Today there was some policy-related manufactured drama around the question of whether reading some sci-fi, at a tender age, can influence a child’s future career.
That question doesn’t even need an answer – of course it can.
It just has to be the right sci fi. And it has to go into the right little brain.
(Yes, it is entirely possible for the right sci-fi to go into the wrong little brain; and today’s policy debate most definitely proved that.)
It’s in that spirit that I share the right sci-fi that went into what I’ve tried to shape into a right little brain, and has never once left me.
It’s a short story written by Ray Bradbury in 1954, which I can vividly remember reading in a school textbook of short stories for tiny minds. How old would I have been? Six, seven, eight at most. Mid to late eighties.
Even then, at that age, this story taught me that it’s possible to create an entire world, one that is not on this world, and to place an entire life in it; and to do so using just four pages, minimal dialogue, and total human compassion.
While the story was pure science fiction, written at a time when no human had yet slipped the surly bonds of earth, reading it seventy years later in the context of climate change proves that good science writing can use other worlds to tell the story of our own.
As you read it, try reading its most descriptive passages out loud. You’ll come to understand why I’ve kept Ray with me since then, in both his sci-fi works and his respect for the craft of writing itself.
(Do find yourself a copy of his Zen in the Art of Writing if you’re going to do something as monumentally stupid as writing a book. He will ease your journey.)
And for what it’s worth, me being the most GenXer that ever lived, Ray also taught me how to take notes in the margins of an instruction manual, draw maps on grid paper, look up baffling literary references at the library (the library: oh how meta he was being!), and above all, to be very, very patient, until I made it through. All of that was a bonus, and it was a pleasure to burn.
So with a nod to Ray Bradbury, and whatever celestial body he is orbiting now, sit quietly, clear your mind, and take in All Summer in a Day.