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You need no ticket to make a place for yourself here where humor, black and otherwise, comes to you from the stage where the human comedy itself is being played, its performance trumping the things dark and tragic and found in the world of literature.
Saturday, May 03, 2008
John Scalzi Sittin' In Ya Ya

You know, SFF readers are supposed to bring their sense of wonder to the reader-writer contract and there is no better SOW (unfortunate anagram) than childlike SOW. To maintain it in the real world is pretty tough, but the savvy SFF reader has a mechanism to leave all the BS behind when he opens the pages of a SF/F book.

Although it makes me something of a dolt in the public library (having never familiarized myself with the cataloging system -- is it still Dewey?), when I'm in a bookstore I pay no attention to categories of any sort. I wander from section to section realizing where I am only by the offerings on the shelf in front of me -- not by saying, "Oh, let me go see what's in the Biography section," or whatever.

But I think what John Scalzi discusses here is very interesting, as from my perspective the fan base for SciFi (which seems to be the preferred term currently, in all but the most hardcore holdouts) is pretty old. Although there have been those brought into fandom since the the golden age (where today's core base came from) and its relative newness managed to rope a lot of readers in, the newer folk -- let's say the under forties -- have been brought in by things like film, TV (Galactica, et al), role playing, etc. Today, most who casually enjoy the area don't consider Sci Fi to be a written medium anymore. So the trend to bring in Young Adult readers -- the ones who most of the advertising for entertainment, etc. is aimed at -- into the Sci Fi readers fold is certainly a trend that would be good for those in the written Sci Fi biz.

But I would posit the theory that as Sci Fi has always been seen and criticized as juvenile in tone and concerns (from the "Gee Whiz" aspects of Space Opera; to the O.Henry-with-rocketships twist endings -- "And the name tags on their space suits were Adam and Eve..."; to the clearly phallic illustrations of the pulps, attracting young boys who nevertheless became a force in the genre...), this almost has a "going back to square one" quality about it.

But when John writes we "...are missing a genuine literary revolution...because the Young Adult section is a blank spot on the map...", while he links to Cory Doctorow who says (I paraphrase) "YA is where the action is" I wonder if he's saying we should be happy to go back to reading the more juvenile stuff? Personally, I believe Sci Fi writing emerged from its adolescence with the publication of Burgess's A Clockwork Orange. Others helped to usher us into a more adult Sci Fi world, among them Ballard and Ellison. And it was about time. I mean, I love a good "lad's adventure" story as much as anyone, but I certainly don't want to see the shelves filled with updated Haggard and Burroughs, their 21st century heroes outfitted with subdermal communicators and monkeybots, their stories unisexed out so the books can sell to YA women as well as men.

John's concern about how we (fandom) will see things twenty years down the line is telling, as perhaps all we need is another golden age -- and right now -- to consider what it was like now...later! But simply stated: From my point of view the plan to get 'em while they're young is a good one, because for many when life's realities really hit (post YA) most will lose their sense of wonder, not to mention the time to indulge their fantasy lives in written SF and Fantasy. Movies tell a whole story in 90 minutes and (ideally) leave out the "boring" parts. Who has time for 500 pages of the written stuff when you've got a family to support and all that goes with it? This is also how reading Sci Fi equates with hobbies, like stamp collecting. In that pursuit it is often that a collection will be started at an earlier age, abandoned when cars, girls, job, marriage etc. come into the picture and then picked up later as retirement looms. And this is exactly how it has worked for me.
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