YA vs. “Real” Sci-Fi and Fantasy: It’s about Mindset

I’ve been watching the trends in the publishing industry for the last several years, and it’s interesting to watch the way that readers and fellow authors respond to different works and the like. The divide between YA and “adult” fiction (I use the ironic quotes because YA really doesn’t mean less adult content or themes in terms of reading) actually comes down to a little bit of a mindset element like I was talking about between new indies and old guard publishing a couple weeks ago.

Now the YA community environment is heating up politically to some extent, with sensitivity readers and reviewers labeling books as problematic, which has caused quite a stir there, but for the most part, unlike adult fiction, the readership itself hasn’t been drawn into this jaded war of ideology. I don’t see regular readers shaking fists at messages, demanding more messages, or the like in YA. Some of the editors may be going off on “cultural appropriation” but I see it as the adult fiction trying to get its greedy fingers into the pie and corrupt the genre with their jadedness more than the genre itself lending itself to that. Most the YA readers I find want to sit down, have a cup of tea or a glass of wine, and read for fun. And that mindset is actually pretty refreshing.

When I released For Steam And Country, I was able to see this divide firsthand in authors/readers who checked out the book. I’ll start by saying I’m not intending on criticizing my readers or saying anyone’s wrong, but there is a mindset differential in the way that people responded based on their reading preferences. YA readers ate up the book, almost zero complaints about it, and it was incredibly well received. The more “hard” science fiction readers who came over to me from my last book for the most part enjoyed it as well, but usually there was a caveat or two with that enjoyment where I found a lot of nitpicking and criticisms of different elements of the book (sometimes people reaching totally opposite critical conclusions about the exact same things!).

A good author friend of mine, for example, said he didn’t buy into the book because the whole concept of a farmer girl going and being given command of some aerial weapon of war without any experience didn’t ring true to him.

I may have lifted that concept from somewhere. 🙂  It was an interesting complaint to receive. I don’t think he’s wrong, by the way, but the height of great fiction to me has always been ordinary people doing the extraordinary. But that level of critique when compared with something like Star Wars, again fiction meant for a YA-ish audience if we drill into it, would probably receive similar heavy criticism from a sci-fi literary audience if it were released now under a different name.

It actually is a change from the way Sci-fi used to be from prior to the 80s to now. In the old days,fun adventure, exciting characters and their circumstances used to be what was dominant in the field, and was subsequently replaced by extreme vetting of what “could really happen” that began with jaded industry insiders, and trickled into the ever diminishing SF/F reading public. This is the exact reason why science fiction has been bleeding readers for years — as most people who do want to read do so for escape, and for fun, they don’t want to be bogged down in perceived real world problems extrapolated into space and made into dark, gritty, angry messages that revolve around heavy scientific concepts that may or may not be feasible anyway.

YA allows the adventure to flow. At the start of reading Sarah Maas’s Throne of Glass, it’s easy to see that she has a few qualities: 1. She’s set up a character you get attached to 2. the pacing is near-frantic and completely unrealistic, but fun 3. it’s got compelling action both in the fighting sense and in the romance sense. It leads to something that someone wants to devour. If I scrutinized every single aspect of every element of the culture and world, I’d find something wrong that I could pick apart as “unrealistic”, but because it’s YA, we get a pass where we don’t have to do that. I’d posit that this story is as good or better than anything in the “real” SF/F field even so. And by the number of readers she has vs. the number of readers the more jaded SF people have, the public agrees.

The focus on character and driving plot is essential. YA does this with a big goal in mind: evoking an emotional response in the reader. The authors, by the way they write, appear almost care about nothing else. They’re not so wrapped up in their world building exercises that they bog a story down, they don’t focus so hard on metaphors and social engineering to try to create faux-literary nonsense which doesn’t stand the test of time anyway. They’re not caught up in the politics of the moment, but they’re out to create something enjoyable that they can relate to and so can their readers.

The mindset of these YA authors I’ve met and talked to is very similar to the #PulpRevolution crowd. They’re excited for fiction, in love with the work. They gush about other authors in the field and it’s really nice to see rather than the constant in-fighting of the science fiction community who seem to have this fear that there’s only so many slots for “real writers” and therefore tear each other down. These attitudes come across in the fiction as much as they do in the internet world.

I think that writers have a lot they can learn from YA, and should check out some of these authors for the sake of using elements to incorporate into their own fiction. It’s imperative if they want to survive in this ever competitive world, where YA fiction. because of its fun-factor. takes up an increasingly large slice of the pie. A few recommendations:

Laurie Forest – Wandfasted

Sarah J. Maas – Throne of Glass

Suzanne Collins – The Hunger Games  (the series that really got this genre going!)

Brandon Sanderson – Steelheart 

All of these books incorporate fun, have action + romance, and really make you feel for their main characters. The worlds if you break them down all the way might not be “realistic” but as a backdrop for the story, which is all worlds are meant to be, they are intriguing and help propel it along.

 

13 thoughts on “YA vs. “Real” Sci-Fi and Fantasy: It’s about Mindset

  1. You make PulpRev sound like YA for adults. To some extent I agree. With the move against YA sensibilities, maybe those imperiled authors will make good allies in the near future? At least they will know others are out there with similar mindsets.

  2. “he didn’t buy into the book because the whole concept of a farmer girl going and being given command of some aerial weapon of war without any experience didn’t ring true to him.”

    If I’m remembering the book correctly, having gotten command of that aerial weapon of war she immediately screws up and nearly loses the ship, along with her life, having had no training of war/battle/strategy/tactics/the warship/or anything else relevant.

    So actually, it did ring true. Unlike, say, what I understand, the Rey character in SW: The Force Awakens (which I haven’t seen).

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  4. Brought here by the ping from Castalia…

    But Star Wars did get heavy criticism at the time, for being knights and wizards in space-drag — it’s just that it had a lot more verve than the dreary stuff that preceded it, so people were prepared to give it a bye.

    I’m also slightly surprised by the “prior to the 80s” qualification. If you’re after fun and optimism, you want to head back before the late ’60s New Wave, the ecodoom-mongering that followed in the 70’s, until that decade ended with a spasm of post-‘Nam milSF to work through the trauma. You can tell how fun all that was, when I say that I was amazed by how positive and optimistic I found the setting of Neuromancer, in contrast with what had proceeded it.

    • I think a lot of stuff in the 70s had that quality. Anne McCaffrey’s stuff was pretty fun and full of wonder, Poul Anderson, Zelazny, all their 70s stuff was fun. Yes, that’s when it started to turn but the 80s is really when everything went full tilt dark in my opinion.

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