Once upon a time when I was digging through the junk in the attic and found my dad’s “magazine collection”. I view that event as one of the pivotal moments of my life. It was an experience that changed me in ways I did not anticipate at the time. My young, immature, impressionable mind was reshaped by the contents of these periodicals. In many ways, this little discovery contributed a great deal to whom I grew up to be.
I don’t even remember what I was looking for. Maybe Christmas presents? I am not sure if I already figured out the whole Santa Claus thing yet, or if I still believed a jolly old fat dude puts toys and video games under my tree. Toys and video games made by the elves in his workshop, which according to the labels is located somewhere in China. Though it is more likely I was fishing for my dad’s military artifacts – army pins, hats, bayonets and etc. Honestly, I don’t know what exactly I was expecting to find. I know what I found: a box of magazines.
And no, it was not porn.
It turns out that my dad at one point was subscriber (or at least a frequent reader) of a magazine known as Fantastyka. The periodical was established in 1982 – one year after I was born – and it was Poland’s first literary journal specializing in speculative fiction (mainly SF and Fantasy). Their shtick was that they published short stories, and sometimes even novels in installments – both domestic and foreign. Each issue had 3-4 short stories, some literary critiques and editorials.
What initially attracted me to these magazines were their covers: some had funky looking aliens and spaceships for example. Most however had art that was either by Frank Frazetta or heavily inspired by his work. If you are not familiar with his stuff, let me just say that his favorite leading motif are half naked chicks in chain-mail bikinis riding dragons or tigers or some shit like that. When you’re a kid, that’s about as awesome as it gets.
Fortunately the covers were mostly misleading, as the contents were not as low brow. As you might expect, a lot of the content was your usual SF and Fantasy pulp, but there was a large amount of high quality stories by PKD, Heinlen, Asimov, Strugatski Brothers and number of prominent Polish writers (among whom Lem is probably the best known and most celebrated abroad).
I brought the box with me to my room, and over the next weeks (or months) I worked my way through the entire collection. I didn’t read every story, because some of them were shit, and some of them were definitely too demanding or difficult. I wasn’t systematic either. I would fish a magazine out of the box, scan through it until something caught my attention then read that, and move on. Eventually I read most of the stuff that war readable, stashed the magazines somewhere and forgot about them.
But they did leave a mark on me. They left a void – a longing for the unknown, fantastic and extraordinary. A void that was not filled until some time around my freshman year in high school when I was simultaneously introduced to Tolkien, Herbert and D&D. That was when I truly discovered, and got in touch with my inner geek.
The funny thing is that the magazine that started it all is still going. It has been revamped and re-named to Nowa Fantastyka but it still is on the market. In fact, most Polish deli’s in NJ will have an issue or two on their magazine rack on most days. I have been buying it on and off for many years now, and even though the quality wavered over the years, there was always something at least borderline decent in each issue. Motherfuckers won’t let me subscribe though – apparently it is too much hassle to ship the damn thing overseas. But I now have a box of my own… Or three.
Maybe it is silly of me, but I never threw out a single issue. I figured that if I ever have children, perhaps I will give them each a box and see what happens. Perhaps they will be as fascinated by it as I was. Perhaps I will be able to infect them with the geek bug early on. Or maybe not. Maybe they will look at me like I’m a time traveler from a distant pass, trying to make them read stuff on paper. Maybe I should just find a torrent with archival PDF’s of these magazines or something…
I’ve been also on and off subscriber to F&SF, Analog and Lightspeed magazines. Though these subscription are sort of ephemeral, virtual rentals more than anything else. The issues live somewhere in the cloud, and sometimes disappear… Which I’m fine with, at the price point $.99 an issue. But I sometimes bemoan the lack of a box I could stuff them into. What kind of SF and Fatasy magazines do you subscribe to if any?
What was your pivotal moment of geekery? Have you ever made a discovery like the one I did? Let me know in the comments.