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Out of this world: invading a literary genre

Gregg Reese | 8/1/2013, midnight

Science fiction writer Hannibal Tabu doesn’t buy the popular concept that science fiction is a bastion for nerds or the socially inept, much like comic books, superhero culture, role-playing games, and other pursuits outside the mainstream. “From the hood rat with the thickest braids to the brainiest chess player from Pyongyang, everybody can find some element of wonder in stories of the fantastic,” Tabu says.

A decade’s long aficionado of the field, Tabu points to the increased impact “sci-fi” has made on recent popular culture. To say that this is a genre reserved for pointy-headed devotees of the esoteric is, for him, nonsense.

“It’s as evident from the billion-dollar box office take of ‘The Avengers’ to the recent story about a North Carolina lawmaker trying to mandate inclusion of science fiction in education to develop more creative thinkers,” he says in a reference to the medium’s potential as a stimulant for abstract thought.

Tabu’s own plunge into the realm of the fantastic started when his mom, caught up in the frenzy swirling around the then just-released “Star Wars” in 1977, took her 4-year-old son to see that landmark “space opera.”

“She ultimately took me to see it 40 times, and I’ve probably seen it 1,100 times since then,” he remembers.

The mark of a true classic, be it music, drama, or the visual arts, is longevity, and Tabu, like legions of others, was swept up in the cultural phenomenon of George Lucas’ mega-franchise.

This awakening launched a passion lasting throughout his journey from his native Illinois through maturity in Tennessee and Washington State, and completion of a degree in creative writing from USC. Today, Tabu is a true renaissance man, proficient as a web designer, poet, published novelist, newspaper editor, graphics artist, and comic book collector par excellence. Every Wednesday, he selects titles to review in his weekly column, “The Buy Pile” at Comic Book Resources.

In terms of his life-long zeal for “sci-fi,” the emotions stirred up by his initial viewing of “Star Wars” continue to sustain the attraction that fueled his imagination as a child of color in Memphis.

“… it promised a finer world, one with hope and promise; one a long way from growing up in the shadow of the Lorraine Motel (site of Martin Luther King’s demise) and Graceland (Elvis Presley’s estate),” he continues. “The clean lines of star destroyers, the visual crispness of phalanxes of storm troopers; the authoritative baritone of James Earl Jones …. I’ve been hooked ever since.”

Spawning the seeds of creativity

Science fiction has served as an inspiration for a wide range of the reading public, and particularly the scientific community. The adventure literature of Jules Verne, especially “From the Earth to the Moon,” “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea,” and “Around the World in Eighty Days,” stimulated the imaginations of pioneers in space travel, submarine and deep-sea exploration, and the first steps towards manned flight. The emergence of cinema as a medium prophesying societal change has also been profound in recent years, with “Rollerball” (1975) and “Blade Runner” (1982) being prime examples.