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: Phoebe and Sean, editors and reviewers of The Intergalactic Academy, focused on all things Sci-Fi YA.
Give it up for Phoebe and Sean, folks!
All I Want for Christmas is Rocketships: The Intergalactic Academy’s 2011 Holiday Wishlist
At the Intergalactic Academy, you won’t often hear us bemoaning the current state of YA science fiction. We read enough of it to know that it’s out there, and is heartily enjoyed by real life teens (and enthusiastic adult readers like ourselves). But that doesn’t mean that we think the genre’s perfect, or that it doesn’t have plenty of room to grow. Here’s what we’re putting on our YA spec fic wish-list this year:
More standalone novels
Of the dozen-plus titles we reviewed in our first three months of operation, only four stood alone—The Boy at the End of the World, The Always War, iBoy, and Ready Player One. But the first three of those titles were for a middle grade audience and Ready Player One courts a population of YA/adult crossover readers. The remainder of the books we reviewed either started new series or continued older ones.
But those second volumes were just as often misses (like Crossed by Ally Condie) as hits (like Beth Revis’s A Million Suns). Sequels are risky business—second volumes in trilogies even riskier. There were certain titles so singular in their conception, like Ashfall by Mike Mullin or The Way We Fall by Megan Crewe, that it’s difficult to imagine where they could possibly go next. Authors and publishers seem reluctant to give teen readers books that stand on their own, that both introduce and resolve problems in a single volume. We love series as much as the next guy, but single-volume stories are uniquely satisfying experiences. More, please.
We recently featured a great guest post by YA author Megan Crewe on the science behind her upcoming novel The Way We Fall. She’s maybe one of two authors we reviewed this year whose work clearly had a strong scientific basis—the other being Mike Mullin, who likewise explored a disaster scenario in his book Ashfall. We love science fantasy and soft sci-fi, but where’s the hard YA science fiction? Just because a book is set in space doesn’t mean you need to ignore laws of physics that most teens learn in middle school (as Amy Kathleen Ryan seemed to do in Glow). We’re not looking for the YA Larry Niven—though sure, that would be cool. Still, a little research goes a loooong way in propping up worldbuilding, and we’d love to see more of it in novels for teenagers.
Maybe this isn’t obvious to YA readers who are new to the sci-fi genre, but science fiction has long been a genre where people of different races, sexualities, abilities, and religion have explored underlying issues in their lives. In adult genre works, aliens are often stand-ins for other oppressed groups and writing about dystopian worlds is a way of exploring the more horrific elements of modern society. You wouldn’t necessarily know that from looking at the young adult sci-fi of the past few years. That’s not to say that there haven’t been steps in the right direction. Amy Kathleen Ryan’s Glow, for example, is a stealth examination of colonialism and Puritanical attitudes. And Karen Sandler’s Tankborn features a planet with a caste system and a heroine who is also a girl of color (it also was the first title by Tu Books, a new imprint specializing in diverse portrayals of teens). These are positive first steps.
But we’re tired of books set in dystopian worlds where there are arranged marriages, but no queer people. We’re tired of white and able-bodied heroines who fall in love with white and able-bodied boys. We’d love to see more YA SF writers going deep—exploring universes that look at least as diverse as our own.
Less heroics, more realism
We already mentioned that we’d like to see more Science™, but we’d also like to see a bit more realism in general. Somebody (we forget who right now!) once said that too many science fiction hero(ines) act like perpetual teenagers, always ready to rush headlong into danger in order to Save The Day. It’s only by authorial fiat that they manage to survive, let alone save the world.
This is all the more pronounced in YA SF, where the main characters really are teenagers. The recent dystopian craze has brought us a whole host of plucky teenage protagonists who, despite no real combat experience or applicable skills, manage to be instrumental in taking down various dystopian governments and other assorted bad guys. But SF doesn’t need to be about the underdog going up against the conspiracy-fueled evil autocracy. Again, look at Megan Crewe’s excellent The Way We Fall. Crewe’s main character spends the great majority of the book just trying to survive the virus sweeping across her island home, rather than single-handedly finding a cure and saving the world. Those kinds of stories can be just as exciting and involving as ones about teenage rebels kicking ass, so let’s see more of them!
When a lot of people think of science fiction, they think of spaceships. And why shouldn’t they? Blasting off to distant stars in search of adventure and weirdness has been a staple of the genre since its early days, and many of the truly ‘mainstream’ works of SF (Star Trek, Star Wars, etc.) rely on the idea of the spacefaring adventurers.
It’s a bit strange, then, that YA science fiction has yet to have any breakout novels involving spaceships except for the very notable Across the Universe. There are a few noteworthy examples (like the aforementioned Glow), and 2013 will see the arrival of a novel called Starglass* by a certain someone, but we need more! What’s great about the spaceship setting is that it lends itself to so many types of stories, from gritty hard SF to grand space operas to oddities like Solaris. (And if anyone wants to write a YA Solaris-a-like, we will totally buy it.) The possibilities are endless!
*Embarrassing plug for Phoebe’s forthcoming book added by Sean. I’ll be here blushing in the corner, thanks.
Thanks, Phoebe and Sean!