A few weeks ago, my very smart friend Jen mentioned on Twitter that she was reading Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. My reactions, in order, were, “Awesome!” and, “Really?” Because (aside from superhero stories) Jen is not much for my beloved scifi/fantasy genres. So while I’d classify The Hunger Games as “book that you should read regardless of genre,” it wasn’t something I’d have recommended to her.

We had the following exchange:

Me: Ooooh. I’d be interested in hearing your thoughts, though I probably wouldn’t have recced it to you.
Jen: I love dystopias! And I loved the movie of Battle Royale. So I think I will like this.
Me: How did I not know that about you??? (I guess I think dystopia = scifi = not so much your interest?)
Jen: I don’t see dystopia as sci-fi; if anything, it’s the reverse of historical fiction, which I also love.
Me: That is really interesting! I tend to think of it as just a sf subgenre, but I can see why you don’t.

Interesting thought, filed away for “things to think about later,” though I never really did. Until I ran across this post on io9 in Google Reader. I clicked over because that was the first time I’d seen a cover or title for the final book in Wasserman’s Skinned series — which I will definitely buy in hardcover as soon as it comes out — and the actual post turned out to be a question of whether or not YA has moved on from scifi.

My initial reaction is, um, no, especially not given the fantastic success of The Hunger Games and Catching Fire, as well as Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies trilogy, and a handful of others. But the post posits that the argument for YA not being big on scifi right now is based on not counting dystopias like the ones I just mentioned as science fiction. Interesting, especially because almost all of the YA scifi I can think of — at least published recently — is very near-future, is dystopian, or both.

Innnnnnteresting. So if you have thoughts, please throw them out in the comments! Do you consider dystopian novels part of a larger science fiction genre, or are they their own beast? Does it depend on the story? (Any recs? Because I need a longer reading list…)

So, speaking of what is big in YA, an interesting link: Girls Just Wanna Have Fangs:

Twilight is more than a teen dream. It’s a massive cultural force. Yet the very girliness that has made it such a success has resulted in its being marginalized and mocked. Of course, you won’t find many critics lining up to defend Dan Brown or Tom Clancy, either; mass-market success rarely coincides with literary acclaim. But male escapist fantasies — which, as anyone who has seen Die Hard or read those Tom Clancy novels can confirm, are not unilaterally sophisticated, complex, or forward-thinking — tend to be greeted with shrugs, not sneers. The Twilight backlash is vehement, and it is just as much about the fans as it is about the books. Specifically, it’s about the fact that those fans are young women.



I’m no fan of Twilight, but that’s not really what the article is about. It isn’t a question of whether Twilight is good or bad, it’s about why Twilight fans are greeted with sneers and disdain. Hint: because girls like it. And quality and content of the novels aside, that’s not an okay reason to dismiss them.

And continuing in that vein, tween stars. Jen (the same Jen as above) passed on a link she realized would be relevant to my interests: Smells Like an Ethnically Divided Teen Star System

The editor who chose to display the photos in this manner might argue it was simply artful to play up contrasts. And it’s not to argue that the “ethnic” stars have particularly dark skin (this is Hollywood, after all), just that they are racialized as not exactly white, and the positioning next to “whiter” stars makes this assertion stronger. Moreover, the juxtaposition eerily echoes the way in which leaked gossip in 2008 characterized Selena Gomez and Hannah Montana actress and singer Miley Cyrus (the arguably All-American daughter of country singer Billy Ray Cyrus) as unfriendly rivals and ultimately positioned Gomez and purported BFF Demi Lovato, another Disney actress and singer also of half-Mexican heritage, in a separate camp from their more EuroAmerican counterparts at Disney. Is the conglomerate thinking of teen celebrity promotion in relation to ethnic blocs?

Interesting stuff. There’s also a good point in the comments; most of the ethnically ambiguous actors you see on Nick and Disney and even the CW are female; with the exception of Taylor Lautner and his Amazing Abs, the young, male heartthrob ideal remains pretty freaking white. I can think of a few other Disney kids who are ethnically ambiguous, and a few who are non-ambiguously African-American — but they aren’t kids who are being set up to follow the Zac Efron mold, either, which makes me think Lautner is an exception that proves the rule.

And now, because it is a lazy Sunday, I think I will take a nap. (Translation: I have no idea how to conclude this blog post.)

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10 thoughts on “Lazy Sunday SciFi Question (With Bonus Links)

  • January 24, 2010 at 3:55 pm
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    Hm, interesting question. I write mostly dystopian MG, and very often I hear people refer to it as fantasy. It seems like most people think of scifi as being about spaceships and robots. Otherwise, they don’t seem to know where to put it. So maybe dystopian is its own animal. I like the term “speculative fiction” because it’s a nice umbrella term that works for pretty much any kind of fiction that isn’t strict realism. But as for saying that scifi isn’t a big part of YA right now – that doesn’t sound right to me at all.

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    • January 24, 2010 at 9:57 pm
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      I’ve heard the term “speculative fiction” before but never paid much attention to it. So you’d consider that sort of a catch-all, umbrella term for non-realism? Because that sounds like a much better classification to me, then! I still tend to think most dystopias are part of science fiction or have scifi elements, but they don’t *have* to be, so having somewhere else to put them sounds good to my category-obsessed mind.

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  • January 24, 2010 at 6:52 pm
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    I’m glad I gave you plenty of thinky thoughts!

    Having read The Hunger Games and Catching Fire at this point, I see how they could be called Sci-Fi — the mockingjays, the hovercrafts, the force fields. But it seemed primarily to be a story about a world where all the natural laws as we know them still apply, a future that could be extrapolated from now. And most of the story was a survival story, more in the vein of “Hatchet” than Star Wars. I tend to think of sci-fin in terms of space and aliens, but also in terms of scientific and/or magical things that aren’t currently possible and don’t seem possible — like time travel, or superpowers. The Hunger Games isn’t set in our world, but it’s a world I can imagine our world becoming, so it seems more… reality-based?

    I like the previous commenter’s “speculative fiction” label as a catchall term; it seems to encompass more than “science fiction” does on its own.

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    • January 24, 2010 at 10:00 pm
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      It doesn’t read at all to me like “Hatchet,” interestingly. Because I see *that* as primarily, like you said, a survival story — but it’s more man vs. elements than man vs. other man who is trying to kill him. (Though in this case “man” is “girl” and also, I might be confusing “Hatchet” with “My Side of the Mountain,” now that I think about it.)

      I certainly see your point, though, and like the spec fic label.

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  • January 24, 2010 at 9:49 pm
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    I’d like to note that I mock Twilight fans not because the books are “girly,” but because they are terrible. There’s nothing “girly” about the work of James Patterson or Dan Brown, but I mock fans of those authors, too (because, again, they are terrible).

    (And as regards the issue about the Twilight fans “ruining” Comicon, I take an alternate view–that these were people considered destructive not because they were teenage girls (and creepy middle-aged ladies) but because they were people unlikely to “give back” to the con community: present only to catch a glimpse of their beloved people, not likely to go the con floor, etc. Whether that is or isn’t true, I don’t know; that, however, was my personal interpretation.)

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    • January 24, 2010 at 10:07 pm
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      Well, that’s fine for you, and as I know you, I would assume you mock based on terrible taste rather than based on sexism. But I don’t think that’s true for the culture at large. Among bookish people, there seems to be much more of a general feeling that Dan Brown and James Patterson are also quite ridiculous — but there wasn’t the same sort of cultural mockery of people who were super-psyched for the new Dan Brown novel, or who were buzzing about their love of the Da Vinci Code when it was at its peak.

      Re Comiccon, that’s not my scene either so I can only respond on that same general-impressions level but, I just don’t see a way where having new people, especially people who are probably new to the overall genre and quite possibly looking for more like what they’ve seen, is a bad thing. They probably wouldn’t all “give back,” as you say, but given how many there were, I can’t imagine a sizable number *didn’t* end up elsewhere. I think closing the community off from potential new blood instead of welcoming it is probably not a good idea, regardless, but when you consider who was being not-welcomed it still smacks to me of people fearing icky teenage girl cooties.

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  • January 25, 2010 at 11:18 am
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    Just discovered your fab blog through the VK BB…I, too, find that I am leaning more and more toward using the “speculative fiction” label with my sci-fi. Somehow its generic-ness seems more appropriate, and it’s also a way of getting ’round the undeniable bias toward sci-fi as a category when dealing with agents. Many is the time that agents specifically say “no sci-fi” because they probably fear all manner of geekiosity will rain down on them. It’s sad but true: even in this day and age, we nerds must fight for acceptance.

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    • January 26, 2010 at 12:56 pm
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      You know, I’m glad I posted this question because it’s the first time I’ve had a clear idea of what people mean when they say speculative fiction — rather than catch-all, I’ve always percieved it as a term people use to try and avoid admitting being fans or writers within the sf/f genres — in other words, wanting to duck that associating with nerdidity. I’ve always been pretty resistant to that because I’m pretty big on nerd pride. But I can certainly see now that it has its uses. 🙂

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  • January 25, 2010 at 11:32 pm
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    Re: dystopian/post-apocalyptic, I really think it depends on the book. THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH, for example – definitely dystopian. Definitely post-apocalyptic. But we’re talking zombie apocalypse, which makes it more of a horror novel (or just a “zombie” novel, I suppose, if I might lapse into lazy, trend-driven talk, which I sure as hell might). Then there’s the CHAOS WALKING books, which have spaceships and interstellar travel and alien races and so on, but also a lot of mind-reading, talking animals, etc. I think you could legitimately describe that one as sci-fi (although not hard sci-fi, not enough effort to truly ground it in real scientific theory). The Moon Crash Trilogy is similar – could be considered sci-fi, sure, although it doesn’t bury you in physics in the same way as, say, LUCIFER’S HAMMER does. So “dystopian” does seem more like a genre in its own right. At least it does to me, right now, on a relatively lazy Monday night…

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    • January 26, 2010 at 1:08 pm
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      Horror is another of those genres that gets smushed into other things a lot — I generally refer to scifi/fantasy, but in a lot of places it’s scifi/fantasy/horror, which seems to point once again to the usefulness of speculative fiction as a catch-all.

      I can also definitely see dystopian as its own genre, but I think most of the titles named in the io9 article, like some of the ones you listed above, as *also* being sf/f(/h). (Unrelated side thought: this is why tags are such a better system than folders…)

      Also, oooh, titles of things I’ve never heard of. I will have to look at these. *grabby hands*

      Reply

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