When I look back on my earliest days of science-fiction fandom, it is with both gratitude and fondness. How many happy afternoons I spent, curled up in the nook under the stairs at my grandmother's house, lost in Samuel Delany's ruined city of Bellona, or one of Jose Luis Borges's thought experiments (in the original Spanish, of course; English loses something), or following The Book of the New Sun's torturer protagonist in his wanderings across old, ruined Urth. "Oh, Severian!" I would cry delightedly. "You unreliable narrator, you!" Eventually, my mother would come to collect me, and, grudgingly, I went with her, longing for the night and the next day's morning session of kindergarten to already be over, that I might return posthaste to my secret world.
OK, it was kind of like that.
My actual earliest memory of science fiction-and I suspect I am not alone in this-is not of something I saw, but a sound: I mean the hum of a lightsaber coming to life, of course. Ben Burtt deserves a lot of credit, because at least where I grew up, anything-a broomstick, a dangerously rusty piece of rebar, a flashlight (which worked best)-could be a lightsaber so long as you made the noise with your mouth. That's sensory branding, motherfuckers.
It's ironic, I suppose, that a sword should have been my entry point into a genre that hinges on new technological developments. But like most kids, I had an instinctive understanding of what was awesome (I drew so many pictures of tanks that could transform into both a submarine and a space plane), and swords had the benefit of kicking so much ass. It was, in fact, the total lack of lightsabers in Gene Roddenberry's universe that kept me firmly on George Lucas's side of the Wars/Trek debate for many years. That, and the fact that phasers looked retarded compared to blasters.
I got older, though, and became less attached to blasters and lightsabers, figuratively and literally-I somehow managed to lose Bespin fatigues Luke's weapon in the not-at-all-deep carpet of our living room (it was yellow? why was that? did Kenner just have a surplus of yellow plastic? did they think we wouldn't notice?), which was tragic, but not as sad as forever losing C-3PO in a motel room on a family trip to Disneyland, when my aunt unknowingly flushed the Sarlacc pit. I mysteriously lost Chief Chirpa on another trip with the same aunt, who has always been more of a Trekkie than a Jedihead, so maybe she was waging a stealthy campaign to convert me.
What did end up getting me interested in Star Trek was much more mundane: Fargo's Fox affiliate started running it after Scooby-Doo and He-Man. These reruns of the original series were, honestly, kind of boring to me-I couldn't for the life of me understand why Spock didn't neck-pinch someone, like, every episode, that sort of physically demonstrable superpower seeming to my young mind to be the whole frickin' point of science fiction. Eventually, though, I started to appreciate that less could be more; the episode "The Devil in the Dark," with the Horta, stands out especially in my memory as the one that converted me. (Wikipedia says it's William Shatner's favorite, too, so I clearly had excellent taste.)
It was my friend Patrick who ultimately solidified my standing in SF-nerd-dom, during the second incarnation of our friendship. (The first incarnation ended with him taking a running punch at me while someone else held my arms behind my back, and me kicking him in the nuts.) My first Dungeon Master, it was in his basement that I watched the original broadcast of "Encounter at Farpoint," which blew my mind because the captain was bald. My friend Andrew, who lived down the street from Patrick, introduced me to Doctor Who, which I never felt I quite had a handle on-our local PBS station showed episodes somewhat sporadically-until my mom bought me the RPG and I found out where the Daleks and the Cybermen came from and who the Rani was.
Role-playing game manuals actually provided me with a lot of important stuff back then, notably masturbation material (Deities & Demigods-hello, Aphrodite!) and a voluminous knowledge of the Marvel Universe (TSR's FASERIP game) that I gleaned a lot more quickly and cheaply than if I'd bothered to read all of the comics. I was pretty weak on DC until the last couple of years, when Wikipedia remedied that.
And now I really do while away the afternoons, sometimes, in Bellona or on Urth-although probably a little more often in Metropolis, at least if Boomerang is showing a Justice League marathon, and definitely even more often here with you people. It's kind of fascinating that a genre that does lend itself so well to losing ourselves in our own secret worlds also makes for such great community fodder. I am sure glad it does, though.
Which is to say: Does anyone have a copy of Deities & Demigods I can borrow? Hello, Aphrodite!
Commenter Moff's real name is Josh Wimmer, and he can usually be found at scribblescribblescribble.com/blog.