Sunday, May 13, 2018

How I Came to Science Fiction

Recently my son Gabe gave me back a book of mine he found on his shelf: Andre Norton's Star Rangers. This was quite a cool "reunion" for me because not only was this the first book by Andre Norton that I read — I've been a huge fan of hers for over half a century and have read most of her many, many works! — Star Rangers was the very first book of science fiction I read.

I remember distinctly that it was my first SF book (not counting comic books . . . a "book book," in other words) because I recall very clearly how I came to read it. During 5th grade at St. Agnes School in San Francisco (that would have been 1963-1964) we kids had been reading the Oz books by L. Frank Baum. This was not part of our schoolwork; it was like we were a book group before we knew book groups were a thing. We just all read the Oz books together for fun. After we got through the Oz books — 14 by Baum — we moved on to read The Borrowers series by Mary Norton.

We ran out of Borrower books pretty quickly; there were only 5 novels. I then discovered that right next to the Borrower books in our school library was a novel by another Norton: Andre's Star Rangers. I remember being captivated by the cover image, a spaceman poised on a rock spur points to our right, silhouetted against a bright orange and scarlet sky. Here's that entrancing cover.

Well, my 11-year-old self found the story pretty entrancing too: a crew of military spacemen crashland on a planet far off their star charts and must learn to survive there. I was a tenderfoot Boy Scout and so living off the land was probably something much on my mind at that time. My father, a U.S. Army soldier during WWII, a member of the elite Philippine Scouts, had told me Army stories since I was quite a young child, so the military themes of duty and honor in Star Rangers must have been attractive to me as well.

After devouring Star Rangers, I began to seek out other SF writers in our school library as well as in our neighborhood public library and also in the library at the Presidio of San Francisco (my father was a retired Army officer and so I could borrow books from that library). It was a heady time, discovering H. G. Wells and Jules Verne, Isaac Asimov's I, Robot, Arthur C. Clarke's The City and the Stars, Ray Bradbury's Martian Chronicles, and many others. You'll notice that all of the authors named here are men; the SF field was dominated by men at that time and women often had to publish under male pseudonyms. In fact, Andre Norton is the pen name of Alice Mary Norton, who was eventually the first woman to be inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame.

Reading Star Rangers again now, what strikes me, given the US's current political climate vis-à-vis ethnicity and immigration, is the novel's central theme of racism and its ills: in this case, humans vs. "Bemmys" (i.e., nonhuman aliens). The phrase "Bemmy lover" even comes up in the story, a thinly disguised allusion to the phrase "n----r lover" that was current during the time I was reading Star Rangers, using the n-word to disparage European Americans who felt the oppression of African Americans was wrong and unjust. ("Bemmy" is a fascinating coinage, an acronym based on the contemporary phrase "Bug-Eyed Monster.")

When I first read Star Rangers as an 11-year-old, I'm fairly sure I didn't catch on to this theme. I hadn't yet personally encountered racism and discrimination as I would soon enough, in later years. However, I was certainly well aware of the presence of racial prejudice as something that came up in current events and was alluded to in my parents' dinner conversations, so the novel may well have piqued my interest in that regard somewhat. In any case, Star Rangers is an interesting read now, highlighting how in the 65 years since its 1953 publication our country has been unable to shed racism. "Make America Great Again," indeed.

Reading Andre Norton's Star Rangers at the age of 11 changed my life. I have loved science fiction ever since, in all its lovely and incandescent forms. That I am now the editor of Star*Line, the print journal of the Science Fiction & Fantasy Poetry Association, comes directly from that moment.

Friends, won’t you comment, please? Love to know what you’re thinking. To comment, look for a red line below that starts Posted by, then click once on the word comments in that line. If you don’t find the word “comments” in that line, then look for a blue link below that says Post a comment and click it once. Thanks!

Ingat, everyone.  


Jedediah Kurth said...

My first Andre Norton book was Breed to Come, though I think possibly her best work was the first couple of Witch World novels.

Vince Gotera said...

Thanks, Jed!

Akua Lezli Hope said...

I came to scifi in 4th grade through Animal Farm, 5th grade through 1984 and 6th grade through Brave New World and at home we all piled on the couch to watch The Twilight Zone. My 12th birthday presents included my very own subscription to Analog edited by John Campbell. But as I used to inhale books I can't say when everyone else I came to love arrived - a Wrinkle in Time, Mcccaffrey's Dragons, Zenna's People Series, Bradbury's everything, Asimov, then Tolkein and Frank Hebert, Poul Andersen... the 60s were an exciting time for sf reading I was hooked for life. I wrote my first two sf poems in the 6th grade one more fantasy inspired by Lewis Carroll's language manipulation and the other about the bomb... thank for reminiscing.

Herb Kauderer said...

While I had previously read plenty of children's books that qualified as SF, an important moment came in, I think sixth grade. The school library was one fair-sized room, and I started reading all the books from left to right. As it turns out, that meant I started with the non-fiction. I certainly didn't finish every book, but I gave them all a try, and the librarians realized this, and waived the borrowing limits for me. I took home 15 books every night. Of course, a lot of those books had only a few thousand words in them. Reading all that non-fiction certainly gave me a strong basis of 1960ish knowledge.

Around February, I got past the non-fiction and continued right on into the fiction. Eventually I hit the one-two punch of Heinlein and Kjelgaard. Previous fiction I'd read such as the Hardy Boys seemed as disposable as television. Heinlein and Kjelgaard were much deeper and more thoughtful, and the emotions seemed more genuine.

And Heinlein's juveniles were meaty books. I was learning to read full-sized books.

The corollary to this is that it always seemed bizarre to me that much of society around me wanted to segregate, and in some ways denigrate, SF. In the context of all that non-fiction, and Kjelgaard's animal stories and historicals, Heinlein seemed perfectly normal in subject matter, and superior in story-telling.

Happily, not far after Kjelgaard's books were Andre Norton's, showing me that Heinlein was not unique in superior story-telling of science fiction.

Lisa Timpf said...

My first exposure to science fiction came through Andre Norton as well. When I was in about grade six or so, a friend's older sister left her library-borrowed copy of Norton's "Storm over Warlock" lying around. I didn't really understand everything in "Storm over Warlock", but was sufficiently intrigued to pick up another Norton book, "The Stars are Ours", and was hooked. My favorite Norton books were the Beast Master series, the Zero Stone series, and some (but not all) of the Time Traders stories. Heinlein also became a favorite, particularly Farmer in the Sky.

Diane Severson Mori said...

Lovely post!

My first experience of real SF was The White mountains and the rest of the Tripod Trilogy by John Christopher. I too had read plenty of Fantasy for children, but this book was different and besides being cool awoke an awareness of oppression and that it should be combated and resisted at all costs.

If you can believe it, I’ve never read any Andre Norton. I’ve always meant to, and so maybe Star Rangers is the one I should start with.

maria teresa lejarde said...

Kuya i have not read your blogs but reading this article I was able to know a part of you and able to know about Uncle Martin. I love science fictions. This
Story is not only about Star Rangers and authors of sci-fi but you shed light on what racism is all about in USA. Beautifully written that I wanted more to read about you and SFO at the time. I always heard my parents that you were the brightest amongst our clan. I saw your pictures which my papa would show to us and say " He is a Gotera." indirectly claiming his bragging rights. You should write a novel...Can I share your article to my children? Regards Tess G Lejarde.

the queen said...

Analog 9, Answer Positive or Negative. A fun story about poetry.

abbas khan said...

very interesting post. keep on sharing such interesting content: online quran academy | online quran teaching | online quran teaching on skype | online quran learning | online quran teaching websites | online quran tutor | learn quran with tajweed | online quran classes | learning quran school | online quran teacher | learn quran online with tajweed | e quran academy | online quran teaching academy

Unknown said...

Hi Mr Gotera:

I am seeking permission to use your poem "First Mango" in a small theatrical work in San Francisco.

I am a volunteer with SF BATCO, a small theater company in San Francisco, California. Our Co-Founders/Co-Directors are two young queer men of color. We focus on developing and producing art created by People of Color and on mentoring and training local middle and high school students interested in working in theater. Please check out our website:

Your poem would be used in a full-length staged dramatic reading (sometimes set to music and incorporating dance) of various poems and songs by notable writers celebrating the history of People of Color in America. It will be held in February, during Black History Month, at the historic Brava Theater in San Francisco's Mission District. (The Brava Center cultivates the artistic expression of women, People of Color, youth, LGBTQIA, and other underrepresented voices and also houses SFBATCO. Brava's website can be found here:

Right now we have a very small budget for rights/permissions but we have workshopped this idea and hope to grow it over time (and be able to pay more for the works we use in the future!).

Let me know whether there is additional information you would like. I'm best reached at

Thank you! And if you are in SF next month we would be honored to have you join us for a show!

Kate Stoia

Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing

13th floor elevators (1) 3d (1) 9/11 (3) a schneider (1) abecedarian (8) acrostic (2) adelaide crapsey (1) african american (1) aids (1) al robles (2) alberta turner (1) alex esclamado (1) alexander chen (1) alexandra bissell (1) alexandrines (3) alliteration (3) alphabet (1) alphabet poem (2) altered books (1) altered pages (2) altered reality magazine (2) amanda blue gotera (6) amelia blue gotera (3) american gothic (1) amok (1) amy lowell (1) anacreon (1) anacreontics (1) anaphora (1) andre norton (1) andrea boltwood (19) andrew davidson (1) andrew marvell (1) andrew oldham (1) angelina jolie (1) angels (1) animation (1) anna montgomery (3) anne reynolds (1) annie e. existence (1) annie finch (1) anny ballardini (1) anti- (1) antonio taguba (2) aprille (1) art (7) arturo islas (1) ash wednesday (1) asian american (4) assonance (2) astronomy (2) aswang (12) aswang wars (1) atlanta rhythm section (1) balato (1) ballad (1) barack obama (7) barbara jane reyes (1) barry a. morris (1) bass (2) bataan (5) becca andrea (1) beetle (2) belinda subraman (2) beowulf (1) best american poetry (1) bible (1) bill clinton (1) billy collins (2) blank verse (4) bob boynton (1) body farm (1) bolo (1) bongbong marcos (3) bop (1) brian brodeur (2) brian garrison (1) bruce johnson (1) bruce niedt (2) buddah moskowitz (2) burns stanza (1) callaloo (1) candida fajardo gotera (5) cardinal sin (1) carlos bulosan (1) carlos santana (1) carmina figurata (2) carolina matsumura gotera (1) caroline klocksiem (1) carrie arizona (3) carrieola (3) carriezona (1) catherine childress pritchard (1) catherine pritchard childress (36) catullus (1) cebu (1) cecilia manguerra brainard (1) cedar falls (6) cedar falls public library (1) charles a hogan (2) chess (1) childhood (1) children's poetry (1) China (1) chorus of glories (1) chris durietz (1) christmas (2) chuck pahlaniuk (1) cinquain (1) civil rights (1) clarice (1) classics iv (1) cleave hay(na)ku (2) clerihews (3) cliché (1) computers (1) concreteness (1) consonance (5) coolest month (1) cory aquino (2) couplet (5) couplet quatrains (2) crab (1) craft (5) creative nonfiction (1) crewrt-l (1) crucifixion (1) curtal sonnet (9) dactyls (2) daily palette (1) damián ortega (1) danielle filas (1) dante (4) dashiki (1) david foster wallace (1) david kopaska-merkel (1) david wojahn (1) de jackson (2) decasyllabics (1) denise duhamel (1) deviantART (3) dick powell (1) diction (1) didactic cinquain (1) dinosaur (2) disaster relief (1) divine comedy (1) dodecasyllables (1) doggerel (2) doggie diner (1) don johnson (1) donald trump (5) dr who (3) dr. seuss (1) draft (2) dragon (1) dragonfly (17) dreams & nightmares (1) drug addiction (1) drums (1) dusty springfield (1) dylan thomas (1) e e cummings (1) e-book (1) earth day (1) ebay (2) ecopoetry (1) ed hill (1) edgar allan poe (2) edgar rice burroughs (1) editing (1) eileen tabios (7) ekphrasis (2) ekphrastic review (1) election (2) elegy (2) elevenie (1) elizabeth alexander (2) elizabeth bishop (2) elvis presley (1) emily dickinson (6) emma trelles (1) end-stop (3) english sonnet (1) englyn milwer (1) enita meadows (1) enjambed rhyme (1) enjambment (5) enola gay (1) envelope quatrain (1) environment (1) erasure poetry (9) erin mcreynolds (4) ernest lawrence thayer (1) exxon valdez oil spill (1) f. j. bergman (1) f. scott fitzgerald (1) facebook (3) family (4) fantasy (1) fashion (1) ferdinand magellan (1) ferdinand marcos (5) fib (1) fiction (3) fiera lingue (1) fighting kite (4) filipino (language) (1) filipino americans (6) filipino poetry (1) filipino veterans equity (3) filipinos (5) film (3) final thursday press (1) final thursday reading series (2) flannery o'connor (3) flute (1) fortune cookie (1) found poem (1) found poetry (6) found poetry review (2) fourteeners (1) frank frazetta (1) fred unwin (1) free verse (1) fructuosa gotera (1) fyodor dostoevsky (1) gabriel garcía márquez (1) gambling (1) garrett hongo (1) gary kelley (1) gawain (1) genre (1) george w. bush (1) gerard manley hopkins (8) ghazal (2) ghost wars (5) ghosts of a low moon (1) gogol bordello (1) golden shovel (4) goodreads (1) google (1) gotera (1) grace kelly (1) grant tracey (1) grant wood (1) greek mythology (1) gregory k pincus (1) griffin lit (1) grimm (1) grinnell college (2) growing up (1) growing up filipino (2) guest blogger (1) guillaume appolinaire (1) guitar (9) gulf war (1) gustave doré (3) guy de maupassant (1) gwendolyn brooks (2) gypsy art show (1) gypsy punk (1) hades (1) haibun (2) haiga (1) haiku (26) haiku sonnet (3) hart crane (1) hawak kamay (1) hay(na)ku (19) hay(na)ku sonnet (8) header (1) hearst center for the arts (2) heirloom (1) herman melville (1) hey joe (1) hiroshima (1) hiv here & now (1) homer (1) how a poem happens (2) humboldt state university (1) humor (1) hybrid sonnet (1) iain m. banks (1) iamb (1) iambic pentameter (1) ian parks (1) ibanez (1) imagery (1) imelda marcos (4) immigrants (1) imogen heap (1) indiana university (1) inigo online magazine (1) ink! (1) insect (2) insects (1) international hotel (1) interview (3) introduction (2) iowa (2) iran (1) iran-iraq war (1) irving levinson (1) italian bicycle (1) italian sonnet (2) ivania velez (2) j. d. schraffenberger (4) j. i. kleinberg (3) j. k. rowling (1) jack horner (2) jack kerouac (1) jack p nantell (1) james brown (1) james gorman (2) jan d. hodges (1) japan (1) jasmine dreame wagner (1) jeanette winterson (1) jedediah dougherty (1) jedediah kurth (31) jennifer bullis (1) jesse graves (1) jessica hagedorn (1) jessica mchugh (2) jim daniels (1) jim hall (1) jim hiduke (1) jim o'loughlin (2) jim simmerman (1) jimi hendrix (3) jimmy fallon (1) joan osborne (1) joe mcnally (1) john barth (1) john charles lawrence (2) john clare (1) john donne (1) john mccain (1) john welsh iii (2) joseph solo (1) josh hamzehee (1) joyce kilmer (1) justine wagner (1) kampilan (1) kathleen ann lawrence (1) kathy reichs (1) kay ryan (1) keith welsh (1) kelly cherry (1) kelly christiansen (1) kenning (1) kennings poem (3) killjoy (1) kim groninga (1) king arthur (1) king tut (1) knight fight (1) kumadre (1) kumpadre (1) kurt vonnegut (1) kyell gold (1) landays (1) lapu-lapu (1) lapwing publications (1) laurie kolp (2) leonardo da vinci (1) les paul (1) leslie kebschull (1) lester smith (1) library (1) library of congress (2) limerick (2) linda parsons marion (1) linda sue grimes (2) lineation (6) linked haiku (7) linked tanka (1) list poem (4) little brown brother (1) little free libraries (3) lorette c. luzajic (1) lost (tv) (1) louise glück (1) luis buñuel (1) lune (2) lydia lunch (1) machismo (1) magazines (1) mah jong (1) man ray (1) manananggal (2) manong (3) margaret atwood (1) maria fleuette deguzman (1) marianne moore (1) marilyn cavicchia (1) marilyn hacker (1) mark jarman (1) marriage (1) martin avila gotera (16) martin luther king jr. (1) marty gotera (5) marty mcgoey (1) mary ann blue gotera (6) mary biddinger (1) mary roberts rinehart award (1) mary shelley (1) matchbook (1) maura stanton (1) maureen thorson (236) meena rose (3) megan hippler (1) melanie villines (1) melanie wolfe (1) melina blue gotera (3) mental illness (1) metapoem (1) meter (7) mfa (2) michael heffernan (3) michael martone (2) michael ondaatje (1) michael shermer (2) michael spence (1) michelle obama (1) middle witch (1) mirror northwest (1) misky (1) molossus (1) monkey (1) morel mushrooms (2) mueller report (1) multiverse (1) mushroom hunting (1) music (3) muslim (1) my custom writer blog (1) myth (1) mythology (3) nagasaki (1) naked blonde writer (1) naked girls reading (1) naked novelist (1) napowrimo (243) narrative (2) natalya st. clair (1) nathan dahlhauser (1) nathaniel hawthorne (1) national geographic (3) national poetry month (243) native american (1) neil gaiman (2) neoformalism (1) New Formalists (1) New York School (1) nick carbó (3) ninang (1) north american review (7) north american review blog (2) of books and such (1) of this and such (1) ottava rima (2) oulipo (1) pablo picasso (2) pacific crossing (1) padre timoteo gotera (1) painting (1) palestinian american (1) palindrome (1) palinode (1) palmer hall (1) pantoum (1) paradelle (2) paranormal (1) parkersburg iowa (1) parody (4) parody poetry journal (1) parol (1) pastoral poetry (1) pat bertram (2) pat martin (1) paula berinstein (1) pause for the cause (2) pca/aca (1) peace (2) peace of mind band (1) pecan grove press (2) pepito gotera (1) percy bysshe shelley (2) performance poetry (1) persephone (1) persona phone (1) peter padua (1) petrarch (1) petrarchan sonnet (9) phil memmer (1) philip larkin (1) philippine news (1) philippine scouts (6) philippine-american war (1) philippines (8) phish (1) pinoy (1) pinoy poetics (1) pixie lott (1) podcast (1) podcasts (3) poem-a-day challenge (241) poetics (6) poetry (5) poetry imitation (1) poetry international (1) poetry reading (4) poets against (the) war (2) pop culture (2) popcorn press (1) prejudice (1) presidio of san francisco (1) prince (3) princess grace foundation (1) promotion (1) prose poem (3) pterosaur (1) ptsd (2) puppini sisters (1) puptent poets (2) pyrrhic (1) quatrain (4) r.e.m. (1) rachel morgan (2) racism (1) rainer maria rilke (1) rap (1) rattle (1) ray fajardo (1) reggie lee (1) rembrandt (1) ren powell (1) reviews (1) revision (1) rhyme (8) rhysling awards (4) rhythm (1) richard fay (1) richard hugo (1) rick griffin (1) rime (1) rippled mirror hay(na)ku (1) robert bly (1) robert frost (2) robert fulghum (1) robert j christenson (1) robert lee brewer (241) robert mezey (1) robert neville (1) robert zemeckis (1) rock and roll (2) roger zelazny (1) romanian (1) ron kowit (1) ronald wallace (2) rondeau (1) ross gay (1) roundelay (1) rubaiyat (1) rubaiyat sonnet (1) run-d.m.c. (1) saade mustafa (1) salt publishing (1) salvador dali (4) san francisco (8) sandra cisneros (1) santa claus (1) santana (1) sapphics (1) sarah deppe (1) sarah palin (1) sarah smith (26) satan (1) sayaka alessandra (1) schizophrenia (1) science fiction (2) science fiction poetry association (1) science friction (1) scifaiku (1) scott walker (1) screaming monkeys (1) scripture (1) sculpture (1) sena jeter naslund (1) senryu (3) sestina (7) sevenling (1) shadorma (1) shaindel beers (2) shakespeare (1) shakespearean sonnet (3) sharon olds (1) shawn wong (1) shiites or shia (1) shoreline of infinity (1) sidney bechet (1) skateboard (1) skeltonics (1) skylaar amann (1) slant rhyme (5) slide shows (1) small fires press (1) sniper (1) somersault abecedarian (1) somonka (1) sonnet (34) sonnetina (4) soul (1) southeast asian american (1) spanish (1) specificity (1) speculative poetry (1) spenserian stanza (1) spiraling abecedarian (1) spondee (1) spooky (1) st. patrick's day (1) stanford university (1) stanley meltzoff (1) stanza (1) stars and stripes (2) stereogram (1) steve hazlewood (1) steve mcqueen (1) stevie nicks (1) stone canoe (2) sue boynton (1) suite101 (2) sunflowers (1) surges (1) susan l. chast (1) syllabics (1) sylvia plath (2) synesthesia (1) syzygy poetry journal (2) t. m. sandrock (1) t. s. eliot (2) tanka (13) tarzan (1) teaching creative writing (2) ted kooser (1) term paper mill (1) terrance hayes (1) terza rima (10) terza rima haiku sonnet (7) terzaiku sonnet (4) terzanelle (1) tetrameter (1) the byrds (1) the warning (1) thomas alan holmes (121) thomas crofts (4) thomas faivre-duboz (1) thunderstorm (1) thurifer (1) tiger (1) tilly the laughing housewife (1) time travel (1) tom perrotta (1) tom petty (1) tom phillips (1) toni morrison (2) tornado (1) translation (2) translitic (3) tribute in light (1) trickster (1) triolet (2) triskaidekaphobia (1) tritina (1) trochee (1) tucson (1) typhoon haiyan (1) typhoon yolanda (1) university of northern iowa (6) unrhymed sonnet (2) us army (7) valentine's day (1) vampire (2) ven batista (29) verses typhoon yolanda (1) veterans' day (2) via dolorosa (1) video poetry (6) vietnam war (4) viktor vasnetsov (1) villanelle (2) vince del monte (1) vincent van gogh (1) virgil wren (1) virtual blog tour (1) visual poetry (3) vladimir putin (1) volkswagen (1) w. somerset maugham (1) wallace stevens (3) walt mcdonald (1) walt whitman (3) war (7) war in afghanistan (2) war in iraq (2) wartburg college (1) waterloo (1) whypoetrymatters (1) wile e. coyote (1) wilfred owen (1) william blake (1) william carlos williams (1) william f tout (1) william gibson (1) william oandasan (1) william shakespeare (2) wind (1) winter (1) women's art (1) wooster review (1) writing (1) writing away retreats (1) writing show (1) wwii (6) young adult (1) yusef komunyakaa (6) zone 3 (1)