Thursday, December 8, 2011

What if, what if, what if..? And why not?

Guest post by Hayden Thorne

The following is an old article on genre YA fiction, and while it focuses largely on Sci-Fi (the online publication specializes in Sci-Fi, after all), it still takes on the young adult market along more general lines. What I really dig is the fact that Cory Doctorow discusses the value of genre fiction as a means through which young readers can explore their identities.

Genre YA fiction has an army of promoters outside of the field: teachers, librarians, and specialist booksellers are keenly aware of the difference the right book can make to the right kid at the right time, and they spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to convince kids to try out a book. Kids are naturals for this, since they really use books as markers of their social identity, so that good books sweep through their social circles like chickenpox epidemics, infecting their language and outlook on life. That's one of the most wonderful things about writing for younger audiences รณ it matters. We all read for entertainment, no matter how old we are, but kids also read to find out how the world works. They pay keen attention, they argue back. There's a consequentiality to writing for young people that makes it immensely satisfying. Read more

My favorite passage goes over the marginalized status (how very high school!) of Young Adult fiction in the mainstream. I've experienced it, myself - the dismissive way with which YA is often treated. Too easy to write for kids, unlike adults. Too simplistic. Too whatever. At the other end of the spectrum, we've got the Morality Police eyeing our every move. Frankly, I find that rather fun.

The lack of regard for YA fiction in the mainstream isn't an altogether bad thing. There's something to be said for living in a disreputable, ghettoized bohemia (something that old-time SF and comics fans have a keen appreciation for). There's a lot of room for artistic, political and commercial expectation over here in low-stakes land, the same way that there was so much room for experimentation in other ghettos, from hip-hop to roleplaying games to dime-novels. Sure, we're vulnerable to moral panics about corrupting youth (a phenomenon as old as Socrates, and a charge that has been leveled at everything from the waltz to the jukebox), but if you're upsetting that kind of person, you're probably doing something right.

If big, mainstream publishers of GLBT young adult fiction would recognize this - the fact that an LGBT kid's experiences or identity-shaping can go well beyond modern high school borders - then we'll see this minority group better represented in genres outside contemporary realistic fiction. Homophobia, bullying, rejection, first love, first sexual experiences, peer acceptance, etc. - these can be just as easily and effectively explored in a fantasy world or a space colony or a pirate ship or Bath in Georgian England.

Adjust the rules and the parameters accordingly as dictated by each specific genre, of course. A gay teen in Victorian England will have less freedom than, say, a gay teen in the Kingdom of Ballantyria (unless the fantasy writer decides to make Ballantyria a police state of some kind, but by and large, he's still got much more elbow room to dictate rules compared to us historical fiction writers, who have to adhere to facts). But in the end, the reading experience can be just as amazing and rewarding as finding oneself in a lonely teenager's high school ordeals.

And this is where my writing philosophy comes in.

What if..? That's always been sort of my motto when it comes to brainstorming my next story. And what follows immediately after is "Why not?" Gay kids in space, battling monstrous aliens? Sweet! Or a warlock's young gay apprentice? Or the gay teenage son of a family of super spies? You know, that sort of thing. :)

Those of you who've known me from ye olde anime fandom days will enjoy a chuckle at my expense when I say that I have a thing for boarding school stories. I do. I love them, and like many of the manga titles out there, the more fantastic and surreal, the better. I've blogged about the following two anime series before as my biggest sources of inspiration from Japan (so far), and it's worth going over them again here.

Revolutionary Girl Utena is a series that I really, really dig (though I've only seen the "Student Council Saga" arc and am lagging pretty badly in following through with the rest). You can read up on the complex and bizarre plot here. Boarding schools are great settings for fantasy, and I'm not talking about vampires. I went to a private girls' school from kindergarten to high school, and I know the potential beyond same-sex romance or romantic friendships. Okay, so it wasn't a boarding school experience, but that's enough for me to see certain dynamics at work and to remember a number of situations that can work beautifully as conflict/adventure material for a novel.

Neon Genesis Evangelion is another series I love to pieces, though in this case, the storyline is incredibly dark, convoluted, and plain depressing. More info on the series over here. But I grew up watching mecha anime, and Evangelion adds a deep, psychological twist to the genre. By the way, it's awesome how the opening sequence starts off slow and then builds up to a more frenetic pace, with the accompanying images getting bloodier and more violent. They're indicative of the action sequences in the series and how they unfold (i.e., pretty fast-paced and shocking compared to its mecha predecessors).

While I'm not a writer of hard sci-fi, I'd certainly be willing to try my hand at something like this, though I'm not really sure how it'll turn out. Even if I didn't go for it, though, the idea's a promising one. I mean, think about it: what if the main character who pilots an organic robot (i.e., an Eva) is gay?

Don't get me started on El-Hazard.

What if, what if, what if..? And why not?

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