Thursday, 22 January 2015
Swords and old science
I got my copy of Amazing Spider-Man #12 in that second-hand bookshop. It was tatty and torn, more like a relic of Victorian times than the three-year-old comic I now know it to have been. But who cares? It was Lee and Ditko, and this was the issue in which Spidey was “Unmasked by Doctor Octopus!” In colour. ‘Nuff said.
It was also where I discovered science fantasy, in the form of Edward Powys Bradbury’s Mars books. Airships and swordplay meet blasters and psionic aliens. It was a Damascene moment, like when I first learned that dinosaurs had actually walked the Earth. A thing that would have been cool enough if merely imaginary turned out to be honest-to-gosh real.
Memory plays tricks, so probably I didn’t cotton on that science fantasy was an actual genre until I came across a second instance of it: L Sprague de Camp’s A Planet Called Krishna. John Carter and Thongor of Lemuria were still in my future then, but the seed had been planted that would inevitably make me an aficionado of the world of Tekumel ten years later.
What reminded me of all this was clearing out my mum’s things and finding an old exercise book that she had kept from my primary school days. It’s an interesting little snapshot of the past. I talk about dinosaurs, comic books, the coming decimalization, everyday events, and the RAF. There are reviews of You Only Live Twice, The Lair of the White Worm – the book, that is – and The Great Ghidrah. (The last of those, according to Wiki, was released as Invasion of Astro Monster but I was there and I can tell you what I saw.)
And there’s a story set on de Camp’s world of Krishna. It wasn’t my first stab at fiction – the year before I’d begun a sequel to Dracula, which opened with Jonathan’s and Mina’s grandson arriving at Dublin airport. A lost classic, obviously. The Krishna story came about because we had a student teacher for English lessons who encouraged us to write a story every Monday morning. I began my Krishna serial and I remember the teacher was concerned because he thought he was going to leave without reading the last instalment, but then he got an extra week at the school and signed off with “Very good indeed, +1”. After that it was goodbye to fiction as our regular teacher just wanted us to describe what we did over the weekends. I wish I could remember the student teacher’s name. He was the only one of them worth a damn at that primary school.
Anyway, people are always on at me to write like I did twenty years ago, so from Saturday I’ll run the reductio ad absurdum of that: my writing at age ten. The Fabled Lands started there, folks. Amazing as it seems in this age of trigger warnings and young people who get traumatized if you so much as challenge their dearest assumptions, the level of bloodthirstiness in the story was pretty typical of ten-year-old boys in the 1960s and nobody sent us for counselling because of it. When you read the story you may decide they should have.