As this is Speak Out With Your Geek Out! Week, I’m going to spend part of the week blogging about things that gets my geek up, that brings out the geeky part of my personality, that has people turn in my direction, point at me and say, “Geek!”
And I wear this title proudly.
So what’s on tap today? Science Fiction.
I was 8 when I went off the rails. Let me explain:
As a kid I read a lot. There wasn’t much else to do where I grew up, so I was down to the library a lot. Back in my day Young Adult fiction consisted mostly of “See Dick Run” and the like, so if you didn’t want to bore yourself to death you moved into the Adult section pretty fast.
So I’m rolling around looking for something to read and I discover an omnibus, two novel in one book. Never heard of the author before, but I liked the titles since they seemed to have something to do with the Moon. I picked it up, checked it out, read it–
And went off the rails.
The novels were A Fall of Moondust and Earthlight, by Arthur C. Clarke, and it was my first exposure to science fiction.
Long before it was evil to be a gamer, being a “sci fi nerd” was a moniker for those, like me, who had strange ideas, who had their brain looking ahead to the future, who was just a little different. Yeah, as a kid I caught a lot of flack. Most of the people I hung with didn’t much read, so when you started talking about reactionless drives and life on other worlds and time travel, you stood from people enough that you might as well have been chanting “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn” on street corner. (Although, for the amusement of a very cute check out girl in the store when I once worked I did chant that–and got the stares from others I knew I’d garner.)
In otherwords, I learned to be an outcast long before being an outcast was hip.
I dug into science fiction in the 1960′s. My exposure to Clarke was follow by exposure to the Grand Masters of the genre, and every week I was down to the library checking out whatever work they had in their stacks. And then 1966 came along, and that saw the premier of Star Trek and the beginning of the adventures of the Enterprise and–oh, look! Now I have something else to be shunned over!
And I was, trust me. My school system had about 2000 students total, from 1st Grade to Graduation, and you try being the only kid who knew about this show that had a guy with pointy ears . . . yeah, I was shunned like Charlie the Unicorn. I was even once beat up over my love of Star Trek. Hey, punch that kid for me, too, will ya?
Harlan Ellison once wrote of using reading as an escape, and I know I did that with science fiction. I loved where it took me. I read as much as I can, and when I was able to afford books, I bought them. My own copies of A Fall of Moondust and Earthlight cost $0.95 each–yeah, that’s right, 95 cents–and I remember buying them at the same time as two other books which were collections of his short stories, Expedition to Earth and Tales From the White Hart. I still have those books; in fact, I’m looking at them right now.
But it was during this time when I discovered another Clarke novel, Childhood’s End, and it became obvious that science fiction was a lot more than ray guns and space ships. I discovered that if a master of the genre were take the concept of “What if?” and jump into the pool of conscious thought as if they were performing an intellectual cannonball, then you had something that transcended simple story telling. I discovered this with Childhood’s End, and when the “New Wave” of science fiction hit in the 1970′s I discovered this again, and once more during the Cyberpunk ’80′s.
Science fiction is all about ideas. It can be about the big picture, but it can also be about the individual, the person standing at the center of the storm, and how they deal with events swirling about them. Sandkings is one such story for me; I Am Legend is another.
There are so many layers to science fiction. One of the things I’ve always tried to do is encourage people to expand their horizons and read as much of it as possible. It’s not always easy: a huge number of people I’ve met who are also into science fiction sometimes act as if the genre started in 1977–a fact that Winchell Chung of Project Rho has shown just ain’t so. It can be tough going to convince them that there is something out there and it’s worthwhile to examine–
And then there are events that happen that seem to transcend time.
The other night I was chatting with someone and I was telling them about the then most current episode of Doctor Who, The Girl Who Waited. As I told them about a central point of the story–varying time streams–they were like, “Gee, that’s really sort of wild.” To me it was nothing, ’cause I’ve been watching Doctor Who for years–yes, I live near Chicago; yes, I’ve seen every episode shown on WTTW–so the concept of varying time streams is no big deal, particuarly (you know what I’m going to say next, don’t you?) if you view time from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint, and then it’s more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly . . . timey wimey . . . stuff.
So I was like, “Just hold on, let me show you something,” and with that I was off to YouTube to find the conversation between The Doctor and Sally Sparrow in Blink. Not only is it incredibly well written, but in that scene you begin to understand that time isn’t all as it seems . . ..
And after they saw that and said it was pretty incredible, I said, “You wanna see some real paradoxes? Hold on,” and with that I was off in search of a story I knew was on the Internet. I found it and asked them to read.
An fifteen minutes later they were asking, “Did what I think just happened happen?”
They were blown away; they couldn’t believe that a story like this–one they’d never heard of until I mentioned it–existed. The one comment they made that I won’t forget: ”I can see how this speaks to you.”
I mean, when you want to see just how wibbly wobbly timey wimey can get, take a moment, read —All You Zombies— by Robert A. Heinlein, and wrap your mind around what’s happening inside the story–
And remember it was written in 1958 and published a year later–and it builds off his story By His Bootstraps, written years before in 1941.
This is what science fiction does: it takes what you think you know and it shows you a whole new way of seeing things. Done right it turns everything on its head and forces you to consider other paths, other possibilities, other places.
It is indeed big ball of wibbly wobbly speculation that will force you to see the universe in a whole different light.
And if you feel the need to geek out, is there any better way than this?