February 7, 2016


Using the panel discussions of the most recent World Science Fiction Convention in Spokane, August 2015, I will jump off, jump on, rail against, and shamelessly agree with the BRIEF DESCRIPTION given in the pdf copy of the Program Guide. This is event #3297. The link is provided below…

Hard SF for Teens

Hard science fiction isn’t just for adults. Kids today are more tech savvy than ever and fiction featuring real (or at least possible) science for teens is gaining steam. However, how hard should a hard SF novel get for young adults? What hard SF is getting it right? Who should we be reading? How can teens effectively pick through those old SF classics that they would find compelling today?

Steven Gould (m), Jennifer Brozek, Fonda Lee, Marissa Meyer, William Campbell Powell

Except for the moderator, I didn’t recognize any of the names on this list, so my first question is “What are these people doing here?”

Your first question should be, “So what if you don’t recognize any of the names? You’re almost sixty years old! What would you know about hard SF for teens?”

I’ll look into the answer to the first in a second. The second I’ll answer right now: I’ve been a middle school and high school teacher for 34 years. I know what kids are reading because I SEE what they’re reading. I talk to them about what they’re reading. I teach summer school classes to the gifted and talented – THEY are the true future of hard SF – and I see and talk to them about what they’re reading. I’d be willing to bet that I have a pretty dang good idea of what they are and are not reading. I worked at Barnes & Noble a couple of years ago, tried to order a set of the Heinlein classics and put them in the Teen section…and they were repeatedly moved back to the “regular” science fiction section because the brick and mortar giant DIDN’T RECOGNIZE THEM AS BEING FOR TEENS, a cursory skim through the twenty-six pages of “hard science fiction for teens” on Amazon didn’t net a single Heinlein book.

So who are these people and what are they doing here?

Steven Gould is described by Booklist as writing “novel[s] straddle the line between YA and adult fiction; its lead character is a teen, but the story has many adult-themed elements”. He also has a couple of the YA “beasts” of his own. Perfect!

 Jennifer Brozek seems to be well-experienced short stories and anthologies – but I’ll say right up front, that is not where and how most teens read. As an author of several RPGs as well as a BattleMech YA novel, she absolutely has the experience. But…not so much with the “beast” itself. And short stories isn’t the usual direction teens take in their reading. The ones I know want to be immersed in story; they want to escape the harsh reality of the here-and-now.

Fonda Lee has a novel, though nothing else published (Internet Speculative Fiction Database).

Marissa Meyers is the author of the best-selling LUNAR CHRONICLES (which consistently remained in the top three spots when my book came out last summer.)

William Campbell Powell is the author of a YA novel.

So all of them are more-or-less qualified to comment on YA hard science fiction.

However, I didn’t see that any of them are intimately involved with their target audience. I didn’t note that they TALK to young adults – though Mr. Campbell Powell and Mr. Gould each have two teens, and Ms. Meyers and Ms. Lee are still very much young adults themselves. However, this is not an absolute qualifier. I have two beasts of my own and they are notoriously opinionated – in my favor.

I would have loved to be there for the discussion and I’ve added books by all of them to my list of “to-reads”. However, the fact remains that I have not SEEN their books on the check-out lists of the high school I work in, and that, in the long run, is where we have to win middle and high school students over to the science fiction camp.

As for the Heinlein books – I love them and collect them, but the loving is more in the memory than in the re-reading. I find their prose clumsy and (also) very privileged “white folk”. Sorry, there’s no other way to write that; which in my own personal book disqualifies them as having any relevance for teenagers today. They live in a diverse world in which HALF of all Americans will speak Spanish as a main language by the year 2050, and it’s nearly impossible to advise kids what to take in school and college to prepare for their future career – because that career may not exist yet.

Maybe that’s what we need to do as SF writers for YA – imagine careers (and games, which is what Fonda Lee has did in her novel) that might be there when they arrive.

That’s my mission. I wonder what the mission is for these others. Tell me if I did OK; read my hard SF novel for YA – a link to it is posted on your right.

(DANG! I need to get to one of these World Cons…someday!)

No comments: