STORIES FOR TOMORROW (1954) edited by William Sloane

Stories for Tomorrow

I’ve got an interesting anthology in front of me at the moment. Actually, I’ve got two different editions of it. Firstly an original US 1st Edition hardback, which I bought from a dealer on Amazon. This is an ex-library copy, and came without a dustjacket, otherwise the book itself is in excellent condition. The other edition is the UK 1st Edition hardback, complete with dustjacket (pictured here), which has slightly different contents to the US Edition.

The US edition first…

TITLE: STORIES FOR TOMORROW
EDITED BY: William Sloane
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Anthology
FORMAT: Hardback, 628 pages
PUBLISHER: Funk & Wagnalls, US, 1954

CONTENTS LISTING:

About This Book by William Sloane

PART I: THE HUMAN HEART

  • “The Wilderness” by Ray Bradbury (Today, April 6th 1952, revised for Fantasy & Science Fiction, November 1952)
  • “Starbride” by Anthony Boucher (Thrilling Wonder Stories, December 1951)
  • “Second Childhood” by Clifford D. Simak (Galaxy, Feb 1951)
  • “Homeland” by Mari Wolf (first published as “The Statue”, If Magazine, January 1953)
  • “Let Nothing You Dismay” by William Sloane (written for this anthology)
  • “A Scent of Sarsaparilla” by Ray Bradbury (Star Science Fiction Stories #1, February 1953

PART II: THERE ARE NO EASY ANSWERS

  • “The Exile” by Alfred Coppel (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1952)
  • “The Farthest Horizon” by Raymond F. Jones (Astounding Science
    Fiction
    , April 1952)
  • “Noise Level” by Raymond F. Jones (Astounding Science Fiction, December 1952)
  • “First Contact” by Murray Leinster (Astounding Science Fiction, May 1945)

PART III: SWEAT OF THE BROW

  • “Franchise” by Kris Neville (Astounding Science Fiction, February 1951)
  • “In Value Deceived” by H. B. Fyfe (Astounding Science Fiction, November 1950)
  • “Okie” by James Blish (Astounding Science Fiction, April 1950)
  • “Black Eyes and the Daily Grind” by Milton Lesser (If Magazine, March 1952)

PART IV: DIFFERENCE WITH DISTINCTION

  • “Socrates” by John Christopher (Galaxy, March 1951)
  • “In Hiding” by Wilmar H. Shiras (Astounding Science Fiction, November 1948)
  • “Bettyann” by Kris Neville (reprinted from New Tales of Space & Time, edited by Raymond J. Healey, 1951)

PART V: THE TROUBLE WITH PEOPLE IS PEOPLE

  • “The Ant and the Eye” by Chad Oliver (Astounding Science Fiction, April 1953)
  • “Beep” by James Blish (Galaxy, February 1954)
  • “And Then There Were None” by Eric Frank RussellAstounding Science Fiction, June 1951)
  • “The Girls from Earth” by Frank M. Robinson (Galaxy, January 1952)

PART VI: VISITORS

  • “Minister Without Portfolio” by Mildred Clingerman (Fantasy & Science Fiction, Feb 1952)
  • “The Head-Hunters” by Ralph Williams (Astounding Science Fiction, October 1951)
  • “Dune Roller” by Julian May (Astounding Science Fiction, December 1951)
  • “Disguise” by Donald A. Wollheim (Other Worlds Science Stories, February 1953)
  • “The Shed” by E. Everett Evans (Avon SF&F Reader, January 1953)

PART VII: THREE EPILOGS

  • “The Nine Billion Names of God” by Arthur C. Clarke (Star Science Fiction Stories #1, ed. Frederik Pohl, Ballantine, 1953)
  • “The Forgotten Enemy” by Arthur C. Clarke (King’s College Review, December 1948)
  • “The Answers” [also as “…And the Truth Shall Make You Free”] by Clifford D. Simak (Future, March 1953)

This is an ex-library copy, which came without a dustcover, when I bought it from a dealer on Amazon. Otherwise the book itself is in excellent condition.

There are a few stories here that I’m familiar with, either being old favourites of mine, or having vague but fond memories of them – all of the stories by Clarke, Bradbury, Simak, Russell, Leinster and Blish. The rest I’ve either not read at all or read so long ago that I can’t remember them. Personal favourites among these are Blish’s “Beep”, Leinster’s “First Contact”, Russell’s “And Then There Were None”, Simak’s “Second Childhood”, Bradbury’s “The Wilderness”, Robinson’s “The Girls from Earth”, and both of the Clarke stories.

As I’ve already said, the UK 1st edition is slightly different to the US edition:

TITLE: STORIES FOR TOMORROW
EDITED BY: William Sloane
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Anthology
FORMAT: Hardback, 476 pages
PUBLISHER: Eyre & Spottiswoode, London, 1955.

CONTENTS LISTING:

About This Book by William Sloane

PART I: THE HUMAN HEART

  • “The Wilderness” by Ray Bradbury
  • “Starbride” by Anthony Boucher
  • “Homeland” by Mari Wolf
  • “Let Nothing You Dismay” by William Sloane
  • “A Scent of Sarsaparilla” by Ray Bradbury

PART II: THERE ARE NO EASY ANSWERS

  • “Noise Level” by Raymond F. Jones
  • “First Contact” by Murray Leinster

PART III: SWEAT OF THE BROW

  • “Franchise” by Kris Neville
  • “In Value Deceived” by H. B. Fyfe
  • “Black Eyes and the Daily Grind” by Milton Lesser

PART IV: DIFFERENCE WITH DISTINCTION

  • “Socrates” by John Christopher
  • “In Hiding” by Wilmar H. Shiras
  • “Bettyann” by Kris Neville

PART V: THE TROUBLE WITH PEOPLE IS PEOPLE

  • “The Ant and the Eye” by Chad Oliver
  • “Beep” by James Blish
  • “And Then There Were None” by Eric Frank Russell
  • “The Girls from Earth” by Frank M. Robinson

PART VI: VISITORS

  • “Minister Without Portfolio” by Mildred Clingerman
  • “The Head-Hunters” by Ralph Williams

PART VII: THREE EPILOGS

  • “The Nine Billion Names of God” by Arthur C. Clarke
  • “The Forgotten Enemy” by Arthur C. Clarke
  • “The Answers” by Clifford D. Simak

As with many anthologies from that period, a number of the stories have been cut from the UK edition that were in the original US edition. There are seven fewer stories, and the UK edition is 152 pages shorter. My UK edition also has a nice dustjacket, although the one on my copy is a bit on the tatty side.

Overall, another very interesting anthology. I’m looking forward to working my way through this one.

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RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA by Arthur C. Clarke

Rendezvous with Rama 1st Ed

TITLE: RENDEZVOUS WITH RAMA
AUTHOR: Arthur C. Clarke
CATEGORY: Novel
SUB-GENRE: Hard SF
FORMAT: 1st Edition Hardback, 256 pages
PUBLISHER: Gollancz (UK), June 1973. Published in the US in August 1973 by Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
ISBN: 0-575-01587-X.

2077: September 11th – an asteroid slams into northern Italy, destroying the cities of Padua and Verona, and sinking Venice, causing unimaginable damage and wiping out countless lives. After the catastrophe, Project Spaceguard is set up, to monitor and warn about any new rogue near-Earth celestial bodies that might pose a threat to our world.

2130: Project Spaceguard astronomers detect a large object in the outer solar system, just beyond the orbit of Jupiter. It’s assumed to be an asteroid, and its extreme speed and trajectory show that the object is not orbiting our sun, but is a visitor from interstellar space passing through our solar system. It’s given the name Rama, after one of the Hindu gods (the names of the Greek and Roman gods have all been used up).

Scientists find the object fascinating because of its large size and extremely rapid rotation, so a probe is launched from the Martian moon, Phobos, to intercept Rama on a rapid flyby trajectory. But when the probe approaches Rama, they are shocked and amazed at the transmissions, which show that Rama is not an asteroid, but an artificial body, an immense, spinning, hollow cylinder fifty kilometres long and over twenty kilometres in diameter, a vast alien spaceship or artifact. Mankind is about to have its first encounter with an extraterrestrial civilization, their first visitor from the stars.

2131: The only manned spaceship close enough to reach Rama before it leaves the solar system again is the solar survey vessel Endeavour, under the captaincy of Commander Norton and with a crew of more than twenty. The ship intercepts Rama inside the orbit of Venus and lands at the “North Pole”, where Norton and his crew find an airlock through which they gain access to the interior of Rama. Once inside, they find the interior in complete darkness, but continue exploring using artificial lighting. They descend into Rama down an immense (eight kilometres long) stairway, one of three spread out around Rama’s interior, but part-way into the descent, the lights come on, and they can now see the whole of the interior of this incredible alien world.

And “world” it is, much too large to be a mere spaceship. It’s an inverted world on the inside of the immense cylinder (like the inside of Babylon 5, but ten times bigger), a world with its own artificial gravity produced by the rapid spin of the giant cylinder, and its own environment and ecology. The interior surface of the cylinder is referred to as the Central Plain by the crew, and is divided into two “hemispheres” by an immense ten kilometre-wide body of water designated the Cylindrical Sea (which is initially frozen, but thaws out as Rama gets closer to the sun). The sight of this immense ring of water, encircling the entire interior circumference of Rama, and stretching in a curve right up into the “sky”, where it hangs “upside-down” miles overhead, is an awe-inspiring and terrifying one.

There are also six enormous trenches stretching along the interior, all the same distance apart, three in the northern hemisphere and three in the southern. These contain the immense kilometres-long “strip-lights” which provide the interior lighting for Rama.

The northern half of Rama contains a number of what looks like small “towns” – labelled London, Paris, Rome, Moscow, Tokyo and Peking – all connected together by “roads”. In the middle of the Cylindrical Sea is a mysterious island covered in large structures which resemble skyscrapers, so the astronauts call this one New York.

The southern half of Rama is covered by a patchwork of hundreds of small kilometre-square regions which contain all sorts of strange stuff, all seemingly unconnected. But most fascinating is the immense structure at the far end (the stern) of the ship, a gigantic cone encircled by six smaller cones. These are found out to be the main visible component of Rama’s vast and mysterious reactionless “space drive”, which has been hurling the vessel through interstellar space for God knows how many millennia now.

Rama initially appears to be totally lifeless, until the appearance of cybernetic lifeforms referred to as “biots”, who scurry all over the interior surface of the ship, seemingly existing only to tidy up and repair Rama, getting the huge vessel ready for… something (we never find out exactly what, but possibly for some upcoming manoeuvre of the craft). The “biots” totally ignore the explorers, as though they aren’t even there. We never actually get to see the builders of Rama – the inference is that they are hidden somewhere on this vast spaceship, possibly in suspended animation during the long voyage.

The story revolves almost totally around the adventures of the explorers, as they try, totally in vain, to uncover and understand the amazing mysteries of this alien world. There are no bug-eyed monsters, sneering villains nor any of the other clichés of dramatic adventure fiction. Just the sheer awe and wide-eyed sensawunda as the humans explore the wonders of Rama. Sure, there are accidents and mishaps.

The aggressive society on Mercury view Rama as a threat, so launch an enormous nuclear missile to destroy the ship (which has a near-escape). There is the rescue of a crewmember who is stranded on the far side of the Cylindrical Sea, and a few other exciting interludes. But this is not a bog-standard adventure story. It’s a hard SF novel, depicting a First Contact between humans and a mysterious alien artifact. Rama, and the exploration of it, is the focus of this story, not the humans.

After a few weeks of exploring, and failing to unlock the secrets of Rama, the crew of the Endeavour have to get ready to leave, making their way back up the immense stairway to the airlock and their waiting ship. Rama is now too close to the sun for the Endeavour’s cooling systems to compensate. As they leave, Rama undergoes a braking manoeuvre, and begins siphoning off energy from the sun to replenish its reserves for the long journey ahead.

Then, using the sun’s gravitational field to provide a slingshot effect, it swings round and hurtles off in a different direction out of the solar system, as the “space drive” kicks in, accelerating Rama to a speed that no human vessel can match. Its destination? Unknown. But Rama is now heading towards the Large Magellanic Cloud, a satellite galaxy orbiting many tens of thousands of light-years outside of our own Milky Way. It still has a long, long way to go before this journey is over.

The huge irony of this story is that the human race is reduced to an insignificant bit-player compared to the wonders of Rama, the real star of this story. The Ramans are simply not interested in humanity at all, that is, if they are even aware that we exist. They’re only “passing through”, their only interest in our solar system is as a pit-stop, a refuelling depot to replenish Rama’s reserves for the long interstellar voyage ahead. It’s a rare and humbling focus in an SF novel, as, in most stories, the human race almost always takes centre stage, or at least a major role of some kind.

We know as little about the creators of Rama at the end as we did at the start of the novel, aside from the scientist’s revelation that “Ramans do everything in threes”. Who or what are they? Where do they come from? Where are they going? The enigma of Rama remains intact, the wonders, secrets and mysteries still unexplained. They don’t have to be, and these mysteries and secrets may even add to the story. Not EVERYTHING has to be explained. The sheer sensawunda of this story keeps the reader enthralled from start to finish.

Rendezvous with Rama was first published in 1973, and, to this day, remains not only my personal favourite of all of Arthur C. Clarke’s novels, but one of my favourite SF novels, EVER! I remember reading it for the first time when I was about twelve years old. I couldn’t sleep one Saturday morning, so I took Rendezvous with Rama to bed with me, and read it from start to finish in less than three hours. I couldn’t put it down – I was totally enthralled. I became totally obsessed with that novel for many months afterwards, reading and re-reading it again and again and again.

Clarke often takes criticism about not writing in-depth characters, and Rendezvous with Rama is no different. But the critics completely miss the point. This novel (and most of Clarke’s work) is a HARD SF story – it’s all about the science and sheer sensawunda, the awe-inspiring majesty and mystery of mankind’s first encounter with an amazing, unfathomable alien artifact. The humans are insignificant, unimportant, mere observers, visitors, passing through Rama, just as Rama passes through our solar system, on its way to its final destination. The real star of the novel, the main “character”, isn’t the humans at all, it’s Rama.

It isn’t for nothing that this novel won all the SF book awards going at that time – the Nebula Award for Best Novel (1973), the Hugo Award for Best Novel (1974), the British Science Fiction Association Award (1973), the John W. Campbell Memorial Award (1974), the Locus Award for Best Novel (1974), and the Jupiter Award for Best Novel (1974). It was (and is still) very highly regarded. Rendezvous with Rama is, undoubtedly, one of the seminal classic hard SF novels of the past sixty years.

Along with another classic, Ringworld by Larry Niven (which appeared a year or two before, and explored similar themes), it influenced an entire generation of younger SF authors, such as Alastair Reynolds, Peter F. Hamilton, Iain M. Banks and many others. If many of the themes explored in Rendezvous with Rama (and Ringworld) might nowadays seem overused and clichéd to the modern SF audience, don’t blame Clarke (or Niven). The themes might be commonplace now, but those two authors did it all first.

There were a number of inferior sequels to Rendezvous with RamaRama II (1989), The Garden of Rama (1991), and Rama Revealed (1993) – all supposedly written “in collaboration” between Clarke and Gentry Lee, but obviously written entirely by Gentry Lee (Clarke was a MUCH better writer). They aren’t remotely as good as the original novel (I tried a couple of them – couldn’t finish them), and I’d recommended giving them a big MISS.

But read the Real Thing, one of the true classic SF novels. You won’t regret it.

SCIENCE FICTION edited by S. H. Burton

TITLE: SCIENCE FICTION
EDITED BY: S. H. Burton
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Anthology
FORMAT: Hardback, 245 pages
PUBLISHER: Longman, The Heritage of Literature Series, London, 1967.

CONTENTS:

  • Introduction by S. H. Burton
  • “Requiem” by Robert A. Heinlein (Astounding Science Fiction, January 1940)
  • “A Present from Joe” by Eric Frank Russell (Astounding Science Fiction, February 1949)
  • “Dark They Were and Golden-Eyed” by Ray Bradbury (Thrilling Wonder Stories, August 1949, as “The Naming of Names”)
  • “Protected Species” by H. B. Fyfe (Astounding Science Fiction, March 1951)
  • “The New Wine” by John Christopher (Fantastic Story Magazine, Summer 1954)
  • “Nightfall” by Isaac Asimov (Astounding Science Fiction, September 1941)
  • “The Windows of Heaven” by John Brunner (New Worlds, May 1956, as “Two by Two”)
  • “Youth” by Isaac Asimov (Space Science Fiction, May 1952)
  • “The Star” by Arthur C. Clarke (Infinity Science Fiction, November 1955)

This is an unusual little book, a very small hardcover, only the size of a paperback. It’s also interesting in that it was published as part of Longmans’ prestige “The Heritage of Literature Series”, rather than as a commercial SF paperback or hardback. This series seems to be more of an academic line, covering not only science fiction, but detective fiction and general short fiction. Very interesting.

It’s a fairly short anthology, and there are a few classic, well-known stories by big name authors, which have seen publication previously in many anthologies and single-author collections – Heinlein’s “Requiem”, Bradbury’s “Dark They Were and Golden-Eyed”, Asimov’s “Nightfall” and Clarke’s “The Star”. It’s always nice to re-read these excellent stories, especially if you haven’t read them for a while.

There are also several stories, by familiar authors, which are not so well known – Asimov’s “Youth”, Russell’s “A Present from Joe”, Brunner’s “The Windows of Heaven” and Christopher’s “The New Wine”. And finally, there is also a story by an author with whom I’m totally unfamiliar, although I have seen his name in old magazine listings – H. B. Fyfe’s “Protected Species”. I haven’t read this one (or anything by this author) before.

I’ve started reading this anthology with the least familiar, so right now I’m part way through Fyfe’s “Protected Species”, which is quite a good story, at least so far. It’ll be interesting to see where it leads. After that, I’ll move onto the other stories that I haven’t read before, although the author’s ARE familiar to me – Russell, Brunner and Christopher. And I’ll finally finish off by re-reading the biggies from Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein and Bradbury.

As this anthology is short, it shouldn’t take me very long to finish it. I’m off to read the rest of “Protected Species”…

Some New Books, First Quarter 2014

Here are some SF books, some new, some old, that I’ve picked up over the past two or three months from various places such as Ebay UK, Amazon UK and my regular supplier of comics and books in the US:

Novels:

  • THE SPACE MACHINE & A DREAM OF WESSEX Omnibus by Christopher Priest (paperback)
  • STARFARERS by Poul Anderson (hardback)
  • HAWKMOON: THE HISTORY OF THE RUNESTAFF Omnibus by Michael Moorcock (trade paperback)
  • THE LIGHT AGES by Ian R. MacLeod (paperback)
  • THE SPACE TRILOGY Omnibus by Arthur C. Clarke (trade paperback)

Collections:

  • THE BEST OF JACK WILLIAMSON (paperback)
  • THE EARLY WILLIAMSON (hardback)
  • BREATHMOSS AND OTHER EXHALATIONS by Ian R. MacLeod (trade paperback)

Anthologies:

  • THE GREAT SF STORIES 19 edited by Isaac Asimov and Martin H. Greenberg (paperback)
  • THE MAMMOTH BOOK OF TIME TRAVEL SF edited by Mike Ashley (trade paperback)
  • RAYGUN CHRONICLES – SPACE OPERA FOR A NEW AGE edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt (trade paperback)
  • GREAT TALES OF SCIENCE FICTION edited by Robert Silverberg and Martin H. Greenberg (hardback)
  • THE YEAR’S BEST SCIENCE FICTION & FANTASY 2013 edited by Rich Horton (trade paperback)
  • AFTER THE END: RECENT APOCALYPSES edited by Paula Guran (trade paperback)
  • WORLDS OF EDGAR RICE BURROUGHS edited by Mike Resnick and Robert T. Garcia (trade paperback)
  • MODERN GREATS OF SCIENCE FICTION – NINE NOVELLAS OF DISTINCTION edited by Jonathan Strahan (trade paperback)
  • RAGS & BONES: NEW TWISTS ON TIMELESS TALES edited by Melissa Marr and Tim Pratt (hardback)

Non-Fiction:

  • H.G. WELLS: CRITIC OF PROGRESS by Jack Williamson (hardback)
  • AFTER THE NEW WAVE: SCIENCE FICTION SINCE 1980 by Nader Elhefnawy (trade paperback)

That’s quite a nice selection, leaning very heavily towards short fiction, particularly anthologies, plus three collections of individual author short stories. There are only two novels, plus three omnibus editions containing two (the Priest), three (the Clarke) and four (the Moorcock) novels, respectively. Only two of the books are non-fiction, which is pretty unusual, given my buying habits in recent years, which has swung sharply towards including much more non-fiction.

But no surprise with the large number of anthologies and individual author collections. Most of my book buying lists will always lean heavily in that direction, as I always tend to read a lot more short fiction than novels.

The Best of Arthur C. Clarke 1937-71

Here’s another book of excellent short fiction, this time a single-author collection, THE BEST OF ARTHUR C. CLARKE 1937-71.

TITLE: THE BEST OF ARTHUR C. CLARKE 1937-71
AUTHOR: Arthur C. Clarke
EDITED BY: Angus Wells
CATEGORY: Short Fiction
SUB-CATEGORY: Collection
PUBLISHER: Hardback – Sidgwick & Jackson, London, 1973, ISBN: 0 283 97979 8); Paperback – Sphere Books, London, 1973, ISBN: 0 7221 2426 0)

I have both the above hardback and paperback editions. The paperback was initially released as one volume, but later reissues were split into two volumes. Here is a listing of the contents:

  • 1937: Travel by Wire
  • 1938: Retreat from Earth
  • 1942: The Awakening
  • 1942: Whacky
  • 1947: Castaway
  • 1949: History Lesson
  • 1949: Hide and Seek
  • 1951: Second Dawn
  • 1954: The Sentinel*
  • 1955: The Star
  • 1955: Refugee
  • 1956: Venture to the Moon
  • 1960: Into the Comet
  • 1960: Summertime on Icarus
  • 1961: Death and the Senator
  • 1961: Hate
  • 1965: Sunjammer
  • 1972: A Meeting with Medusa**

This is an interesting one, although there are certainly some stories missing from it that you might expect to appear in any self-respecting Arthur C. Clarke Best of…. To name but a few: The Nine Billion Names of God, “If I Forget Thee, O Earth…”, The Wind from the Sun, Transit of Earth, I Remember Babylon, and Expedition to Earth, among others.

And there are also quite a few personal favourites that I thought should’ve definitely been in there – Rescue Party, All the Time in the World, The Forgotten Enemy, The Fires Within, Time’s Arrow, Out of the Sun, and a few others.

But that’s the problem with all Best of… collections, isn’t it? There’s never enough room for every story that the readers (or editors) think should definitely be in there. And, in the end, it’s totally up to the personal choice of the editor. Still, even with the omissions, this is still a nice collection of Clarke’s short fiction.

This was the very first collection of Arthur C. Clarke short stories that I ever read, way back when I was a kid (we’re talking forty years ago here), so it holds significant sentimental value for me, even though it isn’t by any means the most comprehensive collection of Clarke’s best short fiction. For that, read instead the later collection MORE THAN ONE UNIVERSE: THE COLLECTED STORIES OF ARTHUR C. CLARKE (US, 1991), which would be much more deserving of the title THE BEST OF ARTHUR C. CLARKE.

* The Sentinel is erroneously dated in the contents listing as being published in 1954. The correct publication date is 1951.

** The collection is dated 1937-1971, but one story in the collection, A Meeting with Medusa, was published in 1972.

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…

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…