In the course of their long evolution our insect friends solved the problem of adolescence. While we humans grow ever so awkwardly from childhood to sexual maturity, your efficient, clever insect larva merely sequesters himself for a few weeks or months and then emerges as a completely fledged adult. No whining, no rebellion, no pimples, no door-slamming -- one day a child, and then, presto, a full member of society. There's not a beetle on what Antigonus called "the whole dungy earth" who ever had to "find himself."
I wish that my own pupa-hood had been so quick and painless, but in fact, it was a commonplace mix of anxious folly and meaningless alienation. My most successful strategy for coping with the mess was to escape into the imagination. Not my own imagination, of course, for I had little or none, but into other people's. In my pupal stage, I was an indiscriminate reader of the genre known as fantasy and science fiction. Inhabiting, as I did, the wrong body, and having been birthed in the wrong time and place, I preferred fantastic alternative universes to so-called "real life." I subscribed to a bunch of pulp mags and I also gobbled the extensive collections of sci-fi in the local public library. Not everyone will recognize the writers who were then my literary heroes, but for me they were names as familiar as Koufax and Drysdale or, for that matter, Truman and Eisenhower. Does anyone out there remember these folks: Robert Heinlein, James Blish, L. Sprague de Camp, Richard Matheson, Isaac Asimov, Robert Sheckley, Arthur C. Clarke, William Tenn, Poul Anderson, Fredric Brown, Fritz Leiber, Theodore Sturgeon, Clifford D. Simak, Fletcher Pratt, Ray Bradbury? Names to conjure with, so to speak.
Here's a paradox. While I vividly recall the names of these authors, I can remember almost nothing of what they wrote. I was fully immersed in the genre and yet it's evaporated from my memory -- leaving less of a mark than does the grub that becomes a butterfly. I seem to recall a novel or story about a planet in which the trees were murderous -- they would send their roots through ventilating ducts and strangle people in their beds. I have a hazy recollection of a story about a society in which overconsumption was the norm and in which to take a sofa and a set of chairs off the hands of newlyweds was an act of love. I recall some precocious evil children endowed with supernatural powers. Do I remember, or do I just imagine that I much admired a story about human beings shrunk to infinitesimal size who had to go mano-a-flagellum with paramecia. I'm certain that I encountered a superfluity of post-apocalyptic stories: after the A-bomb, after the plague, after the invasion from another planet -- all such fictions obvious symptoms of cold-war paranoia. Why in the world should an adolescent earthling have consoled himself with stories of extragalactic invaders spaceshipping to our green earth to exploit, or colonize, or enslave, or, occasionally, to butcher and stew us? In the 1950s, aliens were always hostile. None of my authors, as far as I can remember, could envision them greeting us with the outstretched tentacle of peace.
Although I think that some of the stories were imaginative, most of them were no more than starwarslike space operas-- Westerns but with death rays instead of six-shooters.
It's been many a year since I could abide fantasy. The genre is now repugnant to me. I can't read Tolkien or Harry Potter, I can't watch movies about ghosts, or satanic possession, or space travel, or time travel, or about people stuck in other peoples' bodies. All such nonsense bores the living heck out of me. Nor is it merely the lowbrow stuff. I can no longer read Spenser or Ariosto and my least favorite character in Shakespeare is the magician Prospero. Is it a failure of imagination on my part? Perhaps. But I don't feel it as a loss. There's more than enough of the non-fantastic to keep me joyfully occupied. I'm grateful that sci-fi served my pupal needs, but it's gone forever.
Nowadays I tend to think back to my adolescent reading only when I'm at the drugstore filling a prescription. The names of the new concoctions devised by Big Pharma all sound extraterrestrial to me. For example: Cyclessa is the queen of the distant planet Pulmicort which circles around the star Ativan in the galaxy called Levaquin. Cyclessa’s evil brother Coumadin, along with his henchmen the evil twins Zantac and Zocor, have attacked the queen, using their secret weapons Restoril and Ritalin. They're accompanied by the enchantress Ambien, aka Zolpidem, who causes her enemies to fall into profound sleep. But deep in the forest, young Prozac awakens from a spell, mounts the great horse Oxycontin, and with the aid of his sidekick, the amusing but randy Cialis, who has escaped from the clutches of the evil witch Prevacid.... Etc., etc.