Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Aliens and Gateway Drugs

By Meghan B

A few weeks ago, I was going through one of the many boxes of books in my basement. I was on the hunt for some books from my childhood and adolescence, stricken with a sudden desire to revisit one of them after reading an article online about the story. After a sweaty and frustrating hour (in which I did find a previously lost volume from the Discworld series), I finally came upon the box I sought.

Nestled inside was what I like to call the "suffering Victorian children and animals" subset of children's literature. I was a massive fan of things like The Secret Garden, Anne of Green Gables and A Little Princess when I was a small child. Black Beauty, Doctor Doolittle and James Herriot novels shortly followed. I read these novels until their bindings fell apart and went through multiple copies. I spent my days outside pretending to discover hidden gardens in my backyard or trying to get sparrows to hold a proper conversation.

Oh, childhood. 

Digging deeper into the box, I came across a few battered and bent copies of what I now consider to be my gateway drug into sci-fi books. Carefully, I dredged up my old copy of The Invasion by K.A. Applegate, the first volume in the Animorphs series of kids books. I felt like I had just unearthed an ancient artifact. I was nothing short of obsessed with these books when they first came out in 1996. They had everything! Bad 90s Photoshop covers that seemed so cutting edge at the time, aliens and time travel and kids just like me who got to turn into animals and fight to save humanity!

Oh my god, nothing so epic had ever been seen by my young eyes. I remember begging my parents to pony up the money (a whole $3.99!) whenever a new volume was released. Gone were the brave Victorian girls in petticoats. Bring on the aliens! I even vaguely remember watching the incredibly terrible Canadian TV version of the books on Nickelodeon, lazing away summer afternoons bitching even then about how the books were way better than the TV incarnation.
Best and worst alien EVER.

I suddenly remembered all the characters (Jake! Tobias! Marco! Cassie! Rachel! Ax!), I remembered the plot twists and the name of the evil slug-like aliens (Yeerks). I realized then, sitting there and holding those old silly books, that they were partly responsible for me turning into a sci-fi fan. While I can blame Tamora Pierce and Patricia C. Wrede for my love of fantasy novels, I give full blame to K.A. Applegate for introducing me to the concept of aliens and the plucky humans who fought them.

I've dusted the books off and put them in a pile under a few dictionaries and text books to flatten them out. Part of me wants to re-read them for old time's sake. Part of me doesn't want to spoil my childhood memories because I know I'll realize they were so bad. I used to think they were the greatest books in the world. I hadn't yet stumbled upon the likes of Neil Gaiman or Terry Pratchett yet, I hadn't yet discovered things like Star Wars or The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Falling into the world of Animorphs helped me continue down the rabbit hole that is science fiction.

So tell me, dear readers, what books acted as your gateway drugs into the world of science fiction? Were your similarly obsessed with Animorphs? What about K.A. Applegate's other equally bizarre sci-fi series, Everworld? What brought you into the sci-fi fold? Please tell me I am not the only one who remembers these books.
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  1. Hardy Boys Casefiles led me to the Tom Swift Ultra/Hardy Boys crossover books which led me to the Tom Swift Jr. (series IV) books. I was probably about 10. By the time I blew through that series I was ready for the hard stuff.

    Whoah! Nostalgia bomb. I should see if those are in E-Book.


  2. Amen. Animorphs were definitely one of my early steps to sci-fi-fandom. And pre-Potter they were the books that lured me to the bookstore regularly to snatch the newest as soon as they hit the shelf. My mom & brother read them also, so to this day, we have little inside jokes and quotes that come up in conversation from time to time. Animorphs was also the first fanfiction community I got involved in. I had no idea what kind of rabbit hole I was diving into back then!