Friday, August 15, 2008

Sci-Fi and YA

Interesting Point/Counterpoint over at Io9, which discusses some of the developments in YA sci-fi lately and two different reactions to it.

The Point article, (which mentions Scott Westerfeld's Uglies series in particular) concludes that
[w]e should especially celebrate the awesome potential of YA SF to revitalize the field, and bring new readers to SF concepts.
Fair enough, though it seems to dismiss YA SF as merely a stepping stone on the way to "real" SF.

The Counterpoint article, as might be expected, takes the other tack. Not only does it argue that YA SF is unneeded, it calls into question the need for YA at all, dismissing it as unneeded niche marketing that will ultimately do more damage to the SF genre than it will do good.

It's especially hard on adults who read YA, comparing them to pedophiles. You think I'm kidding?
In an era where there is so much legal panic around relations between adults and young adults, it's hard to deny your knee-jerk response that there's something slightly distasteful and pedophilic about an adult reading stories aimed at people under the age of 18.
Um, okay. I haven't seen a logic leap like that since . . . I have no snappy metaphor for you guys here, that's just ridiculous.

Granted, this is a small part of the overall article, but it's one that really pushed my buttons. What do you think?


Brian Farrey said...

Firstly, I'm with you 110% on the absurdity of the pedophilia comparison. Are you considered into bestiality if you browse the nature section of the bookstore/library?

The one thing I agree with Captain Counterpoint on is that YA is all marketing. Publishers label a book that in an effort to reach what they think will be the audience for the book. It's that plain and simple. For that matter, honestly, so is labeling a book "sci-fi." I've read some really remarkable books that are shelved in literary fiction that should probably be consigned to the sci-fi section given the fantastic nature of their content. How did the decision get made to shelve it in fiction and not a sub-genre? The publisher crunched the numbers, looked at the book, and made a call.

I think the kerfuffle over Margo Rabb's NYT piece illustrates this nicely. I wonder if we're doing some books any favors if by labeling them. On the one hand, a book with heavy SF content will have a better chance of success if it's called that and is marketed to those who enjoy those types of books. On the other hand, a whole other audience--who may not think of themselves as SF readers--might be missing out because they eschew the label. It's sticky.

And I agree that it's insulting to differentiate between "real SF" and YA SF. They pretty much just shoot themselves in the foot with that approach. If there's a need to "revitalize" the field, how about starting with publishers refusing to publish books that are clearly derivative (**cough** Eragon **cough**) of established works and put an end to the ceaseless tie-in (Star Wars, Star Trek, Dragonlance, etc.) books.

Bibliovore said...

This Point/Counterpoint discussion is all about the squishy areas between genres, and I think that's why it's so thorny. (Thorny AND squishy? Wow. Sounds like a jello-covered cactus.) Some YA SF is more like "traditional" SF, and some is very clearly YA, in that it focuses first on the experience of understanding the world and your place in it as you come to adulthood (which by the way, has always been my criteria for YA). And some falls in the middle.

I'm with you about Eragon, (bleaaah) but I don't have anything against endless tie-ins. It's not so different than kids who head for the Dora books, or the Spongebob Squarepants books. (And that's not a belittling comparison, by the way. At least not in my mind, because I respect kids as autonomous readers who do have the capacity to desire contemplation along with their space battles, regardless of their short time on this earth.) They want what's familiar. Is there better stuff out there? Sure, hell yeah. Will they read it? Maybe they already do, maybe they never will.

In the Point article (I think) there's a bit where he waxes rhapsodic about the nerd society of SF readers, and I think that's another problem facing SF at the moment. They've niche-marketed themselves. Pocket Protectors Only Past This Point. I've given books like Uglies to some kids who would cut off their own kneecap before they went near a "nerdy" book, and that's really a shame. SF, with its capacity to look at a society from the outside and prompt readers to question basic structures of that society, can be some of the most thought-provoking out there.

Anonymous said...

Both articles frustrate me, actually. I appreciate that Counterpoint doesn't see a distinction in *quality* between YA and adult science fiction, as Point does ("real" SF? grr!). I think it's true what she says, "Many of the recent and forthcoming YA novels in scifi could just as easily be marketed as novels without any particular age designation." That goes for any genre.

But I think there's also plenty of YA SF that really is geared toward a younger audience, and while many adults may appreciate those books, they're not the primary audience. I'd feel terrible sending 12 and 13 year olds to the adult section of the library to find books like Uglies or The Golden Compass amid a sea of adult books. (That's assuming that, being marketed as general science fiction, they might not get reviewed by some of the children's lit journals and therefore not get into the children's collection.)

Is it somehow worse to market a book exclusively to a young adult audience than exclusively to a science fiction audience? I don't think so. The problem is viewing books through that lens of exclusivity, thinking a book must fit into one and only one category. And maybe that's just how marketing works most of the time. However a book is marketed, it's going to reach some readers, pass others by. You can't win 'em all.

Lenore Appelhans said...

ouch. that counterpoint article IS harsh. The YA I read, I read because it is good reading.

Fourstorymistake said...

TOTALLY agree with you, Bibliovore. If people who simply read kids' or YA lit are so "distasteful," what does that make us who work in the field writing, illustrating, etc? I definitely have a hard time getting past that sentence to fairly assess the rest of the article.