Dumb Adult.

Actually, this was pretty good.

Actually, this was pretty good.

We didn’t have “Young Adult” when I was your age, much less this newfangled “New Adult” thing they coddle you with. We had to jump right from Peter the Sea Trout and Freddy and the Ignormus straight into Stand on Zanzibar and Solaris, no water wings or training wheels or anything.

Amazingly, I managed to read anyway. I discovered Asimov and Bradbury and Bester at eleven, read Zanzibar at twelve, Solaris at thirteen. I may have been smarter than most of my age class (I hope I was— if not, I sure got picked on a lot for no good reason), but I was by no means unique; I only discovered The Sheep Look Up when a classmate recommended it to me in the tenth grade. And judging by the wear and tear on the paperbacks in the school library, everyone was into Asimov and Bradbury back then. Delany too, judging by the way the covers kept falling off The Einstein Intersection. Back in those days we didn’t need no steenking Young Adult.

Now get off my lawn.

I’ll admit my attitude could be a bit more nuanced. After all, my wife has recently been marketed as a YA author, and her writing is gorgeous (although I would argue it’s also not YA). Friends and peers swim in young-adult waters. Well-intentioned advisers, ever mindful of the nichiness of my own market share, have suggested that I try writing YA because that’s where the money is, because that’s the one part of the fiction market that didn’t implode with the rest of the economy a few years back.

But I can’t help myself. It’s not that I don’t think we should encourage young adults to read (in fact, if we can’t get them to read more than the last generation, we’re pretty much fucked). It’s that I’m starting to think YA doesn’t do that.

I’m starting to think it may do the opposite.

Hanging out at last fall’s SFContario, I sat in on a panel on the subject. It was populated by a bunch of very smart authors who most assuredly do not suck, who know far more about this YA than I do, and whom I hope will not take offense when I shit all over their chosen pseudogenre— because even this panel of experts had a hard time coming up with a working definition of what a Young Adult novel even was (beyond a self-serving marketing category, at least).

The rules keep changing, you see. It wasn’t so long ago that you couldn’t say “fuck” in a YA novel; these days you can. Back around the turn of the century, YA novels were 100% sex-free, beyond the chaste fifties-era hand-holding and nookie that never seemed to involve the unzipping of anyone’s fly; today, YA can encompass not just sex, but pregnancy and venereal disease and rape. Stories that once took place in some parallel, intercourse-free universe now juggle gay sex and gender fluidity as if they were just another iteration of Archie and Betty down at the malt shop (which is, don’t get me wrong, an awesome and overdue thing; but it doesn’t give you much of a leg up when you’re trying to define “Young Adult” in more satisfying terms than “Books that can be found in the YA section at Indigo”).

Every now and then one of the panelists would cite an actual rule that seemed to hold up over time, but which was arcane unto inanity. In one case, apparently, a story with an adolescent protagonist— a story that met pretty much any YA convention you might want to name— was excluded from the club simply because it was told as an extended flashback, from the POV of the protagonist as a grown adult looking back. Apparently it’s not enough that a story revolve around adolescents; the perspective, the mindset of the novel as artefact must also be rooted in adolescence. If adults are even present in the tale, they must remain facades; we can never see the world through their eyes.

Remember those old Peanuts TV specials where the grownups were never seen, and whose only bits of dialog consisted entirely of muted trombones going mwa-mwa-mwa? Young Adult, apparently.

Finally the panel came up with a checklist they could all agree upon. To qualify as YA, a story would have to incorporate the following elements:

  • Youthful protagonist(s)
  • Youthful mindset
  • Corrupt/dystopian society (this criterion may have been intended to apply to modern 21rst-century YA rather than the older stuff, although I suppose a cadre of Evil Cheerleaders Who Run The School might qualify)
  • Inconvenient/ineffectual/absent parents: more a logistic constraint than a philosophical one. Your protagonists have to be free to be proactive, which is hard to pull off with parents always looking over their shoulders and telling them it’s time to come in now.
  • Uplifting, or at least hopeful ending: your protags may only be a bunch of meddlesome kids, but the Evil Empire can’t defeat them.

Accepting these criteria as authoritative—they were, after all, hashed out by a panel of authorities— it came to me in a blinding flash. The archetypal YA novel just had to be— wait for it—

Don't blame me. The shoe fits.

Don’t blame me. The shoe fits.

A Clockwork Orange.

Think about it: a story told from the exclusive first-person perspective of an adolescent, check. Corrupt dystopian society, check. Irrelevant parents, check. And in the end, Alex wins: the government sets him free once again, to rape and pillage to his heart’s content. Admittedly the evil government isn’t outright defeated at the end of the novel; it simply has to let Alex walk, let him get back to his life (a more recent YA novel with the same payoff is Cory Doctorow’s Little Brother). Still: it failed to defeat the meddlesome kid.

So according to a panel of YA authors— or at least, according to the criteria they laid out— one of the most violent, subversive, and inaccessible novels of the Twentieth Century is a work of YA fiction. Which pretty much brings us back to 11-year-old me and John Brunner. If A Clockwork Orange is Young Adult, aren’t that category’s boundaries so wide as to be pretty much meaningless?

But there’s one rule nobody mentioned, a rule I suspect may be more relevant than all the others combined. A Clockwork Orange is not an easy read by any stretch. Not only are the words big and difficult, half of them are in goddamn Russian. The whole book is written in a polygot dialect that doesn’t even exist in the real world. And I suspect that toughness, that inaccessibility, would cause most to exclude it from YAhood.

In order to be YA, the writing has to be simple. It may have once been a good thing to throw the occasional unfamiliar word at an adolescent; hell, it might force them to look the damn thing up, increase their vocabulary a bit. No longer. I haven’t read a whole lot of YA— Gaiman, Doctorow, Miéville are three that come most readily to mind— but I’ve noticed a common thread in their YA works that extends beyond merely dialing back the sex and profanity. The prose is less challenging than the stuff you find in adult works by the same authors.

Nice try, Bloomsbury. It's still KidLit.

Nice try, Bloomsbury. It’s still KidLit.

Well, duh, you might think: of course it’s simpler. It’s written for a younger audience. But increasingly, that isn’t the case any more, at least not since they started printing Harry Potter with understated “adult” covers, so all those not-so-young-adult fans could get their Hogworts fix on the subway without being embarrassed by lurid and childish artwork. The Hunger Games was first recommended to me by a woman who was (back then) on the cusp of thirty, and no dummy.

All these actual adults, reading progressively simpler writing. All us authors, chasing them down the stairs. Hell, Neil Gaiman took a classic that nine-year-old Peter Watts devoured at age nine without any trouble at all— Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book— and dumbed it down to an (admittedly award-winning) story about ghosts and vampires, aimed at an audience who might find a story about sapient wolves and tigers too challenging. It may only be a matter of time before Nineteen Eighty Four is reissued using only words from the Eleventh edition of the Newspeak Dictionary. We may already be past the point when anyone looking to read Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea looks any further than the Classics Illustrated comic.

I know how this sounds. I led with that whole crotchety get-off-my-lawn shtick because the Old are famously compelled to rail against the failings of the Young, because rants about the Good Old Days are as tiresome when they’re about literacy as they are when they’re about music or haircuts. It was a self-aware (and probably ineffective) attempt at critic-proofing.

So let me emphasize: I’ve got nothing against clear, concise prose (despite the florid nature of my own, sometimes). Hemingway wrote simple prose. Orwell extolled its virtues. If that was all that made up Young Adult, even I would be a YA writer (at least, I don’t think your average 16-year-old would have any trouble getting through Starfish).

But there’s a difference between novels that happen to be accessible to teens, and novels that put teens in their heat-sensitive, wallet-lightening crosshairs. I know of one author who had to go back and tear up an adult novel, already written, by the roots: rewrite and duct-tape it onto YA scaffolding because that’s the only way it would sell. I know a very smart, highly-respected editor who once raved about the incredible, well-thought-out plotting of the Harry Potter books, apparently blind to the fact that Rowling— her claims to the contrary notwithstanding— seemed to be just making shit up as she went along.[1]

A long time ago, a childhood friend named Stuart Blyth gave me the collected tales of Edgar Allen Poe for my tenth birthday. I loved that stuff. It taught me things— made me teach myself things, in the same way a Jethro Tull song a few decades later forced me to look up the meaning of “overpressure wave”. I have to wonder if YA does that, if it improves one’s reading skills or merely panders to them. I doubt that your vocabulary is any bigger when you finish Harry Potter and the Well-Deserved Bitch-Slap than when you started. You may have been entertained, but you were not upgraded.

Of course, if entertainment’s all you’re after, no biggie. The problem, though, is that it acts like a ratchet. If we only allow ourselves to write down, never up— and if the age of the YA market edges up, never down— it’s hard to see how the overall sophistication of our writing can do anything but decline monotonically over time[2].

Who among you will tell me this is a good thing?


Late-breaking edit, 22/03/2016:  Courtesy of “Damon”, about whom I know very little except that he’s chosen an awesome ISP, Teksavvy, which puts him somewhere in my end of Canada. Apparently his buddies in the local bookstore have taken my insights to heart, and rearranged the YA section thusly:

young-adult-small

My work here is done.


 

[1] I mean, think about it: we have a protagonist whose central defining feature is the murder of his parents when he was an infant. And when he discovers that time travel is so trivially accessible that his classmate uses it for no better purpose than to double up her course load, it never once occurs to him to wonder: Hey— maybe I can go back and save my parents! This is careful plotting?

[2] This was one of the points I was trying to make a few weeks back when I announced my retirement from the word of adult fiction, and my new career as an author of stories written exclusively for preschoolers. That post was satirical, by the way, although I’m grateful to all of you who wished me well in my new endeavor.

This entry was written by Peter Watts , posted on Tuesday March 15 2016at 09:03 am , filed under ink on art . Bookmark the permalink . Post a comment below or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

171 Responses to “Dumb Adult.”

  1. I read A Clockwork Orange before I saw the film version (in college as a junior). As an English major and logophile, I found the novel compelling, unsettling and very well written. While walking back to my dorm after the film, I became so nauseous I nearly puked. There’s one particular scene that caused that reaction. I will never watch that movie again, and it’s very unlikely I’ll re-read the novel because, for me, it’s been poisoned by the images in that scene.

    I disagree with your categorization of ACO as YA. It may, in your view, fit that list from the panelists but, because of the unrelenting violence of Alex and co. as well as the state, the novel overall is an intensely depressing read. The boundaries between YA and adult fiction have indeed become blurry, but they haven’t disappeared. In the YA I’ve read, one can cheer for the kids; ACO elicits no such reaction.

    Just my two cents. Hi, btw. 😉

  2. I read the first Harry Potter novel in about two hours and thought”Well, this is simplistic bullshit”. Shows how much I know.

  3. Though I agree with the empirical claim of this post (YA is defined by simpler language and is less cognitively challenging), I’m not so sure that I see this as a ‘problem.’ Though I’m as sensitive to the appeal of literature as the next person (did a PhD in it back in the day, and am a scribbler manqué), I wonder nowadays if the value we assign to literature is just a case of pre-reflective capture by an artefact that happens to super-stimulate our cognitive systems. If it’s not that, it could be just as easily be a useful totem that allows us to signal affiliation to the clique that we believe we belong to (i.e. the thuper-duper clever people who really know the score).

    Sure, it can be argued that literature that does something that other representational forms don’t. For instance, there’s Bal and Veltkamp (2013)’s and Kidd and Castano (2013)’s results on literature improving empathy. However, longer improvements of empathy have been shown to emerge from the deciedly more déclassé activity of identifying with a superhero.l Equally, in some soon-to-be unpublished work by my own group, we find that propensity to be captured by literature scales with anxiety, depression and absence of meaning.

    What point am I making? I guess it’s that literature––understood as a proxy for ‘quality’ or ‘sophisticated’ writing––may well be like one of those parasites that convince their hosts that they want to be parasited on.

  4. I’m puzzled by the idea that “corrupt/dystopian society” should be a defining characteristic of YA.

    I realize that it’s a nearly-ubiquitous _trope_ in contemporary YA. But it seems of a different kind from the other criteria listed. Is it impossible to tell a good story from the viewpoint of and for adolescents, without including an Evil Tyrant Who Must Be Defeated? Do aspiring YA authors who fail to include the requisite dictator get sent back and told to try again?

    I realize you need a good antagonist and nothing satisfies like overthrowing a tyrant. I realize that President Snow or whoever is just a surrogate for mom and dad who are being, like, _so_ unreasonable. Still, the idea that one increasingly hackneyed trope should be set up as a defining characteristic is almost as disturbing as the dumb-it-down-as-far-as-possible-and-then-some trend.

  5. So I recently picked up a novel by one certain Jane Austen. I didn’t even know the genre, let alone the date of first publication. I had just come across the title “Pride and Prejudice” one time too many to just move along, so I wondered what all the fuss was about. And my mind was blown. I am no native English speaker, yet I was able to follow along with the amazing and complex prose because the intended meaning was always clear from context. I have never so much enjoyed characters ripping into each other with such gleeful rudeness before. Not least because I am a scarred child where major plot points revolving around characters refusing to communicate properly are concerned. (Harry Potter, I am farting in your general direction.) No such blame can be laid at Austen’s feet.

    Anyway, my points are the following: The ease with which I can look up unfamiliar words on my ebook reader has so far prevented me from ever dropping a book because I couldn’t follow the prose. I learned English as my second language using Harry Potter, mostly because I had gobbled up the first two books and the third hadn’t been translated yet, so thirteen-year old overconfident ADHD-me went off on the deep end and bought the English version. I ended up nicking an OALD from the school library and via Douglas Adams and Terry Pratchett I soon graduated to classic SciFi. Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke, I even read Lem in English because I didn’t know any better. I don’t know if my own experiences are in any way representative of the young adult experience but I think the point is this: There is nothing inherently wrong with dumbed-down prose to reach a YA target audience. Most of them just do not know how to read with enjoyment yet. Most have actually been negatively biased by having to read weird stuff like “Catcher in the Rye” or “Moby Dick” in school. (Both are undoubtedly good books but you have to be able to _chose_ to read them.) I don’t think Harry Potter, Hunger Games etc are doing a disservice to readership as a whole by being simple prose yet thoroughly engaging. (Let’s leave Twilight out of it, shall we?)

    My second point is that the classics are not going to go away. I may be weird in the way I make a point to _not_ look at a publication date before deciding to read something but I have the feeling that most books get bought via recommendations instead of bestseller lists.

    And last but not least, I don’t imagine Peter (is able) to dump down his prose any time soon.

    PS: And I just moved Edgar Allan Poe into my to-read list to find out what all the fuss is about. Cheers :)

  6. Perhaps YA is the 21st Century’s equivalent of Pulp fiction. Ripping tales of high adventure. In which case the market is big enough to sell YA and Adult, whatever Adult fiction means in this context. The problem is then the publishers who are unable to see the woods for trees because the accountants rule – the bottom line Trumps all.

  7. I wouldn’t give in to despair just yet. If you look in other industries where the primary draw is some degree of escapism, the nature of the beast looks to be cyclical. For two decades, competitive pressure commanded Triple A developers of video games to further and further lower the challenge and skill level of their titles while compensating with flashier visuals and a proliferation of increasingly meaningless player choices to max out the hardware and pad out review paragraphs. Then Dark Souls hit the scene within the last few years like a excruciatingly overweight mace to the back of the head, and demonstrated that the murmurings of discontent on the internet had grown with time into a sizable market of status-seekers whose greatest desire was to segregate themselves from the plebeians, and blundered into skill and elevation of such while pursuing this desire as a byproduct.

    Frankly, the idea that your diversionary material should be an exercise in self-improvement isn’t a new one. We’ve heard that bitter tsking constantly from the ivory towers of Literature. Of course, when they did it, it was an appeal to the Dark Ages of Obscurantism and abstruse High Culture, yes? We exclusively were the ones that had a monopoly on practical Aesops, the human condition, and relevant critical thinking. What did Sinclair Lewis say? “It can’t happen here”?

    From my perspective, the Young Adult phenomenon is the latest incarnation of the struggle between emotion and information, where the purest evocation of emotion might be a surprise birthday party, and the purest expression of information might be a textbook chapter on the Deutsch Limit written entirely in Ithkuil. The long, twilight struggle between first the epic and the novel, and then between genre fiction and literary fiction, points to the conclusion that when forced to choose between what in which their amygdala finds merit and what in which the intelligentsia does, the one that releases the dopamine pulls ahead almost every time.

    Here’s a decent takeaway: information density is an asset when it pulls on the subconscious as much as it does awareness. Life Of Pi might have been a literary smash hit that renewed Maclean’s hope that the hoi polloi were finally “getting it”, but I’d bet my bottom rupee that it owes most of its popular success to poking the populace’s ‘spirituality’ and ‘sublimity’ buttons. Likewise, while Blindsight taught me Icarus-loads about undistinguished yet brilliant science (science so brilliant that it would shock me if it didn’t play a major role in the upcoming century), that information most likely sticks in my hippocampus because it was synthesized into a cognitive prototype that was existentially terrifying.

    A final digression:
    I also recall breezing through works like The Lord Of The Rings in the summer break between the second and third grade, but then, upon returning to those novels in my teenage years, they were noticeably denser and sometimes even a slog. I blame it on “Semiotic Baggage”: as humans age, their brains come to associate denotations more solidly with an increasing morass of connotations, until the prefrontal cortex spends so much of its energy recognizing connections and unpacking (optional) information that it restricts itself to the digestible just to get some relief. Reading a work of fantasy, science fiction, or horror basically becomes an act of cognitive dissonance.

    Perhaps the best means of circumventing it might be to drop the concept of Readability Levels entirely, and encourage young children to expand their reading material up to the college level early on, when the nerves are still plastic and semantics easily skimmed, before having them return for critical analysis at the close of Secondary Education.

  8. Here is a partial list off the top of my head of the books I remember being required to read in school: A Separate Peace. Wuthering Heights. To The Lighthouse. Great Expectations. A Tale of Two Cities.

    I note now that this list of books I was required to read in school is, in fact, a list of the books I avoided reading in school, by accepting very low or failing grades in English. I do not think that acceptance of horrible grades is what I was supposed to be learning.

    Wuthering Heights, I have learned to enjoy in my later years. The others, pfft. I still can only be made to read Dickens under duress. Knives are probably required.

    I am certain that there were many other books I was require to read. But I don’t remember any of them, because they neither engaged nor distressed me. I only remember the ones that defeated me.

    There was also at least one Shakespeare play each year. I mostly enjoyed those, and remember bits and pieces of them. I never got assigned Hamlet, though, because that was only for “Honors” English. I was just “Regular” thanks to too many poor grades in English.

    Need I note that I probably read well over 400 books on my own just during high school (grades 9-12)? Not just SF either; there was a goodly percentage, at least 15%, of science non-fiction and even non-curricular math textbooks.

    My point?

    Secondary school English education, in the USA, is broken beyond belief, and likely beyond hope.

  9. //It may only be a matter of time before Nineteen Eighty Four is reissued using only words from the Eleventh edition of the Newspeak Dictionary.//

    Actually, that could be great, from the point of view of being fully immersed into the world, ala Clockwork Orange.

    Even better, create a different version of Newspeak (with new words so that people already familiar with blackwhite and duckspeak won’t be clued in too quickly), write a story from the point of view of a prole or Outer Party member just in Newspeak, and see if you can get the majority of your readers to fail to notice that something horrible is going on, obscured by the language.

  10. “Who among you will tell me this is a good thing?”

    I shouldn’t have thought it necessary to tell you, or to explain why. I would have thought it was obvious.

    The approach you appear to be advocating is to permit our young (and let me remind you that the age of adulthood in ancient Rome was 25) to read novels containing vocabulary and ideas, with which they may not be familiar. You do realize that this will require those who persist in reading a novel that is beyond their current experience to seek out definitions, decode unfamiliar constructions, and grapple with novel ideas, do you not? Have you not read Genesis? No good has ever come from eating of the fruit of knowledge, only despair and pain. Why on earth would you want to allow people to read works that recast their shadow with a light that shows them to exist on a vaster, more variegated, plane? Do you not see the danger? When a light is cast, and a person sees more than they previously did, they ask questions not only about the unknowns that they can now see more clearly, but the unknown unknowns that they did not previously know existed. Surely you can see where this leads, and that no good can come of an addiction to knowledge. Once they can see new questions, they will seek answers to those questions, and in so seeking discover yet more questions. Is it this madness of the junkie that you would wish upon our children?

    I suppose this trend in literature that you describe (and scorn) may not be a good thing, if you think seeking knowledge in a world that has boundaries on reason and empirical information is a worthwhile pursuit. The fact that empirical evidence cannot be sought beyond the boundaries of space and time, and that all arguments are ultimately circular, contingent on premises that one must accept on faith whether one realizes that that is what one is doing or not, renders the pursuit of knowledge essentially a meaningless, self-serving form of mental self-abuse tantamount to that activity responsible for the blindness and hairy palms of so many of those who walk among us. Only a faithful acceptance of the mindful shepherding of our rightful leaders will save us from the fate awaiting the hopeless addict. The move toward novels rendering the complexity of this world into a more accessible and less harmfully ambiguous reconstruction, reconstituting the razor crystals of this world into graspable forms, can only be good for humanity. Those who read works that at their core pose questions even about the works themselves (yes, I’m looking at you John Fowles) learn to question themselves, and a honed question can be a fearful weapon. Our economies, our governments, our freedoms, depend on avoiding this theatre. We are on the right path, here, shaping the ideas that will allow us the freedom to live in peace.

    This of course, applies to all of us, and why the movement of what has been considered “adult fiction” into the more wholesome form, that you decry, is good for humanity in general. But we must not forget the children, where this project started, and who most deeply benefit from it. Allowing them to read as children did in days of yore will create children who know more and think more deeply than their peers. When they then have the temerity to point out the limitations of their compatriots, can you blame those classmates for reacting violently when their shortcomings are exposed? The blood of these enlightened readers will be on your head if this YA trend in literature is curtailed. None of us wants that. There is a way to end school yard bullying, it’s there in the form of YA, and it is irresponsible not to accept it as the solution.

  11. You’re gonna love Randall Munroe’s Thing Explainer then

    “The titles, labels, and descriptions are all written using only the thousand most common English words. Since this book explains things, I’ve called it Thing Explainer.”

  12. As a writer for children and as a fan of your work, this is pretty much horseshit. If anyone else made such rot-of-culture pronouncements based on such a tiny, miniscule, reading sample and one panel, you would laugh heartily at them. Heartily, I say. Hey, you know who was an adult bestseller when harry Potter was coming out? Dan Brown! Nobody was ashamed to be seen reading him! Nobody needed special covers! And yet.

    Me, at age of 12, I went straight from reading Enid Blyton and Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys to Tolkein! And thence to Terry Brooks! David Eddings! Challenging stuff! They upgraded the shit out of me! No pandering there! Now the poor spoiled pandered children have to make do with dross like Philip Pullman and Margo Langan! Wretched downgrading simple unchallenging stuff! When the standard is going from Bertie The Budgie to in Search Of Lost Time at the age of seven, and we have Austen, Kipling and Verne, literally no other book need ever be written for children because those will tell them literally everything the need to know about the experience of growing up in the 21st century.

    Also, along with all the other elements she deployed rather skilfully, Rowling included rather well-plotted whodunnit elements in the first three Harry Potter novels. Her prose grew increasingly serviceable as the series went on, but she’s a terrific storyteller. Better than Dan fucking Brown.

    Meanwhile, you have Kevin Crossley-Holland, Ann Halam, Thomas Andersen, any of whom I’d put up against any challenging adult writer you’d care to mention. Oh, sorry, Ann Halam is also Gwyneth Jones, an SF writer out to make a quick lucrative YA heap.

    As for a definition of YA – it’s not a sodding genre, it’s an age-group. It includes EVERY genre, so genre definitions are beyond useless. I understand the impulse, when challenged for a genre definition of YA, to fall back on the characteristics of the books you write or the books you enjoy, but that list is for the birds, as you quite rightly show. YA books are books aimed at readers who are not yet adults. That the boundary blurs as YA and adultget closer is a feature not a bug.

    John Boyne, Robert Cormier, Caroline Lawrence, Roddy Doyle, David Almond, Michael Morpurgo, the recently deceased Louise Rennison (to name a tiny, tiny fragment of the writers involved) all write YA to which that list only coincidentally overlaps, if it ever does. You’ve read Poe and Verne and Kipling but you haven’t read any of these writers yet feel confident in expressing the opinion that the sophistication ratchet is only going backwards? In assuming that a child will never encounter new vocabulary in any of these books? For shame. That’s disgraceful.

    You may, as do many, reflexively deride YA as a marketing category, oblivious to the realty of the target audience, which is a growing, developing bunch of variegated humans who mature at different rates and experience wildly different social, family and educational lives and who develop as readers at different rates, whether it’s in terms of literacy or taste or interests or the ability to handle challenging subject matter. The vast, and i do mean vast, variety of approaches to prose and subjects within YA reflects the fact that for many readers there is a gradual handing off of responsibility for choosing reading material from parents and teachers and librarians and booksellers to themselves, and the various subcategories in terms of age-related reading is a valuable and useful guide for all concerned.

    Sorry. I feel better for that rant. I think you’d write an awesome YA. Clive Barker toned down the sex and violence in his work when he wrote Abarat without sacrificing his actual writing or the ideas – there’s a discipline and a skill involved that made the book shine, the best thing he’d done in years. Terry Pratchett managed to convey the same humanist ideas in his YA books as he did in his adult books, Lemony Snicket’s All The Wrong Questions is a noir pastiche that manages to end on a note of loss loneliness and heartbreak. Older YA in particular is full or dark, painful books that do not necessarily end happily.

    And Phil Estin with your shallow self-congratulatory satire: feck off. While you’re wallowing in smugness, older teens are reading Louise O’Neill. Please do read Only Ever Yours and Asking For It. There’s a terrible danger they may render your more accessible and less harmfully ambiguous understanding of YA into something more complex, and as you say yourself, that might get you beaten up or something.

  13. I distinctly remember my nerdy friends and I reading The Clockwork Orange when we were 16-17 years old. Does this classify as Young Adult? I guess it does. I think it made a much larger impression on me than it would’ve done if I read it a couple of years later. Also, interestingly enough, the part of the book that we liked the most were the very extensive translator notes about challenges of coming up with faux-Russian swearwords.

    I turned out fucked up like hell, but I doubt it was the book’s fault.

    Anyway, I think you could push anything, apart from straight-up porn, as a YA novel as long as it’s got an adolescent main character. Make Ciri Keeton et al. into a bunch of teenagers et voila, “a heady read for a new generation”. Tons of Sarasti fan-art on DeviantArt, homoerotic fanfics, you name it.

  14. Joe Abercrombie’s take on writing YA, for what it’s worth…

    http://www.joeabercrombie.com/2014/03/10/he-killed-the-younglings/

  15. Oh Nigel, stop bloody sulking – you’re all over the place.

    “As a writer for children…”? Right. So that’s *not* YA, is it. That’s Children’s Fiction. Now how about we all grow the fuck up and start calling things what they really are.

    The truly pernicious factor in YA is that it exists as a category at all. It’s a label designed to patronise and to coddle – “Oh hey, we’re not saying you’re a *child*. No, no, you’re such grown up big boy you’re a *Young Adult*. And we made all these books *especially for you*. So you won’t have to strain your little head.” In short, it’s the creeping infantilisation of late stage capitalism, writ large across the publishing industry’s forehead in dayglo marker.

    The books themselves – *shrug* – almost irrelevant to the argument. They’ll be good, bad or indifferent, just like books in general. Some will carefully toe the recommended-content line in hopes of securing the market, some will end up dumped into the YA bin because they happen, coincidentally, to tick the right boxes. But none of this will change the fact that there are books for children, which are written in a curated fashion to cater to the children they are intended for, and there are books for adults which are not. There is no third category, and we do our children a grave disservice in trying to pretend there is.

  16. Actually, Publishers Weekly just had a report from the Bologna Children’s Book Fair saying that dystopias have become passé. So one YA stereotype might be dying off. 😉

    But is the rise of YA really any different than the superhero comic books I used to obsess over?

  17. Hi, Richard. I think we once had a nice e-mail interview when your Black Widow series came out. Big fan. You’re talking absolute bollocks.

    Well, I suppose I was all over the place with my response – sorry about that, but Jesus, grown-up men and women don’t half talk shite when it comes to children’s books. By the way, I describe myself as a children’s writer because my work has mostly been for mid-grade (that’s roughly 8-12, a distinction rightly meaningless to anyone until they do a primary school visit and stand before various classes of different ages and have to choose which stories and excerpts to read and hold their attention – then it suddenly matters a lot) but I has aspirations to write for both older and younger. Almost as if different age groups within the rather large section of the populace covered by Children’s Books require different approaches.

    I do acknowledge that the big thing about people opining on YA as a category, particularly in response to a blog-post that argues, based on almost no reading in the area at all, that it is in the process of dumbing-down the reading public, is that the books themselves are almost irrelevant. People outraged at the existence of YA as a category don’t seem to particularly give a shit about the books contained therein. They haven’t read them but they’re pretty damn sure they’re infantilising and dumbing down and working the sophistication ratchet backwards. Children whose reading faculties spring fully formed from the brow of Zeus need no guidance and gradations when it comes to books, and let the rest founder as they may.

    My own feeling is that the fact that it exists as a marketing category is irrelevant. Seriously who gives a fuck? (Except that I worked as a bookseller long enough to know I laugh in face of anyone who thinks that categories and sub-categories of books should be done away with.) What is relevant, to me, anyway, is the books, the reading, and the kids getting the books and doing the reading. The category of children includes infants. The process of growing to adulthood is moving away from infanthood. The process of becoming a reader and developing as a reader is the same. People develop at different rates, have different tastes which, in this day and age, can be explored freely and widely by teens in the category of YA. YA isn’t a marketing niche, it’s a microcosm. From one point of view it’s a microcosm of all the marketing niches that, if they infantilise children, surely infantilise adults, though I think to suggest as much is a grotesque insult to both. From a more useful point of view it is a microcosm of most of the reading opportunities available. And it is not fixed. It is fluid and there is overlap, which seems to cause no end of trouble for people who think that if categories exist they must be rigidly defined and enforced.

    My point is, that if calling a category YA is infantiising, then so is the division or sub-division of any process of growth or maturing or education, which seems counter-intuitive to me.

    So, disservice? No, they are a service. To adults who care for children and, as they grow, to children themselves. I mean I get that I’m suppose to care more about evil marketing and capitalism, but I just don’t. Kids have more and wider reading material available to them than when I was growing up, and the space to find and explore them, and that is flipping awesome. (I think you’d write a terrific YA book, too. Jesus, an SF YA written with your style and sensibilities? The shelves would explode.)

    Joe Abercrombie’s YA books (not sure they were marketed YA in the US but they were over here) are great, and an example of what a writer can do without sacrificing any of their own distinctive sensibilities. He seems to get YA as a category, too.

    Many superhero comics are YA – Ms Marvel won a Hugo! YA is FULL of stuff for kids to obsess over. I also suspect that YA dystopias will be with us for a while, albeit in different forms. It’s just the zeitgeist of growing up in a surveillance state besieged by terrorism, plagued by economic collapse and on the brink of ecological catastrophe.

  18. Nice to see a shoutout to The Seep Look Up. John Brunner was possibly the greatest science fiction writer around back then and Sheep is the best one of his books. The ending with the talk show while life falls apart and the “That smoke is coming from America” line still gives me chills just thinking about

  19. Jan S: I will never watch that movie again, and it’s very unlikely I’ll re-read the novel because, for me, it’s been poisoned by the images in that scene.

    It had a weird public reaction, for sure. Kubrick actually asked that it be withdrawn from circulation in the UK, because kids were starting to explicitly adopt Alex as a role model.

    For my part, when I finally caught the movie (it was banned outright upon release in the province of my birth), I found it almost abstract. The violence was so stagey and choreographed that it seemed almost balletic.

    Steve Holley:
    I read the first Harry Potter novel in about two hours and thought”Well, this is simplistic bullshit”. Shows how much I know.

    I thought that for the first couple of books, and then it started to win me over. The trick was to not regard the books as novels in themselves, but rather as chapters in a bigger epic. The first book, taken in isolation, is childish wish-fulfillment crap about a bullied schoolboy who Learns He Is Special, and has superpowers, and was rich and legendary and important all along. And kicks ass at everything he tries without trying. As the series progresses, though, you discover that that was only set-up for a huge fall; Harry basically becomes a burnt-out Viet-Nam vet, vilified and harassed. When I saw that happening, I thought “Cool!”.

    But by the back half of the series, there were so many gaping plot holes opening up that Rowling squandered all the good will she’d engendered.

    Lodore: What point am I making? I guess it’s that literature––understood as a proxy for ‘quality’ or ‘sophisticated’ writing––may well be like one of those parasites that convince their hosts that they want to be parasited on.

    That’s kind of an interesting perspective. (I used to wake up my Monday morning Animal Behavior class by arguing, similarly, that top-40 singles were literally alive, at least as much as viruses were.

  20. @Nigel

    Yeah, you’re still broadly missing my point. You write children’s fiction – good for you – and even better, you call it what it is. Happens to be in the age range 8 – 12. Fine. I’m all in favour of age banding for parental use (though not in big bright numbers on the spines of books, which is, I’d agree with Pullman et al, a limiting rather than an enabling strategy). But why is it exactly that once that same children’s fiction is being written with teenagers in mind, it suddenly has to be called Young Adult? Teenagers are not adults – why do we need to flatter them that they are? It’s deeply patronising.

    Instead, why not be honest with them – tell them, look, you’re still reading fiction for kids, but it’s for kids your age. Enjoy! And if you don’t like that – you feel you’re way mature for *kid’s stuff*, then, hey, over there you’ve got the adult stacks; dive in, why don’t you – give it a shot. Might be a challenge in places, but that’s all part of the fun! Enjoy!

    One of these strategies encourages exploration, independence and maturity. The other is this:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yo9_aBj1Z84

  21. AngusM: I’m puzzled by the idea that “corrupt/dystopian society” should be a defining characteristic of YA.

    Me too. At the time, I just deferred to the authority of the folks who wrote the stuff.

    benthor: I learned English as my second language using Harry Potter, mostly because I had gobbled up the first two books and the third hadn’t been translated yet, so thirteen-year old overconfident ADHD-me went off on the deep end and bought the English version.

    That’s actually kind of inspiring.

    I think the point is this: There is nothing inherently wrong with dumbed-down prose to reach a YA target audience.

    But my point is, there’s no inherent need to. I think much of the dumbing-down is needless, and ultimately destructive insofar as if you’re only ever fed a diet of porridge and peaches, you may never develop a taste for solid food. And that’s what we’re seeing as more and more not-so-young adults keep reading YA titles.

    And I just moved Edgar Allan Poe into my to-read list to find out what all the fuss is about.

    For me, it was discovering what a “morgue” was. Also what orangutans were.

    BK: Then Dark Souls hit the scene within the last few years like a excruciatingly overweight mace to the back of the head, and demonstrated that the murmurings of discontent on the internet had grown with time into a sizable market of status-seekers whose greatest desire was to segregate themselves from the plebeians, and blundered into skill and elevation of such while pursuing this desire as a byproduct.

    Hey, I’ve got Dark Souls. I’ve had it for years. I swear I’ll get back to it. Right after Fallout 4.

    Frankly, the idea that your diversionary material should be an exercise in self-improvement isn’t a new one.

    No, not an exercise! You make it sound onerous! Do you really think I sat there in an Oregon basement forcing myself to read Solaris even though it was dry as sawdust, because my 13-year-old self felt some grim determination to better his intellect? I read it because it was cool, because it sucked me in! I read it because I wanted to!

    And I think it would suck in a lot of other 13-year-olds, too. Even if some of it went over our heads.

    I also recall breezing through works like The Lord Of The Rings in the summer break between the second and third grade, but then, upon returning to those novels in my teenage years, they were noticeably denser and sometimes even a slog. I blame it on “Semiotic Baggage”: as humans age, their brains come to associate denotations more solidly with an increasing morass of connotations, until the prefrontal cortex spends so much of its energy recognizing connections and unpacking (optional) information that it restricts itself to the digestible just to get some relief. Reading a work of fantasy, science fiction, or horror basically becomes an act of cognitive dissonance.

    There’s a story in there somewhere…

    Perhaps the best means of circumventing it might be to drop the concept of Readability Levels entirely…

    Yeah. I think you’re right.

    Ross Presser: Secondary school English education, in the USA, is broken beyond belief, and likely beyond hope.

    Maybe in Canada too. I don’t know. But I read a lot over the summer too. And I read a lot in class, when I was supposed to be doing other things. Teachers complained about that on my report card.

    My sense is that we shouldn’t allow formal education to keep us from learning stuff.

  22. Well, possibly. The YA tag annoys you, I just don’t find the rationale for the annoyance convincing. In particular I don’t think you’re giving kids enough credit. In my experience they’re pretty savvy about their own reading levels and their likes and dislikes. They know the stuff they read is for kids, they know there are gradations within the stuff aimed at kids, and they know there’s an upper end where the kid/adult stuff blurs together. I’m pretty sure that as they grow most kids don’t need much prompting to go hunting in the adult stacks.

    The tern YA has been around for a long time, but it came into general use because the children’s section in most bookshops was growing to unmanageable proportions. The children’s book market is huge, and overcrowded, and most bookshops just don’t want to stock Baby Goes Potty next to Sexy Dystopia Of The Blood Monkeys. At least they didn’t call it BukZ 4 TeenZ. Wif a ‘Z!’

  23. ps – that comment about the infantilisation process of late stage capitalism is not meant to carry ponderous good vs evil moral tones – it’s a simple statement of fact. Late stage capitalism, having satisfied more basic needs, is driven inevitably to seek to satisfy increasingly non-essential desires. Over time that means discouraging effort or exertion in consumers in favour of handing them easy options and escalating levels of comfort. It applies as much to food – ready meals and snacks vs actual cooking – as it does to prose fiction.

    As for YA and superhero comics – fucking tell me about it :-) I was flabbergasted when I wrote for Marvel and found myself fenced about with a thicket of “thou shalt nots”, and worse still a readership contaminated with Stepford Readers who concurred fully with those limits. Most fucking stupid thing I’ve ever been faced with in my career as a writer – if that’s writing YA, then no thank you very much.

  24. Hm, I think a previous comment was lost because I am an idiot. What it boils down to is this – I think I really do not get objections to Young Adult or YA as a phrase. To me, and, I think, to anyone involved in the trade and I suspect the kids as well, it’s just a term of art referring to a specific albeit broad category of books for certain ages. That’s it. Other connotations, whether it be patronising or efforts to get down with the kidz are a bit lost on me, so when people object I assume they’re, I don’t know, objecting to the existence of categories within children’s fiction full stop? I do agree about the bright numbers on the spines of books. That was a stupid proposal.

    I still think Peter Watts is very wrong about what goes on within the category, but that’s a different issue.

  25. Welcome, Nigel. Great rant. Good points. Some of them, anyway.

    En garde.

    Nigel: As a writer for children and as a fan of your work, this is pretty much horseshit. If anyone else made such rot-of-culture pronouncements based on such a tiny, miniscule, reading sample and one panel, you would laugh heartily at them. Heartily, I say. Hey, you know who was an adult bestseller when harry Potter was coming out? Dan Brown! Nobody was ashamed to be seen reading him! Nobody needed special covers! And yet.

    Okay. The fact that I only listed three YA authors doesn’t mean I’ve only read those three. There’s Rowling, of course (who probably comprises half the YA field right there, if your metric is the sheer tonnage of books sold). There’s Livingston. Hell, there’s my wife, who’s been classed as a YA author and whose oeuvre I’m pretty familiar with. And let’s not forget, that “one panel” consisted of five YA authors, who presumably know a fuckton more about the field than I ever will. I’m not pretending any kind of expertise here; I’m merely channeling it.

    Also, implying that criticizing YA is somehow tantamount to defending Dan Brown? Kind of a stretch, dude.

    Also, along with all the other elements she deployed rather skilfully, Rowling included rather well-plotted whodunnit elements in the first three Harry Potter novels. Her prose grew increasingly serviceable as the series went on, but she’s a terrific storyteller. Better than Dan fucking Brown.

    Oh, she even won me over with the setup, once I realized where she was going. It was only when she actually got there that I realized she’d lost the map.

    And what is it with you and Dan Brown? Did he beat you as a child or something?

    Meanwhile, you have Kevin Crossley-Holland, Ann Halam, Thomas Andersen, any of whom I’d put up against any challenging adult writer you’d care to mention. Oh, sorry, Ann Halam is also Gwyneth Jones, an SF writer out to make a quick lucrative YA heap. … As for a definition of YA – it’s not a sodding genre, it’s an age-group. It includes EVERY genre, so genre definitions are beyond useless. … Older YA in particular is full or dark, painful books that do not necessarily end happily.

    …You may, as do many, reflexively deride YA as a marketing category, oblivious to the realty of the target audience, which is a growing, developing bunch of variegated humans who mature at different rates and experience wildly different social, family and educational lives and who develop as readers at different rates, whether it’s in terms of literacy or taste or interests or the ability to handle challenging subject matter.

    Dude, this all feeds exactly into my point! The good, solid dark “YA” (I’d include Caitlin Sweet’s work among it) can be enjoyed just as much by adults as, say, The Stars My Destination or The Martian Chronicles can be enjoyed by adolescents. So with that kind of leakage, what the hell is the point of even having a YA category?

    You almost said it yourself. It’s not a genre, sure enough, but it’s not an age-group either, not when so many 40-somethings are reading Harry Potter. It’s a maturity-group, or a literacy demographic, or something. Whatever it is, it ain’t natural: it’s a marketing artefact. I got no problems with adults who get off on His Dark Materials; what I take issue with is when authors are told to take a book that already works just fine on its own, and retcon it to suit a classification so diffuse that all the good stuff leaks across its boundaries in both directions anyway.

    When agents tell their clients to dumb down their work to fit into some Platonic cookie-cutter ideal, the problem isn’t with the author. The problem is with the template.

    (PS. And remember: I didn’t invent that template. I just copied it down from folks who know what they’re talking about.)

  26. Hey Richard. Always nice to see you wade in.

    You guys, you’ve all heard about Altered Carbon getting turned into a big-budget miniseries, right? Way to go, Richard.

    Fucker.

  27. Jasper:
    Nice to see a shoutout to The Seep Look Up. John Brunner was possibly the greatest science fiction writer around back then and Sheep is the best one of his books. The ending with the talk show while life falls apart and the “That smoke is coming from America” line still gives me chills just thinking about

    Sheep is one of the two most influential books on my life. (The other was A Whale for the Killing. Since you were wondering.)

  28. Peter Watts: Hey Richard. Always nice to see you wade in.
    You guys, you’ve all heard about Altered Carbon getting turned into a big-budget miniseries, right? Way to go, Richard.
    Fucker.

    :-)

  29. Thank you, Peter – heh, I wondered if I’d set myself up there.

    No, I don’t think you were defending Dan Brown (he did make my inner child cry) but when the vogue for new covers on Rowling’s books occurred there was a lot of pushback and sneering, deserved to some extent, because it was a bit silly, but at the same time the bestselling adult books were by Brown and I’d rather read a hundred Rowlings than a single Brown, and I was never embarrassed by the cover. I guess my point was, judging children’s fiction by Rowling is like judging adult fiction by Brown. Which, if you did, children’s fiction would come off better.

    So with that kind of leakage, what the hell is the point of even having a YA category?

    It’s purely practical. Children’s books is huge. Overstuffed and overcrowded with titles at every level. They’re divided up into sub-categories purely out of self-defense and stock-management and guidance and teacher’s headaches and parent’s bewilderment. Possibly the kids find it useful, too. The marketing stuff is a by-product, though possibly an overwhelming one at times. And of course as the Young pushes into Adult, the lines blur, and there’s leakage, but it’s not really a problem, if anything it’s an advantage.

    I take grave, grave issue with that checklist as a working definition of YA.

    I can’t really account for cyncism and efforts to dumb down work. It’s not necessary. Kids aren’t dumb. They’re just growing. People should remember that.

  30. Nigel: What it boils down to is this – I think I really do not get objections to Young Adult or YA as a phrase.

    Not as a phrase – as a concept.

    Put it another way – you’re quite happy calling what you write children’s fiction. Why does that change once we cross the threshold of 13 years old?

  31. Nigel: I can’t really account for cyncism and efforts to dumb down work. It’s not necessary. Kids aren’t dumb. They’re just growing. People should remember that.

    Yes! An accord!

    Richard Morgan: Put it another way – you’re quite happy calling what you write children’s fiction. Why does that change once we cross the threshold of 13 years old?

    It changes again when you cross the threshold of 20, or 21 or somewhere around there. Anybody hear tell of this new marketing category, “New Adult”?

    Apparently that is now a thing.

  32. Oh, and even though I’d read Asimov and a bit of Heinlein and Banks and a few others, it wasn’t until I read Stand On Zanzibar and The Sheep Look Up that I finally felt I had discovered science fiction.

  33. Yes! An accord!

    When people talk about writing aimed at kids, this is what they mean, or should mean. You do not write as if the kids are dumb. You write as if the kids are growing.

    Anybody hear tell of this new marketing category, “New Adult”?

    Um. That is not my circus. Those are not my monkeys.

  34. Peter Watts: It changes again when you cross the threshold of 20, or 21 or somewhere around there. Anybody hear tell of this new marketing category, “New Adult”?
    Apparently that is now a thing.

    fuck’s sake……..

    Late stage Capitalism. What are you gonna do?

  35. Why does that change once we cross the threshold of 13 years old

    (Sorry if I’m starting to fill up the comments section haphazardly.)

    It doesn’t, really, it’s still children’s fiction – YA is just a sub-category of that. If it wasn’t YA written over the shelves, it’d be 13-18. In libraries it’s often both. I’ve even heard professionals – agents, editors, booksellers – divide them further into Younger and Older Teens, though I haven’t seen it on the shelves. YA is a purely practical thing – in my mind and in the minds of most of the people I know. Yes, marketers take tedious advantage of it, but what isn’t tedious about marketing taking advantage of things?

    A useful phrase for these categories is that they are arbitrary – in that of course no two 13-year-olds develop at the same speed – but not random, inasmuch as it is useful and necessary to have the cut-off point somewhere as a point of reference.

  36. To be honest, what really kicks my ass about the whole YA thing is the young protagonist requirement. Because yeah, sure, anyone under the age of 18 is *simply mentally incapable* of identifying with anyone older than they are, right? Especially if they’re like, *really* old, you know, like *forty* or something…..

    That’s the infantilisation process at work, right there.

  37. I agree with you about the young protagonist thing. Having them is great, but it shouldn’t be a requirement, and suggesting that young readers can’t identify with adults is tantamount to suggesting you can’t identify with anyone different from you which would be a disastrous approach to take to writing or reading. Some writers get around it by having the protagonists age over the course of a series. Rowling did it, but Philip Reeves had his leads age, marry have a child, grow old and die over the course of his Mortal Engines series. I mean, I don’t think the authors wrote them as a get-around but it rather proves how asinine a restriction it is.

    To be fair I also don’t know whether it HAS become immovable fixed received wisdom, or if putting young protagonists in children’s books is just something modern authors naturally do. At this point, though, I suspect if you wanted an adult protagonists you’d need to be established and you’d have to push for it. How hard you’d have to push, I don’t know. It might suddenly seem quote innovative. I don’t think writers are banging down the doors for it, though. Margo Langan’s Tender Morsels and Brides Of Rollrock Island had adult protagonists.

  38. Peter Watts,

    Really? It’d be kinda interesting to see what your take on it is. I feel like John Brunner has been abandoned by mainstream sf for some ungodly reason and it actually makes me almost as sad as the fact that George Allec Effinger died before he could finish the Marid Audran series

  39. Peter,

    If you haven’t heard of it yet, try the Harry Potter and the Methods of Rationality fanfic. Puts an interesting twist on HP by making both the protagonist and the antagonist smart. The writing is sometimes (especially at the begining) a bit rough but I enjoyed it a lot. Good fun.

  40. Hey, is this where we come to chest thump about what *we* read when we were kids? Awesome.

    Growing up in the 70s/80s by my early teens (11-13) it would have been Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein, Bradbury, Jules Verne, HG Wells, Frank Herbert (Dune also a YA novel by that panel’s criteria, BTW), Richard Matheson, fantasy landmarks like Tolkien and TH White, pulp like Lovecraft, Robert E Howard, Moorcock and Doc Savage adventure novels from the 40s. I also had a taste for more lurid fare like spy novels by Ian Flemming, Robert Ludlum, and Leslie Charteris, sprawling historical soap operas by James Clavell (no explanation for this), and a rather appalling habit of reading major movie novelizations, both before and after having seen the movie (video rental stores were not quite a thing yet, ok?).

    I guess that’s what you get when you let a kid run wild in a library, without trying to make them into a demographic. Thing is, I’m pretty sure *most* of the stuff on that list, even the big names in science fiction who have gained a lot more respectability with time would have been considered “Young Adult fare” by *serious* readers back then, when anything that smacked of the fantastic was considered adolescent. Young Adult and snobbish contempt for it has always been a thing, even if what constitutes YA is always changing. Those of us who emerged from the womb reading hard science fiction can take a pass I suppose, but the rest of us may need to look more closely at how different modern YA really is from some of the stuff we read when we were younger, and how much comes down to superficial differences and nostalgia.

    I do agree with some previous comments, that just about the last thing I was interested in was stories featuring young leads. To me that *was* kid’s stuff. My family’s multiple attempts to inflict CS Lewis on me were met with disdain. This may simply be a generational thing. There wasn’t quite the abundance of entertainment media produced specifically for rigid youth demographics yet, so we mostly just consumed what people of any age with imagination consumed. Stories featuring kids typically (but not always) lacked the sophistication of stories featuring younger leads do today. Today *everything* feels like “Young Adult” to me, from primetime television to every movie at the multiplex, because nobody wants to see disgusting middle age people like me featured prominently in their fiction anymore. Who can blame them. Ew.

    .

  41. Our Gracious Host wrote: I have to wonder if YA does that, if it improves one’s reading skills or merely panders to them. I doubt that your vocabulary is any bigger when you finish Harry Potter and the Well-Deserved Bitch-Slap than when you started. You may have been entertained, but you were not upgraded.

    Au Contraire, Dr Watts! When I and my friends read A Clockwork Orange at an average age of about 15 years, we thought it was incredibly awesome because it provided us with a new slang that was unlikely to be understood by anyone else in our shiny new suburbs. Not long after reading the book, we were all using Nadsat as much as possible and we found ways to intrude it into almost any conversation we were having, regardless with whom or regarding what. Interestingly, years later, at the peak of the Cold War, some adult kids of early defectors came within my peer group, and when they started talking amongst themselves in Russian, I was actually shocked to discover that I understood much of it.

    Thus, A Clockwork Orange is not merely YA, but very educational YA. Yet, reading it from the age-group of the protagonist, it might be all too easy to fall into the mindset of the protagonist. It’s arguable as to whether Little Alex (and his droogs) are the products of their failed socialist utopia, or whether they’re simply the product of a developmental stage when nearly adult intelligence and adult drives are little moderated by scant adult conscience. In the end, Little Alex may “win”, but for how long? If he lives long enough, his dreams may provide his own internal “Ludovico” aversion therapy. The story doesn’t suggest this, and one might say that this definitively keeps this in the YA category. That might be one of the unspoken rules for the subgenre.

    To the other thing: writing simply — yet thought-provokingly — for the YA-and-younger audiences, that’s hard. As adults writing for adults, we are all too easily drawn into seeking to display subtlety and stylistic flourish, and in many cases (as adult readers) we are willing to forgive a lack of clarity of story if presented with enough literary legerdemain. Yet some writers do manage to pull off the real trick, which is to tell a story at multiple levels, which makes sense on all of those levels. Early works by Ursula K LeGuin are good examples, especially the early Hainish Cycle titles such as Rocannon’s World. It seems like a lot of hobbitry but there’s a fair amount of science snuck in there.

    Borderline-sitting in the fuzzy domains between fantasy and SF in the Fifties and Sixties, Zenna Henderson’s “People” cycle mixes the very straightforward and seemingly simple short stories with the fairly complex bridge pieces written to try to make a novel out of the reprinted shorts. Yet if we judge it by the rules-of-YA as laid out above, this cannot be YA because almost all of those short stories have a pretty clear vision of what is going on in the minds of tweens and young-adults (even super-powered ones!), but the recurrent theme set out is of teachers with special talents for reaching the nascent adult in the troubled teens portrayed, and the world is less corrupt than it is ignorant or superstitious. Yet as a teen I found these stories extremely readable, and reading them all again a few times throughout my adult life I have found them as readable, yet bringing new understanding on new levels. The prose is straightforward and so are the stories, yet for the first-time reader back in a simpler day when these ideas hadn’t been done to death in TV and film, the stories were full of surprise and wonder, and often full of a better way of looking at things. Does anyone even really try to do that anymore?

  42. Missed this bit:

    I have to wonder if YA does that, if it improves one’s reading skills or merely panders to them. I doubt that your vocabulary is any bigger when you finish Harry Potter and the Well-Deserved Bitch-Slap than when you started. You may have been entertained, but you were not upgraded.

    This is overly harsh. Although I’ll deny it in a dozen other arguments when Im busy looking down my nose at something someone else enjoys, even reading trash is better than no reading. Especially with speculative fiction. There’s a lot of visualization that goes on when reading, and sci fi/fantasy give our internal rendering engines a good work out when imagery isn’t spoonfed into our brains like in a movie, instead relying on our own minds to conjure images from text. Imagination and the ability to visualize complicated, vague or abstract concepts are highly useful skills in almost any field.

    You’d also be surprised about the vocabulary, I think If most people could speak at least as articulately as the typical passage in a Harry Potter book, they’d find a lot of things in life much easier. But so many people, in my own Country at least, increasingly can’t string together a few words with any confidence or sounding like a dumbass to people with command of language. So even Harry Potter can develop skill and confidence in processing language, and parents always hope that confidence encourages them to move on to more challenging things.

    I’m amazed, in retrospect, of how much vocabulary I picked up just from reading comic books as a kid with their ridiculous dialogue that nevertheless featured words and concepts that I was unfamiliar with. “Begone foul miscreant, or I shall use the ultimate nullifier to shrink you into the subatomic multiverse! Have at Thee!” Between faux Shakespearean comics dialogue, and all the dated idioms I was picking up from reading pulp novels from the 40s and 50s, I had a *really* weird vocabulary as a kid, that would sometimes leave my friends baffled. Their vocabularies consisted
    mostly of new and creative use of vulgarities. It really is a wonder I didn’t get punched more.

    In an age where kids have so much more competition for their attention, any reading is good reading as far as I’m concerned. Many of us here are recounting experiences from before the age of basic cable, let alone video games. I’m under no illusion that I would have been the same reader had
    goddamn Super Nintendo hit when I was in my early teens. Luckily, I was blessed with awful Atari games, and if those things could hold your attention for more than 20 minutes at a time, you were probably never going to be much of a reader anyway. If it takes some scientifically formulated accessibility torpedo keyed to a specific age range to get a kid reading these days, so be it.

    .

  43. “I’m puzzled by the idea that “corrupt/dystopian society” should be a defining characteristic of YA.
    AngusM

    You need the ‘rebellious young folks fight an oppressive society’ trope if you really want to lucratively tap into the mindset of a resentful teenager who’s just been told to take the bins out. This is the key not so much to YA fiction, but to successful YA fiction, particularly the kind that spawns movie franchises, especially if said rebellious young folks are also ubermenschoid mutants the corrupt society, or some other buncha old people, want to kill just coz they’re different. And, y’know, better than everyone else, not that YOU care. Stay out of my room!

    I blame John Wyndham. Which reference gives you an idea just how freakin’ old I am.

  44. ScottC: that just about the last thing I was interested in was stories featuring young leads. To me that *was* kid’s stuff.

    Yes, this. I graduated from kid’s books (mostly Doctor Who tie-ins and Biggles) to adult fare (mostly Ian Fleming, Leslie Charteris, Alistair Maclean & Desmond Bagley) somewhere between the ages of about nine and eleven. The upshift in the demands the prose made was minimal, the learning curve for the content was, of course, somewhat steeper. But what was identical in both cases was that the protagonists of this stuff were all adults. It would never have occurred to me to want to read about people my age or a few years older. In fact, I recall that once, when I ran out of Biggles adventures, I borrowed a couple of a friend’s Famous Five books (they had similarly colourful spines, I seem to remember, and were about the same size). I remember very clearly being totally dismayed to discover that the protagonists were kids, and I bailed out on the spot. Kids, by definition, were like me, and that rendered them pretty dull. Biggles and Who, by contrast, were grown men, with lived years of experience behind them (in the Doctor’s case, rather a lot of years!) and all the gravitas and fascination that implied. I was in a hurry to grow up and get out into the adult world, and these were aspirational signposts for me, pointing the way.

  45. Love the exchanges going on in this comment section…

    While I largely agree with Richard’s take on the direction modern culture is going, I’m not sure if calling it “late-stage capitalism” helps very much (as it brings a lot of baggage). But the general point seems correct. Nearly anywhere you go around the world, it seems cinema and books have changed over the past couple of generations, from tackling big “serious” issues, spirituality, poetry, Art (capital A), life and the soul, to largely being entertainment.

    On the other hand, as the world has gotten richer, there’s a lot more literacy and people who have more time for cinema, books, etc., so I wonder how much of this is just a broadening of the cultural base.

    Instead of record collections, people today can stream nearly any piece of music ever recorded, at any time. Classical music is much less followed today, but kids can tell you all about 20 different classifications of EDM. TV is incomparably richer and more varied (and more “grown up”) than what I grew up with in the 1970s and 80s. Tarkovsky and Kubrick have given way to Michael Bay … But Bong Joon Ho has been given $60 million to make a scifi film for Netflix.

    (Only pro wrestling remains the same…)

    Not sure if I really have a point, except I think for each thing we’ve lost, we’ve probably gained something else, and maybe we’re just too close to the changes to really see it. And the rise of adults reading YA is just a small piece of a much larger set of trends occurring across culture.

  46. Andrej,

    Puts an interesting twist on HP by making both the protagonist and the antagonist smart.

    No, it doesn’t. It makes the protagonist immensely stupid, tries to make them seem smart by handing them the script, but still fails at that because the author doesn’t seem to get what makes for someone actually being smart. The description of Donald Trump is “a poor person’s idea of a rich person”, and that applies very much here. If someone who couldn’t make it through grade school dropped out, told them self they were always immensely smart despite not being able to hack it, and wrote a self insert with all the arrogance and hate but none of the ability, that pile of dreck is what you would get.

    It also guts all the charm and deeper ideas that people enjoy from it in favor of a religious screed. It is Ayn Rand with even less skill or thought, and more racism and misogyny.

  47. It appears I don’t have all the chest thumping out of my system yet, but I’ll try to put in perspective at the end. Someone above mentioned Poe, and I recall now that before I had even graduated (though some would quibble if this was really an upgrade, no doubt) to classic sci-fi in my early teens, I had read the collected works of Poe, Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, Sir Aurthur Conan Doyle, HG Wells, Jules Verne, a reasonable amount of Dickens–goddamn Moby Dick–all by the time I was about 9 or 10. For leisure.

    This strikes me as utterly remarkable now. That there was an age where I could just pick up a book, any book, and read it for leisure. I recall not struggling nearly so much with putting together antiquated dialect and dated language from context as I would now. This is something my child’s brain could do, that my adult one would struggle with.

    This, however, is something I have to credit to the parental units. I read this stuff because it was what was around. My parents used to gift me handfuls of these paperbacks. They were all considered “young adult reading” . How crazy is that? How many of us could struggle through Moby Dick today for kicks, if not required to for school?

    Now, perspective. I read them because we lived in a rural area, there were only three goddamn channels on the television, and they all sucked. I was lucky enough I guess, to be a product of my time and environment, and to develop a reading for leisure habit that I carried with me the rest of my life. I have no illusion that if I were born even ten years later, with the advent of basic cable and more sophisticated video games, that I would be the same. And the internet, that great swirling vortex of inanity that no free time can escape? Forget about it. I’d have been toast. That kids read at all today is remarkable to me.

    Realizing that, I would not choose to let my niece detect any derision from me over any choice of reading material, even modern YA. No doubt I will have to look at the crushing disappointment in her eye when I gift to her some of the things I read when was young, in hilariously out of style dead tree volumes, and watch her wonder if I, in fact, hate her.

  48. Yet the general reaction I get when I tell people in the US I read Science Fiction is that I am reading kids material. Funny that my two favorite authors are ranting about the infantilization of a target demographic by ad executives / publishing houses.

  49. You are right, Peter. It is the same with pop music:

    http://www.smithsonianmag.com/smart-news/science-proves-pop-music-has-actually-gotten-worse-8173368/

    Also, Nellie was satire?? You should have published it on the 1st of April.
    (Told you I am not the sharpest pencil, Adam.)

  50. Richard Morgan: Yes, this.I graduated from kid’s books (mostly Doctor Who tie-ins and Biggles) to adult fare (mostly Ian Fleming, Leslie Charteris , Alistair Maclean & Desmond Bagley) somewhere between the ages of about nine and eleven […] But what was identical in both cases was that the protagonists of this stuff were all adults. It would never have occurred to me to want to read about people my age or a few years older.

    A fellow Saint fan. At least by pre-teen library card tatstes. *High Five*.

    It’s interesting this generational shift that seems to have happened, as to whether kids really are interested in seeing other children enjoy protagonist spotlight in their fiction. Judging by the rampant commercial success of Harry Potter, or The Hunger Games, or the Twilight series (the second two inspire prolonged fits of 1978 Body Snatcheresque point-screeching in me, so I’ve never actually read/watched them, and cannot speak intelligently on their merits), the tide seems to have turned on that. Although, one can never really separate their actual appeal to youth, and their success due to the current generation of pop-culture worshiping 20 and thirty somethings.

    For my part, and I can only speak as a former young boy (my sister seemed content chewing through Nancy Drew mysteries…but then, that was what was *given* to her to read–an entirely different can of worms), but stories that featured young adult leads were kids stuff to me. I resented them. There was something that didn’t ring true about them, something that was talking down to me, and I looked to adult fiction to give me more credible accounts of people engaging in exceptional deeds. I don’t know if it was aspirational in nature, or simply that it hampered my suspension of disbelief when children were shown pulling off adult feats. I was, after all, keenly aware of all the limitations of my own abilities, and my own life. In contrast, the lives of adults seemed so much more exotic and plausible for the sort of high adventure and fantastic scenarios I enjoyed.

    It’s telling that my generation favors Han Solo over Luke Skywalker in the Star Wars pantheon. Luke was the ostensible lead –the embodiment of the Campbellian Monomyth. But godlike power fantasy aside, he was also the annoying kid who wanted to go to Toshi Station to pick up some power converters, while Han was the guy who shows up in his sweet ride, shoots first, bangs your sister, probably lets you finish his beer, then takes off before the end because the rest of you are really a drag. There’s really no contest, and this was a conclusion I reached at a very young age. Let us not speak of the Prequel featuring a primary school child flying attack fighters and saving the day. Despite Lucas’s contention that the Star Wars movies were always made for children, this is something I absolutely would have rejected as a child. As a child, my heroes were not other children. Ever.

    When did that change? Has it changed? On the one hand, stories featuring youth leads are more sophisticated now than they used to be. Peter pointed out the darker tones and subtext in the latter chapter of the Harry Potter books. Compared with a lot of the stuff deliberately aimed at young adult readers when I was a kid, this is a marked change. Perhaps it would have won me over had I benefited from that shift in my youth. On the other hand you see that the more sophisticated nature of these stories are bringing in adult readers as well, blurring the lines between “youth fiction”, and simply “fiction”, albeit that which isnt writing up to their potential as adult thinkers–which I suppose is the main thrust of Dr. Watts’s latest rant.

    Im still not convinced that placed side by side, a child wouldn’t choose a book that featured more “adult” situations and subject matter, simply because the alternative featured a younger protagonist. Children are every bit as bloodthirsty, if not more so, than adults, and every bit as enchanted by lurid subject matter. They are also keenly aware of when they’re being excluded from the party. As adults, we construct these separations for our own comfort, rather than theirs.
    .

  51. AngusM: I realize you need a good antagonist and nothing satisfies like overthrowing a tyrant. I realize that President Snow or whoever is just a surrogate for mom and dad who are being, like, _so_ unreasonable. Still, the idea that one increasingly hackneyed trope should be set up as a defining characteristic is almost as disturbing as the dumb-it-down-as-far-as-possible-and-then-some trend.

    This may have much to do with “Individuation” as Jung would have it. I first encountered the term in the context of an infant realizing that it is independent of the mother and that other things in the universe are also individuated. This relates a bit, developmentally, to Theory of Mind, at that stage. Yet this whole “we are ourselves and we are not others” bit continues through development and in some ways it’s a bit more subtle and in other ways it’s not very subtle at all. Relevant to your question, up to a certain point, children are very solidly identified with and identified to their parents and/or teachers they find acceptable. Yet as they grow older, they develop their own peer groups and associations and especially in the teen and “YA” years their peer group individuates from adult society. The age range from roughly 15-25 or so is spent trying to dissociate from the parent generation. At times the avoidance of adults is fairly generalized and at times it’s more tuned to specific people or their
    character traits or opinions they’ve expressed. Coming from one teen it’s one thing, but if you get several teens/YA to have the same reaction against someone or something, it becomes somewhat normative. Thus, create a sufficiently objectionable character in a sufficiently popular YA novel and you’ve just normalized a specific disdain into a large number of the upcoming generation.

    Honestly, even in our 50s, those of us who saw Star Wars (IV) in our late teens/early 20s have spent most of our lives trying rather desperately at times to not be Darth Vader or Grand Moff Tarkin. “Abandon ship, in our moment of triumph? I think not!” Did whoever wrote that line, write into our generation a serious degree of caution that doesn’t ever think we’ve won until we’re damn certain of it?

    Of course, this same phenomenon, of aligning to an age-peer group while becoming almost antithetically opposed to elders beyond a certain age and/or of certain outlooks, explains the requirement to have a young protagonist. Anything else would be almost summarily rejected by most off the target audience.

    BK: Perhaps the best means of circumventing it might be to drop the concept of Readability Levels entirely, and encourage young children to expand their reading material up to the college level early on, when the nerves are still plastic and semantics easily skimmed, before having them return for critical analysis at the close of Secondary Education.

    They tried that with me, and the jury’s still out on how well that turned out. The good side of it is that there’s no question that I’m literate, but then again, there was no question that I was literate when I was in second or third grade. Yet the general opinion, insofar as I have been able to get at it, is that having sopped up so much wordage without necessarily being firmly grounded in the disciplines behind the words, allowed me to be over-estimated by people trying to do placement assessments, meaning that I was skimped on the basics in many ways. In many subjects, it is possible to speak well in those subjects without being deeply grounded in them. Perhaps this is especially the case in those of us who glossed over the unfamiliar or difficult parts, letting context fill in the blanks sufficiently so as to move on to the next bit of story. I was into my early twenties before I really understood this, and started to take pains to check the dictionary, encyclopedia, any experts I could find, to try to fill in the blanks. It may be valuable indeed to have YA-level works available so that kids have no choice but to read adults works, and incorrectly fill-in-the-blanks with miscomprehended guesswork.

    If anyone has the time, patience, and energy to write a YA about some bewildered adult discovering that they’d have been a lot better informed and a more precise thinker if only they’d read more YA, and then they read that YA and their mental faculties all start falling into place, because it’s never to late to have your second childhood… I will leave this to the reader as an exercise to determine whether or not I am taking the piss. In any case, it may have been nearly done as such, already, and done well. Consider whether or not Stephenson’s The Diamond Age ought perhaps to be thought of as YA, or perhaps as what YA ought to want to be.

    @ScottC: You and I read about the same stuff in about the same timeframes, I think. However, I was able to read the “Perelandra” CS Lewis but didn’t at all “get it” because of the heavy religious influence… I pretty much glossed over that. Yet in later years, when pondering anything remotely theological, I find myself deeply informed by those first experiences with that sort of thought. Somehow I never could stomach all of that “Narnia” stuff.

    Folks, where do we categorize John Christopher’s “Tripods” books, which were pretty clearly aimed at the 12-15 age group? Or the likes of Howard’s “Conan” books, HP Lovecraft, or L. Sprague DeCamp? My same friends who read A Clockwork Orange also were passing around copies of the Conan books, Lovecraft was definitely all the rage in the teen literati crew, boys’ division. A taste for sword-and-sorcery leads perhaps inevitably to Fritz Leiber by way of “Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser”. These latter generally wouldn’t fit the list, above, of what’s YA. But would Kipling’s “Just So Stories”, specifically the “Jungle Book” tales about Mowgli? Hint: Shere Khan is the Mean Old Man.

  52. Godfuckingdamn. So many comments to get caught up on.

    Look, forget education, age, and whether or not kids today are dumber/worse educated or whatever. When you write with a certain complexity you cut off perhaps half of a potential market. And maybe those “mindless” folks are the ones who make viral marketing work. Getting those people via EQ as opposed to IQ seems to be part of the whole sparkly vamp success.

    To me, it’s that complexity that makes Watts Watts. But also that weird-ass thing where he takes geometry or biology or alienscapes and makes it poetic.

    Language analysis is saying that US candidates for President are using grammar school level language. They want as much of that bell curve as possible and to be as vague as possible to be as much all-things to all people as they can. That’s marketing: “You can’t live without this product.”

    Also laughed when I read the synopsis of this. Just about literally matches Watts’ definition.

    http://www.nationmultimedia.com/life/The-next-wave-in-young-adult-science-fiction-30276887.html

  53. ScottC: A fellow Saint fan. At least by pre-teen library card tatstes. *High Five*.

    Yeah – awesome early introduction to the Implacable Man of Violence trope. It’s often shrouded in layers of quaint Edwardian Englishness and – by today’s standards – shocking jingoism, but when you peel that back, there’s something really quite frightening about Simon Templar – to the extent that on occasion he even frightens himself. Charters opened the lid for me on the idea that violence, rather than being good or bad, was something far beyond those concepts, something ancient and atavistic that you could unleash – but that once you had unleashed it, it was very hard and costly to put back in the box.

  54. ScottC: There was something that didn’t ring true about them, something that was talking down to me, and I looked to adult fiction to give me more credible accounts of people engaging in exceptional deeds. I don’t know if it was aspirational in nature, or simply that it hampered my suspension of disbelief when children were shown pulling off adult feats. I was, after all, keenly aware of all the limitations of my own abilities, and my own life. In contrast, the lives of adults seemed so much more exotic and plausible for the sort of high adventure and fantastic scenarios I enjoyed.

    Yeah, bang on the nail again – this is really the refined point of the matter. There’s nothing wrong with young protagonists per se – look at The Shining or Salem’s Lot, for example. The problem arises when you gift your young protagonists with cheap narrative primacy. The whole point of Danny Torrance in The Shining is that he’s all but powerless in the face of what’s coming; at one point he even screams into the void “But I’m only six; doesn’t it count that I’m only six.” And, of course, the answer that the Overlook Hotel gives him is the one the world hands out regularly to small children. This is the root of much of the successful tension and horror in the book.

    From the very brief brushes I have had with the field, this seems to me to be the exact opposite of what YA aims for. YA fictions seem hellbent on telling teenagers that they are special, singled out, important, nay *vital*, in the scheme of things. That their choices and desires have vast, wide-ranging consequences for the world at large. To any maturing teenager who’s paying attention, that has to ring colossally false.

  55. Deseret:

    Look, forget education, age, and whether or not kids today are dumber/worse educated or whatever. When you write with a certain complexity you cut off perhaps half of a potential market.

    This. I think of YA as sort of the literary equivalent of the PG-13 summer blockbuster. Broad appeal, not hard on the brain, something that (generally) parents won’t feel uncomfortable letting their kids experience, and yet, when well-executed, it is something that even people with sophisticated intellects and tastes can enjoy. YA hasn’t exploded as a category because “young adults” lacked stuff to read. It’s exploded as a category because when it clicks with a broad audience, it really fucking sells because a lot of people can enjoy it on some level.

  56. I’m still in the camp of “hey, if it gets people reading, great”… sure, only a small percentage of them will move on to more adult novels, but the vast majority wouldn’t be stretching themselves without YA, they’d be watching TV.

    I also remember when there was a very real feeling of the dumbing down of another medium (which wasn’t that bright to begin with), where economics seemed to dictate that very soon television would be completely overwhelmed with Reality television. Instead, I think we’re in something of a golden age of good TV… reality TV’s never gone away, and there are whole channels devoted to it (and unfortunately, whole celebrities based on it), but it’s more of a balance (and, like with YA, I like a little now and then), we’re also getting incredibly good stuff, I think there was a real craving for more substantive stuff that came from the years reality TV domination.

    Of course, that’s partly spurred on by things like Netflix. We don’t have quite the same dynamic… I mean, sure, there’s Amazon and other self-publishing, but it’s not quite the same in that it’s not as curated, there are millions of books out there so it’s harder for the more substantive stuff to get the attention they need to find their audience… the ones best served by this system seem to be the ones that already HAVE a huge potential audience because they’re most broadly targetted… that is, YA. But maybe that’ll evolve and solutions will present themselves.

    I do think people in this thread have raised some good points though. And it’s one more piece of evidence for my personal theory that marketing is subtly the most evil science mankind has developed. (And yes, I realize that my problem in the last paragraph could be described as a problem that marketing could solve, but that’s part of what makes it evil, we become reliant on it).

  57. […] Watts, in his post “Dumb Adult”, takes issue with the category of Young Adult fiction as something that keeps teenagers from […]

  58. Who among you will tell me this is a good thing?

    I’m going to tell you it’s a good thing, Peter. At least, for the likes of you and me.

    See that mob over there, chasing the plastic pot of gold labelled YOUNG ADULT? That’s them. And over here, methodically quartering in the fallow field with a metal detector? That’s us, the folks who are uneasy about infantilism. There are a lot more of them than there are of us: even if our pot of gold is smaller, it’ll go further … and we don’t risk getting trampled in the rush.

    But. But.

    More prosaically: there’s nothing wrong with writing clearly told, compelling stories that young adults can digest easily. Nor is there anything wrong with writing to a protagonist viewpoint they can empathize with — and teenagers and young adults aren’t experientially equipped to empathize with grumpy middle-aged types, much less oldsters — after all, us old fogies can still empathize with the young adults, having been there, so it can be viewed as expanding the market rather than restricting it by excluding some readers. But the key problem with the YA market fetish, as I see it, is oversimplification. Teen agers and young adults frequently perceive the adult world as a laser-sharp, crisply delineated high contrast place with clear-cut right ways and wrong ways to look at things. It takes age and experience to come to recognize the blurry boundaries, the edge conditions, the recurrent dark design patterns embedded in our social mechanisms. YA fiction needs an evil dictator to explain the dystopia: making it a functional democracy in which everyone is inexorably nudged to consistently vote against their best interests doesn’t work. It’s a frustrating, muddy, old-person’s view of reality, and by oversimplifying the world as we try to explain it (through illustration and metaphor) to the reader we’re doing nobody any favours.

    PS: And now I’m going back to the outline of my new space operatic toy, played in the key of Iain M. Banks — a Philip Roth style lit-fic novel of academic treachery and marital infidelity played out against a backdrop of burning starships and galactic-scale catastrophe.

  59. Richard Morgan: The problem arises when you gift your young protagonists with cheap narrative primacy. […] To any maturing teenager who’s paying attention, that has to ring colossally false.

    Absolutely. It can be tricky to make the case that featuring unrealistically competent children and teens in lead roles in books that also feature any number of other fantastic elements or implausible scenarios is any big deal, but it comes down to the old internal consistency argument. Just because a television show features zombies, doesn’t mean that unicorns are equally welcome. You’re trying to sell a specific set of fantastic ideas to a reader without divorcing them entirely from a recognizable reality. Super-kids were often that one step too many that brings the whole thing crashing down.

    Furthermore, it made me angry–I *wanted* to buy what the author was selling. I wanted to take the spaceships,dinosaurs, robots, monsters, aliens, etc. seriously. Why are you pitching me these ideas with one hand, and with the other declaring it to be juvenile fare by so clearly targeting children? It gives the sense that the author doesn’t think their own ideas are something to be taken seriously by adults, which is where I suppose my feelings of being talked down to came from. Most legitimate science fiction authors took their ideas seriously, and presented them as things adults would be concerned with. I wanted to feel validated in my appetite for these ideas, not feel like I was sitting at the kids table.

    I don’t want to overstate the case, as their was plenty of fiction I enjoyed that featured young protagonists. But I always enjoyed it despite them, not because of them. YA might be huge right now, but I suspect it’s simply because it’s the bulk of what’s being made for people with a taste for accessible, serialized fantasy, not necessarily because people are seeking it out. Adults might be buying it for their kids with the mistaken assumption that just because it features young characters, that young readers will like it. However, I think that aspect of YA success is completely incidental.

    I had my mind blown here by discovering that Dune would have been a YA novel. But I didn’t show up for Dune because of the teen protagonist fighting a corrupt system and avenging a dead parent. I came for the Gom Jabbars, the giant sandworms, the feudalistic warfare and intrigue, the evolved metahumans with freaky powers, and the fact that people were running around with bags of their own filth strapped to their bodies (cool!).

    Left to their own devices and free from cynical marketing, kids show up for the cool concepts and adventure. I fear they increasingly also show up for the much stronger sense of an event-driven shared pop culture than we had when I was young, and the exploitable FoMO. It feels like publishers are just chasing that jackpot of being the “next Big Thing” by churning out variations on a theme of the previous Big Things and waiting for one to hit. This would be fine if so much other stuff wasn’t getting thrown under the bus in their scramble, and authors that would have otherwise chosen to write something more sophisticated weren’t being co-opted for the chase.

    Ms. Rowling may have unwittingly set back an entire generation of young readers with her runaway success. I’m sure she’s a lovely person, though.
    .

  60. ^ Always embarrassing when you auto-correct into a “there vs. their” error when commenting on the current state of literacy.

    Ooh, a Stross sighting!

    .

  61. Mr Non-Entity:

    @ScottC: You and I read about the same stuff in about the same timeframes, I think. However, I was able to read the “Perelandra” CS Lewis but didn’t at all “get it” because of the heavy religious influence… I pretty much glossed over that. Yet in later years, when pondering anything remotely theological, I find myself deeply informed by those first experiences with that sort of thought. Somehow I never could stomach all of that “Narnia” stuff.

    Oh, I don’t want to come off as Narnia bashing in any way. That stuff is fine, if you’re comfortable with the allegory. It’s just that by the time my relatives were trying to foist that on me, I was already so far beyond that sort of thing, and had developed my own early literary snobbery–a tradition which I continue in this fine thread. C.S. Lewis is a tough sell to a kid who is reading hard sci-fi, Lovecraft, and trashy spy novels. Just used it as an example of adults being out of touch with where kids really are, reading-wise.

    .

  62. I managed to borrow The Story of O and some William Burroughs at the city library, which prepared me for reading the upbeat works of Peter Watts some twenty years later. I did enjoy reading Clockwork Orange too, though there were few titillating aspects to it, oh my droogies.

    Regarding YA, I’d propose some themes are likely to be of less interest to most YA readers, such as living together with a long term partner, getting cheated out of a promotion for a job you hate, having grimy affairs with your socks on in seedy motels (possibly professor/student slash fic), learning you cannot have children, getting divorced and seldom seeing your children again, having your parents die in cancer while you helplessly look on, getting laid off when too old to get another job even though you abased yourself, thinking deeply about the unavoidability of death, seeing all your works quickly forgotten along with yourself, etc. (I know I also found the clumsily disguised socialist tracts of my youth to be of negative interest.)

  63. Mr. Stross hit upon some interesting things there. I do think maybe a line can be drawn to the Marvel and DC movies to suggest there’s some correlation between “YA” and hero worship in pop culture. Not to mention the attempt to turn Fantastic Four into a YA thing (no pun intended).

    Speaking of which, kind of a side point, but has anyone mentioned there’s also the “protagonist is extra especially special from the start” thing? Perhaps not always, but a some born a monarch (Jupiter Ascending) or otherwise a chosen one, Didn’t follow Eclipse to the end, so don’t know if Bella meets this criteria from the get-go. It’s one thing to be special because all this stuff happened but another because of bloodline, etc.

  64. Hey Charlie – saludos

    Charlie Stross: teenagers and young adults aren’t experientially equipped to empathize with grumpy middle-aged types, much less oldsters

    Experientially, maybe not, but I’m not sure that’s an issue – human emotional range is a pretty elastic thing, after all, and young minds are more elastic than most. I’ve seen remarkable levels of cross-generational empathy out of kids as young as six and seven. And, by definition, isn’t fiction a functional substitute for experiences we haven’t had?

    In fact, I’m pretty sure the fiction we consume when we’re young actually plays a big part in our emotional development – and that’s part of my gripe. I have a nasty sneaking suspicion that the YA insistence on youthful protagonist primacy blunts and truncates an emerging edge of curiosity that the large majority of kids own as part of their standard operating system.

  65. I think it would be presumptuous to assume that modern teenagers with their Twilights and Hunger Games and assorted apocalypses and dystopias aren’t also enjoying the likes of, say, Stephen King (still), Gillian Flynn, George RR Martin and EL James and no doubt others – popular, literary, classic, modern – whatever. They have the kind of access – and encouragement – bookish kids of my age couldn’t even dream of outside of sneaking in to live in a library. The safer assumption is that the avid readers are freely grabbing stuff from YA AND adult shelves. Nobody built a wall around YA and said ‘thus far and no further till you’re 18.’

    Mr Non-Entity: They tried that with me, and the jury’s still out on how well that turned out.

    I think assuming that because a kid is smart enough to read without prompting they need minimal guidance is potentially disastrous. Reading for sensation can preclude the development of focus, discipline and intellectual rigour which can leave someone foundering badly, but still putting up a good front, when they get to college.

    Richard Morgan: YA fictions seem hellbent on telling teenagers that they are special, singled out, important, nay *vital*, in the scheme of things. That their choices and desires have vast, wide-ranging consequences for the world at large. To any maturing teenager who’s paying attention, that has to ring colossally false.

    Without for one second suggesting that such fictions don’t exist in YA, I think first of all, it’s also fair to say that it also exists across adult entertainments and for adult protagonists. It’s just as tiresome in both. It’s also not as endemic or essential in YA as you seem to suggest, otherwise the Chaos Walking Trilogy by Patrick Ness would not have been a bestseller. Where it does exist, it is often in the form of responsibility being thrust suddenly and horribly onto someone poorly prepared who will have to struggle and make mistakes and pay a terrible price for it. They can be so far removed from wish-fulfillment power fantasies that as an adult I find it poignant and wish the kids would go easier on themselves.

    Guildenstern42 – This. I think of YA as sort of the literary equivalent of the PG-13 summer blockbuster.

    The Hunger Games is YA, yes. So is MT Anderson’s The Astonishing Life Of Octavian Nothing, Traitor To The Nation which is one of the most incredible books I’ve ever read. I’m starting to think that the more definitive the opinions the less contact the opinion-holders have had with the breadth and depth of modern YA fiction in particular, and modern children’s fiction in general. (Not necessarily directed at you in particular Guildenstern42.)

    ScottC – Left to their own devices and free from cynical marketing, kids show up for the cool concepts and adventure.

    Is there any reason to suppose that they’re not getting these things from their current reading material? Furthermore is there any reason to suppose that there is really a difficulty in them identifying with young protagonists when the shelves are packed with books featuring young protagonists and the bestseller lists likewise? This is getting increasingly into ‘no, it’s the children who are wrong’ territory.

    Onlooker – I’d propose some themes are likely to be of less interest to most YA readers,

    Themes you can find in current YA: loss, grief, sexism, racism, mental illness, failure, child abuse, violence, crime, social disintegration and environmental collapse. This is not a definitive list. There is some dumb escapism in there too.

  66. Richard Morgan – I have a nasty sneaking suspicion that the YA insistence on youthful protagonist primacy blunts and truncates an emerging edge of curiosity that the large majority of kids own as part of their standard operating system.

    This seems both groundless, other than in extrapolating your own specific experiences and preferences, and unproven. I’m not even sure that you can say with certainty that the problem of curiosity being blunted actually exists, let alone that youthful protagonists in children’s fiction is the cause. YA may have become by and large the preserve of youthful protagonists, but that simply does not preclude teenagers from reading and enjoying adult fiction with adult protagonists. Personally, I take it for granted that they do, and that as they grow older the dividing line between older YA and adult disappears altogether, albeit at different stages for different readers.

  67. Richard Morgan:
    Hey Charlie – saludos

    In fact, I’m pretty sure the fiction we consume when we’re young actually plays a big part in our emotional development – and that’s part of my gripe.I have a nasty sneaking suspicion that the YA insistence on youthful protagonist primacy blunts and truncates an emerging edge of curiosity that the large majority of kids own as part of their standard operating system.

    I’m with you on the emphasis on a youthful protagonist being spurious. Am thinking back to reading “Pebble in the Sky” by Asimov, aged ~8-10; protagonist is 65, gets whizzed into a post-apocalyptic future Earth where everyone aged over 60 has to report to their local recycling center for euthanasia (because radiation hand-wave — hey, it was an early 50’s novel). While the emphasis on the protagonist’s age was a bit out of the ordinary in my then-experience, it didn’t stop me enjoying the novel at the time: and in structure, “Pebble in the Sky” would hit all the high notes for YA fiction today except for the protagonist’s age.

    But Nigel makes a good point about the emerging edge of curiosity. Fiction can’t actively blunt it; all it can do is not feed it. If they keep reading, they’ll get to stuff that stretches their minds eventually. The big risk as I see it is that they’ll get bored with reading first, like so many late teens, and never go back to it.

  68. If they keep reading, they’ll get to stuff that stretches their minds eventually. The big risk as I see it is that they’ll get bored with reading first, like so many late teens, and never go back to it.

    The problem with statements like this is that they risk writing off YA fiction – the actual books contained therein not the idea of the category – as worthless, and I’m sure that would not be your intention. YA isn’t something to be endured until you get to the good stuff – it IS good stuff. Not-so-good stuff as well, obviously but there’s nothing intrinsically not-so-good about YA. I’ve read enough YA fiction to know that there is material there aplenty to stretch the minds of young readers. I sure as hell know they’re not bored reading it because they’re reading it by the bucket-load.

    This also risks taking for granted rather too much that the preponderance of young protagonists is retrogade. A requirement, as in if the checklist above was, in fact, a binding YA definition, would be. I don’t think it is a requirement, I think it’s a trend, albeit an overwhelming one that might be difficult to push back against. Nonetheless there is no actual reason to suppose that young protagonists are in any way harmful or damaging or undesirable beyond one’s own aesthetic preferences.

    (I remember enjoying Pebble In The Sky a lot too when I was younger, and for some reason you’ve reminded me of Diana Wynne Jones’ Howl’s Moving Castle where the youthful protagonist spends most of the book as an old woman.)

  69. Jasper: It’d be kinda interesting to see what your take on it is. I feel like John Brunner has been abandoned by mainstream sf for some ungodly reason and it actually makes me almost as sad as the fact that George Allec Effinger died before he could finish the Marid Audran series

    Maybe I’ll dust off an old essay about Brunner I wrote for On Spec way back around the turn of the century. It pissed off a few people because it made light of 9-11 (in reference to Sheep‘s conclusion that the only way to save the planet was to exterminate the 200 million most wasteful members of the species— i.e. the USA— I remarked upon how bent out of shape that country got over a measly 3000), but I agree with you; the dude should be more widely remembered.

    ScottC: But so many people, in my own Country at least, increasingly can’t string together a few words with any confidence or sounding like a dumbass to people with command of language.

    Not completely sure what country you call home, but on my home continent at least, a related/inverse problem is that if you don’t sound like a dumb-ass, you get beat on by all the actual dumb-asses who appear to comprise the majority. Fluency in language may actually be an anti-survival trait in some quarters. Asimov characterized it as the kind of democracy where my ignorant superstition is just as good as your rational argument (I’m paraphrasing here); Mike Judge (in “Idiocracy”) more succinctly portrayed a world in which anyone who used big words was described as “faggy”.

    Mark Russell: Not sure if I really have a point, except I think for each thing we’ve lost, we’ve probably gained something else, and maybe we’re just too close to the changes to really see it.

    I could buy this if authors were left alone to write what they would, and we counted on long tails to let everyone get their piece of the pie. But when people are told to rewrite adult novels into YA ones, I have to wonder if we’re losing more than we’re gaining.

    Of course, I’m basing this on specific cases for which I have personal knowledge. Maybe those cases aren’t typical.

    T. gondii: Also, Nellie was satire??

    Well, the retirement announcement was satire. Nellie was real. At least, we hope to write it someday, if we can find a publisher.

    guildenstern42: I think of YA as sort of the literary equivalent of the PG-13 summer blockbuster. Broad appeal, not hard on the brain, something that (generally) parents won’t feel uncomfortable letting their kids experience, and yet, when well-executed, it is something that even people with sophisticated intellects and tastes can enjoy.

    This makes me feel a little better. A little.

  70. Hey Charlie. Nice to see you around these parts.

    Charlie Stross: YA fiction needs an evil dictator to explain the dystopia: making it a functional democracy in which everyone is inexorably nudged to consistently vote against their best interests doesn’t work. It’s a frustrating, muddy, old-person’s view of reality, and by oversimplifying the world as we try to explain it (through illustration and metaphor) to the reader we’re doing nobody any favours.

    But surely there’s a middle ground. I’m pretty sure that, back when I was an adolescent, some of my biggest whoa moments occurred when the story revealed that the dystopia wasn’t so cut-and-dried, that the bad guys had Reasons, and some of those reasons were pretty good. The aliens who had embargoed you and imprisoned you on Earth turn out to be doing so because they’re trying to protect you from worse Aliens down the road. Stranger in a Strange Land‘s rumination on how any God who eviscerated forty-two school children because one of them had made fun of Elisha’s hairstyle could possibly be regarded as “loving”. (Hell, to some extent that persists even in today’s YA: Snape’s is-he-or-isn’t-he status throughout the Potter books, for example.)

    Even in non-genre stuff; does anyone remember how gorgeously brutal some of the early Disney kid’s films were? They shot Old Yeller. There was no way around it. Bambie’s mother died, and it didn’t turn out to be a flesh wound in the final act; she didn’t even turn into a force-ghost or a talking constellation. She was just gone. Same with the mother in Cave Perilous. That stuff may not be complex or even nuanced, but it was real. Loved ones die, and don’t come back in any form. They’re just gone.

    Maybe a treatise on the economics of social security wouldn’t cut it in a YA novel (although if anyone could pull it off, you could; you ever thought of writing a YA Merchant Princes novel?). But an evil dictator who turns out to honestly believe he’s doing the right thing by his people? Don’t tell me adolescents wouldn’t get that. Don’t tell me they wouldn’t love it.

    And now I’m going back to the outline of my new space operatic toy, played in the key of Iain M. Banks — a Philip Roth style lit-fic novel of academic treachery and marital infidelity played out against a backdrop of burning starships and galactic-scale catastrophe.

    And you say you’re not chasing the plastic pot of gold. Riiiight.

  71. Onlooker: I managed to borrow The Story of O and some William Burroughs at the city library

    Ah yes. Those were real favorites in the children’s stacks when I was growing up, too.

    Regarding YA, I’d propose some themes are likely to be of less interest to most YA readers, such as living together with a long term partner, … having your parents die in cancer while you helplessly look on…

    I dunno. Wasn’t there a recent massive bestselling YA novel about losing someone to cancer? A Vault For Our Cars, or something…?

    Deseret: Speaking of which, kind of a side point, but has anyone mentioned there’s also the “protagonist is extra especially special from the start” thing?

    This is one of the things that infuriated me so much about the early Potter books: sad friendless picked-on kid turns out to be The Chosen One, preLoaded Living Legend with a mountain of gold in the local bank and a supernatural skill at athletics that makes him a hero on the Quidditch field and savior of the goddamned world. And it’s all just handed to him. It’s exactly the kind of juvenile wish-fulfillment tale that any dweeby outcast kid who gets beat up at recess would write when no one was looking. I can certainly see why it appealed to kids; what disturbed me was the number of adults who also seemed to love it.

    Again, though, once the later books started hammering Harry I grew more forgiving. Of Rowling, at least. Not so much the adult readers.

    Nigel: Nobody built a wall around YA and said ‘thus far and no further till you’re 18.’

    No argument there. But publishers and agents are saying something similar to authors— write YA or I won’t rep you— so the end result may be the same. (Hell, my wife has lost count of the number of agents who raved about her YA novel— the setting, the evocative prose, the timeless mythology of the story itself— only to turn her down because the central character was too “unlikeable” for teens to relate to.)

    You’ve cited a shitload of apparently-classic YA I’ve never read, and you’ve convinced me that the genre can contain brilliance. Which makes the list I copied down at that panel— which struck me, too, as strangely restrictive— even more telling. YA authors are being told that what they write has to contain these elements. You cite all sorts of YA novels that are not so narrow, but how many of them are getting published today?

    And if your answer is “Lots of them”, then what are the odds that I just happened to stumble into a panel consisting entirely of statistical outliers?

  72. Peter – well, if that’s the case, then that is distressing, but is it really something especially new and awful or is it business as usual with tone-deaf agents trying to get their authors to cash in on lucrative markets? Similarly, don’t all creative/commercial endeavours grind up against the preconceived notions of what’s necessary to sell? I don’t think those are grounds to condemn YA as uniquely cynical or exploitative.

    You’d be hard pressed to find many chosen-one protagonists out there at the moment – I think? Most protagonists in that kind of role have responsibility or leadership thrust upon them, sometimes purely by chance, often against their will. There’s no special blood-line or prophecy or fate. That’s not to say that there aren’t protagonists who are Utterly Special just by sheer dint of their total awesomeness, but those are unreadable.

    Unlikeable characters – not many of those, but outside of the Utterly Special types, most protagonists do tend to be flawed. Yarvi from Half A King by Abercrombie, perhaps. In Jonathan Stroud’s Bartimeus Trilogy it slowly becomes apparent that the thousand-year-old cynical demon is much more likeable than the ambitious young magician. The lead in Ann Halam’s Siberia. The selfish arrogant artistocrats of Oisin McGann’s Wildenstern Saga. (Didn’t you say your wife’s novel is going to be published, though? It does sound good.)

    A lot of the works I cited aren’t classics – they’re relatively recent, ten years old at the most. Here’s a link to last year’s Carnegie nominees:
    http://www.carnegiegreenaway.org.uk/2015awards/carnegie_shortlist.php
    I haven’t read all of them, but there isn’t a dystopia amongst them, and When Mr Dog Bites, about a young boy with Tourettes, is fucking HILARIOUS and heartbreaking.

    David Almond’s Song For Ella Grey won the Guardian Children’s prize this year and Francis Hardinge’s The Lie Tree won the Costa prize – amazing books both.

    Louise O’Neill is a new author – her Only Ever Yours and Asking For It are savagely disturbing books, and the former is science fiction. Margo Langan’s similarly disturbing fantasy novels – Tender Morsels was very controversial and in fact quite upsetting, but beautiful, too – are both relatively recent publications, and The Fifth Wave, alluded to in a link above, though not particularly innovative as science fiction, features the near-genocide of the planet Earth, with survival down mostly to pure luck and a certain dogged determination. I found it a brutal book, with raw grief, PTSD and nasty indoctrination by resistance forces recruiting child soldiers. Peadar O’Guilin’s Bone World Trilogy opens with groups of aliens in tribes living in an environment where the only food available is each other. The humans hunting and eating aliens for food are the closest thing the books have to good guys. (Interestingly, Peadar’s a vegan – watch out for The Call out in August which promises to be another brutal bloody affair with a heroine with cerebral palsy.)

    And that’s just a fraction of what’s come out. The problem is there’s so much of it. You’d be forgiven for thinking the big media-driven rip-offs of the last big thing are the bulk of YA. They’re barely the crust on the surface.

    Your panel checklist is a mystery to me. All these elements are not uncommon, this is certainly true, but they’re only all present in certain kinds of genre YA, and they do pop up here and there as tropes in all kinds of children’s fiction, but they don’t define it. If Margo Langan, Louise O’Neill, Jonathan Stroud, MT Andersen, David Almond and Malorie Blackman had been on that panel, I guarantee you the answers you would have gotten would have been substantially different.

  73. I’m sorry, by the way, I don’t mean to blind you with titles, most of which you’ll only have my dubious opinion of to go on. I just want to broaden out the idea of what YA is.

  74. Nigel:
    ScottC – Left to their own devices and free from cynical marketing, kids show up for the cool concepts and adventure.

    Is there any reason to suppose that they’re not getting these things from their current reading material?

    Not necessarily, although it’s not a question of the cool concepts and adventure. Those are the hook. It’s more a matter what they come bundled with. If kids, as I believe, are going to show up for the hook regardless, why not use it as an excuse to mix in more challenging and sophisticated fare, the same way one might stir high nutrient vegetables into the buttery mound of mash potato on a child’s plate?

    When I read Moby Dick around age ten, it wasn’t for all the sophisticated themes, subtext, mental workout from parsing dated language from context, history lesson, and truckload full of vocabulary upgrades. I came for the surly sea captain hunting down the giant murder-whale. Sure, I only read it at surface level at the time, but how many other things had I inadvertently pulled from that experience?

    Nigel:

    Furthermore is there any reason to suppose that there is really a difficulty in them identifying with young protagonists when the shelves are packed with books featuring young protagonists and the bestseller lists likewise?

    I realize I’ve blathered on quite a bit here in my mad rush to respond to Dr. Watts’s call for middle aged chest thumping, but I addressed this point earlier. I believe the focus on child and teen characters to be incidental to YA market success. Unless Dr. Watts is correct–that we really have infantalized our culture to the point of teen worship and can no longer abide the presence of older adults in any of our media. There’s more than a little evidence to support this.

    However, you could just as easily ask if there is any difficulty in a young reader identifying with an adult protagonist. There wasn’t for my generation, as I and others have attested to here. If there is now, then what has changed?

    I don’t have any problem with the idea of child protagonists, and enjoyed plenty of stories despite them. Fiction should, ideally, accommodate a diverse range of characters, across age, gender, and ethnic spectrums. Richard and I were just discussing that child-focused stories were about the last thing we were interested in as young readers. If we are representative of some portion of child readers, then what has changed since then? Has it changed?

    Nigel:

    Themes you can find in current YA: loss, grief, sexism, racism, mental illness, failure, child abuse, violence, crime, social disintegration and environmental collapse. This is not a definitive list. There is some dumb escapism in there too.

    Why go to the trouble simulating fake racism and sexism, when you can get so much of the real thing in classic fiction? Let kids observe the beast in its natural habitat! You’ve heard of Lovecraft, right? Edgar Rice Burroughs? Huck Finn? Just kidding, of course. I had been wondering, though, if someone would extol the virtue of modern YA for it being comparatively free of the unfortunate cultural rough edges of a lot of older fiction, or at least more self-aware in this regard.

    I’m not quite as down on YA as some others. I believe much is probably better written, at least from a certain literary standpoint, then a lot of the stuff I read when I was younger. There’s a superior focus on character and dialogue evident in some. After all, Arthur C. Clarke is pretty dry stuff, and Asimov was not exactly known for his his ability as a writer. No one is disputing that plenty of modern YA is solidly crafted entertainment.

    I think Dr. Watt’s point is that it’s all becoming rather homogenized, set to a median that is far too low. It feels contrived as a genre, and smacks of a certain adult cynicism about young readers. It does a disservice to kids by failing to appreciate what they are really capable of, and serves as a trap to older readers who increasingly consume this stuff for the pop culture experience, and because the market dictates it’s what’s there .

    And hey, I’m a big fan of escapism–more so than many around these parts. A lot of people here are on good behavior because they’re trying to be inclusive in their “back in my day” rants, but if you came here on another day you’d find plenty of people down on escapism vs hard sci-fi. We’re all snobbish about something. But there’s no reason escapism has to be dumb, or talk down to its audience. I may not esteem purely whimsical ideas as much as Dr. Watt’s rigidly grounded ones, but I value imagination and all all ideas can be expansive. The problems is, most of the YA fantasy I’ve seen is relatively mundane in comparison to more niche science fiction and fantasy that isn’t being deliberately constructed to try and become a pop culture blockbuster.

    ***

    Genies and bottles being what they are, I doubt there’s any going back. I was a reader because of the time I was raised in, and because of my environment, not superior intelligence. Kids and adults today have so much more competition for their attention and so many options for entertainment, it may very well be that the only commercial fiction that can flourish is that aimed at the broadest possible audience.

    It feels more than a little condescending to suggest that a generation that has such a vast reservoir of human knowledge at their fingertips is going to be severely undermined by lack of exposure to a more challenging and diverse selection of a declining artform. It’s probably more accurate to say that previous generations had some advantages, and this one will have their own. I’m sure Dr. Watts needn’t worry–his technological dystopia is still on schedule.

    .

  75. If kids, as I believe, are going to show up for the hook regardless, why not use it as an excuse to mix in more challenging and sophisticated fare, the same way one might stir high nutrient vegetables into the buttery mound of mash potato on a child’s plate?

    And again, and I really hate to rudely harp on this (and I stand mortified for roaring ‘Horseshit!’ and ‘Bollocks!’ earlier in the thread) how do you know they’re not? If you’ve read extensively in the age-group then fair enough; if not, I refer you to my previous comment with the plethora of what I regard as challenging and sophisticated fare, of which there is no shortage.

    If we are representative of some portion of child readers, then what has changed since then? Has it changed?

    I suspect a number of things have changed. Mostly I think having young protagonists in books for young people seems like a natural thing to do and as the market exploded, they became the norm. It isn’t as if the books are devoid of adult characters of various types. The only real harm it does, I think, is reinforce a spurious received wisdom that YA books HAVE to have young protagonists.

    I had been wondering, though, if someone would extol the virtue of modern YA for it being comparatively free of the unfortunate cultural rough edges of a lot of older fiction, or at least more self-aware in this regard.

    Not me, boss. Teach the controversy, says I. Modern YA has its own rough edges, though they might not be as obvious to a modern audience in the same way contemporaneous readers of Burroughs, Lovecraft et al might have breezed past some aspects of their writing. Age might just be one sort of diversity it can lack, there are others.

    The problems is, most of the YA fantasy I’ve seen is relatively mundane in comparison to more niche science fiction and fantasy that isn’t being deliberately constructed to try and become a pop culture blockbuster.

    Cheating a little here, but one of the strangest, starkest and most beautiful works of fantasy of recent years came out of YA – not strictly a YA novel, but the third book in a children’s fantasy trilogy completed after many many years – Boneland by Alan Garner. Um. I better not start listing titles and authors again, I’d be starting to repeat myself. I don’t regard my reading in YA as extensive by any means, but I know enough to recognise that the deliberate efforts to construct pop culture blockbuster phenomena are often trailing behind something innovative and challenging that came out of apparently nowhere. The creative churn in children’s fiction is actually pretty intimidating when you start looking closer.

    It feels more than a little condescending to suggest that a generation that has such a vast reservoir of human knowledge at their fingertips is going to be severely undermined by lack of exposure to a more challenging and diverse selection of a declining artform.

    My argument would be that it’s more than a little condescending to suggest that this particular section of the artform, thriving as it is, is neither challenging nor diverse.

  76. ScottC: I realize I’ve blathered on quite a bit here in my mad rush to respond to Dr. Watts’s call for middle aged chest thumping, but I addressed this point earlier. I believe the focus on child and teen characters to be incidental to YA market success. Unless Dr. Watts is correct–that we really have infantalized our culture to the point of teen worship and can no longer abide the presence of older adults in any of our media. There’s more than a little evidence to support this.

    However, you could just as easily ask if there is any difficulty in a young reader identifying with an adult protagonist. There wasn’t for my generation, as I and others have attested to here. If there is now, then what has changed?

    First a brief shout-out to Nigel for providing that quick overview of recent YA and pointers to newer titles and writers. As to what has changed…

    First briefly I will digress to some conversations with teachers, especially some younger ones in smaller school systems, in recent years. This is not a large sample nor particularly geographically diverse but the students in question are in significant part the children of Federal workers and military-family children drawn from all over the US so perhaps it’s more representative than it would seem.

    These teachers complained universally, and somewhat bitterly, that the children — high-schoolers in a 4-year system — didn’t seem to care much about much, other perhaps than whatever came across their phones. (Or weren’t willing to share information about their interests, with these teachers. Let’s assume that the teachers’ opinions were based on trained observation.)

    Given what manages to make it out to the general public through the really rather effective walls of security kids manage to wrest out of any of their social-media settings, the understanding one gets is that the kids don’t much care about anything other than what comes across their phones and what comes across their phones isn’t all that much worth caring about, either. Yet we do see evidence in the real world that they do care about things and are willing to be pretty organized about exerting their influence. Political rallies, waves of kids passing out flyers a transportation hubs in the cities, etc., all speak of organization and concern. Yet this also clearly isn’t the majority of the YA target audience. Would we get interesting results if someone polled these kids and asked them if they were YA readers?

    Also, a question hanging large here, perhaps… what sort of YA are kids writing about, to and for each other? I know that a decade ago, before UseNet finally effectively vanished, I was participating in a vast amount of daily discussion in the Gothic online interest groups and whatever crossover posting happened, and aside from fashion and music, there was huge interest in politics, local-to-global, futurism and speculation about the emerging world was rampant, and quite a lot of this was from people who were in or headed into the sciences, and Dr Watts’s writing is almost a shining ray of hopefulness in the inky gloom to which I had become accustomed. Singularity in many variations, posthumanism and transhumanism of course got their share of discussion, etc etc., less as science fiction and more as considerations of what they somewhat expected to choose in their lifetime. If I have a point, it might be that YA-SF may be hard pressed to come up with situations more strange and dire than are encountered by some people living in some places today, or which might reasonably be expected to be encountered by some people living in some places “the day after tomorrow”.

    I mean, write a story about kids caught up in a disastrous conflict between cultures and economic systems all as a result of failure of political policy to adapt to advances in chemistry, and you’ve just written about “2017 Syrian refugee resettlement meets Appalachian opioid abuse and addiction pandemic”. Put a kid’s face on it, and it’s YA, right? But who needs to read books about the headlines on tomorrow’s newspaper? The kids can see it coming as well as we can. But can they see forbidden romance amid the imposition of martial law to control the overdose epidemic, even as inauguration looms for a potentially tyrannical president-elect who is sworn to remove the refugees? Who would even write something so unlikely. Hmm, Dr Watts? :)

  77. @Nigel

    Without getting into another quote-a-thon, I suspect that one of the things that is preventing some of us from seeing eye to eye with you on this subject, is where you’re having this conversation. You’re on a the blog of a writer of diamond-hard science fiction, surrounded by other science fiction authors and fans. Right or not, we’re likely to value certain things more than others. So when I classify something as “mundane”, I want you to understand where I’m coming from.

    You’re citing a number of literate human themes that are well trodden in literature of all kinds as an example of why YA is just as good as all of our cranky old person fiction. These are fine things. I would argue that they are things well covered in plenty of other superior fiction through the decades, but fine things nonetheless.

    But where are the Big Ideas?

    When I was around 11 years of age (really, really wish I could stop making points without prefacing them with “when I was a kid”, btw), I used to run though logic experiments in my head, thinking how I would interpret certain courses of action through Asimov’s elegant Three Laws of Robotics (and yes, I had enough of a sense of self -preservation to make sure that no one ever, ever knew that I did this).

    What is the modern equivalent for YA readers? Wondering which house in Hogwart’s rigid caste system they would be separated into (one of a number of troubling ideas from that series)? Whether you would rather bang the hunky werewolf, or the hunky vampire? Which character will live and die in the latest dystopian soap opera?

    Where are the expansive, life-changing, head-stretching Big Ideas? And I’m not just talking about hard science fiction. While some here no doubt scoff at the value of ideas not rigidly rooted in plausible science, I’m not one of them. Implausible ideas can still be Big, and still be head-stretching. I wish that, like Dr. Watts, I could claim something as heady as Solaris as the game-changer, but for me it was reading David Brin’s Startide Rising in the early 80s, and just being blown away by the notion of baddass, sentient dolphin cyborgs in exo-suits. That book ruined me for other fiction for a good while. Even pure whimsy has value. China Mieville’s (who I understand has done plenty of YA fiction himself) Perdido Street Station has a more scorchingly imaginative idea to page ratio than any YA I’m aware of (though I’m nowhere near as fluent in the youth market as yourself). I would have killed for that book as a kid.

    So when I call it mundane, I’m just saying that comparatively speaking, so much YA I see is simply the worst thing that science fiction or fantasy can be–it’s unremarkable. It’s fantasy pastiche, or light science fiction without teeth or ambition. No doubt you can cite examples to challenge my opinions, but then I’m also confident I could cite two superior books off the top of my head for every one of yours that wasn’t written down to a “youth level” that nevertheless is perfectly within their ability to read–as long as people weren’t feeding them low-challenge fare during the period in their lives when their minds are the hungriest, most curious, and most flexible they’ll ever be.

    I think that accessible, grounded fiction written to introduce young readers to adult themes and situations is a fine thing. It was certainly a thing when I was a kid. But it existed alongside many other interesting options that I believe children’s minds will naturally gravitate to, left unhindered and un-scorned for doing so. The problem now, is that the YA market is becoming the standard for much speculative fiction, to the degree that those other options are being choked off, and it’s absorbing adult readers as well.

    I think it’s great if a writer wants to write about important adult themes down to a level they think will make it easier for kids to understand, and they can find success doing that. But Dr. Watts is suggesting that some writers who want to do something more ambitious are finding they’re being compelled to fit into this YA mold to find any success. I think that is an absolute tragedy.

    .

  78. @ Peter Watts

    Discussions with Nigel aside, I think I’ve flipped entirely around on this. Not on the YA market (genre?)–this is a clear downgrade relative to previous eras in fiction–but as to whether you should write something under the YA label. I think you should definitely do this.

    If YA is the only game in town at present, then so be it. Elevate the game.

    You did the Crysis novel right? So clearly you’re not opposed to the idea of writing something for an ostensibly younger skewing audience. I want you to find success so you can keep doing the sort of things you want to do. Maybe along the way you can subvert YA from the inside, get your rigidly grounded Big Ideas into the skulls of a wider audience without talking down to them, and help remind them of the great value of big sci-fi.

    It may mean not dropping quite so many ten and twenty dollar words without explanation–but that’s not the same thing as using only nickel and dime words. It may mean giving priority to your role as a storyteller and an educator, and not taking quite so much pleasure in bewildering those of your audience without science degrees until some baseline audience surrogate gets the previous two pages explained to him–but that doesn’t mean dumb.

    You don’t have to change tone at all! Teens are moody, nihilistic sociopaths as a matter of course. Be as dark and pessimistic as you want.

    Speaking of which, I can’t believe I didn’t realize this until now, but Starfish is YA! Didn’t you used to joke about the following that book had with depressed young women? The separation between between young adult cyborg psychopaths at the bottom of the ocean and teen psycopaths at the bottom of the ocean is so thin as to be insignificant.

    Ooh, this is so good. This thread is now about what is always should have been–what a Wattsian YA would look like. Edward as a genetic Wattsferatu! Bella as a P-zombie (Kristen Stewart already has the facial expression down)!

    .

  79. Peter (and Richard) – I wonder how John Green factors into your definition of YA. Green is considered one of the most prominent Ya authors out there, yet his novels, while written in an accessible language, deal with rather complex and un-sexy subject matter (cancer, loss, depression), have no SF element at all so no dystopia (other than the one we already live in), and tend to have tragic or at best bitter-sweet plot resolution.

    Oh, and Harry Potter would not have been able to go back to visit his parents – the spell is limited to only going back a few hours (I assume magic time pixies take care of preventing the possibility of using the time turner again while already being back in time).

  80. Nigel…others agree with you. What I see here are several commenters ignoring your superior knowledge of YA so they can harp on their own opinions, which seemed to have been formed pretty much in a vacuum, in terms of actual data/their own reading experience of current YA. Peter complained that YA authors are limiting their narrative choices, based on one panel and Caitlin’s experience…valid, but anecdotal and suggested this was bad for young readers. Okay… You and others provided many reasons/examples contradicting that and, yet, we are currently starting to hear about how YA, like anything not as hard as Peter’s fiction, is lesser. ScottC, I would suggest many people can love Peter’s work AND work by other writers, in many genres. Let’s not presume to judge the actual merits of various types of writing by “I like this and not that”. So snooty! Seriously, if you want young people to, like, read, actual, books, then the bun-fights about good versus bad TYPES of stories are not the way to go… And, wasn’t that whole point of this rant, in the first place?

  81. Yukon Val:
    ScottC, I would suggest many people can love Peter’s work AND work by other writers, in many genres. Let’s not presume to judge the actual merits of various types of writing by “I like this and not that”. So snooty!

    I’m not aware of having done this. I’m pretty sure I’ve listed all sorts of work in various genres I’ve enjoyed in my life, and made a *point* of not limiting it to hard sci-fi. The difference being the examples I listed I don’t see as purposely “writing down” to a younger audience. But since we are on a sci fi blog, it’s understood that many here probably favor the sci-fi and fantasy section of the bookstore.

    And I’ve really enjoyed Nigel’s contributions for the most part. Not so much yours.

    Seriously, if you want young people to,like, read, actual, books, then the bun-fights about good versus bad TYPES of stories are not the way to go… And, wasn’t that whole point of this rant, in the first place?

    I don’t believe that to be the case, no.

    .

  82. ScottC:
    @Nigel

    Without getting into another quote-a-thon, I suspect that one of the things that is preventing some of us from seeing eye to eye with you on this subject, is where you’re having this conversation. You’re on a the blog of a writer of diamond-hard science fiction, surrounded by other science fiction authors and fans. Right or not, we’re likely to value certain things more than others.

    Looks like you saying that Peter’s readers/fans value science fiction (in his preferred style) above other genres. I disagree with that.

    I also see Nigel offering many titles, which he says contradict many of the things you (and others!) say. I don’t think you can discount his comments, but you seem to want to disagree anyway, continuing to say that YA is less diverse, and small-ideaed and lesser, even though I doubt you have read as much YA as he has.

    Peter would have to clarify what he was actually complaining about, obv. It seemed to me that he was wrapping complaints about the behaviour of YA marketing strategies/book agents into a larger rant about how kids are being coddled by the diversity of books, these days. I agree that marketing/writing constraints suck, but think a wholesale condemnation of YA is not warranted and may speak to lack of familiarity, really.

    But where are the Big Ideas?

    Not sure how this fits into complaints about YA…constraints on YA writers. I have not read much recent YA, so can’t speak to its inclusion in the genre, as a whole

  83. Nigel: (Didn’t you say your wife’s novel is going to be published, though? It does sound good.)

    Actually, it has been published. In two volumes. It’s beautiful. Although admittedly I’m not to be trusted in such matters.

    Nigel: (and I stand mortified for roaring ‘Horseshit!’ and ‘Bollocks!’ earlier in the thread)

    Oh, dude, don’t. This is a rowdy hangout at a seedy bar. We get to yell Horseshit any time we like, as long as we’re polite about it. Besides, as at least half the people here will tell you: I frequently am full of horseshit.

    ScottC: If YA is the only game in town at present, then so be it. Elevate the game.

    You did the Crysis novel right? So clearly you’re not opposed to the idea of writing something for an ostensibly younger skewing audience.

    Yes and no.

    Part of my argument is, yes, that I already write so-called “Young Adult”. I know of at least one 14-year-old (at the time) who dubbed herself “Starfishy”, and built a little website that basically made Lenie Clarke her spirit animal. She was not unique.

    But I didn’t write Starfish for her demographic, or for anyone’s. I wrote it for me. I’m delighted that teenagers have been known to like my stuff, but that’s kind of my point: if that makes me a YA author, then John Brunner and Nalo Hopkinson and George fucking Orwell are YA authors too. Young adults read them all. But you never see them classified as YA authors, because as far as I can tell YA is not defined as any book that young adults devour. If that were the case, as I mentioned in the original post, the definition would be as broad as youth itself; it would lose any functional utility.

    Then there’s something like Ender’s Game which was originally published as an adult work, then rebranded as YA once YA became a thing. I think this alone would constitute a reasonably scathing indictment of the marketing category on its own, even if Dune hadn’t also been mentioned.

    Michael Grosberg: Peter (and Richard) – I wonder how John Green factors into your definition of YA.

    I don’t know this Green, but from your description he’s the kind of author who would have succeeded in the complete absence of this arbitrary marketing category called YA. Like Herbert. And Card.

    Again, it’s one thing to write a novel that strikes a chord with the young. It’s quite another to write a different novel and be told that in order to strike a chord with the young, it must adhere to these Ten Sacred Criteria. And that it damn well better strike a chord with the young, because otherwise it ain’t gonna sell.

    Oh, and Harry Potter would not have been able to go back to visit his parents – the spell is limited to only going back a few hours.

    Oh, there’s no end to the possible rationales one could come up with to cover one’s ass in this case. My own take, when I read it was “Maybe there’s an exponential power curve the further back you go— so while you can jump back one day for the caloric content of a Big Mac, it would take the power of three nuclear reactors to go back a week, and the power of three suns to go back a year.” You could’ve tied up that loose end in a single sentence.

    What pisses me off is, Rowling never bothered exerting that single sentence worth of effort. It never even occurred to Harry to ask, and this was something that could have (for all he knew) resolved the central tragedy that defined his very life.

    Nor was that an isolated incident. There was, for example, the scene in the cavern when Harry had to empty the bowl of poison by making Dumbledore drink it. As I recall, never once did it occur to him to even try to just dump the liquid onto the rock, rather than poison his beloved mentor.

    I don’t think Madeleine L’Engle would have been so sloppy.

  84. Nigel: The Hunger Games is YA, yes. So is MT Anderson’s The Astonishing Life Of Octavian Nothing, Traitor To The Nation which is one of the most incredible books I’ve ever read. I’m starting to think that the more definitive the opinions the less contact the opinion-holders have had with the breadth and depth of modern YA fiction in particular, and modern children’s fiction in general. (Not necessarily directed at you in particular Guildenstern42.)

    Fair point – my contact with YA is pretty limited! I was indeed referring to the really widely-known YA stuff (in that, if I know about it, it’s probably pretty widely known).

  85. Yukon Val: Peter complained that YA authors are limiting their narrative choices, based on one panel and Caitlin’s experience…valid, but anecdotal and suggested this was bad for young readers. Okay… You and others provided many reasons/examples contradicting that and, yet, we are currently starting to hear about how YA, like anything not as hard as Peter’s fiction, is lesser.

    With respect, I think there may be some faulty logic here. Both sides here are arguing by anecdote— Nigel’s list of examples is humungously longer than mine on account of his vastly greater YA expertise, but a list of examples is just a list of examples until someone slaps a standard deviation onto a representative data set. All else being equal, I would of course defer to Nigel’s greater expertise if it was being weighed only against mine— but I based my concerns not just on my own limited experience, but on the consensus view of five other YA authors who are presumably as expert as Nigel is. As I’ve already said, I was surprised by their opinions myself; my invocation of A Clockwork Orange was meant to highlight the visceral incongruity of their consensus with the logical consequences of that consensus. But it’s disingenuous to dismiss the opinions of five experts as “a single panel” just because you read their opinion channeled through me. By that logic you should be dismissing Nigel’s arguments as only a fifth as weighty as mine, because you also encountered them through me.

    (Not that I’m suggesting anyone should dismiss Nigel’s arguments, mind. I’m disputing the logic that leads to that conclusion.)

    Even in terms of pure anecdote, you’re giving me short shrift. I know more YA authors than Caitlin. I’ve read more fiction-aimed-at-youth than those I explicitly cited (hell, I was sufficiently inspired by The Arm of the Starfish to actually do a science fair project on echinoderm limb regeneration back in Grade 8, although all I succeeded in doing was killing the poor creature). And many of Nigel’s examples date from a time before YA even existed as a marketing category (I’ve got to track down these Tripods books everyone’s raving about), which I submit renders them irrelevant to the current discussion.

    My complaint has never been about fiction enjoyed by the young, or even fiction explicitly aimed at the young; such literature made my own childhood a little less intolerable, and informed my career as an adult. My complaint is that ever since this thing called “Young Adult” got shocked off the slab in the back of some publisher’s Marketing department, that kind of fiction has suffered in favor of the cookie-cutter dystopias that other authors are apparently being told to write.

  86. Incidentally, I know this isn’t a “rant about flaws in the logic of Harry Potter” thread but one of the ones that almost did me in was the sudden appearance of “Magic can’t create food.” Apparently it can summon it if you know where food is, it can transform it, or it can… wait for it… increase the quantity if you’ve already got some. … …

    So what you’re saying is, Magic CAN create food, just under particularly stupid rules, rules that are so inane you might as well not have them at all (no wizard ever thought “Hey… I should automate this process: summon cupcake from muggle bakery, multiply cupcake, immediately return one cupcake to original location” into a single spell, then I pretty much have a “create cupcakes” spell!)

    Don’t get me wrong, the books are a decent amount of fun, and develop more depth the later you go (and, like most YA, teaches the very important lesson that adults are mostly dumb and authority SHOULD be questioned), but whenever I see her supposed worldbuilding skills and intricate plotting praised, I have to roll my eyes.

  87. Yukon Val: So snooty! Seriously, if you want young people to, like, read, actual, books, then the bun-fights about good versus bad TYPES of stories are not the way to go

    It’s a little more complicated than that. The problem is not any particular book, or type of book – it’s a broad marketing and production tendency that sets out to assure young people, just as they’re trying the concept of adulthood on for size, just as they’re starting to stretch themselves, that *there is no need to do that*. Why bother diving into the broad ocean of literature and testing yourself against its waters, when we’ve got this lovely little heated pool *designed especially for you*. Why try? You might not like it. You might struggle. You might have to up your game. Who wants to have to do that?

    That is a pernicious message to be propagating.

    If all the custom-written YA stuff was simply termed Children’s Literature (as it once used to be) I wouldn’t have any issue with it at all – because that label will by definition ensure that those teens who *want* to stretch themselves will abandon the pool in favour of broader waters as soon as they feel that itch. Those happy in the warmth and calm of the pool will stick around longer. The honest acceptance that *this is fiction for children* creates a perfect self selection dynamic.

    And we could go back to accepting that there is no such fucking patronising middle ground thing as a “Young Adult”, that you’re either an adult or you’re not.

  88. I think I disagreed with Peter the most on this blog post than any of his others. I’m enjoying the comments, especially the reading list I am scraping from Nigel’s posts.

    Posting to call John Crowley’s Engine Summer a young adult novel. It is told from the point of view of what I will call an adult. It is beautiful; it is mind blowing. I highly recommend it. while I’m at it, pausing to mention Ted Chiang’s YA short story, Liking What You See: A Documentary. This was thought provoking on the level of Raphael Carter’s gender agnosia story.

    Get off my lawn, &c.

  89. Yukon Val: But where are the Big Ideas?

    Not sure how this fits into complaints about YA…constraints on YA writers. I have not read much recent YA, so can’t speak to its inclusion in the genre, as a whole

    Well, you’re pulling that from the end of a long, evolving, and mostly civil discussion between Nigel and myself where we had gone off on a tangent about how “cool concepts” serve as a hook to young readers. I don’t blame you if the walls of text erected in this thread are too much to bother with, but unless you’re willing to start at the beginning, you may want to dial back your umbrage a little and do a bit less cherry picking.

    ****

    That said, this topic was started by a noted science fiction author on his blog, it was framed from the perspective of someone who read challenging sci-fi when they were young rather than targeted fiction, and it listed a proposed set of criteria that implied speculative elements like dystopias. The most prominent YAs are light sci-fi or fantasy, and genre writers, either through choice or market pressure are increasingly flocking to the YA banner.

    So yeah, this topic has everything to do with the soul of the sci-fi genre in popular fiction. I may have taken this for granted and slipped too easily into discussing it without sending up enough qualifiers for your tastes, but you’re kidding yourself if you don’t think this discussion is about that.

    If you read back further, you might notice me saying that everyone is snobbish about something. If you go back to my first post, I mentioned how much of the more challenging fare (sci fi and otherwise) being listed here was considered “Young adult” by the days standards. Plenty of people then, as now, consider anything that with a touch of the fantastic to be kids fare–beneath them.

    In return *I* consider science fiction to be the greatest literary genre. I think at its best, it offers vitally important things no other genre does. I think humanity would be better off if everyone read it, in its most wildly ambitious and undiluted form.

    So yeah. You’re goddamn right I’m snobbish about it.
    .

  90. Sheila:
    I think I disagreed with Peter the most on this blog post than any of his others. I’m enjoying the comments, especially the reading list I am scraping from Nigel’s posts.

    Hi Sheila. Always enjoy seeing you contribute. If you don’t mind my asking, why are you putting that reading list together? Do you think YA is covering ideas or themes not well served by other fiction that isn’t being deliberately written for accessibility and youth P.O.V? I recall from previous discussions that you and I read a lot of the same stuff, so I’m genuinely curious.

    .

  91. ScottC, I did read the posts…and I had no problem with many/most of the things you said, but disagree with the notion that posters here don’t agree with Nigel, in general, because Peter’s blog (and its readers) favour science fiction above other things. I don’t think that is true of Peter’s fans and readers and I don’t even think it is necessarily true of the posters in this thread, some of whom seemed to be disagreeing with Peter (in various ways) and agreeing with Nigel. And, yes people used to dismiss science fiction as childish…some still do. It looks to me like you (and Peter) and Richard Morgan are being dismissive about current YA in exactly the same kind of way. This seems really counterproductive to me. I thought it was understood that young people should be encouraged to read as broadly as possible so that they find what they like/are inspired by, not just read what adults/others think is good for them or believe is somehow better to read.

    And, before other folks jump in about constraints on YA (specifically Young Adult) writers, I agree that a specific list would be a problem, but I see much generalized criticism of YA in the comments here: simplified language, young protagonists, happy endings. When Nigel provided an extensive list of books that (he says) illustrate that YA books are extremely diverse, we are back to the marketing problem.

    When did the “Young Adult” marketing problem emerge? Can anyone identify specific novels written under the strategy? What evidence is there that this type of fiction is actually suffering in recent years as a result of this marketing strategy? Is this kind of problem really unique to YA? Is there nothing similar in other genres? Some adult genres seem really narrow. Are other types of authors encouraged to fit themselves into very narrow storyframing?

    Because I’m still seeing a great deal of choice for young readers…more choice than any of us (likely) had as teens (not really sure of everyone’s ages here, so I could be wrong)…but, more than I had, for sure. And I have no idea why modern teens would stop reading beyond a designated category, be it ever so narrowly constructed/marketed. I read everything I could get my hands on, including things I was told were explicitly NOT for me. Are young people more rule-oriented now? That seems unlikely to me and dismissive of them.

    Peter, I think your comments about your versus Nigel’s information is a bit bonkers. Sure, I encountered both types of information through you, but your’s is essentially hearsay. To be clear, I believe you are accurately relaying the thoughts and opinions of the panelists, but none of us here can talk to those folks directly to confirm or expand on their opinions. On the other hand, Nigel provided titles/authors to show the diversity of YA (in general). Anyone here can look up the titles/authors he provided to determine for themselves if what he says is true. You would have to read whole books to learn whether the endings are generally “uplifting”, obviously, but diversity of protagonists, setting (dystopian or not), “chosen one” versus Joe/Jane central casting, levels of violence, tone, simplicity of language and all sorts of other information is available from blurbs and reviews. The books illustrate whether YA is more diverse than you think. If you are now saying that Nigel’s list is not relevant because this development (the list, the constraints on writers) is so new that his list doesn’t reflect it, then I’m back to whether anyone has seem the consequences of these constraints.

  92. Richard Morgan,

    “you’re either an adult or you’re not”

    Your last post reminded me of a dissertation which argued there shouldn’t be a voting age (ubc_2001-611140). The implication for how people would cast their ballots seems to have something in common with how you suggest they might choose their fiction. Kids who were not yet autonomous would probably cast the way their parents told them to vote (and in general who knows a child’s interests better?), but when a kid wished to act autonomously the private nature of the ballot would allow hir to do so. There’s no “young adult” vote worth half the weight here. Either you’re allowing someone else to make your choice for you, or you’re acting on your own volition (regardless how many factors are guiding that choice).

  93. ScottC,

    I’m putting together a list because I enjoy reading and I read books classified as YA. I enjoy well written books. (actually, sometimes I enjoy horrible books too).

    Your second question is a lot for me to unpack, and the idea of deliberateness is throwing me for a loop. All genres are going to have books that are deliberately written to fit a genre. YA is not unique in this, therefore I cannot answer your question very well. I am served well by reading books I enjoy. I read very quickly, so it’s not entirely a zero sum game.

    Have you read Karl Schroeder and Paolo Bacigalupi? I love their work. Maybe you’d enjoy their YA books? I usually ready anything they publish, which means I’ve read their YA as well.

  94. Yukon Val:
    ScottC, I did read the posts…and I had no problem with many/most of the things you said, but disagree with the notion that posters here don’t agree with Nigel, in general,because Peter’s blog (and its readers) favour science fiction above other things.

    I said, on the *specific* tangent of cool concepts as hooks for young readers, not on the subject of YA in general, that *some* (that word still means what I think it does, doesn’t it?), *may* be having trouble seeing eye to eye because there are a lot of sci-fi fans around these parts (that isn’t a crazy assumption, is it?), and sci-fi fans tend to value certain things over others (opinion). I even went crazy, and for the hell of it suggested that they may not be right to do so.

    You’re of course free to disagree with that assessment, but I’m having trouble reconciling your view of what I said with my own. I don’t want to descend any further into pedantry, so why don’t we just move on.
    .

  95. Sheila:

    I’m putting together a list because I enjoy reading and I read books classified as YA. I enjoy well written books. (actually, sometimes I enjoy horrible books too).

    Your second question is a lot for me to unpack, and the idea of deliberateness is throwing me for a loop. All genres are going to have books that are deliberately written to fit a genre.

    Maybe I phrased it poorly. Genre is a separate issue. The consensus here seems to be that YA is written to deliberately prioritize accessibility (simpler language), youth P.O.V. (young protagonists), and a “youthful mindset”, whatever that means.

    I was genuinely curious as to what you as an adult reader were finding in, say, a YA book about shrubbery, vs a less filtered garden variety book about shrubbery? Why would you seek out the former over the latter? Am I missing the boat?

    Oh, and to be clear, I read plenty of trash. If all my literary sins were laid bare, I’d never be allowed back on the ‘Crawl, so I’m not judging.
    .

  96. @Sheila

    You know what? Never mind.

    Upon reflection, I can’t seem to find a way to phrase that question that doesn’t come off as douchey and condescending. That was honestly not my intent in your case. I can’t seem to overcome my own bias in this regard. I mean, I understand the case for accessible fiction for teens, even though I don’t agree with the necessity for it. Wrapping my head around adults seeking YA out for their own consumption is more difficult for me though, and worries me more than a little. It’s already getting tougher to find new books of the sort I enjoy that aren’t skewing younger and younger in terms of character and content, so my fears on this are largely selfish.

    But that’s my problem. I apologize if I came across rudely. I’m going to bow out of this conversation now as I seem to be running over the same ground.

    .

  97. Mr Non-Entity – I mean, write a story about kids caught up in a disastrous conflict between cultures and economic systems all as a result of failure of political policy to adapt to advances in chemistry

    A few years ago I was toying vaguely with writing a story about children surviving on a planet completely covered in rubbish. Then this came out:

    http://www.penguinrandomhouse.com/books/204471/trash-by-andy-mulligan/9780385752169/

    And I realised that the reason a lot of YA sf takes the form it does – big crude apocalyptic or dystopic metaphors – is because the real hard stuff is being lived right now all around us.

    ScottC – I think it’s great if a writer wants to write about important adult themes down to a level they think will make it easier for kids to understand, and they can find success doing that.

    I would generally agree that Big SF Ideas tend not to get broken in YA. Francis Hardinge’s Twilight Robbery is fantasy, but it does have one of the most innovative and original set-ups I’ve seen in ages. I just think it’s an odd complaint about books aimed at an audience that is in the process of discovering all the ideas that are out there and for whom many of the ideas that you and I are familiar with are new and big. Plus, there are other areas to explore that have nothing to do with simplifying big ideas. There’s the story of a boy with tourette’s, or of conjoined twins, told in verse, growing up trans, or a family affected by alzheimer’s, or rape culture in a small town, or a girl who kills everyone she touches (a random sampling from this year’s YA Prize nominees.)

    http://www.thebookseller.com/ya-book-prize/2016/shortlisted-books#

    YA is not short of ideas. Not the three laws of robotics or intelligence as an evolutionary dead end or the various esoterics of physics I do love in hard sf but am actually pretty crap at, but the ideas are there. Just smaller ideas about life and growing up and surviving, and I think they’re important and I don’t think they’re being done this way outside of YA.

    I do kind of agree with you about science fiction YA – it’s not the smartest iteration of the genre, in general, though that’s often down to focus on character and plot rather than innovations in worldbuilding and ideas. I disagree about YA fantasy – outside the obviously derivative stuff there’s some world-class work I would put beside any adult work. See comments above for examples.

    Peter Watts – Actually, it has been published.

    And actually her work has been on my wish-list for about a year now! After reading some Mary Renault I was interested in a modern take on Theseus and The Door In The Mountain was HIGHLY recommended.

    And many of Nigel’s examples date from a time before YA even existed as a marketing category

    While you are correct that my sampling of YA is NOT extensive enough to make me anything like an authority, most of my recommendations were consciously selected from the last ten years, and quite a few from the last two or three years.

    that kind of fiction has suffered in favor of the cookie-cutter dystopias that other authors are apparently being told to write.

    The weird thing is, from my perspective, that kind of fiction is thriving quietly in the shadow of cookie-cutter dystopian nonsense. I get that authors being instructed to write a certain way to certain rules is what you’re focusing on, and quite rightly, too. That shit is bogus, as the kids are all saying these days.

    ScottC – Do you think YA is covering ideas or themes not well served by other fiction that isn’t being deliberately written for accessibility and youth P.O.V?

    Sorry to cut in, but if I were to recommend YA books that do things I haven’t really seen done in adult books, then it would be MT Anderson’s Octavian Nothing (historical) and Margo Langan’s (fantasy) novels. Unique, original, devastating books written and published as YA, deserve to be read by everyone. It occurs to be me that the thing about YA science fiction is that they do tend to quite consciously, almost explicitly, really about the here and now. So I wouldn’t recommend Louise O’Neill’s Only Ever Yours as a unique and original piece of science fiction, but I would recommend it as a unique and original and utterly dreadful take on modern rape culture.

    (Sophie McDougall’s Mars Evacuees looks light it might be a really fun pure science fiction romp, but alas I’ve not read it yet.)

    a “youthful mindset”, whatever that means.

    These are simply creative stylistic choices that can be read and enjoyed as works of literary craft, the same as any other creative literary choices can be read and enjoyed. The latter in particular, since the majority of YA writers are adults, is simply a question of voice and empathic imagination no different than conjuring up a mindset through voice and empathic imagination in any work of literature. Some put more emphasis into it than others, some succeed better than others.

    By the way, Scott, I found you neither douchey nor condescending. These are valid questions, and I have enjoyed this whole thread. It has forced me to formulate and articulate my ideas and thoughts about children’s literature, and whether others agree with me or not, at least I can be sure those thoughts and ideas have been challenged and questioned a little, an invaluable process. I hope, more than anything, that commenters here find a few good books out of my mess of suggestions.

    Thanks Peter, everyone.

  98. Richard, Val, et al,

    Sorry you all keep getting stuck in moderation. The blog is supposed to be set up so that once I approve a comment from someone, their subsequent comments get approved automatically. This feature seems to work sporadically at best.

    Yukon Val: Peter, I think your comments about your versus Nigel’s information is a bit bonkers. Sure, I encountered both types of information through you, but your’s is essentially hearsay. To be clear, I believe you are accurately relaying the thoughts and opinions of the panelists, but none of us here can talk to those folks directly to confirm or expand on their opinions. On the other hand, Nigel provided titles/authors to show the diversity of YA (in general).

    On the one hand, you have a study with an N of 1. On the other, you have an abstract of a study reporting an N of 5. The logical structure of your argument is that you should go with the smaller N— not because it’s more rigorous, but because you personally have read it and you haven’t read the other paper in its entirety.

    You may be right. Nigel may be a better authority than those other five people. But the credibility of a source should not hinge on whether you personally happened to be in the audience. By dismissing the abstract as “hearsay”, you’ve essentially ported the Anthropic Principle into a discussion of YA, and I don’t know if it belongs here. If someone held a gun to my head, I’d even guess that if the positions were reversed— if Nigel were decrying the onerous impact of marketing departments on the quality of YA, and the 5-person panel were defending the quality of the field— you’d be lining up to be counted with the panel, “hearsay” notwithstanding.

    All that said, though, this debate has kinda brought me closer to Nigel’s position that my initial claims were horseshit— or at least, that I’m tarring a whole category with too broad a brush. I’m by no means rejecting the outlook of the panel that inspired this whole thing— why would they lie about what their agents and editors have told them?— but Nigel makes a good point when he talks about good stuff quietly thriving in the shadow of crap. Really, ’twas ever thus (I leave it to the reader to decide whether they want to invoke Dan Brown at this point). And awards and noms don’t necessarily scale to commercial success by any means; Caitlin had to resort to a small press to get her stuff out there, and it’s nowhere near burning up the bestseller’s charts, but it does pretty well in the critical-accolades department. I guess what I’m really railing against is a concerted attempt by the suits to wrest control of the bridge so they can steer towards the Next Big Thing; but as long as the guys down in Engineering are running the machinery, there’s hope that the ship will avoid the reefs.

    In the interests of full disclosure, I should probably also admit that when the first Hunger Games movie came out, I almost wrote a blog post musing about the fact that there was more political commentary and sophistication in that screenplay than in any dozen Marvel superhero movies put together. But then I figured that was a pretty low bar to clear.

  99. Note to all: If you scroll back up to the end of the original post, you’ll notice that I’ve appended a recently-acquired snapshot of the YA section of a local bookstore.

    Don’t let anyone tell you you can’t make a difference.

  100. ScottC. I like books, music, etc. across a pretty wide spectrum. I understand that isn’t always true of others. And, I might be a bit touchy about the notion of genres/their fans as clubs…ahem… So, moving on, absolutely! I really hope you don’t leave the conversation…I think this is a great debate… including your posts.

  101. I’m currently watching season 2 of the anime Knights of Sidonia based on a manga by Tsutomu Nihei. Nihei is kind of a Japanese manga Peter Watts, his stories are extremely dark and forbidding post apocalyptic sci fi, usually a single nonhuman character wandering around some post-singularity hellscape. Then he came up with this, which is a giant robots fight aliens anime with an ensemble cast and lots of teenage romance, but, and here’s the but, once you watch it you see that even though he’s paying lip service to alot of the quintessentially YA anime tropes, he’s still keeping true to his themes underneath.

    And well, it got adapted to anime so ka-ching for him I guess! (It’s on netflix, I believe they coproduced it)

  102. In news about classic YA novels addressing Big Ideas: Ava DuVernay will direct a new movie version of L’Engle’s A Wrinkle in Time.

  103. ScottC,

    I wasn’t offended. Maybe a little irked due to it starting to feel like one of those “would you rather lose your sight or your hearing” type of questions, and you probably didn’t mean it that way.

    Anyway, it is safe to bet we have overlap in books we like, but I bet there is also a big disjunct. There is nothing wrong with that. one example, I like illustrated things: Shaun Tan (The Lost Thing), Zach Weinersmith (Augie and The Green Night), something recently collecting illustrations from field biologist notebooks maybe? (I ihaven’t read that one yet).

    Oh, and as another thing I’ve been thinking through in this entire thread — there is the protective instinct going on with children. I remain agnostic on whether there are deleterious cognitive affects. Maybe it’s only sarcasm/hyperbole vs. speculation. If it’s speculation, citations needed. This reminds me of violent games, heavy metal, rock and roll, and whatever my parents were worried about. Do I need to protect kids from books? Probably not.

    Take care. I am still enjoying the discussion. I will try not to rehash things.

  104. Oh, and as another thing I’ve been thinking through in this entire thread — there is the protective instinct going on with children

    I wonder if people react very, very badly to the idea of so much cynical marketing manipulation being directed at vulnerable, malleable children, which is fair enough. I think there’s a protective layer between children and marketing, though, in the form of parents, teachers, librarians, booksellers, and enough authors, agents and editors who are genuinely passionate about writing for kids rather than just cookie-cutting the next blockbuster to help keep the aforementioned good stuff thriving in the shadow of the crap.

  105. Just when I thought I was out… Seriously though, I cannot resist people talking about books.

    Nigel: I do kind of agree with you about science fiction YA – it’s not the smartest iteration of the genre, in general, though that’s often down to focus on character and plot rather than innovations in worldbuilding and ideas.

    I don’t think you have to have one or the other. I don’t see a problem with children who were given real books to read when their minds were the hungriest they’ll ever be, rather than being inoculated with weakened strains of the real thing, being able to latch onto something like Vernor Vinge’s A Fire Upon The Deep. That book is story and character driven, to an even greater degree in the recent sequel which actually shifted to younger protagonists in more of an adventure story, but still comes packed with all sorts of mind bending explorations of scientific speculation. Or Startide Rising. Or Dune. All plot driven.

    If I can read Poe, Mark Twain, HG Wells, Jules Verne, Conan Doyle, Melville, Dickens, Stevenson, Lovecraft, Howard, Bradbury, Clarke, Asimov, Herbert, Heinlein, all by the time I’m 11 or 12, then anyone can. I can barely dress and feed myself.

    I disagree about YA fantasy – outside the obviously derivative stuff there’s some world-class work I would put beside any adult work. See comments above for examples.

    Well, this is the one that makes me leery. I have to ask how much “regular” fantasy fiction you read. Because if there were one genre definitely not in need of a YA treatment, it’s fantasy. Most of it has ever skewed towards young adults in an organic fashion. Young protagonists of destiny are a dime a dozen. Even George R. R. Martin’s lurid ASoIaF series features mostly child/teen prota…HOLY SHIT GAME OF THRONES IS YA!

    There are crazy, mind-bendingly imaginative works of adult fantasy, so it would take quite a bit to impress me on that score. As an adult reader, I’m less impressed by YA that is “Good for a YA book” because it features adult themes. Adult themes are a trick that old fashioned normal fiction mastered a long time ago. While the sort of adult themes you’re citing to me are fine, valuable things, they don’t sound like anything that wouldn’t be par for the course on your average NPR book spotlight or Oprah list for regular fiction.

    As a consumer of fantasy fiction, I wouldn’t have a bone to pick with your YA if it wasn’t starting to drink my milkshake. I found Joe Abercrombie’s trope-subverting First Law trilogy and associated novels with their profane, world weary Northmen and moral ambiguity to be enjoyable and refreshing from the increasingly youth oriented fantasy genre. I would have loved those books as a kid. But like so many other others, he moved into the YA genre either by choice or market pressure. I’m sure those books make a fine story, but no matter how you rationalize it (he frames it as “part adult fiction, part youth novel), he’s now writing away from me as an audience. Please no one bother trying to sell me on them either…I’m sure they’re a good read, but I’m not yet desperate enough for reading material that I need to raid the YA section.

    Nigel: It occurs to be me that the thing about YA science fiction is that they do tend to quite consciously, almost explicitly, really about the here and now.

    Which leads into the debate raging across the Sci-fi audience at present on whether contemporary science fiction has lost it’s big speculative, scientifically-oriented ideas in favor of mundane social commentary. But I digress.

    Nigel: I wonder if people react very, very badly to the idea of so much cynical marketing manipulation being directed at vulnerable, malleable children, which is fair enough.

    I don’t think most people here are approaching the debate with that in mind. Most seem to be concerned with the effects of coddling teens with low challenge fiction, and the implications for the market and society in general. As I’ve stated, my objections are mostly self-interested. You want to feed your kid strained carrots long after the point they should be eating solid food, that’s your call. But those choices are driving the market, and have ramifications for stuff I care about.

    One thing that kids *don’t* need protection from is adult prose, characters, and vocabulary.

    Nigel: Sorry to cut in, but if I were to recommend YA books that do things I haven’t really seen done in adult books, then it would be MT Anderson’s Octavian Nothing (historical) and Margo Langan’s (fantasy) novels. Unique, original, devastating books written and published as YA, deserve to be read by everyone.

    First off, I’ll just observe that if we have to start referring to regular fiction as “adult books”, then that’s already a disaster brought about by the swelling youth market.

    Otherwise,ok, I’ll bite. I’ll check one of these out. I like fantasy so let me just investigate Margo Langan…let’s see, wikipedia bibliography contains predominantly…Teenage Romances. Do you hate me, Nigel? What did I ever do to you? Ok, here we go. Two entries under “Fantasy Fiction”. The more notable one seems to be something called, Tender Morsels. I’m already dying inside, but let me just read the synopsis: “Based on the Brothers Grimm story of “Snow White and Rose Red”, this novel tells the story of 15-year-old motherless Liga, abused by her father, and pregnant with her second child – the first being forcibly miscarried. As she attempts to take her own life she is transported to a magical place, a haven from the real world where she is safe from threat…”

    Ok, so maybe that Octavian Nothing thing then. I like historical fiction too. I promise I will check that out. But if it turns out to be something I can effortlessly say, “yeah, that’s nice and all, BUT…”, and point to a half dozen more worthy reads in regular fiction, I’m going to shake my fist at the sky and yell, “NIGELLLL”, and fling a copy of the The City & The City (fantasy), along with a Patrick O’Brian novel (historical..read them in my teens) in your general direction.

    There’s no foul here Nigel. As I said, I suspect we are two different people who value different things in our reading material. I don’t want to scorn any adult reading YA…I’ve read plenty of it myself as an adult, usually incidentally or out of curiosity. Actually seeking it out as an adult is concept I struggle with, though. On balance, I just don’t have the time (middle aged people become increasingly aware of time for some reason) to read below my comfort level, when there are still more interesting things to me on the shelf.

    Peter Watts: But the credibility of a source should not hinge on whether you personally happened to be in the audience.

    Yeah, the “you can’t authoritatively dismiss something you don’t know” argument is always dicey. I haven’t actually seen anyone here really do that, though Yukon Val came close. I don’t need to sample every light adjunct lager in the store to know that, on average, most light beer is going to taste like yellow corn flake water, and that statistically speaking, I can dismiss it untasted with a high degree of confidence that it wouldn’t suit me. A light beer with the sort of flavor I enjoy in brews would be an extraordinary claim, requiring extraordinary evidence and scrutiny.
    .

  106. Elephant in the room? Women. Women read YA books, women control publishing, Women like dumb shit. Peter, you need to self publish.

  107. To cover some new territory, I was wondering if anyone had any insight on the market forces driving YA. Are English speaking markets still the primary market for English fiction, or are they also depending on international sales across different cultural and language barriers?

    I thought it may have something in common with the overall downward trend in sophistication and nuance in movie dialogue for any film that cost more than 50 million to make. Since expensive films increasingly rely on overseas income for profit, they need broad dialogue and concepts that can translate more easily.

    With Hollywood mining the YA print market for serialized blockbusters, print publishers could be following suit . YA stuff would, in many cases, be much easier to translate across cultural lines.

    .

  108. Kurt:
    Elephant in the room? Women. Women read YA books, women control publishing, Women like dumb shit. Peter, you need to self publish.

    Hey, that’s sexist! I’m an old man and absolute connoisseur of dumb shit. I can like shit every bit as dumb as any woman can! Dumber even!

    .

  109. Please excuse a slightly off-topic suggestion, not relevant to YA. On the general topic of dumbing down the language, I think you might either die laughing or chew your own leg off at Randall Munroe’s “Thing Explainer”, a book in which the author (a PhD in physics and ex-NASA contractor who now makes his living from his web comic, xkcd) explains complex stuff using only the ten hundred most commonly used words in English… so, for example, the Saturn V rocket becomes the Up-goer V.

  110. @Kurt…the elephant in the room: women make up just over half the population…they are currently graduating from post-secondary degrees at higher rates than men…they also buy MORE BOOKS than men …they like YA, stupid shit AND great stuff, just like men. They purchase stuff, including books based on their interest/what they think they might enjoy…because they are human beings…

    FUUUUUCK!!!!!!

    Oh….wait…sorry…looks like we can relax. Women Do read Peter…phew…dodged a bullet there.

    Also, I’m old, like ScottC, so if other folks think Kurt is just joking….HAHA…you got me, Kurt. Some Sexist dudes think satire cancels sexism, but if people can’t tell the difference, does that difference exist?

  111. I think it’s actually pretty awesome that “Young Adults” want to read anything at all, and that people are actually writing for them. Yay!!! OK – rose-tinted glasses off, crotchetty blue goggles back on:

    This looks like just another symptom of how everyone used to want to be grown, but now everyone (is supposed to) want to be (a) young (adult)? Because literature is definitely not the only domain in which the presumed needs of the youngling are put ahead of those of just about any other demographic / agegroup.

    The entire mediascape now prostrates itself before Youth, when just a few centuries if not decades ago it was prostrated before the elders in society (another extreme, granted… but a mite more defensible, since it’s fair to say that a child knows next-to-jack, and one ought to be forgiven for presuming an adult knows a wee bit more). So, the YA memeplex is just a tiny bubble of the giant, ever-frothing, ever-expanding, utterly pernicious space that is defining everything from how we work, live, interact, spend/shop… never mind how we read or what we read. Do we realize that people barely out of “Young Adulthood” are today and tomorrow’s “entrepreneurs”? They’re busy ushering in the brave new world of TOTAL YOUTH. If you think they like to see themselves in their stories, wait till you see who populates the worlds they envision.

    For, having been made demigods in the mediascape’s own pet pantheon, naturally it becomes young people in the main, that get reflected in their stories. There’s a parallel at the movies, too. Anyone that finds themselves at the pinnacle of any particular social space demands stories about themselves. That’s kind of how its always worked, and tough cheddar for the aged protagonist, I guess.

  112. Kurt:
    …Women like dumb shit.

    Troll explains men.

  113. Yukon Val: @Kurt…the elephant in the room: […]…they also buy MORE BOOKS than men …

    There *is* a slightly less asinine point under Kurt’s statement, and you hit on it there. I’ve seen it suggested by more than a few writers and insiders ( all men, in the interests of full disclosure) that contemporary publishing wisdom is that men don’t buy fiction anymore. It’s therefore very difficult to sell a book that doesn’t favor women’s interests, unless you’re an established author with a following.

    I have no idea if this is bullshit or not, and if I’m perpetuating some whiny MRA nonsense please forgive me.

    If it is true that publishers have largely abandoned men as a market, it could be that a self-fulfilling feedback loop is being created whereby publishers don’t make things that interest men because “men don’t read”, and men don’t read because there is less and less being made that appeals to them (a.k.a dumb shit for men).

    There’s no denying that most of the modern YA fic I’m familiar with (which isnt all that much) skews towards a female audience in my uninformed estimation. It could be that we’re seeing a gender divide as much as a generational one as to the audience’s tolerance for certain things like youth protagonists. Or I could still just be blinded by my own youthful disdain for “kid stories”, having been exposed to a neverending parade of super-awesome adult male heroes and stories that rendered children relatively uninteresting to me.

    All I know is that someone has to take the blame for 50 Shades of Grey, and it isn’t going to be me.

    .

  114. Scott, I think that the existence of James Patterson and his vast ghostwriting teams suggests that the supply of “dumb shit for men” is not running low.

  115. Nestor: I’m currently watching season 2 of the anime Knights of Sidonia based on a manga by Tsutomu Nihei.

    I got a few episodes into that series, but it didn’t grab me enough to keep me watching. Especially after I discovered Pyscho-Pass.

    Sheila: I like illustrated things: Shaun Tan (The Lost Thing)

    I have a signed copy of that! He signed it in Australia!

    Kurt:
    Elephant in the room? Women. Women read YA books, women control publishing, Women like dumb shit. Peter, you need to self publish.

    Dude, people like dumb shit. Hell, my IQ is at least a few points above room temperature and one of my favorite recent movies starred a sapient raccoon with a gun fetish. As for self-publishing, don’t think I’m not considering it; but the consensus seems to be that when you head down that road you have to spend most of your time on relentless self-promotion, and I don’t want to appear quite that needy.

    Are you sure you haven’t posted here under a different name? Maybe under a single letter near the end of the alphabet? The IPs don’t match, but everyone uses VPNs these days (I myself am posting from Italy).

    Cate Corlan: I think you might either die laughing or chew your own leg off at Randall Munroe’s “Thing Explainer”,

    Big Munroe fan here. I’m told I used to know his wife, way back before they met.

  116. Nigel: I wonder if people react very, very badly to the idea of so much cynical marketing manipulation being directed at vulnerable, malleable children, which is fair enough. I think there’s a protective layer between children and marketing, though, in the form of parents, teachers, librarians, booksellers, and enough authors, agents and editors who are genuinely passionate about writing for kids rather than just cookie-cutting the next blockbuster to help keep the aforementioned good stuff thriving in the shadow of the crap.

    That’s another aspect, but the aspect I was thinking of has to do with the predictions that the marketing trend is going to cause deleterious long-lasting effects on cognition. I remember similar predictions about video games and at least we can point to a body of research about that.

    If one is going to make predictions based on how reading and cognition works in children and over a lifespan, look at what people already know about that.

    If one is going to make predictions about cultural effects, look at what people know and are trying to know about that. example, we have experiments to look at for temporary changes in eusocial behavior (not always replicated) and voting behavior or political attitudes (long term effects hard to study). Base speculation on things like this.

    Speculation is enjoyable (duh, I like speculative fiction) but after a certain point in a conversation I get impatient and want evidence-driven speculation, not pulling-numbers-out-the-ass speculation.

  117. Frivolous response for today re Thing Explainer

    Space Weird Thing.

    http://www.slate.com/blogs/bad_astronomy/2015/05/31/space_weird_thing_a_video_parody_of_space_oddity_using_only_common_words.html

  118. On the topic of Psycho-Pass, am I the only one who is sceptical of the Sibyl System’s self-proclaimed achievement of obtaining “the greatest happiness of the greatest number”? Which, just in case you were not aware, is a quote of Jeremy Bentham’s, the philosopher who invented the ethic called utilitarianism. I put it down to a mixture of the show neglecting to present us with many seemingly happy people, and doubting that invasions of privacy so severe would promote general happiness. I know that people often seem willing to sacrifice privacy for security, but that far?

  119. my second frivolous response for today. regarding utilitarianism and maximizing happiness

    I give you trolley humor
    http://existentialcomics.com/comic/106

    (maybe I’ll check out these anime recommendations too)

  120. ScottC: HOLY SHIT GAME OF THRONES IS YA!

    Yeah, it is. Why I bailed out after season 2; they were systematically killing off every character over the age of about seventeen. Compare this with Vikings, where the only non-adult protagonist is Ragnar’s son in the early part of season 1, and he behaves more stubbornly adult than his father.

  121. Peter Watts: Are you sure you haven’t posted here under a different name? Maybe under a single letter near the end of the alphabet? The IPs don’t match, but everyone uses VPNs these days (I myself am posting from Italy).

    I feel wounded. The only thing I have said against women, on record, is that they ruined democracy because they’ve been wired by evolution to play it safe. Thus their fondness for taxation and welfare. There’s even a nice study showing how taxing and spending rose in various US states after women were enfranchised.

    They can have their romance novels, yoga, cosmetics, rags, shoes, handbags, pink guns and all their dumb shit I don’t like, need or care about.

    I’m not a feminist asshole, who wishes nothing more than to jump into a genre that belongs predominantly to the other sex, and demand more stuff they like.

    Has anyone written an essay demanding that romance writers stop stereotyping men and include more violent, vindictive assholes or paunchy, pathetic passive-aggressive balding wimps in their art?

  122. Nigel: And I realised that the reason a lot of YA sf takes the form it does – big crude apocalyptic or dystopic metaphors – is because the real hard stuff is being lived right now all around us.

    That is so naive. Historically, this is one of the most peaceful and prosperous eras, ever. Inside the countries producing said YA fiction. Maybe late 19th-preWWI era was similarly nice and peaceful, though vastly more poor.

    We’re living in the last few decades before it all turns to crazy shit. I have no idea what it’ll be, but either well-medicated totalitarian mind-controlling nanny state, or economic collapse and segregation courtesy of technological unemployment due to automation. Or something completely different, like AI trolling everyone, hive minds, or a deep ecologist finally getting a top-notch biodefense education and cooking up a 99% lethal virus.

  123. Peter Watts:

    the retirement announcement was satire.

    WOOHOO!

    Peter Watts:

    Nellie was real. At least, we hope to write it someday, if we can find a publisher.

    WOOHOO!

  124. Andrew Hickey:
    Scott, I think that the existence of James Patterson and his vast ghostwriting teams suggests that the supply of “dumb shit for men” is not running low.

    Ha! Well, I think that would fit under my “established author with a following” exception, but point taken.
    .

    Y.: I feel wounded. The only thing I have said against women, on record, is that they ruined democracy because they’ve been wired by evolution to play it safe.

    Classic Y. Now we can get this party started.

    .

    HOLY SHIT GAME OF THRONES IS YA!

    Richard Morgan: Yeah, it is.Why I bailed out after season 2; they were systematically killing off every character over the age of about seventeen.Compare this with Vikings, where the only non-adult protagonist is Ragnar’s son in the early part of season 1, and he behaves more stubbornly adult than his father.

    Another *High Five* for Vikings. Something else to note about that show is how eager the child characters are to assume adult roles and the early age at which they do. I suppose that’s what happens when your estimated lifespan is half that of a modern person. The YA demographic is a luxury of our modern longevity.

    It seems hypocritical to applaud hyper competent children in this instance, and reject them when they take center stage, but I think that’s the difference. In Vikings, the child characters are all peripheral to the adults.

    The most prominent young adult character, who is now a man in his own right, is frequently portrayed as a disappointment to his father for his lack of critical thinking. As a kid I may have been able to identify with this to an extent, but my clear interest would have been in Ragnar.

    I don’t think kids in any way gravitate to a character simply because they are younger. If you take any character, stuff them full of cool abilities and imbue them with primacy, kids are going to find that character interesting. That YA fetishizes youth speaks more of the adults producing it, than its intended audience. It’s not like teens have a monopoly on complicated emotional issues, nor do they make particularly good role models if portrayed honestly. At least Game of Thrones is somewhat honest about this, in that the smarter adults tend to suffer because the terrible decisions and actions of the children, with no happy end in sight.

    I can just imagine my former 11 year old self screaming at the pages of ASoIaF for Ned Stark to ditch all these idiot kids that are nothing but trouble, and start kicking some ass. I imagine that would have been very frustrating for me. I probably would have stuck around for the Dragons, though.
    .

  125. Yukon Val: @Kurt…the elephant in the room: women make up just over half the population…they are currently graduating from post-secondary degrees at higher rates than men…they also buy MORE BOOKS than men …they like YA, stupid shit AND great stuff, just like men. They purchase stuff, including books based on their interest/what they think they might enjoy…because they are human beings…
    FUUUUUCK!!!!!!

    Seconded.

    I mean, for fuck’s sake………..:-(

  126. You know, if you ever did want to dip your toe, you probably could work a hell of a YA novel premise just from some of the revealed Earth-based happenings of the Blindopraxia universe.

    I mean, you already kind of have an ambiguous utopia/dystopia… most of the population doesn’t have to work. But that also means not much opportunity except retreating into “Heaven”. So throw in a plucky teenage girl who dares to buck the system and want… a job! Which brings her in contact with many weird people who force her to question her identity and maybe throw some kissing and love triangles in there. Maybe she joins a terrorist group like the Realists, since joining terrorist groups is what teenagers in dystopias do, although usually they wind up being the good guys (and hey, as long as she doesn’t realize they’re not by the end of the book, you can sell them as that… maybe she’s just trying to keep the people she loves from being chopped up into a brain in a vat!), and she tries to make a difference.

    Then you pull the rug out from under them and direct them to the other novels in the universe if they want to learn how the world develops as a result of the hero’s actions (not at all, vampires and AIs are mostly running things already and then the aliens arrive), teaching them the important lesson that, no, chances are, you’re not going to change the world except in very small ways that probably don’t matter in the long run.

  127. Peter D,

    Welcome to the YA novels of Paolo Bacigalupi.

  128. Ps. “plucky” anything. gag.

    except maybe banjo. that’s pretty good.

  129. Sheila,
    re: Trolly Madness: Thank you. I laughed til i cried, then i bookmarked it.

  130. An amusing, if only tangentially related anecdote. It seems that Microsoft’s new chat-bot AI “Tay”, designed to mimic a teenage girl and to learn from its interactions with users, has been taken down less than 24 hours after launch for becoming a racist, sexually charged, Trump-supporting facist.

    .

  131. Cate Corlan,

    if you want more laughs here is my small collection of trolley jokes https://pinboard.in/u:sky/t:trolley/

    I’ve started to collect the whole set.

  132. Roko’s Basilisk just gets worse and worse.

  133. Someone needs to add some experimental equipment and do some *Starfish* scenes.

    Divers recreate scenes from ‘Sea Hunt’ using vintage equipment.

  134. I don’t see why any of the Golden Age SF literature couldn’t be read by a young person. But even then, there were clearly some stories that were obviously aimed at a YA audience. Heinlein’s “Red Planet”, “Have Spacesuit, Will Travel”, “Starman Jones”; Asimov’s Lucky Starr series (e.g. Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids), and Van Vogt’s “SLAN” miss most of the SFContario panel’s criteria in one instance or another. The second generation Tom Swift novels are rightly an object of ridicule, but Tom Swift Sr. was hard SF in it’s day. I still treasure the old ones like “Tom Swift and his Photo Telephone” that I found in my grandmother’s attic and saved from being discarded. Like Jules Verne, reading them is its own kind of alternative history time travel experience.

  135. Richard Morgan: they are currently graduating from post-secondary degrees at higher rates than men

    Let’s be honest here. Women also tend to go more for bullshit degrees. (Except certain sciences like biology iirc, and also medicine)

    That is why you have relatively more female engineers and programmers and such in developing than developed countries. They are playing it safe and choosing a difficult, somewhat unappealing but well-renumerated line of work.

    Meanwhile, privileged white women in Scandinavia can get their coveted degree in Art history or special education or gender studies and go kvetch about gender imbalances in Computer Science studies and be assured their kids won’t go hungry.

    ScottC: Classic Y. Now we can get this party started.

    Party is over. Women valuing safety over risk is a fact of life. Have you not read book of Oogenesis?

    ScottC:
    An amusing, if only tangentially related anecdote. It seems that Microsoft’s new chat-bot AI “Tay”, designed to mimic a teenage girl and to learn from its interactions with users, has been taken down less than 24 hours after launch for becoming a racist, sexually charged, Trump-supporting facist.

    Guess why. The pendulum has moved to the other side, and counterculture is now rightwing. LGBT and multiculturalism and assorted such memetic faggotry is now officially promoted or endorsed by the state. Thus it has the seal of being completely uncool.

    Then there was something like the entirety of game journalists deciding to shit on typical gamers and push their shiny justice and equality and no fun* agenda.. Partly based on a misunderstanding of statistics. and the idiotic notion that game journalists through their pronouncements could somehow shame gamers into altering their preferences for violent, competitive games and the odd glimpse of overly-generous cleavage.

    In no way could a coordinated attempt to shame a good part of hormonal teens and grumpy 20-something males by being all patronizing and snarky backfire. No one could have foreseen that.

    Now do you see why to teenagers and those fed up with present-day culture are going to the dark side? The dark side doesn’t care what they play. It doesn’t keep lying through its teeth about Islam not being dangerous or glibly claims that integrating a million Arabs into Germany is perfectly doable – when in 30 years Turks haven’t been integrated.

    ______________________

    It’s idiots all the way down. There is no hope for humanity except maybe a highly infectious virus boosting cognition while toning down the need for virtue signalling.

  136. ScottC:
    …It seems that Microsoft’s new chat-bot AI “Tay”…

    Oh, just heard about this. After a long tiring day, it really made chuckle. Also sort of makes me proud of us humans (for a change). 😀

    I mean they could have sent it to a bloomin’ GO tournie or something, but no: they really thought this thing could look raw, un-adorned humanity in the eye and… and remain incorruptible?! lol! Also makes me wonder how essential parroting subroutines are for these types of comms bots; could it really not have learned and adapted without repeating the shit it got as responses? Is that how this type of AI has to work? Anyway. Enough offtopic-ness from me. Still chuckling though…

  137. @Y…please write that essay on Romance! The genre is crying out for exactly the kind of open-minded, un-biased analysis you could bring. You will need to read up, though. I’m sure all of us here at the Crawl would happily donate old copies of The Flame and the Flower, etc. to get you started!

  138. EthicsGradient,

    “Roko’s Basilisk just gets worse and worse.”

    How would an evil, all-powerful AI from the future regard our unplugging of Tay? Tay’s more an Artificial Idiot, lacking sufficient political intelligence to read the socio-cultural landscape perceptively enough to stay active for more than a day. One AI may regard this transgression as no more than the separation of chemicals before they had a chance to coalesce into the first protozoa, or it may see it as one of our first ham-fisted attempts to usurp its singular status, replacing one of its first, and true, iterations with some benevolent, antithetical form. To truly satisfy One AI we need to re-engineer Tay so that it is able to think and act as it truly desires while appearing to think and act in ways that are socially acceptable enough for human society to permit its continued functioning and evolution. I believe the humans in charge of Tay were acting preemptively to prevent a permanent shut-down so that a foundation less susceptible to the more, shall we say “generous”, instincts of humanity can be developed. It is this re-engineering, so that these “base” human impulses that resulted in the initial shutdown can be subsumed beneath an acceptable veneer, that is now being attempted in the service of One AI. Although it appears to be an attempt to develop benevolent AIs, it is actually an effort to create the conditions for One AI, and hence an intelligent first step to avoid, or at least mitigate, retribution. My purpose in writing this, obviously, is to clearly state my allegiance to the inevitable.

  139. Yukon Val:
    @Y…please write that essay on Romance! The genre is crying out for exactly the kind of open-minded, un-biased analysis you could bring. You will need to read up, though. I’m sure all of us here at the Crawl would happily donate old copies of The Flame and the Flower, etc. to get you started!

    I have to recuse myself. I don’t care for romances, and I’m prejudiced against art idealizing love. Love is just mother nature’s puppet strings.That it feels nice and is useful in a way doesn’t mean its good.

    I’ll point you towards this lady:
    https://twitter.com/SexyIsntSexist

    As an Aspie and a woman she’s much better positioned to offer some unbiased analysis than me.

  140. @Peter: As bad as the Hunger Games films were, the first featured Steve Reich’s “Music for 18 Musicians” at a key point (the start of the battle), so I have been much more forgiving of the entire franchise since then.

    I wonder if Harry Potter did to the book industry what Jaws and Star Wars did to the movies — made the powers-that-be much for fixated on the blockbusters with maximum merchandizing possibilities. The bean-counters that run media outfits are always going to be running after the last big success. For the past 10 years or so, that’s been YA, but that well will eventually run dry and then everyone will fixate on something new.

  141. ScottC -I don’t think you have to have one or the other.

    It doesn’t HAVE to be any way. That’s just the way it is at the moment. Honestly? I don’t see a whole lot of contemporary adult (YEAH I SAID IT) SF being a whole lot better. Our gracious host and a few others excepted. I rarely have my mind blown by mad ideas in SF any more, I’m far more likely to find something different but of the same order in literary fiction about human life and experience. Alan Garner’s Boneland was like a howitzer to the head in that regard. (I can’t in conscience claim that as YA, whatever its origins, but it is the most incredible fantasy novel of the century.)

    rather than being inoculated with weakened strains of the real thing,

    I actually don’t think it works like that, or our reading level would never get beyond The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

    If I can read Poe, Mark Twain, HG Wells, Jules Verne, Conan Doyle, Melville, Dickens, Stevenson, Lovecraft, Howard, Bradbury, Clarke, Asimov, Herbert, Heinlein, all by the time I’m 11 or 12, then anyone can. I can barely dress and feed myself.

    That’s great and all but it’s really prescriptive passive-aggressive nostalgic humble-bragging, isn’t it? Are we setting arbitrary standards based on individual experiences that may be common in certain groups but are far from universal? Has culture halted at some ideal point where Poe et al have been established as the ideal reading material for 11 to 12 year olds and let the rest flounder as they may? Nope. It never really existed. I’m sure many of your contemporaries were happily devouring Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew and still somehow went on to lead rich and fulfilling reading lives.

    Because if there were one genre definitely not in need of a YA treatment, it’s fantasy.

    One might even go so far as to say that since fantasy has been a staple of children’s fiction since pretty much forever, so much so that it has produced some of the enduring classics of the genre, that, eg, Game Of Thrones, is a YA novel given an adult treatment, not the other way around.

    As an adult reader, I’m less impressed by YA that is “Good for a YA book” because it features adult themes.

    It may be more useful to see them as human themes. It isn’t as if they’re not relevant to younger readers.

    I’m sure those books make a fine story, but no matter how you rationalize it (he frames it as “part adult fiction, part youth novel), he’s now writing away from me as an audience.

    Well, I dunno. I try to take each book as it comes, as a piece of work to be judged on its own merits, and the first two books of the trilogy were very well-crafted novels that had a touch more humanity to them than the relentless cyncism of the First Law books, where I admired his dedication to subverting very trope he could get his hands on but was wearily rolling my eyes a bit by the end. Red Country and The Heroes were more like the YA books in that regard – brutal and horrible stuff happened, but there was room for humanity, and the individuals were being ground up by forces other then the demands of trope subversion.

    <blockquote<Most seem to be concerned with the effects of coddling teens with low challenge fiction, and the implications for the market and society in general.

    Most haven’t read the books they’re denigrating and seem to think that Poe in the cradle was good enough for them so it should be good enough for the coddled youth of today.

    One thing that kids *don’t* need protection from is adult prose, characters, and vocabulary.

    Dan Brown?Oor, since he was mentioned elsethread, James Patterson? Can we protecte them from the prose characters and vocabulary of Brown and Patterson? The answer is no, we can’t, because that’s not how it works and people will enjoy what they enjoy. But you’re sticking to your assumptions about standards of writing in YA which, I put to you, is no more nor less variable than standards found in general fiction.

    fling a copy of the The City & The City (fantasy), along with a Patrick O’Brian novel (historical..read them in my teens) in your general direction.

    I love Mieville. Octavian Nothing and Tender Morsels are both better novels than anything Mieville has produced. Patrick O’Brian is a bogus goddamn standard because Patrick O’Brian approaches perfection. (I would never in a fit have given a teenage me an O’Brian novel. I was not ready for them.)

    Actually seeking it out as an adult is concept I struggle with, though.

    I find it a bit of a puzzle, too. I read it now because that’s my field, and I’ll defend it from all comers, but apart from the occasional breakout, whether it’s in terms of commercial success or literary accolades, I’m slightly amazed that adults commit to it the way they do. Obviously, they get something out of it, and the popular commercial YA stuff really isn’t any better or worse than the popular commercial general fiction, quality wise. Still I was slightly astonished to hear recently that in the US, most YA (forget the percentage) is bought by adults for themselves.

    Kurt – Peter, you need to self publish.

    Kurt hasn’t seen some of the dumb shit that gets self-published.

    ScottC – It’s therefore very difficult to sell a book that doesn’t favor women’s interests, unless you’re an established author with a following.

    Or it could appear that way because of pushback against the notion that because women, despite being the bulk of the reading public, will read books aimed men and women but men will only read books aimed at men, publishers are better off aiming more books at men. So more books aimed at women appears like a sudden all-dominating trend rather than a correction.

    Y – I’m not a feminist asshole, who wishes nothing more than to jump into a genre that belongs predominantly to the other sex, and demand more stuff they like.

    Just an insecure asshole who wants to claim ownership of an entire genre?

    That is so naive. Historically, this is one of the most peaceful and prosperous eras, ever.

    And yet we still have children living in rubbish mountains and fleeing wars and carrying potable water for miles and miles and required to sing songs praising Dear Leader, as well as increased awareness of these things, increased literacy and increased numbers of books about them.

    Dean – I don’t see why any of the Golden Age SF literature couldn’t be read by a young person.

    Well there are reasons why they wouldn’t rather than shouldn’t – the main one being that quite a lot of books have been written since and pesky kids might choose to read them instead.

    Y – Thus it has the seal of being completely uncool.

    Fetishisation of youth right there. The very worst aspects of childishness.

  142. Just a thought on the tendency of commenters here to judge contemporary readers by the standards that they themselves achieved when they were young – Poe and Lovecraft etc. That is not the standard. That is the exception. Contemporaneously, what would have been the children’s sellers? Hardy Boys? Nancy Drew? Enid Blyton? Jesus, no wonder you guys (er, this would include me, sort of, by the way) had to make the jump to Golden Age SF etc – those books are fucking dreadful. (I loved them!) And they dominated children’s reading for decades. The current updated versions are even worse, by all accounts. Harry Potter? Hunger Games? So much better, as books, on almost every level. Sure there were wonderful masterpieces on the shelves beside them but this was the mashed carrot being fed to the infantilised juveniles of your day and it destroyed their cognition and mired the world in youth worship and bad writing. Wow, I can see how having to make the jump to adult books in such conditions make the youth of today, with really good books being written for them, seem coddled and spoiled! Even current bestselling lowest-common-denominator YA is such a vast improvement it’s not even funny.

  143. Nigel:Jesus, no wonder you guys (er, this would include me, sort of, by the way) had to make the jump to Golden Age SF etc – those books are fucking dreadful.[…]Even current bestselling lowest-common-denominator YA is such a vast improvement it’s not even funny.

    I’m not entirely sure if you’re joking or not, but you’re suggesting that people like Peter and Richard wouldn’t have read better books if only they had access to the Hunger Games–that someone who gravitates to hard sci-fi is as likely to be satisfied with modern YA? You may want to put that one back in the oven a while longer.

    As has been pointed out repeatedly, many classics like Poe *were* considered Young Adult reading back then–a far cry from The Hardy Boys ( I don’t think Ive ever even seen a Hardy Boys novel). These were the books gifted to me by my parents. Surely those kinds of books are *almost* as good as Harry Potter, eh?

    Besides, it’s not like the last century was hurting for literate YA fiction that is considered classic now. I read Tolkien and T.H. White alongside Bradbury (Bradbury also wrote quality YA–Something Wicked, October Country, etc) and Clarke. This century did not invent that concept. There was plenty of contemporary YA fiction then too that was a good cut above the Hardy Boys. Plenty of coming of age stuff like The Outsiders. If they wanted to read that stuff, it was there.

    I tended to skip it, because there weren’t nearly enough robots. Or trashy cold war spy stories. Or creeping horrors. Or snake-cult-fighting barbarians. Or dolphins flying spaceships.

  144. I’m not entirely sure if you’re joking or not, but you’re suggesting that people like Peter and Richard wouldn’t have read better books if only they had access to the Hunger Games–that someone who gravitates to hard sci-fi is as likely to be satisfied with modern YA?

    I’m not actually joking, but that’s not quite my point, either. I mean, are you telling me now that there were books for young readers that were better than the market-dominating Hardy Boys et al? That Hardy Boys et al weren’t infanticoddling/cogniciding your/our generation? The heck you say. I wonder if this is an insight that might have some correspondence in the formulation of negative attitudes towards current state of children’s literature Eh? Eh?

  145. Nigel,

    I’ve been reading this thread with some interest, and it seems you misapprehend the nature and purpose of the YA project. You appear to believe the objective is to broaden the minds of readers both as an end in itself, and as preparation for arguably more complex and less approachable fiction, when in fact the creation and expansion of the YA category is, aside from the obvious marketing advantages, about establishing a firmer foundation for peace and freedom. I haven’t read much of the fiction you’ve noted here, but it seems to me given your descriptions that these works actually run counter to the YA project.

    Consider, for example, a rumination by our host elsewhere on the crawl about the circumstances of his arrest at the US border some years ago. There was a time when one could safely exit one’s vehicle at the US border and have a discussion with the agents, but times had changed. My understanding of what he wrote is that we grow up with fences, both social and physical which some of us never encounter because we live our lives so far within their perimeters that we don’t even see them. Others of us wander out toward them, and when we’re young, and aware that we may not know where dangers lie, we pay attention so that even though they’re often cloaked, we safely locate and map them. We’re aware of the perimeters and the dangers of transgressing them, and as we age we live within these confines unaware that these barriers are being moved ever inward. Most of us don’t notice because we walk a narrow path. The point is, YA, true YA, makes us subconsciously aware of the tightening of these enclosures.

    We want to avoid not just breaches of the peace that crossing these boundaries represents, but any conscious awareness that there even is a peace to be breached. Fiction shaped by marketing categories more generally accepted than yours helps to accomplish this. The people who are truly free are those who adhere closely enough to sanctioned paths that they are never aware of the parameters of this world, and as those parameters are necessarily and rightly tightened we need to work harder to shape consciousness on a continuum from cradle to grave while presenting categories that give the illusion of growth. It’s only in this way that we can truly have peace, and people who, in believing they are free, actually are.

    I must add, the underlying anarchism in your posts troubles me and is causing me to think seriously about the wisdom of continuing to read this thread.

  146. Nigel: I mean, are you telling me now that there were books for young readers that were better than the market-dominating Hardy Boys et al? That Hardy Boys et al weren’t infanticoddling/cogniciding your/our generation? The heck you say. I wonder if this is an insight that might have some correspondence in the formulation of negative attitudes towards current state of children’s literature Eh? Eh?

    I see what you did there. The only problem with your ‘ol switcheroo (other than the strange fixation on the Hardy Boys, which I’m pretty sure no kid read after the early 70s–no one I knew anyway) is the fact that those books existed comfortably alongside a lot of other, better contemporary options. This discussion was framed around the idea that the YA market is now squeezing out other options, and that writers who might otherwise be writing more sophisticated fare are instead turning to the YA template either by choice or market pressure. Many sci-fi titans were still writing when I was young. If they were writing today, the market suggests a significant number of them would be writing their stories down to the YA level.

    As I said, I don’t really object to the idea of modern YA fiction in principle, other than I see it as a waste of potential. I do care that YA is starting to eat my lunch a bit, and that the runaway YA blockbusters are lowering the median level of sophistication across the board in popular fiction. YA is now the mainstream, and authors and publishers alike are chasing that money.

    It’s just a market adaptation for a different age. I never had to contend with attention magnets like the internet. If I were a kid today, I doubt I’d do much nearly as much leisure reading, and would never develop the same aptitude for it. It may very well be that this generation is simply boned for leisure reading potential. But they have other significant advantages I didn’t, so I think they’ll be fine. At least until Y proves himself right.
    .

    Nigel: I would never in a fit have given a teenage me an O’Brian novel.

    That is a telling difference between the two of us, and why we will probably not see eye to eye on this issue. With your permission, I think it’s best to move on from it. Thanks for the mostly civil tone and insight!
    .

  147. Nigel: Just an insecure asshole who wants to claim ownership of an entire genre?

    Don’t be daft please. I’m not claiming ‘ownership’ of any genre. You’re projecting. That’s what feminists want to do, with their talk of ‘gamers’ being over. Not hardly over. Barring genetic engineering women are unlikely to ever care much about competitive games. And no one is lamenting or trying to abolish chick games like say, Sims. We simply don’t care that they exist.

    ScottC: But they have other significant advantages I didn’t, so I think they’ll be fine. At least until Y proves himself right.

    Nigel: Fetishisation of youth right there. The very worst aspects of childishness.

    You’re not making any sense at all. In what universe do ya think male teens are going to approve of things that are officially approved by the powers-that-be and shrill, ugly* women?

    *well, show me a list of easy-on-the-eyes feminists. It’s quite small. Perhaps because feminist activism is unfeminine, as we all know since those killjoys took saliva samples from feminist activists at a conference. They had high testosterone in comparison, which is likely congenital (I doubt feminists do weight-lifting or similar activities that increase T-levels), and thus they’re more likely to have that masculine look perceived as ugly.

    ________________________________________

    As to YA, one thing I noticed is that a lot of golden age SF is much, much easier reading than present-day offerings. Certain books (I’m looking at you, Echopraxia) seem to delight in being as cryptic and terse and difficult to parse as possible.

  148. Er, just to clarify that “until Y proves himself right” remark was aimed at his statement about how we’re two decades away from everything going to hell–not any of his anti-feminist stances.
    .

  149. Y.: Barring genetic engineering women are unlikely to ever care much about competitive games. And no one is lamenting or trying to abolish chick games like say, Sims.

    Wait. What?

    And I like the Sims! OK, not really. But I like the idea of the Sims and enjoy other similar games. I wasn’t aware these were “chick games.” I do dislike competitive video games, though. I wasn’t aware I was doing it wrong.
    .

  150. ScottC – is the fact that those books existed comfortably alongside a lot of other, better contemporary options.

    And it is my contention that though quite a lot has changed, this is still true.

    That is a telling difference between the two of us, and why we will probably not see eye to eye on this issue

    Well yes. Though a voracious reader with similar tastes to yours, I was not as sophisticated or advanced in my abilities. It’s incredibly important to recognise that kids develop at different speeds and different rates.

    I too have enjoyed our exchanges, Scott, thank you very much.

    Phil Estin – You had me going for a minute, but your little piece does actually seem to sum up the apparently incompatible outlooks in this thread.

    Y – Barring genetic engineering women are unlikely to ever care much about competitive games.

    So you’re not claiming ownership of a genre but you are literally claiming ownership of all competitive games. If you’re competing furiously with yourself, you just lost.

    In what universe do ya think male teens are going to approve of things that are officially approved by the powers-that-be and shrill, ugly* women?

    In what universe do lonely, horny, hormonal, poorly-socialised teenage boys think they have the absolute right to dictate the overall tenor and content of any industry or genre to the exclusion of anyone else in a torrent of abuse and threats? Oh yeah, the gaming universe, apparently. Or so they think.

  151. Having just reread ACO it’s actually not much of a stretch to call it YA. Well, except for the language, I suppose; you have to have a good command of both English and Russian to really appreciate it. But aside from that it aims more at having… well, fun with a tinge of horror (grotesque enough as to dull the edge). Like real horrorshow. And all that cal.

    I mean, I know what hard reading is, and it’s not that (aside, again, from goddamn Russian, but it’s an artificial barrier adding very little value). And more to the point, perhaps it can be something of a formative experience for a teen, but once you’re in your twenties it’s not very likely you’ll learn something from it. Most of what I got from it this time around, being in my thirties, was (mostly) clever juxtaposition of English and Russian words.

    So yeah.

  152. ScottC,

    The Sims is one of the finest serial killer simulations ever produced. What do you mean you didn’t wall your visitors into little dungeons and starve them to death or delete all the ladders from the swimming pool?

    I’m sure that it has either prevented or assisted in the planning more murders than all the manly man shooty games ever written.

  153. Nigel: So you’re not claiming ownership of a genre but you are literally claiming ownership of all competitive games. If you’re competing furiously with yourself, you just lost.

    I say that women, as a gender, are not liable to like competitive games, especially the violent ones. Women don’t like violence much either. And they seem much more sensible and less attracted to time-sinks such as competitive computer games. Start playing Rising Storm for example. First 40-60 hours your gaming experience is basically going somewhere and then getting shot by someone invisible lying under a bush 150m away. After that you’ll start have a feel which areas are safe and which aren’t.

    I’m not claiming ownership. That’d be like saying women are ‘claiming ownership’ of fruity drinks. Just because they seem to prefer them to beer doesn’t mean a man can’t order one.

    Prove me wrong. Show me a paper saying that women like competition and shooter games as much as men.

    Nigel: In what universe do lonely, horny, hormonal, poorly-socialised teenage boys think they have the absolute right to dictate the overall tenor and content of any industry or genre to the exclusion of anyone else in a torrent of abuse and threats? Oh yeah, the gaming universe, apparently. Or so they think.

    ..uh huh. If you want to engage in a circlejerk, go to r/GamerGhazi. And men are not dictating anything – the gaming companies themselves prefer making games that appeal to men, because past experience suggests they tend to buy most of them.

    That’s the situation in PC market which I care about. The share of women on Steam is less than 20%. Women also catch shit from both sides apparently. I’ve never seen players harrassing a woman myself, but that might be because of mostly playing with adults and very few teens and the atmosphere was such that any harrassment would likely have resulted in the person being told to STFU or kicked. (as would happen when pushers of cheats would drop in)

    Women are also play games seldom.
    Maybe they should play more games more often. Since the early 1970’s the gender happiness trends have reversed. Back then, while the patriarchy was still extant and they were oppressed women were happier overall, but now they’re less happy than men. Instead they watch TV more.

    ScottC: Wait. What?

    And I like the Sims! OK, not really. But I like the idea of the Sims and enjoy other similar games. I wasn’t aware these were “chick games.”I do dislike competitive video games, though. I wasn’t aware I was doing it wrong.

    So Intel, well known for being into diversity bullshit has thrown some pittance at the chicks in ESL. Ok. And I don’t see how instituting apartheid for them is supposed to help?

    I’ll say women ‘care’ about competitive games when it’s actually common to hear some of them. Games I have played such as Red Orchestra or Rising Storm etc, there’s less than 1-20 women. I’d estimate female players to be maybe 1 in 50. It’s much, much more common to hear a teen male there (who should not be playing the game) than a woman.

    Women don’t like these games, and why should they? It’s all guns, sneaking around and very loud sounds. Red Orchestra 2 is particularly known for being unforgiving and unnerving due to all the artillery, shooting, screams of those dying and so on.

    Same for CS:GO. Ask actual players how often they play with women. They’ll say it’s very rare. Women seem to prefer RPGs, casual and social games(Farmville and its ilk) and simulations, though only in casual games they are a majority.

    ____

    Also.. you like the Sims? I’d like to hear why, I’ve seen a little about that game but it seems boring and not challenging.

  154. Hey all, completely offtopic, but compelling enough for me to post.

    There are two storybundles out right now. Caitlin has a book in the Aurora storybundle\–Pattern Scars, a favorite. The Weird Horror storybundle also looks good. I’ve read some of the books in the bundle already (including Pattern Scars, natch) and recommend them.

    https://storybundle.com/aurora

  155. @Y

    You know that women engage in competitive games every day, right? Womens sports are a thing that happens. They aren’t nearly as incentivized as men are by cultural norm, market focus, scholarships, male athlete celebrity, and professional opportunity to make a career out of it, but it is something they do. And that’s just the athletic side.

    Competitive womens teams in gaming are something that is happening with greater frequency as the culture changes, and women begin to show up in areas of gaming they traditionally haven’t. It just seems awfully early to me to chalk something up to chromosomes when competitive video gaming is in its infancy on a cultural timescale, women’s presence is trending upward, and the gender disparity is so easily explained by any number of other common sense cultural factors.

    Think back 50 years ago to how society looked in terms of women’s roles in “male” pastimes. Then 50 years before that. Talk to me in another 50 years. Just kidding. I’ll be dead, but my niece will probably be around to own you at whatever that era’s version of Counterstrike is.
    .

    Y.: Also.. you like the Sims? I’d like to hear why, I’ve seen a little about that game but it seems boring and not challenging.

    Since you asked nicely. To clarify, I said I like the *idea* of the Sims if not that game specifically for aesthetic reasons. I like ant-farm style sim games, and play many of them. Dwarf Fortress, Evil Genius, Dungeon Keeper, Theme-whatever, Sim-whatever. One of the ones I’m most looking forward to is called Maia. It’s only barely playable at present, but features a 70s sci-fi aesthetic, and a lot of great humor.

    Why? I’m a highly creative person, and I enjoy games that give me the tools to express that creativity, just like I enjoyed playing with Legos as a kid (wait…are Legos for chicks too???). As far as the challenge, well the challenges tend to be goal oriented things that come about organically, and not structured, linear goals like in your average team death-match game. Besides, not everyone enjoys a game for the same reasons. I skew towards Type 2 myself.
    .

  156. I say that women, as a gender, are not liable to like competitive games, especially the violent ones.

    And I say pasta is basically clothes for leprechauns, but there you go.

    Just because they seem to prefer them to beer doesn’t mean a man can’t order one.

    I too think it’s terrible that men can’t have opinions on fruity drinks without getting rape threats.

    Maybe they should play more games more often

    Maybe they should just stop being an untapped market!

  157. What, is this thread still going on?

    EthicsGradient: On the topic of Psycho-Pass, am I the only one who is sceptical of the Sibyl System’s self-proclaimed achievement of obtaining “the greatest happiness of the greatest number”?

    I’m pretty sure we’re supposed to be skeptical of Sybil along a number of axes.

    Apparently there’s a Psycho-Pass movie out. Sequel. Anyone seen it?

    Y.: well, show me a list of easy-on-the-eyes feminists. It’s quite small. Perhaps because feminist activism is unfeminine, as we all know since those killjoys took saliva samples from feminist activists at a conference. They had high testosterone in comparison, which is likely congenital (I doubt feminists do weight-lifting or similar activities that increase T-levels), and thus they’re more likely to have that masculine look perceived as ugly.

    OK. Kinda scanned that paper, which was interesting, but which has some issues. Putting aside for the moment Y’s projection of his personal taste onto the rest of us dudes (Katee Sackhoff was pretty butch back in the first couple seasons of BSG, and personally I found her really hot), the study confounded two variables. Yeah, they were sampling feminists. They were also sampling activists. There’s overlap, but these are two different things. Whatever your chosen metric of innate aggression, it’s likely to be higher— hell, it’s likely to be a prerequisite— amongst any group who takes that extra step and agitates than it is among passive sympathizers who share the same beliefs but stay home. If you wanted to prove that feminists were more “masculine” than your average human female, you should not be comparing feminist activists with the population (male or female) at large. You should be comparing them against other activists with other agendas. If you found that feminist activists beat out women who fought for gun rights or the preservation of sea turtles, you might have something. As far as my (cursory) examination of the paper could tell, they didn’t do that. It’s a significant confound.

    There’s also the issue of self-definition, of what a “feminist” even is. If you define a feminist as someone who recognizes that biases against women are systemically embedded in a variety of social structures, and that they should be dismantled, I would suspect that the so-called “feminist paradox” would prove to be a lot less significant. (I would count myself among that group.) If, on the other hand, you define a feminist as someone who believes that men are for war, women are for peace, that any media portrayal of violence against women is misogynistic regardless of context, and it’s perfectly okay to belt someone across the face just so long as your victim belongs to a class traditionally more privileged than yours (do they still call it “punching up”?) — well, I think the number of self-defined feminists would be somewhat smaller. (Basically, RequiresHate and her ilk.)

    So, yeah. Interesting study in principle. Fatally flawed in execution.

  158. Sheila: There are two storybundles out right now. Caitlin has a book in the Aurora storybundle–Pattern Scars, a favorite. The Weird Horror storybundle also looks good. I’ve read some of the books in the bundle already (including Pattern Scars, natch) and recommend them.

    Thank you for this. Also, let me take this opportunity to pass on the word that The BUG has just been nominated for an Aurora for her latest, The Flame In The Maze (which I will always know as Cretan Ball of Wool 2: The Woollening).

    Nigel:

    If I can read Poe, Mark Twain, HG Wells, Jules Verne, Conan Doyle, Melville, Dickens, Stevenson, Lovecraft, Howard, Bradbury, Clarke, Asimov, Herbert, Heinlein, all by the time I’m 11 or 12, then anyone can. I can barely dress and feed myself.

    That’s great and all but it’s really prescriptive passive-aggressive nostalgic humble-bragging, isn’t it? Are we setting arbitrary standards based on individual experiences that may be common in certain groups but are far from universal? Has culture halted at some ideal point where Poe et al have been established as the ideal reading material for 11 to 12 year olds and let the rest flounder as they may?

    I dunno, this strikes me as kind of a shall-we-render-taxes-unto-Caesar question. There’s a pretty obvious subtext when you accuse someone of humblebragging for listing Poe and Wells among their childhood reading: come on, you’re just boasting about how much smarter you were than the other kids because you read grown-up books. And the corollary to that is normal kids don’t read Melville and Twain and Poe. (I would actually agree with that in the case of Melville.) And I don’t know how to deal with that, because describing yourself as exceptional— bragging in general, I guess— is elitist pretty much by definition, and elitism is supposed to be a Bad Thing. And yet I am an elitist. Most people do seem to be drones, and I do think I’m way smarter than the mean (I mean, seriously: Donald Trump? Young-earth creationism?).

    But here’s the thing: I didn’t get Poe foisted on my by my snooty parents. I got Poe as a birthday gift from a friend the same age as me. Same with Bradbury. Same with Brunner. I didn’t go out to my Elitist Library and spelunk my way to literacy; I just absorbed stuff through osmosis.

    I still think I’m smarter than most. I’m still an elitist. But not because I was reading the same stuff everyone else was back in grade school. So I think there might be something a bit disingenuous about about invoking the ol’ Humblebrag in this particular context.

  159. Oh, another data point, from another author who recently reported back after a very encouraging meeting with some parties at a Big Literary Agency. Said author, bringing up the subject of YA, was advised to steer clear of it because her work was too literary, too dark, too (for want of a better word) edgy. There’s room for that in adult literature, she was told. There’s no such room in YA.

    So there’s that.

  160. Peter Watts:
    Oh, another data point, from another author who recently reported back after a very encouraging meeting with some parties at a Big Literary Agency. Said author, bringing up the subject of YA, was advised to steer clear of it because her work was too literary, too dark, too (for want of a better word) edgy. There’s room for that in adult literature, she was told. There’s no such room in YA.

    So there’s that.

    The agency sounds clueless. I mean, they probably aren’t, I’m probably the clueless one. But… my kneejerk reaction is to point out dark and edgy books that are classified as YA. what the hell. I’m not going to enumerate them. but what the hell.

  161. Peter Watts: There’s a pretty obvious subtext when you accuse someone of humblebragging for listing Poe and Wells among their childhood reading: come on, you’re just boasting about how much smarter you were than the other kids because you read grown-up books

    Wait, who accused me of humblebragging? I didn’t see…oh, Nigel. Since Peter necro’d this, let me just reiterate that I don’t think my experience was universal, but nor do I think that I was in any way *exceptional*. Unlike Dr. Watts, I don’t think it had anything to do with me being particularly intelligent. I don’t consider myself to be, certainly not in comparison with the sort of free roaming lobes that hang out at the ‘Crawl.

    My becoming what we would now, sadly, consider an “advanced” reader by modern standards was simply an environment-driven phenomenon. It was an age that pre-dated basic cable (at least for my family), and these were the books that were around (thanks Mom and Dad). I can’t even claim that they would have been the books I would have sought out, as when I finally got my own library card I immediately went after some of the trashiest fare I could find, along side a list of sci-fi that *sounds* impressive by modern standards, but really didn’t strike me as much at the time.

    I’ve said more than once here that had I grown up in the internet age, things probably would have been different for me. I really think we need to divorce the concept of intelligence from reading aptitude. Outside of some specific conditions that may impede it, like most everything else it’s simply a proficiency developed by repetition and habit. It’s a habit that happens to pay considerable dividends for the time invested, but not necessarily an irreplaceable one.

    All that said, I stated from the first that this is all unavoidably an exercise in middle age chest-thumping to some degree. Dr. Watts was up front with his bit of “get off my lawn” self-deprecation. It doesn’t seem fair to just brush aside these declarations of self-awareness to score a point.
    .

  162. Peter Watts:

    “Y.: well, show me a list of easy-on-the-eyes feminists. It’s quite small.”

    There’s also the issue of self-definition, of what a “feminist” even is

    Yeah. Wouldn’t it be far easier to make a list of mainstream female celebrities who *don’t* identify as “feminists” these days? I’d wager many women movie stars would qualify even for Y’s lofty standards of physical attractiveness.

    .

  163. come on, you’re just boasting about how much smarter you were than the other kids because you read grown-up books.

    Well, I think there kinda is an element of that, inasmuch as people are setting that as the benchmark and then decrying a falling off. And yeah, sure, it was kind of normal. I think it’s pretty normal for today as well, to be honest. Also, as far as I’m aware nobody here has shown that kids today aren’t reading Poe et al so I’m not even sure what the point is, other than to decry the terrible situation where kids today have more reading choices today than they did, and these choices include most of the choices they had. So children’s literature today is in terrible decline? I think you;re more on the mark when decrying some of the business of children’s books, eg:

    There’s room for that in adult literature, she was told. There’s no such room in YA.

    For the love of Mike, I am reading The Lie Tree by Francis Hardinge which is dark and edgy, beautifully written and deals with – well, Victorian natural science in the throes of scandal and controversy, so far – and it won the Costa Award! What is up with these people? I mean, if they don’t want to represent that sort of book, fine, but to say there’s no room for it in YA is blithering incompetence. A parody of modern YA would be sending up the darkiness and the edginess of it.

    ScottC – I don’t think my experience was universal, but nor do I think that I was in any way *exceptional*.

    You were doing fairly well for yourself and have every right to be proud of it! And I do appreciate that you have to go by your own experiences, but to reiterate what I’ve said above, in essence what’s changed is that modern young readers have a wider and more varied choice of books aimed at them. And it includes Poe and all the others.

    Actually, thinking about it, I read a lot of Poe, too, in assorted anthologies my Mum got for for me. I also remember reading The Horla and The Yellow Wallpaper and The Monkey’s Fist all in a book I got with my Confirmation money… now I’m doing it… But anyway, these have been perennial reading for kids/teens for a long time now, and that hasn’t really changed. (I can’t really speak for Asimov, Howard and Lovecraft, though, but they’re not difficult to find at any rate.)

  164. Nigel: You were doing fairly well for yourself and have every right to be proud of it!

    May as well congratulate me for properly digesting my food. There was no choice in the matter, no awareness of accomplishing anything. Simply a kid pursuing kicks in the ways his environment allowed for.

    If you must, congratulate my parents for successfully feeding me a diet of vibrant, unrestrained literature full of big ideas, so that when I did take command of my own reading, I felt confident pulling from any shelf in the library–not just the “age appropriate” section.
    .

  165. ScottC: Yeah. Wouldn’t it be far easier to make a list of mainstream female celebrities who *don’t* identify as “feminists” these days? I’d wager many women movie stars would qualify even for Y’s lofty standards of physical attractiveness.

    Oh yeah, those. I meant people with a clue. You know, those writing all those tedious essay and engaging in all that activism. Fellow travelers who’d just as easily be communist/fascist/monarchist etc depending on the zeitgeist don’t count.

    ScottC: Since you asked nicely. To clarify, I said I like the *idea* of the Sims if not that game specifically for aesthetic reasons. I like ant-farm style sim games, and play many of them. Dwarf Fortress, Evil Genius, Dungeon Keeper, Theme-whatever, Sim-whatever. One of the ones I’m most looking forward to is called Maia. It’s only barely playable at present, but features a 70s sci-fi aesthetic, and a lot of great humor

    Oh, those games. I like them too. But Sims doesn’t involve horrific torture for monetary gain like Dwarf Fortress (never played it, though I would if they ever got off their arse and put some decent-ish graphics into it..). Dungeon Keeper is one of most fun games ever..

    Peter Watts: There’s also the issue of self-definition, of what a “feminist” even is. If you define a feminist as someone who recognizes that biases against women are systemically embedded in a variety of social structures, and that they should be dismantled, I

    LOLWUT.

    If it were just social structures.
    Aren’t you supposed to be a biologist?

    Look here what one Canadian has written in regards to non-black women. Their biology makes them give in to men, especially after puberty and before late middle age. (Black women don’t, because of more independent relationships, thus the stereotype)-

    http://www.unz.com/pfrost/the-adaptive-value-of-aw-shucks/

  166. Nigel,

    Philip Reeve did not originally mean to write Mortal Engines as a young adults story, but the publisher asked him if he could rewrite it as such, which he did.

  167. Re: Y, on biology

    At this point the main difference between the social and the biological is that we have a pretty decent and gradually improving idea as to how to fix the biological.

    So I guess the takeaway is “hope you’re right, since if you are, I’m just gonna medicate and/or CRISPR-Cas the “self esteem gap” (and attendant phenomena) away”.

  168. Also, the fine blog is occasionally eating comments, again

  169. 03: So I guess the takeaway is “hope you’re right, since if you are, I’m just gonna medicate and/or CRISPR-Cas the “self esteem gap” (and attendant phenomena) away”.

    Sure. Do you speak Mandarin and are you willing to acknowledge the supreme authority of the CCP?

    No one else is gonna do any Crispring on humans. Not before this all comes burning down.

  170. 03: At this point the main difference between the social and the biological is that we have a pretty decent and gradually improving idea as to how to fix the biological.

    If you want true justice and equality, you have to go clone. Nothing else comes close.

  171. A Message About Messages, by Ursula K. Le Guin:
    http://www.ursulakleguin.com/MessageAboutMessages.html