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Jun 6, 2012

Speculative Fiction and Me: The Longer Version

In addition to making me watch scary movies as soon as I was old enough to scream, my father read to me. Most often it was Dr. Seuss, so I'd say that was my first inoculation (along with Dracula and the Wolfman) into speculative fiction. My brothers were into the Berenstein Bears and Go, Dog. Go! (first published in 1961, it's still in print) and Are You My Mother? by P.D. Eastman. We all liked I Wish That I Had Duck Feet by Theo. LeSieg. I'd have to say my favorite Seuss was On Beyond Zebra. I still have all the originals and read them all to my son when he was small. Maybe there's a connection between Dr. Seuss and lovers of the fantastic, since my son is an avid fantasy reader. I've got them packed away in boxes now, awaiting the next generation of readers. 

But it was C. S. Lewis and the Chronicles of Narnia that really got me turned on to fantasy. I was twelve when I checked it out of the Carrollton, Texas public library. After that, there was no returning to the candy-stripe nurses or young-girl-and-horse stories, although they represented fantasies of a different sort. Thankfully, my parents never censored my reading habits, so I also dived into things as diverse as the stories of Anais Nin and Anna Karenina, Ayn Rand and Anne Frank. By the time we got around to reading something in English class, I'd usually already read it.

Then there was this bookstore. I used to know Dallas - all the ways to get here and there - but it's been a while, and it's likely everything's changed quite drastically in the twenty years I've been in Germany. So I've forgotten exactly where it was. I'd like to say it was on the southwest corner of Inwood Rd. and Lover's Lane, but it could be that my memory deceives me. If anyone remembers this store, let me know. I'd appreciate it. Anyway, it was just a little bookshop, but they carried mostly SF, some fantasy, some horror, and some comics. I was working full-time as a secretary at the nearby medical school and studying on my own nickel, so I didn't have a lot of disposable cash, but most of what I had went into that shop, and it wasn't long before I'd run through much of the inventory.

Once you get into graduate level work in whatever field of study you've chosen, you usually begin to run into mentors who are going to help you along. I was no different and am hugely grateful to all my early mentors in geophysics - all men - including one ex-husband - who helped me along and guided me into my areas of specialization. Well, this bookstore was my speculative fiction mentor. It's shelves guided me deeper into science fiction and fantasy. The best thing about that shop was the completeness of their series. You could be pretty sure if books one and two of a trilogy were available, that they'd have book three shelved with it or would reorder it quickly. That was the only really frustrating thing on my journey through books at that point - finishing book one or two before Monday, before I could go back and buy the next one (Sundays in those days, the shops were usually closed).

I don't remember when that shop closed, but I do remember it as being a very sad thing. Even though most of the bookstore chains at that point carried respectable speculative fiction collections, it wasn't the same. That store was a magical kingdom, created just for me, I always thought. It was on a busy intersection, and had no real foot traffic to speak of. You went in there because you wanted to. There weren't any comfortable chairs to sit and browse books - there weren't any chairs. Just a few aisles with shelves. And a friendly clerk, more often knowledgeable than not.

Even though I was an early reader, self-taught at age four, and always loved reading, if I had to draw a line backwards, however curvy and loopy it turned out to be, that bookstore would be the real starting point for my getting fired up about reading (and writing) the kind of stuff that I do.