Each of us has a dark little secret. We are addicted to science fiction. Don’t deny it. Your craving for exploring the fantastic is insatiable. One more book, short story, or movie is never enough. The hunger only seems to grow more powerful with each page we turn.
We stay up all night, flipping page after page until our eyes are screaming for mercy. We take a short nap as the sun comes up and then plunge back into the world of imagination. When finally we reach the last page of that award-winning novel, we toss the book down triumphantly. But instead of storming around with our arms raised over our heads in victory, we immediately demand the next book, the sequel.
All of us dedicated science fiction, fantasy, and horror fans would like nothing more than to chain our favorite authors to the keyboard, so they can remain focused on the task of providing us our next fix. Write faster we want to scream at them. Alas we find a way to control ourselves. We go back to the first volume in the series and read it again, or we explore new books and new authors.
Fortunately for us, the world has learned to feed our addiction. The world surrounds us with science fiction. They provide games, television shows, books, comics, stories, and films. We gorge ourselves until we are bloated, but we still want more. How did we get this way? What started this addiction to science fiction? What sparked our dark little secret?
For me, I began reading comic books at a young age. Conan comics served as my gateway to a lifelong addiction. The comics seemed so innocent, but my habit quickly escalated to short stories and novels. Soon I found myself reading what seemed like entire bookshelves filled with unique and fantastic worlds.
In order to shed light on this ongoing issue, it might be therapeutic to discuss the origins of addiction. Each of us should think back to that moment when we were first exposed to science fiction. Was it Star Trek, Heinlein, or Astounding? Over the last several months some of my favorite people have discussed their addiction to science fiction. I asked each of them what started their lifelong habit. What follows is their confessions.
I came late to science fiction. I read everything as a child and youth, but did not distinguish SF from the rest of what I read; so I read Tom Swift Jr., and Jules Verne, but only thought of them as marvelous adventures. In a sense I was recapitulating the history of the genre, because there was a lot of SF published before the name “science fiction” existed. Thus with my reading. But when I was 18 and leaving for college, I reached the end of the fiction section in my library (I had been going through it in alphabetical order) and there was this section with rocket ships and radiation symbols on the spines of the books. I started with Asimov, as having the biggest part of the As (I was still moving alphabetically), and at first I thought, this Asimov is so good, he must be an anomaly. People often make this mistake, I find. Then, I picked up a paperback by Clifford Simak, just to fill out my ten book limit, called The Goblin Reservation. I loved it and concluded, all science fiction is great. This too was wrong, but I was on my way.
SFWA Grand Master Robert Silverberg
I think it was my discovery of H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine when I was about ten, although Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, which is not quite as science-fictional as the Wells, set me on the path a couple of years earlier.
SFWA Grand Master Frederik Pohl
Just those first few magazines that came my way, and, truth to tell, those early Amazings contained some pretty lousy stories.
My mother read me fairy tales as a child, then I read Eleanor Cameron’s Mushroom Planet books, superhero and monster comic books (well, actually all comic books). The Odyssey, Bullfinch’s Mythology, and Nathaniel Hawthorne’s stories. Later I read Richard Matheson, Ray Bradbury, and Harlan Ellison (the latter’s anthologies, as well as his short fiction). So I was hooked from the get-go. Even though I’ve read “realistic” novels and stories throughout my life, I much prefer those with an edge of otherworldliness, darkness, or outright science fiction, fantasy/supernatural horror.
Science Fiction Legend Ben Bova
My interest in science began with my first trip to a planetarium. I was born and raised in the narrow streets and row houses of South Philadelphia. In junior high, we were sent on a mandatory class trip to the Franklin Institute, Philadelphia’s major science museum. The Fels Planetarium was part of the museum. When they turned out the lights and turned on the stars, they turned me on, too. I was fortunate enough to be “adopted” by the planetarium’s director, Dr. I. M. Levitt, who began my education in astronomy—which led me to an interest in astronautics (this was the 1940s, when “going to the Moon’ was regarded by most people as utter fantasy). That was when I discovered science fiction: tales of the future. I’ve never recovered.
I discovered Andrew Lang’s books of fairy tales and Hugh Lofting’s Doctor Doolittle books in second grade. Shortly afterwards I found a stack of Tarzan books in my grandmother’s back closet and took them home with me, one at a time. In 1933 my father brought home a Doc Savage magazine and then a series of hero pulps including The Shadow, The Spider, and G-8 and His Battle Aces. A year or two later I found a used-magazine store in downtown Kansas City, Andy’s, where I discovered a dusty stack of science-fiction magazines in the back of the store, Amazing Stories, Wonder Stories, Astounding Stories of Super Science…, and I could trade two of my hero-pulps for one of these that offered the same kind of adventures but arranged around a kernel of idea that made all the difference. And finally, in 1939, I came across the first issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries that reprinted science fiction and fantasy from the old Munsey pulps. My conversion was complete.
Award-Winning Author Lois McMaster Bujold
I was in love with reading by third grade. (That was when I discovered that, instead of being limited to the age-selected books laid out on the table during library periods, I could take out any book.) My first love was horse stories—Walter Farley, Marguerite Henry, and so on. I read the SF on offer—I have discovered that more SF writers than me regard The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron as an Ur-book to their attachment to the genre. I also encountered the Heinlein juveniles there.
I started reading adult science fiction about age nine, with the magazines and paperbacks that my father, a professor of engineering, used to buy to read on the plane when he went on consulting trips. I cadged my first subscription to Analog Magazine at about age thirteen—starting in the early 1960s, during the reign of editor John W. Campbell, Jr. (Dune was first serialized there.) Another writer I remember fondly from that early period was Eric Frank Russell; later, Poul Anderson, Anne McCaffrey, Randall Garrett, Zenna Henderson, Roger Zelazny, and Cordwainer Smith.
When Star Trek came along in 1966, I was already a SF fan of long standing. Looking at it today, folks don’t realize that it was the best-produced visual SF ever seen at the time since the 1956 movie Forbidden Planet. (The barrier-busting 2001: A Space Odyssey still lay several years in the future.)
Best Selling Author Daniel Abraham
The one I remember best was The Nine Billion Names of God by Arthur C. Clarke. But there were any number of other arrows pointing me down the same road. I watched a lot of Twilight Zone when I was a kid, and my father read to me from a lot of different sources. Nine Billion Names of God was the one that opened my skull, though.
Award-Winning Author Bradley Denton
I can’t remember any _one_ event—but certainly, my life as a whole was channeled toward science fiction at an early age. My first hero was Superman; I was fascinated with the American space program; I was crazy about chemistry and astronomy; and I loved to read books and stories. How could I have turned out any other way?
Best Selling Author Ty Franck
A collection of stories my aunt bought for me as a kid that included The Stars My Destination. It was way too adult for me, but it hit at exactly the right time to reprogram my brain. I’ve never read anything since that so powerfully affected my sense of storytelling aesthetic, except for possibly Lord of Light. But I was much older when I read that, so I was less malleable.
I was pulled in by Tolkien, but I stuck around because of Le Guin. Earthsea struck a deep chord with me when I was young. I could relate to Ged and his story in a way that I never could with other fantasy characters.
When I was young, Lloyd Alexander was also a big influence. In my teens, was by far my favorite, and his works are probably the single greatest influence of my approach to D&D. In my early 20s, I finally got around to reading Moorcock and expanded out to Michael Swanwick, Gene Wolfe, Jack Womack, Clark Ashton Smith, and a whole lot more. It’s odd, because in many ways what I read rarely has a direct influence on my D&D games, but I find that reading challenging and interesting authors is a good way to keep my brain in shape.
As you can see, we are not alone in our addiction to science fiction. As far as I know, there is no known cure. But then again, why would I want to be cured? Be careful who you loan that book or DVD to. They might become addicted. Science fiction is habit forming, although it is a habit I hope to never break.
Now that you’ve heard their stories, tell us how you first became hooked on science fiction. What’s your origin story?