Friday, December 24, 2004

Fiction for Free Range Children

In January I'll be beginning a short period of research at the Eileen Wallace Collection at the University of New Brunswick, Canada. The Eileen Wallace Collection is one of the larger collections of children's fiction, and I'll be there to read as much children's science fiction as I can. I'm contracted to write a book which discusses what's wrong with most of the so-called "YA science fiction" published in the past twenty years.

My main thesis is that modern YA sf is mostly not science fiction. It isn't interested in kids going out, exploring the galaxy, and staying out there to change the universe. Instead, it wants children to go out into the galaxy, discover it's a really scary place, learn some lessons and come home to apply those lessons to home and family.

Instead of socialising children to move outwards, these stories are socialising children to come home.

I'll be using these pages to talk about the books I think work as science fiction and why, the books I don't think work (even if I like them for other reasons) and why. As some of my ideas are tied into changing ideas about children and children's cognitive processes, there will be comments on and links to child development pages.

3 Comments:

Blogger Mike said...

Hi Farah,

We've had this argument before, but who says that science fiction has to be about going out into space and being optimistic and all? That may be the kind of science fiction you (or I) like, but where does it say that SF has to be optimistic? It seems to me that it can just as easily be pessimistic and about how everything is going to hell and we should all run home and hide in a hole. That kind of a story might not be popular, but popularity doesn't determine genre. Some of Ray Bradbury's best SF features this kind of pessimism. Ditto Thomas Disch and a good bit of the British New Wave.

It seems to me that if a story features space travel and aliens it's science fiction pretty much by definition and that if its message is that the universe is a scarey place and we should all go home and be polite children, then it's simply science fiction of a sort you (and I) don't much like.

Mike

10:51 PM  
Blogger Farah said...

Going into space isn't the only kind of sf--I've just read a brilliant book I'll be talking about next week which isn't about space travel at all--and it doesn't have to be optimistic, but I do think the *point* should be about exploring "out there", beyond oneself. A book which is much more interested in inner growth doesn't work for me. And a book which uses technology to frighten people away from it, has a lot more in common with the thriller genre.

And the thing is, if sales figures of YA sf in the past twenty years are anything to go by, it doesn't work for the market, whereas we know that Norton and Heinlein juveniles sold well.

So, if a book marketed as sf doesn't appeal to the readers who buy (or are expected to go onto buy) adult sf, surely there is a problem here? None of this is an argument about whether they are good books or not.

Part of it depends how you define a genre. For me, a genre is defined as a dialog between publisher, sales location, writer and audience. Gary Westfahl talks about this in his book on Amazing Stories.

12:31 AM  
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