has settled down upon my fair city making even normally non-strenuous activity seem just too much, and the Independence Day holiday on Wednesday, posting might be spotty this week.
Today though, I want to toss out some tantalizing tidbits from the “Science Fiction” issue of the New Yorker magazine (June 4 & 11). I wasn’t really interested in the fiction pieces, what I found most interesting were the nonfiction essays both long and short. Here we had Margaret Atwood and Ursula K. Le Guin singing the same songs: Atwood still insisting that she doesn’t write SF and Le Guin complaining about those who write SF who refuse to accept the label. No names were named but it seems these two are never going to agree on a definition of SF. Not that they have to, but while a small childish part of me wants to stand around the two combatants on the playground chanting, “fight! fight! fight!” the grown up part of rolls her eyes and mumbles, “really? Still gnawing on the same bone?”
I very much enjoyed William Gibson’s short piece in which he reminisces about his father’s Oldsmobile Rocket 88 in the 1950s and how he’d imagine blasting off into space. Then there is Colson Whitehead’s longer essay talking about all the horror films he watched as a kid in the 1970s and how they influenced him. Karen Russell has a short but sad piece about being in 5th grade and participating in a reading program sponsored by Pizza Hut in which she’d win a coupon for free pizza for every ten books she read. She devoured Terry Brook’s “Sword of Shannara” series and was so proud that she was going to be taking her family out to dinner until her mother, upon seeing the list of books she read, made a belittling remark about them. After that, Russell kept reading fantasy but on her list of books she read would write titles like Little Women instead.
China Mieville’s short essay is the one that really got me thinking though. His is written as a letter to a young SF fan, to himself as a kid. He says he is often asked by people how he got into “this stuff” and explains:
Of course, the stories that got you all to hush, in kindergarten, were the ones that contained exactly those elements which you still seek out. In that class full of six-year-olds, everyone was into dinosaurs and/ or magic and/ or Saturday-morning monsters, just like you. By your teens, though, you are indeed in the minority. Sure, some readers, especially after the hip discover Dick, Butler, Gibson, will come to the field later. But they’re rarities. Mostly those, ‘into this’ are those who simply never leave. So you can answer your interlocutors’ question with another, How did you get out of it?
He goes on to talk about how SF and fantasy led him later to other books with fantastic elements in them, books by Charlotte Bronte, Ionesco, Orlando by Virginia Woolf, as well as the writing of Julian of Norwich and Hildegard of Bingen.
What interested me most though was that passage. How, as kids we love stories of the fantastic. I continued to love those kinds of stories in my teens and still love them today. I get a charge from books that are squarely SF and fantasy but also books that are mostly realistic but then get “weird” like Murakami weird or Raw Shark Texts weird, the kind of books in which reality shifts just enough to make one question one’s perception and the nature of things. As a kid books like The Wizard of Oz and Willie Wonka scared me not because they were weird but because there were adults in them that were unpredictable (the Wizard and Willie Wonka) and cruel. The weird worlds, Oz and the chocolate factory (ok, the oompa loompas scared me and still creep me out) were magical technicolor places. And I still love magical places and animals that talk and worlds turned upside down, and spaceships and aliens and witches and dragons. As William Gibson remarks in his essay,
I was drawn to science fiction for the evidence it offered of manifold possibilities of otherness.
Yes, oh yes, that is definitely a huge part of it. That and imagining myself piloting a spaceship or flying on the back of a dragon or even saving the world. These things I have always loved and will continue to love. And to anyone who wonders how I got into that stuff, to you I ask, How did you get out if it?