The science fiction drug is available everywhere to kids, in superhero comics, on TV, in the movies, in books and magazines. It is impossible to avoid exposure, to avoid the least hint of excitement at Marvel Comics superheroes and Star Trek reruns and Star Wars, impossible not to become habituated even before kindergarten to the language, clichés, basic concepts of science fiction. Children’s culture in the contemporary US is a supersaturated SF environment. By the time a kid can read comic books and attend a movie unaccompanied by an adult, his mind is a fertile environment for the harder stuff. Even the cardboard monsters of TV reruns feed the excitement. The science fiction habit is established early.
In some cases, accompanied by the hosannas of proud parents, a bright kid focuses his excitement on the science part and goes on to construct winning exhibits in school science fairs, avoid being arrested for computer hacking, obtain scholarships, and support proud parents in their old age with his honorable gains as a career corporate technologist. Most often, a kid freezes at the gosh-wow TV/comics/movies stage and carries an infatuation with fantastic and absurd adventure into later life. But sometimes, usually by the age of twelve, a kid progresses to reading science fiction in paperback, in magazines, book club editions-wherever he can find it, because written SF offers more concentrated excitement. This is the beginning of addiction; he buys, borrows, even steals all the science fiction he can get his hands on and reads omnivorously for months or even years, sometimes until the end of high school years, sometimes a book or more a day. But the classic symptom is intense immersion in written SF for at least six months around age twelve. —David G. Hartwell —Age of Wonders
I was 12 in 1980. I had finished all the Lester Del Ray classics that were in my local library, and I was getting into Larry Niven (particularly the Ringworld series). There were also a handful of Star Trek paperbacks — and the publication pace was picking up, since the Star Trek movies had just started coming out. My brother was into the Foundation and Dune epics, but for some reason I never followed him there.
I found a reference to this essay on Machina Memorialis, and thought I’d see what Google would turn up.