A comment on Voice Mail Show #271 got me to ponder about the books I’ve accumulated in 27 years of reading science fiction.
And not just books; I subscribed to the Analog of Science Fiction & Science Fact shortly after being introduced to Science Fiction, and have kept every issue since. Then, in the mid-80’s, I hit the local comic and used-book shops buying up any old issues I could find. I also bought the anthologies published by Analog.
I’d have to go back and check, but I think some of my oldest issues are from the 40’s, when they were still called Amazing Stories. I read many as I bought them, back in the days before I owned my own company, before multiple hobbies, and before interaction with technology and the Internet gobbled up my free time.
But many of the old Analogs (pre-1980s) are still unread, packed away for the mythical golden years of retirement. Yessiree, I had visions of sitting on the porch during lazy afternoons, enjoying reading stories from nearly a hundred years back, sipping on some iced tea, and occasionally shaking my walking stick at those pesky neighborhood kids shooting off their MAC-10s and laser-equipped needle guns. Maybe even laser-equipped laser guns.
Along with those old issues I also planned on rereading books from Niven, Heinlein, Bova, Clark, and newer authors like Bujold, Asaro, and many others I don’t remember right now.
In my then young-mind’s-eye I saw me at around 60 years old, winding down, and preparing to slowly fade away. Instead, at 57 I’m still playing competitive racquetball, and with so many interests that the chance of me rereading the old Analogs, or any of my favorite books, is practically zero. There is too much new stuff, interesting stuff, for me to seriously think I will be rereading the books and stories that shaped my appreciation for the genre.
I would not be overstating facts if I said they also helped shape how I think, who I am, and what I believe in. No, I was not brainwashed, but many stories did boost my confidence in my own cognitive processes by letting me know others shared my views, and my hopes and desires for the future.
This brings me to my point; having chosen not to reproduce, I don’t have the luxury of passing them down to my progeny, but even if I had, it’s not a guarantee against the Analogs being discarded when my time here ends.
No, I need to find someone half my age, or younger, who is an avid reader, and who is interested in experiencing the style and imagination of eras gone by. Interested in tales of young engineers who build copper-based-wonder-engines for their back yard spaceships, and who then fly off to explore the galaxy, only to get involved in some distant intergalactic struggle between good an evil . . . and get the girl too boot.
Persons who might have interest in old Analog issues are out of luck unless they know someone who has saved them. I suspect many Analog readers have boxes of them languishing in their basement, attic, or garage. Certainly they are not circulating; I’ve not seen old issues of Analogs in any of the used bookstores I’ve visited in the past ten years or so.
It could be because, as it was explained to me with some annoyance, we sci-fi readers are hoarders. The sci-fi sections of used bookstores are usually the most thinly populated. Hoarding was my nature as well. My local used bookstores in Michigan had plans where you could trade in books for credit. You got a percentage of what you paid for them, and you could use the credit to buy other books. I don’t remember ever having any credit at any of the stores.
I further suspect that if I were to donate my issues to a used bookstore, they would likely end up in some other sci-fi reader’s basement.
And that brings me to my other point . . . many of us have extensive sci-fi libraries, some large enough that if we did nothing else but read we might not be able to get through them before we turn back into galactic dust. But they are not there to read, are they?
They are there as a memory of hours spent in faraway worlds, learning of strange races, fantastic beings, involved with political and social intrigues, often partaking in fierce battles with various modes of fantastic weapons, and finally riding off into the black in our very own private starship eagerly looking for the next adventure.
I’m about to propose a radical thought; I know it would be hard, but would you, the sci-fi reader, consider actively looking to disseminate those books back in circulation?
I say we should, and it’s something I started doing some time ago. I am lending or giving away books to anyone who shows real interest, who is willing to give Ender’s Game and Ringworld a fighting chance to capture their imagination as mine was captured and held to this day.
As little as a few years ago giving away these books would have been out of the question, but these days I’m feeling a lot more generous. You see, I already have those words inside me; I realized the books just hold extra copies.