East of Constantinople, West of Shanghai

A turning point and the Legion of Space


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.
Legion_of_spaceForty 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.

legion-of-space5The 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.

01278Now 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?

And you?
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.

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  1. so much so that one of the characters is called Samdu… an anagram for Dumas. 

Author: Davide Mana

Paleontologist. By day, researcher, teacher and ecological statistics guru. By night, pulp fantasy author-publisher, translator and blogger. In the spare time, Orientalist Anonymous, guerilla cook.

8 thoughts on “A turning point and the Legion of Space

  1. Turning points? – So many. The librarian who stocked the children’s room with fairy tales from all around the world, and books about what it’s like to grow up in another country. The used record store where there was modern jazz and electronica in the discount bin, that I never would have listened to if it hadn’t been on sale.

    P.S. What day is the birthday? Your Amazon wishlist is not letting me buy anything as a gift, but if you would like to get a little something in the mail, email me your address to cheese at floodmouse d0t c0m. (I hope that is stealthy enough to avoid spambots.) I am cheap, so I’ll probably send you a used comic book, but hopefully one you won’t hate.

    Congratulations on the big five-oh. Something I was told about aging: “If you hate getting old, consider the alternative.”


    • Ah, the discount bin in the record store!
      And the record store itself!
      Me too – jazz and fusion and those bands none of my school chums ever heard about.
      “Fleetwood Mac? A one-hit wonder, probably…”

      As for my birthday, it’s on the 29th of this month – and I’ll think about your proposal and maybe send you my address πŸ˜€


    • Thank you for the coffee πŸ™‚


  2. I hate to hijack this line of blog post comments, but I don’t see any other option. Earlier this week I found myself awake at about 1:00 in the morning, unable to get to sleep. I looked around for something to read and couldn’t find anything that took my interest. Fired up my Dell PC and logged in to Amazon. To make a long story short I decided to buy ‘Cynical Little Angels’. I’m old enough to be a Pulp fan, and I figured it would be a short read.
    I knocked it off in one sitting right then and there. It was great! The next morning I bought the eBook version of the ‘The Ministry of Thunder’.
    I forced myself to stretch it out for two days because I didn’t want it to be over too fast. One of the reviewers at Amazon summed it up perfectly when he said it was a perfect “retro-pulp”. Just the right blend of action, 1930’s Oriental adventure without going over the top like most people seem to do when they try their hand at a Pulp adventure.
    I especially liked that you put in a great mix of action, sex appeal, sorcery and comedic relief.
    Felice Sabatini gets a big thumbs up from me!


    • Thank you.
      I am very happy you liked my stories, and Felice Sabatini’s capers.
      I’ll pass this on to my publisher – maybe he’ll finally give me the go-ahead for “The Ministry of Storms” πŸ˜‰
      Thank you again.


    • My publisher was pleased – and hopes you will post your review on Amazon or Goodreads πŸ˜€


  3. Done!


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