Wednesday, March 19, 2008

A Door in the Mind

I have two seminal reading experiences in my lifetime. The first was sitting on my father's lap at age 5 and reading a book aloud. He asked me to read the same sentence without moving my lips... and I did. I knew I was doing something different but might not have sensed its true import had my father not shouted out with glee.

The other experence came about a decade later. I was an awkward teenager and hadn't yet found a rudder to steer toward my interests. My school had given me a long list of books to read over the summer, but those book lists were always a chore to be done. I simply didn't get reading. It wasn't fun.

And then my older cousin Chris threw me a book. "You might enjoy reading this." It was Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous With Rama. As I turned the pages, I felt myself completely transported into a world unknown, full of surprises and bizarre mysteries. The word "awestruck" probably best typifies my experience reading that book. (I understand why now—that book won the Campbell, Hugo, Jupiter, and Nebula Awards!)

Not long after I had finished Rama, I found myself constantly skulking around bookstores for my next fix. Clarke's Rama led to Issac Asimov's Foundation trilogy and robot short stories, which led to Piers Anthony's XANTH fantasy novels, which led to Whitley Striber's The Wolfen, and so on. By my early 20s, I had finally migrated to Heinlein's Future History stories and novels.

And none of that would have happened without Clarke's marvelous story about a massive ship in space whose inhabitants are inexplicably missing.

Thank you, Mr. Clarke. Thank you for opening a door in my mind.

Arthur C. Clarke

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