I was a sci-fi fan when I was a little girl. I wish I could say when it all started. Maybe it was the giant pile of comic books at my babysitter’s house that turned me into a Superman co-dependent just like Lois Lane and Lana Lang. Or maybe it was the time I got the flu and someone gave me The Princess of Mars, the first book in the John Carter of Mars series by Edgar Rice Burroughs.
All my dolls traveled to Mars, even if I couldn’t.
Whatever it was that got me started, I lived more or less with my nose buried inside a science fiction book from the ages of eight until 21, when I discovered One Hundred Years of Solitude
and abandoned sci-fi for magic realism. So I felt like I was coming back home after being away on a long trip when I listened to the Science Fiction: The Grandmasters panel at the LA Times Festival of Books on Saturday.
Writer and blogger Scott Timberg moderated the panel, which included three prodigious producers of prime science fiction dating back to the 1950s era of pulp novels and Amazing Stories: Robert Silverberg, Harry Harrison and Joe Haldeman.
Silverberg began his journey as a child in New York City, enchanted first by the dinosaurs in the Natural History Museum and then by the stars and galaxies in the Hayden Planetarium.
“But not even a New Yorker can say `show me a live dinosaur’,” he said.
He found science fiction listed under “pseudo-scientific fiction” in the library and became a fan.
“Many kids had imaginary friends,” said Robert Silverberg said of his childhood sci-fi fandom, “I had imaginary galaxies.”
When he was 13, he got the idea that he could write science fiction for a living. “It was a silly idea,” he said, “but it turned out to be true.”
Silverberg’s greatest work is considered by critics and fans alike to be Dying Inside. First published in 1972, the novel has just been reissued in trade paperback with a preface by Silverberg. You can read more about the author this recent LA Times article by Timberg.
Harry Harrison’s novel about an overpopulated Earth Make Room! Make Room! made a huge impression on me as a young fan. I appreciated strawberry jam a lot more, for example, despite being allergic.
The film Soylent Green is based on the novel, but changes the story in several important ways. For example, in the novel, “soylent green” really is made from soy.
Harrison remembers being a sci-fi fan before sci-fi existed, when it was just pulp novels. He and his friends lived a “grim and grey” existence until they opened up a book and “light poured out.”
Joe Haldeman reminisced about “books with rocket ships on the spine.” I remember those books! I read every single one of them in the library, just like Joe did.
After he’d read every sci-fi book in the library two or three times, he started buying books from a used bookstore in his neighborhood.
“It was like having a heroin dealer next door,” he said.
Haldeman’s most acclaimed work is The Forever War, recently reissued in a “definitive version” with a large chunk of the story restored that had been cut out before it was published.
I missed Ray Bradbury’s talk because I didn’t get my tickets in time. They went on sale at midnight but I waited until 9am to hit Ticketmaster. Foolish me. The man is popular, let’s just say that.
He usually signs books on Halloween at Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena. He signed my copy of Farenheit 451 there.