Monday, October 02, 2006

The Kids Are Alright

Philip Reeve’s A Darkling Plain, the final volume of a quartet of children’s science fiction novels set in mobile cities that tour a post-apocalypse landscape, has just won the 2006 Guardian’s children’s fiction prize. An interview with him was published in Saturday’s Guardian review section, and very enjoyable it is too. Although the interviewer, Julia Ecclestone, can’t help noting that it reads more like an alternative history than science fiction", as if, y’know, it would be really embarrassing to think that an honest to God SF novel ever won a literary prize, so let’s pretend that it isn’t really SF at all. And as if no alternative history was ever SF.

Anyway, Reeve’s quartet, begun with Mortal Engines, which he describes as the kind of "’big and rambling book’ he would have enjoyed as a teenager" sounds like the pure quill to me. And I bet that I would have loved to have come across it back when I was a teenager, and reading anything that was even remotely associated with the special spine-tingling mind-expanding strangeness I had discovered in SF - adult SF, that is, for there was precious little children’s SF back then. What happens, I wonder, to all the fans of Reeve’s novels (and to fans of all the other SF and fantasy children’s novels) when they grow a little older? Do they move away from SF and fantasy, and if so, why? And why do so many people stop reading as they grow up? Are SF and fantasy publishers trying to capture the attention of this large and avid audience? And have SF conventions any ideas about attracting younger readers? It seems to me that the average age of convention-goers increases at a rate of about a year per year, which given my advanced years is a bit worrying. If the genre is to stay vital, it needs to find answers to these questions.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Safaa said...

"And have any SF conventions any ideas about attracting younger readers?"

Now that's a very important question that convention organizers should give more thought in the future. But the solutions might not be much to their liking. Most of the kids today are attracted to sci-fi, and have no idea of the differences established by the SF fandoms between sci-fi and SF, and from what I've seen, they don't care much about it.

But we know very well sci-fi is excluded by elite factions, as is most of derivative fantasy, and even roleplay and cardgames are looked in derision, so how will the kids get to know more sofisticated stuff, if everything they enjoy is looked at in contempt?

I think it's very much a matter of widening their horizons without sounding like a father chastising their children, "you've been reading trash, when you should've been reading the Bible" and then would clout them on the heads.

From my own experience and from what I've seen in my community, there has always been a lack of communication between young readers and a much more mature audience, more so in the realms of SF, but it's possible to end it with the right attitude and approach.

October 07, 2006 2:28 PM  
Blogger Martyn Taylor said...

Our kids come with us to conventions and we spent a lot of Interaction attending YA panels. Now my kids are pretty sharp and don't so much read books as inhale them. We're going to die in penury because of the money we've spent on books for them (die poor, die happy) Were these publishers interested in discovering what their customers had to say?

You know the answer.

Although they did talk about focus groups.

Which probably explained the supercilious crap from an 'adult' we heard on Radio about 'Wintersmith' forced to read a YA book against her will.

There is more to read than ever these was. Some of it is even halfway decent (or better) My kids' favourites are Garth Nix, Dan Abnett, Diana Wynne Jones and the rest of the usual suspects. They would both cheerfully strangle Philip Pullman who they find patronising and a sloppy writer.

They enjoyed the YAFA strand at Interaction, and I imagine more of the same would be welcome at the bigger cons.

October 13, 2006 2:31 PM  
Blogger Paul McAuley said...

Safaa - these days I'm very wary about labelling one thing sci-fi and something else SF. Partly through ignorance of everything Out There (I'm told by several people I trust that Battlestar Galactica is fabulous, but I haven't yet found the time to check it out) and partly because I don't think SF (and fantasy) should become a self-policing clique, like, say Booker-prize literature. So, yes, inclusivity rather than exclusivity. I mean, we're not going to exclude kids' sci-fi TV like Doctor Who, are we?

Martyn - because of my ignorance and all that about the YA strand in Interaction, were YA authors invited, and how many attended? Or were their publishers too sniffy about a mere SF convention?

October 14, 2006 2:10 PM  

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