The Big Idea: Hannah Strom-Martin & Erin Underwood
Facing a horrifying dearth of available science fiction YA anthologies, Editors, Erin Underwood and Hannah Strom-Martin sought to rectify the problem. Crowd-funded through Kickstarter, Futuredaze: An Anthology of Young Adult Science Fiction aims to make a dent in the market, complete with 33 short stories and poems aimed toward the younger fans of the genre. Here are Erin and Hannah to explain the genesis behind their Big Idea.
Erin Underwood & Hannah Strom-Martin:
Our big idea for Futuredaze: An Anthology of Young Adult Science Fiction was born out of a discussion about a lack of short SF for teens. If you haven’t heard of The Hunger Games by now you’re probably living in District 13—but while we both enjoyed Suzanne Collins’ series and looked forward to a Harry Potter-esque revival of science fiction stories for teens, we ended up holding our breath a long time, at least as far as short stories were concerned. (Erin nearly passed out at a Boston B&N when she realized the lack of SF anthologies. But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.)
Since our Big Idea evolved as a dialogue it seems fitting for both of us to share the story here.
Erin: In early 2012, the Earth stood still. That was the day I entered a Boston Barnes & Noble’s YA section, really “looked” at what they had to offer. I didn’t see a single SF anthology for teens. Standing there among the paranormal romance, urban fantasy and horror anthologies, I felt a bit betrayed. I’m a girl who grew up consuming a regular diet of geek fiction, and finding an absence of geek among the sleek, shiny anthologies told me that something had gone desperately, horribly wrong with the world. We were being invaded by werewolves, vampires, and witches, and there wasn’t a single space alien to blast them off the anthology shelves. That’s when I called Hannah and the Big Idea for Futuredaze: An Anthology of YA Science Fiction began to germinate. From there, our Big Idea grew into a Kickstarter campaign that gave life to Futuredaze.
Hannah: I’d noticed that, despite the Susan Collins juggernaut, comments about SF or the classic tales from which The Hunger Games derives appeared limited to a few mentions of Battle Royale. As someone who remembers hearing audio broadcasts of Ray Bradbury’s short stories on NPR I kept waiting for some snarky critic to point out the grand tradition of ersatz future fiction that The Hunger Games had drawn on for inspiration. I also noticed that dystopian SF seemed like the only sub-genre to have really gripped the public imagination—and while I adore those kinds of tales, there is much more to the SF universe. This is the genre of James Tiptree, Ursula K. LeGuin, Kurt Vonnegut, and Stephen King’s Bachman books (I can’t read The Hunger Games without thinking of “The Long Walk”). When we started reading for this anthology, we wanted to explore the possibilities of SF written for young adults, but we also wanted stories that hearkened back to our own formative reading experiences and gave us that special thrill of discovering characters who reflect a bit of your own experience—even if they’re in a far different time and place.
Erin: I agree with Hannah. I looked for the stories that made me “feel” something while reading because those are inevitably the stories that stay with me long after the last word is gone. If a story from our submission pool didn’t have that effect on me, I couldn’t imagine it within the anthology. Eventually stories began rising to the top, and we saw several standout stories per subgenre. This encouraged us to move toward a much more generalized anthology that could showcase the best of what science fiction can offer. Except…..
Hannah: Except then we were invaded by robots. My favorite aspect of YA is that it doesn’t talk down to its audience. Likewise, I feel it must be said that our early submission period saw a deluge of what I nicknamed “white-girl robot” stories. Speculative fiction has been going through some self-analysis lately and this sudden influx proved why. A good chunk of those early stories not only thought “inside the box” when it came to the possibilities of scientific advancement—they were also obsessed with the idea of white-girl robots. Not just the obvious sex-bot variety (although those were there, some even well written). The robot horde came from white suburbia and, relentingly, had white suburban concerns. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that—but the sheer volume of such submissions proved why we need more projects like Futuredaze.
Erin: The robots were tough. We received so many we had an abundance of “mech” stories to choose from, but “The End of Callie V” was our favorite because it approached the idea of life and love in a unique way. For me, the biggest concern was the number of stories that, while well-written, didn’t fit the contemporary definition of young adult fiction. By this point, I’d been promoting and working with YA authors long enough to start wondering if there was a fundamental misunderstanding of what constitutes “YA fiction” within parts of the science fiction community. That realization was a bit of a shock for me.
Hannah: My one frustration with this anthology was that the overall submission pool wasn’t quite at the level I would have hoped for—either in terms of cultural awareness or an ability to think outside the box and get away from typical SF cliché’s like rocket ships. However, the stories that were really thoughtful and original had a way of popping out so we quickly had more than enough entries for a highly entertaining, book length project.
Erin: My biggest challenge was to stop being nice. (If you know me, you’re laughing right now. I know it!) But seriously, once these gems floated to the top, it became a lot easier to cut the other pieces. Eventually, I learned an invaluable lesson: each anthology must have a story that sets the bar for every other story, if you want to avoid publishing an average anthology. For me, that story was “A Voice in the Night” by Jack McDevitt. I’d been a fan of his Alex Benedict series for years, and when Jack agreed to write a YA story for us featuring a youngAlex (a teen with his very own “big idea”), I was thrilled. Once I read Jack’s piece, I saw what Futuredaze could be. The bar was set.
Hannah: While I would have liked to see a bigger representation of cultures from our submissions I really think this anthology will be a good jumping off place for kids who may have read The Hunger Games and are wondering what other sorts of characters and situations they can find. We’ve got stories set in the near future, grand space opera type stuff and unique tales from emerging writers like Alex Dally MacFarlane whose “Unwritten in Green” was one of my favorite pieces. This is a story that straddles the fantasy and SF genres in a really interesting way, ups the level of writerly craft, and points the way towards what this nascent rebirth of young adult SF can be. We also decided to include poets in our line-up, which I feel provides yet another avenue for exploration. Exposing our audience to new things—that was the idea all along.