A question often posed in interviews and elsewhere is why was I originally drawn to SF? I too would like to know, but to answer the question I need to be able to clearly remember my past and pull apart the details. Right now I can remember a great deal of the detail of the book I’m writing, but trying to recollect the feelings and inclinations of the ten-year-old I was fourty years ago is a little more problematic.
I have a memory, from some point soon after when I was about eleven or twelve – I can locate it there because we were at the third family house I lived in, my brother Martin had left home, and the memory concerns the house he had moved to. I was searching though a box of books in his bedroom. These were mostly Louis L’Amour cowboy books, though whether I was reading them at the time I can’t be sure. Amidst them I found this weird paperback with a green four-armed figure mounted on the back of some strange buffalo-type creature, and I remember being fascinated by it and wanting to read it at once. But was this copy of Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs the book that set me on the path I’m still treading?
Perhaps not, because surely I received a copy of Larry Niven’s Ringworld Engineers as a birthday present at the previous house? Then there are other memories to contend with and try to place. My parents read the old yellow-spined Gollancz SF books, stuff by the likes of Wyndam and Lymington, and I remember reading them too. I also remember being handed The Winds of Gath and Kalin by E. C. Tubb (and an ensuing Tubb habit I only broke on about book twenty-five when the hero had still yet to find Earth). Then there was my first trip to the library and my mother asking me what I liked. Baffled by this question I groped around mentally and remembered this story a school teacher had been reading to my class. It was called The Hobbit and, subsequently directed to the correct shelf, I picked up The Two Towers – I read Lord of the Rings in the wrong order first, then in the right order many times afterwards.
But perhaps I need to go deeper. Perhaps what stimulated my sensawunda and then enabled me to ‘suspend disbelief’ and keep on doing so were the comics. My brothers had comics, but they had names like Lion or Tiger and when the Brits weren’t thrashing the Nazis, Desperate Dan was eating another cow pie or Gnasher was causing into trouble for Basher. Then my father brought home a comic called Spiderman for me to read and I was riveted. Incidentally, he was riveted too because he continued to buy them for me to read, but handed them over only after he’d read them. Was it those?
Or was it before that, when I first learned to read? Scattered around in the classroom were Janet and John books and others of a similar nature. I picked up or was handed something else and found myself in a tale about a ‘wasp without wings’ bemoaning its lack to an oak tree – a talking oak tree. All was resolved when the tree explained to said wasp that it was actually an ant. So there, perhaps there is where it started.
Or maybe not, because none of the above explains why even as an infant I liked to draw monsters when others were drawing cute family pictures and lop-sided houses. Nor does it explain why I’ve managed to hold onto my sensawunda and ‘suspension of disbelief’ when others lose them, kidding themselves they’re putting away childish things, while their imaginations die.