Invisible Hoverboards and Zombies on Mute
Posted February 15, 2013on:
The most frustrating part of Hannah Strom-Martin and Erin Underwood’s pitch for their new anthology is the complete absence of any sort of informed analysis or even any mention of modern science fiction for teens, except to complain that there is so little of it one hardly even knows it’s there, and what is there is all the same. (If one is to go by their post, the only recently published science fiction books for teens are Suzanne Collins’ and a vague number of ignorable dystopias.)
I hardly expect people to go on about other people’s books when promoting their own. But if one is going to try to place one’s own book within the larger context of the genre, and use that as the argument for why everyone should buy it, I expect you to demonstrate awareness of the basics. That means for every Tiptree and King you mention, I’d damn well better hear about a Westerfeld or Ryan. If one is going to start making sweeping claims of the genre in general, I expect you to know the genre. I expect something more than what amounts to saying that you walked into a single Barnes and Noble one day and decided you knew everything you needed to know from glancing at the shelves. At minimum that post should have mentioned at least one of the young adult science fiction anthologies that have been published in the last decade,* even if only to point out how rare they are.
“For me, the biggest concern was the number of [submitted] stories that, while well-written, didn’t fit the contemporary definition of young adult fiction. By this point, I’d been promoting and working with YA authors long enough to start wondering if there was a fundamental misunderstanding of what constitutes “YA fiction” within parts of the science fiction community. That realization was a bit of a shock for me.”
The truly ironic bit in all this is that the most insightful and interesting part of the entire post – the paragraph quoted above – is referring to the same conceptual idea that Strom-Martin and Underwood have so completely failed to grasp themselves.** They may understand what makes a work fit into the current definition of “young adult” and also what makes another work belong in the science fiction genre. That doesn’t mean that they are recognizing the full range of modern young adult science fiction available for teens to choose from. If they had, neither of them would dare claim that “despite the Susan Collins juggernaut, comments about SF or the classic tales from which The Hunger Games derives appeared limited to a few mentions of Battle Royale.”
First of all, they would be aware that the concerns regarding the similarities between Battle Royale and The Hunger Games were centered almost exclusively within the adult science fiction fandom and media generated by and for adults. I promise you that the teens who went to the midnight showing in my town a) did not give a shit and b) were doing just fine in comparing Collins’ work to not only other recent dystopias but the classics as well.
Secondly, they would be ashamed to write something that so completely erases the work of so many talented authors. M. T. Anderson, who makes clear references to the classic dystopias in his widely acclaimed novel Feed. Beth Reevis, whose space opera is not only in conversation with Godwin’s The Cold Equations, but pretty much attempts to drag it into an alley and toss it in the dumpster where it belongs. Even Laurie Halse Anderson has talked about the how Lia’s hallucinations in (the non-science fiction) Wintergirls were influenced by the Heinlein novels she read as a teen. (An admission prompted, I might add, by a very direct and insightful question from a teen reader.)
They would also recognize the fact that young adult subgeneres are much more fluid and open ended than adult genres tend to be. Not only are there plenty of hard to classify stories like Robin Benway’s The Extraordinary Secrets of April, May, and June, but there is very little concern over their ambiguity. Patterson can write about human experimentation and frame the results as both bird-like and angelic and teen readers don’t pause to blink. Maureen Johnson can make zombies comedic in Children of the Revolution and it’s accepted that she’s just being her usual awesome self.
The trends in young adult science fiction are influenced by adult science fiction, but they also develop slightly tangential to it and often revolve around topics that concern teens in real life. Questions about body image and identity are common, influencing not only dystopias like Westerfeld’s Uglies, but also near future bio-tech stories like Pearson’s The Adoration of Jenna Fox and Wasserman’s Cold Awakening trilogy, and most especially Larbelestier’s genre defying Liar. Both dystopias and apocalyptic tales are popular in no small part because of the adult roles they allow teens to take, from delivering a lifesaving vaccine in Crewe’s upcoming The Lives We Lost to the (admittedly absurdly) teen run society in Aguirre’s Enclave. While it’s useful and interesting to talk about how this all relates to science fiction marketed to adults, it’s rather missing the point to not also give the same weight to the daily lives of teen readers, not to mention the middle grade science fiction that influenced their tastes and understanding of what science fiction is.
I would love more young adult science fiction and more conversation about young adult science fiction. The problem is that I get the impression from reading their pitch that Strom-Martin and Underwood’s issue isn’t even so much with the quantity or even the quality, but rather the flavor young adult science fiction that is currently popular. In doing so they ultimately limit and stifle conversation rather than encourage it. Likewise, in trying to make the case that more science fiction is desired and needed, they completely and arrogantly dismiss all of the wonderful work that is out there.
I look forward to reading and talking about Futurdaze, I appreciate Strom-Martin and Underwood’s hard work (no, really, this is a kickstarter project? that’s awesome!), and I hope that they, their authors, and the anthology does well. But posts like theirs are so very much not how one successfully generates more and better young adult science fiction and conversations about young adult science fiction. (Except, perhaps, by prompting rants like mine.) Denying the existence and depth of what is actually, currently on the shelves is not respectful, interesting, or useful in that regard.
* Just off the top of my head, I got: Zombies vs. Unicorns*** and Geektastic. If you include works published since Underwood and Strom-Martin began working on their own anthology, I can add After and Diverse Energies without having to strain a single brain cell. A minimal amount of research brings up the Firebirds anthologies, which included science fiction stories as well as fantasy.
** Possibly this is a concept they do get. But if they do realize this, they sure fail to demonstrate even the most basic understanding of it in their post.
***srsly ppl, ZOMBIES VS. UNICORNS. How do we get this sentence: “We were being invaded by werewolves, vampires, and witches, and there wasn’t a single space alien to blast them off the anthology shelves,”**** lots of attempts to place their anthology in the larger context of the genre, and absolutely no mention of the great debate of 2010!?!?!?!?**** I’ll admit I’m slightly obsessed with that book, but still. This is not a random and obscure title.
****shelves? plural? in what alternate universe are there enough young adult anthologies, period, to constitute even enough for an endcap display, much less multiple shelves.? If one is going to use such extreme hyperbole, please refrain from doing so in order to deny the existence of the very thing you wish there was more of.
*****If they had done this, they would realize that part of what made Zombies vs. Unicorns so great is that it didn’t make teens choose between fantasy and science fiction. Despite the the conceit of the anthology being a battle of the stories, the point of the mock war was that both are awesome.