Oops, I think we got some signals crossed this time around–because I’ve received not one but TWO blog posts from fellow Drollerie authors to share with y’all this time around. So what the hey, I’ll post this one too. Everybody say hey to Sarah Avery, author of Atlantis Cranks Need Not Apply and Closing Arguments, and who is on Livejournal! Here’s what Sarah’s got to say about her father.
It must have been 1978. He found it for me at Post Exchange on Camp Zama, the army base in Japan where we were stationed: a boxed set of Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, the box papered with gold foil and ornamented with Elvish heraldry. The covers of the books inside bore Tolkien’s own watercolor illustrations of Hobbiton, of the bold escape in the apple barrels, and so on–if you’re a geek of the right generation, you grew up on that edition, too, and you know exactly the illustrations I’m talking about. It took me three tries to get started on The Hobbit, which seems to be common among kids who try the book while their age is in single digits. But once I got started, I was hooked, just as my father knew I would be.
He came of age as a reader in a time when rocket ship science fiction was the shared province of all American boys. He was a bookish boy in a north country town where every male over the age of ten, himself included, was for all practical purposes a member of the volunteer fire department. What was there to do most summer days but take apart broken cars and combine them into Frankensteinian less-broken cars? (You could still do that with cars of different makes, years, and manufactures in those days.) Not much else but watch bears at the town dump, if the family reminiscences are to be believed. But the stars! The Adirondack sky, packed as it is with stars, must have been great preparation for Star Trek.
He gave me that, too. We had Star Trek rerun Saturday mornings, courtesy of the Armed Forces Radio and Television Network, the one English-language channel in a vast tide of Japanese variety shows. My mother, who taught me whatever precision in language I may have, found the split infinitive in the opening credits physically painful, so she always fled before William Shatner could intone the words, “to boldly go.” That left Dad and me huddled together on the couch, riding the story at warp speed.
By the time I reached junior high, I was thoroughly geeked, and my parents were both somewhat baffled. They’d known there would be cliques and pecking orders, but geeks qua geeks were a recent invention, new since their childhoods. Remember, The Lord of the Rings was a massive pop culture success when it first came out–it was still that, when I got my first copy. By the time my parents realized they’d helped me fit myself to a parallel social universe, it was too late for them to help me retool without doing my personality a violence.
Instead, my father gave me a copy of Heinlein’s A Stranger in a Strange Land for my thirteenth birthday. And yes, he had read it, so he knew he was giving me a book that many people, somewhere else in that parallel social universe, were using as a free love manifesto. It wasn’t that for me, nor was it a religious revelation, nor any of the several other really unlikely things that book has been for other readers. It was a ripping read, yes, but more importantly a gesture of profound trust. How many fathers think to themselves, “What should I give my thirteen-year-old daughter? I know! Stranger in a Strange Land!” Only when I became a parent myself did I fully recognize the courage behind that gift.
By the time I was eighteen, I had known for some time that I wanted to be a writer. My parents oscillated between vicarious fear and vicarious ambition. How would I ever afford rent and groceries? How soon would they hold my first book in their hands? Neither of them knew much about the business of writing–which is not surprising, since most people don’t, and I didn’t, either, until I was well out of grad school–but my father did know that the magazine that paid more for short stories than any other in the world was Playboy. So, naturally, when Playboy‘s twentieth anniversary issue came out, with a showcase of their favorite fiction (and centerfolds, and interviews, and bawdy cartoons) from their long run, my father bought me a copy at the Post Exchange on the base in Seoul where he was stationed. What a table of contents! Robert Silverberg! Harlan Ellison! Oh, and a bunch of important mainstream writers like Nabokov, too, interspersed among the naked women. It was as weird, and as powerful, an expression of confidence in my eventual professionalism as any daughter could want from a father. This was where the great American writers of his generation published, so it must be where I was going.
Playboy is no longer the fiction market it once was. Not a lot of people, even among Heinlein’s most devoted fans, still use the word grok unironically. My students, most of whom had not yet been born when Clinton started his second term in office, know The Lord of the Rings as a movie first, and need to be reminded that it was a series of books, and the Star Trek franchise is cool now, really cool with the cool kids, perhaps for the first time in its history. People who watch the computer industry are enamored of saying the geeks have inherited the earth. The North Star and the Earth’s magnetic field are both shifting further from what we used to call true. But I write stories, and my father believes in me–those are still points in the turning world.