My Cambrian Period of Science Fiction

Over much of my youth, I read lots of science fiction in very limited ranges. I discovered Piers Anthony in junior high school and read everything of his I could get my hands on. I did the same with Isaac Asimov. Rarely did I venture beyond. Twenty years ago, however, an event took place that I look back on as the beginning of my Cambrian period of science fiction.

I had just finished reading the first book in the new Foundation trilogy, Foundation’s Fear by Gregory Benford. I’d read the book with some trepidation. I loved the Foundation series and I was worried that I might not like the newly authorized books. I came away from Benford’s book relieved, and it would have been natural for me to find another Asimov book to tackle, but instead I picked something all together different.

I started to read Age of Wonders by the late David G. Hartwell. I’d picked up the book at the Dangerous Visions bookstore in Sherman Oaks, California. I no longer recall why I decided to start reading a nonfiction literary review of science fiction’s literature. But I did. I finished the book in late September 1997, and thereafter, my Cambrian period of science fiction began.

Within the next two months, I broadened my reading in science fiction more than at any other time in my life. I read Bester for the first time, devouring The Stars My Destination and The Demolished Man. I read A.J. Budrys remarkable Rogue Moon and was introduced to a side of “beaming up” that I’d never considered before. I read Robert Silverberg’s Dying Inside, still in my mind one of the greatest novels I’ve ever experienced. I read Phillip K. Dick’s Time Out of Joint and a year later wondered if The Truman Show was an homage. I spent nearly two weeks closely reading Robert Heinlein’s The Past Through Tomorrow. I read Barry Malzberg’s Beyond Apollo and Galaxies. I read Bradbury’s The Illustrated Man. And I read Joe Haldeman’s The Forever War, starting the book as I awaited jury duty at the Hollywood courthouse. By the time it was over, two months had passed.

In the twenty years since, I’ve read a lot of science  fiction. So much that I’ve more or less burned out it–except for rare things. But whenever I scan my reading list, and see that Cambrian period from September through early November of 1997, I feel echoes of the sense of wonder that occurred repeatedly over the course of 8 weeks.