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To Put Away Childish Things?


So Ursula K LeGuin’s Powers, a YA novel, has won the Nebula Award for Best Novel, and Patrick Ness’ The Knife of Never Letting Go, also a YA novel, has co-won the Tiptree Award. Not to mention the two YA novels on the Hugo shortlist – Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, and The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman. Seems a bit silly complaining that science fiction needs to grow up when YA novels are all over non-YA sf awards.

Or is it?

John Scalzi thinks this is cause for celebration – or rather, not cause for commiseration – because, he writes, “how horrible it is that some of what is being hailed as the best science fiction and fantasy written today is in a literary category designed to encourage millions of young people to read for the rest of their natural lives“.

Which doesn’t exactly address the “genre growing up argument”.

There are other sf awards, of course. And one book on the Arthur C Clarke Award short list is Ian R Macleod’s Song of Time. Of which, Helena Bowles wrote, “This is the point at which Science Fiction left adolescence behind and grew up”.

Perhaps science fiction is like a suspension bridge, a catenary between two poles. One pole is YA and the other is adult literary sf. The saggy bit in the middle, where the curve nearly touches dirt, would be those interminable and derivative military sf series churned out by publishers like Baen. Or the populist stuff.

Except… sf-as-a-bridge implies a journey from YA to literary sf… which does sort of fit. But it also means you’d have to pass through the middle, where Honor Harrington and her ilk lurk. Which is not necessarily true….

Or is it?

An example: a new reader to sf has devoured all the good YA stuff – Ness, Le Guin, Philip Pullman, Ann Halam, (the Arthur C Clarke Award nominated) The H-bomb Girl, etc. – and moves onto the populist adult sf. And then it’s a long hard uphill slog to the literary end of the genre, a slog that not everyone makes. After all, gravity alone means most will gather in the middle, where the curve is at its lowest.

Perhaps this metaphor isn’t so silly after all….

2 thoughts on “To Put Away Childish Things?

  1. Personally I am not really sure why I should care about YA SF encouraging young people to read and so I’m not convinced that that’s a good or a bad thing.It’s a bit like looking at SF in terms of whether or not it encourages people to study science. It may. It may not. Surely this is completely irrelevant to issues such as the health of the genre?

  2. Genre YA fiction is currently healthier than so-called adult genre – well, healthier inasmuch as titles sells more units. But then YA is an artificial marketing category anyway. It’s not like teenagers can’t read non-YA sf.There is the argument that YA sf is less complex than non-YA – which is of course vehemently denied by readers of YA sf. And indeed most YA sf is probably of equal complexity to most populist sf, of the likes of Asimov, Heinlein, Weber and Kevin J Anderson…

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