Over at Lou Anders’ Blog, the esteemed Pyr editorial director has a post on “Building a Comprehensive SF & F Collection” (he’s soliciting any suggestions for “fantasy books every library should have” so head on over if you want to help out) and that, along with the Strange Horizons review of Little Brother, got me thinking: not necessarily about genre classics, but stories which have an importance to me, not just because they are well-made or entertaining, but because they taught me something about life or simply about what makes a story something I enjoy.
I’d probably easily name dozens upon dozens of stories, but for the sake of brevity let me limit myself to six for now from my early years-not necessarily the best things I read/watched, but all of which opened my eyes to a new aspect of reality; some are books, some are shows, all taught me something about storytelling or simply about living:
Wizards, Warriors and You: This series was my first introduction to prose fantasy of any sort, and my first taste of interactive entertainment. I always played the Warrior first, because he was a more sympathetic character to me-and yet I always found the Wizard’s storylines to be more interesting. What I Learned: Fantasy is awesome-but it’s even more awesome when I have a say in whether or not the lead character gets eaten by a crocodile.
Flight of the Dragons: Apparently the film is a bit obscure, (my first google search showed a hit on “unknown movies.com”) but I think a lot of the Filipinos of my generation remember it. I think this was literally the first movie-length animated feature I ever chose to watch (as opposed to being subjected to *cough* Bambi *cough*) – yes, before Transformers the Movie or G.I. Joe the Movie (Although if I were doing a list of influential characters and not stories, I’d have to put Sgt. Slaughter there). The movie was also my first exposure to the Everyman/Geek hero trope, and , not coincidentally, the first story I can remember where the hero triumphs by using his mind (or rather, in this case, scientific name-dropping). What I Learned: You can be a hero without being an athlete; the magic vs. science dichotomy; animated movies can be about more than helpless fauna.
[Teen detectives and transforming jets after the cut.]
Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys Super Mysteries Cross-overs: Oh yes-Carolyn Keene penned books did play an influence in my life, by pointing out how mind blowing it could be to combine characters from different stories into a unified world. Sure comics had cross-overs all the time, but until I saw these books, I just never thought of it happening in prose. Sure now anyone can just go online and find/write cross-over fanfic that crosses genres, mediums and (sometimes) every boundary of taste, but back in m pre-internet youth, this was simply incredible. What I Learned: Arithmetic expansion of awesome things sometimes makes the awesome increase exponentially; crossovers are a lot of fun-but rarely have any impact on the status quo; Nancy Drew and Frank Hardy should have totally gotten together.
Guardians of the Flame by Joel Rosenberg: While my first exposure to fantasy came from game books, my first exposure to full novel-length genre literature came, not from Lord of the Rings or Narnia, but from the Guardians of the Flame. The novels also served as my first exposure to the concept of role-playing games, and the now-familiar trope of modern people being thrown into another world: but what the novels really did for me I think is to establish from right out of the gate that just because a book has dragons, that doesn’t mean it’s a simple black-and-white, good-and-evil fairy tale. The first book alone had cuss words, torture, slavery, racism, death and rape-and I don’t even think I was near puberty when I read it. What I Learned: To read and respect genre fiction; to make sure I keep my RPG character leveled up-you know, just in case.
Space Hawks (CYOA): If Wizards, Warriors and You was my introduction to written fantasy, Space Hawks was my introduction to Science Fiction prose–and more, to continuity in a series. I read a lot of Choose Your Own Adventure books before Space Hawks, but the idea of a series of books where events and characters *gasp* carried over in the succeeding books was new to me, and I immediately decided it was a style I liked. It’s also the first interactive story I ever experienced that made me feel like I was a part of a team (with Wizards, Warriors and You I always felt like both characters were me) and hence my first exposure to anything akin to the “party system” that would be such a draw to me when I found them in later RPGs. What I Learned: It makes for a better series when you don’t wipe the slate clean with every book; teams are a great narrative element; creatures without skins are telepathic and mean.
Robotech (the Novels) by Jack Mckinney: If Space Hawks was me dipping a foot into the science fiction pond, then Robotech was my first full throttled immersion in it-as well as my first introduction to anime, though I didn’t know it at the time. Yes I know now that the Macross anime (and the others cobbled together to form the Robotech saga) were quite different from the Robotech television series-which in turn, were different from the novels, but when I was a kid, I knew none of that: I just knew that the series was full of transforming mechs and interesting characters and complicated subplots and intersecting love triangles and did I mention transforming mechs? 12 novels you say, plus an additional five (the Sentinels) and a final culminating (at the time) book? Gimme. What I Learned: Robots + Romance + War + Coming-of-Age = Winning Combo. Also, apparently there’s more to Japan that Godzilla (although that’s already plenty)…
That’s it for now. Next time I’ll try for some books/shows that influenced me during the awkward hell of puberty. What about you guys and gals? Any story in particular have an impact on your childhood?