Ask me: "Who got you interested in scifi, horror, etc.?"

>> Sunday, March 14, 2010

An interrogatory from Matt

Who got you interested in scifi, horror, etc.?


An excellent question, but not exactly one with a simple answer!

Well, that's not quite true: I suppose I could reduce the answer down to "my parents," mostly, though things didn't all go by the same road.

As far as science fiction goes, that was always a bit of a VanNewkirk thing--my Dad had a lot of that around, and there were also a number of used books that made their way down to us from my grandparents on his side of the family. For horror, I think that was mostly my Mom's influence--she was on a Stephen King tear for a while, and I remember her having a lot of Peter Straub paperbacks, which would be my first exposure to a writer who remains a personal favorite all these years later.

But there are even wrinkles to that. Both my parents, for whatever reasons, fostered a love of science and gave me quite a few non-fiction science books when I was a kid, and I was a huge science geek up until junior high school--towards the end of elementary, I'd stumbled onto the fact that I just hated math way too much, and turned increasingly towards imagining cool science stuff. It's in this context that I had an early love of Star Trek when I was four or five (I still remember having a much-used ViewMaster disc; I'm not even sure if I'd actually seen an episode of the series at that point, this being the '70s when interest in Trek was picking up again but the franchise was mostly in the wilderness; I know I was too young to see or appreciate The Animated Series, which filled part of that gap). And then, when I was five, there was Star Wars, and I was one of those kids who was completely primed for that kind of thing: even then I was nerdy enough to know there was no sound in a vacuum or to wonder how "blasters" might work, but that was completely secondary to the fact that here was this vision of a world where people didn't just visit space or study it from afar, they actually lived there, enough to take it all for granted (of course Luke Skywalker could fly a spaceship his third day out--he had one in his fucking garage at home).

A separate thread woven in there is fantasy literature, which happened something like this: when I was very young, I went through a phase where I read nothing but comic books. I'm still not sure this was a problem, but at any rate there was a visit to the bookstore during which I was foiled--instead of getting me the Ghost Rider comic I wanted (and the fact GR was my favorite superhero at the time may tell you something about how I was primed to be a horror fan even at a tender age), my parents bought me The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe, a book my Dad had read when he was a kid. C.S. Lewis is a faintly terrible writer, you know, and as an adult it's hard for me to disagree with Tolkien's various indictments against the Narnia books--that they're lousy allegory (allegory being suspect even when it's done well) and that they're utterly incoherent as examples of world-building (random creatures from Greek mythology mashed-up for no discernible reason with talking animals, characters from modern English folklore and miscellaneous entities from the extended Judeo-Christian apocrypha? eh, why the hell not? and let's stick a modern lightpost in for shits and giggles while we're at it); at the same time, it's also impossible to ignore the fact that the first five books (and we're talking publication order, not the series-wrecking chronological order, here*) are rollicking fantasy despite various flaws, a wonderful gateway drug into imaginary realms for a kid too clueless to catch the ham-fisted religious pedagogy, served with a dose of whimsy that paved the way for writers like Neil Gaiman or J.K. Rowling (a lamppost in the middle of nowhere? cool!).

And then there was a lot of stuff, the pump having been primed by my parents, that I just stumbled onto myself. Tolkien was just something I discovered at the school library in elementary school, first with The Hobbit and then with the first and last volumes of The Lord Of The Rings (the library was missing The Two Towers for some reason, something I didn't know when I started The Return Of The King, though the introductory summary confused the hell out of me--"Book Two... you mean "book two" in Fellowship... what?"). I saw a copy of Twilight Zone Magazine in the early '80s and it became a request at some point--I must have a subscription to this!--and it became an introduction to a number of SF, fantasy and horror writers, including Harlan Ellison and Joe Lansdale and even some real classic figures like M.R. James.

It was in TZ that I read an amazing game review: the magazine's film critic, Gahan Wilson (who I would only later learn was a cartoonist), went looking for a fantasy roleplaying game called Call Of Cthulhu and found it; I'd been a D&D player for years at that point, since elementary school when an older kid saw me with Tolkien and gave me a hand-me-down Xerox bootleg of the first Basic D&D rulebook (he was "graduating" to AD&D), and Wilson was describing this unbelievably-awesome-sounding game where people didn't just get hacked up by swords or fried to a crispy rind by a wizard's lightning bolt, no, these characters could go insane at the sight of cosmic terrors from outside space and time, minds indelibly scarred by goopy terrors from other dimensions! Sweeeeeet! I wanted this game!

Except... how cheesy would it be to go buy a game based on the works of some writer I'd never heard of? Only one solution, then: if I wanted to play this game (and I really wanted to play this game), I needed to go read a Lovecraft story or novel or whatever first. If I could find one. The public library had a copy of The Dunwich Horror And Others, the edition revised by S.T. Joshi with that slightly-famous cover showing Cthulhu not so much emerging from his stone pit on R'lyeh but sort of lounging there with a claw raised like maybe he wants to order a drink. Of course, you can't just read one Lovecraft tome--the man has huge flaws as a writer, from the phony Anglicisms to, well, the fact he was hopelessly racist--but he was a hell of a storyteller, and knew how to construct a ripping yard; seriously, HPL is a master of structure. And, of course, reading HPL finally made all sorts of other things make sense--I'd read Stephen King's "Jerusalem's Lot" (in Night Shift, if I recall correctly) getting that it was a sort of distant-prequel to Salem's Lot, but what I didn't get (until I finally read HPL) was that it was King's pastiche of Robert Bloch doing a pastiche of Lovecraft; in fact King's work is full of homages and callbacks to HPL. Beyond even that superficiality, HPL was the father of late-20th Century horror fiction, the guy it all goes back to, the guy that everybody was either copying or railing against (or both); before HPL, of course, it's Poe, really, but it all passes through Lovecraft to get to the present.

So--hopefully that answered the question and wasn't too boring or rambling an answer, Matt. Thanks for the question! Seriously, it gave me a chance to ruminate on some writers I love and/or love/hate. (I mean, you know, C.S. Lewis sucks balls but he's still pretty much the guy who started everything for me, so I can't detest him as much as I really, really want to. Put another way: I still dream of Narnia, dammit.)





*What the hell is he talking about? Well, see: the Narnia books were originally written and published in this order:

The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe
Prince Caspian
The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader
The Silver Chair
The Horse And His Boy
The Magician's Nephew
The Last Battle


(I was able to write that up from memory, by the way). However, some of these books within the series are prequels to other books, and in fact the order within the series goes:


The Magician's Nephew
The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe
The Horse And His Boy
Prince Caspian
The Voyage Of The Dawn Treader
The Silver Chair
The Last Battle


Recently, some genius at the publishing house with the current rights to the Narnia books started printing the volumes in that order--that is, The Magician's Nephew is labeled "Book 1" and Horse And His Boy is now #3. This is apparently in accordance with the Lewis estate's wishes, and you wouldn't think it's a big deal.

The problem, however, is that The Magician's Nephew is a completely shitacular book. There's bound to be some debate over whether it's worse than The Last Battle (it's less racist than Battle, so at least it has that going for it), but at some point that's a little like debating whether it's worse to be poked in the left eye than the right.

Give a kid The Lion, The Witch, And The Wardrobe, and he's likely to be transported by this idea of walking into a closet and out into a snowy forest, and a lot of things the adult critic shakes his head over are going to be so much irrelevant bullshit to a kid who doesn't really care if centaurs and Father Christmas being in the same story makes a lick of sense--hell, it may even be a perfect mashup, maybe this will be the Christmas Santa gives me a magic sword to kick ass alongside the centaurs with, and what's an "alma-gory"? But give a kid Nephew and he's likely to agree with the adult critic's primary issue--Nephew's biggest issue, ironically, isn't the fat-headed attempt to retell Genesis with a dollop of Edwardian nostalgia and reference to Lilith mythology, but the fact that the book is a cranky, boring, clunky piece of crap writing. Said kid would be perfectly justified in flinging the book down and asking if he can play outside, and if he never read a single book again for fear they were all like that, who could blame him? If Wardrobe is a gateway drug, Nephew is a first-time hangover.

Sometimes a little thing like the number on the cover does make a difference.



1 comments:

Konstantin B. Monday, March 15, 2010 at 10:58:00 AM EDT  

The first "foreign language" sci-fi-horror book I've read was The Day of Triffids. Scared the beejesus out of me. I don't think even in my 30ties I would look at a meteor shower.

molor = an evil mole that evolved in Mordor

Post a Comment

Thank you for commenting! Because of the evils of spam, comments on posts that are more than ten days old will go into a moderation queue, but I do check the queue and your comment will (most likely) be posted if it isn't spam.

Another proud member of the UCF...

Another proud member of the UCF...
UCF logo ©2008 Michelle Klishis

...an international gang of...

...an international gang of...
смерть шпионам!

...Frank Gorshin-obsessed bikers.

...Frank Gorshin-obsessed bikers.
GorshOn! ©2009 Jeff Hentosz

  © Blogger template Werd by Ourblogtemplates.com 2009

Back to TOP