Escapism Is Not A Bad Word

As someone who suffers from bouts of deep depression and spent years on anti-depressants, I can testify to the healing power of distraction. I remember being in high school, suffering from the usual teen insecurity with a dark layer of depression on top and some ADHD and Dyslexia thrown in for a sweet topping and some teacher, wanting to elevate my tastes, would drop something dreadful into my lap and tell me to read it.

I don’t know what it is about Melville’s dense, forbidding prose that English teachers think is going to inspire comic book fans, but it doesn’t. In fact, if you really want to enjoy Moby Dick’s fascinating story, read the Cliff’s notes.

I also remember checking out hardcover SFF novels from the school library and covering them like my school texts so I could read them in class without getting caught. Well, except when I was called on and had no idea what was the teacher was even talking about.

So today, when my news feeds are just so, so awful I can’t stand them anymore, I choose to look away, to focus on the things I love. As a Genrist, those things will rightfully involve SFF, Horror, & Crime Fiction. Cash me below the jump.

As I’ve probably mentioned on here before, my mother always wanted more for me than to waste my brain on pop culture (I had more than one Mad Magazine confiscated in my childhood) but my father was a big SFF fan. He maintained an entire bookshelf in our basement to house all the books he’d ever read. It was quite a collection and I was allowed to read anything on those shelves because I never asked.

The thing about reading science fiction when you’re very young is that your concept of reality hasn’t quite solidified yet so everything in those books seems likely to happen in your near future. I was especially taken by the Heinlein juveniles (what we now call Young Adult and New Adult) because they were about boys just a little bit older than me going on wild adventures where their true mettle would shine through.

That’s magic for a boy who’s not fitting in well with the established world around him. Join the starship troopers and become an interplanetary ass kicker! Become a starman and help navigate interstellar space travel. PodKayne of Mars was even about a girl (imagine that) which I found so beguiling I read the book a second time immediately after finishing. There were flat cats and, when I got older, sentient sensual robots.

And then there was Stranger in a Strange Land. I read this for the first time when I was in sixth grade and though it blew my mind totally (and inserted the verb To Grok into my vocabulary) I only got about half of it on the first pass. After reading Dune in 8th grade, I returned to Stranger for a second read and let it blow my mind in a whole new way.

Dragon in the Sea had psychic submariners. Alas Babylon had the first semi-realistic depiction of a post-nuclear holocaust America. A Canticle For Leibowitz drove the point home even further. Asimov’s Foundation series stood in stark contrast to Heinlein’s adventurism with its stentorian tone and absolute faith that science would overcome all.

And The Man in the High Castle posited a world where the Axis powers triumphed in WWII. Shudder. Imagine Nazis walking the streets of Charlottesville with impunity.

When I could get my hands on them (and it wasn’t easy) I used to consume Warren comics as if inhaling them. Eerie, Creepy, Vault of Horror, and my first fictional crush, Vampirella. Parents were wrong to disapprove of those comics. Yes, they brimmed with horrible deaths and unimaginable tortures, but there was an unshakable morality to every story. The guy who got it in the end was a guy who really deserved it.

If anything, those horror comics didn’t prepare me for the wildly unjust future I’m living in now. If things were as Creepy said they should be, hordes of ghouls would be descending on Congress tonight.

Science fiction movies didn’t really play well in the pre-Star Wars era and it was hard for me to get to the movies due to cost and travel requirements, but we could always count on Hammer Films to bring out another crimson gore soaked monstrosity every six months. So what if the other kids made fun of your pre-braces buck teeth, you could lose yourself in a Dracula movie with some Reese’s cups and a large coke.

So my entertainment world was divided into science fiction in books and horror on screens and in comics. Every now and then a movie would come out that would have broken that rule, but I was too young to see 2001: A Space Odyssey. It took oodles of money to make a science fiction film when I was a kid in the pre-CG world, but any idiot with a camera and some hippy friends could make a movie like Last House On The Left or The Hills Have Eyes.

Even in adulthood when the pressures of supporting a family, raising children, starting a business started to pile up, I could always disappear into a Stephen King novel. My eyesight is so messed up it takes me days to read a novel, but that turned out to be a good thing. I got to spend more time in that world and less in mine.

The attacks on pop culture are long past as nerds have taken over the world and, while that’s a good thing in general, I miss the feeling of being in on a secret when so few people would even admit to reading the books I read. If you met someone who was also into Warren comics you got this frisson of acknowledgement like two members of a secret society after realizing each knew the complicated handshake.

 

 

 

 

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