Welcome to Smugglivus 2011! Throughout this month, we will have daily guests – authors and bloggers alike – looking back at their favorite reads of 2011, and looking forward to events and upcoming books in 2012.
Who: Anna Sheehan, debut author of young adult speculative fiction.
Recent Work: A Long Long Sleep, a powerful YA science fiction re-imagining of the Briar Rose fable, and one of Thea’s Top 10 Books of 2011.
Please welcome Anna, everyone!
Anna Sheehan, Author of A Long, Long Sleep, talks about books out of time.
As may have been apparent to anyone who read my novel, I have some idea what it feels like to be the one trapped out of time, held decades, or even centuries, back from the fast-paced, twitter-fed, technoscape we seem to have found ourselves in. As a result, I am not up to date with the latest novels of 2011, or the hottest movies, or even the current “trends” in the YA market. Instead of following popular culture, this year I spent my time taking college classes on folklore, reading non-fiction about human sexuality (some of the least sexy books I’ve ever read, by the way, and that’s including the Joy of Cooking!) and fostering a calf onto a milk cow who lost hers to a stillbirth. I often find it ironic. I am still a young woman, (not yet thirty-three) but I feel I do not belong in the twenty-first century. I have a hard time catching up to the twentieth at times.
I also do not believe that YA is a stagnant genre with strictly defined borders, and that only books with the “YA” label would appeal to the kinds of people who would read my novel. So, with no further stipulations, allow me to wax lyrical upon four books I have read in the past year – one for each season – which have nothing whatsoever to do with current trends, popular culture, or 2011 (or even the twenty-first century) at all. None of these books feel dated, and all of them could have been written last week.
Please imagine I am Rose, and was just pulled out of stasis from twenty-five years ago.
This spring I found myself rereading Diana Wynne Jones’ “A Tale of Time City.” (1987) Ms. Jones died in March of this year, and the world lost a master of fantasy such as will probably never be seen again. I grieved for the death of my goddess, and reread several of her novels in her honor. This is not a strange thing for me. I often reread her novels. I have ever since the fourth grade, when I discovered her.
“A Tale of Time City” is a novel of a child from the twentieth century – Vivian Smith – taken to a city outside time. Seen from the outside, Time is cyclic, observable and, here is the crux of the issue, malleable. Unlike many YA novels, which are thinly veiled romances, focusing solely on who is going to end up with whom, a middle grade novel has to count on character growth and variety of experience. And A Tale of Time City is another master stroke from the greatest writer in the world. As Time City itself is running out of time, crumbling in on itself, it is only a child taken from Time that can renew Time City’s own cycle.
What I love about A Tale of Time City is that Vivian is not the chosen child, destined by virtue of her birth or her great genetics into saving the universe. She is not the lost heir foreseen by clairvoyants like Harry Potter or hiding a magical gift which will appear, deus-ex-machinalike when the story needs it, such as Bella Swan. She was not trained from youth into being a hero like Rose Hathaway in Vampire Academy, nor is she mentored by a mysterious benefactor who is convinced of her potential. No. Vivian is a perfectly ordinary girl from a perfectly ordinary time who found herself in a strange situation, and bothered to learn about it rather than panic. That’s what made her heroic – not her genetics or her destiny. Just herself.
Another book I found myself rereading when summer rolled around was Tanith Lee’s “Biting the Sun”. (1979) As I was biting the heat, I opened up the book combined from her two books Don’t Bite the Sun and Drinking Sapphire Wine, that takes the whole concept of YA and turns it on its ear.
In a decadent but secretly strict society, the unnamed heroine finds herself flustered in a life without purpose. The rules for “teenagers,” known as the Jang, are that they should always be out “having love” taking drugs and getting sex-changes (something remarkably easy in the technologically over-advanced society she has been born into.) There is no way to have a career, few ways to learn or broaden your mind, and reproduction is strictly regulated. Even death is not an escape, as you are returned to a new body every time you suicide – another practice that is very popular among the Jang. You spend her entire journey feeling as trapped as she is, desperately hoping, and not seeing, any way out at all.
As an author of YA, I adore this blatant and very clear picture of the genre, written before the genre was even developed. I fall into it every time.
After hearing Keith Olbermann reading James Thurber on his program “Countdown,” I picked up my vintage copy of Thurber’s The Thirteen Clocks (1950) and read it to my daughter. At seven, she’s still about two years too young to really appreciate it, but I surely enjoyed reading it, and anyone else would, too. One of those fantasies that are completely without a sense of time, or even a nod toward sense, The Thirteen Clocks is both humorous and disturbing, a fairy tale and a horror story, with more clever turns of phrase and moments of amusing poetical lyricism than I can even count.
The mysterious and absent minded Golux with his indescribable hat is without a doubt one of the best characters ever created. “I resemble only half the things I say I don’t,” as he would say. What seems to be a traditional fairy story focuses only slightly on the hero, the fine Prince Zorn of Zorna. Instead, the most observed character is in fact the villain, the cold Duke, who has imprisoned the princess Saralinda. “He was six-foot four, and forty-six, and even colder than he thought he was.” Be wary of him. He will slit you from your guggle to your zatch, feed you to his geese, or lock you in the dungeon with the thing without a head. The best thing I can say about this book is found on page 96. “Something very much like nothing anyone had seen before.”
Just recently I finished reading a sci-fi novel by Octavia E. Butler: one of her Xenogenesis series, Adulthood Rites. (1988) Though I’ve known of her for years, I’d never read anything by Butler before, which has clearly been a lapse on my part. A Hugo and Nebula award winning author, I expected something good. I did not expect something both engaging and fascinating, brilliant and original with fantastic world-building and a spellbinding premise. I could not put this book down.
If this was written now, instead of in 1988, it would have been classified as YA. (Possibly mislabeled as dystopia.) Adulthood Rites follows the adventures of Akin, a human alien hybrid who appears more human on the outside than he is inside. Kidnapped by rebel humans as a young child, he is severed from his alien heritage, and has to come to terms with both sides of his biology – not as he would have amidst his mixed family with a natural melding and blending – but as two completely separate and unnatural concepts. Gifted with this unique view, he sees the humans differently from the rest of his mixed-heritage people, and so becomes the spokesman for both sides in a way no one else would have been permitted.
This book was amazing in so many ways, and I’m now appalled that I haven’t been searching for Octavia Butler’s works before.?
So, there you have it. A year’s worth of books that I believe readers of YA would appreciate. I highly recommend stepping outside your own time and visiting the past, and the future, in ways you never expected.
Thanks, Anna (my TBR just got four books heavier)!