Friday, October 8, 2010

Confessions of a (Former?) Sci Fi Geek

In some ways, I can't really claim to be a Sci Fi Geek. While I once read a lot of Science Fiction, I once read all sorts of literature. But Sci Fi was one of my favorite genres.

Today is the birthday of Frank Herbert, most famous for writing Dune. Once upon a time, I'd have told you that Dune was one of my favorite Sci Fi books, but I've since read so many others that I like better. But Dune probably paved the way for most of them.

On The Writer's Almanac website, Garrison Keillor notes, "Dune was one of the first science fiction novels to completely imagine an entirely different world, with different plants and animals, different social classes, and a whole set of elaborate religious beliefs."

Dune was one of those huge books, a doorstop of a book, but I slogged through it. I was one of those kind of geeky kids, the kind that took snooty pleasure in the fact that she was reading bigger books than everybody else. It was one of those books that was slow, slow going for the first 100 pages, and then the plot zoomed off. These days, I'd put it aside for something else.

I remember one art class that I took at the time. Basically, our teacher left us alone with the art supplies while he worked on his art. I made a swirling picture, painted in desert hues, a picture that seemed to bake on the page. My classmates accused me of ripping off Star Wars, and I loftily informed them that my work was influenced by Dune.

I've gone on to love other Science Fiction much better. The works of Octavia Butler always make me gasp (well, her last book didn't, but I understood that she was working on a trilogy that she didn't get to finish). Marge Piercy does interesting feminist Sci Fi. Margaret Atwood is another one who can imagine whole new worlds, based on the crumbling decay of our current planet.

My current tastes run to apocalyptic strains but then again, I've always loved a good end-of-the-world story. I don't always like those books that imagine different planets with different creatures/institutions/languages/societies. Once I did. Once my tastes ran to Arthur C. Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov--all those classic guy writers well-loved by Sci Fi geeks of my generation.

Those books hold up well too. A few years ago, I re-read some classic Ray Bradbury, The Martian Chronicles. Still, a wonderful book.

I have no time (or inclination, if I'm being honest) to re-read Dune. But I'm grateful to Frank Herbert for opening those doors to all those writers whom I loved so much, during a geekier time in my life. I've probably learned as much about traditional science by reading Sci Fi, which often set me on a research quest to discover what might be real/possible and what was complete fiction, than I learned in boring high school and middle school Science classes. How sad is that?

How wonderful that we've had these books. How wonderful it must be to write those kind of books that inspire the kinds of quests, both research and of the imagination, of my younger years.

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