The reality is that books help us get through pandemics, but the truth is that, in many ways, they simply help make our lives matter. I can’t imagine what life must have been like before the printing press was invented. People presumably could do nothing more than take care of the garden and sit around trying to make conversation. It’s what education is really about. A degree isn’t significant primarily because we can use it to make more money, but because it makes life more interesting and more enjoyable.
SF books had a serious impact on me. They got me interested in science, especially astronomy, and they took me on some serious rides. And they provided an enormous level of good times.
Famous Science Fiction Stories, edited by Raymond Healy and J. Francis McComas, was published in 1946. It features stories by Robert Heinlein, Anthony Boucher, L. Sprague de Camp, A.E. Van Vogt, Isaac Asimov, and other giants. It showed up one year under our Christmas tree. My parents wanted to encourage me to read. And they thought it was a book that would help. They got that right. I loved it. When the Navy sent me off to the Far East, I took it with me. I’ve never really put it down. A half-century later I’m still smiling at Heinlein’s story, “The Roads Must Roll,” about moving highways. Years later I saw John Campbell’s “Who Goes There?” show up in a movie theater as “The Thing from Another World.” And Harry Bates’ “Farewell to the Master” arrive as “The Day the Earth Stood Still.”
There were of course other books that delivered jolts. C. J. Cherryh’s Rimrunners is probably as close as I will ever get to riding a starship. James Patrick Kelly’s Look into the Sun brings to Earth a group of aliens and their god. In Dreams of Earth, Bud Sparhawk visualizes a crewman on an interstellar who loses consciousness and wakes up onboard an alien vehicle, where he has, for unknown reasons, become a center of interest.
Nancy Kress, in An Alien Light, took me along with her characters during a journey during which they are able to see themselves through the eyes of aliens. Rob Sawyer delivers Mindscan, a rousing examination of a future that may be too
much of what we have wished for. Both books seize and will not let go of the reader.
Jane Lindskold has a serious talent for creating books that come completely to life. She also has a passion for intelligent animals, fully on display in Wolf’s Search. And Martin Shoemaker, in I Am Carey, introduces an android who has all the critical inclinations and emotions of a human being.
Finally, I was completely taken over by Michael Bishop’s collection, Close Encounters with the Deity. Mike examines the philosophical connections between man, aliens, and the supernatural.
I had parents who struck gold with the books they provided. Eventually I got serious about collecting them myself.