It happened again a few days ago. I was in the bookstore perusing the sci-fi section and a young man (about 30 years old) wearing hip young-man clothes and a fashionable super-cool young-man hairdo (long down the back and almost shaved off on the sides) with a tattoo sleeve up one arm initiated a conversation with me. Why is it that young men who read sci-fi can’t resist the urge to “school” an old lady who is into this stuff? Can they see my bionic gamma-gooble forcefield aura of sapphire? I thought that was invisible. According to Tor it is, but maybe Tor is wrong.
The hip young man asked me what I was looking for and I told him The Fifth Season (first book in N.K. Jemisin’s Hugo-award-winning Broken Earth Trilogy). The store was out of it. The man went into raptures about how great that series is. We speculated about whether or not Ursum from Planet Bigarthia had bought up all the copies to prevent me from reading it. (He has been known to engage in malicious activity like that.) Then he said he was thinking of reading Le Guin’s The Left Hand of Darkness, and asked me if I had read it. I told him I read that book probably about fifteen years before he was born and that I don’t remember it but I remember loving it. I guess I should read it again. But the thought of rereading all the books I have read, enjoyed, and forgotten gets a bit overwhelming. At some point one has to move on. Now I am considering talking to Professor Semi-quark about inventing a memory quasar ray that can blast a reread into consciousness in under fifteen seconds. How cool would that be?
Not long ago I was at the library picking up a sci-fi novel and a young man saw the book I was holding and approached me to ask if I had read anything else by that author. Before I knew it he was writing down titles for me. He asked if I had read Neuromancer by William Gibson. I gave him the look. “That’s a classic, of course I have read it,” I said. He apologized for assuming I am a neophyte. I almost called him “sonny” but caught myself in time. He showed me his transmogrificator ring and whispered that he has a friend who is secretly an animorph.
In a conversation with another kindred spirit (young man) recently I mentioned that I read Ready Player One a few weeks ago and had a blast. That book is written to make the reader feel as though inside a video game called the OASIS (no camels involved). It’s a read you can’t put down if you are a young geeky gamer or an old lady into sci-fi. So anyway this guy told me that Spielberg just made the book into a movie that’s coming out next year. I got so excited I nearly grabbed the guy in a grandma-hug and danced around with him. My kinetic intraverse wristband started glowing purple and I tried to cover it up with my sleeve, but he saw it and gave me a knowing smile. I confessed that I have never actually been abducted by aliens, but it’s not for lack of trying.
Totally the best sci-fi I have read this year so far was Cory Doctorow’s Walkaway, and that was recommended to me by a young guy at the library who saw me returning Ready Player One. I find it endearing that these young guys want to guide my sci-fi education. They seem thrilled to find an old lady who gets into even the most techno-geeky kinds of sci-fi, like Red Mars (about terraforming). Once upon a time I was not an old lady reading this stuff but a bookworm child and then teenager, trying to make sense of the world through the lens of extreme imagination. Young sci-fi enthusiasts don’t reform, they just turn into old sci-fi enthusiasts. (Hi, my name is Amy, and I read sci-fi.) It all started with Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time (which has also been made into a move to be released in a few months) when I was a little girl. That one was truly special because it was the first time really that a girl was a heroine in a sci-fi fantasy adventure of this sort. It broke the mold. Meg Murry O’Keefe was me.
I do read other kinds of books. I read nonfiction, memoir, serious novels by winners of the Man Booker and National Book Award. I learn a lot from them. They help me make sense of things. They are often beautiful and moving. But nothing compares to leaving the planet and stepping into an alternative universe that informs the one where we live. So open the pod hatch doors, Hal, I’m always ready to leap.