20,000 Leagues Under the Sea by Jules Verne? The Time Machine by H.G. Wells? Brave New World by Aldous Huxley? All great books, but none of these classics was the first to take me away to another world.
By 1967, the Gemini space program had made walking in space a “common” occurrence. I was 10 years old, the youngest in my sixth grade class, and one of the few who wore glasses. My dream of blasting into space had been ripped to shreds the year before after discovering NASA only accepted astronauts with perfect vision. The television shows Lost in Space and Star Trek put a Band-aid on my broken heart and satisfied some of my need to explore the universe. But there was still something missing.
I was a reader. I had gone through most of the books in my parents’ house—all good stories, but every one grounded on the Earth. Science fiction in written form didn’t exist in my life until a teacher read aloud The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet by Eleanor Cameron. As the story unfolded thirty minutes at a time over the course of many weeks, the real world fell away under the beckoning power of a newly discovered land.
Wanted: A small space ship about eight feet long, built by a boy, or by two boys, between the ages of eight and eleven. The ship should be sturdy and well made, and should be of materials found at hand. Nothing need be bought. No adult should be consulted as to its plan or method of construction. An adventure and a chance to do a good deed await the boys who build the best space ship. Please bring your ship as soon as possible to Mr. Tyco M. Bass, 5 Thallo Street, Pacific Grove, California.
The story continued with the two protagonists building a spaceship out of spare parts, flying to the planet Basidium and attempting to rescue its inhabitants from a terrible sickness. Mushroom Planet had it all. Aliens. Science meshed with fiction. A mysterious inventor. And a chicken that saved the day. I couldn’t wait to find out how the story ended. At the same time, I didn’t want the story to end at all. It was the first of countless love affairs.
The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet was my introduction to science fiction and the one that lit a spark that never died. I went on to discover the works of Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, Pohl Anderson, Clifford Simak, Brian W. Aldiss, Andre Norton, and many more (including the classics by Verne, Wells, and Huxley).
I’ve never gotten over the thrill of discovering a new world. After all these years, I suppose I’m still trying to fill the void of a broken dream and find a way to take my own spacewalks.
What was the first book that started a love of reading in your favorite genre?