November 25, 2012

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAY: How Science Fiction Saved Me Then But Probably Wouldn’t Today

My personal opinion regarding science fiction for young people is well documented – most notably here: and here:

Skimming through the recent Golden Duck Awards (, I see two familiar names David Weber (the Honor Harrington novels – this book tells the story of her first meeting with her treecat) and Kathy Reichs (the inventor of the Temperance Brennan books that became the fascinating TV series BONES).

Though I haven’t read any of the award winners, it strikes me first that the synopses seem to be fairly positive (though one, Worst-Case Scenario Ultimate Adventure #2: Mars! appears to be part of the amusing but hardly groundbreaking “Worst Case Scenario” collection of humor books for adults), THE LONG, LONG SLEEP seems practically Heinleinesque in its plot as does Weber’s A BEAUTIFUL FRIENDSHIP. Like the Hugo Award, this award is presented at the World Science Fiction Convention each year and appears to be a “popular” award.

The Andre Norton Award, on the other hand, is given like the Nebula Award, by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. I was on the Norton Committee twice. Recent winners there: THE FREEDOM MAZE was a hit on every level in addition to winning the 2012 Norton. My two favorites in 2007 and 2008 were LIFE AS WE KNEW IT and THE TRUE MEANING OF SMEK DAY and while neither one won the Norton, both are extant on the bookshelves of brick-and-mortars and online at Amazon and Barnes & Noble.

So – to the irritation.

Why did I fall in love the works of Andre Norton, Robert A. Heinlein, John Christopher, Madeleine L’Engle, Alan E. Nourse, Ben Bova, Donald A. Wollheim, and all the others?

Because I was a lonely adolescent, really, really disliked who I was, and felt out of place in my family. I disappeared into science fiction to escape the mundane life I lived – and to escape the grim future I saw unfolding around me. Assassination, riots, Vietnam, an out-of-control drug culture, political dishonesty and unrest from New York through London into Moscow, New Delhi, Beijing and to Los Angeles flickered nightly on television. I needed hope and found it in NASA and the space program as well as in STAR TREK.

But I had to search beyond that and that was where I followed the lead I glimpsed in the first two science fiction books I ever read, THE SPACESHIP UNDER THE APPLE TREE (Louis Slobodkin) and THE WONDERFUL FLIGHT TO THE MUSHROOM PLANET (Eleanor Cameron).

MISS PICKEREL GOES TO MARS (and the others) by Ellen MacGregor (and after MacGregor’s untimely death Dora Pantel) followed, and I was off on an adventure that hasn’t ended yet. I have a YA science fiction novel that will shortly go to my agent and I have an SF short story appearing in the January 2013 issue of CRICKET, called “The Penguin Whisperer”.

Even with such positive influence, many adults are still peddling doom and gloom to teens today. At the school I work at the travesty of “science fiction” – which contains neither science nor is it fiction but (In my opinion the work of an author who has a “thing” against teenagers and would perhaps like to see them kill each other off for the amusement of the adult population. Any takers out there who’d like to argue the point?) has become a part of the English Curriculum at my school! Why not a novel that has a reasonable view of the future? Why this…thing?

A comment made on the blog entry I posted above reveals how writers sometimes view the world: “Susan McNerney says (July 16th, 2012) …both trends are probably tapped out in the agent/publisher pipeline by now, from what I’m hearing. So, this too shall pass.” Just so she knows, this is the second year that THG is being taught as part of the curriculum at our two high schools. There’s been, strangely, not a single protest from ANYONE about a book that not only promotes violence but the wholesale slaughter of teenagers by other teenagers (and while that is happening on a regular basis today) the added kicker is that ADULTS WATCH IT FOR ENJOYMENT…As curriculum engines turn very, very slowly, we can count on this book being part of the education of ninth graders in my high school for at least five more years.

The upshot of this somewhat rambling essay is that science fiction writers DO have a responsibility to present positive futures to young adults – if that is the specific audience they are aiming at. I don’t MEAN to write politically correct books or dumbed down or namby pamby work (which is how some people will inevitably read into what I’m writing when they stop reading before this)!

What I mean is that we write the way responsible adults should write – with an eye on the future and using our writing skills to coax young people – like I was once – into a future where there IS hope and where they MIGHT be able to find a place for themselves that doesn’t include wholesale slaughter for adult entertainment or grim, hopeless grayness. They get enough of that in real life…

No comments: