Thursday, July 27, 2006

Where have all the Juveniles gone? To Galaxies, far, far away.

Given that a goodly part of my book will be saying "they don't write juveniles the way they did in my day", it seemed incumbent on me to consider where Juvenile sf might have gone to?: its values, concerns, and also the market. I know that many people go straight to adult sf at the age of thirteen, but is there still an "introductory" market?

The obvious place to look, is tie ins. Tie ins aren't what they once were. Novelisations of movies/tv are now something separate, and tie ins, though set in the same world, often aren't even about the original characters. More and more, tie ins are recogniseably independent contributions to Shared Universes, a concept with a long and respectable tradition in sf.

So for the rest of this week I'll be reading a random selection of tie ins (random as in, bought on a quick trip to Forbidden Planet in London.

First up:

Republic Commando: Triple Zero by Karen Traviss. Karen is one of my favourite sf writers so it seemed to be a good place to start.

Traviss is a working class lass from a naval town, and when she took on the franchise she deployed a lot of that basic experience of the grunt's eye view to take a long, hard look at the Jedi and their clone warriors. What's it really like to be one of a thousand clones? How do you create morale? Through fear, or through culture? Are you still human? In what ways do you recognise your brothers? How do you grow up to be a man when you know you are going to die soon? And how the hell do Jedi get off producing a bunch of slaves in their nice, ethical galaxy?

Small questions? Well, obviously not. But they are thrown out casually, tiny but integral elements in a frenetic tale of search and destroy, spy hunting, and counter-terrorism, all embedded in a set of coming of age tales.

Is this an entry level text? I think so: for all the hand-waving, hard sf, the real interest is in tactics, politics and some of the issues above. There is nothing a teen couldn't cope with--and frankly, I suspect a teen would find the complexity far less daunting than I did--and what little romance there is, is handled tactfully; I especially liked it because it was set within friendship-turning-to-love (and not lurve) and because there were Consequences.

Last thought: what's that new prize for class and sf? This book ought to be considered.


Blogger Unknown said...

Noted. I started reading K.T. on either your or Emerald City's say-so, but I've never liked tie-ins. Maybe this on fgoes at the end of the queue of things to read.

10:52 PM  
Blogger Lee said...

Do you think the juvenile SF has disappeared in part because the science has become more complex and daunting? I know that I'm trying to do some reading in cosmology and quantum mechanics and AI for my current WIP ... whew!

1:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

It's more a simple market reality. I don't think the cutting edge of science is any more difficult than it ever was, by just feels that way when you're trying to push the envelope.

SF doesn't sell in the numbers that fantasy does. Subdividing the market further makes YA SF less viable, and it also has to compete with a huge "non-genre" YA market. I didn't read that much as a youngster, but even in the late 60s, what I started on was adult SF, not YA. (Although I have far more in common with today's kids because I grew up on TV, movies and comics rather than novels.) It just seems to be a cultural thing in SF Land.

And you have to take account of the diversity of media now - kids and YAs are as likely to get their fiction experience from games and DVDs as they are from books, and maybe more so. It's not worse, and it's not better; it's just different. There's loads of YA SF around. It's just not in dead tree format, and not all of it is static and wholly defined by the author. The YAs I talk to - and they're maybe 40% of my audience, I don't know - are very much into using fiction as a basis for creating their own personal storytelling, and gaming has played a huge role in that.

2:05 AM  
Blogger Lee said...

Yes, but WHY doesn't SF sell as well as fantasy? You've given one explanation - games and DVDs - but surely there are other factors. And there are plenty of kids who read nonSF but also game and watch DVDs - got some in my own house.

Or do you mean it's a result of marketing strategies?

2:54 AM  
Blogger Farah said...


The list of why sf doesn't sell as well as fantasy is *huge* but it goes much further... the irrational currently outsells the rational in almost all genres.

In YA however, there is the factor that what YA values (emotional growth, lurve) tend to be low on the list of interests for "sf-nal" readers. The growing emphasis on inward-looking plot trajectories (save the universe but make it up with your mum) is pretty undermining for much sf.

Ironically, there is a "family generation" theme in Triple Zero, but, and its an important but, becuase this really is an sf book, the universe comes first.

Juveniles never contained much real science. I've read 300 hundred of them now. They contained a lot of engineering. but not much science.

3:05 AM  
Blogger Lee said...

Yum, Farah, lots of interesting points. What I always like about your comments - though we probably disagree a LOT in terms of the novels we like/dislike and why - is that you think so globally, and analytically. When's the book coming out?

3:31 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'd go further and say that SF doesn't sell as well because a lot of it - being fixed on ideas - offers the human reader little emotional satisfaction. And the fiction experience is about self-identification and explanation of our own dilemmas, which is how we've used storytelling since the year dot.

All my SF is character-driven. And (as I did on a panel at Comic Con last week) I disagree with a view expressed on that panel that all SF is character driven. Folks might think that's what they're writing, but SF where the characters are given their head to play out human interaction in a given environment appears to be pretty rare. I have no idea if fantasy is as caught up in the stage-dressing as SF is.

I disagree, by the way, that the universe comes first in Triple Zero. The coating there might be very distracting for someone not used to Star Wars, but this book is primarily about exploitation, slavery, family and identity. If I hadn't walked past cloning as "done too often" for my own-copyright work, this was the topic that was made for me, given my obsession with "the line" and politics of identity.

If the book is any genre, it's technothriller rather than SF or even F. Take away the theme of a cloned slave army exploited by warrior monks (class war) and you have what's known as small elite unit milfic. (Andy McNab et al.) Even the science falls into that latter category. So what makes the book different is the characters and their dawning realisation of what's been done to them.

Just my take, and I appreciate that readers see different facets to the writer.

3:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

(From pennski)

The award is "The Plunkett". See Steve Schwarz (other half of pantryslut) for details.

5:19 AM  

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