I remember the first science fiction story I read. I was in seventh grade. It was titled “Cold Calculation.” It upset me.
Of course, it was written to be distressing. The crux of the story was that a woman stowaway on a shuttle carrying the medicine needed to cure a devastating plague on an isolated planet had to be jettisoned into space or the carefully computer calculated fuel supply would run out, ensuring the destruction of the shuttle transporting the planet’s last hope. I still play that scenario in my head. Who goes? The pilot, the stowaway (who was sneaking down to see her brother), or the medical supplies?
A bit of another story sticks in my head as well. In this one, I don’t remember the title but I remember the theme: a brilliant man living in a socialist/communist country where EVERYONE must be equal. He is forced to wear a sensor that emits random obnoxious sounds at odd intervals. It is to disrupt his thinking so that his cognitive ability is no greater than anyone else. The story ends with him watching the brutal death of his son and his lover, who remove their restraints to dance one time in their full, talented glory.
As you may have guessed, my modest school had a deep agenda against not only communism but also science. I’m honestly amazed they taught evolution!
I have this really odd trait that when directed to do something, I do the opposite. Deep down, I rebel.
I had read a lot of “fluffy” books from the library while in Elementary school, happy kids – especially little girl – books. All the Pretty Horses and that sort of thing. This fueled my drive to search the shelves of the library in my High School. I’m not sure how I stumbled upon the short story by Anne McCaffery about a hatching dragon Impressing on a young boy in Anne’s world of Pern. I do remember feeling like I’d found something I wasn’t supposed to have.
All the stories in my Junior High School were dark, teaching hard lessons. They slapped your knuckles and pushed your face against the glass of a cold world. I’m sure the school was just trying to scare us to staying on the straight and narrow(minded) path. But that short story had hope in a world where problems were met with a dragon at your side. It was magic. I was hooked.
Happily, the library managed to supply me with most of Anne McCaffery’s novels on Pern. They even led me to the Herald Mages of Valdemar written by Mercedes Lackey. There, I surprisingly learned to not despise women with nothing left to sell other than themselves, met woman Heralds who could conquer monstrous problems and save – or rule – countries, and mages who preferred partners of the same gender. Definitely not something my school would have condoned!
– Honestly, why the 80s had such a huge fuss over the Dragonlance series (Which I also read. They were okay.), I have no idea. Mercedes’ books had a LOT more worldy experience in their fantasy pages than ever turned up in Dragonlance. –
My independent (my mother calls it “stubborn”) streak led me in high school to be one of two of the first girls to EVER take shop class, to independently learn about socialism, communism, buddhism, and wicca (I never finished Hinduism, I’m sorry to say), and of course to read a lot of fantasy books.
Reading became not just an escape from every day. I firmly believed then (and still do) that every story holds a foundation of truth. You can build any genre you like around that framework. I preferred my lessons to come from fantasy, even if I referred to my favorite books as “brain candy!”
As I mentioned in my first post, it was a long time after high school before I began to write fantasy. Despite many books between now and that first short story from Pern, it really does all come back to it. Yes, I want to give readers some of the open mindedness and life lessons I found reading Mercedes Lackey, and I endeavor to craft a story with the depth of authors such as Terri Windling in The Wood Wife (which I read first in my early twenties and then again, as chance would have it, when I was the same age as the main character, who is in her 30’s. Talk about a different perspective!). But deep down, I want to recreate that brilliant moment of a little boy who has nothing in life and is then chosen by a dragon (No, this isn’t Eragon, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Christopher Paolini hadn’t read the same short story by Anne McCaffery). I owe so much to Anne.
I might write dark fantasy on occasion, but it is just because sometimes you need the blackest of places to see that spark of hope the best. All of my work has that bit of brightness in it, and I actually really hope that I never lose it in my life. I prefer magic with a shot of rum and a devil-may-care smile than downing the whole bottle and wishing for death.
And as for the answer to “Cold Calculation:” why didn’t they just turn the blasted shuttle around and pick up some more fuel? Seriously, do they know the stress they’ve caused me all these years?!?
And yes, if you need to know: I do still prefer the company of dragons to most of the people I grew up with.
See ya at the second star on the left. 😉