OK, I already wrote about this, a few years ago, on my Italian blog, but I thought I’d do a reboot.
Fact is, in a few days I’ll turn fifty, and I’m getting a bit melancholic and all that, and then a discussion popped up in which our earlier readings came up, and one thing led to the other, and here we are.
Forty years ago exactly I was about to turn ten.
As I think I have mentioned frequently, I was a kid that loved adventure TV series, who soaked up documentaries about space and dinosaurs and aquanauts and what else, and I loved reading – comic books and mysteries.
As my birthday was approaching, my grandmother Maria went to the bookshop two blocks from her house and asked the guy there to suggest her a good book for a kid of ten that loved reading.
And the guy suggested The Legion of Space, by Jack Williamson.
The book is considered one of the landmark stories of science fiction – it was originally serialized in 1934 on Astounding Stories.
The Legion of Space is a space opera, a story of adventure and terror among the stars as the main characters (that are basically a rip-off of the Three Musketeers1 and of Falstaff) battle an alien race hell-bent on conquering the Earth and the solar system. There’s starships, a wild and positively scary planet, aliens that look like giant floating jellyfishes with purple eyes, and a mysterious weapon whose secret is preserved by a beautiful woman.
It’s a swashbuckling story of courage, friendship, and superscience.
Perfect for a ten-years-old kid.
It was my first science fiction book.
And to this day I am a fan of Jack Williamson and of his pal, Edmond Hamilton, and of Hamilton’s lady, Leigh Brackett.
Now what always impressed me was the weight, the impact that that simple choice, that suggestion by a bookshop clerk – or maybe the owner of the shop – I never met, had on my life.
I’ve been reading science fiction (and fantasy, and horror, and all the sub-genres in between) for forty years now.
Four-fifths of my life.
I was a science fiction fan back when it was not yet cool, and the nerds were not popular on the TV. I started roleplaying because I could play space opera and fantasy and all that. I filled my house with books.
I started writing genre stories in high school, started publishing them in my 30s, made a parallel career of writing imaginative fiction about fifteen years ago, I’ve been a self-publisher five years, and in the last years I paid (barely) my bills writing.
I am a geologist and a palaeontologist basically, because of those TV documentaries abut the world and space and exploration.
But I am a writer because that man behind that counter suggested that book written over forty years before to my grandmother. This blog, really, exists because of that suggestion forty years ago.
I find it breath-taking.
Because there is this man, you see, a shadow, without a face, whose bookshop closed probably thirty years ago, who’s probably been long dead and I do not know his name nor will I ever, and he made me what I am.
Oh, there were many others – my parents, my teachers, my friends.
But that man in the shadows of his bookshop sits on a fundamental node in my life.
A turning point.
And so I wonder.
Was he a science-fiction fan? His suggestion was certainly spot on.
Or was he just a tired guy, that had spent a long day selling copybooks and pencils, and had this box of books he had to get rid of…?
Did he ever have a hint of the responsibility, of the power he was exerting on other people’s lives by simply suggesting a book to an old lady?
You see how all of this is getting to me.
Maybe I’m going sentimental.
Maybe like that guy said
I feel older, I feel fatter
I feel the blues coming on
But that discussion about how we started reading genre fiction got me thinking about all of this again. About how I got to be here, now, and be what I am.
Not just science fiction, or reading tastes, but culture, interests, friends and relations, a number of life choices.
Everything because my grandmother asked for a suggestion, and was given a certain, specific, precise suggestion.
Or did she?
Maybe the guy offered three or four choices, and my granny decided based on… what? A hunch?
And of course I wonder what those other choices might have been.
See how strange and sort of uncanny this all feels?
Is there a turning point in your life somewhere, a faceless stranger that made you what you are?
If you feel like sharing, pull your chair closer, and use the comments.
- so much so that one of the characters is called Samdu… an anagram for Dumas. ↩