Thursday, January 21, 2010

Perhaps This Is Why We're Not Seeing More Science Fiction

Earlier this month, Tanita said at Finding Wonderland that real science fiction is getting harder to find in YA. That was her experience after serving on the fantasy and science fiction panel for the Cybils. I served on that panel four (?) years ago and found the same thing to be true at that time in both YA and middle grade.

This past year while I've been doing agent research, I've found that quite a few of them aren't looking for science fiction. They don't say why, and it isn't necessary for them to do so. I, however, will be happy to speculate.

1. Perhaps they are already representing authors with science fiction material to sell and feel there is only so much of the stuff they can find a home for. This would make sense. However, since we're not seeing much science fiction being published, it seems unlikely that they already have their plates full of scifi that they're placing.

2. Perhaps they don't believe they can sell science fiction, so it would be foolhardy to accept new authors with scifi books to market. This would also make sense.

3. Perhaps they just don't like the genre, and not everyone can sell things they don't like. This is certainly understandable. I can think of several types of books I'd hate to have to promote to absolutely anyone, forget about editors.

Whatever the reason, agents are among the literary gatekeepers who control what is published. If they aren't interested in a genre, how is it going to get out into the marketplace?

Of course, all it's going to take is for one unknown writer to do for science fiction what Harry Potter did for fantasy and Twilight did for vampire romances and we'll be swimming in the stuff.

NOTE: I am not really Tanita's best friend. I've just been mentioning her a lot lately. I will go on to someone else soon.


Emily said...

I find it difficult in science fiction to make teen protagonists convincing, unless it's a dystopia and they're Being Crushed Under The Thumb Of The Fascists In Charge (an ever-popular role for teens!)

An awful lot of adult science fiction is about scientists, military leaders, or political leaders, and it's hard for teens to have the life experience necessary to be in one of those roles -- when writers try, it often rings very false, like Wesley Crusher on Star Trek: TNG.

I think a novel like Saci Lloyd's "Carbon Diaries 2015" can be very successful just by showing what it's like growing up in the future society, but I don't want to read a standard coming-of-age story that just happens to be set on the moon. It's a hard balance to strike.

tanita✿davis said...

I just started reading a REALLY PROMISING SF in our writing group so I have hope that other people who have served on the SFF committee decided to write their own (Good idea, huh? You're going to write one for YA now, right? RIGHT!??). I guess in part there's the idea that science fiction always has to be modern or futuristic that first of all causes people to decide to write fantasy. Imagination is an amazing thing, however, and I wish people would TRY.

The Carbon Diaries 2015 was an exceptionally GOOD try, and how I wish we'd had more than just two or three to read for Cybs. I like fantasy well enough, but science is cool. We try and convince younger kids of that, but why not the YA set?

Gail Gauthier said...

I'd forgotten about dystopias. There's a mind-numbing number of those around.

Emily's point about the difficulty of putting a child/teen character into a traditional adult science fiction model is a good one. For me, that's also the reason child mysteries often don't work. The child characters don't have the life experience--meaning drivers' licenses and money--to be able to move around freely, the way the protagonist in a mystery novel needs to do.

On the other hand, at Chez Gauthier, science fiction is believed to be fiction that jumps off from science fact. It's hard to believe that no one can work that material with child characters without involving a post-apocalyptic scenario or a dystopia, which I find to be the same old, same old.

Anonymous said...

Maybe what we need to do is let go of the idea that the book has to have a teen character to be YA. I think there's a lot of YA SF, I think a lot of teens read it, and I think it's shelved waaaay over there on the other side of the bookstore . . . in the Science Fiction/Fantasy section.

(your captch words are awesome)

BookMoot said...

I think do think of dystopians as part of Science Fiction too. They certainly are not the happy, clappy world of Star Trek though.
I just finished Catching Fire and earlier read Unwind by Neal Shusterman. I think the future IS being written about but it is not a very optimistic outlook. Nothing like the Heinlein juveniles out there now, are there? I DO need to read the Softwire series by PJ Haarsma. Also, something like Jimmy Coates would qualify I think. Interesting ponder, this.

Gail Gauthier said...

Well, the question of whether or not YA needs a YA character is a thorny one. We've discussed it on at least one of my listservs. And, yes, teenagers probably do make the leap to adult science fiction, just as they make the leap to all kinds of adult fiction.

But, still, why so little nondystopian science fiction within YA or within kidlit in general, for that matter?

Anonymous said...


I don't mean that the teenagers are moving to adult SF. I mean that the YA SF is shelved with the adult SF. The question is whether we should try hard to move it over into the YA department. I dunno if we should or not.


Gail Gauthier said...

Ah. Well, shelving the YA scifi with the adult scifi is a little risky. It increases the chances that adults will find it, but will the YAs who aren't yet reading adult scifi and browsing in the grown-up section get to it?

Does anyone know it's there? Because there is a perception that there isn't much YA scifi.

Anonymous said...

IANAL (I am not a librarian), but I am under the impression that the teens do find the YA in the SF section. Moving it would be difficult. On the one hand it might increase sales to YA's, but adult SF readers are a really defensive bunch and they won't appreciate being told that the subversive idiosyncratic books they read . . are YA. They pride themselves on having SKIPPED OVER YA and gone directly to the grown-up books in the SF section. Moving the YA SF into the YA department will offend those readers and they won't go looking in the YA section for their books. Whereas YA's who know they like SF know right where to find it because it is all in one place.


Ms. Yingling said...

And here I thought there was so little science fiction because the future is here, we aren't wearing spandex unitards or flying in personal jet packs, and everyone is too disappointed to think about science fiction. Everything that does fall into that category depicts a dystopia. Hmmm.

Anonymous said...

Hey! Speak for yourself about those spandex leotards! But you do have a point about those jetpacks. . . .

Gail Gauthier said...

YA scifi readers will read adult scifi, but adult scifi readers won't read YA scifi. This sounds like the old story about girls will read boy books, but boys won't read girl books.

Where's my flying car? It never came, so I'm depressed and can only read dystopias.

Susan Kaye Quinn said...

I'm writing a MG SF book and I'm having a hard time finding them on the shelves as well. I just blogged about this. I think that many teens will go over to the Adult SF shelf, but what do the kids do? Adult SF is not kidlit friendly. There's a few MG SF writers out there, but I think it's something kids would read, if there was more of it.