Gateway books into SFF

The other day, while I was at the mall and waiting for the bus, I noticed that books had been added to the indoor bus shelter’s selection of reading material, in between the tourist pamphlets for the city, and months-old editions of magazines. Not just any books, mind. I noticed these.

Okay, so technically I didn’t notice those exact books. That picture was taken by somebody else, in a different time and different place, and I’m using the image to show that these are the exact editions of the Narnia books that are now sitting on tables in the Lancaster Mall bus stop of Saint John, New Brunswick. The 1987 Scholastic paperback editions. Complete with the same illustrations that I remember from when I first read The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe when I was a kid.

I would have loved to have taken those books home with me, because holy crap, they were in fantastic condition for books that were probably almost 30 years old. They looked they’d never been read. The spines weren’t even broken!

But I left them, and not just because they weren’t mine to take. I thought to myself that some day, some kid is going to be stuck inside that bus shelter for half an hour, waiting for their bus, and they’re going to have nothing to do, and they’re going to see those books and pick one up and start reading it, and maybe, just maybe, that will be their entry into an amazing world of incredible literature and stories that will stick with them for a lifetime.

It also got me thinking about gateway books. The book that you read that makes you want to read more books like it, to explore the genre it was written in to see what else it has to offer. I know a lot of SFF fans found their gateway books in childhood. I didn’t find mine until my late teens, that memorable moment when a friend handed me a copy of Mercedes Lackey’s Magic’s Pawn and said, “Here, I think you’ll like this.” The book that hooked me.

I’d read other books from the diverse SFF genre before. Most people have, when they come to it that late. Kids books are filled with adventure stories that take kids along for rides into fantasy and sci-fi. Meeting aliens, riding unicorns, ghost stories, they all technically can fall under the very wide SFF umbrella. But I don’t really count them as gateway books into SFF because rarely do 8 year olds read a book about a unicorn and then say to themselves (or their parents), “I want to read more books about fantasy things like unicorns, with dragons and magic and all that stuff!” It can happen, sure, but not often.

But all of us have our gateway books, the books that we read that made us hungry for more of the genre for the very first time.

And that’s what I want to know today. What was your gateway book into genre fiction? Tell me about it, and what it was that made you want to see more, to step across the threshold and immerse yourself in fantasy or science fiction or horror or whatever your genre (or genres) of choice may be.

(Also, I at one point typoed gateway as gatewood. Somehow that seems very fitting when I’m talking about fantasy novels…)

10 comments on “Gateway books into SFF

  1. My gateway drug… errr book was Dragonbone Chair by Tad Williams. Oddly enough, it wasn’t any of Tolkien’s stuff. I got into LOTR much later.

  2. My older brother inculcated me into SF.

    My first genre fiction included I, Robot and the Martian Chronicles, but I was soon reading Tolkien, Zelazny, Clarke, Heinlein, and I never looked back.

  3. Though I read some of Narnia it didn’t push me to the genre. That distinction goes to Pern in early high school for fantasy, and Star Wars for Sci-fi.

  4. For me it was Narnia, and funnily enough, that exact 1987 Scholastic paperback edition! That was a happy day of discovery, and I haven’t looked back since.

  5. For me it was probably the fairytales my mother read to me when I was little or my father reading me The Hobbit. I usually list the latter because I have clearer memories of it being read to me and stronger emotional ties to the experience. So there’s no real ‘gateway’ for me; it’s just always been what I’ve preferred reading. ^_^

  6. I read Lord of the Rings way, way back and it blew me away, but somehow I never realised there was a whole genre springing up in its wake. So it doesn’t really qualify as a gateway book, since it was the only fantasy I read for decades. The book that got me into must-have-more mode was Game of Thrones. I have SO much catching up to do…

  7. I hope some kid DOES pick one of those books up and not someone like us who really already appreciate them. Create new book lovers yes yes. You have marvelous self control….

  8. Pingback: March in Retrospect | Bibliotropic

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