Yesterday, our Kris Keldaran penned”Why I Write“. That started me thinking about why I write and why I read. Both have been an integral part of my life for as long as I can remember. I was fortunate to grow up in a household where both parents not only enjoyed reading but valued it. Mom was a huge advocate of using the local libraries. Dad loved buying — and reading — books of all sorts. When I came along, they passed their love of reading on to me.
Busy as my parents were, they always made time at the end of the day to sit down and read to me when I was little. Later, when I was able to read on my own, they always made sure I had a selection of books to read. Nothing was out of bounds. The only rule was that if I didn’t understand something I asked. Based on what it might be, they would either hand me a dictionary and help me look the word up or they would explain the concept to me, taking the time to make sure I understood it before letting me move on in the book.
Fast forward to my late elementary/early junior high school years and the summers I would spend with my dad’s mother in Ardmore, OK. Ardmore is one of those town that, as a kid, it was great. My grandmother lived on a large lot with plenty of trees and places to play. But, by the time I got to junior high, it had the potential of being one of the most boring places on Earth. Books saved it. The only problem was the library was on the other side of town and my grandmother didn’t drive. So I took to combing the darkest recesses of the house — and there were some very dark ones, some I swear went to the depths of Hell and beyond.
Imagine my glee when I forced open a closet door that had probably not been opened in years (hinges had rusted and the door had warped) to find stacks of books and magazines taller than I was. I settled on the middle of the floor in front of the closet and started going through them, knowing in my reader’s heart of hearts that I had just found a goldmine.
One of the first items to catch my eye was a copy of the May 1952 edition of IF: Worlds of Science Fiction. My imagination flew as I looked at the cover. I could hardly wait to read the gems I knew must have been waiting inside for me. But what if there were more? What if even more books or magazines that could transport me to another world or time awaited in the depths of that closet.
So, ignoring the potential of spiders — and worse — I kept digging. What a goldmine I found. Very carefully packed away by my grandmother were copies of a number of Look and Life Magazines from World War II. There were books of all genres. Then I found it. What many consider one of the “holy relics” of science fiction. I found three more volumes of IF, the December 1965 – February 1966 editions that held the first serialization of Robert A. Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress. With them, and the 1952 copy, safely tucked away, I chose other items from the closet for later reading, cleaned up my mess and then went to find some place where I could lose myself in my new found treasures.
In the hours that followed, I lost myself in TMIAHM. Manny, Wyoh, the Professor and Mike sparked my imagination as nothing never had before. Oh, I’d watched the science fiction movies and read other books, but there was something different to TMIAHM. Whatever it was, I was hooked. Once I finished reading the serialization, and everything else in the three volumes, I turned my attention to the 1952 edition of IF.
Where Heinlein touched something in me that resonated on not only the imaginative level but also the personal, Milton Lesser sent me on a ride I would never forget. Jungle in the Sky, the cover story for that issue, isn’t the most well-written story I’ve ever read. It certainly isn’t the most insightful. Those who object to chicks in chain mail must cringe when they read the description of TJ Moore, captain of the Gordak. If I remember correctly, the first time the reader is introduced to TJ, she is wearing a cape, short shorts and a halter — and this while acting as captain. Yep, certain folks are screaming now.
But I didn’t care. I still don’t except to think that the ship had a really relaxed dress code. All that mattered to me was the fact TJ was a woman in what had always seemed to be a male’s role. More importantly, she wasn’t just a man with tits. She was strong, yes, but she also had emotions and moments of weakness. Now, looking back on the story, I do see how it was up to the guy to save the day but, well, that was how most stories were written back then. It doesn’t make them bad stories. It simply means they reflected the age in which they were written.
All that aside, those two stories fired my imagination like nothing had since I was much younger. The fact that they are still so firmly burned into my memory all these years later ought to prove it. They let me fly to other worlds. They let me imagine myself piloting a space ship or leading a rebellion. They gave me the freedom to picture a future that might be bleak but that showed the spark in humanity where we don’t just give up, where we fight for what we believe in.
How did the authors do it? By writing stories that engaged me. They made me think without hitting me over the head. I cared, and still do, about the story and the characters. I wanted to read more. Why? Because I was entertained without being preached to or feeling like I was being talked down to by the author. The stories made me think without telling me I had to.
As a writer, that is what I aim for. As a reader, that is what I look for in everything I read. Entertain first. Educate without preaching. Most of all, send my imagination soaring. A lot can be forgiven if you manage to do that