Friday, December 2, 2016

Adult fiction that appeals to teens

I've been doing a lot of thinking about teen fiction lately; mostly it's been a reflection about the rise of teen fiction as a publishing phenomenon, which happened well after I was a teenager. When I was in high school, we went straight from children's books to adult books (mostly the classics). There were no (or few) books that were written about us or for us, no protagonists who were our age and actually sounded like we sounded or looked like us. We were not particularly entertained by many of these, but they were what we had, so we read them. If we were lucky, we knew a librarian (or another reader) who could steer us towards adult books that might appeal to us.

For teens today, all that has changed. Now there are books of every genre--mystery, horror, realistic fiction, you name it--with teen protagonists on whose lives, loves, or problems the books specifically focus. But even with the wealth of novels for teens, there are still areas of adult literature that can and should be recommended to teens ready to move beyond "their" section in the library, and one of those areas is and has always been science fiction.

Although there are obviously some books in every genre that may not be considered appropriate for teen consumption, science fiction is, in my opinion, the best genre for teens to explore, for a variety of reasons: The focus of science fiction is the future; and when are you more focused on the future yourself than when you are a comparatively new person? Science fiction is speculative fiction, and the question "what if?" is as compelling for teens as it is for adults. And the element of world-building and exploration, in which the characters travel to or through or inhabit somewhere completely different from anything with which we are familiar is equally fascinating to teens.

I discovered science fiction at age 20, when my new husband (now ex) insisted we go to the opening of a movie called Star Wars. I had no interest in waiting in line for four hours to see some "space jockeys" fly around doing whatever, but we were in Westwood and he had the car keys, so I got in line. That movie changed my reading life; I went to the library the following weekend and checked out books by Asimov, Heinlein, and Herbert, and embarked on a fascination with science fiction that has never left me.

Although those names and some of their works could be considered old-fashioned, outdated, and possibly too didactic for modern readers, there are still a certain percentage that hold up, even though they were written in the 1950s about the "far future" of the 2000s. And though some titles are unsuitable for teens, many are just what a teenager in search of a good read is looking for--adventure, excitement, and new experiences. Consider, for instance, two novels not written specifically with teens in mind, but nonetheless beloved: Ender's Game, by Orson Scott Card, and The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Douglas Adams. There are many more in science fiction where those came from!

For instance: Three by Robert Heinlein that are still compelling (and suitable for middle school readers) are Citizen of the Galaxy, Time for the Stars, and Have Spacesuit--Will Travel. Slightly more mature teens might enjoy The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress or Revolt in 2100.

Isaac Asimov's trilogy Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation still thrills us with the idea of a galaxy-spanning empire and the small group of scientists who predict its downfall.

Frank Herbert's first three books set on the spice planet of Arrakis--Dune, Dune Messiah, and Children of Dune--have a young protagonist who is put into a situation completely out of his depth and taught first to cope and then to rule. (Do NOT watch any of the movies made from this series--colossal failures, all of them, and they'll spoil the books for you for sure!) A contemporary writer whose book, Lock In, we're reading next month in 10-12 Book Club, is John Scalzi.

And as I discovered when I read further, science fiction is not the exclusive purview of men--in fact, some of the finest writers of science fiction are both older and contemporary women authors.

Sheri S. Tepper tells an intriguing tale in tune with our current concerns over the fate of our planet in The Family Tree, which is both enlightening and full of humor and unexpected surprises. Louise Marley's The Terrorists of Irustan and Ursula K. LeGuin's The Dispossessed posit what it would be like if societies common to earth or those rebelling against its traditions were to be picked up and set down on another planet to thrive or fail in a new environment.

Anne McCaffrey's delightful stories of telepathic dragons are teen-focused in the trilogy of Dragonsong, Dragonsinger, and Dragondrums. Jo Walton is a comparatively new science fiction writer, perhaps most noteworthy for her mash-up of Plato and sci fi in The Just City and its sequels; and V. E. Schwab wrote one of my favorite sci fi superhero (or antihero?) books ever, Vicious.

Connie Willis, who has won more Hugo and Nebula Awards for her work than any other writer, has just written a new book ideal for older teens and "new adults." In Crosstalk, which is set in a not-too-distant future, a doctor has come up with a "simple outpatient procedure" (yes, it's brain surgery, but don't worry) to increase empathy between romantic partners. After a six-week whirlwind romance with Trent Worth (one of her co-workers at the mobile phone company that employs them to stay one step ahead of their competitor, Apple), Briddey Flannigan is pleased when her boyfriend suggests they undergo the EED procedure together. She is anticipating that a closer emotional connection and enhanced understanding will be the result.

Complicating these plans are her large, needy, and completely boundary-less family members, most of whom disapprove of her intention to get the EED (and some of whom disapprove of Trent as well), and her co-worker, C.B. Schwartz, who is amazingly technophobic for a guy who works for a competitor of Apple, and is worried that Briddey's EED will cause UICs (unintended consequences). Despite all their advice, 
Briddey takes the step and makes a connection--but it's with someone else, and it's definitely not what she expected. Willis takes on our over-connected world of TMI (too much information) and multiplies its perils exponentially in this crazy comedy of errors.

This book was so much fun. T
he concept, the characters, the internal dialogue, and the situations were all so clever, and before the (somewhat) anticipated ending, the plot follows several unexpected red herrings to give us a good mystery on top of our science fiction. You can find this book on the adult "new book" shelves for 7-day check-out.

Although teens now have a huge inventory of books written specifically for them from which to choose, for those whose interests are turning to adult reading, a selection of adult science fiction can be an eye-opening and entertaining transition.

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