I’ve had a love affair with science fiction and fantasy since grade school. I will never forget the time my cousins dragged us to this film with the weird name “Star Wars.” Even at age 8, I was sure the title sounded dumb, but my cousin and best buddy, David, had seen the film several times already, and “you just have to see it,” he said.
The film did not disappoint. From its opening minutes aboard the Rebel Ship, I was on the edge of my seat. That opening scene remains one of my favorites of all time for any speculative fiction film. There’s nothing quite like the intensity of the battle between Rebel troops in blue shirts and leather vests against heavily armored storm troopers in the tight quarters of their ship. The intensity only increased when the heavy breathing dark menace, Vader, enters through the hole in the hull.
“Star Wars” blew me a way and opened my mind to possibilities I had never considered before. Always creative, always a dreamer, suddenly my wildest fantasies, fueled by my fascination with NASA’s space program, became real possibilities for me – maybe not for today, maybe not for tomorrow, but some day. I wanted to walk on the moon, launch in a space ship, float among the stars, visit alien planets. Even in other activities, my dreams filled my mind. When I went gliding in the alps on the engine-less glider plane, floating silently on air as we descended back down to the pad where we’d launched into the air on a giant bungee, my thoughts were of space. Was that what it would feel like on a space ship with silence all around? Was the abruptness of the launch similar to what it would be like to ride a rocket?
In high school, I had the opportunity to visit the Kansas Cosmosphere in Hutchinson and see actual NASA craft, experience astronaut training simulations, touch moon rocks and buy NASA souvenirs. The brief NASA Adopt-An-Astronaut Program allowed me to communicate with the first shuttle pilot, read about their mission, and feel personally involved. When astronaut Steve Hawley, formerly married to Sally Ride, visited my high school, his family ties to my church youth pastor allowed me closer contact and the thrill of shaking an astronaut’s hand and asking the silly questions he’d heard dozens of times that I wanted to hear answers for with my own ears.
So the first of my five reasons why science fiction and fantasy are important to me is that they opened my life to possibilities which had only seemed far fetched before I discovered them. They made me believe the hope of possibilities was a viable thing to dream about and affirmed my sense of wonder.
One of the few movies and televisions shows my father and I could enjoy together was the 1978 animated “The Hobbit,” based on J.R.R. Tolkien’s novel which had exploded in the 1970’s with its release to mass market paperback. Where as the “Star Wars” books were my first science fiction reads, “The Hobbit” became my first fantasy read. I devoured the book, even though I was so young I couldn’t grasp a lot of it. Soon I was reading fan magazines, checking out other books, and making up my own stories.
I became a fan of Alan Dean Foster because his “Splinter Of The Mind’s Eye” allowed me to revisit the Star Wars universe between films in a book almost like the movies. Since then I have read many more of his movie adaptations and original books, and he continues to be one of my favorite writers.
I discovered Robert Silverberg and Orson Scott Card, my two top favorites, when family members gifted me “Lord Valentine’s Castle” and “Ender’s Game” and insisted I read them. Having never heard of them, I was reluctant at first. I’d always been a picky consumer, wanting to feel confident of the likelihood I would enjoy a book or movie before investing time in it. Both books blew my mind, and since I’ve bought almost everything I can get a hold of from both authors and devoured each the same. I’ve reread both those books and experienced that thrill of first discovery all over again, then shared them with friends so they could experience it, too.
The second reason why science fiction and fantasy are important to me then is the bonds they’ve allowed me to create with friends and family. They’ve helped bring our dreams and lives together in exciting, unexpected and enriching ways, allowing us to share our wildest dreams and celebrate our future hopes.
In working in television and film and as a writer in my adulthood, I’ve heard many stories about how science fiction and fantasy have influenced not only writers of other genres, but even the development of technology. NASA once sent experts to the set of the original “Star Trek” series to discover how the producers made the doors slide open and shut when actors entered and departed rooms. The producers actually had a crewman behind the doors manually sliding them over, but today there are many doors designed to do just that in everything from office buildings to vessels. Are they exactly like the “Star Trek” doors, no, but they are modeled after the possibility. Seeing the “Star Trek” creator’s view of future possibilities inspired others to dream of how they could bring those possibilities to life and changed our world, the third reason why science fiction and fantasy are important to me.
I will always remember the first time I turned to the Sci-Fi Channel and discovered the new “Battlestar Galactic.” I had certainly heard of it, but like many fans of the original, had not liked what I’d heard about the “reinvention” and changes made by the new writers. To my great dismay, I loved it. It was darker and more serious than the original had ever strived to be, but it also provided an amazing commentary on our times, examining political and moral issues being faced at this moment in countries around the world. Like the original “Star Trek,” under the guise of “science fiction,” the new “Battlestar” was able to confront issues head on which most writers would never dare to.
The result was a compelling and inspiring television series, and one of the most respected and admired speculative fiction series ever created. So my fourth reason why science fiction and fantasy are important to me is that they can speak to issues in our own world and cultures in ways that contemporary works cannot, forcing us to think about things in a new light and consider possibilities we would never accept if they weren’t presented as “other world” instead of our own.
The final reason why science fiction and fantasy are important to me is that without the possibility of dreams and imagination, my life would have been unhappy and incomplete.
My dreams and imagination have taken me from a small Kansas town to the tribal villages of Africa, from the slums of Rio De Janeiro to the cobblestone streets of Europe and everywhere in between. Without being a dreamer, I would have never lived the life of risks I have lived in the thirty-two years since I discovered “Star Wars.” I would never have worked in film and television, written stories and scripts, released three CDs and a national single, or toured the world to speak, teach and sing. Some of those dreams had never occurred to me in Kansas, while others were the same ones my colleagues and classmates laughed at and mocked when I first mentioned them.
Ironically, at our 10th High School reunion, they all seemed to know where I’d been and what I’d been doing and instead of laughter, offered their admiration. I’d lived the life I said I’d wanted to. I chased my dreams and even caught some of them. None of that would have happened, if science fiction and fantasy hadn’t taught me to dream. And there are many others just like me.