Well, I can’t do the alphabet meme going around the Dublin folks due to not having a bra size. So instead I’ll do Farah Mendlesohn’s survey of what SF I read as a child, following on from
2. Current Age 37
3. Country or Countries in which you spent your first eighteen years. (give breakdown if appropriate) UK, apart from one year in the USA and one year in the Netherlands
4. Mother tongue. English
5. Sex at birth Male
6. Sex now. Male
7. Sexuality. Hetero
8. When did you start reading science fiction? Probably about as soon as I could read. Some things you can fix – for instance, I know I read the Narnia books when we were living in America, and I would have been six. Others, such as Le Guin or Heinlein, I just don’t remember when I started reading them but it was early.
9. Did you read sf written specifically for children? (ie. age 0-16yrs) Yes.
10. Name up to five authors of sf for children you liked. As named above: Lewis, Le Guin, Heinlein; also Nicholas Fisk, John Christopher. Am I allowed a sixth? If so it would be Diana Wynne Jones. If a seventh, it would be TH White – not just the Arthurian books but also The Master.
11. Name up to five authors of sf for children you did not like. Can’t think of any.
12. Name up to five authors of sf for children with the same nationality as the country in which you experienced the bulk of your reading childhood. If we mean UK writ large, then Lewis, Fisk, Christopher, Wynne Jones and White from the list above. If I go the other side of the border, the choices are fewer: Pat O’Shea, James Stephens, Eoin Colfer. Looking at my Irish sf list, I can add Cathal Ó Sándair and Darryl Sloan but that’s stretching Ireland a wee bit as well.
13. If you started reading sf meant for the adult audience before the age of 16, who were your favourite sf writers at that time? (Name up to five). Roger Zelazny; Arthur C Clarke; Isaac Asimov; Douglas Adams.
14. List up to five qualities that you think you looked for in science fiction when you read it as a child (under 13). Sensawunda. Writing that clearly showed a particular character’s viewpoint.
15. List up to five qualities that you think you looked for in science fiction when you read it as a teenager (13 and over). Sensawunda again. Political attitudes that challenged the received wisdom (of my heavily Catholic environment). Beautiful descriptive writing. Plot
16. List up to five qualities that you look for in science fiction now. Plot. Characterisation. Politics. Coherent writing.
17. Do you define yourself as a genre reader? Yes.
18. What proportion of your reading as a teenager was outside of the genre? Of my fiction reading, very little; perhaps 10-15%. I read a lot of non-fiction too though.
19. What proportion of your reading as a teenager was non-fiction? (what subjects or genres?) Aha. Probably about 30% or so. Mostly astronomy but a certain amount of history and politics, and also some light occult (if that is the right term): dowsing, ley lines, astrology.
20. How much of your reading outside of the genre was set by others? (and who were they?). Very little. We had several good local libraries and I was very self-directed.
21. Did science fiction influence your political views? In what ways? What books were most important to you? I think sf encouraged me to question received certainties, and to think that the world needn’t be as it is, that it can be changed. I work in politics and do find my sf readings feed into my thoughts about my day job, and vice versa. As to specifics: I think Robert Silverberg’s and Brian Aldiss’s approach to sexual politics informed my own thoughts most strongly; not that I necessarily agree with them, but my opinions are more firmly rooted as a result of having read them. And I think for someone graowing up in Belfast, there is a certain universalism about the sf view that pointed out how petty our local concerns were. (So, in that case, why did I stand for election in 1996 in the one part of Northern Ireland that suffered more than anywhere else in the Troubles? Good question, but I only got 4.1% of the votes!)
22. Did science fiction influence your religious views? In what ways? What books were most important to you? Apart from approaches to sexuality as noted above, not really (I’d define myself as a liberal Catholic now). I’ve found sf’s approaches to religion on the whole disappointing, with the exception of Philip K Dick, and I think he is really writing about consciousness.
23. Taking no more than 100 words, describe briefly how you chose books between the ages of 13 and 18, and how those books were acquired (ie libraries, friends, second hand books, new books). Mainly from the library, with a certain amount of buying for myself, or reading my brother’s books. Selected mainly on the basis of attractive covers – or else the yellow Gollancz ones!
Hmm, I’ve left out the influence of Doctor Who