An old and dear friend of mine as a part of his master’s degree in education asked me a series of questions. One of those sparked a firestorm of memories that, once they had burned down, left this essay.
The question: What would be some protective factor influences that you would have had in your life. A protective factor would be positive influences in your life. Warner described that for “at-risk” children to succeed they need to have interactions with protective factors.
My answer was that science fiction (once called “juvenile fiction”) was a major protective factor for me. Heinlein, Del Rey, Wollheim, Nourse, Andre Norton, Bova, Leinster, Lightner, Cameron, Slobodkin, Matt Christopher, and others showed me a future that I could look forward to. Their novels prepared me to run outside and look up at the Moon on the night of July 20, 1969, hoping to catch a glint of sunlight off the skin of the command module, Columbia.
While my life was outwardly middle-class, white-privileged, suburban, male; my life inside was full of misery. I wasn’t a jock – I liked to read, write, sing, be in plays, ride my bike and go camping (alone, I’m the only camper in my family). While my mom sang and read, and my dad read as well, my brothers and sister NEVER appeared to -- at least not as much as I did. Everyone was an athlete – football, baseball, hockey, track, volleyball, softball and bowling equipment filled the house. Weekdays were for practicing sports; weekends were filled with games and watching sports.
I read and started to write science fiction, played the guitar, rode my bike and taught myself how to go camping.
The futures in the books I read – because they were positive – saved me from dying in my differentness. I could explore strange new worlds and times and vaguely hope that I might someday go there. Be there. Live in those futures, on other worlds. Maybe I would have a spacesuit that I could travel in! Maybe I would be a doctor to the galaxy or visit a universe in-between.
I wouldn’t have stood a chance of growing a positive outlook on the future if I’d started reading teenYA science fiction today. The only futures I could look forward to are ones in which magic is my only hope (and only then if I can find the right subway platform (what would I do in Minneapolis? We only have one light rail line!)); in another future, I might be chosen to go to the capitol and slaughter people in my peer group; in another, all the adults are gone and I have to live in a futuristic LORD OF THE FLIES; another, all adults are killed by comet sprinkles and the mission I go on is a long-shot at best; or I have to get myself surgically altered or become a pariah and a criminal.
Today’s teenYA SF would not be considered a protective factor influence for a struggling adolescent. Not in the grim dosages they have today. While THE WHITE MOUNTAINS quartet and the WRINKLE IN TIME quintet are the father and mother of today’s teenYA dystopian lit, they were, in their time, only part of the “juvenile SF” field, they were not the entire field the way THG, G, TG, TCC, U, LB, F, and TMR are.
In those days, there was hope.
In those days, there was hope.
So rather than just piss and moan about it, excuse me while I get back to work on revising HEIRS OF THE SHATTERED SPHERES: Emerald of Earth for my agent to sell as my second book.