My brother from another planet

Christmas is a time for family. Sometimes that’s even a good thing. My brother and I have our differences – he has no interest in House despite being the one to hook me on Blackadder and therefore starting me on the path towards Hugh Laurie admiration, and he refuses to acknowledge that Sarah McLachlan’s Surfacing is just as fine as Fumbling Towards Ecstasy. But he’s been the one constant in my life: the vaguely Frankenstein-headed little boy gingerly holding the baby blob in my first photo; now the gentle giant who knows when to let me rant and when to knock me off my soapbox with a deprecating joke. We don’t see each other often anymore, but he knows me well.

This Christmas, he fed my addiction to medical shows and well-crafted comedy-drama with the first season of Scrubs on DVD. We watched the first several episodes as well as one of his gifts from a friend, the Family Guy movie, and though very different, each provided both clever and stupid laughs in one package and we laughed ourselves silly.

In the three days I was in unusually balmy Edmonton, when we weren’t engaged in Christmas feasts we mostly stayed indoors and gorged ourselves on very unChristmas-like fare from his DVD collection, like Bruce Lee movies and Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Team America, which was sick and wrong and made me laugh against my will … and made me the object of my brother’s mockery for covering my eyes during the gory scenes (“oh no, the kitties are gnawing on the puppets!”).

We don’t have similar tastes. I couldn’t sum up his, though. I end up watching cruder or more action-oriented films when I’m with him, but they’re often clever or satiric, too. He surprises me occasionally, with his love of Ingrid Bergman and ability to admit he ended up admiring House of Sand and Fog after ridiculing the desire to see a film about a property dispute. He thinks he can sum up my tastes. Years ago, after we saw Gattaca, he agreed with my one-word critique – “boring” – but expressed sarcastic surprise: “I thought you liked boring movies.”

But I’m often reminded of how much my tastes have been shaped by his. He was and is a science fiction geek, and helped me learn not to be afraid of the genre, even if I can’t pledge allegiance to it. I don’t have to be a science fiction fan to reminisce fondly about Star Trek and Star Wars (and appal science fiction geeks when I sometimes get the two titles mixed up). Because of him, I saw the first Star Wars about a million times, and played with the action figures endlessly, and while I haven’t seen the last one yet, I will.

We watched part of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy at Christmas, and recalled how much better the books and even the BBC miniseries were – which I read and watched because of him, of course. He’s made me promise to rent the new Battlestar Galactica and I will, now, even though I hadn’t been motivated so far despite nostalgia for the old one (guess who got me to watch it as a child?) and hearing nothing but raves about this one from other people. We don’t have the same tastes, but if my brother recommends something, I trust in his confidence that I’ll like it.

He also got me a book for Christmas, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon. It’s not his taste, but he knew I wanted to read it, and that I’m always starved for great reading material. I’m a little more selective now, but as a kid, I’d read pretty much anything – whatever was around the house between my own library trips, and that was usually his science fiction.

I didn’t like it all, or even most of it, and had no interest in aliens and spacecrafts. But I discovered some were just as captivating as my Nancy Drew or Jane Austen, with thought-provoking stories and well-drawn characters that weren’t just about life on Mars, but sometimes had something to say about social issues or human emotions. Though I would initially protest that I didn’t like science fiction, in time, the label didn’t matter to me, but the story and characters did.

When I was little and feeling petulant about something my brother did, I used to say I wanted a big sister. Until recently, my mother thought I meant that I wanted another sibling, but no, I wanted to trade my existing one in. But now I’m glad to have a big brother who, among many more important things, taught me early to look beyond genre. If only I could get him to listen to his little sister about the merits of Merchant Ivory and romantic comedies.

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