Book written by Clifford Simak
Like so many before me, I periodically had enough of school and wanted to take a break. Coinciding with one of those times, I came down with chicken pox. Being right at the start of adolescence, I paid close attention when the doctor said that the illness tended to create fewer lesions, but lead to worse fever and other complications for patients that had reached my advanced years. He did not kid and I spent a couple weeks laying around the house.
I’m pretty sure this pre-dated cable television, just as I remember being bored, bored, bored. I had read everything in the communal bookshelves that held the slightest interest. Being under the weather, I was inclined toward light reading. I’m talking actual weight because I did not want to hold up anything too heavy. So, I went in search of paperbacks. When no one stopped me, I raided my brothers’ bookshelves.
Previously, I had eyed those tomes with curiosity, but I grabbed everything this time: Woody Allen to Donald Westlake. Between the humor and the heist novel, I found some science fiction. Don’t tell my brothers, but they must have had pretty good taste. I remember every one of those books in detail with proprietary fondness. Or maybe it was the fever.
I read the first storyin The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury and had to stop there. That proved a bad choice with a fever as it gave me nightmares. A year later, I read it all the way through and revisited my younger thoughts of becoming an astronaut. Unfortunately, NASA seemed unlikely to get to Mars in my lifetime. Also, actual Martians seemed even more unlikely.
Starship Troopers by Robert Heinlein proved totally enjoyable. I took it as a great adventure and read nothing more into it at the time. I thought it might be cool and awful to join the fight. Remember, I was feverish. This reading also made it difficult for me to accept political readings of popular fiction. It shouldn’t have, but that means I was the skeptic in the back row making rude noises at high school teachers. Realistically, that would have happened anyway. I’m sure I was a real joy to try to teach.
Then came the book that changed everything. Out of Their Minds is the journey of a writer from our reality into one populated by pop culture characters. I vaguely remember a conversation with my brother where he had to explain to me who Snuffy Smith was. But something about the mix of humor and heroic journey, as well as fantasy grounded in our world, made me feel like I had found my kindred. This was entertainment of a high order that gave glimpses of wisdom that I wanted to understand better.
Simak wrote a lot at a very high level. City is generally considered his best and Way Station is a marvel. To this day, I break out one of his books every couple years. Much to my amazement, something marvelous lurks there- something that keeps drawing me forward.
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