24 July 2011

ReaderCon 22 writeup: No Childhood Left Behind

I haven't seen any other writeups on this panel yet, and, of course, this is one I didn't take ~excellent~ notes on. (I was always a poor note-taker in school, preferring to rely on vague suggestions to jog my memory.) I have just over 2 pages, mostly attributed. The discussion wandered some, and I had a hard time keeping up with it at times.

Panelists: Leah Bobet, Chris Moriarty, Sonya Taaffe, ? Wilber, JoSelle Vanderhooft

Taaffe introduced the panel and the topic, and there was a brief discussion about what each panelist thought the panel was about. Someone mentioned in their introduction that one aspect of the panel description involved the old standards, and I have two unattributed paraphrased comments.
- Problematic old standards are the books people keep reading
- socialization and the ossification of SF culture

Question: Is there a YA canon/classics?
Bobet: It's what people decided to read when they were kids; it doesn't reflect reality more than other canons do (eg high school/college Literary Canon)
Wilber: All post-WW2 SF was written for youth, specifically boys. It was full of American optimism, which changed in the 60s as the boys grew up and found women, and we learned that America isn't always right. It's gone in a new direction.
Taaffe: Are there books you'd consider canon (ie, that you and a lot of people read as a kid) but don't want to admit? Is Piers Anthony canon? (many groans and laughs from the audience and panel)
Moriarty: There's not really a canon, just a nebulous list of things that a critical mass of people admit they have read. There's a big wall between YA and SF (in bookstores & many libraries), leading to ossification. Are we losing the next generation because they aren't being shown the SF that exists?
audience: when I was young, we only had Asimov & Heinlein.
Wilber: pays attention to what his teenaged daughter reads. lately it's been Scott Westerfeld.
Bobet: Segregation is an SF cultural thing. SF readers are smarter, special (different), and we don't need YA SF because kids go straight to adult books. We did this to ourselves.
Moriarty agrees.
Wilber: read adult SF of the day, which could be classed as YA today because there was no strong language or sex
Bobet: The emotional age of the books matters. The Belgariad (not marketed as YA) is perfect for a childhood understanding of the world
Vanderhooft: Is this segregation a result of the (recent) American fear of science?
Taaffe: There was a brief period in the 40s where scientists were heroes. Eleanor Campbell's "Boy in the Mushroom Cloud" (?) had a mad scientist who wasn't evil or comic relief
Wilber: US and UK SF diverged in the 50s, and they haven't converged again.
audience: Is the older Asimov-Heinlein canon relevant to today's youth? How do we recommend books to kids?
Bobet: we have our heads up our asses on this.
audience: there's a difference between YA books kids like and ones adults like.
audience (librarian): once we stopped taking award winners (and started choosing based on recommendation?) circulation went up
audience: young people today have a lot of shared experiences, books they all talk about
Moriarty: adult canon - a bunch of old books approved by academics, but youth canon changes in waves with generations
audience: isn't canon what you need to have read to understand the rest of literature? (gave example about the bible and much western lit) Especially in a grenre like SF that often responds to its predecessors?
Moriarty: not as much a problem in fantasy as it is in hard SF, which is very referential
Wilber: it becomes exclusive
[rambling audience comment led into digression about definition of YA and the Library of Congress]
audience: interested in moving canon, read OZ but not many people recently have read them. They were the Harry Potter or Twilight of their day; there are problematic representations as well as things like dropped subplots
Taaffe: E Nesbitt is great, until you hit the anti-Semitism
Bobet: reread a book about an orphanage and realized it was about eugenics (missed title)
audience: moving canon as a gateway drug
audience: kids & YA totally separate, SF was restricted in the 60s, we've come full circle and it's exclusive again
audience: how much of this debate is because SFF sealed itself off from YA?
Bobet: all of it. It's an in-group/out-group marker, and it has become a mainstream thing (Harry Potter, manga, etc) w/kids, and it resulted in a different worldview. They don't worry about jocks stuffing them in a locker.

I thought this topic was interesting, because I wasn't raised by a fan. I wasn't exposed to much of what my peer group (SFF fans between about 27 and 40) read as kids/teens until I was out of college, sometimes WELL out of college. I read Narnia, the Hobbit, and LOTR by the time I was 10 (I read LOTR in 5th grade), and I read the Belgariad and its sequel series in middle school, and the first three Shannara books when my grandma bought them for me at the used book shop. I found Madeleine L'engel in the school library, then moved on to LeGuin (they were next to each other) and Earthsea, but after that, nothing. I didn't read Ender's Game until I was 23 or 24 (and wasn't impressed, really), and The Dark is Rising I read while I was on my residency -- at 30. I'd never heard of Diana Wynne Jones (RIP) until the Studio Ghibli adaptation of Howl's Moving Castle came out.

In a way I feel cheated, I suppose, because I don't have that shared experience, and anybody who's spent ten minutes in SF fandom knows that shared experience is THE fannish shibboleth. But spending time on could have beens is futile. I guess it's a good thing that there isn't a true canon for YA, or I'd have a lot of catching up to do, and I can't even manage the current books I want to read.

Bull Spec issue 6 is available

It's got my review of Germline in it. You can get the pdf here (for free or a price you choose; suggested donation of $2).

I really liked the book, and I hope more people buy it and read it. If you like gritty military SF with a realistic set of politics in the background, you need to read Germline. It's seriously amazing. It's not pretty at times, but it feels true and honest, and the religion the genetically-engineered supersoldiers are fed -- based on a cross between Christianity and the modern combat manual -- is perfectly creepy.

If you want to know more of my thoughts on the matter, get the full issue. You can get it for free, if you like. (Though Sam's a nice guy and is funding the entire thing out of his own money, so throw a little scratch his way.)

22 July 2011

Back from ReaderCon

I took the train up to Boston and back, and I don't recommend this course of action. It was nice to see my sister (and her new tiny basement apartment in Capitol Hill), but 16 hours each way on a train means having to pack an entire second bag full of things to do in transit, which gets really heavy after a while. If only we had a real public transit infrastructure in this country...

I went to some very interesting panels, saw Don and Carrie and Eric and Julia and Ana and Kate and Camille and Bart & Kay and Shira and Joselle and lots of other people I know I'm forgetting.

I took notes on many of the panels I attended, and I hope to write them up in the near future. Panels marked with a * have notes. Some are more detailed (who said what quasi transcript) than others (summaries of concepts discussed).

11: What writing workshops do and don't offer*
12: Classic fiction: Howl's Moving Castle
2: No Childhood Left Behind*
3: SF in Developing Countries*
5: De Gustibus Est Disputandum
9: Broad Universe group reading (I read!)

10: Book Inflation
1: Urban (fantasy) renewal
2: Location as Character*
3: Cities Real and imaginary*
8: I've fallen (behind) and I can't get (caught) up

10: Great War geeks unite pt 2*
12: Narrative treatment of permanent physical harm*
1: Social Darwinism in SFnal thought*

Seriously, ReaderCon is probably the most cerebral SFF convention I know of (with WisCon a close second, though I've not yet attended that). I can't wait to go again next year and feel woefully undereducated ;)