It’s a Geek’s Life… (Part Three)

The Barren Years – The Near-Death of Geekery During the Eighties

All throughout the first half of the 1970’s, I was in geek heaven, having seemingly unlimited time to spend on my obsessions with comics, sf literature, telefantasy and sci-fi films. But by 1977-78, things began to change considerably.

I began my A-Levels at college in September 1977, two years of brutal, non-stop studying, followed immediately by another four years of more of the same as I pursued an Honours Degree at university. This intensive studying at college and university during the 1977-83 timeframe drastically curtailed my free time. Except for a few short weeks over the summer breaks, I had no free time at all.

Added to this, there was the rapidly declining health of my father and the ever-growing responsibilities that I had looking after both him and my disabled brother. My father was being increasingly crippled by severe rheumatoid arthritis and other debilitating health problems, and within a few short years, by the time I was in my first year at university, he was a wheelchair-bound invalid. I was now responsible not only for looking after two disabled adults, but for also somehow trying to miraculously find the time to study for an Honours Degree as well.

The result of all this was that my geek hobbies pretty much died in the early Eighties, or were put on life support for quite a few years, at the very least. This prolonged period of sheer, relentless drudgery totally broke two out of three of my longest-standing geek hobbies – reading comics and SF literature. Only the sci-fi television and film obsession escaped relatively unscathed, and my sci-fi TV and film watching habit has remained relatively constant over the years.

It took me a long time to recover from those years, particularly when it came to reading SF. Sure, I still read a fair bit of SF today, but, even now, my SF reading habit hasn’t quite recovered to its former frequency, and is certainly nowhere near the obsessive marathon levels it had been at during my teens. Unlike back then, I rarely read novels at all these days, although I still read short fiction regularly. I used to be an obsessive reader of novels back in my teens, but that all ended back in the early-1980’s, and I no longer have the time, the patience, focus or powers of concentration to devote to reading novels on a regular basis. I guess I just fell out of the habit. Maybe I can get back into it again.

These days, when I do occasionally read a novel, I focus only on a very narrow range of sub-genres, usually Classic Space Opera, Hard SF, and their mutant offspring, New Space Opera. Even back when I was an avid SF novel reader, I was never as fond of softer, more sociological, political or anthropological SF as I was of Hard SF and Space Opera. With the exception of a few Alternate Histories and anything to do with Time Travel or Temporal Paradoxes, I rarely read any Soft SF at all these days. My novel reading consists mainly of the latest novels by the likes of Alastair Reynolds, Stephen Baxter, Peter F. Hamilton, Charles Stross, Greg Egan, Peter Watts, Linda Nagata and a few other similar authors.

For the past two decades or more, at least ninety-five percent of my SF reading has been short fiction, usually multi-author anthologies, although I do read the occasional single-author short fiction collection. I did read the SF magazines circa 1997-2003, Analog, Asimov’s Science Fiction Magazine, Fantasy & Science Fiction, Interzone and SF Age, but SF Age folded, and Interzone changed hands and I didn’t like the new direction it took after David Pringle gave it up. And even worse, the US magazines Analog, Asimov’s and F&SF were all dropped by my local newsagents, which meant that I no longer collected ANY science fiction magazines. These days, I collect the various “Year’s Best” SF anthologies edited by Gardner Dozois, David G. Hartwell, Rich Horton and a few others. These, plus a few interesting “theme” anthologies, allow me to keep up to date with the cream of modern short SF. However, by far the vast majority of the SF anthologies that I read are collections of classic and vintage SF, pre-New Wave (I did NOT like most of the fiction from the New Wave era), and mainly material from the Golden Age and pre-Golden Age of Science Fiction.

As for comics, I actually gave up reading them altogether for a full decade, from 1982-1991. I’d been reading comics continuously since I was about three or four years old (1964-65), starting off with the British weekly comics such as Lion, Valiant and Eagle. Then, in late-1972, I discovered the Mighty World of Marvel, followed soon after by Spider-Man Comics Weekly and the Avengers, and became a fanatical reader of the black and white Marvel UK reprints throughout the rest of the 70’s. I also started reading the colour Marvel US comics (which I bought via mail order) about a year or two afterwards, and all through the 1970’s I read both US and UK Marvel comics side-by-side. But by the end of the 1970’s, in my opinion, both Marvel UK and Marvel US had gone into decline (or maybe I was just getting fed up with or “growing out of” them), and once I began my A-Levels (1977-79), followed by university (1979-83), the immense pressures of study meant that I had to give up on reading all but a handful of my favourite comics.

I had given up on the Marvel UK titles altogether by about 1979, and stopped reading all but three or four of the US Marvel titles, dropping them altogether by about 1980-81. My final comic of that era was the classic UK comic Warrior, and when it folded in 1982, and with 1982-83 being the year of my “finals” at university, I stopped reading comics altogether for a long, long time, the first period in my life that I hadn’t read comics since I was a very young child. I came back to them sporadically during 1991-1992 and 1994-1995, but I only really became a serious comics collector again from about late-1997 onwards. However, the good news is that my comics reading habit has actually grown again in recent years to a level that greatly surpasses what it was even back in my teens.

I’m still a hardcore geek, and always will be. But those dark years back at the end of the 1970’s and during most of the 1980’s almost totally ruined it for me on a permanent basis. Luckily I’ve now pretty much fully recovered most of my geek cred and activities. Mostly.

But as much fun as being a geek still is today, the one thing that I can regretfully never rediscover is that wide-eyed innocence, enthusiasm and sense of sheer joy that I experienced way back in my early teens, when I first became a serious geek. It’s like being a virgin. Once it’s gone, it’s gone for good. 🙂

It’s all just not quite as wondrous and pure any more when you’re a middle-aged cynic. 🙂

It’s a Geek’s Life… (Part Two)

The Golden Years – Geek Nirvana During the Seventies

The start of our teenage years is the sweet spot for the vast majority of us, particularly geeks, the beginning of what is probably the most fondly remembered period of our lives.

It’s long enough ago that most of our memories are fond, rosy ones, but it’s also the first time in our lives from which we retain reasonably accurate and continuous recollections of events (unlike our earlier childhood – most memories from our first decade are pretty vague and fragmented). And it is also during these years that many of us have the most fun and freedom to do what we want (after we finish our homework, of course), before adulthood arrives and the bland banalities, responsibilities and worries of “grown-up” life start to descend upon us.

I mentioned in my previous posting that my childhood was a far from happy one. Things got even worse when I was eleven years old, when my parents separated, leaving my father to raise five kids on his own. He was forced to leave his job, and our descent into poverty became even more severe. To top it all off, my father’s health began to decline sharply after my mother left, and, as the “oldest”, I was shoehorned into the role of “surrogate mother” from this very tender age, taking over the extremely heavy responsibilities of not only looking after my father, but also the other four kids, one of whom was also very severely disabled.

To be blunt, I was a very unhappy young boy as a teenager, one who sought refuge in a world of make-believe. Any kind of an escape from this dreary and depressing reality was a welcome one, and I immersed myself in an alternate world of comics, sci-fi worlds on television, in films, and in great SF literature. I also became very preoccupied with drawing and writing.

To refer to these interests as mere “hobbies” would be a complete understatement. They were obsessions, a vital lifeline for me, and I depended on them utterly to keep me sane, when everything around me was so gloomy and depressing. Since childhood, and throughout my entire life, these “obsessions” have been entrenched as fundamental pillars of my personality and way of thinking, and I simply cannot imagine my life without them.

I may already have been a proto-geek from a much earlier period in my life, but the beginning of my teens marks the time from which I can seriously start referring to myself as a true, hardcore geek. Things may not have been rosy on the domestic and personal front, but my hobbies and obsessions certainly first started to kick into overdrive in a very big way at this age, almost certainly to compensate for my miserable “Real Life”. I was also now growing old enough to be much more sophisticated, systematic and discerning when it came to what I was “into”. And what I was into, and I mean REALLY into, was the Holy Trinity of SF literature, Sci-Fi on television and in films, and Comics.

All through the 1970’s, up until around 1977-78, was a “Golden Age” for me, from a geek perspective anyway, the completely opposing mirror image of my crappy “real life”. All during my teens there was a steady procession of classic sci-fi TV shows and films on local television, and although I had my favourites – Doctor Who, Star Trek, UFO, The Time Tunnel – I loved them all to a lesser or greater extent.

By this stage of my life I was also a totally obsessive reader of both comics (particularly the Marvel UK reprint comics) and SF literature. I’d started off initially in my pre-teens with Wells and Verne, then moving onto Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein, and anything else that I could read. By my early teens, the whole world of SF literature was my oyster. I was discovering great new (to me, anyway) authors like H. Beam Piper, Cordwainer Smith, Cyril M. Kornbluth, Frederik Pohl, John W. Campbell, Alfred Bester, Henry Kuttner, C. L. Moore, Leigh Brackett, Edmond Hamilton, Jack Williamson, Stanley G. Weinbaum, Robert E. Howard, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Clark Ashton Smith and many, many others.

By my mid-teens, I was neck-deep in my alternate geek world, spending every available second on my hobbies. I just couldn’t get enough of the whole Sci-Fi/Comics/SF Literature thing, and it seemed like the good days would never end.

But I was wrong.

To Be Continued…