Like most people born in the 70s, the original Star Wars Trilogy has been a huge part of my life. But, a few days ago, I realized that it had a bigger impact on me as a person than I’ve always thought. Sure, I am a geek pretty much because of Star Wars, and being a geek has determined my television viewing choices, the movies I watch, the books I read.
The books I write.
I’ve mentioned before that my very favorite book is Neal Stephenson’s “The Diamond Age,” and it is. I’ve also mentioned that the book that changed my life as a reader is Umberto Eco’s “Foucault’s Pendulum,” but it’s not. The book that made a difference in my life was one I received for Christmas in 1983. The Return of the Jedi Storybook, written by Joan D. Vinge.
I read that thing cover to cover a hundred times. I may have read it more than I watched the movie, and in the summer of 1987, I rewound the VHS tape six times per day ALL SUMMER. I still know the dialog by heart.
I don’t know where my glossy hardback copy of The Return of the Jedi is. 1984 was a tough year for my family. My brother and I spent the summer with our grandparents while my parents navigated my father’s unlawful termination from the oil company he worked for and the subsequent unemployment with no savings whatsoever. As a result, most of our belongings went into storage, and my brother and I were uprooted from our school once, our home twice, and I never saw my glossy Return of the Jedi Storybook again.
In 1988, my freshman year in high school, I was sitting in my high school library and I see a mass market paperback in one of those spindle carousel things. It’s sitting among Harlequin romances, Sweet Valley High books, and Anne McCaffrey’s Dragon Riders of Pern series. I did pick it up because of the cover, but I checked it out because Joan D. Vinge wrote it. I remembered her name from my Return of the Jedi Storybook.
I loved this book SO much, I asked the librarian if I could buy it. (She said no.) We lived in a small town. My family rarely left town. Places I could buy a book locally didn’t have a whole lot of variety in science-fiction/fantasy, and so I had to be content with knowing I could get it from the library if I wanted to read it again.
Because of The Snow Queen, I stayed in the Science Fiction/Fantasy aisle on the adult side of the library. That’s where I found Dune, the Neverending Story, and the Princess Bride. It’s where I found Stephen Donaldson’s “Mordant’s Need.” It’s where I fed my hunger for intense world building and developed a love of political and sociological entanglement in my stories. It’s where my interest in Sweet Valley and Nancy Drew died a quiet death.
Later came Foucault’s Pendulum and Cryptonomicon, and from them I cultivated my reading behaviors as an adult. However, without Joan D. Vinge and her Return of the Jedi Storybook, I may have graduated from Sweet Valley into genre romance and gone no further, and I would be an entirely different reader…and writer…than I am.
Thank you, Joan.