Monday, January 31, 2005


I just sent in my answers to Farah's questionnaire (see the previous blog entry), and thought I'd post them here as well. However, I think I probably didn't provide much help to Farah, since most of my recollected reading of note was either outside of SF or was fantasy. And because I didn't read the instructions well at all! And I also have difficulty dividing out SF from F sometimes...


1. Name

Jeff VanderMeer

2. Current Age

3. Country or Countries in which you spent your first eighteen years. (give breakdown if appropriate)
USA, Fiji, and various short stays around the world

4. Mother tongue.

The following three questions are *not* for statistical purposes. If you wish to answer them, they provide interesting insights for me or they may not. No truenames will be revealed. Elaborate as you see fit.

5. Sex at birth

6. Sex now.

7. Sexuality.


To the books. Comics count. Fantasy does not (if it's borderline, that's up to you).
Fill in as much as you can. Don't worry if the answer is "don't remember".

8. When did you start reading science fiction?
At around age 10.

9. Did you read sf written specifically for children? (ie. age 0-16yrs)
No, except for the Tom Swift series. Unless you count things like the Narnia series and The Hobbit. But most of the children’s books I read were things like the Black Stallion series, not SF or F. And other than that, I was a voracious reader of Asterix, Tintin, and Indian comic books (which were invariably simplifications of the Ramayana and other epics).

10. Name up to five authors of sf for children you liked.
I can’t recall any that were specifically for children—unless as stated in the answer to question 9.

11. Name up to five authors of sf for children you did not like.
I can’t recall any

12. Name up to five authors of sf for children with the same nationality as the country in which you experienced the bulk of your reading childhood.
I can’t recall any. All I recall is reading Fijian myths and folktales and devouring Indian comic books, which were my favorite along with Asterix.

13. If you started reading sf meant for the adult audience before the age of 16, who were your favourite sf writers at that time? (Name up to five).
The answer to this question isn’t a pat one, so forgive the length. I discovered the Galaxy Magazine hardcover book collections in the public library in Gainesville, Florida, around age 11. We went on a field trip there from school and I wandered into the adult section and then the SF section from there. All of the books I checked out were collected SF story anthology series to begin with. I didn’t take any notice of the authors. I know now that the authors I was reading were Robert Heinlein, Merrill, Cordwainer Smith, Jack Vance (I have vivid memories of “Dragon Masters”), Fritz Leiber, etc. I did then seek out Leiber’s Fafhred and the Grey Mouser series, which I adored. And I also remember reading a couple of Moorcock’s Elric novels but being confused by them. I did then seek out Cordwainer Smith’s collected short fiction and loved it. If I had to pick 5 SF/F authors it would be difficult because my reading changed very dramatically from about 13 or 14 on.

Age 11 to 14
Cordwainer Smith
Fritz Leiber
H.P. Lovecraft
J.R.R. Tolkien
Isaac Asimov

Age 14 to 16

Edward Whittemore
Frank Herbert
Glen Cook
Cordwainer Smith
Harlan Ellison

14. List up to five qualities that you think you looked for in science fiction when you read it as a child (under 13).
A—A good imagination
B—A good, compelling story
C—A sense of humor
D—A sense of mystery

15. List up to five qualities that you think you looked for in science fiction when you read it as a teenager (13 and over).
A—A complex imagination
B—Good characters
C—A good prose style
D—A good, compelling story
E—A sense of humor

16. List up to five qualities that you look for in science fiction now.

A—A complex and unique imagination
B—A unique or uniquely told story
C—Depth of characterization
D—A beautiful prose style (“beautiful” as appropriate for the narrative)
E—A sense of experimentation or daring

(NB: these can be negative qualities in the sense of what sf doesn't do, that other forms of fiction do).

17. Do you define yourself as a genre reader?


18. What proportion of your reading as a teenager was outside of the genre?

19. What proportion of your reading as a teenager was non-fiction? (what subjects or genres?)
50%--all kinds of history; psychology; true crime; true mysteries

20. How much of your reading outside of the genre was set by others? (and who were they?).
The only people who set my reading outside of or inside of genre were school teachers. Thus I experienced the pathos of A Tale of Two Cities when I most certainly wouldn’t have tried otherwise, and also John Barth’s The Sotweed Factor, which probably influenced me later in subtle ways. While my parents gave me books, most notably Lord of the Rings at an age when I was too young to understand it all (which fact delighted me greatly for some reason), mostly they let me run rampant in bookstores and libraries.

21. Did science fiction influence your political views? In what ways? What books were most important to you?
No. With the possible exception of Dune, if you consider a Green Party stance toward the environment a political view. Otherwise, my political views were influenced by newspapers, television, and nonfiction books.

22. Did science fiction influence your religious views? In what ways? What books were most important to you?

No. It was more a case of science fiction often not expressing conventional Christian views, at least not overtly, which was fine by me, the little budding agnostic/atheist.

23. Taking no more than 100 words, describe briefly how you chose books between the ages of 13 and 18, and how those books were acquired (ie libraries, friends, second hand books, new books).
Mostly the books I chose were from libraries, and then from second hand bookstores. It wasn’t until I got out in the world and held down a job that I began my nearly 20-year blitzkrieg of acquiring new books. I would choose books based on all kinds of terrible criteria—the cover, the dust jacket or back cover description, etc. As I grew older, I began to be more discerning and began looking for those books that were not obviously traditional SF or F, since those books had begun to bore me. I would do a lot of hunting through second-hand bookstores in the general fiction section, looking for mainstream literary books of interest, but also looking for fantasy “disguised” as literary mainstream. This is how I discovered Edward Whittemore, Italo Calvino, and Borges, among others.


At 1:40 PM, Blogger Rajan said...

I remember seeing Indian comic books like that when I was in India as a kid. I only have vague memories of them, but I remember flying chariots and androgynous gods. I don't think I got much out of them at the time, though.

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