The Making of a Sci-Fi Fan
Hi there. My name is Joel and I’m a Science Fiction fan. I wasn’t always a Sci-Fi fan. At the age of four I was totally into dinosaurs. At the age of five I pleaded with my mom to read me dinosaur books from the library with all the monstrous illustrations and the impossible-to-pronounce dinosaur names. At the age of six my most prized possession was a dinosaur book given to me by my kindergarten teacher. At the age of seven (or thereabouts) I happened to spy some television spots for a movie called Star Wars and my dinosaur fixation quickly dissipated.
At the age of eight, two years after first Star Wars film had been released in theaters, my parents finally took me to see it at a drive-in theater. At that point I had already listened to the “Story of Star Wars” record album so many times that I practically had whole soundtrack for the movie already memorized. But nothing could have prepared me for the sheer impact of the visual experience that was Star Wars. I think it’s fair to say that Star Wars permanently warped my brain. Sure, I still waited with breathless anticipation every Saturday morning for the Godzilla 90 Hour and sketched the occasional Tyrannosaurus Rex stick figure, but from that day forward my fantasy life shifted from dinosaurs over to aliens and robots and spaceships. Star Wars rocked my world, and I only saw it once in 1979. I wouldn’t see the original movie again until Episode IV was released on Laser Disk many years later.
At the age of twelve or so, I began reading books like Isaac Asimov’s “I, Robot” and was finally old enough to stay up late in order to watch Doctor Who. When I was a sophomore in high school I purchased a book with my hard-earned lawn-mowing allowance called “Ender’s Game” by Orson Scott Card. On my bookshelf today you will find several selections by Robert Heinlein, Frederick Pohl, Brian Aldiss, Arthur C. Clarke, Vernor Vinge, Simon Hawke and Douglas Adams. Adams, Asimov and Card were my literary mainstays, most of their tomes bear the well-thumbed oil stains of multiple readings. I own every single issue of Science Fiction Age, a glossy print magazine which inspired me to try my own hand at writing science fiction (thus far unsuccessfully). And then, shortly after SF Age went out of print, a funny thing happened…
I burnt out on Sci-Fi. It didn’t happen gradually or in stages, it happened all at once during a relatively short period of time. Hence I know precisely who the real culprit was: Kim Stanley Robinson. In the late 90’s, Kim Stanley Robinson wrote a very famous trilogy, the “Mars Trilogy” to be precise, three books which chronicled the future efforts of the human race to terraform Mars in intricate detail. To this day, the Mars Trilogy is a critically acclaimed and much fawned-over series. The second book, “Green Mars,” even won the Hugo Award, probably the most prestigious award the Sci-Fi literary establishment can bestow. My own personal experience of slogging though Robinson’s “masterpiece” was quite different…
Try as I might, I didn’t find myself rooting for ANY of Robinson’s characters to succeed in their life goals. The few characters I did have an affinity for were killed off early on in the series. The metaphysical new-age claptrap that permeated the plot holes of the second book left a sick feeling in my stomach, and by the time I reached the contrived hippie-love-fest ending which wrapped up the third tome, I was ready to retch. And yet the “Science Fiction” community at large was lapping it up, showering the Mars Trilogy with the highest of praise.
I distinctly recall the raw, unadulterated anger I felt - not just toward Kim Stanley Robinson - but toward the Sci-Fi literary community as a whole. I felt like I had been betrayed, suckered into wasting precious seconds of my life reading what was easily the biggest waste of paper I had ever read (and I’ve read L. Ron Hubbard’s entire “Invasion Earth” series, - I know of whence I speak). So I figured if this was really where Sci-Fi’s boat was headed, then is was high time to walk the plank and swim ashore! In one fell swoop, Kim Stanley Robinson managed to sour me on an entire genre that I once cherished and loved. Curse you, Kim Stanley Robinson! CURSE YOU!
Sci-Fi television, on the other hand, was better able weather the storm of my discontent. During the early nineties there was a renaissance of sorts going on in the world of Sci-Fi TV. “Star Trek: the Next Generation” was on top of it’s game and “Babylon 5” was running neck-and-neck right up against “ST: Deep Space Nine.” But even this infatuation would prove temporary at best. While I still hold Babylon 5 in the highest esteem, the much anticipated fifth season was honestly a bit of a let down. Star Trek: Voyager was such a huge disappointment for me that I began to sour on the whole Trek franchise as well. There was once a day when the Trek franchise could have died a dignified and noble death, but that day is long past. To add insult to injury, the powers that be gave us “Enterprise,” a wholly misguided venture if ever there was. Star Trek is dead to me now. I can still savor the memories, but all those Next Generation and Deep Space Nine episodes I taped back-to-back in the early nineties just sit in my closet, unwatched and unloved.
It wasn’t until Farscape came along that my waning interest in Sci-Fi fandom received a much needed jolt. The thing you have to understand about Farscape is that it was never really aimed at a general audience, it was aimed at what I would call the “Jaded Trekkie” audience, an august body of which I am now a lifetime member. Farscape finally went places where all the Trek shows had feared to tread. Where Star Trek always played it safe and never let you really worry if things would turn out alright, Farscape raped and pillaged and never let you assume that things would turn out rosy for anybody in the end. You never knew for certain what was going to happen next - and if there was an occasional happy ending, you NEVER saw it coming. Farscape always kept you guessing, which was a rare and beautiful gift for a Jaded Trekkie like myself.
And then Farscape was cancelled.
Again, I felt that old sting of betrayal, that uncomfortable feeling that The Powers That Be (namely short-sighted TV executives) were once again bound and determined to hang my precious fandom out to dry. But in this particular instance I had reason to hold out hope for a solid conclusion to the series: Fellow Fans! Petitions were signed, letters were written to studio execs - and most importantly - funds were raised by Farscape fandom the world over. The untiring support of Farscape’s fandom eventually garnered a miniseries which ultimately gave fans the “closure” they deserved. And that’s why sometimes it pays to be a fan. Fandom, when properly mobilized, is a force to be reckoned with!
So, for better or ill, I am a Sci-Fi fan. Not always a completely satisfied Sci-Fi fan, maybe even a slightly jaded Sci-Fi fan. But you never know what tomorrow may bring…
P.S. Kim Stanley Robinson, if you’re reading this:
Joel "Mr. Hook" Hoekstra a.k.a. Son of Joxer - Aug 18, 2006