Influences... we all have them:  our inspirers, role models, teachers (even those who might have dreaded us as pupils).  Whether we have honored them through the impact we have received and the traces of them that continue to move through us, or let them down, they are there, inside us to the end, and rightly or wrongly we wish to credit them for the attempt they made to make us better.

I suppose all of us could start with our own family and friends, and the significant strangers of our lives, the texture of everyday living that has engulfed us since day one:  the sights, the sounds, the jokes, the conversations, the examples, the jolts and the assisted awakenings, the thrashings and the comforting, the stabs in the back, and the loyalty that could move one to tears.  That goes without saying.  We are all mostly built up by the power and might of people who are not in encyclopedias; by people who do not have streets named after them, or statues of them placed in city squares.

But after that... and beyond that great invisible foundation... who are the ones who have guided us to the place we are today?

For me, we could start with some of the pop-culture influences of my youth (late 1950s to late 1960s).



The "Astro Boy" I was familiar with was a Japanese-created TV series, based on the manga by Osamu Tezuka and dubbed in English.  I was pretty young at this time, and I hardly remember a thing about the show, except that I loved the relationship between the friendly professor and Astro Boy, and the way they teamed up to fight against unjust and cruel villains, and prejudice itself.  Astro Boy was a robot kid with extraordinary powers, and genuine feelings, but because he was a robot he was looked down on by many.  The professor's love for him was, therefore, special, and Astro Boy seemed to respond to this love by performing great feats on behalf of justice.  Our young and still forming minds were deeply affected by the lesson. 



"Get Smart" was a television series created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry, and starring Don Adams, Barbara Feldon, and Edward Platt.  It began airing on US television in the mid-1960s and could best be described as a spy spoof, combining secret-agent-type adventures with comedy.  Sometimes the humor was too much (did we really laugh at that?), and at other times it was actually quite brilliant; but back in those days it was all good.   Some of my favorite things about the show:  agent Maxwell Smart's top-secret phone, concealed in his shoe, which had the inconvenient habit of ringing in public places; Hymie the robot and his tendency to take everything literally (if you told him, "Hymie, give me a hand," he would unscrew his robot hand and give it to you); and the plight of agent 44, always stashed away in miserable hiding places and in search of a sympathetic ear to complain to.  The show, which had a way of bringing families together, was definitely nourishing to one's sense of humor, and stimulating to one's technological imagination (there were crazy inventions of all kinds).


Make that the Tom Swift, Jr., adventure series, written by 'Victor Appleton II.'  (For some reason I have always referred to Victor Appleton II, which is really a publishing house pseudonym, as 'Victor Appleton III.'  My bad: too late to change it everywhere else I've been, though I'll start doing things right from now on!)

This series (1954-1971), following a previous one (1910-1941 which featured Tom Swift Sr.), was aimed at the juvenile market and built around the adventures of a young scientific genius whose amazing inventions always figured prominently in equally amazing adventures, which took place across the globe, under the sea, and even in outer space.  While the girls in my school were busy reading the 'Nancy Drew' books, and boys who preferred detectives to scientists were reading 'The Hardy Boys', I was a loyal and entrenched Tom Swift reader.  Who could resist the triphibian atomicar, the polar-ray dynasphere, the repelatron skyway, the electronic retroscope, the subocean geotron, the sonic boom trap, the giant robot, or any of those other incredible high-tech inventions?  (Come on, now!!!!)  Few people remember having the flu with fondness, but honestly, one of my most cherished days as a child was the day I missed school because I was sick - far too sick to leave the house, but never too sick to read the latest Tom Swift adventure!  I remember sitting in my bathrobe at the desk, feverish but enthralled, telling myself, "I'll only read one more chapter" until the book was done.  No chicken soup needed. (By the way - both the sonic devices of the cover above, and the high-tech device pictured in one version of the 'Electronic Retroscope' cover, influenced me in my conceptualization of high-tech devices used in my own book.  More than that, the deluge of inventions and technical purposes pouring out of the Tom Swift, Jr. adventure series stirred my own imagination for creating worlds of new technology in The March of the Eccentrics.)




And then, of course, there was Ian Fleming's "James Bond."  I grew up during Sean Connery's stint as (the movie) 007, and relished all of his flicks.  They were perfect for a young male, with their combination of fantastic criminal conspiracies, desperate government countermeasures, action-packed adventures jumping from one 'exotic locale' to the next (so glad to get away from Main Street), high-tech devices of extraordinary ingenuity, and plenty of raw material for the developing libido.  In those days large-screen theaters still abounded, and you also had some twin-bill action going on, so that I was actually able to see Thunderball  (back for a second run) and You Only Live Twice (which had just come out) all in one exciting package.  Yes, I know, the movies were a feminist's nightmare, but even so, the girls rocked!  Our hormones, or pre-hormones, whatever was at work at that point in time, dragged us helplessly behind them - we could not be held accountable for our infatuations!  (In those days, Akiko Wakabayahsi and Mie Hama from You Only Live Twice surged to the top of my 'young adult' love-object list, to be rivaled later only by Linda Harrison of Planet of the Apes.  What a lot of comfort our imaginations can give to us - how warmly they populate our solitude!) 

^  A young man's dream come true - James Bond did it for me in both the high-tech and fantasy-girlfriend department...  But more influences were on the way, for my journey was still only just beginning...