This weekend is the Austin Teen Book Festival. I’m excited about attending — not only because a number of the authors making an appearance at the festival share the same literary agency I do and our agency is a pretty tight little community on its own, but because I find YA inspiring and energizing. Also? My next series may be categorized as YA. [listens for the groans] There are reasons for this. I worked at BookPeople in the Teen Book section for six years. Therefore, I have a background in Teen Fiction. My agency specializes in younger fiction (YA, picture books and mid-grade.) But the biggest reason why is because… that’s where it’s all happening. It’s where the LIFE of SF and F is these days. It’s where all the really cool ideas are encouraged and welcomed and nurtured, and where, by the Gods, authors are even paid for their work.
Adult SF and F seems to be dying.
Here’s where I type “Don’t Panic” in small friendly letters. DON’T PANIC. Or wait… maybe you should. Let’s think about this. The adult markets have been ossifying. Yes. I used that word, ossify. I’ll use some others: stagnant, rigid, stale. Oh, sure. There are a few authors doing some interesting exciting things, but largely there aren’t that many, and largely they’re white, straight, and male. Doubt me? Think about the topics of the biggest discussions in adult SF and F lately. What have they been? Let’s see: The lack of diversity at conventions, The aging of convention committees, The unfriendly nature of SF and F literary conventions, The gender and racial inequality of SF and F publishing and the gender and racial inequality in SF and F reviewing, Naughty authors interacting with reviewers, The price of eBooks… Let’s take a look at that. It’s all about policing, isn’t it?
Meanwhile, in another part of the literary forest, YA has exploded. More and more YA properties are being made into television series, graphic novels, and films. They’re tearing up the creative atmosphere. They don’t spend weeks at a time screaming about how publishers are evil, or how books have to be free, or how women and minorities are ruining the genre. They welcome everyone. Hell, they’re getting banned for being too ‘out there.’ Speaking as an author, if you want to check on the creative health of a genre, check out the last time a book from within that genre was banned. That’s the test, really. It shows that authors are thinking outside the box. It means that authors feel comfortable enough, stable enough financially, and are encouraged enough to challenge their readers.
I love adult SF and F. I grew up wanting to write adult SF and F. I want it to grow and last forever, but frankly, this love affair with the ‘Golden Age of SF’ has got to f-ing go. It’s okay to be a bit nostalgic. It’s not okay to live there 24-7. That’s not what SF and F are about — at least not the SF and F that I love. Golden Age of SF existed because its authors were looking to the future. They were testing the boundaries. They were challenging their readers.
So, wake up. Smell the rocket fuel. Instead of whining about being forced to try something new — say authors who have female or foreign-sounding names — embrace the idea that trying something new is an adventure. Take a chance. Check out new territory. Explore. Pretend it’s the final frontier because in a way it is.
And please, for the love of the holy trinity (Le Guin, Bradbury, and Tiptree) please stop forcing adult SF and F backward. That sort of time travel never ends well. We ought to know that by now.
—————————————————————— I tend to write on a fine line between YA and adult. My characters tend to be in their late teens and early twenties. It’s just how I write.