It’s a Geek’s Life… (Part Two)

The Golden Years – Geek Nirvana During the Seventies

The start of our teenage years is the sweet spot for the vast majority of us, particularly geeks, the beginning of what is probably the most fondly remembered period of our lives.

It’s long enough ago that most of our memories are fond, rosy ones, but it’s also the first time in our lives from which we retain reasonably accurate and continuous recollections of events (unlike our earlier childhood – most memories from our first decade are pretty vague and fragmented). And it is also during these years that many of us have the most fun and freedom to do what we want (after we finish our homework, of course), before adulthood arrives and the bland banalities, responsibilities and worries of “grown-up” life start to descend upon us.

I mentioned in my previous posting that my childhood was a far from happy one. Things got even worse when I was eleven years old, when my parents separated, leaving my father to raise five kids on his own. He was forced to leave his job, and our descent into poverty became even more severe. To top it all off, my father’s health began to decline sharply after my mother left, and, as the “oldest”, I was shoehorned into the role of “surrogate mother” from this very tender age, taking over the extremely heavy responsibilities of not only looking after my father, but also the other four kids, one of whom was also very severely disabled.

To be blunt, I was a very unhappy young boy as a teenager, one who sought refuge in a world of make-believe. Any kind of an escape from this dreary and depressing reality was a welcome one, and I immersed myself in an alternate world of comics, sci-fi worlds on television, in films, and in great SF literature. I also became very preoccupied with drawing and writing.

To refer to these interests as mere “hobbies” would be a complete understatement. They were obsessions, a vital lifeline for me, and I depended on them utterly to keep me sane, when everything around me was so gloomy and depressing. Since childhood, and throughout my entire life, these “obsessions” have been entrenched as fundamental pillars of my personality and way of thinking, and I simply cannot imagine my life without them.

I may already have been a proto-geek from a much earlier period in my life, but the beginning of my teens marks the time from which I can seriously start referring to myself as a true, hardcore geek. Things may not have been rosy on the domestic and personal front, but my hobbies and obsessions certainly first started to kick into overdrive in a very big way at this age, almost certainly to compensate for my miserable “Real Life”. I was also now growing old enough to be much more sophisticated, systematic and discerning when it came to what I was “into”. And what I was into, and I mean REALLY into, was the Holy Trinity of SF literature, Sci-Fi on television and in films, and Comics.

All through the 1970’s, up until around 1977-78, was a “Golden Age” for me, from a geek perspective anyway, the completely opposing mirror image of my crappy “real life”. All during my teens there was a steady procession of classic sci-fi TV shows and films on local television, and although I had my favourites – Doctor Who, Star Trek, UFO, The Time Tunnel – I loved them all to a lesser or greater extent.

By this stage of my life I was also a totally obsessive reader of both comics (particularly the Marvel UK reprint comics) and SF literature. I’d started off initially in my pre-teens with Wells and Verne, then moving onto Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein, and anything else that I could read. By my early teens, the whole world of SF literature was my oyster. I was discovering great new (to me, anyway) authors like H. Beam Piper, Cordwainer Smith, Cyril M. Kornbluth, Frederik Pohl, John W. Campbell, Jr, Alfred Bester, Henry Huttner, C. L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, Edmond Hamilton, Jack Williamson, Stanley G. Weinbaum, Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Clark Ashton Smith and many, many others.

By my mid-teens, I was neck-deep in my alternate geek world, spending every available second on my hobbies. I just couldn’t get enough of the whole Sci-Fi/Comics/SF Literature thing, and it seemed like the good days would never end.

But I was wrong.

To Be Continued…

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It’s a Geek’s Life… (Part One)

Here’s the first part (of three) in the story of my rise to geekhood.

Early Days in the Sixties – Genesis of a Geek

I’m a card-carrying geek. I’ve always been a geek. I’ve been one all my life, right from when I was a very young child, and I simply can’t conceive of being any other way. It’s as natural for me as breathing.

I’m also not one of those shy, retiring types who tries to hide the fact that I’m a geek out of view, for fear of ridicule. I’ve always been very proud of my geek status. I don’t give a damn who knows it or who doesn’t like it. They can all take a great running leap off the top of a high building, as far as I’m concerned.

My early childhood was not a particularly happy one, what little of it I can recall. My family was poor, very poor, and we never had much in the line of material goods. For much of the time it was a struggle for our parents to even feed and clothe us. We also lived on a council estate in Northern Ireland during that infamous period in Irish history known as “The Troubles”, which began in 1968 (I was only seven years old at the time), and was to last right up into my thirties. It overshadowed my entire earlier life, and for everyone of my generation who lived through it, it was a dark time, full of tensions, fear, and unhappiness.

Any kind of an escape from the dreary and depressing reality of life in a poverty-stricken, 1960’s Northern Ireland council estate was a welcome one, and so I took every chance I could to escape from “real life” into the realms of my incredibly active imagination. But WHEN did I actually become a geek, and, more importantly, HOW and WHY? Why did I choose that path, rather than follow the more mundane hobbies that the vast majority of other kids my age indulged in?

I suppose it all began at a very early age, before I’d even started school, back when I started to read my first “proper” books (books with lots of words, rather than mere “picture books”). By the time I first went to school (aged four and a half years), I was already a voracious reader, very advanced for my age, and my parents and other relatives encouraged me as much as possible by continually giving me new books to read. My uncle started buying me books on a regular basis, and these were invariably based around science, nature and technology. They were full of dinosaurs, spaceships, and stories of other worlds and solar systems, all of which captivated my fertile young imagination. My preferences were already being shaped around science-oriented themes even at that early age.

Even this early in life, I showed a very strong preference for the fantastic rather than the mundane, for wild adventures into space and through time, dinosaurs, aliens, indeed anything “out of this world”. I took every chance I could to escape from boring “real life” into the realms of my incredibly active imagination. So all the influences and obsessions of a future geek had already been laid down right from the start. It was almost like I was pre-ordained to become a geek, although we all know that couldn’t be true, could it?

Soon afterwards, at about four or five years old, I started reading comics and quickly developed a strong preference for the more SF-oriented strips over the less fantasy-oriented stories, particularly the war and sport strips which were more dominant in British comics at that time. And around the same time, I also started paying attention to sci-fi and fantasy films and sci-fi television series on UK TV.

Doctor Who, on UK television, started having its first really strong influence on me about 1966-67, when I was about six years old, and at about roughly the same time, my life was changed forever when I saw the classic George Pal movie adaption of The Time Machine (1960) for the first time on Irish television (RTE). I became totally obsessed with the concept of time travel, which remains my favourite SF theme even now. At the young age of six or seven, I was already a confirmed SF nut, at least as far as comics, films and television were concerned.

As a direct result of this obsession with The Time Machine (1960) movie and Doctor Who, I was also to start reading SF. About a year or two after I’d seen the movie, I found the original H. G. Wells’ novel The Time Machine in a local library, and I just had to read it. I was hooked, despite the drastic differences between the novel and the film, and moved from there on to reading anything else I could find by Wells, then on to Verne, Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein and the greater world of SF authors at large. I’ve never looked back, and remain a hardcore SF literature fan to this day.

As I got older, I immersed myself ever further into the fascinating world of comics, watching sci-fi TV and films, reading great SF books, and also drawing and writing, almost always something connected with the aforementioned comics, books, TV series and films.

I drove my poor parents mad. They just didn’t “get” sci-fi at all, but humoured their crazy kid. My father really hated all of this “silly sci-fi nonsense”, and Doctor Who in particular, but tolerated it when I was very young. He hoped desperately that I’d “grow out of it” as I got older, but there was absolutely no chance of that happening! Here I am, more than forty years later, and still a hardcore SF fan.

Poor Dad! He must be turning in his grave!

To Be Continued…