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.

About Jamie Todd Rubin

Jamie Todd Rubin writes fiction and nonfiction for a variety of publications including Analog, Clarkesworld, The Daily Beast, 99U, Daily Science Fiction, Lightspeed, InterGalactic Medicine Show, and several anthologies. He was featured in Lifehacker’s How I Work series. He has been blogging since 2005. By day, he manages software projects and occasionally writes code. He lives in Arlington, Virginia with his wife and three children. Find him on Twitter at @jamietr.