“I’m done reading these. I thought you might like ’em.”
May 31, 2013 3:51 PM   Subscribe

A lovely recollection of pop-culture mentors, and finding culture pre-internet. "Uncle Mike didn’t play D&D; paintball battles in the Everglades were more his thing. But for the next few years he kept passing along books he’d finished, including 1984’s Dragons Of Autumn Twilight. The first installment of the D&D-based Dragonlance series by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, it’s by no means a classic in the genre. But it helped solidify my devotion to what would eventually be called geek culture. Back then, the term would have been meaningless to me. And it would have made my macho Uncle Mike laugh his ass off."
posted by ThatFuzzyBastard (17 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
The first two Dragonlance series plus the choose your own adventure book about Raistlain remain some of my favorite things I've read across the years.
posted by hippybear at 4:28 PM on May 31, 2013 [7 favorites]

That was a great article. I'm probably about the same age as the author and I had similar experiences. I was somewhat lucky in that my father was a prodigious reader and was into science fiction as well as more mainstream stuff. But there were others as well who had a profound effect on me.

I remember a coworker of my father's was involved in a messy divorce when I was about 13 and came to stay at my parents' house for a few weeks. His name was Rob and, before he'd become a schoolteacher he'd had a brief failed career as a computer game designer. It's shocking to think that in my memories of him, he was almost certainly younger than I am now.

Rob brought me copied diskettes full of C64 games, including Zork and a bunch of more esoteric text adventures. He also gave me a copy of the 1st Edition D&D Monster Manual, which became a sort of geek culture Rosetta Stone for me.

Later, when I was about 15, I bought a record player at a yard sale and, in addition to raiding my parents record collection (they still had all their vinyl despite not having anything to play it on), I mentioned my new prize to my uncle and namesake. He gave me "The Wall" by Pink Floyd and "Some Kinda Fun" by Teenage Head saying simply: "I think you might like these."

And, though I would never have admitted it to him, I had a friend, who had been a compatriot and hockey teammate in my hayseed childhood, and who I fell back in with in high school, who became a tremendous cultural influence on me. We went to separate high schools in the same small town. Apparently, he shaved his head into a mohawk, pierced his ears with safety pins, and started tearing his shirts into rags a few months before I independently did the same things. Then we found each other and, for a time, were inseparable.

But his pop culture mentors must have delved much deeper than mine. We were into a lot of the same things: Rancid, beer, Chomsky, Philip K. Dick, Black Flag. But he introduced me, probably unintentionally, to layers I hadn't previously known existed: D.O.A, Derrida, LSD, Robert Anton Wilson. I don't know where I would have ended up without him.

I too hope to serve this role to the next generation. And I don't despair at all. While the gatekeeper may be obsoleted, the importance of the curator is now clear.
posted by 256 at 4:31 PM on May 31, 2013 [16 favorites]

Well said, 256!
posted by starscream at 5:20 PM on May 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

When I was in seventh grade my math teacher gave me a big box full of RPGs that he too was "done reading". A bunch of Traveler, some Car Wars, Top Secret, and most importantly nearly all of the books and modules for the second edition Runequest. Also found in the box was a folder of character sheets from his gaming group and some adventures they'd written on their own.

The same guy showed me Wizardry and Ultima ( he would let me play them in class if I was done with my homework) and introduced me to pirating software. He gave me the dungeon creator disc for Eamon and showed me some of the ones he'd built.

I'd already played Star Frontiers (my parents were also of the D&D is satan's tool caste) and Zork, but this treasure trove of resources allowed me to learn multiple rule sets and experience new game worlds without the financial investment that I couldn't afford. He gave me a creative outlet that I didn't have in my tiny town without a stoplight.

I now design video games, and I'm pretty sure I owe Mr. Sebastian for pointing me in the right direction.
posted by doctoryes at 5:41 PM on May 31, 2013 [3 favorites]

I have 9 nieces and nephews (total, not 9 each, pedants). I enjoy nothing more than sending them random amazon shipments, or handing them graphic novels from my library. They aren't all the right ages yet... And I always want them to ask for more... But man, being that mentor is fun.
posted by DigDoug at 5:50 PM on May 31, 2013

The first installment of the D&D-based Dragonlance series by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, it’s by no means a classic in the genre

posted by DigDoug at 5:51 PM on May 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

The first installment of the D&D-based Dragonlance series by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman, it’s by no means a classic in the genre


As always, it depends on how you define your terms. If the genre is "books of the D&D-based Dragonlance series by Margaret Weis and Tracy Hickman," then for sure it is in the first rank.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 6:29 PM on May 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

Dragons of Autumn Twilight popped my fantasy cherry at age 11.

There's probably a better way for me to have worded that.
posted by Wataki at 8:06 PM on May 31, 2013 [1 favorite]

All my kender put ya hands uuuuppppp
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:13 PM on May 31, 2013 [2 favorites]

shake ya staves if u love having pockets
Rub yr beardy if you don't know yr poppa!
posted by Potomac Avenue at 8:14 PM on May 31, 2013 [4 favorites]

I am properly jealous of all of you that had curators. I remember hitting my tween years and despairing that there was nothing to read (this was before amazing YA novels began appearing). Dad gave me "Three Men in a Boat", which was sadly a bit over my head, but I somehow discovered Marion Zimmer Bradley on my own, and that was all she wrote. I sort of wish someone could have steered me away from Mercedes Lackey, though...
posted by kalimac at 12:53 AM on June 1, 2013

My older brother wanted someone to play D&D with, so he introduced me to the Forgotten Realms novels. I must have been around ten? I remember that my neighbor was scandalized by the cheesecake cover of Azure Bonds and talked to my mother about the fact that I was reading that dreck. Which, I mean, it was, but probably not in the way she was thinking.

I don't think I ever really met any adult geeks, though. Not until college or on the internet.

I also read Dragons of Autumn Twilight, and as far as D&D tie in novels went, it was a classic of the genre.
posted by dinty_moore at 3:42 AM on June 1, 2013

My classmates and friends were my mentors and curators in my senior year, when I had to change high schools including the continent from which the educational system emerged into being.

John Carter of Mars meets X-Men meeting up with Conan the Barbarian to go hang out at the Computer Lab after school and wait for Jens to hurry up and build a frogger like game on the trash80 already so we could play something.

In Semester 2, Galaxian arrived. Wee hee Space Invaders clone!
posted by infini at 5:36 AM on June 1, 2013

I might be biased... I think Kitiara might have been my first crush.
posted by DigDoug at 8:26 AM on June 1, 2013

Really great article. thanks for posting.
posted by theora55 at 10:48 AM on June 1, 2013

I've read the Dragonlance Chronicles many times. I know it seems silly but for a lot of folks Dragonlance itself was the gateway into Tolkien and Moorcock, and Moorcock was the gateway to weird fiction, Hawkwind, and the idea that nerds and rockers are on the same team.

And I'm gonna drop this self link here: Gates of Thorbardin
Seems relevant.
posted by kittensofthenight at 11:12 AM on June 1, 2013

I remember working around the edges of SFF as a pre-teen. This was a few decades before the Internet and I was subsisting mostly on Heinlein's juvenile tales, Lin Carter, Burroughs. Then, as a good little Lutheran, I finished confirmation. This was a pretty big deal and usually meant a substantial gift haul, at least for small town North Dakota. I had two older male cousins, one in high school and the other in college. They handed me four books, three of which are pictured here. The other of course was the "hole in the ground" prequel. I was also told that I might want to "check out Conan" and they didn't mean the author of Sherlock Holmes.

I already knew I was on a different path than the rest of the kids I knew but that gift, that was a gateway drug like no other. Thanks guys, the debt is incalculable.
posted by Ber at 11:34 AM on June 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

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