Decluttering the trash

I have a decluttering hangover.

No, not rhyming slang – cleaning out our Cupboard of Lost Years allowed the Dust of Decades to burrow into my brain and set off an almighty headache. Also there’s a spiritual aftershock from spending a day being buffeted by images of a youthful yesterday and battered by unfinished stories.

I threw out my juvenilia except for random samples. There is nothing special about the footprint of the imagination, except to show it was alive an well in my youth. Had I known as a teenager about how stories worked, then perhaps there might have been something to show. (Though I always suspect that focus and personal growth together form the biggest barrier to entry for fiction.)

I did not need to throw out my children’s SF&F books because I really had none except for the cache of Old Favorites I rescued from the boxes years ago: Narnia, The Hobbit, an YA-focused Arthur C Clark collection, Of Time and Stars.

We middle aged geeks get dewy-eyed about our cosy Old Favorites we read and reread until the covers fell off.  However that’s like feeling nostalgic about the fireside on a winter’s day. We 70s kids were imaginatively housebound by a blizzard of dullness.

Sure, there were good middle grade and YA Science Fiction books being written somewhere, and Heinlein and Asimov juvenile yarns were still floating around. But in pre-Internet days, we had no way of knowing more good stuff existed beyond the whiteout.

Unless we had genre-friendly parents, we were at the mercy of  “right-on” librarians and booksellers who catered for the kind of parents who would hang out with those librarians. Even if you tapped into a good series, it was hit and miss whether you’d see the next one ever.

No wonder CS Lewis’s Narnia is a classic. That and The Hobbit were almost it for Fantasy stories to include proper action. Beyond that were the endless children’s portal/pro-urban fantasy fairy tales, some vivid, but all with their roots in Peter Pan or the Box of Delights; a home grown ersatz genre flourishing in a walled garden barred to Robert E Howard and Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Actual SF for children seemed to have been scraped out by writers who did not really identify with the genre and who had perhaps once watched Dr Who. The exception were the Doctor Who novels themselves which often betray Pulp-era influences. You cannot read the Tomb of the Cybermen without thinking of Lovecraft and Leigh Brackett. Otherwise, for the most part, the focus was firmly on The Children and you got the feeling that the author would rather be writing a kitchen sink drama–evoking childhood rather than writing a story that would take children to new horizons.

I would have devoured the books Kurtzhau (now 10) cheerfully trundles through. Amazon strips away the well-meaning or just lazy layers between the young reader and the books they are called to read.

I doubt Kurtzhau will have any Old Favorites. But then nor will he spend hours rereading the same clutch of battered paperbacks as if they had some greater significance. Thank God(s) for the Internet and ebooks.

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