What Are Little Girls Made Of? Or Arts and Sciences Make the Muse

(This was an article I wrote as part of a series of con-reports for 201mass.com after attending Boskone 40.  I wrote it mostly in response to Jim Patrick Kelly’s article “Kid Stuff”.  I wrote about how I found my way to sci-fi-fantasy, and I’d like to both update & revisit my views- updating with where my sci-fi/fantasy interests have led since I wrote this, and then revisit with my latest blending/adaptation of fairy tales & folklore with regards to homesteading and sustainability.  Some of the links may still work- I’ll update what I can- but this is more to give you an idea of where I was back in 2003.   Sadly, I did not get to work on youth programming with Boskone, but did go on to work in a school library where I used some of my ideas.)

What Are Little Girls Made Of? Or Arts and Sciences Make the Muse
By Kerrie A. Colantonio

(Please note: some names have been withheld to protect… me.)

Originally I was going to write about the relationship between fairy tales and science fiction. After a bit of a discussion on the SurLaLune Fairy Tales and Folklore Discussion, I decided it would be too large of a topic to handle at this time. Perhaps someday I can explore the vast array of cautionary tales, but for now I will focus on one.

Mirror, Mirror, In My Hand…
As the Guest of Honor at NESFA’s Boskone 40, David Brin held a mirror up to the nature of Science Fiction fandom- and we all realized that we are getting older. There are fewer and fewer readers in each generation who are picking up a science fiction book. With our golden boy Harry, fantasy has been seeing a silver lining, but if science fiction doesn’t start attracting new readers, the polish on those chrome robots may soon rust.

While researching for this topic, I stumbled through several SF and Fantasy authors’ websites. Landing splat in the middle of James Patrick Kelly’s site, I found an interesting article titled, “Kid Stuff” (© 2000 by James Patrick Kelly.) He details his own youthful interest in science fiction and, at the end, wonders “But I wonder, how much would a girl’s sentimental journey overlap with mine?” Well, I decided, if I am to research today’s youth and where SF interest has gone, perhaps I should take a look at where my own interest developed. After all, I am a girl. And being somewhere in the middle- between Jim and David and the “next generation,” between the writers and the readers, I hope to speak the truth as I’ve seen it, though you may not like my answers.

Once Upon A Time…
Let’s see, I think it all began in my early years with movies and fairy tales. Fantasy was my fancy, with Disney classics such as Snow White and the Seven Dwarves. But although I cowered when I watched the witch fall to her death, I was somehow drawn to the even darker live-action films of The Dark Crystal, Labyrinth, and The NeverEnding Story.

I was a fan of Voltron and Transformers, Masters of the Universe, and Thudercats– one of the only girls I knew of at my school who actually enjoyed watching the “boy’s” shows. But I also had my girlie faves: She-Ra, Snorks, and Jem!, topped that list. I mean, the first warrior-woman, underwater living, and holograms? That stuff was ahead of its time!

Being a jeweler’s daughter, I naturally had rocks in my head- nice shiny ones with lots of facets that distracted me from…. What was I saying? Oh yes, I had a natural love of rocks and minerals from an early age. Books about being a rock hound, the formation of rocks and gems, and even rocks from outer space (like Halley’s Comet) graced my shelves. Creating crystals with my first chemistry set- 13 glorious chemicals and a gleaming set of test tubes- became an obsession for me in the second grade. Soon I moved on to a 26-chemical set, and all I wanted to do was create crystal gardens to look at under my microscope (who wants to look at brine shrimp?). Truth be told, I spent more time trying to clean out my test tubes- those crystal gardens really stain!

Visiting the library was another favorite pastime, especially when 2 of my favorite books were there- to borrow again, of course. One was about two little space creatures, who had a space dog, and a couple of pesky space mice. There were instructions on how to draw them and fold paper to make beds, a dresser, a table, and space cookies for everyone to share (yes, even the pesky space mice). The other was a small red book, carefully detailing the tricks that spies use. All I remember from it was lemon juice secret ink, Helsinki, and very colorful spies.

How many fourth graders have you ever known to purchase (on purpose) and cherish a book of hundreds, maybe thousands, of chemistry terms? Just me, eh? Yes, in fourth grade, when my class took a trip to Boston’s Museum of Science, I returned home the proud owner of just such a book. It was brown, only about 2”x 2” and incredibly thick, with extremely tiny writing. And it was mine. I remember fondly showing it to my high school chemistry teacher, and reveling in her joy at such an early interest in science.

So far science was a dominating factor in my reading as opposed to science fiction. Normal for a child, let alone a girl? I knew of one other who liked science as much as I did in elementary school- my first boyfriend.

High school introduced me to science fiction, most profoundly through two seemingly disparate courses: Geometry and AP English. In my geometry class, my teacher presented us with copies of Flatland, by Edwin A. Abbott. Think of it as a mathematician’s version ofGulliver’s Travels. Though I came from my AP English class knowing more about Shakespeare (always remember the Ides of March!) I also came away profoundly affected by a science fiction story, “The Machine Stops,” by E. M. Forster. I cannot explain why, but I have been thinking about this story for years, unable to remember the name or author, only that it was about a society that lived in a hive-like structure, supported by a living machine, and the destruction of that society and machine. I only recently rediscovered it while browsing our own living machine of information, the web.

I soon became engrossed in science fiction and fantasy- Piers Anthony provided me with quick-fixes through Coleen and Orb. Where normally it would take me a few weeks to finish a book assigned for class, it only took four days- during homeroom, lunch, study hall, and after school- to finish a fantasy novel two or three times as long.

My college years didn’t include much other than classes and friends. I immediately became a Science Major, for which I won a cash prize in my second year. When asked how I came to be a science major, I was honest- my father has suggested I pick something that pays! (It hasn’t yet.) I picked up a copy of The Complete Grimm’s Fairy Tales just because I saw it on one of the Literature Required Textbook shelves at the local bookstore, and rediscovered my favorite classics in their darker forms. I taped as many episodes of Herculesand Xena as I could during the summer and winter breaks. I never got to tape The Adventures of Sinbad, but watched it almost as faithfully. Other than that, I had a short-lived subscription to Fate magazine, my favorite article from which was about Brandon Lee and The Crow, a gloriously tragic film. Magical realism had begun to creep under my skin, waiting to sink its claws into me.

After college, I discovered the art of Brian Froud and his wife Wendy. Things began to fall into place by coming full-circle. Here were the people responsible for my obsession with fairies and goblins, the people who brought Labyrinth and Dark Crystal to my dreams. From the World of Froud, I leapt to Endicott Studio, and the circle of friends that gathered around author, editor, and artist Terri Windling. Since then, I have been engaged in constant discussions on the SurLaLune Discussion Boards: fairy tales, folklore, mythology, magical realism, and yes, science fiction. Thanks to them, I have been delving into the ever-darker earlier versions of fairy tales from the French salons- and more modern interpretations as well. In the past year I have begun to meet the wonderful people behind the words, and link up with others in the interstitial world of genre fiction.

I still love science. I still love fairy tales. My old favorite films have become cult classics. (I still believe that Tom Cruise’s best film ever was, and is, Legend.) And I’ve come to the conclusion that I must be the child of the muses- all of them. “Any of the nine sister goddesses in Greek mythology, presiding over song and poetry, and the arts and sciences, and do you believe me now, Sonny?” As scripted in Xanadu, as proven in my own family dictionary, I must therefore be the tenth muse, who cannot choose between the arts and sciences. With a Bachelor of Science and a Bachelor of Humanities, I am a living muse who can inspire herself, but cannot get paid for it. So much for a college education.

Perhaps this article really is about a relationship between science fiction and fairy tales.

And They All Lived.
But this is only my own “nostalgia trip,” inspired by Jim Kelly’s. What will it be for the Class of 2006? Space travel and computers are a part of their everyday lives, and the space program may be on its way out, if funding and faith are not increased fast. That leaves them with computers- will we go the way of “The Machine Stops” and become dependant on them?

What do they have to theorize about?

A future to look forward to or one to prevent? With “Big Brother” nearly upon us, do we really want to speculate further? Science and politics are looking at implanting chips beneath the derma layer for easy record keeping- cyborgs are no longer a creature of fantasy. What use is old science fiction, if the youth of today have been growing up with much of this fiction-made-fact? Can they really appreciate classic science fiction as much as we did? And how can we tell their teachers, the people who spend more time with our children than we do, which of the new science fiction titles to introduce to them? Not through textbooks, that’s for certain.

On The Other Side Of The Looking-Glass…
I moved to Boston in 1999 to pursue a career in publishing. Educational publishing, with an aspiration to move on to the coveted realm of trade publishing. I regret to say that educational publishing has near ruined the love of writing for me. Let me tell you why.

In K-12 publishing, there is heavy competition to be “adopted” by a few choice states: Florida, California, and the heavy-hitter, Texas. All other states often follow their lead. Unfortunately, to win their affections, several hoops must be jumped through. One of those hoops relates to content. Texas has a strange aversion to what they term “occult.” Included in this term are tales of the fantastic. I know this for a fact because the K-6 acquisitions editors often provided me with all books that related to fairies because they could not be used in the reading textbooks. Fairies. What could be so dreadful about fairies?! Okay, so there was the evil fairy that cursed Sleeping Beauty to die (and that’s the cleaned up version), but really, why ban them?

There are a few instances where there are fantastic tales, but everything has a happy ending, no one gets hurt (that only happens in the more mainstream stories), and nothing is controversial. Nothing. If it is, it is edited or cloned out. Like the Twin Towers. And believe me, making sure it’s fairy-tale-perfect after it’s already printed is excruciating.

I tried, I really tried, to add my expertise to what we were feeding young minds. I can understand how Winston Smith must have felt, editing out the truth, replacing it with what will keep the masses happy.

Hopefully there are more teachers out there who are catching on to what is not in the textbooks, and supplementing them with trade paperbacks, than those who merely go with what their states have approved. (Oh, and a lot of curriculum programs include trade paperback packages.)

Our New Hope…
If my experience can tell us anything, it’s that complete immersion can breed appreciation. Science and art cannot, and should not, ever be separated. Fantasy is the catalyst, science fiction the hypothesis, science, the practice. Uncle Albert said it best, “Imagination is more important than knowledge.” Without imagination, knowledge would not exist, no hypotheses asked, no theories tested, no results to report. We cannot trust in the publishers to promote their value, we can only hope to reach out ourselves, share our books, our ideas, our methods of connecting the arts and sciences. Keep the Bunsen burner lit by the bedside, keep the were-lights glowing, and add science fiction to the book bag.

At the end of Boskone 40, I was (happily) drafted to work on the youth programming for Boskone 41. With 30 pages of fuel for the fire so far, I hope to ignite a few hearts with the wonders we all already know and love. Without their light, we can only see the dark truth of a world without speculative fiction, and it is indeed a sad sight to see.

Kerrie Colantonio (old email address that no longer exists) is a Boston-based poetess and brainstormer, specializing in fairy tales, ballet, and life’s dreams. She is currently seeking new employment to rejuvenate her love of writing… and her checking account.

For more information:

NESFA http://www.nesfa.org/
David Brin http://www.davidbrin.com/
SurLaLune Discussion Board http://pub25.ezboard.com/fsurlalunefairytalesfrm1
James Patrick Kelly http://www.jimkelly.net/index.php
“Kid Stuff” by James Patrick Kelly http://www.jimkelly.net/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=70&Itemid=42
Museum of Science http://www.mos.org/
Flatland http://www.alcyone.com/max/lit/flatland/
Piers Anthony http://www.hipiers.com/
World of Froud http://www.worldoffroud.com/
Endicott Studio http://www.endicott-studio.com/
Quotations by Einstein http://www-groups.dcs.st-and.ac.uk/~history/Quotations/Einstein.html

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