Pioneer go home…

I am probably as typical a guy as a pink sixteen foot tall rhino is a typical guest at your 8 year old daughter’s sleepover party.  Which sometimes makes writing for an audience… interesting. With the riot about YA going on in Mad Genius, I got to thinking about the books I loved most as kid/teen.  Like most kids of my era I liked the Enid Blyton – not Noddy or particularly the secret seven (although the magic faraway tree has a soft spot),  but the one where the kids had to hide out on an island and make do for themselves was probably my all time favorite. Not the characters, or the story, but what they had to do. It was my favorite side of Swiss Family Robinson too – which is why the emigrating and settling on the Island blog is called Flinders Family Freer. Likewise THE BLUE WORLD by Jack Vance. It wasn’t the Kraken, or the satire, or the adventure… it was how you survived and prospered and built up out of nothing, in a world without wood, or metal or even stones (the involuntary settlers are castaways from the crash of prison-ship on a water world, and live on the floating vegetation).

I loved the sheer ingenuity of it. The extracting of iron from blood, etc. That aspect probably was one of the driving forces in making me a scientist, making me choose to live on a remote island.

The current trend in YA is dystopian.

I usually guess trends wrong, but I find the idea of rebuilding after the dystopia a lot more interesting. The politically incorrect pioneering phase.

What does anyone else think?



Filed under books, philosophy, Writing

22 responses to “Pioneer go home…

  1. I liked Enid Blyton but it was the fairies that got me – or the ‘naughtiest girl’ books. As I got older, towards YA I went towards darker stuff, horror even – and I rarely read horror now. I call it my ‘goth’ period, even though I never did the goth thing. But James Herbert was a favourite back then. I didn’t actually get into fantasy until my mid 20s.

    As for dystopia, I think I prefer the getting through dystopia to find a better place/society type. I have to admit, I don’t read much YA (last one was TP’s Nation, which is quite what you were describing). I don’t write YA either (everybody and their grandmother is writing YA right now) so I’m not really up on what’s in and out there. Steampunk themes seem to be quite popular as well, (even in combination with dystopia) especially in anime (which the other half likes to watch).

    • Everyone and their grandmother is writing YA because it isn’t shrinking… as much. And it grew quite fast.

      I think I avoided the ‘goth’ phase quite a lot of kids go through (when you’re fascinated by the ‘darkness’ by hitting it and the army pretty much at the same time. I do remember being quite into Gene Wolfe’s shadow of the torturer at that stage, fascinated by the mood-evocative language and the idea of horrific things… and then of course experiencing it and deciding that it was best in fiction, and not being read by me!

  2. I’m not knocking writing YA, it’s probably a good idea. The ideas I’m getting just aren’t YA and I figure there’s probably enough good YA writers out there without me trying to get noticed that way. I have noticed that about 90% of every new writers I come in contact with are YA authors though, hence the ‘everybody and their grandmother’ remark. 🙂

    • I got that. Actually, I DON’T think there are enough good YA writers out there – like humour it is harder than ordinary writing – and heaven knows good humour writers are scarce enough. But it is true that everyone and their grandmother and their grandmother’s dog are jumping frantically on the YA bandwagon – mostly with stuff that really isn’t good YA. “Well it’s lesbian sadomasochistic fetishism in a splatterpunk horror setting, actually. But YA is selling, so I’ll make my lead character 15…” (and then howl discrimination when it doesn’t get bought)

      My own feeling is -like humour in the last big contraction (when every house was frantically buying ‘humour’ which wasn’t funny – but ‘humour’ was supposed to be selling) is that they’ll crash this one too. A pity. I’m quite a natural 15 year old 🙂

      • Bingo. Just making a lead character “YA” and sending it to a YA imprint doesn’t make a story YA. I’m not sure what does except possibly in the sense of the late Damon Knight’s definition of “Science Fiction”. And I’m even less certain about “Middle Reader” (aimed at grades 3-6) even thought I’ve got a WIP that I think is one.

        That said, I do think we need more good YA and MR in general and especially (in my perspective as an SF&F writer) more good YA and MR Science Fiction.

        • I belong to a closed writers only group, and there are high number of ‘YA’ authors. Some time ago several of whom were discussing the terrible lack of fetishism in YA, and how YA needed more ‘interesting’ sex. I just said nothing, but it was not an opinion I shared.

          • Sigh. (aimed at the referenced group, not at you.)

            On the one hand a lot of folk in the “target age group” do have sex so it’s not something that YA, as a genre, should ignore. OTOH, a lot of folk in that “target age group” are actually _not_ having sex and that, too, is something that YA, as a genre, should not ignore.

            And even for those who do have sex, not every story needs to be about, or even involve, sex.

            And so, as usual, I find both extremes best avoided and find myself somewhere in the middle (perhaps leaning more toward “less sex” than “more” in the case of YA). I haven’t read much current YA so I can’t say whether the genre currently comes anywhere close to my happy medium so make of this what you will.

            • David – the argument raised was that the average (claimed) age of first sex for girls was now – I forget – in the womb? but say 14 or whatever. Therefore all books aimed at teens should be about sex. Now, I don’t exclude sex as a possibility in my YA, but it won’t be graphic. If the reader wants graphic sex, there really is a lot of porn, soft porn and erotica available. Why waste their time on me?
              My arguments, which I kept to myself
              1)’The average’ supposes 50% AREN’T.
              2) This is not a bell curve. It’s got a steep climb, and long slow tail on the ‘older’ side.
              2) Everyone lies about sex, boys probably more than girls. Status is involved. The real figures are probably something else entirely.
              3) 10:1 bet – the kids in 50% who are bonking… aren’t reading much if at all. Your major book consumers are _not_ the very socially adept and let’s be blunt, not bright enough to think with anything but their nether ends.
              4)People mature at different speeds. There will be 18 year olds who blush at the mention of the V-word – of both sexes. Odds on, those will be the shy ones, with the time to read. The ones who are into S&M at 11 will either find it in the ample supply or not bother reading.

            • What matters isn’t whether or not they have sex, but whether or not they want to read about it. I recall reading over and over the entry for sex in The Hebrew Encyclopedia, and the relevant portions in the later Heinlein and Larry Niven as a teenager. I was a virgin until I met my wife at age 26.

              Having said that, what age group actually reads YA? Teenagerhood is a lot more interesting when you’re a pre-teen than when you’re a teenager yourself. I think I read all the YA science fiction that was available(1) before puberty. Sex is fascinating when you’re 15. It is silly when you’re 10.

              (1) That is, was translated to Hebrew and in the public library.

  3. I never got the point of dystopias. We read 1984 in high school, and I told my teacher that in a real science fiction book the heroes would escape and start a new civilization somewhere, maybe Antarctica.

    If you put the appropriate material out there, the kids will find and devour it.

    • Oh, I got the point–they’re largely meant as warnings, cautionary tales–I just don’t agree with them. As a great philosopher once said “I don’t believe in the no-win scenario.” 😉

    • Maybe I should start serializing the misadventures of Slub, Teenage survivor.

      I think some of the theory behind ‘dystopia’ is ‘this is something kids will identify with’ – which is pure BS in my opinion. Kids living hell-holes do NOT want to read about them. Kids living in the pampered lap of luxury might.

      • I look forward to reading about Slub. What might be more to the point, I look forward to when my kids are old enough and I suggest they read about him.

        I wonder how many kids the average YA acquisition editor has.

      • You know, I think it has more to do with the times we’re living in. Hark back to the 80s when the recession and the cold war were at their worst (in England at least) and it was all post-apocalyptic or dystopian fiction and movies. Or at least it seemed that way to me at the time.

        Now we have a similar, if not worse, economic trend, threats (perceived or real) of terrorism, theocracies, ecocide, etc. People in their mid-teens to early twenties tend to be more intense about such things and certainly to fear them more (I was convinced the bomb was going to drop in the 80s).

  4. Lee McGregor

    I loved Swiss Family Robinson and books about rebuilding something from nothing no matter what the age group they are intended for. They make me think about what I would do in their situation. From time to time, I still wonder if the unexpected were to happen would I be able to survive in a world that had no modern conventions, or in an environment where you had to reinvent the wheel.

    Books let you explore that possibility in the safety of your environment and allow people of all ages to explore the different possibilities.

  5. I *loved* Enid Blyton! Which a friend finds really peculiar because I grew up in South Omaha (Nebraska) which is about as far away from English boarding schools as it would be possible to get. My favorites were the “Adventure” series (Island of Adventure was one), for exactly your same reasons, Dave. I love reading about building things from nothing. About the hard work and mental gymnastics it takes to look at a disparate pile of junk and turn it into something useful and life-sustaining. (Apollo 13 appeals to the same quirks of mine 🙂 )

    I dislike, utterly, the dystopian “we can’t do anything about it, so we might as well just sit here and cut ourselves” (OK, nothing quite that drastic, but that’s what they seem like) books.

    I prefer, in many ways YA to “Adult” — because the YAs *didn’t* used to throw sex scenes in at predictable intervals whether it was part of the story or made any sense for the plot or characters.

    In fact, quite a few books that I first read in the adult fiction part of the library are not shelved in YA, and the only reason I can fathom is this lack of sex. Because the *themes* are still about adult cares and worries. But if you don’t show naked bodies writhing around, it’s YA, I guess.

    Give me some books with more about how they figured out a way to move water to where they needed it, and less about how they inspected each others’ plumbing, and I will be a happy reader 🙂

    • “I prefer, in many ways YA to “Adult” — because the YAs *didn’t* used to throw sex scenes in at predictable intervals whether it was part of the story or made any sense for the plot or characters.”

      And yet there are a whole bunch of authors desperately striving to change that.

  6. I don’t know if I could pull off the teenager voice. Maybe with practice. I do have a twelve year old in the one I just finished the first draft of, but the the other two protagonists are adult, as is the overall theme I think (not sadomasochistic fetishism kind of adult).

    I’m sure you do it very well though – a lot of your younger characters would appeal to that age group (RBV springs to mind as having a YA feel to the characters). I’m also sure that your YA would appeal to adults too in the same ‘ageless’ way that Pratchett’s does.

  7. I loved those books as a kid. We went camping every school holidays and I grew up making do when things were forgotten. I’ll never forget the forgotten pillows for one camp. We went camping, it was hours to get home and in those days, no shops open on a weekend and to go just ‘buy’ forgotten stuff was too expensive. So I look forward to seeing what you write next 🙂

    • mtb

      I hardly ever remember to pack a pillow when going camping. The worst I have had to do was use boots. As a pillow.

      The eyelets are uncomfortable.

  8. Pingback: Space Pioneer | madgeniusclub

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