Growing up in New Zealand during the 1970s, I feel in love with the TV show Doctor Who. The first story I ever saw was Spearhead From Space, Jon Pertwee's debut as the third Doctor. This was originally broadcast by the BBC in 1970, but didn't reach NZ for another three or four years. By this time, a British company had begun publishing novelisations of Doctor Who's television adventures, books aimed squarely at children. Target Books started by reprinting three novelisations from the 1960s, before moving on to adaptations of more recent stories.
Joyously, many of those early Target novelisations include a handful of illustrations to help bring the story to life. These are hilarious in retrospect, but the earliest efforts have a retro kitsch charm. For Doctor Who fans of a certain, pre-VHS or DSVD age, stories were relived via Target Books rather than bozed sets with commentary tracks. These illustrations were all we had to help us envisage the stories, along with the words of Dicks, the redoubtale Malcolm Hulke and the splendid prose of David Whitaker. I suspect my writing style was borne of those 128-page thrillers and subsequently shaped by five years as a daily newspaper journalist. Purpose prose and lengthy descriptions are beyond me, as a consequence.
Like a lot of kids growing up in the Commonwealth during the 70s and 80s, Target Books based on Doctor Who were my first real exposure to science fiction in print. I started reading some sf books, including everything I could find by an author called John Christopher, such as his Tripods trilogy [long before it became a TV series], and other titles including the Guardians and The Lotus Caves.
But I remained loyal to Target Books. Whenever I saw a new book with the Target logo on the cover, I'd pick it up. If the contents seemed even vaguely interesting, I'd buy it with whatever pocket money I possessed. [My granddad gave me a little for helping him with odd jobs, before I graduated to delivering newspapers and pumping petrol at the gas station my dad co-owned with his cousin, Roy.] As a consequence, I bought and read all manner of odd titles I'd never have tried otherwise. Who remembers Swedish detective Agaton Sax? At least, I think he was Swedish. Illustrated by the wonderful Quentin Blake, the great sleuth's adventures are now ludicrously expensive to buy second hand.
I also bought and cherished a copy of The Adventures of Rama, a retelling for children of legends and myths about, well, the adventures of Rama [including the noble Indian prince's heroic battle with Ravana, the ten-headed demon king of Lanka]. I loved that book to pieces - literally. By the twenthieth time I'd read it, the cover was falling off and the pages were kept in place by willpower and careful finger placement. I'm not sure I'd even met an Indian person when I read The Adventures of Rama, but they sounded like good people to have on your side in a fight, with a strong grasp of heroism and battle tactics. Cowboy icon John Wayne had nothing on Rama, in my humble opinion when I was ten.
Was there a point to all this rambling? Probably not. But I've bought myself another copy of The Adventures of Rama and plan to take it away with me on Saturday as holiday reading. What novels made the most impact on you when you were growing up?