I was 13. Some of you might think that’s kind of young. Others might have experienced this even earlier. But I’ll never forget it, and I’d wager that’s a familiar sentiment among us all. I actually have my cousin to thank. Everyone remembers their first time…
…reading science fiction and fantasy! What? You thought I was going to say something else? Sheesh, minds out of the gutter, guys. Come on, we’re all adults here. Well, actually, my love for these genres is probably responsible for my refusal to completely grow up. And it might have made my first time doing…that other thing…take so long to ever happen.
I really want to talk about the two series that started my path into the scifi and fantasy genres. The initial books in both series were gifts from my cousin, and I devoured them, only to spend my allowance on the rest of the installments in each.
The first was the Apprentice Adept series by Piers Anthony. While I might have read some science fiction before this, it wasn’t science fiction aimed at an adult audience. Mostly it had been stuff like The Tripods series and A Wrinkle in Time. Anthony’s works were unknown to me, up to that point, and the content was more mature in its character complexities and plot twists than books I had read earlier. Bouncing back and forth between humanity’s oppressive future and a world of powerful magic, this series strummed all the right nerd chords that made my heart sing. I’d never read anything like it before. There were familiar themes of Good vs. Evil and the triumphant underdog that helped me make the transition to the more intricate stories I enjoyed when I was older. Although I tried out some of Piers Anthony’s other series, none brought me the same imaginative experiences as Apprentice Adept. It will always hold a place in my heart as my “first”, even if I’ve read superior works since. If I had time to go back and read the series again, 30 years later, I don’t know that they would possess the same meaning for me, so I’ll let them stand on the pedestal they’ve occupied all this time.
The Spellsinger series, by Allan Dean Foster, was my first foray into more mature fantasy. Tolkien’s beautiful prose and imagery would take me many attempts to appreciate, since I liked novels with quicker paces at that age. This series practically flew in comparison. I remember feeling that the cover was a bit silly and gave the impression that I’d be reading something like Wind in the Willows meets a Grimm’s fairy tale. What I got once I began reading was something entirely different. There were dark undertones mixed with humor. The anthropomorphic critters were far from their Disney equivalents. It’s an impressive series that spans many novels, and I read nearly all of them. The early books left the greatest impressions on me. While they weren’t as dark as the fantasy I would come to love as an adult, they were stepping stones into my Glen Cook years. They were also some of the first books to make me appreciate how difficult it would be to write a decent fantasy novel. Allan Dean Foster didn’t seem to take any shortcuts when he developed complex plots and memorable characters, and this inspired me to strive for those critical elements in my own writing, as challenging as it is. I went on to read other page-turners by Allan Dean Foster, including Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, one of my favorite Star Wars novels.
In my tenure working at various libraries, I’ve had opportunities to recommend these series to many fantasy and scifi lovers. Most people had already read them, but they always talked about them with the same kind of reverence I felt. A few were younger readers and hadn’t heard of them, even though both authors wrote prolifically. It’s easy to imagine, in today’s much expanded book market, that they were overlooked. I think it’s safe to call both series classics at this point. Maybe that makes me old, but I hope it also puts me in a good place to guide apprentice nerds on their paths to reading great science fiction and fantasy. Maybe they’ll write in these genres someday, too.