When I was eight years old, I read Heinlein’s Have Spacesuit Will Travel. At the time I had no idea it was science fiction, because as far as I was concerned, trips to the moon was just what went on in America.
So it went unremarked. That was the same Summer I read Tom Sawyer and The Prince and the Pauper, so you might as well consider it my induction in the evil league of evil, since I was reading a dead white male and all.
Then when I was eleven, and my brother was studying engineering in college, he fell in with a dangerous crowd. By which I mean he made friends with a guy who had every science fiction book ever translated to Portuguese.
My brother borrowed them and told me I was not to touch them on penalty of pain. I later found out he was afraid I’d come across a sex scene or something and be shocked.
He didn’t realize the best way to get me to read something was to tell me I couldn’t do it.
It was, mind you, more fantasy than science fiction, but it contained Robin Hood and various cartoon characters and I thought “This is cool.”
So the next book I picked up and read, from my brother’s bedside table, standing poised and ready to drop the book and run to my room at the sound of a foot on the stairs was A Canticle for Leibowitz.
And I was like:
At which point, I went a little crazy.
I wanted it all, and I wanted it now. By the time I was thirteen, my brother and I would pool our resources and go halvsies on books. He’s so lucky that I got married abroad and never claimed my halves. The judgement of Solomon would have left us with half a book and half a memory.
Mind you, at the same time I was reading all the stuff that young ladies were supposed to be reading, too.
The only stuff that left any impression other than the sf/f were Dumas and Shakespeare. (I’d come at Jane Austen much later. I had to know more about the time period. While she liked her little bits of ivory, I liked my stories big.)
And then I started writing (bad) tales of science fiction in class, and my classmates loved them. And then I submitted one as an assignment in Portuguese class.
Apparently this genre with all the wow and the metaphysics and the deep pondering of how things were put together and whether they could be put together another way was not only bad, oh no. It was wrong.
So I read all of that, and also all of Camus and a lot of other stuff that everyone said was REALLY IMPORTANT STUFF I should read.
Though I never finished War and Peace because I:
So I liked some of that stuff. Like Jorge Luis Borges. Though, you know, he kind of reminded me of Bradbury.
And then they assigned me 1984 and Brave New World. I believe assigning both of those in the same year is the language teachers’ attempt at population reduction.
The effect on me was more like “Science fiction. OMG, they’re letting me read science fiction.”
So, I mentioned this to my teachers. And they told me I was wrong.
At which point I realized two things.
First for something that talked about the future to be “good literature” it had to be depressing. Because that’s how you know it’s serious.
Or, to be considered serious, science fiction has to somehow mirror our present reality.
And then I thought, no, scr*w that. My teachers clearly have no clue what they’re talking about. If art were all about reflecting reality and showing dangers and pitfalls and injustice and stuff, no one would ever read for fun. And fun stuff — all of Shakespeare — would never touch you deeply and make you realize something about humanity you couldn’t verbalize before.
And then I had an epiphany.
Perhaps they wanted/needed everyone else to live lives of quiet desperation, so they could feel better.
So, imagine my surprise, when I broke in science fiction to find that somehow we’ve got invaded by English Teachers.
I got told over and over again that what I needed to write was “deeply significant” literature, by which they didn’t mean stuff like exploring the past and the future and the implications of what science might do. Or at least they didn’t mean that, if it didn’t make you want to do this:
The other option, as time went on, was for something to be really… how to put this?
Because of course our current problems and concerns are the most important thing ever, and no one in all of the history of human kind will ever get over them. And you’d never want to read anything else, ever:
Still, some good stuff sneaked through now and then. Until a few years ago, when we found out that we wouldn’t be allowed to have fun anywhere near science fiction, because science fiction, really science fiction is deeply significant and reflects reality and…
And I thought…
Wait a minute…
and then it was like
But apparently, no. They’d already done their worst to Mystery and were starting to tackle Romance. In their great quest to destroy all the fun that might remain in printed pages, it was our turn.
Only then a miracle occurred:
Now, of course they don’t like it one bit, so they’re like:
Or at least that’s what they think they’re doing. But we’re like:
Because now that we can publish without them, their opinions should matter to us why?
Like my teachers back in High School, they’ve never read anything just for fun. And they think that literature is all about looking at themselves in the mirror, forever.
Because, you know, they’re so endlessly fascinating.
So while they massage their deep insecurities
And tell themselves they’re every bit as worthy as all the stuff they were forced to read in school, the rest of us whose dinosaur rampage fantasies are more fun.
The rest of us will continue to write mindless stuff about
princesses robots giant lizards The nature of evil; the role of government; the importance of colonization of new lands to human civilization; the implications of time travel.
And, oh yeah. We’ll continue to have fun too.
You do your thing and we do ours. You keep treating science fiction like the redheaded step child of literature. And we keep enjoying the big horizons and imagination of the genre. Because that’s how much your opinion matters to us, you guardians of culture and class who haven’t read anything published before 2000 and think past and present and all is all about you forever.
We don’t mind. Ya’ll have fun with that mirror now, you hear?
We have spaceships (and dragons) to fly, and monsters to kill and magical cities to guard, and planets to invade and stuff.
Ya’ll take care.