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And now for something completely different

Regarding science fiction dystopias, has this writer completely missed the boat? You'd tell me if you thought I was being unrealistically harsh, yes? If you scroll down in the comments, you'll see what I had to say.

I hate it when people make sweeping judgments of a genre based on--what is it? four books or series?


( 45 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 13th, 2012 04:25 pm (UTC)
"she is comparing an MG sci-fi to Teen dystopia"

This seems to be a thing lately? Now that YA is popular and making decent money, everyone is writing about it, but not everyone is studying YA per say - and so they compare it to everything else under the sun (mostly stuff they read themselves when they were younger). And pretend that it's all YA. nope.

(and LOL and going straight from A Wrinkle in Time to The Hunger Games. exactly.)

Other things that people tend to do when writing these articles: act as if the classics they are discussing are no longer available or read. You can easily compare dystopian YA (or YA fantasy, etc) from previous decades to more recent titles and discover that they are indeed very different! But this isn't just because trends shift, it's also because A Wrinkle in Time has already been written. And it's still on store and library bookshelves. And it's still being read and taught. We really don't need to authors to write it again and again, decades later.
Nov. 13th, 2012 06:18 pm (UTC)
not everyone is studying YA per say - and so they compare it to everything else under the sun (mostly stuff they read themselves when they were younger).

This is a problem I run into at science fiction conventions, when I'm put on panels about YA science fiction with guys whose names I don't know. They always end up talking about "the classics," i.e. Asimov and the Heinlein juveniles, which they recommend to any teens in the audience. They haven't read anything since, and they don't realize that contemporary, tech-savvy teenagers reject the dated tech in those books. They won't be ready for the classics until they're in college, taking survey courses in sf. I'm the one who comes with lists of books that have been published in the last five years, YA and adult titles that are getting a big YA audience.

If I'm lucky, one of them will mention ENDER'S GAME. And even that is dated in its male centrism and narrowing the entire universe down to a fight between brothers.
Nov. 13th, 2012 08:11 pm (UTC)
That's interesting - and not very surprising, sadly.

I'm considering writing a paper next year (for my MLIS, and to submit to various conferences) about the ways in which YA sff trends are influenced by the fact that the readers of those books are more familiar with MG canon than adult canon. I may come back and ask if I can reference this comment. :)
Nov. 13th, 2012 06:13 pm (UTC)
TEENS are different.

Something I wish I had said, but really, anyone who knows teens knows that. Don't they?
Nov. 13th, 2012 04:06 pm (UTC)
Interesting article, and good comment. I could see where the writer was coming from, but I agree that she's basing sweeping judgments on very few examples, and that was only underscored when I read your post and saw all the books you mentioned. (Of which I have only read about half, so now I have more books on my to-read list!)
Nov. 13th, 2012 06:21 pm (UTC)
Of which I have only read about half,

I haven't updated it since 2010, but here's my recommended sf list if you need still more! ;-)
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 13th, 2012 04:07 pm (UTC)
Was the author of that article seriously trying to argue that Uglies does not have advanced tech? And that Panem's close resemblance to modern society makes it less scary?
Nov. 13th, 2012 06:23 pm (UTC)
Uglies does not have advanced tech? And that Panem's close resemblance to modern society makes it less scary?

Yep. I guess the surgeries and flying skateboards in the former and the weapons and genetically modified animals aren't scary to this writer.
Nov. 13th, 2012 04:19 pm (UTC)
I can't believe she didn't touch on the fact that the Hunger Games were inspired by, and are just a stones throw away from today's "reality tv".

I'm half-waiting for the day that one of the contestants on Survivor flips out and goes cannibal.

Dystopian YA lit is hardly the new phenom she's presenting it as. I remember reading Children of Dust, Z for Zachariah, and if I recall correctly a post-apocalyptic collection edited by Asimov back in the mid-80s.
Nov. 13th, 2012 06:25 pm (UTC)
I'm half-waiting for the day that one of the contestants on Survivor flips out and goes cannibal.

I'm waiting for the day someone kills someone else or gets killed on any one of those extreme shows.

Children of Dust, Z for Zachariah, and if I recall correctly a post-apocalyptic collection edited by Asimov back in the mid-80s.

Which is around the time that John Marsden began the Tomorrow When the War Began series and Gareth Nix wrote SHADE'S CHILDREN, and H.M. Hoover and Monica Hughes were at their height.
Nov. 13th, 2012 10:54 pm (UTC)
Ok, this comment is fascinating, and makes me wonder about generational differences. I see these as representing two distinct eras, but the Tomorrow series was published when I was in my teens.
Nov. 14th, 2012 12:09 am (UTC)
I think the heyday of the YA post-ap/dystopia lit began during the Reagan administration. There was a lot of pop music that dealt with the cold war at the time, and YA fiction picked up on that.

Not that we didn't read stuff like On the Beach in high school English, but that was intended for an adult readership.
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 15th, 2012 05:35 am (UTC)
Wait. There's MORE to John Marsden? Oh God. I can't decide whether to read this. I loved the Tomorrow series, but I also literally had a panic attack whenever I read them when I was home alone as a teen. They were so good. And so unbelievably scary, because they were so real.
Nov. 15th, 2012 08:15 am (UTC)
I tried to reply to this, but it got marked as spam (maybe because I linked to John Marsden's website). I'd recommend his other books, but read the summaries/descriptions on his website first to get an idea of whether you can handle some of the topics - there are some of his books that I won't read because they'd just upset or depress me.
Nov. 13th, 2012 04:22 pm (UTC)
What gets me is the idea that heroes in dystopias are supposed to go it alone when a lot of the reasons our society sucks is because of the idea that we are supposed to go it alone and devil take the hindmost.
Nov. 13th, 2012 09:13 pm (UTC)
This one really bothered me, too. The author seemed to be saying that if you don't do it all yourself, if you need people, then you're not a real hero. Personally, I don't find the loner hero to be all that relatable. It's human to need others. Being motivated and a self-starter is great and all, but asking for help shouldn't disqualify someone from being a hero.
Nov. 13th, 2012 09:40 pm (UTC)
I also find it really odd that anyone would argue that any portion of US media* is not individualistic enough. wha?

*YA =/= US, of course, but much of what the article mentions is from the US
Nov. 14th, 2012 12:51 am (UTC)
I was also really bothered by this. Often the only real way to survive in disasters and crisis situations is to have some sort of community, to have others you can rely on and work with. Being able to network and work with others is not the same thing as coddling and it troubled me to see the two equated.
Nov. 15th, 2012 03:28 pm (UTC)
I agree. In light of some of the current political grandstanding, though, it's unfortunately not surprising.
Nov. 17th, 2012 02:12 pm (UTC)
Yes, exactly. And if, as she argues, the point of YA dystopia is to make the reader question society, isn't the logical extension of that to inspire the reader to change society? And if you want your reader to change society, I think "There are people who agree with you, and you need to reach out and find them" is not a bad take-away message.

Edited at 2012-11-17 02:13 pm (UTC)
Nov. 13th, 2012 04:46 pm (UTC)
Along with what you and everyone else said, what is this ridiculous notion that Meg did it all with only Charles Wallace for help? I just reread A Wrinkle in Time (last week, in fact) and Meg had help from (at various times) Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Which, and Mrs. Who, Calvin, her mother, her father, Aunt Beast &co, the Happy Medium... This is certainly no less of a support system than Katniss had!
(Deleted comment)
Nov. 13th, 2012 05:13 pm (UTC)
This is what jumped right out at me, because she's going on and on about how today's protagonists have these support systems and all Meg had was her 5-year-old brother and that is not the case in any of the books. Also, didn't she mention Narnia at one point? Talk about support systems! Half the world was on their side, not to mention the magical Jesus lion.

And yes, of course, neither Narnia nor the Wrinkle in Time books are YA dystopia, so who knows why they were mentioned at all? The Giver is (though is it YA or MG? it's a difficult distinction) but it's a totally different style from Hunger Games and Uglies. Why compare them in that way? They're all great books.
Nov. 13th, 2012 05:16 pm (UTC)
ok while i have not actually read the hunger games series (actually was planning to do so soon though) i think you have plenty of good points in your response, and well many of the books you reference are ones that i've never read but now WANT to...

Edited at 2012-11-13 05:18 pm (UTC)
Nov. 13th, 2012 05:22 pm (UTC)
Really, any article that starts out with The Important Message All $GENRE is Supposed to Have has lost me.

Dystopian novels are supposed to take place in a dystopian future. Whether that's because blah blah societal discontent blah blah a Meaningful Message for Today's Youth or because you want to write a scene where your heroes climb the Space Needle to escape the government dronebots doesn't make a whole lot of difference.

Except I'm more likely to read the latter, because books that come from messages hit Sturgeon's law *hard*.
Nov. 13th, 2012 06:40 pm (UTC)
I'd also like to add in response to that article that just because romance may play a bigger part in today's teen and YA dystopian fiction doesn't mean it's fluff, or insignificant. To a teen, sometimes romance is everything, regardless of the crazy world around h/her. And it's not always irrelevant. In Hunger Games, the romance is just another way the author is showing us how human relationships can become distorted by external politics. Katniss is never really sure of her own feelings because she isn't allowed to grow up in a world that's safe and sheltered; she isn't allowed to develop in any "normal" romantic sense. She never gets a chance to explore her feelings for Gale because of their different responses to fight-or-flight situations and because being thrust into the public eye and being forced to play a part and a personality also forced her into a relationship she never would have otherwise considered, and whether Gale realizes that or not, his emotions would not necessarily respond in kind. Also, Katniss's reasons for not wanting children have a hell of a lot to do with the political environment. So is that really fluff? Is it really a distraction from the political story? I think not. Romance gets a bad reputation because of strictly romance genres, and also because it has been feminized (to the point where now, people think you're pandering to certain female-oriented gender groups or age groups just because you include a fairly prominent romance in a story). Not to mention the fact that romance has a lot to do with sex, which for most humans, is a basic primal need.

Now, I wouldn't have a problem with romance being left entirely out of the story. Even that has political implications, granted the environment Katniss is growing up in. However, to dismiss the quality of the story simply because romance is sometimes the focal point of the plot is foolish and snobbish.

But hey...I'm now ignoring the whole part where not everything is about Hunger Games. And I realize that. I just wanted to express my annoyance about the author of that article's judgment of the series on the basis of its (somewhat) focus on romance.
Nov. 13th, 2012 09:25 pm (UTC)
All of the above.

I also think that part of what gets the romantic angle of the Hunger Games ratcheted up is to market it to the same audiences that are attracted to Twilight. "Oh hey, this book where a girl can't choose between two guys was wildly lucrative. This book also has a girl with two guys in her life, so let's talk about that a lot to make it sell!" While Katniss' feelings about Peta and Gale are huge elements of the story, it doesn't read anything like most romance stories. It feels more like strategy, as she tries to mug for the cameras while figuring out what she wants out of life, including if she wants a relationship at all, or if she does, with whom.

I also find the idea that a hero can't have a developing romantic life to be outdated. It's like the books are saying that the hero can develop in lots of ways that pertain to public life, but not private life. Being a self-starter, a leader, a fighter, a visionary, etc., are laudable for a hero, even coming to terms with the fact that the old system was evil is part of that. But personal life and emotional and sexual relationships need to take place off the clock and out of the story. It's like saying that if you want to have a family then you keep it outside the workplace. Before the industrial revolution, when most production and sale took place in ones home, the two were integrated. The industrial revolution took it outside of the home and now technology is putting it back in and we're all trying to figure out what the new balance is.
Nov. 15th, 2012 12:55 am (UTC)
I really like how you expressed this, especially the second paragraph.
Nov. 13th, 2012 07:44 pm (UTC)
Ugh, yes. The beauty of writing is that it doesn't have to fit any one cookie cutter. Or dough. Or jar of sprinkles. Or some other comparison that is going to make me hungry for cookies.

That said, I'll admit that I was guilty of doing this to the romance genre. In my defense, I was thirteen and hadn't, well... Hadn't developed enough to understand the POINT of romance novels. I spent the entire time wanting to slap all the characters, since I didn't get the lovey dovey stuff.
Nov. 13th, 2012 09:34 pm (UTC)
I don't think you were too harsh at all. To me, the writer seemed to be conflating "I don't like recent YA" with "Current YA is not the same as older YA" and coming out with "Current YA is bad because it's not like the older stuff I liked."

One of the things that really got my goat about the article was the idea that it's the technology itself that needs to be scary, and it's only scary if it isn't like the stuff we have now. Maybe that statement bothers me because I work in tech, but I find current tech and the possibility for misuse to be plenty scary. It misses the point that it's not the technological capability itself that leads to dystopian situations, but the actions of those who are using it.
Nov. 17th, 2012 02:20 pm (UTC)
Yes, I was discussing this with a friend. If I think over classic dystopia (which is what the friend and I have both read, so it's what we were talking about), things like 1984 and Zamiatin's We are technologically pretty dated; in fact I think the un-imaginifier at the end of We is the only tech that doesn't exist in today's world. And, yes, the un-imaginifier is freakin' scary. But not so much of what it is as the idea that someone invented it because they thought it was a good idea, and that they're using it.

Jo Walton's Small Change is another dystopia where the tech isn't futuristic -- where it was written so far after the setting that the tech was never futuristic -- but is still absolutely terrifying. Tech is often cool. It's sometimes scary. But I'm much more likely to be scared of the people, and the ways they use the tech, and the social interactions in the story.
Nov. 13th, 2012 10:16 pm (UTC)
Today's teens are being coddled, and so are their literary counterparts.

The above line took me from raised-brow sceptical to outright incredulous. Today's teens have their aspirations overshadowed by economic crisis. In what way does that translate to 'coddled'? I've recently finished an eight-week placement working at a local job centre where I've seen teenagers in tears because they're estranged from their parents and can't get any benefit due to technicalities; because school promised that a degree would open so many doors and in fact it's merely made them unemployable to some camps because they're overqualified and to others because they've no experience; because a parent has been denied sickness pay and had to send their kid in to try and fight their side because they're too ill to do so themselves... Nevermind all the children, teens and young adults who're feeling the weight of the situation through the sheer stress evident in their parents.

The writer isn't simply out of touch with what YA sci-fi is, as the previous commenters have explained so well, but bloody reality too.
Nov. 13th, 2012 11:27 pm (UTC)
If anyone has the article cached, I'm being informed it's gone; I'd love someone to post Tammy's response, I feel I may have missed the boat.
Nov. 14th, 2012 12:14 am (UTC)
I can still view the article!

....Maybe try again?
Nov. 14th, 2012 12:41 am (UTC)
Must be my work access! We have super weird website blocking here.
Nov. 14th, 2012 02:50 am (UTC)
Totally agree with people commenting about a hero finding supporters not being the same thing as coddling. It's a heck of a lot more realistic that a group of people can have an effect on society, than any one person.

Also knocking on Katniss for not actually being single-handedly responsible for the revolution? Seriously? Revolutions don't happen because one person sees a problem. They happen because enough people are already on board for change. Katniss happened to be in the right place at the right time.
Franki פרוּמָא Katz
Nov. 14th, 2012 08:07 pm (UTC)
Yes, this! Because not only can you get so much more done as a hero that works with a group, but it's also often more effective and more useful. Of course this can be argued depending on the group of people involved.

Personally I have a preference for 'realistic' fantasy which manages to reflect, comment on, and be relatable to life, and one major challenge in real life is working in a group. It is something we are continually learning to do throughout our whole lives. Even when your group is on 'the same side' as you that doesn't decrease its complexity or the challenges associated with the group. A solitary hero doesn't have to deal with all of that, and exists OUTSIDE of society - which of course has its own challenges, but these are more the challenges of the outsider and thus exist on a rather different level. Meanwhile, the challenges of the group member are equally if not more fascinating and are so much more relatable. As a result they are perhaps, depending on one's opinion on these things, more meaningful. Humans are, after all, a social species.
Nov. 14th, 2012 09:01 am (UTC)
and then talking about ender's game and wishing for "individual heroes"? oh please. I actually READ that book.
Ender himself is as effective as he is because he can easily judge other people's strengths and therefor he can coordinate his troops. that's clear from his very first day in that training centre. he may be the mastermind, but he doesn't fight alone.
and his siblings actually pave the way for change at home by manipulating the masses. the interaction they have with other people through thrie opinion-personas isn't shown, but it's integral.

The lonesome hero is just plain unrealistic, and readers as well as writers recognise this. You won't win a battle against a system by being a lonesome hero. You'll be just lonesome. Probably a lonesome idiot everybody's laughing at.

To me, the whole article smells of someone who doesn't understand character-driven storylines. Focus on technology? oh please. that' gimmicks, nobody actually needs that to have a realy scary setting. Setting and outer action is what defines a purely story-driven story, while many a modern book is far more character-driven, which of course means that the way the main character interacts takes up more space in the book. he needs social interaction for the story to work. becuase he's not the pawn that moves through the storyline, pushing the right buttons on the machines to make the plot turn. the main character of a character-driven story IS the plot - his evolving into a wiser, often more grown-up person.

Nov. 15th, 2012 10:01 pm (UTC)
I thought your response wasn't nearly harsh enough. Nothing makes me roll my eyes harder than the hundred billionth variation on "Kids These Days Aren't As Cool As I Was". That crap was wrong, pointless, and overdone when Socrates was whining about it and it's wrong, pointless, and overdone now.
Nov. 16th, 2012 01:27 pm (UTC)

Would tell you in a heartbeat - Im that opinionated lol.

but no - not harsh. I think you worded that VERY Well and probably gave them something to think about. Gave me a few books to check out at the same time :) and yayay - love Hunger Games. Read them on your suggestion and love them. love the movie :)

so yes - generalisations bad. Know it, don't blow it hehe :)
Nov. 18th, 2012 02:41 am (UTC)
I can see where she's coming from and I appreciate an article being written by someone who actually admits to liking and reading YA, but the comparisons are flawed by limitations. The part about the proliferation of romance, for instance, could have been a very good point--but using The Hunger Games wasn't, since the romance was actually a useful and integral part of the story, with the faked relationship for better PR.
Matched, Delirium, Shatter Me, XVI, or any number of other titles would have been better to focus on because romance is either shoehorned into the plot making it more of a romance using the cover of dystopia, or because the dystopian society is actively involved in the regulation or relationships.

But then, that's fine, except it goes against her pillar of dystopian fiction: "to caution against current societal practices that could lead to such a society's existence." I might not prefer them, but some people just want to read romance. And some people will find it more interesting to read romance in a futuristic, repressive setting. That's not to say people can't dislike those books, but to assume that sci-fi or dystopian fiction can only be written with one purpose in mind is just silly.
Jayne Koath
Dec. 1st, 2012 12:50 am (UTC)
deliberate misunderstandings by certain authors on certain subjects....
Ooooooooh my God. I had to force myself to finish that article! You absolutely said it Tammy, thank you for highlighting what science fiction,(for any age group), actually is beyond all the dark shiny book covers. I absolutely agree with you, and no I don't think that your comment is unrealistically harsh, in fact is was quite genial. By the way, has the author even read the Hunger Games? Did s/he perhaps miss the part where, you know, an autocratic government sacrifices dozens on children for sport every year? And makes their families watch? I can't think so little of young readers as to think that any 11 year old reader wasn't affected by that.
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