When I was a kid, I was a huge fan of science fiction and since then not much has changed. I’m still a massive sci-fi geek and quite proud of it. What has changed is my taste in sci-fi. As a kid, I preferred books packed with action, spaceships, and explosions—things that were cool and I recognized from movies. Now that I’m older I have found myself exploring more of what would be described as ‘classic science fiction’ and I’ve had to ask myself why it took so long.
I’ve had a difficult time pinpointing exactly when this shift in mindset occurred. It hasn’t been a complete reformation, of course. I still love spaceships and explosions, and I still read some series sci-fi (Star Wars, Warhammer 40k, etc), but there has been a slow but distinct change in direction over the last few years. I do remember saying to myself that as a self-proclaimed geek and science fiction fan, I really should take the time to read those works that laid the foundations for the other science fiction that I enjoy today.
At the time this all happened, I wasn’t completely ignorant of the classics. I had read Frankenstein in college and even picked an English 202 professor because I wanted to hear his insights on the book. Starship Troopers continues to be one of my all-time favorite books–I’ve read it at least seven times since high school; and thanks to another college professor, I’d dabbled a little into the insanity that is Phillip K. Dick. Still, I still felt woefully undereducated when it came to a genre to which I felt so attached. For some reason I had a difficult time picking something by Asimov or Bradbury. I just couldn’t connect with the stories or characters. Something was missing.
Looking back, I may have already known the answer without realizing it. During a drinking session with some of my professors (yes, they were awesome like that), one of them began to opine that he never really understood why schools made college-age students read classic literature. Of course, this intrigued us students, so he went on to say that although the content wasn’t necessarily over our heads, we lacked—through no fault of our own—the required life experiences to really connect with the material. At age eighteen or nineteen, we simply hadn’t lived enough or been through enough to get anything beyond the surface text. As I’ve gotten older, I have begun to understand just how true that statement was.
Last year I was finally able to delve into some books that had never appealed to me before. Over the course of a few months (interrupted by several other books) I worked my way through The Foundation Trilogy and loved every minute of it. I spent many nights reading until I fell asleep with the book in my hands. I was so drawn in by these books that contained essentially no action, certainly no spaceships to speak of, and none of those things that I would have associated with science fiction ten years ago.
Even more impressive was the fact that I finished Dune. It is no joke when I say that I had attempted and failed to read Dune on at least ten separate occasions. While parts were still painful to work my way through, I at last started to understand why others like the book. It will never be my favorite. It’s far too obtuse for me to really fall in love with it, but the fact is that now I have successfully read it.
This is just the beginning for me. I’ve had my eyes opened wider than ever before and it allows me to see the genre more clearly and with more context. Lately I have been expanding the Reading List of Doom to include things like The Martian Chronicles and Neuromancer. These are, of course, just a couple of the books which I need to read and will, over the course of the next several years, work into my reading schedule. With each new book I read I am expanding my understanding of science fiction and of literature as a whole and I look forward to even more.