There’s been a lot of talking about “the canon”, after the recent meltdown at the Hugo Ceremony. You know, this idea that there is a big fat backlong of science fiction and fantasy books you just have to read to “get into” the genre. Books that act as gateway, and form the backbone of our genre of election.
The problem with all canons is that they tend to fossilize, and also can exert a sort of gravitational pull. There’s “canons” for everything, from jazz and rock’n’roll to movies to recipes and comic books.
And it’s true – we are sitting on a big huge pile of wonderful stuff, and it would be nice to have time, and money, and lifetime, to go through all these marvels. But as things stand, the basic rule of thumb I like to apply is – know it’s there, pick what strikes your fancy, and let’s go on.
I started reading science fiction in a non-canonical way.
Kids in my age bracket started on Asimov or Star Wars (in Italy, Star Trek was distributed on TV only in the late ’70s). But I started with Jack Williamson’s The Legion of Space, and then I moved on to Jack Vance. And on the telly, Gerry Anderson’s UFO and Space 1999 (again, no Doctor Who in Italy until much later).
For fantasy it was even weirder – my first fantasy book was Castle of Iron, by Lyon Sprague De Camp and Fletcher Pratt. I followed that with the first Shannara novel – that I read well before I ever touched a copy of Tolkien’s trilogy. And even later I got to Conan.
So yes, I entered the genre through a side entrance – and it was all right.
And yes, I like reading old stuff, pulp stories, forgotten books and what not – but I’m trying not to make that my religion.
Because religions have canons.
Through the years I have heard writers dissed for their politics, their gender, for the fact that they were too old or too recent. I have heard the old “why should I read X when I can re-read Asimov/Tolkien/Howard/Dick?”.
I have learned to hate that attitude – and being contrarian, it has helped me go both back to old forgotten authors and to stay on the lookout for recent writers. Just as I like those old series and movies, but I can still enjoy and feel hyped for new flicks.
Fun counts for something, and relevance counts for something, and really, I’ve been slammed too often for my musical tastes (or lack thereof) not to sympathize with anyone currently claiming the right to like “non-canonical” books.
Or recipes (and yes, I think the whole pineapple on pizza debate to be mindbogglingly stupid.)
So please go on doing what you’ve been doing – read a good book, watch a good movie – it does not matter if it’s new or old.
Meanwhile I’ll order me a pizza.
7 August 2020 at 23:24
(I had a longer post but it degenerated into complaining about how poorly so many of my early favorites have aged. That didn’t seem kind. They were favorites once.)
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8 August 2020 at 00:36
A lot of old favorites of mine have not aged well – The Legion of Space is a good example. But they were fun when I was a kid, and they have brought me here where I stand today, and that’s good.
8 August 2020 at 11:01
I don’t remember clearly.
I’m pretty sure my first fantasy novel it was “Vice-versa” by F. Anstey, but science fiction…something of John Wyndham? Robert Sheckley? John Campbell? Fredrick Brown?
8 August 2020 at 12:33
Basically, the rule of thumb is… who cares?
Granted, starting with the wrong book can kick you out of the genre – but there are no books that are always “right”. There is no one-size-fits-all.
11 August 2020 at 17:36
IMHO, there are two different kinds of people who like “canon” over reading. The first is the poorly-educated, crass SOB who doesn’t really read the books and still gets angry about non-existent “deviations”. The latter is the kind of sad people who put a period as a golden standard and refuse to admit that everything is on the move. I really pity them.
11 August 2020 at 18:10
It’s a good working hypothesis.
In general “canon” has become a loaded word, and it’s used to hit people on the head. That’s not what books or stories are about.
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