The Pas­sage au­thor Justin Cronin on hand­ing his sci-fi loves to the next gen­er­a­tion

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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.

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