Last week I attended an event, "Worlds of Tomorrow: the rise of SF in children’s and YA fiction". Presented by the UK Society of Authors and Foyles bookshops, in association with the Kitchies Awards, it was moderated by Philip Reeve and Sarah McIntyre with special guests Steve Cole, Kim Lakin-Smith and Moira Young.
|Sarah and Steve|
Moira Young's debut Blood Red Road won the Costa prize; Steve Cole's Astrosaurs are loved by younger readers; Kim Lakin-Smith is a prolific writer of SF for YA and adults.
|Kim and Moira|
This started at 7 but let's back up an hour: sat in the Café at Foyles with author buddies Candy Gourlay & Anita Loughrey, we were happy to be unexpectedly joined by Philip Reeve.
|L to R: Candy, Anita, and me!|
Is dystopian fiction science fiction for girls? Is there a difference in what it is, or just in what it is called?Later when all the seats were filled and everyone listening, these were the questions in my mind.
One of the topics of discussion: publishers and booksellers seem to edge away from the label science fiction. There seems to be a perception that this label puts people off.
When I'm writing, I don't focus on classifying my work. Moira Young said much the same about Blood Red Road: she thought she was writing a Western, albeit one set in the future; she didn't think of it as SF.
When I think back to when I first started Slated and was asked what I was working on, I shrank away from calling it science fiction - and this wasn't with any thought at all about what label was good for sales.
Why the hesitation? There is so much that is good about SF: you can make more comments about society by setting it in the future instead of today. As Philip Reeve pointed out, SF shows us in a strange mirror.
I read a lot of SF as a teen and into my 20s, Asimov, Heinlin, basically everything in the SF section of the library. And all that stuff that crossed between SF and fantasy I devoured: Julian May (LOVED Intervention); the Dune series; the Pern books.
I think at least part of the discomfort I have with the label is a feeling that there is no way I can write SF. Even thinking about it scares me. In my head you have to have advanced science and engineering degrees and be some sort of mad boffin inventor to even attempt it. Yet, give it a different label....sneak up on it, sideways, and....
I've done it.
I wonder now if this is the same thinking behind why publishers and book sellers avoid the label for children's and YA novels - that the word 'science' may put readers off, think they can't cope with it. And hence the wave of current science fiction for YA has been relabeled: some steam punk, some futuristic thrillers; even more, dystopian.
"Dystopia is code for science fiction. It is the science fiction you are allowed to like." Philip ReeveAnd OF COURSE dystopian YA isn't just for girls. The majority of readers of YA are girls, though, and many of the dystopian phenomenon feature girl main characters, like Katniss in Hunger Games, Kyla in Slated; many are written by women authors also, where traditional SF seems dominated still by male writers. SF for YA seems, in general, to be more about the characters and story, and less about the science. But the big issues and stories they cover should and do appeal to both sexes.
So, have I answered my questions? At the end of it, I don't care what label my books are given, so long as it gets them into the hands of readers. But I'm thinking I need to embrace my SF roots: it is part of where I came from, and part of where I want to go.
We'd love to hear from you:
Do you think dystopian fiction is SF for girls - or for YA in general? Is it really science fiction in disguise?
|Kim & Moira|