The Barrow

8/12/08

SF Makes You Crazy

There's something slightly awry in the minds of people who celebrate the vast, sprawling landscape of the imagination. It's not just our extremely low threshold for the appreciation of very poor SF TV and movies, though the screenwriter side of me does give that a lot of thought. (My own benchmark is The Invaders, the sixties Quinn-Martin Production, for which I hold an inexplicable love. Hugo voters appear to have a similar attachment to the execrable movie adaptation of The Golden Compass - quite how it didn't get one hundred per cent 'No Award' votes is beyond me...)

I realised that odd dissonance when I was browsing the site of PS Publishing which produces very fine limited editions of SF/F/H novellas and longer works (including one of my own novellas, for clarity in reporting). There, in the online catalogue, was a slip-cased, two volume edition of Ray Bradbury's Dandelion Wine priced at £375 (double the figure for dollars) and I realised with a faint queasy feeling that I was seriously considering if I could afford it. Yes, it did have a unique introduction by Stephen King, and the second volume contained all the stories from Bradbury's fictional town where the novel is set, published and unpublished.

But I have read Dandelion Wine many times. The ancient, dog-eared paperback is still on my shelves, and there's a hardback floating around somewhere. How could I possibly consider spending that kind of money on something I'd already consumed? Normal people don't do that kind of thing.

But, you see, I love Bradbury. His work is one of the foundation stones of me, and I seriously wonder if I would have become a writer without reading The Martian Chronicles, The October Country, The Illustrated Man and Something Wicked This Way Comes as a kid.

What those works engender in me - what comparable works engender in you - is immeasurable, transformative, almost, without getting too precious, spiritual. Once you've tasted it, your brain is screwed and you're hooked for life. Then you spend the rest of your days trying to hang on to the feeling, recapture it, buy it and bottle it - even if it means spending a small fortune on a limited edition book, or going to see movies that everyone tells you are bad, bad, bad...you know, just in case.

There's a long-standing belief in publishing that if you don't experience speculative fiction by the age of thirteen, you will never "get" it. Clearly, something does happen to the mind when you have that first experience at the right age, and I wonder exactly what. It's a life-shaping moment, like walking smack into a shiny, black monolith, and I don't know anyone in this field who has every forgotten that transformative experience. Does it make us crazy? Does it make us better? Naturally, when we're all in our huddles where we consider ourselves the monarchs of taste and sophistication, we think it's the latter.

We've all been saved and ruined by our first encounter with speculative fiction (or film, or comics), and, look, Pyr is now doing it to another generation... Damn them!

Which is a long-winded way of announcing the foundation of the International Aid Fund (to Purchase Dandelion Wine (slipcased-edition)). I take Paypal.

Mark Chadbourn

4 comments:

Rene said...

It's amazing how you can pinpoint books that influenced your life like that. I remember reading The Last Unicorn and being completely blown away when I was, oh, I don't know, maybe 10, and I remember being gifted with the Earthsea trilogy at age 13. Even though I was already familiar with speculative fiction in the form of the Narnia books and the works of E.B. White, I distinctly remember those reading experiences.

And yeah, I'd shell out big bucks for a killer edition of either of those works if I could afford it, even though I have the much beloved paperback editions from eighty-whenever, just because I love them so.

And re: the movies: I love the '82 Last Unicorn movie, America soundtrack and all. I saw it in the theaters when I was 7 and it is imprinted on my soul. I am incapable of a rational judgment in that case. And I watched the SciFi Earthsea miniseries knowing that it would suck, because I had to. Even though I knew it would make me want to rip out my own eyes and be pecked to death by ducks. (It delivered!)

Sometimes you have to suffer for love.

Lou Anders said...

For me, I think it's Michael Moorcock. I love the new illustrated Elric reissues from Del Rey, but I wish they were doing hardcovers!

Anonymous said...

Moorcock has had some truly lovely editions of things over the years. The American Fantasy edition of Dreamthief's Daughter comes to mind, as does the Millenium/Orion omnibus volumes with the Yoshitaka Amano art.

Lou Anders said...

Have seen and held both, but own neither. Do have the complete White Wolf run of Eternal Champion hardcovers, including the Cornelius one only released in the UK. Wish that had stayed in continuous print, or were coming back out updated.