I can’t remember the first science fiction book I read. It could have been Heinlein’s Rocket Ship Galileo. Or Asimov’s I, Robot. Maybe it was Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, or Clarke’s Childhood’s End. I was about eight when I discovered science fiction, and I made no distinction between juvenile and adult SF — I read both voraciously. Rocket ships and aliens, the silence of deep space, voyages into the unknown; the stories caught my imagination and took me way way out there, with them. I was delighted when I found Podkayne of Mars — finally, a girl having adventures! But I was so desperate for these stories that I happily adventured with the boys the rest of the time. The librarians became accustomed to me showing up at the check-out desk every Saturday with a stack of twenty books (the most they would let you check out at once) — all SF.
For a few years, science fiction was all I read. In retrospect, I’m not surprised I liked it so. I was an Asian immigrant child, and you can imagine how alien I felt at my Polish Catholic grammar school. I was one of three brown people in my class, and until my sisters arrived, the only South Asian in the entire school. First contact stories were always my favorites (and still are) — there was such hope in those stories of aliens meeting, and becoming friends. And what about those robots of Asimov’s — if someone could see them as human, then surely they could see me as human too? Science fiction was my refuge, and I spent every recess sitting in a corner of the playground with my nose in a book, ignoring my friends (I did eventually make friends) for the pleasure of wandering the stars with Poddy and the Stone twins.
Then I stumbled onto fantasy. I can name the first fantasy novel I read — Marion Zimmer Bradley’s The Shattered Chain. I was blown away — not just one girl, but a whole society of women! I dived into fantasy, and found tons of female characters; I’m afraid science fiction was rather neglected for a while. (Even in fantasy, though, I often preferred the male characters; in my head, I was always King Arthur, not Guinevere. He had a better story). I found The Hobbit before long, and then The Lord of the Rings, and a horde of fabulous children’s fantasy, such as Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising sequence, and Lloyd Alexander’s Chronicles of Prydain. Kings and castles, magic and dark mystery — the chance to be a hero, battle the forces of darkness, and triumph at the end, along with a host of good fellowship.
I had started high school by then, a different school than the ones my old friends went to — a snooty prep school, full of girls who wouldn’t talk to me. I hid in the library my entire freshman year, reading fantasy and science fiction. Eventually, science fiction saved me — the first friend I made in high school was someone whom I noticed reading a Star Trek novel, The Wounded Sky. I would have never had the nerve to approach her otherwise — she was one of those perfect blondes, extremely popular. But when I shyly mentioned that I loved that book — well, we’ve been best friends now for fifteen years.
What I’m trying to say is that science fiction and fantasy have had a huge influence on my life. The books found me friends. They opened my mind. King Arthur shaped my ideas of honor. Captain Kirk made me want to save the universe. The books of the field have been my consolation and my inspiration. After high school, I went on to be an English major in college, at a school that valued the Great Books — science fiction was not included (though you could make the argument for Shakespeare’s Midsummer Night’s Dream as high fantasy). For a little while, I was busy with Chaucer and Faulkner and Gertrude Stein. But they let me write my thesis on Samuel R. Delany and alternative sexualities in speculative fiction, so I came back to the field again, and I haven’t left it since. I still own more SF/F than mainstream literature, and even though I’m now in grad school, I don’t think that’s likely to change.
Speculative fiction (which for me encompasses everything from hard SF to vampire stories to magical realism) has been important to me. It’s important to the world. These stories make us think. They critique society. They offer alternatives. They give us a vision of the future — and warn us of the potential dangers therein. They help us understand our past. They are full of beauty, and terror, and delight.
Some of my favorite authors have passed on, and others just aren’t writing anymore, which is sad even though inevitable. But the field goes on, and in the last decade, I’ve discovered a whole host of new writers — and they’re good. They’re damn good. Hopkinson and Asaro. Lisa Goldstein and Dan Simmons. Sean Stewart. Pat Murphy. Pamela Dean. Ellen Kushner. Octavia Butler. Connie Willis. The writing just gets better and better — the stories are terrific. And in addition to those female characters who started creeping in a few decades ago and now are everywhere, I’m starting to notice some who are (startlingly) not white. That’s rather nice, I have to say. The genre is starting to actually reflect the world I live in. The field is growing and expanding and shifting and changing, and it’s an exciting time to be part of it.
We started this magazine because we wanted to help with that change. We wanted to create a place to showcase some of those new writers, to bring them to the attention of a new international audience — and also to share with you our deep enjoyment of some wonderful established authors. We’ve recently started learning about SF/F artists, and we’re delighted to bring you some of their work as well. We hope that our reviews help you decide what books to buy in the future, what movies to see and what games to play, and that our wide-ranging articles interest and educate and amuse. And perhaps you will take a moment to consider a poem, and let its words settle into your brain, and heart.
We’ll be publishing weekly, bringing you lots of new material every Monday. After a month on the main site, some pieces will move to the archives (at the authors’ discretion), so that over time, we hope to build a rich repository of stories, poetry, nonfiction and art. You can also purchase books, movies, etc. through our bookstore and by following links within pieces; we get a percentage of the sales, which then goes to purchasing new material and generally supporting the site.
Strange Horizons is a non-profit venture, made possible by the generous donations of readers; our goal is to help support and expand the wonderful, fascinating genre of speculative fiction. So please do write in, to tell us what you think of this material, and let us know what you’d like to see more of in the future. We choose stories and poems and art that we love, to share with you — but we hope that you will let us know what you love too; in the end, this magazine is for you, the reader. Personally, I hope that it brings you a little of the pleasure and promise that science fiction and fantasy have always had for me. If we can manage that, then we will have succeeded.
Welcome to Strange Horizons.
Mary Anne Mohanraj is Editor-in-Chief of Strange Horizons.