Reader Request Week 2009 #1: SF YA These Days

Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Reader Request Week 2009, in which you suggest the topics, and I write about them. Yes, I am your dancing monkey for the entire week! Please do not throw peanuts at me, however. They hurt my little head. As with last year, this I’m going to try to answer more requests, in a shorter form. Since last year I didn’t manage the “shorter” part very well, don’t be surprised if I blather. Hey, that’s why you’re here.

Our first reader request this year comes from Keith, who says:

I have to preface my question with a story. Recently, I met and spent some time talking to a middle school librarian from Des Moines, IA. Naturally, conversation turned to what books we read when we were that age, as opposed to what ‘tweens are reading now.

I mentioned that I cut my teeth on the juveniles (now called Young Adult!) of Robert Heinlein, and asked if many kids still ask for those. I got a blank look in response. She didn’t know who I was talking about, and was sure that her library contained no books by said author. Asimov, Clarke, Pohl- same thing. She thought she might have heard of Asimov… I thought I might cry.

So, John, my question for you is, WTF?

Do middle school kids not read science fiction any more? Does (this) science fiction have an expiration date? Is it because they’re in a middle school in Des Moines (no offense intended to Midwesterners in general…)? Am I hopelessly out of touch with the youth of today, and should just start yelling at them to get off my lawn?

The answer: Yes, Keith, you are in fact hopelessly out of touch with the youth of today. Here’s your cane; remember to shake it vigorously (or at least as vigorously as you can manage) as those Youth of Today™ scramble off your Kentucky Bluegrass. And be thankful, because think about it: Do you really want to have the same tastes as a bunch of 13 and 14 year olds? Wouldn’t that be weird? Wouldn’t that be, well, creepy? Like, restraining order creepy? You know it would be. So be proud of your old man crankiness.

But more to the point, one has to ask why one should be so surprised that the Youth of Today™ have not necessarily read the juveniles of Heinlein, or Asimov (the “Lucky Starr” series, writing as Paul French) or whomever. Dude, those books are all more than 50 years old. You might as well be shocked, shocked that the YoT™ aren’t listening to the Flamingos or the Drifters or the Isley Brothers, each of whom had one of the top ten songs of 1959, or are torrenting videos of Darby O’Gill and the Little People or The Hound of the Baskervilles, to name but two of the top ten movies of that same year.

But, you say, The Star Beast is excellent in ways that Darby O’Gill is not. And maybe you’re correct about that, but it doesn’t really matter, for reasons both social and practical. On the social front, if you spend any amount of time with kids (it helps to have one in the house, as I do, if you don’t want that wacky restraining order action going on), you know that they have a strange allergic reaction to anything that’s not explicitly created for them, and specifically a reaction to anything you, as an adult/parent, might like. This reaction starts as soon as they’re able to be judged by other kids on their aesthetic choices and continues until they realize (usually around 30) that a whole other generation of kids think they are now completely out of touch, so they can relax and just enjoy what they like. When my then ten-year-old niece commented a few years ago that No Doubt sounded like something her mother might like, I realized that no amount of pushing and prodding would ever get her to listen to Gwen Stefani and pals thrash about, even if sonically it was right in line with what she was listening to otherwise. I have no doubt (no pun intended) that it works the same way if an adult drops Star Beast on a kid these days.

On the practical front, the future of 50 years ago is not the future of today, both for social and technological reasons, and kids today know it. Hell, when I read The Star Beast as a kid in the early 80s, it already felt a bit quaint, and that was more than a quarter century ago. Writers are writing for their day and age, and their day and age passes. That Heinlein’s juvies kept selling for so many years is a testament to his readability (and to the relative dearth of passible new SF for younger readers for a number of years as well), but sooner or later readability alone isn’t going to compensate for a world that doesn’t feel right anymore to contemporary readers, and science fiction doesn’t have the ability that some other books have in being a snapshot of their current time. It’s supposed to be the future. The only way you get to the future of Star Beast or Red Planet or Citizen of the Galaxy is by going backwards first.

But just because kids aren’t reading what we read when we were kids doesn’t mean they’re not reading science fiction. My daughter is currently sucking down Margaret Peterson Haddix’s “Shadow Children” sequence of books like there’s no tomorrow, the latest of which was written only three years back. One might roll one’s eyes at James Patterson’s “Maximum Ride” series of YA SF novels, but they are seriously popular; each of them hit #1 on the NYT Young Adult bestseller list. Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games has been making quite a stir recently, and of course let’s not forget Scott Westerfeld, whose Uglies series is legitimately a watermark in modern YA science fiction. Finally, let’s not forget that on the Hugo ballot this year there’s also Little Brother, which has done very well both in sales and in critical acclaim. These are the YA SF books I can reel off of the top of my head; there are quite a few more I can’t.

Which is to say: Don’t panic. The kids are reading science fiction just fine, even if they’re not reading what you did, back in the day. And here’s the good news: If they get hooked on science fiction, eventually they probably will read the Heinlein juvies. Probably in college, as part of a survey course, to be sure. But, hey. That’s something. This is your cue, incidentally, to start shaking your cane again.

(You can still get in requests for Reader Request Week! Put them in the comment thread at this link. Please note: I have all the writing questions I want to deal with already. Ask me something else!)

115 Comments on “Reader Request Week 2009 #1: SF YA These Days

  1. I think that John is right about kids wanting today’s stuff rather than seeking out what we read as kids. Even so, I have read Heinlein’s Star Beast to my then 13 year old son and he ate it up. That’s right: we read it aloud together, with me doing my best post-colonial British accent for Mr. Kiku (the hero of the book to my way of thinking). I confess, I used Heinlein’s juveniles as an entry drug to hook my kids on SF. The short story The Menace from Earth worked well for my daughters. (Evil SF pusher chuckle).

  2. Good one! Every time the topic of “Good science fiction and fantasy for kids” comes up on internet forums, old hippie fannish and writer types start bringing out the Heinlein juveniles (which were way too old for me, even), Madeleine, L’Engel, Jane Yolen, and other stuff that was popular in the 50’s through 70’s. As a parent of a tweener, I am ROFL. No way, Jose (as we used to say in the 70’s). Yes, there are NEW books of sf and fantasy and the kids eat them like jelly beans. My son Glen (nearly 10) is really into the Artemis Fowl series, Brandon Mull, Brian Jacques (who has actually been around for a while but is actually writing NEW stuff), and other new and current stuff. He keeps pushing books at me and I can’t keep up. Honestly, I think the new YA is better than it ever has been, and I often prefer reading a tightly written, exciting YA over a sprawling, flabby adult sf/f. Instead of asking why the kids aren’t reading the Heinlein juveniles, we should be asking, “Hey, what are you reading? Can I borrow it?”

  3. #1 My son and husband are always looking for good read-aloud books for bedtime, and I think the Heinlein juveniles are a great idea for that purpose. There’s nothing as pathetic as a grown man whining that he has no bedtime stories to read.

  4. cathshaffer@2: Um, just as a point of information . . . Jane Yolen is still around and still writing lots of nice, shiny *new* stuff, too, for all ages. Check out her website:

  5. I’m in my mid-20s, and am not ashamed to say that some of my favorite new(er) books these days are classified as YA. For whatever reason, there actually seems to be more SF/F books with great female characters for young adults than for adults. Jane Yolen, Patricia C. Wrede and Neil Gaiman spring to mind. Hm. I wonder why that is? I’ve also recently read and enjoyed YA books by Jeri Smith-Ready, Terry Pratchett and Brian Jacques.

  6. Thanks! I just added a whole bunch of classics to my list to look for at Half-Price books! My kids love the old classics.

  7. My teenager loved Little Brother. I found it enjoyable, but it took me a few chapters into the book to figure out why I found the narrator so annoying. Duh: he’s a teenager! Of course I would find him a pretentious, egotistical twit while my kid thought he was pretty cool. If I’d found him to be a righteous dude I probably would have to be looking into that restraining order thing.

  8. Sometimes just a whiff of “Mom-approved” status can turn them off. I bought the Uglies series for my 12 yo son last summer and it languished, unloved, until one day in our local indie bookseller he asked if I could front him his allowance so he could get it (Uh, we do buy books for him but he was way over budget at the time). I didn’t even crack a smile when I reminded him he already HAD the boxed set, which he set himself to devouring with glee.

    Then, I changed the rec playlist on our shared iTunes from “stuff Mom things you might like” to “stuff Mom thinks is probably way too cool for you, bub”. It even got a laugh.

  9. How about a return to your Book Haul postings? I miss those.

  10. @Bob Seevers

    I wonder how much your son’s enjoyment had to do with the material itself and how much it had to do with him enjoying bonding with you. Mind, I can only speak as someone who has been a child, as I have not yet had the honor of becoming a father. I know when I was a kid, I spent a lot of time watching Star Trek with my dad. I was interested in the show, sure, but I also just liked hanging out with my dad (this was before I hit the age where that wasn’t cool anymore). His enthusiasm for the show caught on with me and it became our thing that we did together. We could have been watching anything, really. It just happened to be Star Trek. To this day a good science fiction story gives me warm fuzzies that remind me of sitting on the couch next to my dad watching Star Trek, or the night we watched 2001: A Space Oddesey and I would cower behind a blanket everytime HAL spoke.

    All of that was really a gateway to my love of science fiction. It really wasn’t until I went out on my own that I discovered the stuff that I really love.

  11. There’s a lot of good YA stuff out there today! I tend toward the “F” side of the SF/F spectrum (though it’s a fine, grey, dotted line that separates them, IMHO) and there are a lot of things this mid-40s guy has enjoyed. I second the recommendation for Terry Pratchett’s YA books – the Tiffany Aching series, and Nation – as well as the Artemis Fowl books. I did not see the movie, but Jeanne DuPrau’s City of Ember series was worth reading, as well.

  12. Could the problem not just be that times have changed, but also that there’s a lot of newer stuff clamoring for attention? I can’t find Merrie Melodies or Looney Tunes on TV, but I dare you to say that they’re no longer relevant or that my-parents-like-them-therefore-I-won’t. After all, they were relatively old when you & I were growing up in the 70’s. (1949-1966, with 16 written before 1960)

  13. Michael B:

    “I dare you to say that they’re no longer relevant or that my-parents-like-them-therefore-I-won’t.”

    In fact, quite a few Looney Tunes are nowhere near relevant, because many touch on the then-topical issue of World War II, and a number of others make reference to big name stars of the 30s and 40s, almost none of whom my daughter (for one) is aware of. Even stuff like “Duck Dodgers in the 24th 1/2 Century” references cultural things she has no clue about (i.e., Buck Rogers).

    Even things without apparent obvious cultural references will strike her as strange; at one point she noted that it was interesting that Tom’s owner in several Tom and Jerry cartoons was a black woman. I haven’t bothered to break it to her that the woman is clearly intended (for the audience of the time) as a housemaid.

    The ones that work best are the ones keep all that to a minimum: Roadrunner ones are a good example, and the ones where Bugs Bunny is in a specific time frame or artificial setting (“What’s Opera Doc?”).

  14. The older books are also harder to find. When you go to the YA fiction shelves at the bookstores, you’re only going to find the titles that have been written in the past ten years or so (aside from the perennial classics that have been around forever). Kids may run across the older titles in the libraries but they pretty much have to search to find them. New stuff drives out the old stuff, alas.

  15. I think after a 50 year run (and being dead), Heinlein can hardly complain about lack of YA sales.

  16. Yes but we are talking about the Jr. High Library (JrHL) here. An institution that is pretty much KNOWN for having books at least 20-30 years out of date.

    The first novel I got from my JrHL (mid 80’s) was Caves of Steel (Asimov). Which, being a murder mystery with some SF trappings holds up pretty well.

    I also recall getting The Sands of Mars (Clarke) which other than getting the density of the martian atmosphere a bit off still hold up well I think.

    The RAH juviniles generally don’t hold up well though. We may love them, but they were seriously dated back in the 80’s much less now. And lets face it, when you write a serial for “Boy’s Life”, and then arainge it into a novel, it is not exatly going to be the finest example fo the storyteller’s art.

    I remember getting both Farmer in the Sky and Tunnel int Sky from the aforementioned JrHL. Farmer always had a bit of a week ending, but Tunnel holds up well. After all, when is an SF novel about Robert’s Rules of Order not relevant?

    For some reason, I had to obtain Stranger in a Strange Land from the local grocery store (remember when your grocer sold SF novels?). I wonder why THAT ONE was not available in the JrHL.

    At the least, I would expect the JrHL to have some Clarke and Asimov from the 80’s (RAH from the 80’s is probably a bit too, ah interesting). Certainly I would expect some Niven.

    For something modern (2003+), John Varley’s Red Thunder and Red Lighting read as if Varley channeled Heinlein’s ghost, only modern.

  17. I gave Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies to my little cousins and they bolted it down like chocolate milk. Maybe next year I’ll pass on Zoe’s Tale.

  18. “…the Drifters or the Isley Brothers, each of whom had one of the top ten songs of 1959, or are torrenting videos of Darby O’Gill and the Little People or The Hound of the Baskervilles, to name but two of the top ten movies of that same year.”

    I had to laugh when I read this because when I was kid, I loved almost all of those top ten items you listed. Speaking as an 80’s baby here, a lot of the ‘classic’ SF authors were still discussed in my HS English classes. Perhaps I just got lucky in the California educational system?

  19. I think the argument is not ‘we don’t expect them to listen to the Isley Brothers,’ but ‘they look at these books as we might have looked at Horatio Alger’s work.’ Of course, as an adult, I have a sneaking enjoyment for HA- Mark the Match Boy, anyone?

  20. As a juvenile who exhausted all libraries available, I remember many of the books being set around the turn of the century, the 20th century. There was an author of YA sports that cranked out a ton of them, but many years out of date (this was the 70s for me). The Hardy Boys were also rather dated by the time I got to them, although as I reached the end of them (numbered in the 50s iirc) I seem to remember them being a bit more up to date. And while my first Heinlein was Glory Road of all things (definitely not a juvenile, and a bit confusing to an 11/12-year old), I definitely remembered devouring his juvies once I discovered them, although they didn’t fit the idioms of the time (well, who wanted to fit the idioms of the 70s anyway?).

  21. #4 I am well aware that Jane Yolen is “still around,” but for some reason the only people I know who are excited about her YA are over forty (I’m sure there is some readership there–it just hasn’t been on the radar in my son’s peer group). That doesn’t mean it’s not good. It’s just that the forty-year-olds in question seem to be channeling their own inner 12 year old, rather than responding to the market right now.

  22. How about Robin McKinley? My 17-year old niece loves Sunshine- she’s on the vampire and werewolf fiction kick.

  23. cathshaffer,
    “No way, Jose (as we used to say in the 70’s).”

    I think you mean “No way, Philip Jose Farmer.”

    I won’t get into the argument over whether Little Brother is SF or thriller or tween tech field manual. It’s a great read and it’s available free from so read it.

    I would also recommend Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks. I haven’t read the sequel Genius Squad yet, but the first book is great. It’s as geektastic as Austin Grossman’s Soon I Will Be Invincible.

    The first three Artemis Fowl books were good then the series veered into meh. I keep reading them though.

  24. I’m not so much concerned that tweeners aren’t chomping at the bit to read Asimov as I am stunned and sickened that the librarian only vaguely recognized the name. And I bet that library has a copy of The Old Man and the Sea, a book that NO 13 year old would ever choose to read on his/her own.

  25. John @13:

    I saw some of those Tom and Jerry cartoons in the mid 80s. In one of them, the black housekeeper had been replaced with a young white woman. Strangely, though, they hadn’t changed the soundtrack, so the white teenager still talked with the stereotyped accent of a black housekeeper. It was baffling. I eventually saw the original version of the same cartoon, and it all became clear.

  26. A librarian’s perspective on YA science fiction. It flies outta my library along with fantasy and mainstream fiction as well, but the sf/f really goes. I just finished a survey of our YA section and I found about 30 books (from a collection of over 2000 total fiction/non-fiction items) that had not, repeat not, circulated at least one time in the last calendar year. I also found that more recently published stuff circulates at a very high rate and many books that are more than 5 years old were slowing down in their circ rates, still going out just not as much. So not a long tail for the YA fiction materials in general unlike adult sf/f.

  27. science fiction doesn’t have the ability that some other books have in being a snapshot of their current time

    I disagree with this. Dated science fiction is certainly a snapshot of what people at that time thought the future would be like, and it’s possible to use that lens to see a reflection of what things were like at the time.

  28. I loved the Heinlein juvies, and then flowed right into the rest of his books. I think I own every book he ever wrote (and some I have 2 copies!). I still go back every couple of years and read them all just because they are like comfort food. BUT, and this is a big but, I have been finding a lot of new YA that I absolutely adore. I think I have to thank the Harry Potter series for this one. After discovering them I started adding the YA section of the book store to my ‘places to check out’.

  29. I’m not sure how old the letter writer is, but I was in middle school about 10 years ago and I totally read all that stuff. However, I think I was unusual– my parents had shelves and shelves of old science fiction lying around from when they were younger, and as a result I grew up reading a lot of sci fi from the 50s to early 80s, but I read almost no sci fi that was written after that. I loved those old yellow paperbacks with titles like The Best Science Fiction of 1963 and a price on the front of 75 cents.

    I really ought to read some modern sci fi but now that I’m older and busier its hard to find the time.

  30. I was born in the early 80s. As a kid, I read and enjoyed a lot of Asimov but I don’t think I ever read any Heinlein until I sought out Stranger in a Strange Land in college. In the 90s, I read a lot of old anthologies of science fiction short stories and I remember thinking that it was charming/funny how everyone was obsessed with the U.S.-Soviet conflict extending into space and lasting for centuries. I think I felt a little bit like I was discovering some complicated diorama someone had mysteriously left in my attic or maybe it was just, ha! These science fiction writers didn’t predict the future very well…

    Probably my favorite YA science fiction writer when I was a kid was William Sleator. I think he still has books coming out now.

  31. To Keri @24: I was going to say the same thing. I can understand never having read any of these authors (Yeah, I’ll raise my hand here), but to be a librarian and to never have *heard* of them? That’s pretty lame.

  32. Please do not throw peanuts at me, however. They hurt my little head.

    How ’bout if we promise to throw them only at your big head? Put some pants on anyway, geez.

    But seriously, this makes lots of sense. I still think teens should read some of the books I was reading when I was one, like Dhalgren and Stranger in a Strange Land (the former my mother bought for me in, yes, the grocery store; the latter I actually read in middle school), but I understand why they don’t. The future in SiaSL is particularly retro, and the drugginess (and fairly indescriminate sex) of Dhalgren might shock them. Maybe I’ll tell my George RR Martin-reading nephew that he might find Dhalgren too disturbing; that should make him read it!

    Hmm. Maybe I should read some GRRM novels, and see if I find them as soul-crushing as I found his short stories…and read more if not.

  33. I cut my teeth, so to speak, on Madeline L’Engle’s “A Wrinkle in Time” series. The first book in the series was published in 1962 (that’s almost 50 years ago), and yet they are still read prevalently in our culture today. I remember them being VERY relevant to what was happening in my life at the time.

  34. John, I think you are very correct. Kids and teens have a lot to focus on with more and more being expected from them at school. We grew up with video games, more music, and too many TV channels. I do, however, think that in do time, that these kids will discover the hidden treasures if they want.

    You also have to blame the parents, in a way.

  35. I’m a high school librarian. I can only get kids to read the latest greatest anything. They’re all reading Twilight, Hunger Games, and Darren Shan’s Cirque du Freak and Demonata series, Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson books, but they won’t read anything older. It’s bizarre, but true. A few years ago, one kid was hooked on Poul Anderson. No one’s read him since she graduated from high school, so I’m thinking about weeding him. So who’s older and popular? Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game series. I occasionally try to push Asimov’s Foundation series (I would never push sexist old Heinlein on anyone), and I managed to get my son to read it (and love it), but kids want the latest greatest.

  36. When I was a teenager, reading Heinlein, Andre Norton, etc., it was in preference over what the adults in my life were pushing on me. I am sure today’s teens are no different. The important thing is that they read.

    There’s more good fiction than any one human can read in a lifetime. There’s nothing that everyone *must* read. I discovered SF as a youngster…not something my parents would have picked. I’ll try not to be upset if my kid decides that SF is lame.

  37. Kids today are lame, then. I started reading SF novels at age 10 (after seeing Star Wars), and I started with Heinlein’s Space Cadet. All that stuff was way-obsolete by the time I got to them, but it didn’t phase me in the least. I even read stuff by E.E. Doc Smith, and that stuff was decided MOLDY, but still very enjoyable. If you can’t enjoy old SF, you can’t enjoy Shakespeare or Beethoven, either.

  38. As a public librarian I see this also. Heinlein books sit on the shelves and these newer YA SF and fantasy books fly off the shelves.

  39. “…the future of 50 years ago is not the future of today…”

    This is the truly resonant point I take from this piece (not to mention the circ stats mentioned by Mark @26). Case in point: I picked up *Farmer in the Sky* (Heinlein, 1950, originally published in Boy’s Life Magazine in a shorter version) off of a sale rack at a used store for $1. It was a blazing fast read, highly enjoyable, but it required perspective. The overt sexism / patriarchy of the Leave it to Beaver world (think Ward Cleaver explaining to Beav why men cook outside and women cook inside) would absolutely alienate modern young female readers. But in Boy’s Life in 1950 it was just status quo.

    I also agree that the modern YA world is full of great stuff, and that it’s hard to engage the “everytween” in things that are more than 5 years old without putting it in context. That said, I love hearing all the comments here made by parents who are sharing “the classics” with their kids in a one-on-one way. Kudos to you all!

  40. Tumbleweed:

    “Kids today are lame, then.”

    No; kids today want stuff they think is meant for them. That you went for Heinlein juvies in the 70s was as much do to the fact the 70s were not a sterling era for YA science fiction as anything else. Kids today have more and better choices, in part because YA is a more robust part of the bookselling economy today than it was 30 years ago.

    “If you can’t enjoy old SF, you can’t enjoy Shakespeare or Beethoven, either.”

    That doesn’t follow at all, frankly.

  41. I watched Darby O’Gill and the Little People in Middle School…1988. The Banshee was terrifying and I don’t even remember if they ever even showed it in the film.
    I enjoyed it a whole lot more then I enjoyed watching Action Jackson that same year. Point is- some things are just good.

    Nothing worse than years later discovering you hate Barney….who thinks back and hates Sesame Street?
    Personally, I wish I could have back all the time I spent reading Choose-Your-Own Adventures. I was ready for better but better wasn’t there for me.

    I’d watch Darby O’Gill again. I Netflix’d it for my son this week.

  42. I wonder, though, about the transition from YA to non-YA these days. If you were reading juvies from Heinlein etc those authors were also the leading writers for adult SF at the time. Aside from Cory, I don’t see that in the examples John gives above. That’s not bad per se, but it means that as kids grow out of YA* they’ll need to learn about new authors. That’s good in some ways… but I wonder if we’ll lose some too if their favorite authors don’t make adult SF.

    *Yes, I know, you can read YA as an adult etc…. but it seems to have themes that are of primary interest to kids/teens. At 50, coming of age novels don’t hold me the way they did 35 years ago…

  43. “Kids today are lame, then.”

    Or kids today prefer reading scifi that isn’t quite so steeped in the cultural values of the 1950s to 1970s.

    I spent elementary school and junior high reading every science fiction book I could get in my school library, most of it Heinlein and Asimov. And then nearly stopped reading scifi entirely for years, because as I hit high school I started noticing just how thoroughly sexist a lot of the writing was.

    Frequently sexist in a well-meaning, mild, actually trying very hard to be “progressive” way, yes. But that’s part of why it grated; because the writers so obviously didn’t think they were being sexist. And, you know. They were.

    Do I look back now on books I loved at that time and cringe thinking about some of the prejudices in them? You bet. I still twitch just thinking about the horribly homophobic content of one otherwise jaunty little adventure novel I used to adore rereading.

    TL;DR version: I am all for YA readers reading the new YA stuff, and not about to wist after them reading the old stuff I grew up with (which was, frankly, pretty old even when I was a kid). Because maybe the newer stuff is less sexist, racist, homophobic, jingoistic, and various other unpleasant things. You never know!

  44. Steve @37: There’s nothing that everyone *must* read.

    Incorrect. Everyone must read _The Phantom Tollbooth_. This is non-negotiable.

  45. I was born in the 80s so I’m a bit above the target market here, but I still devour new YA SF/F. Westerfeld, Little Brother, The Hunger Games and, yep, Zoe’s Tale (which, after reading, made me go back and pick up Old Man’s War). Just got Skinned by Robin Wasserman and can’t wait to read.

    And to be honest, I’ve never read Heinlein or Asimov, other than a short story by one of them.

    I think it’s because there’s a lot of exciting things happening in the YA market right now, and great books keep coming out that feel current and accessible to today’s teens and how the world is right now.

  46. Rick:

    “If you were reading juvies from Heinlein etc those authors were also the leading writers for adult SF at the time. Aside from Cory, I don’t see that in the examples John gives above.”

    It’s worth noting that Scott Westerfeld published several adult novels before turning to YA. It’s also worth noting that in novels, Heinlein worked exclusive in juvies for a decade before transferring out into adult novels, so at least in novels, it’s not accurate to say he was working both fields at the same time.

  47. I posted about the original request in the request thread, which was wrong, and with ghastly formatting to boot. My bad. As it turns out, Mr. Scalzi said much the same thing as I did, only better.

    (There was one other poster who did the same thing I did, Chris Calabrese @ 143.)

    I’m going to repost it here with minimal editing:

    Is it bad form to start discussing topics suggested here? (in the requests thread) (JS replied that it was)

    Actually, if I recall correctly, Heinlein called them books for young boys, which is an illustration of how much has changed since then right there. He hoped to get into the books for young girls market also, I don’t think much ever came of it.

    I’ve been thinking the last few years that recommending the Heinlein juveniles may not be a good idea anymore. Yes they are wonderful but the societal divergence point is getting too far back. That is, the cultures they show come from the 1940s and 1950s, not from the 1990s or 2000s.

    And so much has changed. Things like attitudes about race, gender roles, and sexual morality in the social realm. Of course, Heinlein didn’t really have a choice there, as going too far afield in this area would have made his work unpublishable.

    And on the technical side, the development of computers and ubiquitous telecommunications, and more importantly the ways they changed society. Yes, Heinlein did have a few hits there, like the bit in Space Cadet where not only do they have mobile phones, but Tex packs his to evade parental nagging. But he had these things as tending to centralize and homogenize society, while in reality they are shattering into a myriad of overlapping subcultures (or perhaps just making the existence of these subcultures easier to see).

    I’m thinking that the double time travel effect there may make them too hard for most kids to get into.

    (Oh god, I’m discussing Heinlein online again. Someone please shoot me.)

    I’ve given my nephew various old SF, but the only ones he seems to have taken to are Lawrence Watt-Evans’s Ethshar books. Which shouldn’t really count as old, I suppose.

  48. Minor quibble: Susan Collins is a Senator from Maine. I believe Suzanne Collins is the author to whom you’re referring.

  49. @ 36, Jude:

    I think saying “Kids want the latest greatest” is contradictory. The latest books aren’t really that great but popular. Kids want the latest trend as to be accepted by there friends.

    Now, if you were smart you’d tell these kids that Twilight is old. It came out 3 years ago. The only reason it’s popular is because of the lame movie. No matter how many times my girlfriend tries to get me to read the Twilight series or the Eragon series, I won’t. I’d much rather sit down and read Contact by Carl Sagan or another classic my father recommended.

    If it weren’t for my father, I would not have discovered Ender’s Game, Lord of the Rings, or even our main man, Scalzi.

  50. David Hill:

    “The only reason it’s popular is because of the lame movie.”

    This is not true: It was selling fantastically (as in millions of copies) prior to the movie; the popularity of the books carried the movie, not the other way around. And each of the books in the series have sold hundreds of thousands of copies in the first three months of the year so far. They’re likely to continue to be very successful in their own right for some time to come.

  51. John – good point about Heinlein. I came to him in the 70s via his adult work. I know, I’m a shameless revisionist.

    I did know about Westerfield’s adult books… but aside from Cory none of the others seem to be currently writing adult SF. I don’t think this is good or bad, just different (a bit). But perhaps we’ll see the same thing we saw with Heinlein.

    I just hope that some of these kids make the transition from YA SF to regular SF as it seems that the regular SF market could use all of the readers it can get.

  52. In the early 80s, I was reading stuff E.E. Doc Smith wrote in the 30s. Was I a super-duper genius or something, or is the problem how things are currently marketed to kids? I know which answer would make my ego soar, but I suspect that’s not the correct answer.

    If you can’t appreciate the *STORY* in an old SF novel with ridiculously obsolete technology, then you’re probably missing the point. Shakespeare’s words were written much longer ago than Doc Smith’s, but I like both, and did so even in middle/high school. This assumption seems to mean that the upcoming Princess of Mars movie will be an utter failure for not considering that kids can’t enjoy such things.

    Beethoven isn’t a tween pop star sensation, so obviously can’t be enjoyed by anyone under thirty, I guess. Too bad.

    And such a shame about the Louvre – all that art that was never intended for kids! Probably shouldn’t bother letting them in.

    I think the idea that “kids want something they think is meant for them” is, frankly, way off base. I think the answer lies more in how things are marketed to them.

  53. Tex@48,

    Good points. I think that’s perhaps why L’Engle’s Wrinkle in Time still fits- it’s more about Meg and her family issues- something kids can relate to- then it is about the technology.

  54. John @ 51:

    I was merely saying this because, yes it was popular before the movie and did extremely well. However, after the movie released, it seemed as if everyone and their granny were reading Twilight. After the movie, it suddenly became the “hip” thing. When, in reality, it had already been around among the “hardcore” Vampire fans.

    Sorry for being unclear.

  55. Tumbleweed:

    “Beethoven isn’t a tween pop star sensation, so obviously can’t be enjoyed by anyone under thirty, I guess. Too bad.”

    Rephrasing your assertion thusly doesn’t make it any more correct, Tumbleweed, and you look a bit petulant saying it. And it still doesn’t track at all with the issue of older science fiction.

    Likewise, the issue with old science fiction isn’t merely an issue of old technology: it’s also old social structures and attitudes, old dialogue, old assumptions on what entertainment should be. Story is only one component, and it’s not so privileged that all other considerations must be immediately set aside. Could a teenager enjoy a Lensman book for the story? Probably. But all things being equal, she’s more likely to enjoy a story that also is more in line to her understanding of tech, social structures, and how people speak.

    “I think the idea that ‘kids want something they think is meant for them’ is, frankly, way off base. I think the answer lies more in how things are marketed to them.”

    Speaking as someone who has done marketing — and who has a kid — and who is selling books today — you’re pretty much wrong about this one. Smart marketing will get a kid interested, but he’s only going to read something (or keep reading it) if he’s interested in it.

  56. Rephrasing your assertion thusly doesn’t make it any more correct,

    And your reply doesn’t disprove anything about what I said.

    Nice try, but I’m not falling for your Jedi mind tricks! :)

    Likewise, the issue with old science fiction isn’t merely an issue of old technology: it’s also old social structures and attitudes, old dialogue, old assumptions on what entertainment should be.

    Thanks for proving my point. I was reading SF as a kid (even before high school) that was written 50+ years before I was born. I’m pretty sure that the social structures and attitudes, dialogue, etc., were quite different when they were written, than the time I was reading them in. I still found it interesting, with ships ‘travelling through the ether’ and whatnot. If that wasn’t going to be the case with old SF, why would we still recommend people read like like Mark Twain, etc.? Lots of people are up in arms about things like Huck Finn that don’t come close to being politically correct now, but that doesn’t negate the value of the characters or story. Why should SF be any different?

    Smart marketing will get a kid interested, but he’s only going to read something (or keep reading it) if he’s interested in it.

    Obviously true, but that’s completely irrelevant to my point. You seem to be arguing that only things that are interesting to kids are being marketed to kids, which is clearly wrong. Perhaps you’re arguing that old stuff isn’t marketed to kids because they wouldn’t be interested in it? I think we’ll have to agree to disagree on this one, as the only way to prove it would be to put some marketing muscle behind some old RAH juveniles and see what happens, and we both know that ain’t gonna happen anytime soon.

    I find it interesting you used the cover of The Star Beast on this story, as the female protagonist in that novel is a very modern character, very independent in most ways (okay, the makeup thing at the end was stupid). I’m still amazed that that dirty joke at the end of the novel made it through the editing process.

    Whilst on the topic of RAH, I noticed at NorWesCon last year or the year before (the memory fades quickly in people my age) that the only discussion forum dedicated to a specific author – was dedicated to RAH. :)

    And really, how irritating is it that NorWesCon and SakuraCon are on the same weekend?! *sigh*

  57. Tumbleweed:

    “And your reply doesn’t disprove anything about what I said.”

    It’s the one who makes an assertion who has the burden of proof, Tumbleweed.

    “If that wasn’t going to be the case with old SF, why would we still recommend people read like like Mark Twain, etc.?”

    The question isn’t what one recommends to teens to read. It’s what teens want to read when they read on their own. And leaving aside the fact that Mark Twain is not nearly as high on the average teen casual reading list as you appear to assume it is, as noted in the entry itself, there’s a difference between work which can be placed in the context of its own time, and science fiction, which is explicitly about a future time — which must be a follow-on to our own. In that context, Huck Finn and his crew are rather more believable to current YA readers than John Thomas Stuart XI and his crew.

    You’re making the point that even though old YA SF is old, it’s still interesting. That may be so, but my point is: so what? Current YA SF is interesting too, and also, it’s more in line to contemporary readers’ lives and expectations. Given the choice between reading something that is interesting but requires them to pretend that 50 years of social and technological history doesn’t exist, and reading something interesting that also factors in the real world as it exists today (in technology, attitude and characterization), they’re going to go for the latter. This doesn’t make today’s teens lame, especially as today’s YA is as good as the juveniles of years past. It simply means they have a preference you don’t share.

    This is not, incidentally, making your point for you.

    Moreover, your argument of “outdated SF didn’t bother me” is not a very good one, either. Maybe it didn’t bother you, and that’s nice for you. It didn’t bother me, either. But as I’ve also noted, back when I was reading Heinlein juvies, there wasn’t nearly as much good YA-oriented science fiction; to some extent we made do with what was out there. Now there is a significant amount of good YA SF. Given the options YA readers have today, it’s not at all surprising they go for the newer stuff.

    Are the kids missing out on good stuff because they like newer rather than older? Sure. But again: So what? There’s lots of excellent books from 50 years ago I’ll never read, and not just in SF, because I prefer works of a more recent vintage. That’s life. Some current YA readers might go back and read some of that older work at some point; they might not.

    “I find it interesting you used the cover of The Star Beast on this story, as the female protagonist in that novel is a very modern character, very independent in most ways.”

    Eh. She was a very modern character for 1954, yes. Today she’s not so much. Which goes rather to my point. The assumptions of today are not the assumptions of yesterday. Today’s teens are going to be rather more interested in Scott Westerfeld’s Tally than Heinlein’s Betty Sorenson.

  58. Pam @54:
    You beat me to it. L’Engle was one of the writers that I was thinking of to make just this point. The others that came to mind were Diane Duane’s Young Wizards series (to which she is still adding) and Susan Cooper’s the Dark Is Rising cycle (NOT the dreadful butchering of the title story that was released as a film; of this we must never speak!).

    All of these series seem share two things: one, they are more F than SF (or in some cases purely F); two, they are more about the relationships than the scientific trappings of the stories.

    And whatever else kids may be interested in, relationships usually top the list. And although science may date, relationship issues often don’t: Meg Murray and Nita Callahan were literary examples of girls dealing with bullying long before social scientists started talking about it as a problem.

    I, for one, am overjoyed that there is something out there that inspires kids to read. With all of the electonic competition for kids’ time and attention, the fact that there are so many successful and well-read (not to mention a lot of well-written) YA series out there seems to me to be a good sign.

  59. I should note for the purposes of discussion here, I’m speaking specifically about science fiction; I’m not covering fantasy. This doesn’t mean the rest of you can’t talk about it, though.

  60. Scalzi @ 47:
    “Heinlein worked exclusive in juvies for a decade before transferring out into adult novels, so at least in novels, it’s not accurate to say he was working both fields at the same time.”

    Heinlein’s Juvenile era runs from 1947 (Rocket Ship Galileo) through (unambiguously) 1958 (Have Space Suit — Will Travel), and possibly through 1959 (Starship Troopers) or even 1962 (Podkayne of Mars) (arguments regarding the adult/juvenile status of both ST and PoM can be reasonably made).

    During that era, he wrote a mess of adult fiction. Even if we look only at novels, though (as John S. limits us above), he wrote the 1st draft of Stranger in a Strange Land, and published The Puppet Masters, Double Star (for which he won a Hugo), and The Door into Summer.

  61. Interesting discussion! While I like the Heinlein Juveniles — mind, you I didn’t discover them until I was in my mid-to-late twenties — I can see how they would be a hard-sell for today’s young readers. While the ideas within are timeless, what those ideas are wrapped in is yellowed, brittle, and covered in dust. I just can’t see teens or tweens willing to suspend disbelief over something like a 21st century computer that takes up an entire building, yet with less processing power than the iPhones in their hands. Ditto for an interstellar ship with analog dials and gauges on the bridge.

    That’s a lot of work to be entertained, IMO. Given a choice between reading something I actually have to force myself to get through, as opposed to something I can just kick back, relax, and just enjoy, I’ll take option “B” each and every time.

    It’s a big mistake to assume that if something applies to someone who’s “young-at-heart,” it will apply equally well to someone who is actually *young*. Remember, that teen or tween doesn’t have the benefit of an industrial-strength nostalgia buffer to smooth out the rough spots — and there were a lot of rough spots.

    And the *worst* thing to do is to adopt the attitude of “It was good enough for me when I was a kid, so it’s good enough for you kids today.” To a young person, that pretty much says: “I am a crotchety old fart, and I have just given you the perfect excuse to tune me out and unilaterally reject any opinion I express from this point on. Now I’m tired and I’m going to go watch some ‘Dobie Gillis’ reruns. Punk.”

    Oh, yeah, big mistake.

    Anyway, good topic, John. I think Zombie Heinlein would approve. And then eat your brain. With bacon.

  62. Christy @ 59 and others who pointed the durability of sf/f that tends toward the fantasy side of things and the relationships angle. From this librarian’s perspective, they do tend to hold up alot better in terms of circ. I believe the first intallment of Wizard’s came out in 1983, so here we are 26 years later and I quite happily and confidently recommend it to YA and advanced elementary school readers. I hadn’t looked at it from the relationship angle, I tend towards action, so thanks for pointing that out and I will add that to things to look for in books for YAs.

  63. Scalzi @ 64:

    John — Since you do such an outstandingly good blog, not to mention your books, you get a pass on this one.

    Anyone else, we’d terminate their hypertext priveleges.

  64. Seriously, though, the Heinlein juveniles still sell, and stay more or less in print permanently. Are kids buying them? YA librarians (from quotes here, apparently not)?

    Is it codgers like me who are replacing their old worn copies?

    While his juveniles were marketed to youth, I believe I’ve heard that Heinlein didn’t make many changes in his writing style, other than to put teenage characters in it, and a few changes in language, situation, etc because otherwise YA librarians wouldn’t buy them (although he did slip the “John Thomas” joke through in Star Beast). Essentially, his mental audience of readers was the same.

    BTW, I’ve noted this thread in the Heinlein Forum:

  65. At the risk of going down the “what is F vs SF” side trail, I don’t see L’Engle’s work as fantasy. Certainly Duane’s So You Want To Be a Wizard series is. Modern/urban fantasy, but definitely fantasy. But the only really “fantasy-ish” bits about A Wrinkle In Time are where religon is woven into the story.

  66. As I am a childless, old bastard that already hollers at kids to get off my lawn, I am forced to consider whether the SFYA genre is for me. There seems vanishingly little chance to come up with a “classic”, that would be untarnished by time, especially given the nature of SF.

    Anyway, I still insist on receiving the flying car I was promised before I die.

  67. Bill:

    “Seriously, though, the Heinlein juveniles still sell, and stay more or less in print permanently. Are kids buying them?”

    The Heinlein juvies sell probably less well than you might expect, actually. I had a friend with BookScan check these for me, and none of them in a week sell more than mid-two figures, for combined sales of no more than 500 or so for all of them (counting Podkayne but not Starship Troopers). This is not bad for books that are a half century old, of course — I’d like to sell as much 50 years from now — but as contrast a single title of Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies series will in a week outsell all of Heinlein juvies combined by a healthy multiple.

    This does suggest (to me, anyway) that the people buying them are a) people buying them to replace old/lost copies; b) older folk buying them for their kids/grandkids, rather than the kids themselves.

  68. This goes kind of way back in the comments, but as far as the Looney Tunes thing goes, does “relevance” even matter?
    When I watched the stuff as a kid, the WWII and 30s-40s pop culture references and the like weren’t necessarily any more “relevant” relatable, or even comprehensible that they would be to a kid now, but none of that put me off. In fact, the weird otherness of the stuff was kind of an attraction.

    Perhaps that’s part of what is driving this oddly hostile reaction in older fans; that the kids are too “normal” (or mundane to use old fan lingo) and aren’t showing the same attraction to the odd and out of time that helped alienate those same older fans from their peers when they were kids.

  69. Ed@71,

    No, it’s just that their alienation looks different from ours.

  70. What happened to the Heinlein juveniles happened exactly during my twenty-six year march through the bookstores of New Haven, so I watched it happen. Sure, many of them are set in an obsolete (but interesting) version of the Solar System and, sure, their is a fifties feel to the home life of the kids but the main reason is where they were shelved.

    Bookstores stopped putting them on the YA shelves and it didn’t happen because kids had stopped buying them. Kids stopped buying them after they got moved. And they got moved because people like me and my friend Andy who shelved the books across town and some others had read the books as kids and teens and wanted our friends and people like us to see them. And we didn’t care much what kids read. So we put them in adult SF, where they sold very well.

    Management didn’t tell you where to put the books in those days. If books didn’t sell, you ripped the covers off and didn’t order more of that title but otherwise the genre sections belonged to the peons. And the peons thought those books were for adults.

    I think that probably happened all across the country. And those books were on the regular SF shelves in the libraries by the mid-Seventies too. I didn’t talk much with librarians in those days, even the one I lived with for awhile. But I bet the story was pretty much the same.

    I can tell you why William Goldman’s THE PRINCESS BRIDE started slow and took off too and some other secrets from the bookstore shelving process.

  71. John Scalzi: It’s worth noting that Scott Westerfeld published several adult novels before turning to YA. It’s also worth noting that in novels, Heinlein worked exclusive in juvies for a decade before transferring out into adult novels, so at least in novels, it’s not accurate to say he was working both fields at the same time.

    That would be worth noting if it were true. Heinlein wrote _Double Star_ and won awards for it in the middle of writing his juveniles and he wrote other novels before he even started writing the juveniles. Of course, they were first serialized in SF magazines but they were novels and not put together afterward out of short stories.

  72. Pam@72:
    I don’t think we’re talking about the same thing. I’m not referring to the universal alienation that all kids and teenagers feel, and think is unique to their generation (even after they’ve grown up). I mean the geek/fan kind that can unite* people of vastly different generations, ages and backgrounds.

    *At least it used to. The saddest part of what I’m getting at is the idea of something that used to be a unifying factor for generations just as different from one another as from this one ceasing to be so with the current batch.

  73. As a child of the 1980s, I found myself faced – at least in my country – with a YA market dominated by joyless issue and problem books about drug addiction, homelessness, living with disabilities, etc… Because I was allergic against books deemed “good for me” and refused to read them, I ended up reading YA fiction that was thirty or forty years old at that time, partly because I had been given those books by a well-meaning parent or relative who remembered enjoying them, partly because they were mercifully issue free or rather their issues were so foreign that the didactic intent was lost. Dated ideas and concepts occasionally confused me, but I figured it was because those were old books and things were different back then.

    When I started reading SF a bit later, I read a lot of Asimov, Clarke, Edgar Rice Burroughs and also some Heinlein, because they appealed to what my teenaged self wanted from SF more than the then current Cyberpunk stuff did. Did I notice how dated some of those books were? Of course I did. Did it bother me? Sometimes. I still kept reading.

    That said, I still wouldn’t recommend a book that I read and enjoyed as a child/teen to a young reader today. We are lucky to live at a time with lots of great YA fiction and I’d rather recommend something in tune with contemporary sensibilities than something that is decades old and dated. Perhaps in time they’ll get around to reading the “classics”. Or maybe they won’t.

    Interestingly, some of the dreadful issue books from my youth have been making a comeback of sorts in recent times. One that I remember being forced to read at school has recently been turned into a movie, slightly updated for contemporary audiences. And just recently, one of my students told me that he was reading the must-read book of 1982, the memoir of a teenaged drug addict. Once my jaw had stopped hitting the floor, I asked him what attracted him to the book. Turned out that it was the fact that the book was about drugs and had fairly drastic descriptions of bodily functions. Stripped of its “good for you” context, the book had actually turned into something transgressive enough to tempt a 14-year-old boy.

  74. On the one hand, I have fond memories of the Heinlein juvies, most of which my mother picked out for me with my 10th birthday bookstore gift certificate. (I was staring at the shelves, wondering where on earth to start. $50 in 1987!)

    On the other, well, they didn’t really speak to a young girl the way they spoke to a 1950s boy, I suppose.

    And on that note, I remember my shock at finding out when James Schmitz was writing. The Witches of Karres, in particular, struck me as something that had been written recently… and then I found out it was decades old. Schmitz is the only author I know of who was able to see beyond his culture so effectively that he doesn’t seem to be writing in his own time at all.

  75. Bill @ 61 and 67: I haven’t read Double Star or The Door Into Summer, but as far as I can tell the only difference between The Puppet Masters and Heinlein’s juveniles is the age of the hero and his interest in marrying whatsername, Mary? The writing style is not more complex, nor is the vocabulary; the hero is still patronised in the institutional and emotional senses by a Gruff Older Man Who Knows It All; et cetera.

    I don’t think there is much difference between Heinlein’s “adult SF adventures” like The Puppet Masters and his juveniles; Stranger In A Strange Land and the like are fairly different, I do think.

  76. Addendum: Having been born in 1980, I personally read most of my Heinlein, Asimov, and Clarke in the 1990s, but it was on my family’s shelves because my father (born in 1951) had read them as a kid.

    Those books now mostly live on my shelves. I’m the exact same age my father was when my parents got married and I was conceived – their anniversary is in March, and my birthday is in December, you can do the math. If my wife and I were having children already, I wouldn’t have the faintest clue what to offer them from YA fiction being published today, much less what will be popular in 2019 when my hypothetical daughters and sons will be the same age I was when I started reading Dad’s old stuff.

    Also, most of the stuff I bought for myself when I was 10, 11, 12 was utter crap – endless Dragonlance trilogies, for example, which to be fair I’ll happily rank as equal with Twilight any day – so I don’t even have the ability to offer my kids excellent stuff from my own trip through my teens. I’ll just have to let them make their own mistakes, I think!

  77. As another child of the 80s, I found a YA market that tended more towards the occult and fantasy aspects of SF&F than science fiction. Many of my friends were seriously into John Bellairs, and I was rather obsessed with Richard Peck’s “Blossom Culp” series about a turn-of-the-century medium. I also was very fond of Patricia Wrede’s fantasies. I can’t remember when I really got into science fiction. There was L’engle when I was 11, then Douglas Adams when I was 13, and Bradbury at 15.

    By this time I’d already been watching Star Trek and various SF movies for years… I was interested in SF, but I wasn’t often finding things that I wanted to read. I can tell you that, as a girl, it was always much harder for me to find books with good female protagonists in Science Fiction than it was in Fantasy or Occult or AU. Eventually I turned to anime for positive female figures (which might seem weird now, with the exploitative rubbish that is currently most popular. There’s MY ‘get off my lawn’ moment).

    Then there’s Bruce Coville, who wrote really freaking excellent YA SF in the 90s and is still writing now. He’s still the only author for whom my little brother ever had any enthusiasm. I don’t see why Heinlein’s juveniles are better than Coville’s books, and I’ve read both.

    I’m not sure if I have a definite conclusion to this. I guess I’m just trying to agree with Scalzi that every generation thinks the books they discovered themselves are the best (though oddly enough, before I did some quick research tonight I assumed the John Bellairs books were all written in the 50s, but they’re really from the 70s and 80s. huh). Also, there is a limit to how many books a kid can read. I was a five-books-a-week kid, and even then I never finished the catalog of any of our four local libraries.

    That said, I’d still recommend books I like to young readers today. One of my favorite books was the Secret Garden, given to me by an aunt because it was one of her favorites. Another favorite series was Narnia, given to me by someone I can’t recall. And then we also have my reading and re-reading of the Melendy Family books by Elizabeth Enright, another gift from a well-meaning aunt. There’s no reason not to give kids the books you loved… just don’t be offended if they decide they don’t like ’em.

  78. B. Durbin @ 78: Schmitz’ charming The Witches of Karres is what I have on deck for my older daughter (age 12.5) whenever she tires of Artemis Fowl, rereading Harry Potter, etc.; she’s already finished the Twilight books published so far, as well as The City of Ember and its two sequels and one prequel. But you’re right, Karres is special – I’ve reread it myself more often than any of the Heinlein “juvies,” even though I didn’t first encounter Karres until I was older (about 20).

    (As for it being decades old: The novel came out in 1966, but its opening section – slightly altered later to fit the events of the novel – was first published in 1949! It was included in The Science Fiction Hall of Fame, Volume IIB, a selection of novellas edited by Ben Bova – a common offering of the SF Book Club in the 1970s. But no edition of the novel that I’ve ever seen mentions any earlier shorter version.)

  79. Usually in threads like this suggesting that The Great Heinlein is no longer relevant will lead to hundreds of posts arguing that this is not true and that it’s the fault of today’s youth and that Heinlein’s juvies will always be the perfect introduction to science fiction; I’m amazed it hasn’t happened here…

    When I grew up in the eighties I mostly read Asimov and Clarke and others rather than Heinlein, which is why I only read several of his most famous juveniles just last year. What struck me was how short and simple they were, how much you’re hit over the head with explenations you won’t really see in modern sf, juvenile or not. Something like Little Brother is much denser and much more complex than even the best of Heinlein’s juveniles (e.g. Tunnel in the Sky or Have Spacesuit, Will Travel).

  80. John : The “strange allergic reaction to anything not explicitly designed for kids” is indeed a strong argument, generally speaking.

    Yet, the same reaction already existed in the late 60s and 70s, and Heinlein’s juvenile did stand as an exception then (I guess that, for a 10 year-old, it makes little difference whether a book is two or five decades old : they’re both prehistoric). So something else must have changed.

    My money is on the attitude towards space. I was 6 in summer 1969, and I was promised the Moon and the Planets by 2000 if I was a good boy and learned a lot of science in school. Heinlein’s juvenile were obviously not “designed for me” (not only were they 20 years old, but in another language and with a foreign cultural background), but they single-mindedly spoke about this inheritance of mine. About me.

    It still does. My personnal chances to go to Mars get thiner every year, but it’s still a distinct possibility, and in any case I still firmly believe that a soon-to-come generation will go.

    Today’s teen don’t appear to agree. Most of them have basically the same tired attitude about space as their great-great-grandfathers’. it’s not a major problem, since this attitude has been proved to change to epidemic passion in less that a decade, under favourable conditions.

    But, in my opinion, the way to get to the future of Red Planet is still for them to go forward first !

  81. I was born in 1965, and read the usual suspects while growing up, and even then they were noticeably transmissions from receding worlds. When I talk to younger friends who share my general enthusiasm for fantasy and science fiction, one of the things I keep hearing is how altogether annoying a lot of us older fans can be. The kids (by which I mean anyone under 35 or so :) ) are really very tired of being told that they’re defective mutants if they don’t groove on just the same things we did, and that about how they’re pathetic intellectual weaklings for wanting stories whose imaginary worlds show the kinds of cultural diversity they’ve grown up in, social patterns they recognize as owing something to real life as they live it, and so on. And even knowing that, I find myself sometimes still coming across as a vintage jerk, and I know better.

    It’s interesting sometimes to see how much of established sf fandom is basically in some mixture of panicked flight from the present and bitter hostility to it. It’s true, this is not the future foreseen by pretty much anyone but Brunner, but y’know, it’s a very interesting world, full of younger readers who are leading interesting lives and thinking interesting thoughts if we’re willing to make some effort to listen with respect. I consider myself very much enriched in experience and outlook thanks to my younger friends, and I think their lives are valid enough that they don’t have to prove anything to me by suppressing their own time in favor of adopting one before mine.

  82. When I was a teen in the nineties, the YA SF I read was Christopher Pike. He was known mostly as a horror writer, because horror was what was selling those days, so his paperbacks all had blood-drippy font on them, but he also wrote some awesome science fiction with covers featuring blood-drippy font. He wrote about time travelers who cryogenically froze their bodies and tried to stop a nuclear war with the help of a video game designer. He wrote about a race of microscopic alien parasites (whose infestation manifested itself as vampirism in humans) were refugees from the destroyed “fifth planet.” He wrote about teens trapped in a virtual reality world.

    They were awesome. I often discuss their awesomeness with my critique partner, Carrie Ryan, who is currently writing post-apocalyptic science fiction for the YA audience (THE FOREST OF HANDS AND TEETH, a recent Big Idea piece here). (Me, I’m writing YA contemporary fantasy.)

    But I don’t expect the teens today to read them just because I did and thought they were awesome 15 years ago. I read Heinlein, too, but I didn’t expect it to be the main thing on bookstore shelves (actually, Heinlein was, because his widow had just released the uncut Stranger). I was at a school library yesterday, in fact and they had all the new books — Westerfeld and Black and Clare and Stroud and Artemis Fowl and Septimus Heap and Harry Potter and Percy Jackson and on and on. No Pike. But I’m not complaining about that. Now is, IMO, a golden age for YA. So many more options than just Pike or the occasional Lois Duncan that vered into the speculative.

    (Interesting to note, however, that Pike’s “Last Vampire” series is being repackaged to hit the current YA vampire zeitgeist, as is LJ Smith, another 90s-era YA vampire writer)

    Point is, don’t cry for teens — they are getting PLENTY of great spec stuff!

  83. I agree about the fading of the space program. I was thinking about this subject, and came to the conclusion that the kids are not reading much sf, period. They are reading a lot of fantasy, but I’m not seeing sf in the books that are hot with kids. Peer influences are extremely strong for tweeners and teens, so a book that gets a buzz going takes off much more powerfully than a book for adults with the same buzz. Kids are perceived as uncool if they don’t read the book. I’ve watched this going on with a number of YA titles in mainstream and fantasy. So far I have not seen it happening with SF. Much as I believe that Little Brother is a good book, and have heard good things about it, I have yet to see an actual kid reading it. I’m sure they are, but nothing like the numbers that are reading Fablehaven or Twilight right now. And I do believe disaffection with science and the future is a part of it. Right now we are in an extremely apocalyptic period with respect to our relationship with the future, and the space program is basically a huge disappointment. In many ways, the future has already arrived. In other ways, the future we were promised (flying cars, moving sidewalks) disappeared. SF writers are still imagining very interesting things–more interesting than ever. But it will take a SFnal Harry Potter to really break through and catch on with kids, and a way of imagining the future that excites people like the space program once did.

  84. As for space…

    I don’t yield to anyone in my enthusiasm for space. Dad worked for JPL, designing ranging systems for the Deep Space Network, and I grew up with the fervent conviction that I could and should go into space someday, and that humanity could and should spread itself across the worlds and stars.

    Obviously, it didn’t happen. But y’know, I don’t feel defrauded. I live surrounded by marvels I never dreamed of while growing up, and the universe out yonder turns out to be quite different than I’d ever have guessed. One of my all-time favorite comments about extrasolar planets came from a friend: “I remember when we’d have tossed out system-generating software that produced such obviously bogus results.” :) Nobody I can recall predicted deep-sea vent communities or the multi-species communities in rusticles, and so on up through every level of the biosphere. Ditto with the constantly transformative effects of technology, and social organizations that aren’t directly connected to new tech – I have the opportunity to think of my diet, philosophy, spirituality, sexual and romantic inclinations, and a whole lot more in categories that either didn’t exist when I was young or would never have come to my attention back then. It’s a new world, and a new me, too.

    And despite the many horrors facing us now, I’d rather see about fixing them and getting to someplace that preserves what’s interesting about now than constantly try roll back to an era that really is gone.

  85. I keep hearing about how kids are disaffected from science and the future, and I just don’t see it. It’s just that what engages them and offers them promises they yearn to fulfill is different stuff.

    And there are two things that very much affect how my younger friends think about space:

    First, it’s right here. Unmanned space exploration is real, and they like seeing the news when new neat discoveries get made. It’s been real all their lives – they expect that we will keep sending probes to look at other places in new ways. Those of an age to vote pretty unanimously support continuing to spend money on making that happen. It is, for them, as much a part of routine life as Jacques Cousteau’s exploration of the seas was in my youth.

    They’re less interested in going there themselves than I was partly because they have a better sense of how weird and dangerous it can be. The expected payoff of being there in person doesn’t seem to great to them, and they’d rather let the robots bring us the knowledge.

    Second, they have access to a lot more information about the homeworld than I did. They can sit down with Google Earth and a search engine and look at things and learn about them vastly more easily than I ever could. Earth turns out to be more complicated and weird, too, and quite properly therefore eats up some of the mental space available for gosh and wow.

  86. Chris Adams @ 79:

    There are two versions of The Puppet Masters out there, by the way. The one first published was edited, which included removing sex stuff. The unexpurgated version was published much later.

    In the opening scene the protagonist is sleeping alone in the edited version, while in the unexpurgated one he is in bed with a woman after a one night stand, as I recall it. And he decides not to bother waking her before leaving.

    The unexpurgated version also a bit later on about what happens when the slugs discover sex. It isn’t pretty. These are the only two differences I recall, but there may be others.

    Martin Wisse @ 31: Usually in threads like this suggesting that The Great Heinlein is no longer relevant will lead to hundreds of posts arguing that this is not true and that it’s the fault of today’s youth and that Heinlein’s juvies will always be the perfect introduction to science fiction; I’m amazed it hasn’t happened here…

    Well no one is making the usual absurdly overstated and overreaching claims that generally touch off those flamewars. Not yet anyway.

    The original question asked specifically about Heinlein, but I’d say the same comments about datedness apply to Asimov’s or Clarke’s work also.

    Bruce Baugh @ 86, 89, & 90:

    I can’t think of anything to say in reply to your comments, but I wanted to thank you for them, there is a lot of stuff I agree with there.

  87. My personal experience has been that teenage sons have enjoyed some of the Heinlein juvies, but not all of them. They greatly enjoyed his ‘adult’ books though. The Moon is a Harsh Mistress and Starship Troopers were real hits. Podkayne of Mars was fairly well received. Citizen of the Galaxy did not fare as well. Larry Niven’s Known Space stories have also been very popular, as has Keith Laumer’s Retief. I don’t know how you would classify those for age, but they both have aged well.

    I reread some of the books that they didn’t like, and I could see why. The mixture of aged technology and attitudes with unrealistic spaceships and environments was a little off-putting to me too. I thought the books were better in my memory than they were upon rereading.

    I also agree – the YA fantasy has held up better Diane Duane was a big hit with both of them. They devoured the entire series and are waiting for more. The Myth series by Robert Asprin was also a big hit

  88. Honestly, the only ending I remember is Podkayne in the hospital, the grandfather giving hell to her parents, and Clark going on…. I think that is the one they read. Could you clarify your question please?

  89. Scalzi@ 58 and Tumbleweed,

    I think you are talking at cross purposes. Farah Mendlesohn (whose name I am probably spelling wrong) wrote an article for The Horn Book, a big reviewing journal for the kid lit field. In it, she differentiated between the child who reads and the reading child, with the idea that the reading child is the one you have to physically separate from a book to get him to eat. It’s not a perfect definition, but I think there is a subset of each age demographic that reads differently from the norm. I think Tumbleweed is thinking of those readers and Scalzi, you are talking about the norm. Call those abnormal children Readers with a capitol R– they usually aren’t born, they are made, their grown-ups carefully introduce them to all the right gateway drugs, I mean books, when they are young and vulnerable. They think that The Secret Garden is the Bomb. They read Enid Blyton, published in the 40’s and 50’s, they read E. Nesbit (and enjoy it!) who was published before the turn of the 20th century. They can read and enjoy books from other eras, they have an adult-like filter developed to deal with the sexism, the racism, and the stupid-techism, and so they enjoy RAH. I have one of those readers and the problem I have is that the RAH juveniles are so hard to find. They used to be all over used bookstores, and on library shelves, but libraries have thrown them all out by now and people who have the paperbacks are holding on to them.

    Good news, someone is re-issuing the Heinlein Juveniles. They are in the adult section of Barnes and Noble. Here is the truly weird thing. If you put a new cover on the old books . . . the kids today will often read it, and love it, when they wouldn’t have touched it in its musty old cover–not with a ten foot pole.

  90. So far I have not seen it happening with SF. Much as I believe that Little Brother is a good book, and have heard good things about it, I have yet to see an actual kid reading it. I’m sure they are, but nothing like the numbers that are reading Fablehaven or Twilight

    Well, no one is reading ANYTHING in the numbers they are reading TWILIGHT, but quite a few are reading Westerfeld (futuristic nanotechnology, sustainable living, flying hoverboards, and plastic surgery) and Collins (futuristic dystopica with genetically engineered mutants), Patterson (more genetic engineering)…

    Hmmm, a pattern seems to be emerging. Maybe kids today just aren’t as gung-ho about SPACE as they are about other aspects of futurism, like genetic engineering.

    A shout out to a great and acclaimed SF YA: FEED by M.T Anderson, about the future in which the internet lives in your head, and SKINNED by Robin Wasserman, about cyborgs.

  91. Diana Peterfeund@ 96

    I wonder if the problem is that realistic space stuff doesn’t seem like that much fun anymore. No faster than light travel, no dogfights in zippy little attack ships, no pirates in space. All those things are hard to have with any scientific plausibility. Maybe today’s kids’ science education is just good enough to take the fun out of SF. There’s only so much you can do with the people stuck in the ship for 800 years, or laboriously terraforming a new planet–what you are likely to get are studies of human nature and the ethics of terraforming–boring. Where’s my space pirates, eh?

  92. FJM in her Horn Book article observed that most of the Science Fiction that *is* marketed to YA is of the near-future dystopia kind, such as FEED. She thinks that the trend is actually anti-science.

  93. Hope @ 95 Good news, someone is re-issuing the Heinlein Juveniles. They are in the adult section of Barnes and Noble. Here is the truly weird thing. If you put a new cover on the old books . . . the kids today will often read it, and love it, when they wouldn’t have touched it in its musty old cover–not with a ten foot pole.

    Baen Books is doing them, or at least some of them. Which means you can also buy them in online versions without any DRM.

  94. This discussion keeps reminding me of the days when I worked in a very small public library with an extremely limited budget. We used to get kids coming in asking for science fiction–mostly Star Wars fans, as I remember, though this was long after the original movies came out–and I’d lead them to our aged collection of Heinlein juveniles (that was pretty much all we had at the time)(and yes, the adult sf collection was similarly dated and battered). However. I would also very carefully show them the publication date of each volume, and talk about about how this was an *old* book, so reading it would be kind of like watching a black-and-white sf movie as compared to Star Wars, or whatever. Some of them weren’t interested; some of them were; and some of them were even intrigued by the idea of looking at when a book was published in order to find out something about it before reading it.

    Then I’d try to find something to recommend via InterLibrary Loan . . . but it wasn’t a bad way to approach the concept of “dated” sf, in my experience. Assuming the need to do so, for whatever reason (including adult nostalgia). And, of course, it only applies to kids who ask adults for book recommendations–a fairly specialized group of readers, or Readers, for that matter.

  95. CJ, in RAH’s original ending Poddy dies. The publishers hated the ending and made Heinlein change it. The 2 versions differ only on the last page.

    Baen editions published after 1995 contain both endings.

  96. Ah. I got them an older edition, so they never saw that version. In the book they read, she was left sick in the hospital. I can see why the publishers may have had some qualms with that ending for younger readers. I would have had to think before giving a book with that ending to my boys.

  97. I think the books such as Heinlein’s ‘books for boys’ might just be too old now to still find a wide audience. The authors who wrote the YA science fiction I loved as a kid that came out right when I read it, might be the equivalent enjoyment level now that the 40s/50s SF kids novels were for me in the 70s/early 80s when I read them. (I’m 40 now)

    Authors like John Rowe Townsend, Jean Karl, Alan Nourse, H.M. Hoover, Annabel and Edgar Johnson… I’ve barely thought about them for years, but The Visitors, The Turning Place, and The Danger Quotient (books I read and re-read a dozen times) each made a connection to me and an immediacy that none of the more dated novels I also enjoyed at that age (Foundation series, Heinlein juveniles, even Andre Norton’s work) could match. It’s probably similar for new novels and today’s young readers.

  98. “Could a teenager enjoy a Lensman book for the story? Probably. But all things being equal, she’s more likely to enjoy a story that also is more in line to her understanding of tech, social structures, and how people speak. ”

    That’s actually one of the best examples. Now, I read the Lensmen series back in the early 80s when I was in my early tweens. Actually, the first one I read was “Second Stage Lensmen”, one of the many books my aunt had read and I inherited. And it was a fun and rip-roaring adventure and all…and then Kimball Kinnison arrives on Lyrane II, and even as a young male teenager, Kinnison, the epitome of human nobility, came across to me as a condescending sexist jerkass with the way he treated the female-dominated society.

    Sure, in the context of the time it was written it isn’t nearly as bad as modern sensibilities might indicate, but a kid who isn’t as aware of that historical context, and especially one who has grown up in a world where fictional characters include Ellen Ripley and Sarah Conner and where real life shows has women in uniforms carrying weapons, kicking ass and taking namesm well, they might not be as forgiving.

  99. If you’re looking for teenagers reading about space in the YA section, you’re in the wrong part of the bookstore. Head over to the SF section, then a couple of aisles over… to the area with all the bright and shiny books and the teenagers sitting on the floor. Some of them will be reading about space all right, it’s just that instead of simple rocketships, their space almost always contains fighting robots. Spaceships wax and wane in the world of manga, but they’re still around.

    Also, kids are still reading the Star Wars novels pretty intensely. I’m just sayin’. There’s space stuff out there, but I’d say the problem is that extensive, massive space travel has now become more of a Science Fantasy thing than Science Fiction. Most kids today think that it’s unlikely they’ll ever make it to mars. And if true realism is boring, why not put in a few giant robots with swords and lasers?

  100. Geez, this is what I get for ignoring blogs for a day and participating in ‘life’. Anyway, here are several replies:

    “If that wasn’t going to be the case with old SF, why would we still recommend people read like like Mark Twain, etc.?”

    The question isn’t what one recommends to teens to read. It’s what teens want to read when they read on their own.

    Like any consumer, they most read what is best marketed to them. (see also: Twilight)

    And leaving aside the fact that Mark Twain is not nearly as high on the average teen casual reading list as you appear to assume it is

    I’m not assuming it – they get assigned to read it in schools (well, the ones without the PC patrol in charge of the reading list). I never got that one, but I did get assigned Of Mice and Men, and To Kill a Mockingbird.

    , as noted in the entry itself, there’s a difference between work which can be placed in the context of its own time, and science fiction, which is explicitly about a future time — which must be a follow-on to our own. In that context, Huck Finn and his crew are rather more believable to current YA readers than John Thomas Stuart XI and his crew.

    Twilight characters are believable(ish), too, as long as they’re set in a realistic (for their setting) way. I think old SF (YA or not) is more like science fantasy these days, or perhaps alternate history, and thus seems to be slipping into a category of its own. Certainly when I read books written decades before the Viking landers, I knew this wasn’t based on science fact as known in my era, and it was fine, as that’s not what was enjoyable about the stories.

    ou’re making the point that even though old YA SF is old, it’s still interesting. That may be so, but my point is: so what?

    And there we go – that’s all I was really saying. :)

    Moreover, your argument of “outdated SF didn’t bother me” is not a very good one, either. Maybe it didn’t bother you, and that’s nice for you. It didn’t bother me, either. But as I’ve also noted, back when I was reading Heinlein juvies, there wasn’t nearly as much good YA-oriented science fiction;

    I wasn’t looking for ‘YA’ fiction at the time, just good stories.

    Eh. She was a very modern character for 1954, yes. Today she’s not so much. Which goes rather to my point. The assumptions of today are not the assumptions of yesterday. Today’s teens are going to be rather more interested in Scott Westerfeld’s Tally than Heinlein’s Betty Sorenson.

    Holy crap – did you actually remember her name?! I couldn’t. :)

    On to your point –

    Probably. But to this day, I still wonder what it was that her parents did that made her divorce them. And that’s 30 or so years after reading the story. Try that with Westerfeld, as great as his work is. (the dirty Pluto-hater)

    I’m speaking specifically about science fiction; I’m not covering fantasy.

    (see note about about old SF being more aligned now with science fantasy or alternate history).

    @something by someone :) –

    If you check out when he wrote “For Us, the Living”, you’ll see he started out with adult stuff he knew wouldn’t get published (or at least, wouldn’t pay the bills), and then turned to juvies. It’s a pretty interesting read from the point of view of someone who’s already read virtually all of his work, to see the characters and topics he wrote about for decades afterwards, and to realize he had all that stuff decades earlier, that it wasn’t something he worked his way towards.

    @something else by someone else :) –

    It’s a big mistake to assume that if something applies to someone who’s “young-at-heart,” it will apply equally well to someone who is actually *young*.

    If you’re referring to me, realize I stated I read all this old RAH stuff when I was a kid (and it was pretty old stuff by that point). I read it knowing it was obsolete, and recognizing the attitudes in it were very different from the time I lived in, and I still enjoyed it quite a bit. I’m the person I am today in large part because of Heinlein’s stories, even though I disagree with him philosophically (or, more accurately, many of his protagonists) on some pretty major points (especially Libertarianism). I’m not sure you can really call RAH a Libertarian, as I suspect a Libertarian wouldn’t come up with a character with the pragmatism of, say, Professor de la Paz. I don’t see any proof (yet) that a supply of higher-quality/more-socially-relevant material for kids prevents a kid from enjoying something ‘obsolete’. Case in point: Harry Potter. That stuff is of marginal quality in many respects (very memorable and sympathetic characters, though), while much better work is out there. If quality was the measure of success, Microsoft wouldn’t be where it is today. I don’t see that that lesson doesn’t apply to literature for juveniles. Whether something is ever presented in a palatable way to a kid is the real issue, like I said – marketing.

    @69 Jeff – Jeffon 30 Mar 2009 at 7:08 pm

    As I am a childless, old bastard that already hollers at kids to get off my lawn, I am forced to consider whether the SFYA genre is for me. There seems vanishingly little chance to come up with a “classic”, that would be untarnished by time, especially given the nature of SF.

    Dude, get to a bookstore and get Scott Westerfeld’s Uglies/Pretties/Specials/Extras books. Also his duology, ‘Peeps’ and ‘Last Days’ (I like the first one best, but YMMV). And there’s a reason Cory Doctorow’s “Little Brother” has been nominated for so many awards. I don’t see how any of these won’t be considered classics in the decades to come.

    @87 Diana –
    Point is, don’t cry for teens — they are getting PLENTY of great spec stuff!

    Are they? Sure, they’re getting _some_ stuff that is great and will be classics (Westerfeld/Doctorow, etc), but are they going to learn the same things as they would reading RAH’s Moon is a Harsh Mistress or Starship Troopers (I don’t know if these are considered juveniles or not – I suspect not – but that’s how old I was when I read them :). You can only have so many teen romance vampire stories before they tend to blur into an indistinct mass, and telling a romantic story aimed at teens, no matter how well done, is unlikely to teach some of the same things as reading a RAH book would. I’m probably just getting crochety, though. Reading things like Clark’s Childhoold’s End also had a pretty big impression on my 13-year-old self, so don’t mistake my enthusiasm for RAH as excluding any of the other masters of that era. They had a certain something.

    @95 Hope –

    I quite agree, and that’s what I’d been thinking more as this conversation went on. My point seems unprovable until someone decides to reprint RAH and RAH-like material and market it towards today’s youth. That ain’t gonna happen, though I did note with some glee yesterday that the local bookchain has some newly (2009) prints of E.E. Doc Smith’s Lensman books on the shelves. Right on. Hopefully they’ll go on to reprint some of his more obscure series (Skylark, etc), and perhaps some more obscure authors (Lin Carter, etc.). There’s an amazing amount of fun stuff out there that will likely never see the light of day otherwise.

  101. Following this discussion, I am gradually more curious as to how much the “happy reading older scifi” versus “prefers newer scifi” among the theoretical Young Person ends up dividing by gender lines.

    I can read Shakespeare and be only mildly annoyed by some of the sexism because it took place so long ago, it was like another world. Really, it was another world, and even in his more fantastical plays, the sexism and racism and other -isms are all firmly nailed to his culture.

    But books written in the 50s and 60s and 70s have sexism that feels uncomfortably like the sexism that still exists today. It’s often written by people who are still alive today. And worst of all, its future is my now, or my in-the-future, which makes it even worse: it’s not just a matter of assumed cultural sexism, but that these people who could imagine far-away worlds and alien cultures could not stretch themselves far enough to get past ingrained cultural attitudes about gender. And thus wrote them as assumed and natural and existing in the future.

    It makes the shiny rocketship future a lot less appealing when it’s full of “And girls are sort of silly, you know.”

  102. Now I’m a generation older than Scalzi so I certainly feel the pain when THE STARBEAST or CITIZEN OF THE GALAXY are no longer YA read by every kid but I recogonize where he’s coming from. My own YA, JUMPER, was certainly a reaction to the Heinlein Juvies. It was published in 92 and guess what? It’s aging. Things are changing. There is no email, no world wide web. Twitter? ZOMG. There’s not really even cell phones, though they were around. Definitely no Texting.

    Deep breath. My little book is not only all grown up and going places, it’s getting Alzheimers. Soon it’ll be drinking metamucil and wearing Depends.

  103. Steven – as a _huge_ effing fan of Jumper, I gotta ask – do you really think that what’s good or important about Jumper is something that can age? I certainly don’t, at least, not until the need for abused kids to be able to escape their surroundings fades, via teleportation, or anything else. I consider Jumper as good as just about anything RAH wrote, with the exception of The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and Starship Troopers, and that’s merely personal preference.

    Don’t worry about it. Rather like Starship Troopers, worry more about what people who have only seen the movie version think they’re going to get when they read one of your other books. While I quite enjoyed Jumper the movie, I don’t see anything recognizable in movie Davey that was in book Davey, though I think it’s awesome you got some dough outta the deal, and hopefully more recognition for your work.

    I bet Wildside would make a good movie, if put in the right hands. And I’d still like a movie made of the book Jumper. :)

  104. Oddly enough, Jumper was another book that I couldn’t get my elder son to read. I think that the difficult subject matter in the beginning of the book put him off. I didn’t show it to my then ten-year-old.

    What about old Asimov, like Elijah Bailey and R. Daneel Olivaw books? Better story telling than the Foundation series in my opinion and still suitable for teenagers. It may be sexist though – I don’t remember it well enough to say. I think all the Asimov robot book would hold up pretty well. I’ll have to get copies to share.

    Childhood’s end seems sort of dated to me. But I’m trying to get them to read Fountains of Paradise.

  105. I’m knew to your blog, just have been sifting through it, but this post interested me because I’ve started reading through Heinlein. It is actually fairly difficult to even FIND his books; the library I use has only three so I’ve had to resort to using inter-library loans to get them at all. I also looked through Borders and a couple of other bookstores to see if they had and Heinlein and that was a pretty limited collection too (Starship Troopers and Strangers, mostly), which surprised me.

    I think maybe Heinlein’s novels would sell better now if they were put into schmancy-fancy omnibuses, like Bujold’s Miles series and Brust’s Taltos books or even Zelazny’s Amber books. Most people don’t want to spend $8.00 for a single book they think they could find at a library or a garage sale.

    By the way, I just finished reading Android’s Dream a few days ago and plan to read more of your books when I get the chance, because Android’s dream was all kinds of shiny. The semester’s winding down; I’ll have more time during the summer. However I did truly want to know what Robin’s ranking was, especially after she took over the Nidu! I am madly curious . . . I was disappointed Android’s Dream never gave her ranking, especially since ranking seemed like such a huge issue. To me that question more than anything leaves the book open ended. How high-ranked will she be? Will Earth try and curry her favor now? Any assassination attempts, because that might raise their ranking then too, if she had a high rank? What the heck will her adopted parents think of all this, and especially if they end up meeting Harry Creek– because there’s no way to hide that they were raising a sheep-daughter NOW, even if they didn’t know before. (Just think of what the neighbors will say!)

  106. As my son is 24 now [and loved Star Beast when he was tweenish/teenish], I can’t say that RAH is entirely outmoded for a Reader, but Charles Sheffield’s observation on my Puppetmasters film review [which he solicited to pass on to Ginny — grade B+, by the way] was “The problem with approaching Heinlein’s work from a contemporary reader’s or movie-goer’s perspective is that so much of what he invented has been widely copied that it’s his work that seems imitative.”

    Currently, the youth for whom I buy gift books are my nephew Joey, 10, and my cousins [who stand more as nieces in relationship to me within our extended family] Morgan, 13, and Taylor, 16.

    I don’t buy books for my sister’s five children because they’re non-readers and Charismatics who avoid SF. Harry Potter is verbotten and evil, but Narnia’s okay. They still get Borders gift cards.

    Joey, despite being raised by two non-readers and exposed to constant TV, anime, DVDs, and computer gaming through his dad, my nine-year-youngest sibling, did devour Harry Potter, the manga, and comics I bought him over the years. The last books I purchased for him were Winkler’s Hank Zipzer series.

    Last May I bought Morgan Pratchett’s Tiffany Aching collection and last month for her 16th Taylor received Zoe’s Tale.

    I know Taylor has a taste for SF because she’s the one whom I first saw with a copy of Westerfield’s series.

    The trick is developing readers in a world of too many distractions.

    As for modern authors, I found Varley’s “Red Thunder” series a strong candidate for YA SF, though I don’t know if it were marketed as such.


  107. Wow, look at me go- what an excellent discussion I started! I suppose I must share the credit with John, though…

    Seriously, thanks for taking my question and turning it into such an interesting and informative thread.

    Just FYI: I’m not nearly as old as my question- and your answer- might suggest: I’m about the same age as JS and I have a son who’s about the same age as Athena.

    I read the Heinlein juveniles in the mid 80’s. It didn’t occur to me at all that they were out of date- but I’m sure I’d feel differently if I reread them today.

    Lots of good suggestions for YA SF here- but I think I’ll still try to get Sam to try some of the Heinlein ones.

  108. All through elementary and middle school, I practically lived in the SF/F sections of local bookstores.
    I remember being shocked and disappointed, when someone first took me to Barnes & Noble, to see how small their SF/F section was in comparison to the rest of the store. This is because I happen to leave near a bookstore called Dark Carnival. It has two floors, and is packed with as many bookshelves and books that could possibly be crammed into the space. Most of them are Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Surreal, but there’s also books from other genres that appeal to the same crowd. They don’t mind if you curl up in a corner (surrounded by shelves and stacks of books on all sides, of course) and read for a few hours, because me and other customers I’ve seen doing that usually emerge from the shelves with a sizeable stack of books to purchase before leaving. (“But Mom! I need this one too! I’ll carry them! Seven isn’t too many, and I’ll be done by the end of the week!)
    I was the kid that would lock myself in the bathroom so that I wouldn’t be disturbed while reading, would have to have a book pulled out of my hands before I realized that my mother was yelling “dinner time!” from ten feet away, made sure my coats had pockets that could hold a paperback, and reread all my books an average of probably 5-6 times because I simply didn’t have the money or the bedroom bookshelf/floor/underbed/underpillow space to get enough books and loved rereading old ones anyway.
    I’m a bit saddened by many of these comments, as many of people’s favorite books and authors from their childhood and/or teenage years were my favorites as well… yet I’m currently seventeen years old (the birthday cake isn’t even stale yet) and thus at least a decade or two younger than all you 70’s/80’s kids.
    The sadness is because I too wish that these epic books were more widely read, instead of being rejected for the likes of Twilight and such. (cue twitching fingers and clenched teeth as I try and refrain from ranting at the girls in my English class as they rave about it daily and what they see as literary genius)
    Ages 8-14 were when I got more reading done, since high school has been zapping my reading time and IB Art class has been zapping my book money. But at those ages, my favorites (leaning much more towards fantasy, since my mother didn’t like me buying sci-fi) were Phillip Pullman, Jane Yolen, Bruce Colville, Patricia McKillip, Robin McKinnley, Ursula LeGuin, Orson Scott Card, Garth Nix, Nancy Farmer, E. Nesbit, Dianna Wynne Jones, C.S. Lewis, Lawrence Yep, Anne McCaffrey, Susan Cooper, and many others. I also had a thing for Arthurian legends, and Greek/Egyptian mythology. Also some historical fiction. And (more so during my elementary school years) nature/animal books of the Jean Craighead George and Jack London sort where things are more wild and the animals don’t talk. Their books made me realize that one can write a whole novel with mainly animal characters, where there is not one bit of speech unless a human is in the scene, yet the story is complex and the animals seem natural and wild while still being expressive and interactive, unlike the overly-anthropomorphic animal characters of other books.

    I saw Mark Twain mentioned a few times, and felt a need to comment on him. As a very young child, I hated him for “Chicken Soup with Rice” which is a children’s book about how a little boy loves eating that. It’s quite repetitive and somehow just sounded set me off. Then in 6th grade my class read Tom Sawyer, and the racism and sexism pissed me quite a bit. But then when I was fourteen, a friend whose opinion on books I highly respected recommended The Mysterious Stranger Manuscripts, which turned out to be one of my all-time favorites. I’ve since read a bit of Mark Twain’s work from near the end of his life (he died while still working on the Manuscripts) which I appreciated much more than his earlier works. I strongly recommend the Manuscripts. Let’s just say that the well known Evangelion series drew some inspiration from it, particularly in the last few episodes and the two movies, and with the character Kaworu. The Manuscripts are set more than half a millenium earlier, and are often much more philosophical/psychological. ‘Nuff said.
    I think I tended to try and steer clear of “YA” sections, since the YA books I read were often found both in the YA section and the “normal” section because pre-teens could read them but adults loved them as well. I loved Dark Carnival for not really having a YA section that my mother could confine me to, and thus couldn’t tell me “that’s a grownup book” like she did with Juniper and Sabriel for reasons that I never understood because she’d unknowingly let me buy books with “worse” content like Marjorie Kellogg’s Dragon Quartet and McKiernan’s Dragonstone at age ten or eleven simply because anything with “Dragon” sounded harmless to her if she didn’t recognize the author. Luckily I was intellectually mature enough that I could handle content often considered too intense (philosophical, psychological, or violent) for my age group, and the sexual things went right over my head anyways and therefore were a non-issue in terms of “corrupting my innocent little child mind”. I was reading SF/F (and not the kind that’re really pure romance/horror/action masquerading as SF/F) and therefore that sort of content was never the focus of books I read.

    The bookstore also has many out-of-print books and the original versions of UK/Australian/foreign English-language books instead of the oft watered-down and altered US versions, and in general has an awesome selection of books, plus their tiny YA-specific section actually has quite decent books with more of the slightly-older awesome ones and few of the new overly-hyped crap.
    I’m so grateful that I live so close to that bookstore, and that I was aware of it (and thus a frequent customer) all through my childhood. The people at the store would never talk down to me for being a child, even though 8-14 year old me appeared to be 6-12, and treated me like any other customer, the only exception being that they’d often go through the stack of books I intended to purchase and then back to the shelf to find that one copy that had been marked to half price but somehow was still around with its full-price siblings, so that my mother could buy me the books I wanted instead of re-shelving them. They also let me park my bike just inside the door, and keep an eye on it whilst I disappeared into the shelves for an hour of book-hunting. Though it was quite amusing to see “grown-up” customers walk in the door, glance at the bike that obviously was sized for a pre-teen/child, and then when they saw me browsing shelves would ask if they could help me find the book my mommy said she wanted for Christmas. Of course, to a glare and a reply that I had gotten a gift certificate for Channukah and my mother could get her own books. Usually they’d look confused, then would be delighted and start recommending tons of great stuff when it clicked that here was a ten year old who Actually Loved Reading, and that if I was in the store and knew my way around then clearly I was not the “only reads Harry Potter and Animorphs” kid.

    I guess the point of this overly-long comment is to tell you all that there’s still hope in kids my age (and younger! best thing ever- recommending epic books to my younger friends, who recommend them to their even younger friends…thus we spread the knowledge and attempt to create more info-geeks) so don’t despair. From what I can tell from this comment thread, I’m assuming that a large portion of the previous posters were also “that SF/F-obsessed kid who read all the time and kept getting annoyed when their parents tried to separate them from a book or didn’t want to buy them yet another stack of books each week, or when well-meaning librarians and bookstore employees redirected them away from ‘grownup books’ under the impression they lost their way to the childrens’ section” I have many more info-geek friends who also spent childhoods with the epic SF/F books, so there’s a lot more current child/preteen/teenage appreciators of good literature than you might think. Though given that I live in the SF Bay Area (East Bay) there might be a higher concentration of us here than many other places and thus my statement might not be quite so valid elsewhere. And we have, (I always find out about their epic author visits/book-signings -after- they happen, like Neil Gaiman and Cory Doctorow and Jane Yolen and Garth Nix. So frustrating!) and we also have some rather nice libraries.

    If anyone reads this, I’m guessing that if they haven’t heard of it before, they probably now want to get over to Berkeley so they can go to the bookstore I’ve been raving about for a large portion of my comment which I just realized is quite long. Oops.

    Summary: This seventeen year old (yes, me) loves reading what you all consider to be good literature, loved more of the same all through childhood from an early age, disdains the kind of literature that is making you all disappointed in the reading habits of “today’s youth”, and knows many more people, teenage and preteen and younger, who also appreciate the good literature and (shockingly) highly favor it over the TV that they all barely watch.