Every reader starts somewhere. Usually school, where reading is a part of the curriculum. But for those of us who read for leisure, there are books that stick in the memory. The books that set us on a course through certain genres. the authors we become obsessed with at a young age, and those that stay with us for life. The books that we read at an early age define the way we look at literature in the future. My approach to science fiction has been shaped by the science fiction I read and watched from a young age. So here is a snapshot of the science fiction that made me the reader I am today.
Two of a Kind
I think I must have been about ten years old when I found the books that would forever shape my approach to and understanding of science fiction. It was in that most wonderful of towns, Hay-on-Wye, and I brought (with my own money!) two books that were surely among the first adult books I ever read. One was Foundation, by Isaac Asimov. The other was Space Viking, by H. Beam Piper.
These two books have a lot in common. Both are part of long future histories, but can each be read as a standalone. Both depict a galaxy in which a great empire is falling, and planets are reverting to barbarism. Both are significantly older than I am. Both had yellow covers. I massively enjoyed both of these books, and the similarities between them cemented in my head the idea that this was what science fiction should be like. It should take place across vast spaces. It should have a rich sense of history. It should be about people who use brains as well as brawn to solve their issues. It should come in the form of mass market paperbacks.
These two books were absolutely foundational to me as a reader, and as a nerd in general. But most of my reading for the next decade was taken up by fantasy. Still, science fiction worked its way into my life.
My childhood was defined by science fiction TV shows. Foremost among these was Stargate SG-1. This was the first series we watched as a family, buying the DVD boxsets as they released. I must have seen the whole series three times. Stargate Atlantis too. I can vividly remember sitting by the fire, watching ‘The Defiant One’ and thinking it was the best thing ever. The Wraith remain one of my favourite alien designs. So much of these shows has stuck with me over the years, not least the phenomenal team dynamics on display across the franchise.
And then there’s Star Trek. My first was Enterprise, but The Next Generation was there too. Deep Space Nine was the first series we watched beginning to end on broadcast TV, and more boxsets followed in short order. Star Trek has always stuck with me for its sheer inventiveness, and in particular the aesthetics of Enterprise, with its submarine-in-space stylings continue to inform the way I think of shipboard life.
Finally, no British SF fan’s childhood would be complete without Doctor Who. I was a child of the Eccleston/Tennant era. Fun science fiction for all the family. I watched every episode, and read all the magazines. Not only did I keep up with all the new novels, but I hunted down and devoured Target novelisations of the older episodes too, and was even fortunate enough to have an uncle with DVD access to the Pertwee era, who supplanted Tennant as my favourite Doctor. I wandered away in the Matt Smith years, but that early exposure was key.
A Galaxy Far, Far Away
My earliest Star Wars memory is the trailer for Attack of the Clones. I rate the films very highly, but for me Star Wars was primarily a literary universe. The Expanded Universe was in full swing by the time I arrived on the scene, and I can count on my fingers how few of those books I haven’t read. An obvious favourite is the X-Wing novels, but Death Star, Fatal Alliance, and the Coruscant Knights trilogy all left a mark on my young psyche. I remember being awed by the sheer scale of the New Jedi Order, and thrilled by the stories of the Republic Commandos.
I played all the games too. Knights of the Old Republic is, for me, one of the greatest games ever made. The Jedi Knight series influenced so many of the stories I used to tell myself, while my brother and I put hundreds of hours into Battlefront (the original one). Lego Star Wars remains the game I put the most effort into scoring 100% in, even if that last Power Brick forever eluded me. Not that I really needed a money fountain in the endgame anyway.
Hitting the Books
War of the Worlds, by H. G. Wells stands as the oldest book I truly adore, and also fuelled a quest for the weirder edge of science fiction, which led inevitably to Philp Reeve’s Mortal Engines and Larklight series, which aped much of Victoriana. From there, it was a short and slippery slope into steampunk.
But the books that really got me back into adult science fiction was Jack Campbell’s The Lost Fleet. This was the first series I remember waiting anxiously for the next release of. The dedication to realistic physics floored me, and the approach to alien life was like nothing I’d encountered before. When it came to the spin-off series, I was delighted to see those old themes of declining empires and emergent powers resurfacing.
From there I fell headfirst into John Scalzi’s Old Man’s War, James S. A. Corey’s The Expanse, and Kevin J. Anderson’s The Saga of Seven Suns. Over the course of about two years, I went from a fantasy reader with a thing for science, to a dedicated fan of SF. I even found the time to go back and find more works by Asimov and Piper.
Becoming a Blogger
I’ve always enjoyed talking to people about books. I did it at home, in school, and in university. When I graduated, I suddenly found myself without people to talk to. And I wanted to talk. because I had just read two phenomenal books. Planetside, by Michael Mammay, and Empire of Silence, by Christopher Ruocchio. Both stories that culminate in a man committing a terrible act for the best of reasons. Since no one I saw in person cared about this sort of thing, I turned my attention online. I started a blog, and you can see for yourself how that’s going.
There’s more to my journey through SF than I could possibly include here. This is just a sample of the science fiction that have defined me as a reader. I haven’t even touched on Fighting Fantasy gamebooks, or those early morning cartoons with their bright visuals, or the Lego sets that came with tantalising hints of a greater narrative. This article could easily be three times as long, but I’m going to end it here, with a question.
How did you get into science fiction?
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