I was just visiting Joachim Boaz‘s blog, reading up on one of his classic sf book reviews, when it occurred to me that I’ve lost my sense of wonder over the years. I was making a comment about the covers of those old books and how they evoked that sense of wonder in me and made me want to hop a spaceship and go see these places. They also made me look forward with eagerness to these books.
That doesn’t happen anymore, and I’m not sure why. I have my suspicions, though.
Back when I was a teen and still discovering these worlds of science fiction and fantasy, there was this sense of newness about it all for me. I was reading the masters: Asimov, Heinlein, Brunner, Williamson, Tolkein, and so many more. They took me out of this world and to foreign places—either fantastical or literally to other planets (and the space in between, as well). It’s hard to put into words how that made me feel, which is a much more common occurrence with writers than many people realize, I think.
(I love the story Stephen King relates about James Joyce, who was famous for his low daily output, wherein a friend was visiting Joyce and asked him how well he did.
“I wrote seven words today,” Joyce said.
“Why, James, that’s wonderful!”
“But I don’t know what order they go in!”)
I can remember looking forward to the monthly mailing from the Science Fiction Book Club (SFBC), eager to see what new worlds of wonder they would offer. Getting omnibus editions like A Heinlein Trio or the volumes of the Camber series by Kathryn Kurtz was exciting. Thumbing through the booklet, looking at the covers and reading the single-sentence synopses (longer with the Selections of the Month and a few features books), trying to decide which one I could afford for that month, was an exercise I looked forward to. And when I got old enough to start making my own money, going to a bookstore took the place of perusing the SFBC flyer.
I still like going to a bookstore (though, with the way things are going, that may be replaced with going to Amazon and shopping for my Kindle, an exercise I couldn’t even imagine during those long ago teen years), but the sense of wonder isn’t there, and I think part of it, for better or worse, is because I’m a writer: I’ve seen behind the curtain. When I read a book now, I not only read the story, I also look for the nuts and bolts. That’s both good and bad, because I do enjoy getting to learn a new technique. On the other hand, seeing the ropes and pulleys that make the characters fly, well, it’s like learning how the magician saws the woman in half—it’s interesting but it definitely takes the magic out of it and turns it into an exercise in mechanics.
The upside? Hopefully I learn to be a much better author, which will translate into that Holy Grail of writers: publication. At least I hope so. I’d hate to think I’ve lost my original sense of wonder for nothing.