It would be hard to pinpoint the exact moment I fell in love with science fiction.
As I mentioned in this post, I was already well into my lifelong love affair with sci-fi by the time I reached high school. Before that, I had been a member of the Sci-Fi Fan Club in middle school, a short-lived gathering of geeks during which we watched old movies and discussed all things science fiction-related. Happy times.
Throughout it all, there were plenty of books, as well as a ton of movies, like Enemy Mine (which I was too young to understand when I first saw it, but I enjoyed it anyway) and the Star Wars films (which, depending on who you ask, aren’t really science fiction, but I’m not getting into that right now). And I never missed an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, as long as the cable bill at our house had been paid.
At some point, probably during high school, I was given a book by my brother’s then-girlfriend (now wife). Her mom was a teacher, but I don’t know if that had anything to do with how or why the book ended up in my hands. While I’d lost a great many books during those tumultuous years after high school, I still have this one. It’s a thick hardcover book that once had a dust jacket with a picture of a rocketship on it. Even now, I occasionally pick it up and read something out of it. How could I not?
The book is Adventures in Time and Space, edited by Raymond J. Healy and J. Francis McComas. It is a collection of science fiction stories (and two non-fiction essays) that was originally released in 1946. The edition I have is from much later than that (probably 1985), but contains all the original stories.
And what a collection, with stories by Isaac Asimov, Lester Del Rey, A.E. Van Vogt, and many others. Of all the books I read in my teens, this was the one most responsible for rewiring my brain for sci-fi. It inspired me to dream of even bigger, even stranger worlds than I’d already imagined. It destroyed my narrow view of science fiction and taught me that it could me so much more.
Here are a few highlights from the anthology:
- “Requiem,” by Robert Heinlein: The story of an old man who dreams of walking on the moon, but can’t because of illness, despite being the one responsible for mankind’s ability to travel to space. I spent most of my youth dreaming about walking on the moon, so of course I loved it. And I really felt that old man’s frustration and sadness, as well as his joy when – well, you’ll see.
- “The Proud Robot,” by Lewis Padgett: In which I was introduced to Gallegher, a scientist with a drinking problem, or maybe an alcoholic with a science problem. Much of what I’d known of science fiction, before reading this one, wasn’t particularly humorous (it would be years before I would discover Douglas Adams). This and other of Padgett’s Gallegher stories (another of which appears in this collection, though the character’s name inexplicably changes) taught me that sci-fi can, in fact, be funny.
- “He Who Shrank,” by Henry Hasse: An adventure about an man who, um, shrinks. After shrinking down to the size of the atoms of his world, then further, he discovers that a whole other universe is nested within the subatomic particles. He continues to shrink, passing into successive worlds within the atoms of the previous world. This one blew my mind as a teenager, the huge idea that our universe contains within it – and is contained within – an infinite number of worlds.
- “Correspondence Course,” by Raymond F. Jones: The story of a man who becomes trained in the workings of a mysterious new machine. What is it? And who is teaching him how to fix it? The story takes place in a quiet, dusty small town, hardly a sci-fi setting, and that’s why I still think about this one. Sci-fi happens everywhere.
I owe most of what I am as a writer to Adventures in Time and Space. It entered my life at exactly the right moment, and it’s still with me, more than two decades later. It’s not a rare book, so I doubt you’d have any trouble finding it. You are looking for it, right?
See you next time.