Older sci-fi/SF fans (or “fen”, to give them their correct title), almost all have an incredibly developed Sense of Wonder, more often referred to in the SF world as “sensawunda”, that wide-eyed innocence and boundless enthusiasm, that willingness to see beyond the mundane world around us and embrace the infinite potential and possibilities of the universe, of all time and space.
It’s almost like a special extra sense, an ability to link to our “inner child”, something that makes us different from the rest of the mainstream “mundane” population, who seem to have lost that link to their childhood once they became adults. Many of those people would look at us and consider us “big kids”, adults who have refused to grow up and drop the obsessions and attitudes of childhood (or even something much less flattering). We, on the other hand, look at them and consider them boring, unimaginative old farts, having lost all the childish aspects that made life fun, and growing old long before their time.
Our sensawunda keeps us forever young. Unfortunately, very few of the younger generation these days seem to have it, at least once they grow out of the wide-eyed innocence of their childhood years. We older fen were instilled with a powerful essence of sensawunda from a time before we could even read or write. The kids these days have seen it all a thousand times, and have had everything handed to them since birth. They lose their sensawunda at a very early age, and today’s teenagers are for the most part very worldly-wise, cynical, and almost impossible to impress.
All of the things we saw on TV and at the cinema, way back when they were new and ground-breaking, are part of background culture for these kids. They don’t see anything remarkable about these great films and TV series, because they’ve “always been there”, as far as the kids are concerned. They miss out totally on one of the greatest aspects of geekhood, and we older geeks are so, so lucky to have lived through it all.
Back “when we were young”, every new sci-fi series, every new sci-fi cinema release, every new book release by Arthur C. Clarke, Isaac Asimov or other top SF writers, every new issue of the Spider-Man Comics Weekly, The Avengers, The Mighty World of Marvel, Countdown and TV Action, Lion and Thunder or any of our favourite comics, any and all of these geek objects were things of wonder, and we all waited on them obsessively, like addicts waiting on their next fix (but in a nice way, of course).
I try to compare cynical modern teens with the wide-eyed innocence and enthusiasm of my teenage self, sitting eagerly in front of the TV every week, waiting for the next episode of Star Trek or Doctor Who. Or sitting in the local cinema, mouth wide open, watching Star Wars for the first time, and listening in awe to the tie fighters roar all around me over the amazing new THX sound system. In the pre-video, pre-internet age, every new sci-fi TV series and sci-fi cinema release was SPECIAL. The newness and uniqueness of it all was overpowering.
In those far-off days, you saw a series episode or film ONCE, and then they were gone, forever. Now, with DVDs, streaming and all the modern recording techniques, you can watch anything, over and over again a hundred times. It may be amazingly convenient, and none of us would be without it, but it has also played a huge part in killing the magic, the sensawunda. It’s all become as common as muck, so easily accessible and available. There’s nothing special about any of it any more.
The current generation of kids, at least here in the West, are spoiled rotten. All of this great technology and sci-fi culture has been around since long before they were born, and they’ve grown up with it as an integral part of their lives. But you know the old saying – “Familiarity Breeds Contempt” – they just don’t appreciate it. It’s no big deal to them. We older fen, on the other hand, we were there when Star Trek first appeared in the 1960’s, when Star Wars ushered in the era of blockbuster sci-fi movies in the late-1970’s. Before that, with only a handful of exceptions, sci-fi movies were cheap B-movies, sneered at by everyone except the hardcore fans.
We were there for the first appearances of Blake’s 7, Battlestar Galactica, Blade Runner, Alien, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. We were there when all of these great television shows and films (which are now familiar cultural icons) were new, fresh, and NOBODY had ever seen anything like them before. Some of us were even there for the first appearance of Doctor Who (although I don’t remember anything about it, as it was two weeks before my third birthday!). And the oldest fans were there for the three original Quatermass TV serials – The Quatermass Experiment (1953), Quatermass II (1955) and Quatermass and the Pit (1958), Captain Video and His Video Rangers, and even the sci-fi “pulps”. Well before my time, and I’m so envious of them.
All of us older fans, we’re starting to get on a bit (I’m 53). But the one great thing about being middle-aged or older is that we lived through the truly great eras of nearly EVERYTHING – sci-fi TV and cinema, the growth and explosion into popular culture of SF literature, the great eras of US and UK comics, and the great popular music eras of the 1950’s, 60’s, 70’s and 80’s. We are SO lucky. We’re the most fortunate of all, because we lived through the one, true geek generation. We’ll never see its like again.
The kids these days missed out on all of that, and will NEVER experience anything like it. There are so many bright, shiny new fads these days, massive marketing machines making sure that they happen seemingly one right after another. And each of them lasts all of five minutes until the next one comes along. Nothing is unique or special any more. They’ve seen it all before.
To be honest, I’m not overly enthusiastic about the rapidly looming advance of my “senior years”. But being a geek is the one area in life where I can honestly say “It’s great to be old”. 🙂