The Geomancer


Grand-prize-winning essay by Lisa Iriarte

Pyr is proud to introduce the Grand-prize winner of the "Pyr and Dragons Adventure" fifth anniversary essay contest: Lisa Iriarte of Celebration, Florida. Lisa Iriarte teaches seventh-grade language arts and has recently written what she hopes will become her first published novel, Assassin’s Nightmare.

Iriarte will embark on a Pyr and Dragons Adventure that includes a round-trip flight to Atlanta, GA, for this year’s Dragon*Con; two nights’ hotel accommodation; and a Dragon*Con membership badge. While there, Iriarte will be the guest of honor at a dinner hosted by Pyr Editorial Director Lou Anders and featuring special author guests Mike Resnick, Jon Sprunk, James Enge, and Sam Sykes.

Please enjoy her winning essay:

Five Ways Science Fiction and Fantasy Changed My Life


Lisa Iriarte

Part 1 -- The Lonely Child

At the age of three, pediatricians diagnosed me as asthmatic with severe allergies. At four, I contracted pneumonia and was hospitalized for nearly a month. My lungs, I am told, collapsed twice, and I almost died. From that point on, I was destined to have an unusual childhood of restrictions and physical limitations that would extend into my adult life. But exactly what I would do to mentally overcome the limits of my body would be shaped by several key events seemingly unimportant at the times of their occurrences.

Each year I would dread the coming of the cold. I lived in New Jersey, so this meant a period from October to March. I was forbidden to play outside if the temperature dropped below a certain level or if a trace of snow lay on the ground. Soon enough, I'd tire of toys and television. Then, in my third grade year, a teacher read A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L’Engle to the class, and my imagination responded to my first exposure to science fiction.

My imaginary playmates took on all forms. I didn't create human children because I had little experience with them. As a child, I had few friends. Most social relationships develop on the playground, and except for September and late in the Spring, there were very few days when I was permitted to join the others in school outdoor play. When I did participate in their games, my asthma created breathing difficulties that limited my ability to run or skip rope. The other children saw me as aloof, and stand-offish. There was a great deal of name-calling, and references to my being "diseased." So, up in my room, alone, I would visit with invisible children from alien worlds.

Science fiction gave me friendships and worlds to explore. It changed the way I thought.

Part 2 -- Family Matters

In the same year as my first encounter with science fiction, my half-brother, John, came to visit. He lived with my father's first wife, and rarely stayed with us. To me, this brother that I almost never saw was something of a hero and idol. He's ten years older, smiling, playful, and protective. When he visited, I had a real live playmate, and he basked in my idolization. He, too, had an extensive imagination, pretending to make me disappear and performing what, to me, were incredible feats of magic. I simply adored him.

So, when he recommended we all see Star Wars, I begged and pleaded to go, despite the fact that this would be my first PG rated film. All I knew was that John had seen it, so I had to.

There is no adequate description for the awe and wonder a creative soul experiences when faced with this science fiction classic for the first time. This is especially true when one considers the effect of the "big screen" and the special effects technology of Lucasfilm Ltd. Star Wars was technically way ahead of its time, but with a story of good vs. evil that can be traced back to the beginnings of recorded history. I emerged from that darkened theater into a universe of new, creative possibilities.

And my half-brother and I had something we could really share, despite the gap in our ages.

For the rest of his visit, we played made-up Star Wars games. And when the spin-off novel Splinter of the Mind's Eye by Alan Dean Foster came out, we both read it and discussed it at length via letters and phone calls, postulating as to where the series would lead.

Science fiction brought us closer together than anything else ever had.

Part 3 -- Saving My Grades

A few years later, I discovered I could write down my imaginary scenarios and share them with others. There was, after all, plenty of time for it with my illnesses keeping me indoors. On top of the asthma and allergies, I'd contracted a blood disorder called idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura. (Yes, that's the real name and not one of my science fiction creations.) Its effects are similar to hemophilia, although the causes are different. In a nutshell, if I bumped myself, I bruised horribly. If I cut myself, it didn't stop bleeding until I'd lost quite a bit of blood. Now I couldn't play at recess or gym, regardless of the weather.

I'd grown too old for invisible playmates, and real live children shunned me as if I had a plague. The medication I took gave me a bloated look, puffing out my skin--especially my cheeks--until I looked like a blow fish. The other students thought I was contagious, or at least pretended as much, refusing to touch pencils, lockers, or even desks and chairs I'd had contact with.

My stories, however, drew them in. At first, I wrote fan fiction based on Star Trek and Star Wars, even second-guessing George Lucas on several counts before the release of Return of the Jedi. Then, I grew braver, creating worlds and characters all my own. This became my way out of social obscurity. My teachers would take my stories and read them aloud to the rest of the class, and many of the students would tell me how much they enjoyed them.

This also proved to be a factor in improving my failing English grades. When teachers and new friends complained they could not read my poor handwriting or decipher my improper punctuation, I worked hard at learning the grammatical rules and how to type. When I secured my first A, I realized I actually liked English and even joined the Gifted and Talented group for that subject which introduced me to more new friends.

Science fiction helped me graduate high school third in my class and earned me a half-tuition scholarship to college for my English S.A.T. scores.

Part 4 -- Happily Ever Afters

Science fiction and fantasy are also responsible for bringing me and my husband together.

When I began my first job as an English teacher, I was still shy and withdrawn . . . that is, until I noticed the handsome young math teacher carrying an Anne McCaffrey novel to lunch every day. It was one of the Pern books, though I admit I don't remember which one. I'd read some of McCaffrey's science fiction. The Crystal Singer trilogy is one of my all-time favorite series. So, overcoming my wallflower tendencies, I struck up a conversation with Joe, the math instructor.

As it turns out, he was a lover of all things science fiction and fantasy. We traded novels and discussed them on our breaks. We went to a Star Trek convention (or two, or three). We went to Renaissance festivals in period costumes.

After the ultimate fantasy wedding--at Disney World in front of Cinderella's castle--we went on a Star Trek cruise for our honeymoon, rubbing elbows with George Takei and Armin Shimerman.

Science fiction and fantasy brought me the love of my life, and my relationship with my husband, Joe, has brought me so much more.

Part 5 -- The Next Generation and Career Changes

Lastly, science fiction and fantasy have played a huge role in my careers. As I said, I am an English teacher of seventh graders. This year, my administration asked me to teach reading to advanced and honors students and left it up to me to decide the genres of study. How could I pass up such a fabulous opportunity to share my interests with eager young minds?

I selected a wide range of fantasy and science fiction, beginning with the novel that started it all for me--A Wrinkle In Time, then proceeding to Natalie Babbitt’s Tuck Everlasting, Brian Jacques’s Redwall, Heir Apparent by Vivian Vande Velde, Ender's Game by Orson Scott Card, and finishing with the classics--Time Machine and War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells. I even brought in Lucienne Diver, the fabulous author of the YA urban fantasy, Vamped, to share her wisdom and enthusiasm with my students.

In addition to encouraging a new generation of readers, I reached a few milestones on the road to my ultimate dream--becoming a published author of science fiction myself. In November of 2009, I signed with a literary agent. She will begin shopping my first novel, Assassin's Nightmare, in June.

Without fantasy and science fiction, I would be a very different person, and these were the five ways the genres changed my life.


  1. Wow! What a wonderful life story! A deserved win. Have fun at Dragon Con. You will be in good hands with Lou.


  2. Well done. An amazing and touching essay. I definitely see why this was selected winner. After reading it how could you not? I like to talk about how speculative fiction has influenced my life, but to hear Lisa's story and how these books are incorporated into every fiber of her being, it's so wonderful. Congratulations Lisa and have fun at DragonCon. Good luck on your novel!

  3. Thank you both! I was pleased the contest gave me the opportunity to explore this topic. Even I was surprised by the extent to which the genres have impacted my life.

  4. Clay Griffith6:52 PM

    That was lovely. Good luck with Assassin's Nightmare.

  5. No mention of Xena? Left a bit out, didn't you?

  6. Very funny, Rob. :)

    Thanks, Clay!