Why SF/F Fandom is Important to Me

I had a very interesting childhood. I grew up as an Air Force dependent with a chaotic family situation. So for the first couple of decades of my life, everything was always new and changing. I've attended twenty-one schools. Probably lived in that many houses. 

That river of new experiences and places and people has enriched me when it comes to lived experience, and very definitely shaped me into the person I am today. (A person I'm pretty glad to be.) In some ways, it was a gift. 

But growing up like that wasn't easy or pleasant. Not… exactly. Would it be overblown to say that sci-fi saved me? 

***

When I was a kid, I was really bad at people.

I didn't understand them, I didn't know how to talk to them, I didn't know how to get people to like me. And so people didn't like me (or at least the only people who mattered — other kids). I think I was the proverbial easy target, always trying too hard. Too smart, too goody-two-shoes, too sensitive. Eventually I'd feel like I had the hang of a place, understood its ebb and tide and even knew the social cues and subculture of the group. And then it was time to move on.

The first boy who ever asked me out did it on my last day at that particular school. (And you know, I still worry whether that left any scars on him, the part where I stared and mumbled something indistinct and then he never saw me again.)

Just a week before that, my worst tormenter had turned to me in class and said, wonderingly, that I was actually pretty OK, and she didn't know why she'd ever disliked me. So it went.

Some few years before, when I went to my first school dance, some other girls squished three wads of chewed-up gum into my hair while cooing and telling me how beautiful it was, how blonde and curly and soft. I didn't know them. 

That was people. Books were a hell of a lot easier.

***

At almost every phase of my life I can tell you what I was reading. They were that important to me. I couldn't tell you who my teachers were, who my classmates were, but the books! I never forgot the books.

First it was the Chronicles of Narnia when I was seven, and sneaking into the kitchen after bedtime to make myself toast with marmalade because Tumnus had served it and I wanted to know what it tasted like. (Though I didn't get to try ginger beer until my honeymoon, some twenty years later.) Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and its sequel, the Great Glass Elevator, an SF book if ever there was. 

That was followed shortly by the Dragonsinger Pern books. (Not long after, my mom gave up and started feeding me her adult SF/F. I was a voracious reader and she couldn't keep me in books otherwise. Now I have my own voracious reader, and I sympathize.)

It wasn't all science fiction, not to begin with. I swept through every horsey book in the library, Ballet Shoes, books about Egyptology. But there was also Have Spacesuit, Will Travel and Podkayne of Mars; the Tripods series; Madeleine L'Engle. By the end of fifth grade I'd read any given school library dry. And then it was on with my mother's collection, full steam ahead. World's Best SF. Dangerous Visions. Chronicles of Amber. The Stainless Steel Rat.

In the long lunch hours of 6th grade, I read Lord of the Rings in the dimmed library while other kids watched movies. Then Foundation and Darkover. Asimov's Robot series, Fahrenheit 451. Thieves World and Wild Cards. 

I went through my storied ElfQuest obsession, reading and re-reading, and writing endless reams of the most appalling kind of self-insertion fanfic. David Eddings and the Dragonlance books. Ringworld. Douglas Adams.

There was the long, lonely summer after I moved to Florida, just before 9th grade. The summer spent in a neighborhood with no other kids and no way to meet any. Then it was Unicorn Variations, again and again, the book that taught me about writing. After, there was William Gibson, Mercedes Lackey, Robert Jordan. The rest of the Heinlein backlist. Terry Pratchett and Sheri Tepper. My very own subscription to the science fiction bookclub.

In my early 20s, working at an ad agency in Manhattan for the staggering sum of $20K a year, it was Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars series, the Hyperion cycle, Dune, Brin's Uplift series. I found Tim Powers and Neal Stephenson. Books were the burning hole in my budget, my only vice and my only luxury.

I am made of words. 

***

Why science fiction and fantasy novels? It could've been romance, I guess. It could've been mysteries. Sometimes it was, in fact, but I always came back to SF/F. The worlds I read about were comfortably unfamiliar, the problems so very different from my own. Escapism. Yes. Escaping as far as I could; reading about solvable problems and quests. They were a comfort when my own problems looked so intractable.  

The books I read were also a quiet Batsignal to other kids who maybe liked the same things I did and maybe wanted to be friends. Once in a while it would even work.

And if nobody responded to that Batsignal, it didn't really matter. I could still spend some time somewhere else, somewhere with narrative justice and heroism and logic. Somewhere with hope or inspiration, or sometimes problems worse than my own. I didn't want to live in another world; I did live in another world, as much and as long as I could. I read in class instead of listening. I read in bed with a flashlight instead of sleeping. 

It might be a coincidence that I read much less now as an adult, now that I make a decent living, now that I have a happy marriage and a community and, how do you say, stability. 

It might not be a coincidence.

***

This is just to say that the community of people who identify primarily as fans of written science fiction are my people. Before I had Dragon Age and Phoenix Wright and Katamari Damacy, before even Ultima and Carmen Sandiego, deep in my bones there were books. There will always be books.

And so when I criticize Worldcon as a place that makes me feel like an outsider, this is because it is a shock and betrayal to be on the outside. SF/F fandom was the one place I was supposed to fit without effort, the community where I always thought I knew the secret handshakes and shibboleths. But it turns out that just doing the reading wasn't quite enough.


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