March 13, 2016

POSSIBLY IRRITATING ESSAYS: YA Don’t Pick Their SFF Books, Old Folks Do! 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 #3555 . The link is provided below…

Building a Better Tomorrow: Young adult science fiction is thriving, presenting an array of possible futures for humanity. While YA SF seems to be taking off, many of those stories feature dark futures. Why might teens be drawn to these types of settings that feature dystopic settings? Will there be a brighter or better tomorrow for us? Laura Anne Gilman (m), Troy Bucher, Dan Wells

The participants: Laura Anne Gilman (YA dark magic fantasy); Troy Bucher (service man, writer); Dan Wells (post-apocalyptic SF, horror/thriller).

A well-qualified panel. I would have loved to have listened in on this one; but I absolutely KNOW that I wouldn’t have been brave enough to have expressed my REAL opinion.

What IS my real opinion?

I’m sure it will irritate anyone who writes YA SF/F. I challenge anyone who disagrees with me to PROVE that my position is predicated on false presumptions.

I don’t believe teens are drawn to dark futures. Adults authors write the books, adult editors buy the books, adult editors edit the books, adults publish the books, adults market the books, adults BUY the books for libraries and bookstores, adults recommend the books, adults READ the books, adults review the books, and ultimate the end result is that teens AREN’T drawn to dark futures.

Dark futures are foisted off on them by adults grimly determined to either drag teens down into their dark assessment of the direction the world is going today, or adults who are irritated by the natural exuberance of youth now that they’re old and creaky, or they just hate the idea of teenagers and write fiction in which teenicide is encouraged and glorified.

Don’t get me wrong, teenagers can be incredibly dark. Teen suicide is epidemic: “Youth suicide and self-inflicted injury are serious public health concerns. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among young people ages 15-19 in the U.S., according to 2013 data (1). A recent national survey found that nearly 1 in 6 high school students reported seriously considering suicide in the previous year, and 1 in 13 reported attempting it (2). In addition, approximately 157,000 youth ages 10-24 are treated for self-inflicted injuries in emergency rooms every year (2). Self-inflicted injuries are not necessarily the result of suicide attempts; in fact, self-harm without the intent to die is more prevalent than self-harm with such intent (3). In total, suicide and self-inflicted injury in the U.S. cost an estimated $45 billion annually in medical expenses and work loss; actual costs may be higher as many suicides and attempted suicides are not reported due to social stigma (4, 5).” (

But the fact of the matter is that most teenagers are positive about the future when they’re on their own.

Oh, right, I don’t know ANYTHING about teenagers…oops. I forgot to mention I’ve been a middle school and high school teacher for 35 years. I’ve been a high school counselor for the past 5. I have had some experience with what teens do, what they say, what they read, and what they think about.

I will tell you that the vast majority are positive about their future and want to make a positive contribution to the world (keep in mind that the only kids I see these days are the ones who “have to” see a counselor...this typically excludes the high-level college bound set…) I understand that I have only my tiny sample of 500 students a year to draw from each year (I either teach or counsel a single grade-level each school year); the school I work at is 69% non-white, with 40% of our population on free or reduced lunch programs).

I don’t have anything else to say to defend my position. I know teenagers – and have for 35 years (including having two of my own) as well as various nephews and nieces.

Very little real choice is offered to them and the books that ultimately GET to them are chosen by-and-large by adults. I contend that this is just plain not right.

So, go ahead. Refute me.

Actually, go ahead and refute me, PLEASE.



TCBucher said...

As a professor at OK State University who is married to a Middle School teacher, I couldn't agree more. Most of the teens I work with (or that my wife tells nightly stories about) are very positive, but that doesn't stop them from enjoying the dystopian novels. What I think draws them is the way modern dystopias categorize children and then produce a protagonist that "doesn't fit."

Think of all the state testing, the push toward "what are you going to do for the rest of your life?" and the political stratification they are subjected to on a daily basis. I think dystopias are not about the doom and gloom of the world, but the specialness of not being categorized and being different than what fits.

The panel, by the way, was fun. Laura and Dan are fabulous writers and speakers, and I don't think anyone would have downright disagreed with your assertions.

GuyStewart said...

Next time I have the chance to hear all of you -- maybe I'll have a chance to TALK to you all!