by Rebekah Jensen (February 16, 2002)
I just took a peek through my precarious to-be-read-very-soon book pile, and found non-fiction books on topics from genetics to linguistics, from Carl Sandburg's poetry to writing genre novels. I also found military science fiction to Regency romance to epic fantasy. Then there is the bulk of the fiction … You may turn up your nose but yes, a good portion of my reading is young adult science fiction and fantasy. I get more excited about a new Tamora Pierce than a new David Eddings, and am more likely to reread Susan Cooper than J.R.R. Tolkien.
I've had a weakness for YA SF for as long as I can remember. As a teenager, when I was finally allowed to check books out of the Adult part of the library, I gobbled up Star Trek, 70s Sci-Fi, and gothic romances, but I also always got at least one of my old favorites from the kid's side of the room. I nearly read the covers off of the library's copies of C. S. Lewis's The Chronicles of Narnia and Anne McCaffrey's Harper Hall Trilogy.
Not to sound like an old coot, but kids these days have it good. The YA Fantasy and Science Fiction genres are exploding, thanks in no small part to J. K. Rowling. I'm a Harry Potter fan, but I'm much more of a Rowling fan - for all the editors and booksellers and readers that she's convinced to give YA genre books a try. Lucky readers can now discover Gail Carson Levine and Patricia Wrede, Phillip Pullman and Eva Ibbotson, as well as new printings of the classics from Heinlein, Bradbury and LeGuin.
Why do I enjoy YA SF? I freely admit that part of the attraction is that the books tend to be shorter, not the dictionary-sized tomes that adult SF writers and editors are turning out these days. Yet there is a lot more to it than that. For one thing, the books tend to end happily, or at least more sweet than bitter. I enjoy angst and suffering as much as the next reader, but after slogging through a thousand pages of that, I want to see some redemption and triumph. YA authors also tend to examine more fundamental issues and aren't usually allowed to skim over moral ones. I like the characters more. They may be confused but they aren't ever true anti-heroes. If I want slimy, despicable characters that I can't identify with, I'll just pick up a Stephen R. Donaldson. And closure - I'm a big fan of closure. No YA book or series would be permitted to drag out forever like Robert Jordan's Wheel of Time Series. Even the ongoing Harry Potter books have an internal story arc within each book. When Garth Nix released book #1 in his Seventh Tower series, I knew that not only would the series have a beginning, middle, and end, but that it would end in exactly the number of books Nix said it would.
Why should I be discussing this on a site dedicated to romantic SF? Isn't romantic YA an oxymoron? Not at all. Sherwood Smith's Crown & Court Duet pivots around the interaction between a man and woman on opposite sides of a civil war. Robin McKinley's BEAUTY has a romance as strong as anything shelved in the Romance section of the bookstore. One significant difference between the two types of books is that in YA books there is a minimum of sex or sexuality. I personally find this refreshing since a lot of people these days seem to believe that physical attraction equals sexual tension equals love. True romance focuses on the character and relationships. YA books are very rarely idea-driven or milieu-driven. The best ones aren't even plot or action-driven. They are usually powered by characters and those characters' personal difficulties. And what's more personal and more difficult than romance?
I'm not ashamed of it, I love young adult science fiction and fantasy. Judging by discussions with the rest of the RomSF gang, I'm among fellow enthusiasts. If you're in a reading slump and just can't face another 600 plus page Tad Williams or another mind-stretching David Brin, perhaps it's time to refresh your book-loving spirit. Remember the books that introduced you to reading, those books that you read under the covers with a flashlight. Go back and pick up THE VOYAGE OF THE DAWNTREADER and lose yourself in childhood again. And when you're looking for new books and authors, don't be afraid to wander over to the young adult/teens section of your bookstore. You'll be surprised what you find ...
To grab a piece of the current boom in young adult SF, two different publishers are creating new imprints -- Firebird and Starscape. At least so far, both of these lines only have reprints on their schedules. (Click on the covers to order the books through Amazon and support this site.)
NEW -- More new imprints!
Del Rey books is getting into the game too, having just announced the launch of Del Rey Imagine, designed for readers twelve and older. The imprint will consist of reissues of Del Rey's titles in trade paperback, possibly with a few author-approved alterations to make them age-appropriate. Del Rey has already released their "prototype" -- a new edition of DRAGONFLIGHT by Anne McCaffrey in September 2002. The formal launch will be in May 2003, with THE SWORD OF SHANNARA, PART 1: IN THE SHADOW OF THE WARLOCK LORD, by Terry Brooks, with parts 2 and 3 of THE SWORD OF SHANNARA--THE DRUIDS' KEEP and THE SECRET OF THE SWORD--following in June and July. Robert A. Heinlein's HAVE SPACE SUIT--WILL TRAVEL will be published in August. The imprint is scheduled to have six titles each year - four in the summer and two more for Christmas. Future titles will include Alan Dean Foster's ORPHAN STAR, Robert A. Heinlein's TUNNEL IN THE SKY, and Gordon R. Dickson's THE DRAGON AND THE GEORGE.
(Thanks to Locus Magazine for the news! For more information, see the January 2003 issue.)