How did you come to the SF genres?

Jason Sanford • November 18th, 2009 @ 7:15 am • Fiction, Media, Uncategorized

Guest blogger Jason Sanford often rants on his website at www.jasonsanford.com. His fiction has been published in Interzone, Year’s Best SF 14, Analog, Intergalactic Medicine Show, Pindeldyboz, and other places, and has won the 2008 Interzone Readers’ Poll and a Minnesota State Arts Board Fellowship.

What first brought you to the speculative fiction genres?

A few years ago I was talking with Mike Resnick at the Context convention. Upon learning I was from Alabama, he said it was his experience that most SF fans down South didn’t come to the genre through the traditional routes, i.e., by reading genre fiction. Instead, they came to the genre by way of SF films, comics and video games.

I find the essence of what Resnick said to be true. Today most fans of written science fiction, fantasy and horror first come to the genres through the visual mediums. Witness the success of Dragon Con, and compare their unbelievable attendance to that of the biggest traditional SF convention.

I believe one reason Resnick made this remark is because until recently, the American South and most other non-coastal areas of the United States had fewer opportunities to engage with written SF. Before the rise of the mega-sized bookstores and Amazon.com, it was difficult to stumble across SF in smaller cities and rural areas. Yes, you could order books through the mail, but that is different from finding a book by chance or through a friend and falling in love with the SF genres. I remember going to the bookstores of Montgomery, Alabama, in the 1980s and early 90s, and finding only a few speculative fiction titles. If you didn’t live in a New York City or Los Angeles prior to the last 15 years, good luck being introduced to written SF.

But visual SF? It was everywhere. And even today, it’s much easier to discover SF through the visual mediums.

I was lucky because my grandfather spent decades collecting science fiction and fantasy books by mail, so I was exposed to written SF from an early age. But I was also exposed to genre tropes through the highly successful SF films, comics and video games of the last 30 years. So I can easily see how many people today are coming to the genre by a different route than people who were raised on SF literature before 1970.

So my question for people is, what brought you to written speculative fiction? What keeps you here? Do many people make the jump from the visual SF mediums to written literature? Does it make a difference if there’s a generational difference in how people come to our genres?

24 Responses to “How did you come to the SF genres?”

  1. David Steffen says:

    I liked to read speculative fiction pretty much as long as I liked to read, though I played video games and saw movies before my reading reached a level where I did a lot of it recreationally. I’d still say the written form was primary for me.

  2. David Steffen says:

    Then again, I was pretty much raised on movies like The Princess Bride, Flight of the Navigator, and the Last Starfighter, for which I have my older brother to thank.

  3. Rob Blake says:

    Growing up in Fort Worth, Texas, I was introduced to the SF genre through books. The first book I ever bought for myself was a paperback book through the Scholastic Book Club when I was in elementary school. It was a collection of short stories called _Beyond_Belief:_8_Strange_Tales_of_Otherworlds_ by Richard J. Hurley. Around that same time, my mother was an avid reader and used to get a paper bag full of paperback books she traded with friends. I happened to be looking through her latest acquisition and came across a book called _I,_Robot_ by a fellow named Isaac Asimov. I was hooked and have never looked back.

    I do remember getting most of my reading material from used book shops or bookstores that were dedicated SF/F stores. No huge megastores back then. I am saddened that almost all of the SF/F books stores have disappeared. There was a certain camaraderie to be had there among both the patrons and employees. These days I’ve found that of all the megastores, Borders has always had a largest and most varied selection available. If I couldn’t find a book anywhere else, I could always count on finding it at Borders. That was true up until about 5-6 years ago when they moved their huge store at Hulen and I-20 to a brand new upscale store at Hulen and I-30. Still, I find them to be much better than Buns & Noodle, both for selection and service, although they aren’t as convenient to me now.

  4. Rob Blake says:

    Sorry – mispelled the e-mail address.

  5. Robert Devereux says:

    Written speculative fiction has been part of my life as long as I can remember. As a child, my mother used to read me stories from Greek mythology. When that was done, she moved on to L’Engle and Tolkien, and I continued on my own from there. This was mostly in the early 80s, when visual stuff wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is now. Plus, being rural made going to the movies a special occasion, while reading a book was a daily occurrence.

  6. Michelle Muenzler says:

    I’m a Texas gal who picked up the genre in the 80′s. My parents read a lot of speculative fiction, but I didn’t really look at their books much (just the huge tome of Shakespeare in super tiny font–that book rocked!). I did practically live in my school libraries, though. So I would check out all sorts of books well past the reading level of the folk around me. In fifth grade, one of the librarians noticed I had run through their meager speculative fiction section, so she gave me personal copy of Ender’s Game to read (only a few weeks earlier she had encouraged me to read The Grapes of Wrath, which I rather enjoyed). Once I read Ender’s Game, speculative fiction was officially my primary reading genre and I began to devour speculative fiction in earnest.

    I never had a problem finding speculative fiction in the distant Houston suburbs, though the selection wasn’t perhaps as large and nice as I find nowdays. It was enough, though.

  7. Paul says:

    I was inducted into the secret society of science fiction readers 30 years ago thanks to my older brother, who is a SF fan in his own right. I’ve never asked him, funny enough, how *he* got into it. However, we lived in NYC, so finding SF wasn’t hard…

  8. Corey Redekop says:

    I read a lot of Tom Swift growing up, but my first real introduction to the genre was DO ANDROIDS DREAM OF ELECTRIC SHEEP? I was too young to see BLADE RUNNER, but I could purchase the book. I was such a rabid Harrison Ford fan that nothing would keep me from reading it if I couldn’t see it.

    My mind was consequently blown, and blown again repeatedly each time I reread it. Wow. Still my favourite genre piece, and in my top five books of all time.

  9. Andy says:

    The first science fiction I remember experiencing is Star Trek: TNG. While that may not be the purest of science fiction, it led me to the books of Card and Clarke and others.

  10. Claire says:

    Hmm. I grew up outside of Syracuse, New York, in the seventies, and there was lots of written SF available. I got started in the school and local libraries, but even the mall bookstores had a surprising amount of SF. And Syracuse was big enough to support at least one comics/gaming/SF/fantasy store, and sometimes two, for most of my teens (and beyond, although apparently they’re dead now). Obviously I can’t speak for the south, but at least in the northeast it was pretty easy to find SF. It’s probably much harder now.

  11. Bernie says:

    Every kid stuck in ohio longs to escape to somewhere with lightsabers and x-wings, so that was always in my mind as a kid, but i think i really started when i got a copy of the original text adventure of The Hitchhikers Guide To The Galaxy, being a curious 8 or 9 year old (vaguely) i found the books in the library and from then on I was doomed.

  12. Kevin Meehan says:

    It was Tom Swift. Dad was a big fan and one day he brought home Tom Swift and His Ultrasonic Cycloplane. I was hooked and very disappointed that the cycloplane wasn’t used after that. Then I found Clarke, Asimov, Ellison, Tolkien and The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. After that there’s no going back.

  13. Samuel Tinianow says:

    For me it was mostly part of a high school creative writing class. Early in the year, each of the students had to do an overview of the history and features of a certain genre, preferably one they were less familiar with, and bring in a story that exemplified it. I picked science fiction pretty much at random. The story I brought in was “Robot Dreams”.

    Granted, in middle school I’d been heavily into Redwall books, read and reread The Martian Chronicles and The Hobbit (which is the only one of the aforementioned books I still own) over and over. My favorite video games were the Final Fantasy series (steampunk before anyone knew what steampunk was), my favorite movie was The Matrix (I was in high school, remember), and I was perpetually carrying around a Lovecraft anthology that I’d originally bought because I liked the cover. I’d just never put it together that I liked *the genre* before.

  14. Jason Sanford says:

    I’d forgotten how important grade school and high school libraries can be to people discovering SF. Unfortunately, my school libraries didn’t contain much in the way of science fiction and fantasy. But my kids’ grade school library is overflowing with genre books, and most of their friends read and enjoy the books.

    Despite this, one of my kids teachers once sniffed how my son was a great reader–even if he only reads fantasy. I almost said “Thank goodness. I was afraid he was reading that post-modern literary crap.” But I held my tongue. Can’t have your son’s teacher out for his blood.

  15. Jonathan says:

    My mother brainwashed me, a child of 8, to think that Lord of the Rings was the greatest work EVER. I couldn’t slog through it then–I didn’t even try–but I did dig into more age appropriate stuff like Matthew Looney in elementary school, Chronicles of Prydain, The Hobbit and some Andre Norton in middle school. I didn’t read any spec fic for a long time, but it was Lord of the Rings in my early 20′s that got me interested again and Robert Jordan’s first Wheel of Time Book and George R.R. Martin that anchored me here. I love it here. Can I stay?

  16. Wesley says:

    I grew up in Iowa in the 1980s, the last years before Borders and Barnes and Noble popped up everywhere. (I still remember seeing a Borders for the first time. My mind was blown.) We had a Waldenbooks at the mall, and there were still mass market paperbacks in the Hallmarks stores. The selection was indifferent. Not that I had much money for books when I was ten. Mostly I used the library.

    I came to SF through Star Trek. I went from the TV series, to the books (many of which were better) to other SF books. So I may be a data point in support of Resnick’s theory.

  17. Larry says:

    Although my grandmother introduced me to the Tom Swift novels (strange to think so many of us have read either the second or third iterations of that shared universe setting) as well as my discovery of C.S. Lewis and Tolkien between 9-12, I think part of the reason why I came to enjoy spec fic deals more with the climate around me. There’s something about the “New” South that I suspect lends itself toward being drawn to the weird, dark, and surreal. Probably explains why Flannery O’Connor in my opinion has as much of a spec fic “attitude” in her writing than any host of SF writers who’ve ever written their works.

  18. JDsg says:

    My Dad, who both read and watched SF (I remember watching some episodes of the original Star Trek with him when I was around 6-7 years old). My Dad was a semi-prolific reader to the point where my Mom would inform us kids (many, many times) that Dad was still asleep on a Saturday morning because he had stayed up till 2 am reading a book. He would also take us to the local city libraries, which were rather well stocked with SF novels for a small city of 35,000 in upstate NY. I read quite a bit of SF by authors who are mostly forgotten today, such as Martin Caidin and Stanislaus Lem.

    The better question would be how my Dad came to SF, who went to high school in the early 50s. Funny, I’ve never thought of him as a George McFly-type. ;)

  19. SMD says:

    Star Wars. That’s what got me into it. I watched Star Wars and never looked back.

    As for what got me into literature: I loved the work of Poul Anderson and there was an anthology of great SF shorts edited by Orson Scott Card that really got me excited. It had Sandkings by George R. R. Martin in it, and Call Me Joe by Anderson…all good stuff in there.

    That’s really where it all began.

  20. David E says:

    SMD, same here. I was 5 when Star Wars came out. I came out of that movie an addict constantly looking for another “sense of wonder” fix.

  21. David E says:

    As far as the visual vs written being the thing that drew one into SF I think it will tend to be the visual (movies and TV) simply because we SF fans often (as in my case) were already fans when we were just beginning to learn to read.

  22. Savant says:

    I came to sci-fi a little later in life. LOTR, Star Wars, and some Jules Verne were scattered about my childhood, but I was really a comic book nut more than anything else (still am).

    In high school, I was mostly reading Raymond Feist, Douglas Adams, and Terry Pratchett. I remember trying to read Greg Bear’s “Eon” when I was about 15. Way over my head at that point. (Came back to it a couple of years ago, now in my 30s, and loved it loved it.) The only other title I can remember from that time was David Brin’s “The Postman,” which I did enjoy.

    Into college and I discovered Niven’s “Lucifer’s Hammer” and “Footfall,” Bear’s “Songs of Earth and Power,” and continued to follow Feist, et al.

    The turning point for me, AFAIC, came soon after graduating college when a friend of mine recommended “Ender’s Game.” Having enjoyed it so thoroughly, and now having a real job and a steady income, it was all downhill from there! It was only into my twenties when I discovered Heinlein, Asimov, Dick, and myriad other authors I now consider my favorites. Sure, there are some regrets about not having discovered some of this stuff earlier. But I think in some ways I’m better off only getting around to books like “The Moon is a Harsh Mistress” and “Martian Time-Slip” at this later stage of my life! :)

  23. Daemon says:

    I’m creeping up on 34, and I honestly can’t remember a time in my life when SF/F wasn’t a part of my life.

    The only picture book I actually remember from childhood: Where the Wild Things Are

    The first novel I ever read (albeit alternating reading chapters with my mother) was The Phantom Tollbooth – and i’ve been devouring fantasy and some SF ever since.

    One of the earliest TV series I remember watching is Doctor Who. A little later on, recall Buck Rogers, Flash Gordon and the real Battlestar Gallactica.

    Oddly enough – I’m the only person in the family who really cares one way or the other about it.

  24. Michael says:

    The Star Wars movies were my introduction to Sci-Fi/Fantasy. ….which led to Star Wars comics which led to collecting comics in general which led to Elfquest which led to the LOTR and Narnia books ….. after that the floodgate was open.

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