Friday, April 19, 2013


I hated books.

I hated reading. I hated math. I hated English. I hated education. I hated everything about school. Except time on the playground…and obviously lunch.

Every new year of school I was amazed that my teachers promoted me to the next level—I always thought I would be held back at every level.

Things were no different when I entered the fifth grade. But after a few weeks, my teacher, Bill Marino, pulled me to the side, handed me a worn paperback, and said, “I’d like you to read this.”

“Come on,” I said, exaggerating ocular disdain. “I don’t want to do a book report or anything.”

Mister Marino shook his head. “You won’t need to turn in a book report. In fact, while reading the book you will be totally exempt of all homework—all you have to do is have a short conversation with me about the book.”

I tried to read his face. “Conversation?”

“Yeah, just tell me what you thought of the book.”

“And I won’t have to do any homework while I’m reading this?” I said, holding up the book.

“That’s right.”

That night I began reading the book with intentions of making the experience last as long as I could so I wouldn’t have to worry about homework for a few weeks. However, I quickly found that I couldn’t put the book down. My Theater of the Mind’s Eye was producing images and sounds I never knew existed. I found myself in a whole new world…and I loved it.

The next morning I brought the book back to Mister Marino and we talked about the story, the images, the sounds, the smells—It was as though I’d just returned from an exotic vacation.

He told me the book was mine to keep and placed a large box on his desk filled with classic science fiction paperbacks. “Better get started,” he said, sliding box toward me. “Same deal—as long as you are reading one of these, no homework.”

I devoured them all…Isaac Asimov, Robert Heinlein, Theodore Sturgeon, and dozens of others. I was hooked.

My thirst for education grew with each new book. I wanted to become a scientist, finding solutions for problems.

The name of that first book was Childhood’s End by Arthur C. Clarke. I always laugh about the irony in that title because it became my own childhood’s end.

There is no doubt in my mind I would have dropped out of school if not for reading science fiction.

Bill Marino passed away before my first book was published. I think of him often while writing or speaking to MFA programs. I have dedicated a few books to him, and he was in my thoughts the night I accepted the Bram Stoker Award in Brighton, England.

This is why I think implementing science fiction in the school system is a wonderful idea. Imagine the future scientists and mathematicians we could possibly cultivate. Can you imagine reaching a child who hates education? I can.

Well, a few political leaders in my state want to implement science fiction in our public school curriculum. And I plan to be an advocate:

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1 comment:

  1. This is marvelous and miraculous to see. I remember my own wonder on reading books like A Wrinkle in Time and how Stephen King's It and Rage helped me survive middle school. Sure, only Wrinkle was sci-fi, but they opened me up to possibilities and hope and ideas beyond my own door that weren't held in the stodgy, safe expected school reading.

    Thank you, sir, and pass along my thanks to your state. Maybe Ohio will one day follow. It would make me giddy to be able to teach Starship Troopers alongside Old Man's War before diving into the complex morality of Asimov's Foundation Books.