I love the advantages I had being a kid in the 1970s and a teenager in the 1980s. Queue the montage of avocado green and harvest gold appliances and kids flying down the street on their bikes morphing into ’80’s haired battles on Atari and DOS programming on Commodore 64s. There is one thing I really envy about the generations that came up after me: They have grown up in a world where Science Fiction/Fantasy is cool. In my high school, those who openly loved the genres were ostracized. I couldn’t help but see how many of my friends were treated, so I avoided it like the plague, not that its absence helped my popularity one bit.
My aversion to the dreaded Sci-Fi label (and all the baggage I’d associated with it) was overcome by a stronger force in the universe – Billy Joel. In the song “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” he mentions the book Stranger in a Strange Land.
I’d never heard of it or Robert Heinlein, but Mr. Joel (whom I idolized) recommended it, and that was good enough for me.
It was life changing. Just as Michael, the human born and raised on Mars, learns to navigate his ancestral homeland, I maneuvered my way through this new world of future civilizations and biting social commentary. I was literally sitting there mouth agape while reading some of the material. Even as I was being shocked, I was thinking of what contemporary 1960 readers must have felt reading these same words three decades before.
For me this was the perfect science fiction jumping in point. Heinlein quickly drew me in with well-developed characters and loads of twists and turns. As with any good book, it left me thinking about its themes for weeks to come. It was as if it were written to my preference specs!
Trial and error led me to discover that I like my science hard and with a minimum number of space battles. With “Sci-Fi” being such a huge umbrella, there is room for all different tastes. And to think that I used to see it as a giant, ominous monolith.
But it all could have gone another way. What if I’d selected a book in the genre I didn’t like early on? That probably would have been the end of it – confirmation bias at its finest. But book fortune smiled upon me. Tentative steps and wonderful stories led me to openly embrace the label I’d diligently avoided for years. Now I have a deep well of new-to-me material to enjoy for a lifetime. It makes me wonder what else is out there that I’ve wrongly pre-determined I won’t like.