Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Gateway Drugs

My favorites
A few days ago, a good friend of mine asked me why I read sci-fi and fantasy novels. I had just suggested a book for her to read, the beautiful Shades of Milk and Honey, since she is a Jane Austen fan. She couldn't understand why I wasted my time with spaceships and unicorns.

A million answers fought their way up through my throat. What made her choice of literature more valid than mine? Why does sci-fi have such a stigma? Was it because I was a girl?

It also got me thinking. Why do I read genre novels? What got me into them? What was the book that started it all?

Without a doubt, Tamora Pierce's exceptional Song of the Lioness Quartet is one of the first fantasy novels I can remember reading. They were ten times more exciting than Nancy Drew books and featured a woman so kickass that I still strive to grow up to be like her. I have no idea where they came from (possibly an elementary school Scholastic booksale. Weren't those the BEST days in elementary school?), but I still have them and I read them once every year or so. Almost everything Tamora Pierce wrote is exceptional and I still have all my old, original copies of all her series. They moved me and I still find myself remembering things I learned in them to this day. The impact they made on my life is unmistakable. I probably wouldn't be the girl I am today without them.

After Tamora Pierce came every single Star Wars book published up until 1998 or so. I read everything, especially if it featured bounty hunters or Han Solo. There were Animorph books by KA Applegate, as well as her mindbending mythology-heavy urban fantasy series, Everworld. Middle school brought Anne Rice to my attention and high school gave me Neil Gaiman; authors I obsess over even now as an adult.

Today, my walls, floors and every nook and cranny in my house is full of books. They tower around me like haphazard skyscrapers. Most of them are sci-fi and fantasy novels, full of daring and dashing thieves, steampunk airship pilots, girls with magical powers and boys trying to save kingdoms. And I couldn't be happier.

I blame it all on Tamora Pierce. I can never thank her enough.

So, dearest readers, can you remember the book that got you started on the sci-fi and fantasy path? Share your stories and memories in the comments.
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  1. Ray Bradbury's The Halloween Tree. I <3 that book so much and is a big part of my initial love of fantasy.

    Alanna was my gateway to the awesome female lead, though. That was something new for me and probably did more to shape my current favorite reads.

  2. "Song of the Lioness" also holds a special place in my heart. I originally read them through the library, but over the years have collected the series as I've found them in used book stores so I have a well loved set, though the covers don't all match (yeah, I'm a little anal that way, I like matching sets...). Mercedes Lackey's "Arrows of the Queen" trilogy is another early favorite. I have the full Velgarth collection and many of her other series and re-read them often. Her latest "Valdemar Chronicles" has been a bit disappointing but I'm hoping for a turnaround with "Redoubt" in October. Mercedes Lackey also introduced me to Urban Fantasy before it had earned that label with her Diana Tregarde novels.
    The Easter Bunny brought me Anne McCaffrey's "Dragonriders of Pern" trilogy when I was 11. It's the perfect sci-fi intro to someone who already loves fantasy. From there to "The Rowan" and her collaboration with Mercedes Lackey on "The Ship Who" series (then the rest of that series) opened my eyes to sci-fi.
    These were the first, though obviously not the last, nor even the most recent. One series I really want to mention though, not because it's either an early OR a recent favorite, but because it's another wonderful intro to the fantasy genre, is Patricia C. Wrede's "Enchanted Forest Chronicles". I pick those up when I need a chuckle and Cimorene never fails bring a smile to my face. Hmmm, the strong female lead is a consistent theme in my favorite books.

  3. I definitely read Tamora Pierce's "Circle of Magic" series when I was younger and loved it, but I started out with R.L.Stein and Goosebumps. One of the first fantasy books I remember reading, though, was "The Secret of Dragonhome" by John Peel. I still think about it 15 years later and tried to find it a few years ago, but it's out of print. I managed to find it from some online thrift store and bought it for $0.75 earlier this year. -laurasmash

  4. Crewel Lye, Piers Anthony. I still have the tattered copy :)

  5. Count me amongst those who cut their teeth on the Song of the Lioness books. I had read another book, and at the end it had one of the further reading recommendations and the description got me interested. I loved them and really should re-read them.

  6. Narnia. Definitely Narnia. Then Madeleine L'Engle (also from the Scholastic order forms, natch).

  7. Cimorene and the "Talking/Dealing/Etc...with Dragons" books were some of my early loves, but frankly I don't remember ever *not* reading fantasy and sci-fi, though I also went through a *huge* mystery obsession as a kid. Robin McKinley's Beauty was an important one, and The Hobbit, the Pern books, and Wrinkle in Time. And absolutely, without doubt, Susan Cooper's everything, particularly the Dark is Rising series, and Lloyd Alexander's Prydain books. We did the first couple of books of each of those series as family read alouds and I was *hooked.* (I went on to love Alexander's Vesper Holly, too, though she's more of a teen Indiana Jones).