The Passage author Justin Cronin on handing his sci-fi loves to the next generation
Author Justin Cronin on passing sci-fi loves to the next generation.
My science fiction life began in 1972, when a kid I knew gave me a book for my birthday. The gesture was strange to me. I wasn’t, until that time, much of a reader. I found reading tedious, far less interesting than the actual world. The cover, however, was alluring: a square-jawed figure in a space suit, and floating around his face an assortment of extraterrestrial creatures and semi-human-looking thugs. The writer was Robert Heinlein; the book’s title was Have Space Suit – Will Travel. It had everything I wanted in a book without ever asking – action, adventure, a somewhat nerdy and misunderstood teenager who saves the Earth. Reading it was like stumbling upon a jewelled city in the jungle.
In due course, I moved on to meatier fare, and there was plenty of it. The ’70s were a golden age for science fiction; in novels and movies (and even, in a few instances, television), science fiction was the arena in which many storytellers explored the most pressing questions of the day. Science fiction writers were not afraid to be allegorical even as they sought to thrill.
My son has grown up in a different sci-fi world. His principal portals to the genre are movies and videogames, each of them a banquet of mind-blowing CGI effects. All well and good, but something feels missing to me. Last autumn, having sat with him through yet one more superhero movie at the multiplex, my middle-aged sensorium thoroughly over-stimulated by sound and spectacle, I made my son an offer: I will go to whatever movies you want, and play Halo till the cows come home, if you let me show you the sci-fi I grew up on.
I began with Bradbury’s The Martian Chronicles; on television, the original Star Trek, one episode each night after dinner; on the big screen, Alien. The Martian Chronicles was a minor flop, but not the other two. My son is a smart cookie who knows a cultural touchstone when he sees one. Cheesy plywood sets and hammy overacting notwithstanding, he was quick to grasp the period charm of Star Trek with its Cold War subtext, and recognised the historical line between Alien and every first-person sci-fi shooter he’s ever played.
Our “Weekend Classic Sci-Fi Film Festival” has become a staple, as has a nightly episode of one series or another. Bradbury bombed, but to my lasting happiness, not Heinlein, whose novels my son devoured like bonbons. He’s read, at last count, 15.
We pass many things onto our children, or at least we try to. As my son and I watch Kirk and Spock trade bromance barbs, or Ripley make one last-ditch effort to save the cat (“Forget the cat!” my son yelled, practically levitating off the couch), I know that what I’m really saying to my boy is this: I was a boy, like you, here is one of the best parts of my boyhood.
Last week my son made a suggestion. On a recent vacation, we had taken a break from the old stuff and ended each day with an episode of Syfy’s new series The Expanse, which both of us loved. I was only vaguely aware of the James SA Corey novels on which the show is based, but not my son: he went straight to Amazon and found them. “Let’s order two copies of the first one and read them together,” he said. “You know, like a dad-son science fiction book club.”
Did I say yes? You bet I did.
“‘forget the cat!’ my son yelled, practically levitating off the couch”
Justin Cronin’s The City Of Mirrors, the third book in his Passage trilogy, is out now.