Do you remember your favourite book character as a toddler? And what genre the book was? Even children’s books go by genres, and mine was a particular mix of interstellar fantasy. From there, my sci-fi history just carried on, naturally.
Titled The Little Fire Horse (I mention it in my childhood memoirs fragment here), it featured this creature who explored around the galaxy. I don’t recall much else of the book, but I find it interesting today it had to do, in a child’s way, with exploring stars, planets, the galaxies.
Later on I loved Antoine de Saint-Exupery‘s The Little Prince. For those of you who haven’t read it, I recommend the story of the boy who left his small planet after failed love. Because the rose he was carrying for and loving did not show affection back, the little prince decided to discover other planets. In fact, it is a story about keeping the child inside alive and how adulthood can kill the wonders of life. Still, the idea of travelling to other planets stands out, again.
The first thing I ever said I wanted to be when I grew up was an astronaut.
Somehow, I don’t find it surprising.
What we believed in the 80s
No wonder, with these books in my childhood, I turned out to be a sci-fi lover as an adult. However, one could still debate the chicken & the egg dilemma.
Was I interested in sci-fi books at an early age because they suit my personality and imagination? Or have those early books ignited my imagination and formed my love for the genre?
Probably we can’t tell for sure. Maybe it doesn’t even matter that much. One fact remains clear: I developed an interest in sci-fi while very young and kept it going. Also, as a child of the 80s in communist Romania I grew up with an unrealistic painting of a very bright contrived by the propaganda system. In this respect, it wasn’t even all that damaging. No matter what side of the cold war we lived in, everybody talked about conquering space. We would build colonies on the Moon and experience a world where humanoid robots would help us with housework.
It’s not really heart breaking for it not to have happened, does it? We at least have smartphones today!
Never mind, let’s go back to our science fiction dreams.
Book reading, a main source of entertainment in communist Romania
Because we are talking books here, I won’t bring up the talk about the American movies we were watching in communist Romania. I will only mention this: I know exactly at which cinema, in my home city, Timisoara, I watched the first Star Wars movie.
But movies, especially western cinematography, were not all that accessible back then. In fact, we did not have them on TV very often. Books, on the other hand, constituted the main form of entertainment throughout. One of the most popular derogatory comments about Western countries assumed a lack of bookcases in American houses. Those people, so was said, only consumed television and were not cultured at all.
In my case, I did grow up surrounded by my father’s huge bookcases. When I moved to the city with my grandparents and went to school there, the City Library and the County Library became my hunting grounds. I even won an award as the most assiduous reader of my age group. Maybe I like this memory too much, as I keep mentioning it…
Among the books I read at the time, one in particular talked about a Russian girl astronaut. I learnt about Laika too. Curiously enough, I don’t remember any other particular book burrowed from the library during those years.
From Jules Verne to Russian sci-fi & absurdist authors
Back then, I loved legends and fairy tales too, and I continue to enjoy them a lot as an adult too. However, my journey into the world of sci-fi literature avoided one author completely. Despite having the books at home, and some of them bought for me specifically, not inherited, I never really got into Jules Verne. To me, he seemed too technical, dry, and tiring. The only book I managed to go through with and enjoy was Adrift in the Pacific: Two years of vacation, but then it’s an adventure book and not a futuristic novel, full of technicalities.
Again though, as a teenager I discovered some Russian authors in my dad’s bookshelves. A particular collection of short stories combined fantasy with sci-fi and absurdist literature. What other way to tell the truth, sometimes, in totalitarian regimes?
During my teenage years I bought many of the sci-fi books published by Editura Nemira in Romania. Funny enough, I did not ever read any of those books, from the Dune series to Ender’s game and many others. They must still reside in my parents’ house. I guess my teenage romance and other such things got in the way.
Use of Weapons broke my heart last week
I surely can’t be the only one to rediscover a passion for a certain genre in later life!
Also, while my ex never persuaded me to read Dune (his Bible in terms of literature), my partner now instilled in me a big appreciation of Iain M. Banks. It has to do with my type of personality, ENFJ, what excites me and what brings me down. Isolation and lack of close communication inhibit me and make me stagnate. Being able to share though stimulates and feeds my appetite. I will approach the matter of reading style versus personality type in another writing.
Yes, Margaret Atwood and The Handmade’s Tale came before him. And while I love her style, it was Banks’ Use of Weapons which broke my heart last. It took me two days to process what happened and finally accept it.
All of this time, too, I kept writing sci-fi, never published so far. Even the title of my most recent book of poetry, Sister of War, in Romanian, was inspired by a female character in a sci-fi movie – played by Mila Jovovich, in Resident Evil.
With these confessions out of the way, I will proceed next to review some Iain M. Banks. Before doing so, I must issue a warning – it will contain spoilers, and it will contain some violent/rude language.