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4th August 2015
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My Science Fiction Life

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What we've learnt about...

The family and science fiction

Thunderbird 1

Going by the hundreds of contributions from My Science Fiction Life's readers, for many fans, a love of science fiction began within the bosom of the family.

Science fiction begins at home

"[My birth] was long and hard, there was a comet in the sky. My father ran outside with me clutched in his arms and showed me to the sky." Paul_CornellThere's something compellingly rich about that mix of mundane ordinary life and the far out expanses of science fiction: banana sandwiches in front of the telly and the Space Family Robinson stifling giggles in the face of a sentient man-sized carrot.

"My parents were huge [Blake's 7] fans. [We were] going to a convention, so I made my mum let me watch all the episodes. I can't have been much older than five. The convention was wonderful. I drew a picture for Paul Darrow because Avon was my favourite character. My mum gave him the picture. It was so embarrassing but he seemed to like it, he even gave me a kiss on the cheek." EmmaLightBut this affection for science fiction, is it nature or nurture? In some cases, it seems mum and dad made the decision prior to conception that junior would be brought up within the faith.

For others, the genre called out to them, cutting across lack of parental interest. In fact, gross generalisation it may be, a significant number of comments revealed that for fledging fans, Mum was the single biggest obstacle in the pursuit of speculative fiction.

Those who battled maternal apathy or active disapproval included "I was in a junk shop and discovered a huge pile of TV Century 21 comics but I only had my very limited pocket money (enough to buy half a dozen from the huge pile). My mother refused (quite unreasonably, I still think) to give me an advance on next week's allowance." third-doctorhagg1s, whose mother demanded to know, "What is that rubbish you are watching?" whenever Blake's 7 came on; Dealergeek, who says, "I always remember my mum would knit during [Battlestar Galactica] as she didn't like it"; and poor old third-doctor, who declares, "Hands up those whose mums forced them to throw out their prized collections of Eagle or 2000 AD".

Ah, it's happened to many of us.

But enough of the mum-bashing, because for everyone who had stories of a tutting parent, there were others, like Dumarest and MuppetTribe, who had mothers sufficiently au fait with their child's interests to tip them off about new series of Space 1999 and Doctor Who.

Growing up with science fiction

As we've seen, science fiction was often the focus for family together-time in many homes, whether it's been the post-bathtime treat, or an excuse for mum to get the knitting out. But for others who left comments, it had a different function. It provided an escape from unhappy lives during developing years, and a much-valued glimpse into a more exciting world, populated by positive role models.

"As a child, I often wanted other people to adopt me, as my own family was pretty unpleasant. Professor Quatermass was my number one potential adopted father. I longed to have this fictional man as a dad, as I knew he would be just great. He never shouted, or got into fights; he just used his brain and his polite manner to solve amazing mysteries." jacquidarkflowerAn exposure to science fiction at an early age can mould a child's worldview. Encountering a work that introduces new ways of thinking, or challenges the normal perception of reality, can be one of the most lucid experiences in childhood. It's an intensely personal moment, with previously dormant cogs and levers suddenly whirring into action inside the brain, and one that refashions the world around you, making it more expansive and exciting. Above all else, it's inspiring.

"I first read [War of the Worlds] when I was about seven or eight ... I got it from John Menzies in Stretford and I still remember reading it in the garden later that afternoon and drawing pictures of the Martians." U6437885Offering up new frames of reference, science fiction equipped many of us to deal with the traumas inherent in growing up. Teenagers knew what puberty meant, thanks to The Tomorrow People's teachings on 'breaking out', while ET the Extra-Terrestrial taught us there's merit in being the outsider, and a certain melancholic sweetness wrapped in loneliness.

Indeed, some of those daily difficult rites of passage even made a little more sense thanks to the genre. andycampbell06 was one of several people who recalled how imagining themselves as a defiant rebel in The Tripods helped them through school.

"The Tripods infiltrated both my school and home life. The series was on during my transition from junior to (a very rough) senior school. I pretended the whole place was a Tripod city and anyone I hated was 'Capped'." andycampbell06And once you've dealt with the traumas of starting a new school, what's next? Well, developing a crush on someone, normally. Although by no means the only forming influence when it comes to taking an interest in sex, it's clear the genre did - for a lot of people - wheedle its way in there.

"[Buck Rogers'] plots were rubbish, they reused the special effects every week and it never was even remotely realistic, but it had the sexiest space pilot ever to put on a helmet." darrenhf For Warrior63, camp sixties science fiction Barbarella clearly stirred more than just the intellect - "Jane Fonda just sizzles on screen. I was 14 when I first so this, so adolescent teenager hormones on overload." Lostinthought's feelings were purer. "My first crush was [UFO's] Gabrielle Drake in her silver costume and purple wig. She simply made me feel weird and I didn't know why. But I liked the feeling. She was so perfect and inhumanly gorgeous."

Perfect and inhuman. A great description of anyone's first fantasy figure, whether they be science fiction, or just that special someone who may also be looking at you on the bus each morning.

Science fiction generations

Science fiction's with us all along the ride, from childhood to adulthood, as we cast off the security of home, to move on, actually act on some of those crushes, and establish a new family around us.

"I promised to see [Return of the Jedi] with an old girlfriend of mine years ago when we'd gone our separate ways to different ends of the country, but we still kept in touch [] It marked a bit of a timeline for me. When Star Wars came I was filled with boyhood dreams and possibilities and now I was a young adult just starting a career with a new mortgage and responsibilities and I knew I would never be as free again [...] Something ended, but I couldn't tell you what." LostinthoughtAs such, in a very literal sense, some science fiction franchises come to mark out that personal odyssey. Important dates are remembered with reference to which Doctor was on TV, whether Luke knew the truth about his father, or which flavour of Trek was current.

And the great thing, of course, is that once we've grown-up into our own Science Fiction Lives, the whole process can begin anew.

We become those mums and dads, resting junior on our knee, and giving him or her their first peak into those strange new worlds. "[My] children have gone on to play Star Wars and Doctor Who with lightsabers and TARDISs," says Blake's 7 fan MsDaisyD, "just as I did 33 years ago. And I hope they make as many good friends as I have through their love of sci fi."

We'll perhaps never be quite as open to the genre's wonder as when we were chomping on banana sandwiches, having just been called in from the back garden for the start of that weird spacey show Dad seems to like so much. But then, watching the next generation take their first steps on that same journey - that's probably even more exciting.

"I first saw it one summer holiday... when you're a speccy geek kid of a certain age then it doesn't hurt to have a great character like Brains in the thick of things. I'm glad my kids like Thunderbirds too. Proper heroism. Saving peoples lives." paulg1974

Highly recommended

We asked some of our top contributors to suggest their favourite tales on the site. Here's a few of the ones they picked:

paulvonscott likes this memory of Day of the Triffids
"It's great to be a thicky!"

Lostinthought recommends this writer on Ringworld
"Excellent piece on the book and author."

Eloise_R likes a contribution about The Chrysalids
"Couldn't have said it better myself, and didn't!"

Paulg1974 likes this wry take on Crime Traveller
"Things like this can only be made due to the unique way the BBC is funded..."

darrenhf liked this personal account of Red Dwarf
"Red Dwarf is part of a marriage now."

Sourdust appreciated an analysis of Invasion of the Body Snatchers
"Exposes the shallowness of the lazy critical orthodoxy."

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