Arts and Entertainment

Eagle Harbor Book Co.’s Paul Hanson shares the joys of speculative fiction

To put together the “why” behind his affection for out-of-this-world fiction, Paul Hanson flips back to the early chapters of his reading life.

“I was always attracted to it for the same reason I was attracted to dinosaurs...the sense of the magical,” he said. “When you’re older, you’re more grounded and less open to the fantastic.”

That’s partly what delights Hanson about the latest in Eagle Harbor Book Co.’s series of kids’ events, a 10 a.m. presentation today of some of his favorite speculative and science fiction titles for ages 8-12.

As store manager, Hanson has nurtured the speculative fiction niche in adults, both by helping to ensure a well-stocked section of shelves and by co-founding the Speculative Fiction Writing Cooperative in 1999. The thriving group meets twice per month and has published two anthologies, “Obliquity” and “Off the Ecliptic.”

But looking to the next generation, events like today’s as well as next week’s discussion of “The Warriors” series – which Hanson says middle school students “are ga-ga over” – are what he or any passionate bookseller live for: the chance to introduce a new generation to the transformative power of magical fiction.

Bainbridge kids, Hanson points out, had their eyes on speculative fiction long before J.K. Rowling’s “Harry Potter” series brought the supernatural, sci-fi, and fantasy genres out of the literary closet and into the mainstream.

And perhaps that’s the power of good writing, period. Hanson fully admits that as within any genre, speculative fiction writers have pumped out some poor stuff. Which doesn’t necessarily dampen his own enjoyment; but less accessible or badly written pieces have to rely on the genre-specific bells and whistles that usually don’t appeal to a mass audience.

Fine speculative fiction, by contrast, has the capacity to cross over. In less than a decade, Harry Potter became a classic for all ages; Stephenie Meyers’ “Twilight” quartet and alien love story “The Host” have mainstream teenage girls in a frenzy.

Hanson also cites highly successful recent works like Mary Doria Russell’s “The Sparrow” and Audrey Niffenegger’s “The Time Traveler’s Wife” as shining examples of work that may have a speculative shell, but at their core are about humans’ struggle to love and to survive under extraordinary circumstances.

“That’s got science fiction written all over it,” Hanson said of the Niffenegger novel. “But people will read that and think it’s not science fiction at all.”

So...how about when a wholesome, chipper, nearly-40-year-old mom who shall remain nameless confesses a secret craving for teenage vampire novels?

She wouldn’t be the first, Hanson kindly replies.

He doesn’t actually come out and say that this woman is preaching to the choir when she admits to loving a genre that might seem incongruous given her demographic.

It’s more that after all this time, he and his staffers have ceased to be fazed by readers’ choices. Instead, they patiently embrace their secondary roles as gentle therapists, offering patrons “an unconditional positive regard.”

“Somebody can come up with the most off-the-wall thing, and nothing surprises me,” he said.

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Life is just a fantasy

Paul Hanson presents favorite science fiction and fantasy books for ages 8-12 at 10 a.m. today at Eagle Harbor Book Co. The bookstore will also host a “Warriors” book group at 10 a.m. Aug. 20.

Meantime, here’s a list of Hanson’s speculative fiction picks for kids and adults alike.

Ages 10-100:

A Wrinkle in Time, Madeline L’Engle

The Golden Compass, Phillip Pullman

Earthsea Cycle, Ursula K. LeGuin

Ages 8-12:

The Secret History of Tom Trueheart, Ian Beck

Theodosia & the Serpents of Chaos, R.L. LaFevers

Samuel Blink & the Forbidden Forest, Matt Haig

Ages 12+:

Epic, Conor Kostick

The New Policeman, Kate Thompson

The Color of Magic, Terry Pratchett

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