Like many people destined to become science fiction and fantasy fans, I discovered the genre at the age of twelve. The termite-gnawed shelves of an Indian library, a pack of bullies who chased me to and from school every day, and a family friend who later eloped with my father all had roles in the matter. But my age may have played the most important part of all.
The years between eleven and eighteen are crucial ones for making fans. People who pass their teens without getting addicted to SF rarely acquire a taste for it later on. But while younger children automatically encounter fairy tales, fables, and surreal classics like Alice in Wonderland via school assignments and parents who read aloud, teenagers find their own books; and even the brightest teen is likely to be put off if the first novel they tackle after Harry Potter is by Greg Egan or Gene Wolfe. While the latter two are admirable writers, their books not only involve exceptional levels of narrative complexity, they deal with specifically adult issues unlikely to be appreciated by a teenager.
The bridge between the lands of children's and adult literature is that of YA: young adult. But while there's a sharp separation between realistic YA novels and realistic adult novels -- no one has ever mistaken The Black Stallion for The Horse Whisperer -- the country between YA SF and adult SF has disputed borders.
This is partly a matter of marketing, as a number of SF novels have both adult and YA editions. But there are deeper reasons for the fuzzy border, which explain the marketing confusion as well.
YA novels may be as thematically or morally subtle as adult novels, and may have intricate plots and richly detailed settings. The best of them are as well-written as the better adult novels in any genre. But the favored prose quality for YA is clarity. That same clarity, in which individual sentences may be elegantly structured, but are never so complex or quirkily fashioned as to call attention to themselves and so pull the reader from the story, is also highly valued in the world of adult SF.
Likewise, experimental or highly difficult prose is virtually unknown in YA novels. . . and it's also far less common in adult SF than in adult mainstream literature. Even Gene Wolfe's prose is fairly straightforward on a sentence-by-sentence level; his novels are difficult because of their narrative complexity and the extent to which the reader must probe the subtext to make sense of the plot. So one similarity between YA novels and adult SF and fantasy is stylistic: both commonly aspire toward a transparent prose style that is unnoticeable yet well-wrought.
But this similar goal is often better-achieved in YA. Contrary to popular belief, the prose quality of the average YA novel is generally higher than that of the average SF novel. The lowest common denominator of YA fiction, represented by cranked-out series like K. A. Applegate's Animorphs or Francine Pascal's Fearless, can be dreadful. But on a sentence-to-sentence basis, they're not half as badly written as comparable adult fantasy like R. A. Salvatore's series starring Drizz't Do'Urden the Dark Elf or Piers Anthony's lecherous Xanth novels, of which The Color of Her Panties serves as both representative title and warning.
The popular mainstream of YA fiction is often also better written than the popular mainstream of adult SF and fantasy: Lois McMaster Bujold and Barbara Hambly are splendid storytellers, but their prose can't match Jane Yolen's mountain-stream clarity, Margaret Mahy's startling metaphors, or Robin McKinley's evocative detailing of place and emotion. And Mahy, Yolen, and McKinley are not outré cult writers, but the popular favorites of both critics and teenagers.
Adult SF and fantasy also have master stylists, but few achieve mass popularity. In YA, the best-selling and beloved writers are very commonly the best prose stylists as well. This conjunction is not unknown in adult SF, but it's far less common. Randomly opening a novel from the adult fantasy best-seller's list is more likely to turn up a sentence like this, from Stephen Donaldson's Lord Foul's Bane:
"He was a leper; he could not afford suppositions."
Although the execution may vary, the ideals of YA prose and adult SF prose are far more similar to each other than to those of realistic adult literature, and that comprises a large part of the interplay between the former two genres.
But more importantly, YA novels are about issues that concern teenagers: leaving home and exploring strange new environments, acquiring knowledge and skills, discovering sex and falling in love, finding one's place in the world, trying to change the world, and recognizing one's true identity. Or, in other words, growing up.
Adult SF and fantasy address those issues to a far greater extent than adult mainstream literature does. Not only that, but the protagonists of SF and fantasy, especially epic fantasy, are often young: teenagers or people in their early twenties. So the divide between adult and YA SF is not always an easy or obvious one, and is best determined by a close look at individual books.
My own first exposure to that border was also my entrance into fandom: the book was Andre Norton's The Stars Are Ours!, a novel and author who have captured more than a few new SF readers, and I came across it in a library, that birthplace of fandom.
An adult friend had recommended it, sending me on a trek from my usual confines of the children's section to that of adults, a realm so vast that it had to be divided by genre. The object of my quest was a yellowing paperback in the science fiction section. On the cover, a voluptuous redhead clad in a towel sat in a metal capsule and languorously accepted a drink from a gray-haired male doctor. I was dubious, especially since I'd have to hide the book and its sexy cover from my mom, lest she decide it was one of Those Books and confiscate it.
I opened it and read, "The ship had planted in the middle of an expanse of gray-blue gravel or sand -- backed at a distance by perpendicular cliffs of reddish rock layered by strata of blue, yellow and white. As the scene changed, those in the control room saw the cliffs give way to the mouth of a long valley down the center of which curved a stream.
'That water's red!' Dard's surprise jolted the words out of him."
Blue sand! Red water! Pulpy prose and all, I was hooked.
But the resemblance to the ordinary making of a fan ends there, for the library I read it in was a small, dusty, neglected room in the small, dusty, neglected town of Ahmednagar, India. My Californian parents had moved across the world in search of enlightenment when I was seven. I was the only foreign child in the town, and probably the only one within a hundred mile radius. The local kids, with that instinctive hatred of the Other that cuts across all cultural and geographical boundaries, treated me as one would expect.
I was an alien. An explorer crash-landed on a hostile planet. A stranger in a strange land. And I wanted to read about people like me.
The Stars Are Ours! showcases Andre Norton's trademarks: a young misfit protagonist; a breathless round of fights, escapes, and last-minute rescues; intriguing descriptions of strange landscapes; friendly and unfriendly aliens and alien animals; and an assurance that no matter how different you feel, you will eventually find friends and a community to value you for what you already are.
Norton's prose is serviceable at best, and often clumsy and melodramatic. Any poetry lies in the images, not in the words themselves. But her themes spoke to me, that adolescent alien, and to other misfit teenagers whose alienation, while perhaps not as dramatic as mine, was equally painful.
Many fans got hooked on SF by reading a book by Andre Norton, a fact which is only partly explained by her popularity. I've met lots of people who read a Heinlein or Clarke or Asimov novel or two when they were young, but never read more in the genre; but I haven't met a single non-fan who remembers reading one by Norton. While Norton's books were less widely read in the first place, it's also possible that the teenagers who found her novels tended to come back for more. Norton's novels may appeal even more strongly to adolescents than Heinlein's juveniles.
Heinlein's young heroes start out naïve, but they quickly evolve into supercompetents who scorn ignorant wusses who don't know how to use a slide rule or gut a fish. Norton's heroes spend less time reveling in their abilities and more time struggling to keep their heads above water. If they have psychic or other special talents, they don't know how to use them. As often, they're ordinary space brats, orphans, or refugees who do the best they can and, by the end of the book, find that it was good enough. We may wish to be like Heinlein's protagonists; but most of us, especially when we were teenagers, are more like Norton's.
The Stars Are Ours! doesn't just happen to resonate with teenagers; it was probably written for them. The first hardcover edition was marketed as a juvenile, but the paperback that I read was aimed at the adult SF audience. I had fortuitously found a YA novel, clearly written and with themes that went straight to my heart, in a location that was my first entrance into a strange and marvelous new realm. Although the friend who'd recommended it ran off with my father the next year, I still give her a fantasy novel every Christmas.
The Stars Are Ours! was my first exposure to the concept of genre. Children's and YA novels are shelved together regardless of subject matter, Dinky Hocker Shoots Smack beside Little House on the Prairie beside So You Want To Be A Wizard?. The Norton experience, which was followed quickly by the discovery of Anne McCaffrey's Dragonsong, taught me that if I wanted to read about wizards and robots, I could go to a section of the bookshop where, for shelves and shelves, any book I laid my hand on would contain magic or spaceships, and sometimes both. And so a fan was born.
YA literature is not merely a lure into adult literature, but a complex and rewarding genre in its own right. But it's the interplay between the genres that offers the pleasures of taxonomy. The borderline between adult and YA is real but can be ambiguous. I'll take a look at four books on either side of that great divide in order to examine the qualities that place a book firmly to one side, and those that make certain novels dance around the boundaries.
On the YA shelves:
"[Aeriel] gazed longingly at her well-born mistress' hair, black as the heavens, with a blue sheen by earthlight. Eoduin's skin, pale and blue as breastmilk, had a subtle radiance that gleamed even in shadow."
Meredith Ann Pierce's The Darkangel is suffused with such sensual images. It's a fairy tale of sexual awakening set on a terraformed Moon, about a girl who falls in love with the eponymous darkangel. Though it contains no actual sex, my mother would have certainly concluded that it was one of Those Books, far too adult for me, and snatched it from my impressionable hands. In fact, it's the apotheosis of teen girl fantasy novels.
The threads the book was spun from came from a young woman's heart, filled with dreams of love and terror, fiery passion and ethereal beauty, steely mentors to learn from and best friends to rescue and fabulous beasts to ride. Many writers have made ham-fisted, sentimental attempts at capturing that quintessentially teenage state of mind, which only make the reader despise them and their simpering protagonists. Others have brought the underlying sexuality to the foreground, and written books that really are for adults. But with a delicate touch, Pierce strips away the sap and the silliness, leaving only the narrow vein of gold.
There are echoes of Patricia McKillip in the exquisite prose; of a thousand gothic novels in the plot; and of Angela Carter in the delicious horror of loving a fallen angel. But the strangeness and intensity of the novel is Pierce's alone, and so is the seamless interweaving of a science fiction background, fairy tale characters, and dreamlike magic.
The teenage slave Aeriel accompanies her friend and mistress Eoduin to pluck flowers filled with burning hot nectar. But Eoduin is carried away by a darkangel; a man with wings; a vampyre. He means to marry her by force and drink her soul in a vain attempt to fill his emptiness. But Aeriel follows him to his castle, hoping to rescue Eoduin. He takes Aeriel as a servant and commands her to weave robes for the wraiths that his twelve wives have become. She uses a magic spindle which spins thread from her heart: strands of loathing, pity, and finally love.
The resolution of the one-sided love story between the girl and the vampyre turns upon a startling sacrifice by Aeriel, one that could happen only in the realm of metaphor made real. Many a young woman has offered her heart to a handsome but uncaring man, in the hope that her love would change him; Aeriel cuts out her heart and places it in the vampyre's chest, making him human again.
Those flowers filled with a nectar sweeter than honey, stronger than wine, and hotter than a smoldering coal might represent sexual passion, Aeriel's love for the darkangel, or the psyche of a teenage girl, but they work equally well as a metaphor for the entire novel.
To be a teenager is to think in such flamboyant metaphors. To be a teenager is a matter of extremes: it's to experience the darkest despair, the purest love, and the deepest thoughts in the world, and quite possibly all in one hour.
It's these extremes that The Darkangel deals with so well. It's a teenager's psyche externalized and made real. By placing Aeriel in a fantasy context, in which the man she loves literally has a heart of stone, and in which her feelings are so powerful that they're literally tangible, Pierce gives these teenage passions a dignity which they are denied in the real world. It's that which makes this a perfect YA novel, and one which could only be written as fantasy.
"My name is Jamie Hamilton and I was a perfectly ordinary boy once. I am still, in a way. I look about thirteen. But you wouldn't believe how old I am."
In Diana Wynne Jones' The Homeward Bounders, Jamie and Helen are teenagers who run afoul of Them, the secret masters of the multiverse. As one might expect, They are cold-hearted bastards who are literally playing dice with the universe. Jamie and Helen are forced to travel through many worlds, always searching for their own but never to find it. Unless two bickering teenagers from two different worlds can defeat Them.
Jones is known for a madly playful imagination and laugh-out-loud comedy, and both are prominent here. She's also known for penetrating and witty insight into teenage minds, and that's on display as well. What better metaphor for being a teenager could there be than to be flung willy-nilly from world to world, forever a stranger and a refugee, and to know the secret of the universe but keep it to yourself for fear of mockery?
Still, even the most painful teenage years come to an end. Jamie and Helen seem likely to end up together once they save the world and get back home. It's uncertain whether they will marry or just become friends for life, but it seems certain that they'll learn some lessons, dispose of Them, find their homes, stay close, and settle down to the grown-up business of jobs and relationships. That's the YA story, after all: coming of age. Growing up.
But that isn't what happens.
Tragedy is no stranger to the YA shelves. It fills entire YA sub-genres: adventures with much-loved pets destined for gruesome deaths; romances with much-loved dying teenagers; dramas about the death of a much-loved relative. (The latter tend to win awards, especially the Newbery.)
SF is usually a more optimistic genre, but one type of bittersweet ending is relatively common, especially in fantasy. It's the ending of The Lord of the Rings, in which good has triumphed and the war is won, and yet the elves are sailing over sea and Frodo must go with them. The price of his victory is that he cannot live in the land that he saved.
If stories for teenagers often involve learning to let go of dying loved ones in order to go on living oneself, stories for adults often involve learning to accept one's own mortality. In The Homeward Bounders, Jones reverses both those endings to show that however painful they may be, the alternative is worse. In order to prevent Them from taking over again after They've been defeated and scattered, Jamie, who has spent the entire book trying to get back home, must spend the rest of his life moving from world to world. Like a traveler at light speed, he will age very slowly compared to the worlds he visits. When Helen dies of old age, Jamie will still be thirteen.
While Jones seems to have written one of the very few YA novels that isn't about growing up, she's actually played the sly trick of writing about growing up by writing about not growing up. Like the mysterious chained man he meets, Jamie sacrifices himself for the good of the worlds. It's the right decision, and it's an adult one.
Many YA novels include moral lessons, from the well-meaning but shallow pronouncement of Go Ask Alice (Don't do drugs) to the more profound questions concerning warfare and the use of violence raised by John Marsden's Tomorrow, When the War Began. The lesson of The Homeward Bounders is both a harsh and an inspiring one: you must do what is right, even if it requires an unbearable sacrifice; but if it does, you will find the strength to make it.
Diana Wynne Jones doesn't write down to teenagers or assume that they aren't tough enough to face hard truths, nor does she slight their potential for heroism. None of us will face Jamie's fate, but we will all have to make serious choices at some point or another. Jones does teenagers the courtesy of trusting their capacity to make momentous decisions wisely; and people have a way of living up to expectations. The Homeward Bounders is funny and lively and contains not one word of preachiness, but it's that rare moral tale that might actually change lives.
On the adult shelves:
"Sometimes [Brionne] dreamed that the ships from the stars would come back, that they'd look all over Tarmin village, and take just her, because she was special, and the star-folk would see it.
She talked to the little, harmless creatures that came at forest edge, a small wickedness, by what the preachers said, but she'd learned she could hear them. She could hear them, and her two older brothers couldn't -- it was her special gift, and she kept it secret. She tamed them to her hand. She had names for them all and fed them with scraps, and they fought with the cat, dreadful squalling at night, but the cat always won."
C. J. Cherryh's Rider at the Gate and its sequel Cloud's Rider are a thorough skewering of that popular adolescent fantasy, the telepathic partnering with an intelligent animal. In the person of Brionne, the blacksmith's beautiful daughter, Cherryh deconstructs another favorite adolescent fantasy that's often combined with the first one, that of having your unique gifts discovered by an elite group who will take you away from your stifling life in your small-minded town with your family that doesn't understand you, dress you in cool new clothes, and make you Truly Special.
Anne McCaffrey's early Pern novels and a number of books by Andre Norton are examples of that story told well; Anne McCaffrey's late Pern novels and a number of books by Mercedes Lackey are examples of that story told badly. In The Blue Sword, Robin McKinley brings an exceptional level of realism, characterization, and prose to the concept.
But Cherryh's novel is the only work I've come across that examines the underlying selfishness of its appeal: the assumption that family exists to be abandoned, that being a sensitive teenager is proof of being gifted, that the lives of those misunderstood elites are more valuable than those of their mundane neighbors, and that personal dreams should always be fulfilled regardless of their suitability for oneself or consequences to others.
The Rider books are set in a strikingly eerie milieu, a planet on which the animal life is telepathic. Their sendings drive humans insane and make them easy prey for the multitude of creatures with jaws that bite and claws that catch. So people have evolved a partnership with native "horses." The horses and their Riders, who pair up at adolescence, protect the rest of the humans.
But when Brionne ignores everyone's advice and goes out to bond with the horse she knows she deserves, the outcome is the stuff that nightmares are made of. For the horse she finds was driven mad by the death of its former Rider, and Brionne is a budding sociopath. They open the gates. Predators devour everyone in the town while Brionne rides through the streets, calling for her family to come out and see what she's become.
Rider at the Gate is a deeply disturbing novel, and a somewhat difficult one. Cherryh's prose, with its jarring, staccato rhythms and peculiar syntax, can be as confusing as the setting, in which the telepathic ambient melds with hallucinations projected by hostile and alien creatures. It takes a certain amount of reading and interpretive skill just to follow the plot. On that level, the book probably is better suited to adult readers.
And it may be that teenagers wouldn't appreciate a book in which their fondest private dreams are dragged through the mud. But while Cherryh makes a convincing case that some teenagers are misfits because they're psychopaths and that having one's mind linked to a carnivorous animal wouldn't be as idyllic as one might imagine, she doesn't entirely stomp on the "adorable telepathic horsie" daydream. While the literal and metaphoric chill never leaves the air, the second book features genuinely joyous horse-and-Rider bonding scenes. Brionne is not the only teenage character, and there are others whose idealism and enthusiasm are portrayed sympathetically.
The issues in Cherryh's Rider books are youthful ones, but perhaps ones which concern people in early adulthood more than they do teenagers: weighing a free life of solitude against being part of a community, personal fulfillment against obligations to others, and being saddled with adult responsibilities when you're still trying to grow up yourself. But it's a close call, and I wouldn't be surprised if these books get reprinted under the YA banner some day.
"'Who dares ask questions of the dark? Who'll ask the dark its name?'
The old woman was rocking, chanting, lost in her incantation; but Tenar sat upright, and split a reed down the center with her thumbnail.
'I will,' she said.
She split another reed.
'I lived long enough in the dark,' she said."
Ursula K. Le Guin's Tehanu is an odd duck. It's a sequel to a trilogy, raising the issue of what that makes Tehanu, and of whether its existence turns the trilogy into a quatrology. The Farthest Shore, which is the third book and to all appearances the final one, was written in 1973, the year I was born. Tehanu came out in 1990, seventeen years later. My copy is headlined "The Last Book of Earthsea" and "The magnificent conclusion to the Earthsea cycle." Those claims also turned out to be premature.
The original trilogy was a work of revisionist fantasy when it was written, though with the passage of time some of its then-radical ideas have become the unquestioned assumptions of current fantasy authors. Tehanu is also revisionist fantasy, but what it revises is the original trilogy. It's overtly political, specifically feminist, and a harsh examination of the unquestioned assumptions and implications of the first three.
A Wizard of Earthsea was one of the first fantasy novels to feature a young wizard or a formal wizardry school; most wizards before Le Guin sprang forth already elderly, robed and bearded in gray. The villain in Wizard is not a Dark Lord, but a wayward piece of the protagonist's psyche; the happy ending lies not in defeating that darkness in battle, but in understanding it, literally embracing it, and accepting it as a necessary part of a complete person. That Taoist and psychological conception of evil is not often used by fantasy writers, but Le Guin's related idea that wizardry disturbs the balance of the universe and should be used only at great need has entered the popular discourse.
The first trilogy has straightforward elements that mark it as YA: all three protagonists are teenagers who come of age by the end of the book. More subtly, the responsibility of power is a paradoxical concern for adolescents: modern teenagers have no power, unless they break loose from civilized society and take up the power of violence. Their lives are regimented, their homes and schools are inescapable and not of their own choosing, and their privacy is a privilege granted to them by others who can withhold it at a whim.
Power thus becomes an obsession for many teenagers, like food for a starving person; and the dismissive phrase and actual genre of "adolescent power fantasy," which encompasses both gloating tales of teenagers getting everything they want, and serious examinations of the consequences and responsibilities of being young and powerful, has rarely been more thoughtfully handled than in Le Guin's first trilogy. But Tehanu is about the other side: the lack of power, not as a temporary state that vanishes once one has lived long enough, but the permanent helplessness of being a disabled, oppressed, or otherwise marginalized adult.
I hated Tehanu when I first read it at the age of seventeen. I hated it as much as I loved the first three books, and that's a lot of hate. I hated that Tenar, the heroine of the second book, had turned her back on magic and power to become (ick) a housewife; I hated that Ged, who had lost his magic at the end of the third, had not settled into a peaceful life of contemplation, but was bitter and depressed; I hated that the mages of Roke were revealed as a bunch of narrow-minded sexist pigs; and I really hated that, after Le Guin spent the entire book writing about powerless people in an unjust world who find realistic ways to work change and do good, the scarred and abused child turns out to be a dragon who calls on her dragon buddy to save Ged and Tenar from poorly characterized baddies.
On some masochistic impulse, I reread it when I was twenty-five. To my amazement, I loved it. I still hated the ending; not the moving simplicity of the last page, but the thematically inconsistent dragon ex machina that precedes it. And I still prefer to believe that Tehanu is an alternate-universe story, and there's another Earthsea in which Roke was simply experiencing an unusual dearth of female mages when Ged was there, and where Ogion taught Tenar magic and she stayed single until Ged returned to Gont, and in which dragons remained unknowable.
But the book struck a chord with my adult self that it hadn't when I was a teenager. It wasn't that it was too dark for me to take when I was younger, or even that it was too much of a shock. Tehanu is simply an adult novel about adult matters, and its virtues are ones that are difficult to appreciate until you've had a certain amount of life experience. To be young is to have life ahead of you, full of possibilities. Youth is about doing and achieving and exploring, and however much lip service the first trilogy paid to simply being, the action of the books was action.
Tehanu is about day to day life, doing chores, accepting the consequences of past decisions, accepting one's lack of power, accepting that one has a circumscribed future and glorying in the small victories one can still achieve. Much of the action revolves around caring for children, the sick, and the dying. In the modern urban world, which most fantasy writers come from even if they don't write about it, that's an adult's job. Caring for animals, a major focus of many YA novels, is the equivalent child's or teenager's job.
A Wizard of Earthsea is about discovering and accepting oneself; The Tombs of Atuan is about sex; and The Farthest Shore is about death, but death seen from the outside as a young person sees it. Tehanu is about old age. The protagonists are middle-aged, but their concerns are even older. Tenar's children are long since grown and gone; Ged's career as Archmage was long and satisfying but has irretrievably ended; neither of them are as strong physically as they once were; both of them have retired from the public eye; and they go about their daily routines with the knowledge that they have already lived most of their lives, and death is never far away.
At twenty-five, I was just barely old enough to appreciate the novel as a glimpse into that distant world of age. At seventeen, the whole concept was loathsome. If I read it again as an old woman, as I hope I'll live long enough to do, perhaps even the ending will make sense.
Now that we've journeyed to the inner reaches of YA fantasy, passed its borders, and visited the land of adult fantasy, it's time to look into the crystal ball and try to catch a glimpse of the future of YA SF.
Books in the YA section should, of course, appeal to teenagers, if we want SF to gain new readers and so survive as a genre after those of us reading this now have gone on to that great convention in the sky, the one where all the guests are entertaining, all the questions from the audience are intelligent, and none of the interesting panels are scheduled against each other. Given this, two publishers have simultaneously launched YA SF imprints, both of which are primarily reprints, often of novels originally published for adults.
Tor's Starscape novels are split between undeservedly little-known gems like Will Shetterly's Dogland and Jane Yolen's Briar Rose, and adult best-sellers like Ender's Game and Robert Jordan's first Wheel of Time novel. The latter reprint has been divided into two volumes, presumably to be less intimidating to the youngsters. (That seems unnecessary given the length of the latest Harry Potter volume, which a harried father of my acquaintance dubbed Harry Potter and the Brick of Death.) Few of the Starscape titles were originally published for teenagers.
Penguin Putnam's Firebird series is reprinting more novels originally published as YA, like Nancy Farmer's African SF novel The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm and Lloyd Alexander's masterpiece The Kestrel. The latter draws on Alexander's experiences in WWII, and is one of the best war novels I've read in any genre or publishing niche.
Both lines take some chances -- such as Starscape's selection of the leisurely and ultra-subtle Dogland and Howard Pyle's old-fashioned classic The Garden Behind the Moon, and Firebird's of the wrenching The Kestrel and gloomy I Am Mordred -- but hedge their bets with proven bestsellers. Both lines are attractively packaged and intelligently chosen. I can't predict whether they'll succeed in hooking new readers, or whether the new faces of SF will be children who proceed from J. K. Rowling to Diana Wynne Jones. Or perhaps the future of SF lies where it always has, far from careful analysis of what teenagers are or aren't interested in:
Somewhere, some twelve-year-old is wandering over to a part of the library they've never ventured into before. They're going to pick up some book, and read a paragraph that, years later, they'll notice was badly written or clichéd, or that, years later, will be every bit as good as they remembered. But in that paragraph will be some image or situation or turn of phrase unlike anything they've ever encountered before. Something weird. Something different. Something that resonates with their teenage hearts.
They'll be hooked.
Rachel Manija Brown has been a development executive at the Jim Henson Company, a staff writer on Fox Family's horror-comedy "The Fearing Mind," and a disaster relief worker for the Red Cross. She has an MFA in playwriting from UCLA, and had a play produced off-Broadway before she was old enough to drink. She lives in Los Angeles, where she studies Shotokan karate and works on her first novel, a fantasy set in 1850s India which combines her favorite bits of weird history, like the practice of using monitor lizards as live grappling hooks for sneak night attacks on forts, with Indian mythology. She is collecting self-defense success stories, especially from women; if you have one or know anyone who does, please contact her.