No, the Kids Aren’t Reading the Classics and Why Would They
Posted on November 1, 2015 Posted by John Scalzi 185 Comments
Writer Jason Sanford kicked a small hornet’s nest earlier today when he discussed “the fossilization of science fiction,” as he called it, and noted that today’s kids who are getting into science fiction are doing it without “Asimov, Clarke, Heinlein and Tolkien.” This is apparently causing a moderate bit of angina in some quarters.
I think Sanford is almost entirely correct (the small quibble being that I suspect Tolkien is still common currency, thanks to recent films and video games), nor does this personally come as any particular shock. I wrote last year about the fact my daughter was notably resistant to Heinlein’s charms, not to mention the charms of other writers who I enjoyed when I was her age… thirty years ago. She has her own set of writers she loves and follows, as she should. As do all the kids her age who read.
The surprise to me is not that today’s kids have their own set of favorite authors, in genre and out of it; the surprise to me is honestly that anyone else is surprised by this. As a practical matter, classic science fiction isn’t selling where today’s kids are buying (or where they are being bought for), namely, in the YA section of the book store. See for yourself: Walk into your local bookstore, head to the YA racks and try to find a science fiction or fantasy-themed book that more than fifteen years old. It’ll be a rough assignment. YA has a high audience turnover rate — kids keep aging out of the demo, don’t you know — and the new kids want their own books. The older books you’ll see tend to be a) ones assigned by schools, b) ones that had movies made from them.
Mind you, generally speaking, book stores stock newer books anyway; book stores, like other entertainment venues, rely on novelty (which in our line of work is called “front list”) to get people through the doors. If you’re doing well as an author, some of your backlist is on the shelf, too. But the shelf in a physical bookstore is only so long. These days, being someone who has been in a lot of bookstores recently, I note the shelf in science fiction and fantasy is mostly skewed to living, working authors, most notably their last couple of books. Some classic (i.e., now dead) authors are there but usually represented by two or three books rather than an extensive backlist.
Which is as it should be. All love to Heinlein, Clarke, Asimov, et al., but they’re dead now. They don’t need the money from readers; living authors do. Moreover, Heinlein, Clarke, Asimov, et al have been dead on average two to three decades and their best known work is half a century old. No matter how brilliant they were or how foundational they were to the genre, they’re going to be dated. None of the futures of Heinlein , as just one example, resemble a future that begins from today; they branch off from the 50s or 60s. Readers (in general) don’t want to have to go backwards a half century in order to move forward again.
Certainly you can’t expect new readers to the genre, including young readers, to backshift several decades — or, well, you can, but it would have the same effect as suggesting to a teenager today that if they want to see a movie about people their age, they should watch The Blackboard Jungle. Sure, it’s fine movie, and an important one. It’s just not especially relevant to the teenager of today. It wasn’t made for them, in any event. It was made for their grandparents.
Again, I’m not sure why it comes as a surprise to anyone that people might want entertainment aimed at them, which includes entertainment written by living people with a sense of what’s going on in contemporary culture. Most people aren’t approaching the genre as a survey course. They’re approaching it to be amused. And if they are approaching is as a survey course, then the good news is that it’s not actually that hard to find many if not most of the classics. There is infinite shelf space online, and you don’t have to sell that many copies of an ebook to remain in print. It’s there if you want it.
But — again — it’s okay if you don’t. I don’t expect new readers of the genre today to read much Heinlein or Clarke or Asimov. 60 years from now, and presuming I’m dead, I don’t expect them to read much of me, or Al Reynolds or Ann Leckie, either (to name just two other contemporary SF writers). They’ll be reading their authors, mostly. I hope they’ll enjoy them.
Please note that I am personally a very big fan of Heinlein and Bradbury in particular, Asimov and Clarke occasionally, and an admirer of many classic SF works and authors. I think it would be lovely if people did read classic SF. I’m just not surprised if they don’t. But if what you’re taking away from this is me dumping on Heinlein, et al., well. You’re not really paying attention, now, are you.
Let me also posit that some classic science fiction I think will experience an upswing in regard as it recedes further into the rearview mirror, in part because there won’t be the frisson of it representing an era close to, but distinctly not the current one. We already see that with some SF authors of eras before “The Golden Age,” notably Welles, Verne and Shelley; we don’t have to remind ourselves or rationalize away the fact that Frankenstein, for example, represents a time not our own.
(Although whether these particular works/authors are actually still widely read is another question entirely).
Classic: a novel everyone talks about and no one reads.
“The surprise to me is not that today’s kids have their own set of favorite authors, in genre and out of it; the surprise to me is honestly that anyone else is surprised by this.”
Same here. You don’t see kids today listening to Sinatra or watching Mr. Ed either.
Frankly, I’m just glad to see them reading. Even if it’s Twilight. ;-)
The problem is people forget books are ENTERTAINMENT.
I liked how a lot of the best old science fiction was “concept”-centered, stuff that you could explicitly say was exploring futuristic themes and ideas rather than just using futuristic-seeming trappings for more conventional stories. There’s not a lot of that left, and what does exist draws attention precisely because it’s so uncommon – think of the Martian.
Oh well. I’m a bit hopeful that Foundation will have a revival at some point, if only because we’re probably entering an era where people use ever-more advanced computer programs to try and make predictions along various metrics.
Reading tastes seem to have such a tie-in with films these days — defining “these days” as say, post-“Jazz Singer” — that I wonder if Frankenstein would be still in print or even remembered if Universal Studios hadn’t made it the core of their early horror films. I suspect that it wouldn’t take much more than a Foundation tv series or game to bring Asimov back to frontlist prominence.
Out of curiosity, I looked to see if Heinlein’s juveniles are on Kindle. They are, although priced around 7 or 8 dollars. I doubt Heinlein’s estate is getting much of that. The comments at Amazon point out that the conversion to Kindle for some of them is pretty shoddy, too.
The first SF book I remember reading was Have Space Suit, Will Travel. Even in the late 60s, there were some anachronisms. As another comment said, they had space travel, but no photo copiers. Today’s kids reading stuff like that would find it distracting.
You’re absolutely right, of course (and so is Jason Sanford.)
For those of us with a foot over in the academic world, the upset reaction really resembles that of some professors to the annual Beloit List (the list of things one ought to remember when talking to a freshman class in college, each year, i.e. all the crap that you think of as “current” that is “history” in its most negative sense to them — https://www.beloit.edu/mindset/2019/ is the latest). Inevitably some younger faculty (who are just beginning to find out that no one is forever au courant) and some stuck-in-the-mud old poops (who not only thought rock and roll would never die, but think it hasn’t) interpret the Beloit List as an attack on the students for being ignorami, usually defensively asserting something or other about how they exposed the kids to something or other from their own teen years and the kids “still” respond to it (i.e. if you stand over kids and tell them, directly or not, that their grade depends on liking “Tommy”, “Dark Side of the Moon,” or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, they will show a remarkable capacity for liking just what they are supposed to). The idea that the stuff you loved has ceased to speak to the young — or scarier still that you have — flips a lot of wigs.
I have a deep fantasy of someday being in a retirement home where every day we are awakened to Mick Jagger’s nasty snarl of “What a drag it is gettin’ old.” The pleasure I get from seeing all the Boomers older than me wince will far outweigh any damage to my personal feeling of hipness.
I do expect the kids to read Clarke, Asimov, Heinlein, etc, just not first. (Tolkien is different. Fantasy aims differently than SF.) I started with Burroughs and Wells, who were even more dated than Heinlein, Clarke, and Asimov at the time, though both of them were possibly far enough off to be more like fantasy even in the early 80s. But then I went to Star Trek novels and Pern and other stuff, then I came back around and read Asimov and Clarke and Heinlein. (And eventually EE Smith, and some of the other people who were inspirations for them.)
I think the only reason the big 3 have been the core of SF for as many generations as theyhave is how long they were writing
I don’t know, I first started reading Heinlein when I was twenty. Most of his stuff was 30 or 40 years old by then. Same with Asimov, the stuff I read in my teens was written decades earlier. The contemporary stuff, McCaffrey and Niven and Zelazny and so on, didn’t keep me from reading older stuff too.
So it doesn’t bother me at all that kids aren’t reading the classic SF stuff but I do wonder if the division of reading int YA and not is entirely healthy. When you say … YA has a high audience turnover rate — kids keep aging out of the demo, don’t you know — and the new kids want their own books… it feels like kids want the literary equivalent of their own boy bands, but in books. Again, that’s fine but it feels more corporate driven (here’s a new author doing the Hunger Games take for a new generation!).
I don’t mean this as a broadside on YA, but especially as we start talking about teenagers, I don’t think they need to be steered away from adult books into their own protected sphere. I started reading SF at 15 and just wandered into the SF section and looked for things that intrigued me. No, Stranger in a Strange Land and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress aren’t YA… but I read them just fine.
However… they have their entire lives to check out what we call classics. It’s not important that they do it when they are teens. And if they bounce off those books, oh well.
// You don’t see kids today listening to Sinatra or watching Mr. Ed either. //
My kids thought Mr. Ed was hilarious. The DVDs were a staple of in car entertainment on family road trips. My son (now 21) loves him some Tolkien, but his reaction was rather meh back when I loaned him various Heinlein, Clarke and others us Gen Xers consider classics.
He has read every Scalzi though, so there is that.
Michael Phillips, I’d say that depends on the reader. There’s plenty coming out now a days that kids won’t run out of things to read. Some might be interested in the history of their current favorites*: looking at how, for instance, Heinlein and Haldeman and Card influenced Scalzi. Others might be more focused on tracing the conversation forward than following it back. There’s no one way to be a fan.
* I was, though I was enough of an astronomy nerd that I read a lot of classic Solar System stuff as fantasy, because early Heinlein’s Venus and Mars and Ganymede weren’t the ones I knew.
At Windycon this year, we’re having a panel in which teenagers have been asked to read three or four classic SF novels (all were asked to read Heinlein’s Time for the Stars and to choose the others from a list). The intention is for them to discuss the novels, what they liked, what they didn’t, what seemed extremely dated, etc.
I’m happy that today’s Spec fic often has 3 dimensional female characters. Not always, but more so than the “classics” that never spoke to me. (At least there were Diana Wynne Jones and Lloyd Alexander.., but I was better off with ENesbitt or Edward Eager than with many contemporary writers when I was a teen.)
I’m currently rereading the Foundation Trilogy, and finding the 1940s ideas of future technology a bit off-putting. Quaint just isn’t going to sell to young readers.
I’m curious what the commentariat thinks *has* aged better. I tried Asimov again a bit ago (I’m mid-30s, so first read it 20+ years ago), and sadly it has aged very poorly for me.
I’m 40, so I grew up too reading Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke, Herbert, Brunner, Tolkien and the rest of classic authors. I loved to read older books, like Jules Verne, Mary Shelley or H.G.Wells, and not just from SF writers. My favourite writer when I was 10 it was Conan Doyle (he still is in my personal Top 5). I loved Literature classes at school and high school (I’m from Spain, so those were centered mainly on spanish authors). It made me value the work of classic writers. I begun reading a lot of spanish and foreign classics, but did not forget SF/F and terror. I discovered Lovecraft thanks to RPGs (that was a blast!) and the pulps thanks to a spanish edition of The Shadow that a friend of my mother gave us to my brother and me. Then E.E.”Doc” Smith and early Heinlein works.
Then came William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, Pat Cadigan, Jack Womack, Walter John Williams. The Cyberpunk movement was an electric shock. Gibson got instantly to 1st place on Top 5 (he still is my favourite). Few years later Lois McMaster Bujold and other revived space opera and she was so good. Discovered Terry Pratchett’s Discworld and my jaw drop.
My first job involved a lot of walking, so I read while I walked on the street (that’s a serious risk sport for thrill seekers, almost got run over by cars half a dozen times). It allowed me to read 1-2 books daily. Devoured my collection, but luckily got many friends addicted to SF/F.
By then books by authors like Dan Simmons, Neal Stephenson, Charles Stross, Cory Doctorow or that Scalzi guy replaced the former generation, with countless additions (Kameron Hurley, Anne Leckie, Chuck Gibson, Cat Valente…).
There’s always been a ‘recycling’ in which writer’s are the ones that kids read but I think that we, as adult, do that too though not at such level. There’s so many good books out there that it’s impossible to read all we want.
I try to read all I can, but also I’m a writer, so my time is not-so-free. I read a lot of genres, from contemporary authors to classisc and yes, I even read YA ’cause I wanna know what kids are into these days,
People, let your kids decide what they like, You can guide them, but it’s their world as once it was yours. And perhaps you’ll be surprised when your daughter or your son asks you if you can lend her/him your copy of Dune.
Let them read free so they can dream free and become the new dream-makers.
Greetings from the other side of the world.
P.S.: Sorry if that was a bit vague. Insomnia hit me hard again tonight.
Not that it’s in any way a meaningful counterpoint – the cultural force that it represents probably makes it more of a ‘exception that proves the rule’ situation – but every bookstore I’ve been in this year still keeps a copy of the now-18-year-old novel ‘Harry Potter and the Magic Rock’ in the general ‘YA’ region.
I’m starting to get to the point where Tolkien is hard to read – the racial purity and rigid gender roles take me out of the story, when twenty years ago distinct races that more or less got on and women defending the borders and defeating evil was fresh and new. Sometimes things just age.
Part of it, I think, is the Godfather effect; if you were born in a world built on the influence of the old classics, they lose some of their power to inspire.
I’d hate to see how much Redwall holds up.
@luis – I’m not sure it’s about what’s aging well (though it might be for new readers which kids/teens are, by definition). One of the things that I continually see in book groups etc are people who have a hard time with attitudes or technology from 50 years ago… in a genre that posits aliens and a strange universe. It’s an oddly conservative attitude if you think about it. On the one hand a reader like that is claiming that they want new and different things with interesting alien societies and the like… and on the other hand they have a hard time accepting attitudes and situations that don’t mirror ours.
Sanford’s tweets/post seems unnecessarily divisive, too. Sure, the people who insist that ONLY Golden and Silver style SF should be considered real SF are silly relics… but the people who dismiss those works and claim that only contemporary works are of value strike me as close-minded also.
A new SFF reader should read what they like of course. But I think that it’s worth it at some point to try the foundational works in the genre. This is true, in my opinion of course, in any genre, not just SF.
But then, I had an odd intro to genre. My grade school library had no fantasy so I grew up reading Greek and Norse myths. That might explain my bemusement at people finding 50 and 60 year old works to be too far back in time.
The YA field is tricky, you’re essentially getting tweens and young teens whose reading material would once have been a game of volleying between adult and juvenile shelves. (I know because I did it). Designating what is YA is a tough thing for many catalogers, but I do know from experience that readers that get a taste for SF and Fantasy reading quickly migrate to the adult genre section for more.
I’d love to hear what comes out of that panel!
I’ve been stumping for more middle grade science fiction on my library shelves for years now. I was discussing this with someone recently and pointed out that SF is a moving target, it’s constantly shifting forward and the stuff that was out when I was a kid is pretty dated. That said I’d love to see the trend of science fiction for elementary school kids (ages 9-12) continue to develop. I cut my eyeteeth on SF back in the 80s when it was more plentiful on the MG shelves than fantasy was. Nowadays it’s hard to find more than a handful of SF for kids published each year (though it’s getting better!).
@Luis I feel LeGuin has aged well. So has some of Niven’s stuff – Ringworld still works, and I still have a soft spot for the Tarzan books I read as a child (I’m 25 now) . Hal Clement’s ‘Mission to Gravity’ and Robert Forward’s Dragon’s Egg series have, as well. The tech in Forward’s books is a bit anachronistic (the fact that the Soviet Union is around in the 2020’s even more so), but the plot is solid and there’s a relatively diverse cast. But I have to say as a queer female reader, the newer stuff does a much better job at holding onto my attention, if only because I got fed up really early with guys having the best parts in the SF/F I read. I like Ann Leckie’s work a lot – the Ancillary books are ones I keep reccing to friends because of how awesome they are.
I’m in my 30s and I didn’t read any of Asimov, Clarke, or Heinlein until I was an adult and going back and reading the classics specifically because they were the classics. I did read some others, like Tolkien, Bradbury, Verne, and Wells, but mostly when I was a young sf/f fan, I was doing things like working my way through every book McCaffrey ever wrote. My tastes certainly changed as I got older (I would no longer consider myself much of a McCaffrey fan, for one), but if I’d tried to originally start on people like Heinlein, I probably would’ve switched to borrowing Mom’s mysteries instead of Dad’s sci-fi.
I agree with absolutely everything in the post, but want to ramble a bit about ages and stages. From my own experience, it looks like “kids these days” have much more access to literature of their choosing than I did (and I’m 36 so not so long in the tooth). I honestly can’t remember where I got a hold of most of my reading material as a teen, but it was scattershot what I saw and read.
I know for me it wasn’t until I was in my 20s, with evenings after work rather than after-school-activities and studying, that I really started to mine the library system and read SF in more depth, and use earning power to seek out books that weren’t in the library. I can’t imagine what it would be like to have more or less instant access to anything you want to read when you first start reading.
One more point: if you look at what’s available in ebook format from public library systems, it’s almost entirely new stuff with a lot of YA. Very little in the way of the classics. Even more contemporary classics, like Terry Pratchett novels, aren’t well-represented.
Cristin Anne: I just lost a rambling comment that was trying to say what you just said, but you said it much better!
It doesn’t surprise me that younger readers have their own lists of favorite authors that don’t include all, or even any, of the books that are considered classics. I’m a relatively old fart, and I’m discovering new favorites all the time too. It actually kind of bothers me that every time there’s a poll of great and influential SF and F or reader’s favorites on various web sites or media (The Guardian, NPR etc) the same titles and authors get trotted out over and over, as if SF and F just stopped after the early 70s, right when it (in my opinion) started to get really interesting and much more inclusive.
To be honest, I think the quality bar is higher for authors than it’s ever been before. I’ve had agents and editors tell me it’s harder for new writers to break into trade-published print now than in previous decades. To get published today, one needs more than a good grasp of craft and a cool world building idea or technology to explore. One must actually be able to create compelling, believable characters, have a voice and personality to their prose, and be a good storyteller. Not saying that the old masters weren’t, but I think they were big fish in a much smaller pond, so they stood out in a way today’s writers probably can’t in a time when SF and F are divided into a huge numbers of subgenres and there are far too many books being trade published (let alone self) each year for any fan to read them all.
If younger (and older fans too) fans weren’t enthusiastically reading the work of more recent authors, then there’d be no point in writing (and publishing) today at all.
Eh. Tolkien and Bradbury and timeless, and /should/ be read by anyone who’s literate. Sci Fi is a different kettle of fish and often doesn’t age as well. (Bradbury doesn’t count as Sci Fi for these purposes) My kids certainly went after them in a big way but we’re highly resistant to any SF author older than Neal Stephenson.
@rickg: The difference, I think, is that myths are the story of a people when they’re told and the story of the past when they’re read (as we so often do) as history; they don’t pretend to be the future. It’s less that the attitudes of older SFF don’t mirror our world, as that they mirror our parents’ or grandparents’. Many things that are taken for granted, and thus invisible to the reader of the time, stick out like a sore thumb in future generations.
This isn’t merely a problem of the golden age writers, of course. One of my kids is a huge fan of cyberpunk (it’s becoming The In Thing again, I am told), and still snickers over the scene in Neuromancer where Case walks by a bank of pay phones. There are probably more pay phones in that scene than my children have seen collectively in their lives. To the reader of the time, pay phones were ubiquitous; today they’re an anachronism.
I’m with your daughter on Heinlein. Outside of Stranger in a Strange Land I found all his novels utterly terrible. That said, I was one of those kids who didn’t read the “classics” until I was made to (The Hobbit in high school English, Asimov and Clarke in a college elective on — of all things — the classics of science fiction). In the end, I was glad I got that exposure because I became a huge fan of Clarke’s novels and a love of hard science fiction.
I can understand an author focusing on the bookstore :) but my 2 children who enjoy science fiction have worked through and loved the extensive collection of Clarke, Heinlein, and Asimov I keep on my bookshelf (not to mention Smith, Anderson, Cambell and other greats). The find other great old stuff at the library. Yes, they love plenty of new stuff I’ve never seen, but the old still appeals.
I enjoyed the classics that you speak of when they were already old ( 1980s). I guess since I was reading what I found in the library, not the bookstore that’s not too surprising. We had no money to spend on buying books when I was a kid and only 4 TV channels – the library couldn’t be beat for entertainment.
For some reason, I think things are different now.
Perhaps kids these days have come to expect even science fiction writers to master things like character development and nuance, rather than obviously contrived technological mysteries and women whose nipples become audibly erect.
Even Asimov admitted that he wasn’t very good that the actual writing part; maybe we need to come around on that point, too.
@mythago – Well, yes, SF purports to be about the future but fantasy doesn’t.
While I get that pay phones and other anachronisms would amuse a young reader I’m still a little surprised by the number of adult readers who are, frankly, fairly narrow in what they accept. It just strikes me as odd that people read a genre that talks about all kinds of strange and improbable things including alien civilizations and societies yet are really fairly conservative in what they will tolerate in reading not of their time.
I think mythago is making a good point about what stands out in scifi that feels dated. It’s not just that the sentiments are old-fashioned, but that they’re presented so…unconsciously. And that makes them far more jarring than the deliberately Strange New World aspects of scifi.
As an example, I just recently read Rite of Passage, an excellent scifi novel that was written in 1961. It would probably be shelved as YA these days: it’s a story about a girl growing up on what’s not even a generation ship, but a space ship that travels long-term between various colony worlds after the destruction of the Earth, with the people on the ship living there permanently. The conceit of the story is that the fourteen-year-olds are sent down alone to the colony worlds for a month, to live or die in the experience, to show that they’re competent to take up the limited space and resources of the ship.
Now: this book has several interesting ideas, and deliberately futuristic technology. All of which is presented seamlessly and well within the novel itself. (Like I said, it’s an excellent novel.) And the protagonist, who’s a girl, is looking forward to a very high-status and difficult career, with complete certainty that nothing but her own ability will define whether or not she can pursue that career. The book is carefully written to show that she is growing up in a society that doesn’t divide roles up by gender: she never once acts as if there’s a barrier to her future career based on being a girl.
…and yet throughout the book, almost every adult woman who appears is presented in the role of Mother, and most of them are hysterical or weepy or irrational or pushy in a way specifically related to their roles as being mothers. Women show up to serve tea, or to be dorm mothers, or to be very sad or unreasonable or hysterical because of babies or children. (And even the fairy tales people tell to each other have princesses sitting around while princes do the adventuring.) Every single political, scientific, technological, or instructional role is held by a male character. It ends up being a constant little buzz of “Wait, but–” as I read, because the author is so clearly trying to show a society without sexist restrictions–and yet he’s written the adults as if they’ve all come from stereotypical 1950s middle class America.
This used to upset me, when I was reading old science fiction in high school. It’s not that I couldn’t be interested in a society unlike my own, just because it was old-fashioned instead of futuristic, but that the unconscious assumptions of the writers were making their futuristic worlds feel less plausible. These days I find it an interesting historical artifact. And I assume that fifty years from now, people reading my science fiction (if anyone is then) will find my unconscious assumptions just as disconcerting and quaint.
For the baby boomers who are surprised or unhappy that teenagers today don’t seek out fifty- or sixty-year-old science fiction: how much of what you were reading in your teens was published before the end of the first World War? That’s the timespan we’re looking at: the Summer of Love was about halfway between the Treaty of Versailles and today.
Yes, “the golden age of science fiction is twelve,” but that doesn’t mean a twelve-year-old in 2015 is going to fall in love with the same books as a twelve-year-old in 1975, or even 1995.
@ Stephanie Whelan: I’m having a rotten time finding science fiction that will appeal to younger readers to add to our library’s collection. So far, I’m doing better finding graphic novels. Will gladly take suggestions.
Fantas often doesn’t have the problem of being set in a future that never was:
Consider Gibson’s classic opening line:
” The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel.”
These days if you can manage to get to a dead channel at all, it’s a pretty blue.
I agree with John’s assessment in part, but I do note that much of the SF that I read as a kid was pretty old. I’m about John’s age, and I didn’t avoid SF that was written 20 years before I was born. Some of the stuff I read was much older than that (usually Fantasy). The Incompleat Enchanter was published 28 years before I was born. So wouldn’t that roughly be like Athena reading Ringworld, Dragonflight, The Left Hand of Darkness, or Stand on Zanzibar? For these purposes, I think we could count Dragonflight as fantasy. 1973’s The Princess Bride is probably a good analog to The Incompleat Enchanter, though a few relative years more recent. Do kids her age read the Princess Bride, if not,
I was willing to read older works; that doesn’t mean that I read a huge selection of books from 1941. It seems a bit crazy to suppose that kids her age might read more than a handful of these, unless she has a historical interest. Early Heinlein works, are even older, relatively speaking, more akin to reading A Princess of Mars, which I also did.
Perhaps it’s my false perception, but it does seem to me that today younger readers are less likely to read older works than I was. Why? Are kids today more driven by newness for the sake of newness? Is the world changing more quickly these days? Perhaps the sheer rate of books being published mean that there is proportionately less time to spend on the classics.
I did work with someone a few years younger than me who just refused to watch movies shot in black and white. I suppose Dr. Strangelove will always be lost to him.
If a young person today does read SF classics, that probably realistically means reading one Heinlein novel, not all of them.
@TheMadLibrarian Dragon’s Egg/Starquake by Robert Forward is pretty timeless (the aforementioned Soviet Union in space aside). Seanan McGuire’s work, both as herself and as Mira Grant. Diane Duane! Oh my gosh Diane Duane so much. Evolution by Stephen Baxter. The Chanur books by CJ Cherryh. Aliette de Bodard’s works (she does sf and fantasy). Ann Leckie’s books. The Star Wars books (the EU is still canon to me at least, and I, Jedi is fantastic. As are Zahn’s books)
My favourite decade is the 1950’s. I have a habit of always looking at the copyright date (and reading the blurbs) and so I’ve noticed I like stuff from that era. Books from then, such as Heinlein’s best, never seem too dated to me.
Put it this way: I can relate to the character Repairman Jack, in F. Paul Wilson’s excellent fantasy/detective series, who has an apartment stuffed with popular culture from before he himself was born. (Mind you, I wouldn’t want to live in the 50’s for sociological reasons—although I wouldn’t mind the lesser technology)
Isn’t Jason Sanford a little young to be writing an old man yells get off my lawn to the neighborhood kids piece?
In science fiction, the young people aren’t reading SF/old SF is part of the SF is dying religion.
Thirty years ago, in the 1980’s, they complained that Bradbury, Heinlein, Asimov, Clarke and LeGuin were being fossilized and the young people didn’t read them, preferring that rascally cyberpunk crap. In the 1990’s, they complained that the young people didn’t read them, preferring to read space opera and dystopias. And in the 2000’s they complained that the young people don’t read them and instead read Halo tie-in novels. For that matter, they complain that young people don’t read Frankenstein, War of the Worlds, and 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea too.
In actuality, young people are reading more Bradbury et. al. than ever before because they read them as part of their school curriculum, which was certainly not the case that much in the 1970’s, 1980’s and only started changing in the 1990’s. They have been fossilized — as literature. Sure, black kids in inner city schools who don’t even get textbook funding aren’t probably reading that much of them. But I’m guessing what Sanford cares about are North American white middle class suburban high schoolers and college kids. And they are being assigned I, Robot, Fahrenheit 451, The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and Childhood’s End, The Chrysalids, etc. My daughter was required to read so many old SF titles and short stories in high school, I started to encourage her to read newer things like The Hunger Games, which she liked. (To be fair, they also had them read newer stuff like Feed by M.T. Anderson.)
And now of course, there are a ton of old SF getting made in film and t.v. — they’re still running through Dick’s cannon, and Childhood’s End will soon debut on t.v.
As for Tolkien and fantasy, oh come on. For a period from the 1980’s to most of the 1990’s, young people and others did ignore Tolkien but then came the movies the youngest have now all grown up on, as well as Harry Potter, Vampire Diaries, Twilight, Hunger Games, etc. Do not ignore the power of Orlando Bloom. Or the fact that Tolkien’s The Hobbit and other fantasy classics are also assigned school reading. Where exactly do they think the massive uptick of SF and fantasy interest is coming from? Baby Boomers? They barely keep up with Game of Thrones.
Way more people read SF, including classic SF, than they did before, and more globally. And young people read more fiction for pleasure (in more mediums as well,) than adults. So this is silly.
I know, when my nieces and nephews started reading I got all excited whenever they read anything SF/F-ish and then there was a gap of time in which I was apparently horribly out of touch with what they wanted to read.
Eye-rolling may have been involved.
Many years later one of my nephews asked for book recommendations and I gave a bunch of old AND new.
Now I like to think of how lucky they’ll be to read “Dandelion Wine” or “Stand on Zanzibar” or any one of a number of my favorites for the FIRST time!
Here’s hoping they’ll be just as enthralled.
I still remember how, a decade ago when I was in my mid-20s, I taught a class devoted to science fiction at a gifted children’s school. The kids in the class were 12-13, and one of the stories I let them read was Asimov’s “The Feeling of Power”. It was one of the stories I read when I was their age, when I got into science fiction myself (and, I should also note, a story which I read on one of te textbooks during English lessons on junior high).
While the kids in the class liked some of the stories I gave them more than others, “A Feeling of Power” was the only story I gave them which they very vocally announced as a stinker. They thought it was “boring”, “old fashioned” and “irrelevant” (and while I agree that the story may have style problems for contemporary readers, I actually thought that it was highly relevant for the current era – in which we let machines do a lot of the thinking for us).
On the other hand, when I let the kids in the class read Bradbury’s “There Will Come Soft Rains” (which I also read as part of my English lessons when I was their age – I was lucky…) or Ellison’s “‘Repent, Harlequin!’ Said the Ticktockman”, they liked both very much. I guess some classics age better than others.
@rickg – the attitudes and technology from 50 years ago are anachronisms to newer readers (as fadeaccompli pointed out better than I did). They’re things that were written in at the time, because they were part of everyday life to the point of invisibility, and are now out of place. It’s not any more ‘conservative’ to wonder why women in the 25th century act like they’re in a 1950s sitcom, than it is to wonder why the hip tech cool future is full of payphones.
(And while fantasy is not as much about possible futures as SF, it’s more than capable of showing its age, particularly in that way that breaks the fourth wall.)
“Readers (in general) don’t want to have to go backwards a half century in order to move forward again.”
One word: steampunk.
Apart from that, though, for decades now the marketing departments of the world have been telling young people that if it’s not new and up to the minute it’s dull, boring and worthless (“square”…remember “square”?) and they are very good at telling people things, so of course it’s worked. For almost as long, people like us have been screaming that if a work of fiction is written from a perspective that is no longer politically acceptable (like maybe that of thirty or forty years ago), that work must be viewed with Deeeep Suspicion and preferably not at all. Guess what…some of the kids listen. (I notice, though John has made it clear he’s not dissing Heinlein, a number of people here have felt compelled to step up and be counted on that score. Well done. Your brownie points are in the mail.)
Whether this is a good and healthy thing, as John seems to think, I’m not so sure. Granted, fewer young people were reading in previous ages, but I have the impression that they did not regard books that were older than they were as “square”; if they liked them they read them and if they didn’t they didn’t. I find that a rather more healthy attitude than the notion that storytelling must be governed by the artificial thing we call “fashion.”
And as for having to go backwards a half-century in order to move forwards again…I have a feeling it’s happened in real life a time or two, and I’m firmly convinced it will be forced on us again very soon now, if we are to recover our sanity as a species. And maybe that’s because I’m old and disappointed and the future ain’t what it used to be…or maybe it’s because I’ve seen how we got here from where we started out and I know this is the wrong part of Futuresville to be stuck in after dark.
I grew up and called Jack Vance, A.E. van Vogt and Asimov my own big three.
Later I learned about Heinlein and I enjoyed his books for a short while but now his books all seem the same. And you have to be able to stand the incest.
When I was a child, I read a lot of the classics, because they were the books in Finnish on our local library’s SF shelves. Asimov, Clarke, Lem, even Burroughs. When re-reading these as adults, I find them quite a bit more unreadable than I did as a child. For example, I tried to re-read Asimov’s classic robot stories a couple of years ago, and I could read two novels (The Caves of Steel and The Naked Sun), mainly because I knew they were written in the 1950s, but I found that I just couldn’t finish The Robots of Dawn. That was mainly because I knew it was written thirty years later, but the outlook was still decades old.
However, I have re-read Gibson’s Sprawl trilogy multiple times and I still like it.
I have told my children that these are the books I did read, but they seem happy to find out by themselves what they like. My parents haven’t read the same books I did (except the Burroughs Mars books) but they haven’t told me what to read, either.
I used to work in a branch library (and sometimes at the Main), and would actually dip into the YA myself, and some of the YA fantasy was excellent, and some was dreck. (I wanted context to recommend books to kids/adults) I ran across kids who came across Heinlein’s juveniles, and wanted more, or wanted similar (but a little more modern). It was mostly the patrons my age or older who would be reading the sci fi section. However, they’ve had someone new ordering books for the adult sci-fi, as well as the YA, and I like the selection. For an example of datedness in a current author, though…George RR Martin. I was curious about the origin story of his series on the metahumans, (blanking on what he called them) so I requested the first and second books through ILL. No. Virtually unreadable. So dated. Cringeworthy in many places. Yet the new collections are fresh and have evolved with the times. And even his collection of “stories from Old Venus” for example have riffed off the older books, but with fresh new takes. I have also found that some books stand up to rereads better than others. Personally, I’m enjoying the variety in current SF/Fantasy. I think some older sci-fi does become classic literature, and others tend to fall by the wayside. It also depends very much also in what culture a kid grows up in.
I don’t know that with my closing in on 30 I still count as one of the kids for this exercise, but with the exception of Tolkien, who’s entire oeuvre I got and read at age 14, I have never read any Heinlein, Asimov or Clarke, and I likely won’t in the foreseeable future.
The reason for this is that there are simply so many books being currently released that I want to read that my backlog is already insurmountable. Given that the few classics that I have tried (P.K.Dick, LeGuin, Bester, even Gibson’s Neuromancer) didn’t really gel with me (the one notable exception being The Forever War, which I liked a lot) I’m unlikely to delay the books I’m looking forward to in my reading pile by splicing in some classics experience tells me I likely won’t like as much.
On the principle that SF is written about contemporary concerns, then I don’t see what the classics have to say to modern kids except as a historical reference. Where I Robot was about controlling a servant/manual worker class, people don’t keep staff the way they used to and factory work and hazardous work are different; we have automation for a lot of that, not quasi-people, at least outside of sweatshops. The context is gone. On the other hand, the Old Man’s War series are about constant militarism, which is a current issue. They are informed by Starship Troopers, yes, but they are not about the same issues any more than The Forever War was. Talking about anachronism, the CDF don’t appear to use drones.
And once the books are out of their context, what is there? How many SF books are timeless human dramas? Where is the King Lear of the canon? or the Romeo and Juliet, or the Hamlet? Most of them are pulp adventures or puzzle stories. Some will join books like Kidnapped or The Thirty-Nine Steps or The Maltese Falcon or The Prisoner of Zenda or The Three Musketeers and be read and enjoyed by some literate kids, but the bulk of them won’t and don’t deserve to.
I think the people you want to see reading the classics are the ones writing new stories, so that they add to the genre conversation instead of repeating what has been said. Once someone is a fan, then they can look into the depths of the genre to see where the stories they like have come from and to read pivotal works, but I don’t think these days that Asimov, Clarke and Heinlein are the best intro to SF. And where are the complaints that people aren’t reading Le Guin?
I’ve gotta say, Tolkien was a terrible introduction to SF for me, being not SF.
I grew up in house with a good chunk of 50s-70s, with a good smattering of the 80s, SF&F easily available and I really haven’t read most of it. As a kid, I’m not much younger than Scalzi, it just didn’t hold much appeal to me unless something more recent brought it to my attention. (Saw Dune, read Dune.)
Part of this was that I was more into fantasy. (I blame early Tolkien exposure.) But even today, I just don’t find it that appealing. I’ve read a couple of Asimov and a couple of Heinlien, but I’ve never felt the need to keep exploring. I like Bradbury, but I prefer his nonSF. (Exception “There Will Come Soft Rains” is one of my favorite short stories. But that isn’t really overtly SF.) I never read anything else by Herbert. (I have copies of the first two sequels somewhere.)
Yeah, I’m sure I’m missing out on some books I’d love, but there’s so many books out there, this is inevitable. (I do try to explore older works periodically. Read Wyndham for the first time a couple of years ago. Good, but if you thought Asimov looked dated…)
On a side note, my local library classifies Asimov as YA. (I don’t think they have any Heinlien.)
A couple people have touched on this already, but I think it’s really important to remember that these kids have the rest of their lives to read all the sci-fi they want. I’m 40 and I didn’t get to anything by Asimov until I was in my 30s. I *still* bounce off most of Heinlein’s stuff, but I keep going back to it. You’re not going to get that kind of attitude from a kid– if they aren’t entertained by something, they’re going to put it away. If YA sci-fi hooks them, trust me, they’ll get around to Le Guin sooner or later.
Sorry, but I don’t buy it. I’m with Brad Guy up there. I know the science fiction and mystery fields are not analogous, but…for what it’s worth, I started reading mysteries heavily in the early 1970’s. People were reading Agatha Christie’s last few books (she died in 1976) as well as Sayers and Hammett and Chandler, all long dead. If you don’t know the classics of the field how do you know where today’s authors came from? I agree that the phenomenon John mentioned is happening because it is also true in the mystery field that newer and younger fans only seem to know books written in the last decade, but I am constantly surprised (and appalled) by this fact, not complacent.
And stay off my lawn, whippersnappers!
One contributing factor is availability: older books aren’t necessarily available for free nor even heavily discounted, even in electronic editions – so as long as you’re spending money, why not go with something new?
So is this your reasoning for re-doing H. Beam Piper’s stories? He’s dead, and so you’re riding off his works. Sorry – you ain’t there yet.
Sayers and Christie hold up a lot better than the SF mentioned as “classics”.
Come to think of it, I did read a lot of Andre Norton as a kid. Another female author with female characters.
I’ve been having a lot of trouble as a parent with children’s classics (not SF), and kind of gave up reading them to my kids after having to explain why x y or z is racist too many times. And that’s just the ones that survive. With free ebooks I have discovered a world of otherwise well written books and authors with actual overt racism (turns out those specific pg Wodehouse books are no longer in print for a reason).
The truth is, if you want to be a classic and withstand the test of time, you have to be forward thinking socially more than anything else. Bigoted works make future generations cringe.
I didn’t read Heinlein until about five or six years ago, in my early thirties. I think I had a better appreciation and understanding of them because of that.
And a lot of what people are pointing out, I agree with. Some of the older novels haven’t aged all that well, especially with how far our technology has come in the past 20-25 years. I’m of the generation that went from landlines, dial-up and huge brick cell phones to tiny cell phones with more computing power than launched the first shuttle and wi-fi.
So it’s no wonder the younger generation are seeking out newer sci-fi where the tech is even more far-reaching and awesome.
Reblogged this on Mr. Rhapsodist and commented:
SF author and blogger John Scalzi takes a look at why the classics of yesteryear aren’t in demand today. A great read from a highly recommended site.
The writers whose generation produced the “classics” of science fiction were definitely trailblazers, and deserve respect on that account.
However — Daniel Boone blazed the first trail through the Cumberland Gap. I drove through that location last month, and nobody was pointing at the original trail and saying “Isn’t this a wonderful thoroughfare? Everybody should follow it!” They had built a much better highway in the generations since then, and it suited me much better,
The culture of 1950s US white suburbia is an extinct culture. (Thank heavens.) There are many fine works written by authors from extinct cultures — Austen, Dickens, Dumas — but if you’re trying to nurture a passionate love of reading in a younger reader whose knowledge of the world does not yet include familiarity with the filters of various extinct cultures, you don’t handicap them as they leave the gate.
Heinlein? Tolkien? Doc Smith?
I love the REALLY old stuff. Like Margaret Cavendish’s Blazing world and The Man in the Moone by Francis Godwin. My reading is just so much classicer than Sanford’s. Do I win?
I’m surprised, John, at your comments about current YA shelves in bookstores. The last time I looked – in the last 3 months or so – they were full of Harry Potter imitations and other wizard-y themes. I was searching for horse-themed books for a particular kid and couldn’t find much at all.
Re: the classic 3 or 4 SF authors mentioned above. I tried all of them as a kid, didn’t like any of them. Andre Norton, yes, and some of her books were assigned in school. But other than Norton and Verne, it was nada for me. And there were 2 authors you can’t make me read even if you held a gun on me, and they’re Tolkein and Lewis Carroll. Hate both of them.
“They’ll be reading their authors, mostly. I hope they’ll enjoy them.”
In 60 years, I hope *I* am reading and enjoying their authors. Not just because it means I would still be alive, but because it means that I’d still be mentally alive. Some YA stuff is pretty good, possibly more of it than the usual Sturgeon percentage. Some of it also lends itself well to be read out loud, as my spouse and I — both in our 50’s — like to do.
I go back and read the golden age writers I like but I have to grit my teeth when it comes to the female characters who generally exist only in relation to men and are completely driven by emotion rather than any sign of analytical thought.
As a girl, I just identified with the male characters (which you had to do if you wanted to find a character with an actual personality and agency). And in Victorian literature, I just chalked the portrayal of women to the times. That’s harder to do when you read science fiction and discover that to many Golden Age male authors, their vision of the future still doesn’t include thinking of women as peers or even as fully realized people.
I think Jason’s and John’s arguments are on target; even a 35-year fan like me doesn’t venture often into the murky past. But, paradoxically, the three top titles we sell out of our SF section in my bookstore are: Asimov’s FOUNDATION trilogy (in omnibus or 3-5 of the paperbacks at the same times), Heinlein’s STARSHIP TROOPERS, and Bradbury’s MARTIAN CHRONICLES. Now, I think this is skewed by the fact that we are a used bookstore and often don’t have the newest stuff in SF (but, curiously, we gets tons of new YA), but it seems that a lot of students from the local colleges come in looking for them. I think there’s a percentage that does seek some of this stuff out, but almost always because the titles were recommended to them, not because they are spelunking the depths of the genre. It tends to be curiosity more than anything else.
I find it endlessly baffling that people are so bothered by this, to be honest. I think a lot of people do come back to the classics as adults with a fuller appreciation of the genre, but a lot of ‘golden age’ SF is concept-driven, not story-driven, and when the concept ceases to be new and eye-opening in and of itself, the work will be judged on the quality of the story and writing…and often be found wanting.
FWIW, I read a lot of the so-called classics as a teenager (I’m 30). Some of them have held up to a re-read–Ray Bradbury wrote with an untouchable beauty and I’ve read LotR at least a dozen times–but as much as I loved ‘Stranger in a Strange Land’ when I was 15, I find Heinlein completely unreadable now, for a variety of reasons.
I guess I hold classic SF to the same standards as anything else; if I start reading it and I find it enjoyable, I’ll keep reading, but I’m not going to force myself to slog through 300 pages of unreadable pulp-fiction prose, casually oblivious 50’s-era sexism and gender roles, and anachronistic technology to get to a message that has been done better since then. I read SF for enjoyment, not to improve my mind. If I can do both at once, so much the better, but I’m not going to sacrifice the former at the altar of the latter.
I think some kids who don’t want to read the classics will come back to it later when the historical context makes more sense, but…IDK. Give it time. If a work holds up to the test of time, then it will continue to be read. If not, well, maybe the message wasn’t actually as universal as it seemed to the original audience. It’s easy to think of works that speak to us as universal, but that isn’t necessarily the case.
John E.O. Stevens:
It might also be those books are often assigned in college courses on SF.
It doesn’t surprise me you get tons of YA. The kids outgrow their books and/or head off to college or out in the world and the parents want the kid’s room for their own purposes.
I’m going to have to quibble on this. It’s possibly fantasy was thrown in there as a nod, but fantasy is one place where classics have aged better, and there are a lot over 15 years old in YA. It’s just that they’re written by authors often derided as being YA, not SF, so they don’t count. Tamora Pierce, McKinley. McKillip. Diana Wynne Jones. Dahl. L’Engle. Cue all the discussions on what is “real” SF, repeat every awards season.
That, and what Astra said about Golden Age male authors, extended to say those classics are pretty much unreadable for a good number of readers who don’t have to put up with being considered scenery now that there are more choices out there =)
AND YET: Childhood’s End and The Man in the High Castle are both coming to the small screen late this year, though Clarke and Dick are still dead.
@ rick gregory
I can’t help but get the impression that the people who are expected to be “flexible” enough to “accept different attitudes” are mostly the people who have been expected all along to be the flexible ones. The women expected to read a genre notably lacking female characters with agency. The minority readers expected to think themselves into the shoes and attitudes of non-minority protagonists written by non-minority authors in a time when attitudes about minorities and women were different.
So, you know, been there, done that. And if young people are less willing to do that, I am happy that it should be so. Women and minorities are not the people who need practice at thinking themselves into the shoes and concerns of protagonists different from them.
I don’t think it’s surprising, but it does represent a difference. I was a teen in the 1990s and reading all sorts of stuff from the 1930s-1960s, the same way (near as I can tell), teens in the 70s and 80s did. What has changed?
I think it might have something to do with the on-demand nature of our current media environment. To take an example from another medium, kids growing up in the 70s didn’t have much choice as to what movies they watched. It was whatever was playing on TV or the local theater, and a lot of what played was in the public domain. In other words, film nerds in the 70s saw a lot of silent movies by default. I grew up in the 80s, and with the advent of cable, I didn’t really see any silent movies until I started actually studying film. I did, however, watch lots of black and white movies or movies from long before I was born, simply because that’s what was showing on Cinemax or whatever. Now, it’s all about what’s on Netflix. Not to mention all the other options kids have to occupy their attention these days (video games, internet stuff, etc…)
For books, it was somewhat similar. I read Asimov and Clarke because that’s what was on the shelves (plus, they were still alive and writing – as someone mentioned above, their longevity has something to do with all this). Now I suspect kids barely peruse shelves, and do all their browsing on the internets. I came to Heinlein later (early 20s) and still try to delve into the distant past. I find a lot of it holds up remarkably well, and some of it doesn’t so much.
That being said, there seems to be a dismissive streak running through fandom these days. Perhaps its because there’s so much new SF/F these days. There’s too much to keep up with, you don’t have a choice but to filter in some way.
None of this is malicious or necessarily dangerous, but it is different, and for the first time in 70ish years, kids aren’t reading the “classics”. One can’t help but wonder what that will mean…
Hey, I grew up on Asimov, Heinlein, Clarke and Anderson. They’re mostly all pretty dated. Though I reread the Foundation trilogy from time to time, the writing is kinda clunky. The older I get (and I’m 75), the more I appreciate style and character development and the less I care for gee-whiz. These days, when I get all three you’ve got me hooked, which is why I love China Miéville, Kim Stanley Robinson, and N. K. Jemisin.
I think Dragonriders of Pern is pretty timeless, admittedly it is mostly fantasy with a sci-fi history, or however that genre is described. Blended genres might be the future of writing. Take for example Continuum, its a crime drama with a sci-fi setting, Almost Human a police procedural with robots.
I think the point of “golden age” science fiction is that it is hard science-fiction, the science-fiction was the thing and the whole of the thing. Except Asimov, the robot series are a good example of blended genre.
I dunno where I am going with this, its late and I’m going to bed.
All kids should be forced to suffer through classics like Waiting for Godot and Shakespeare. If I had to suffer through it they should be made miserable also and forced to read that boring stuff, then told by teachers that its the most awesomenest thing ever.
SF does not age well. Fantasy tends to age better because its not dependent on technology. I read a Deepness in the Sky recently. Its a terrific book, 20 years old. At the time it was cutting edge since they had the internet in space, but the bandwidth is a ‘you gotta be kidding’. Its like a 2400 Baud modem in an advanced space faring civilization.
Another issues with older SF is the style and length. Books from 50 years ago were alot shorter. They did not have the depth and detail of todays novels. A short novel today would be longer than one from back then. I liked Starship troopers, but it doesn’t have the depth that more modem books do. Heinlein would not have been able to get the book published if he wrote it with a 21st writing style with more details and a longer book. I think books had to be kept short because there was less space on shelves and publishing was more expensive right? Plus before word processors editing must have been alot more time consuming using a typewriter.
I belong to a book discussion group that includes a few classic novels each year. I’ve noticed that the people in the club who did not grow up with these books, mostly those in their 20s and 30s, frequently have strong negative reactions towards these books, especially their treatment of women, poor characterization, and frequently pacing as well. They have trouble with the idea that these works should be read with historical perspective. I point out that these novels are usually much shorter than modern works and were early expressions of ideas later developed in greater depth.
I started reading my son (now age 11) Tolkien and HHGTTG and was surprised that he liked them. But I doubt I would recommend anything from Heinlein, Asimov, etc. (even though I read/enjoy them). I’d rather he find his own stories to talk to friends about rather than trying to force him to read my favorites.
The number of good science fiction stories increases every year. The number that can be considered classics in the sense that they should continue to be widely read? That can’t reasonably expand anywhere nearly as fast.
In my view, stories “fall off” the list of classics simply because they’re being measured against more stories. That some have aged worse than others will influence which ones fall off, but even without that factor it would be inevitable.
“All love to Heinlein, Clarke, Asimov, et al., but they’re dead now. They don’t need the money from readers; living authors do.”
Uh, John, the only reason why there’s food in my refrigerator right now is because of a royalty check from my dead author husband. Jack L. Chalker may not need the money right now, but his widow sure does. (I’d rather have him.)
Some SF books from the “old times” are still great reads. UBIK by Dick, Neuromancer (is that a classic yet?), J. Vance’s Dying Earth tales, JG Ballard, H. Elllsion’s works (still going!) — I think that young people would love these works. I agree that living authors need to make a living, but the crown of “classic” only comes to those books that stand up to the test of time, that speak to persons through time as still relevant to them and their lives. It’s really not usual to have any work of art viewed as a classic until much later that the life of the author of the work — regrettable but how it is.
Doesn’t surprise me either. My oldest son is a big reader of SF/F and although he’s dipped into older stuff, he reads a lot of newer stuff. I think the older stuff he’s responded to the most is Harry Harrison’s Deathworld trilogy, but I’m not sure Heinlein took much of a hold on him.
I wonder what would happen if a publisher wrapped up and old classic SF and marketed as a new book by a new author. I wonder if young people would then find it interesting. That would be an interesting test case.
Starship Troopers with a Baen cover as a book by a ‘new master’. Marketed as modern edgy military SF.
A few others brushed against it, but Mark said pretty much exactly what I was thinking. There’s been a huge change in what and how much content is available to consume.
In the 80s when I started reading sff, I could pretty well manage to keep up with the majority of what was being published. I might not have read all of it, but I’d probably at least seen it on a shelf, and there was plenty of time to go back and devour older stuff, as well, not to mention trolling around in other genres.
Now, between the main genre publishers, the indie publishers, the self-publishers, and random stuff on the internet, I could read 24/7/365 (well, theoretically)and barely scratch the surface of what’s available. Even if I only read stuff created and published from this day forward, I could never keep up.
Kids have to make choices in their reading, a lot more choices than we had available to make, and it makes sense that they’re going to choose what’s current and speaks to them.
Eesh, did I write “trolling” where I should have written “trawling”? Sure enough…
Eh. A lot of teenagers are probably reading YA because it’s specifically targeted at them, features characters the same age as them, who are facing many of the same issues as them.
I mean, I’m not fifteen any more, but when I was, if given the option between reading a classic sff novel starring a middle-aged dude who saves the world which has some awesome worldbuilding and a ton of misogyny or reading a non-classic sff novel starring a teenaged girl who saves the world which has some awesome worldbuilding and secondary male characters who see the MC as an equal in every respect, it wouldn’t have been a tough choice.
I did read the classics; I loved (and still do) a lot of them. But kids today have so many options when it comes to quality speculative fiction/media that it shouldn’t be too surprising they pick books about, say, a badass nun assassin, a girl with cybernetic implants who saves the galaxy, or a teenaged werewolf who sees women as equals over classic, often dated fiction that requires them to constantly frame their reading experience with ‘Well, the main character keeps implying that women are hysterical and best suited to secretarial or domestic work, but that was the style at the time, so it’s cool; also, this book is set in the year I was born and everyone travels in hovercars’.
Hmmmmm. As always, Scalzi-points are good points. But I have a different perspective.
I’m 50 years old; I got into reading fantasy and sci-fi when I was about 8. Tolkien was my gateway drug … at that point, in 1973, LOTR had been in print for almost 20 years. The authors I read immediately after included Edgar Rice Burroughs (Barsoom series was my favourite, though I read Tarzan and some others), Robert Louis Stevenson, H. G. Well, and Jules Verne … all of whom had been dead for decades. I remember discovering Heinlein when I was just barely 10 (Have Space Suit, Will Travel … I still remember the COVER, it affected me so much!), and utterly devouring everything I could lay hands on — most of what I found early on were his earlier writings, so still a decade or more in print.
I think the reason I found my way to older works is that in that time and place, YA was not yet a concept. Once I read my way out of the children’s section of the local library, at around the time I was discovering Sci-fi and fantasy, the librarians had no choice put to point me towards the adult section and turn me loose. It’s why I also started reading my way through the Dickens canon at that age, and tearing through all the Sherlock Holmes tales.
Very simply; I was never told that any of this was too hard for me to read at 8 or 9 or 10 … or “too old” for me. So it wasn’t.
For this reason, I’m not totally convinced that dividing things into adult and YA serves every young reader well. I fear maybe it keeps some readers who would otherwise expand into richer material, reading in the pool which they’re told is theirs. And in turn, I fear it turns some adult readers off from some new works that they might enjoy, because they appear to be for YA only.
I’m no expert in all this; it’s just my impression. But I’m glad there wasn’t a YA section when I came along — I think I’m better for it.
As an aside: I just found out that our cousin’s 10 year old child’s Halloween costume was as a Hobbit (I haven’t heard which one).
Not because he’s seen the movies (he hasn’t). He read the books.
I love this kid.
@Jeff M: if you’re talking about the classics of mystery as important because “this is where the roots are”, shouldn’t we be discussing Poe and Doyle, rather than Christie and Chandler? And in SF, shouldn’t we be urging the young’uns to start off with Shelley and Zamyatin and Wells, rather than Heinlein and Asimov?
@Zander Nyrond: If I’m reading you correctly, your view is that loud political correctness has brainwashed kids into rejecting fiction they would otherwise have loved? If so, that doesn’t say much of your opinion of the kids, who are apparently presumed to be incapable of noticing on their own that the ‘future’ looks an awful lot like the past, and not in a there-is-nothing-new-under-the-sun kind of way. The popularity of steampunk doesn’t refute that; either; steampunk wasn’t written in Imperial Britain, and it’s for the most part the kind of what-if alternate history that happily lampshades its anachronisms. It’s no more an embrace of the flaws of dated fiction than the Harry Potter books are a ringing defense of medieval belief in witchcraft.
People feel strongly about this because it’s painful when you try to share a book you loved as a young person, and the current young people just aren’t feeling it. And especially when they aren’t feeling it because of flaws that you didn’t see, or that weren’t as important to you at the time (or that weren’t seen as flaws back then). So it’s easier, I guess, to insist that the works do not fail but can only be failed, either by PC shouting or the shallowness of youth who wouldn’t know good SF if were beamed into their skulls by alien mind-meld technology.
Oh man, I did not know that Jack had passed. :-( I have fond memories of reading his Dancing Gods books on the plane to Basic training years ago.
RIP sir. :-(
One last caveat to my comments above: I adore them, but as a female, I DO find some of the classic works frustrating. My heart will ever belong to Tolkien, but it certainly hurts that the only female character I can come anywhere close to identifying with is Eowyn. I adore Heinlein, and he stands out in that he’s got some wonderfully strong, intelligent, confident women, but they’re still vastly outnumbered by the men. Aasimov, Burroughs, Wells, Verne … not awash in exciting strong female characters. I love their works, but sometimes they leave me feeling bereft and invisible.
Intellectually, I understand perfectly well that what they wrote reflected the times in which they lived, nor can they possibly be expected to do otherwise! But it still makes reading them feel just a little empty.
SF has always been about ‘But what if?’
Nowadays, the ‘What if’ is different from the ‘What if’ decades ago. That makes a difference. Many of those conversations even about things which have not happened have been had, in great detail. Now people are writing ‘What if’ based on the results of those conversations.
As society grows and changes, so do the questions we face and ask ourselves. As such, those new authors are there to answer the questions that the no longer working ones are not here to even know are being asked.
I’ve found that in the Teen section of my local Barnes & Noble, the only author on the shelves of SF/F that is published before Y2k is usually Orson Scott Card, specifically Ender’s Game/Ender’s Shadow. I think OSC was getting a fair amount of shelf space because of the 2013 movie; he’s getting less and less now, as that movie starts to age and no movie sequel appears to be in the works. But there’s still plenty of James Dashner, Brandon Sanderson and other more recent authors.
Other that that, nothing “old” in the teen section; you’ll see some Asimov, Clarke and even Baen re-issues of Heinlein juvies over in the Adult section (and priced accordingly). If I were you John, I’d try to get Tor to market more of your stuff to the Teen/YA demo, if you want to keep selling when you’re 80. ;-)
Kat Godwin is definitely right in that the ‘SF IS DYING!!1!!” trope is an old one. I remember there being panels about it when I went to my first Philcon…in 1987. Some works age much better than others and some works require the modern reader to get past. A story by Agatha Christie holds up because it’s a contemporary piece of its moment (though I can’t help but notice that most people forget how long she was writing…Poirot of the 30s? Sure! Poirot in the 60s? Not so many people know that was a thing).
That said, dated SF is not nearly as challenging for me due to outdated technology, but outdated language. Early Heinlein is hard for me to penetrate, due to the WAY they’re written more than the material. I had no problem with Niven from the 60s. Recently picked up Saberhagen’s Berserker books and they read fine to me. ‘Little Fuzzy’ is a great read (and one I just came to prior to Scalzi’s remix), but the thing that most amused me (other than ‘data tapes’) was the constant reference to ‘highballs’. I had to look that up.
I don’t accept that Tolkien has EVER been under-read or ignored. Look at the number of editions of The Hobbit, for example. Tolkien was still required nerd reading when I was in middle and high schools…and people were still reading him in the 1990s. Radio plays, graphic novel adaptions and frequent re-releases, not to mention stuff like Unfinished Tales and the Silmarillion…and then of course, the 80s brought D&D, renew interest in a major fashion. Tolkien has never been out of style since his resurgence in the 1960s.
The very first things that came to mind when I read John’s post were some divides: mass vs. niche audiences, general-population vs. nerds/geeks/fans, kid vs non-kid culture. The next thing was my near-automatic observation that “classic” is a much-abused term and that it ought to be reserved for works that have been sorted out by longitudinal audiences–that we won’t know what has staying power and value until long after we’re dead, and any other attempted ranking or preference-mapping belongs to the realm of fashion.
Another near-automatic response: many young readers (and I’ve been able to watch college students, directly and over my wife’s shoulder, for nearly 50 years) never do come to see the value of, say, Shakespeare, or even Austen or Dickens. It’s too “old,” too distant from their sensibilities, too hard to read. Right now my wife is trying to get 20-year-old English majors to understand Renaissance poetry and drama, and it’s disheartening how foreign they find everything about the material–not just the language but the cultural and political setting. Part of this has to do with impoverished reading experience, and part with limitied historical and cultural horizons. Which, to be fair, is part of what a RenLit course aims at expanding. But too many students, even English majors, seem to think that anything that far from them and their immediate interests *can’t* matter.
BTW, I don’t know what the hell Sandford is going on about–what I see all aroung me is less fossilization than neophilia. Of course, as a living fossil myself, maybe I’m just too presbyopic to resolve the fine details. (On the other hand, I have wonderful lens implants that have given me clear distance vision after a lifetime of nearsightedness, so I see pretty good for a geezer. I think I understand the present almost as well as I do the past.)
BTW #2: “Aroung” is a special preposition (probably linked to poor typing skills) used by geezers who fail to proofread their posts. The robot eyeball implants should not be blamed.
Note to Eva Whitley: I went through a heavy Chalker phase and read everything I could find – most of it was out of print then. I still have a pb copy of “And the Devil Will Drag You Under” because I loved it so much and couldn’t find it available to purchase for e-reader. When “The Matrix” came out I thought “hey wait a minute … isn’t there some flux and anchor going on here??”
Now that the ebooks are starting to come out I am planning to add a bunch to my collection for re-reading. I thought JLC was great and I’m sorry you lost him. :-(
Main discussion: I think the best thing adults can do, if/when concerned that younger readers are bypassing “classics,” is to actually look at what they are reading, READ what they are reading, and then make them a list of recommendations. “If you like X, try Y.”
Every young generation has its own disposable reading entertainment and its own classics. People who love to read, though, will eventually run out of new stuff; and people who love to read will almost always be willing to try old stuff once it is pointed out to them as akin to the new stuff they liked.
The “classics” that my son knows are the ones I read aloud to him – The Martian Chronicles, 2001, LoTR (the only one he re-reads on a regular basis). And that’s ok. Now we both introduce each other to new SFF authors, which is the best!
It just strikes me as odd that people read a genre that talks about all kinds of strange and improbable things including alien civilizations and societies yet are really fairly conservative in what they will tolerate in reading not of their time.
Part of it’s framing, that the alien civilizations and societies are called out as being Different, while having a society where women exist only as love interests or mothers is assumed background. Part of it’s that the “classics” are all dated in the same ways.
What strikes me as odd is, in a genre built around imagining possible futures, so many people cling to sixty-year-old works and mock those who prefer to read books written in what Heinlein and Clarke considered the future. Foundation (even considering the novel publication, rather than the constituent stories) was published closer in time to The Time Machine than to today. There’s also 30 years more SF history to read through now than there was in the 1980s when many of the people griping about Kids These Days were young; I wouldn’t be surprised if lots of younger readers might read one or two Asimov or Heinlein novels but not everything they’ve written, because they’ve also got the “classics” from the 1980s and 1990s to catch up on.
I’m going to have t agree with the earlier commenters that it’s the cultural differences in the older books that are turning readers away. It doesn’t matter if the books aren’t on the shelf in the bookstore; if you like the author you will seek out the books, no matter how old they are. The reason readers aren’t is that the books make cultural assumptions that are jarring to today’s readers.
My kids, and their circles of friends (all pre high-school age) don’t have much interest in classic “hard” sci-fi, but they love the more humorous stuff (Adams, Pratchett).
A note on the whole datedness thing – recently I’ve re-watched a fair number of 90s and early 2000s TV shows and even at that relatively small remove, there are dated aspects. However, some of the shows still hold up despite some overly topical jokes and tech that I barely remember, and the ones that do are those with stories and characters that are the most universal and/or timeless.
I’ve read Heinlein and Asimov and Tolkein, some because I wanted to read them and some because my dad loved them and I loved my dad. I think that the reason Tolkien holds up better (despite some very, *very* long sentences and so.much.singing) is because Tolkien wrote his characters to be fairly archetypal and he was successful enough that readers can mostly get around the social weaknesses he betrays.
I don’t think I’ve ever read a character in Heinlein that rang completely true to me, especially all those laughable Dirk Squarejaw Manly Men. You cannot take these men seriously and with the single half-exception of “Stranger in Strange Land,” I had a hard time giving one single shit about what happened to them. Heinlein’s social weaknesses are blatant, and his characters aren’t human enough to carry a reader past them, at least not this reader.
Asimov in particular has survived long enough for a lot of his big concepts, especially from works like “I, Robot” to become cliches. The weakness there is that concepts that influenced the thought of the generation that raised you are not new concepts to you. Asimov seemed to care less about telling you the story of his characters living with his concept than exploring his concept, so once the concept fails to resonate, so does the work.
The comments I’ve seen about Christie and Sayers and mystery works from around the same time do ignore – Lord Peter Wimsey and Hercule Poirot are absolutely delightful and both Christie and Sayers are wonderful stylists. Those writers are just plain fun, and don’t insist that you view them as anything else. Compare them with Wilkie Collins, another old-time mystery author, whose writing gets bogged down in time-specific writing conventions and whose characters have some human moments, but a reader can never really separate them from their time.
When I was a teenager getting into SF/F, I loved the characters and loved being able to imagine what it would be like to be a real human in those circumstances. Plus, as an aside, those old-time covers are seriously off-putting when you’re a young reader.
An issue with some older SF is that the futures they described are themselves now dated.
I agree kids and adults should read what they like. I’ve gone back to read a lot of the classics so I can better understand where modern Sci-Fi is and in many cases why I haven’t enjoyed reading sci-fi as much as I enjoy watching it. (Short version is I seem to like shorter novels and novellas it keeps the story tight and often keeps the author from seeming to preachy when looking at societies foibles)
However, I’m not sure I entirely agree with you about nobody wanting to go back to go forward. Look at the trend in video games like fallout with big chunky vacuum tube sci-fi tech. Or even Steam Punk with it’s retro future where inventions are very much products of the physical. In those cases it is clear society & technology branched in the past forming an alternate timeline. Perhaps if readers thought of the classics in a similar way it would help smooth out the rough edges on things like tape-drive computers that fill entire rooms to do, what seem today are relatively trivial calculations. Rarely has the thrust of the “Classics” in Sci-Fi been about the technology so much as how advances in technology change people, or sometimes don’t change people, and how those lessons can be applied to today both to ridicule and praise what it means to be human.
My daughter has read some Heinlein mainly because I kept suggesting his books. She liked what shes read, which was most of his YA type things. I did buy her The Moon is a Harsh Mistress for Christmas one year because it’s one of my favorites and, the last time I checked, it was only available in print. And she really like Stranger in a Strange Land.
While it’s slightly off topic, you are one of her favorite authors, and she reads a lot, and not much SF. In fact, I thing she just reread all the OMW books recently.
People keep talking about YA books as a new category, but is it?
The Heinlein juveniles were explicit written for the “books for young boys” market*.
I fondly remember the row in the library, downstairs in the childrens’ section, with not just Heinlein, but Norton, Nourse, Dickson, and others.
* Which was distinct from the “books for young girls” market back then.
It makes me a bit sad to think of my son never reading any of my favourite classic sci-fi books (Glory Road was the first adult novel I ever read, at the tender age of 6). I can’t deny what you’re saying, John — I know I read a lot more modern/current-day sci-fi than classic sci-fi myself, so it doesn’t exactly surprise me to think that my son will read more of *his* modern sci-fi than my dad’s era of sci-fi. But it still makes me a little sad.
Time to up my bedtime story game, I guess, while he’s still little enough!
I read one of the stories written for “Last Dangerous Visions”, which of course was supposed to be edgy and shocking.
I assume this story was supposed to be edgy and shocking because of the cannibalism and a very gory fight scene. Which aren’t so uniquely horrible nowadays. (Or do I just have too many friends who like horror movies?)
But reading it for the first time in Aughties, I was more disturbed by the protagonist smoking while she was pregnant, and not having even momentary qualms about venting a farming dome to vacuum, when it might well have contained innocent people as well as the baddies chasing her.
I’m going to point out that the dead authors may not need the money, but their widows and children do.
Normally I agree with everything you say, but this one you didn’t think about.
What is a classic? It’s something that survives long term. If people aren’t reading these, are they really classics? Asimov, Heinlein, and Clarke were declared to be classics within a decade of their publication and they’ve slowly become less and less relevant. Why? Because they’re not timeless. They’re not classics. They were just the first “modern” SF that most baby boomers read.
In addition, science fiction deals with the future and because of this faces difficulties that other genres don’t have. Some ideas sound great at the time, but just don’t pan out. The world evolves in different ways than one thought. I consider Lois Bujold’s fiction pretty “modern,” but hearing about “data disks” already grates. In another decade?
rick gregory (@rickg) says:
IMHO, the problem really centers around the idea that “this is worthless drivel” there the “this” in question involves a whole lot of personal perspective and is pretty subjective. I’d like kids to read stories from the Golden Age because I think there is a wealth of enjoyable reading in that treasure trove. But there is also a wealth of enjoyable reading in modern/new SFF as well.
As luck would have it, I read “Flowers for Algernon” and “600 Hours of Edward” quite close together. Both stories have their merits.
When a new story seizes me the way Silverberg, McCaffrey, Modesitt, Norton, Herbert, Vinge, etc. did back in the day (and still do now), I know I have found great literature. Currently, Peter V. Brett, Sebastien de Castelle, and Joe Ambercrombie are hitting home runs, but that’s just in the last few months.
I spent too many days in the 1970s wishing that my kind of literature was included in our course work. Aside from a little Orwell and Bradbury, there just wasn’t much acceptance of anything that smacked of SFF. For true vitriol, the suggestion that Stephen King was the modern version of Poe was mildly entertaining and never very satisfying.
In all of these brouhahas, the one thing that drives me nuts is assertions suggesting that “this” work is unworthy of consideration for reasons beyond whether or not it is a well told tale. Judge each work based on its merits; not based on when it was first written, or whether the author has halitosis.
I’m actually glad that the kids of today aren’t reading the Johnny Quest books I read as a kid. In my teen years I loved Heinlein and Norton but couldn’t get into Asimov or Clark until much later, …when at all. I think that today’s youth may be motivated to look backwards as they get older and look for more perspective.
I have two main problems with this. First, most (not all) of the YA on the shelves today is trash compared to what Heinlein and Bradbury were putting out, regardless of what audience they were aiming at. Again, there’s some good YA out there. But kids aren’t picking books based on quality, or at least it doesn’t play a large role in that decision-making. I hate to say this so bluntly, because I read YA. I have no problem with adults reading YA. I’ve read a couple of Maze Runner books, I found Pure by Julianna Baggot to be entertaining. Tiffany Trent wrote some very underrated YA. But for every half-decent YA there’s hundreds of popular YA books that would serve us all better as door stops.
I also take some issue with this sentence. (Readers (in general) don’t want to have to go backwards a half century in order to move forward again)
Even now alternate present and alternate future sci-fi is popular. There’s no difference in reading a Heinlein future than reading an alternate history story. Except maybe some scientific fact or another has come to light that might alter the story. But for the most part, retro-futuristic sci-fi isn’t something that scares away readers. I think it’s more likely that heavy-handed socio-poitical issues scare away readers and there’s a lot of that in classic sf, especially Heinlein. It’s why I prefer reading OMW books to Heinlein books even though it’s easy to recognize his brilliance. I just don’t need the didactics.
I meant to say alternate history, not alternate future…. or did I…? (Yes, I did.)
John, if you haven’t seen it, Michael Swanwick references this post on his blog Flogging Babel, with a couple of interesting extensions.
Hey, I’d just be glad that kids might actually be reading science-fiction instead of the other “literary classics”. I’m not a big fan of PKD and Clarke, but there are far, far worse people that you could be reading.
If anything, blame bookstores for putting SF/F at the very back, tucked away where the prestigious won’t have to burn their eyes looking at the covers.
As Lord Commander Militant of the Imperial Guard wrote above, “SF has always been about ‘But what if?’,” and the sorts of “what if?” questions addressed by writers have changed. This to me is why Phil Dick’s work continues to have a life, why there are still conferences devoted to his work, adaptations, etc., while (for example) what’s left of Heinlein fandom is withering away since the 2007 Centennial even though Heinlein died more recently. It’s because Dick’s sorts of “What if?” questions are those that continue to resonate today. I think he himself was aware of their staying power (see his amusing afterword to the Ballantine Best of Philip K. Dick collection from the late 1970s).
(As far as I know, virtually all of both Dick and Heinlein remain in print, even the non-SF Dick titles of the 1950s. Anyone have facts on this?)
YA novels? Why no Pinkwater love? Between Lizard Music and (my fave) Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars, kids need nothing else.
@Dusty Wallace: First, most (not all) of the YA on the shelves today is trash compared to what Heinlein and Bradbury were putting out, regardless of what audience they were aiming at.
Oh, quite likely! But by that standard, most of what was on the shelf next to brand new first-edition Heinlein and Bradbury books was also trash compared to those things. It’s unfair to compare your absolute favorites from decades of time to the complete current run of everything that’s just arrived. 99% of what comes out this year will be forgotten in a decade; that’s true of every decade, and says nothing about this decade in particular.
I read Heinlein and Bradbury in my youth, because it was what my library had. (It was not a very well-updated library.) That was…twenty years ago or more, terrifying to think, and even then, it read as frustratingly dated to me. Good enough to keep me reading! But even so, I leapt on any new scifi that hit the shelves, because even the mediocre books of 1995 were more exciting to me than the very best of decades previous to it.
I don’t think there’s a lot that I read in 1995 that kids today would be reading. But there are probably a few gems that are lasting, just as some of Heinlein and Bradbury is good enough to keep lasting this long, and be of interest to people who want old-fashioned scifi as well as the new stuff. Every decade is, in aggregate, going to produce about the same percentage of truly excellent fiction out of everything released. Me, I’m looking forward to seeing what of 2015 still seems exciting and clever and worth revisting in 2035. And it would be downright tragic if in 2035 I couldn’t find some books just as good as what I’ve seen this year (and gosh, this has been a really excellent year for new scifi!) in the overwhelming flood of new fiction that’s aimed at Kids Those Days.
I’m in my early 20s and I’ve read Asimov, a bit. I’d read some of the classics for curiosity’s sake maybe, but I think you’re right. We’re reading *our* stuff mostly….
@Trent Baker: Dragonriders of Pern is “timeless”? Well, when I first read the books in my 20s I suppose the rape (excuse me, “forcible seduction”) scenes went past me because that sort of thing was common in romances then too. But they sure as hell don’t go past me now.
Tangential to the topic, but I looked at the “class of 2019” list John Barnes linked to, and nearly baptized my monitor when I noticed that they’d included “Vatican roulette” as an example of the slang this year’s incoming freshmen might use which would be baffling to their elders! That term was definitely current when I was just out of college, some three decades ago.
I’m not surprised by the shift in authors among our youth. College in the late 1970s was when I succumbed to the genre of speculative fiction and my favorite was the brand spankin’ new author, C.J. Cherryh, with her stories deep in the cultural mores of alien races (as well as our own). Nowadays my wife says her name is not heard as much anymore among interested young science fiction readers(my wife is also an independent bookstore manager in Seattle of some 20+ years). Times change. I’m just glad the kids are still into the whole damn thing. Makes me warm inside knowing the railgun in the 40W range has passed on successfully.
I got my start in SFF reading CS Lewis (at the same time as I was reading Arthur Ransome and Enid Blyton) – my parents were born in the early 1940s, and they bought me stories about the world they knew when they were growing up. Then there were the Anne books (starting with Anne of Green Gables and working forward from there) which were set in some idyllic past period, and What Katy Did, Seven Little Australians, the Billabong series by Mary Grant Bruce and so on – all of them stories about kids growing up in a completely different era to the one I was living in. (The Billabong books, for example, kicked off at around the turn of the 20th century, and wound up ending in the post-war period of the 1920s; Anne’s books finished with Rilla of Ingleside in the first world war). From there I moved on to Agatha Christie mysteries, mostly set during the twenties, thirties, forties, and occasionally the fifties and sixties.
I was born in 1971.
I was reading these books because that was what was provided for me. That was what was available at home. So I grew up not expecting to see my own experience of life reflected in the fiction I was reading – and that meant that yes, when I started reading “classic” SFF like Anne McCaffrey and Robert A Heinlein and J R R Tolkien, I wasn’t expecting to see attitudes which were contemporary to me reflected in what I was reading. I still noticed the rather jarring nature of the differences.
Kids today grow up with a different set of starter texts. Australian kids, for example, grow up with a set of books which are set in the near-contemporary Australia of the late 20th and early 21st centuries, rather than the England of the 1940s and 1950s, or the early years of twentieth century Australia or Canada. So when they look to move on, they’re going to be looking for other stuff which doesn’t rely on them having internalised a bunch of attitudes from over half a century before they were born.
Russell Letson @1.15pm 02 NOV – Another consideration to be included: there has, in fact, been a Singularity-level event which occurred between the 1600s and today. It was called the Industrial Revolution, and it changed everything about Western European culture.
I’ve been saying this for ages. I hit my teens in the seventies, and I was already somewhat scornful of the “old masters”. I never managed to get through “Doc” Smith, and I thought Heinlein, Clarke, and Asimov were…ok. But nothing compared to new writers like Zelazny, Delany, and Herbert. As far as I was concerned, those three were the true gods of SF.
Writing that now, I’m sure some young folk are puzzled that I even distinguish those sets. And that’s fine. From today’s perspective, I admit they they may not seem that different from what came before. But to me they did, and I expect younger folk will have more connection to the current batch of authors, just as I did in my day. And frankly, I do think that SFF is better (and healthier) than it ever was, and I wouldn’t try to force any of those kids to read Heinlein (even though I do kinda like him), as I have too many bad memories of people trying to force me to read Lensman.
My daughters have one agreed favorite Heinlein. Have Spacesuit will Travel. May be old, but they treat it like gold. I also push The Phantom Tollbooth to anyone. I am scared that one day Pratchet will fade away from the shelves now that he is gone.
I’ve always had a frustrating relationship with SF, in that I’ve always identified as an SF fan, but the books I love are… wrong.
I’ve tried to get into proper “hard” SF, and it does nothing for me. (I think the one exception ever was Charles Stross’s Saturn’s Children.) What I grew up loving was Star Wars and Star Trek — I devoured almost every Star Trek novel put out between 1970 and 2000. I was mostly an enormous fantasy fan when it came to reading; I tried to read Clarke and Asimov (and I, Robot has some stories in it I’ll treasure forever) and Zelazney and Herbert and… nothing. When I was in my early twenties, a girlfriend asked me to read Stranger In A Strange Land, and I couldn’t get more than a few pages into it; it seemed incomprehensible and boring. So did most of the writers mentioned before, which I know is SF heresy. Hell, after becoming aware of the debate over what ideas are at the heart of Starship Troopers (and having seen the movie), I tried to read the book.
Couldn’t even get a quarter of the way in.
I don’t know if this just means I have terrible taste or what. It’s always bugged me. Here I am, a man of thirty-seven missing most of his hair, a man who’s always prided himself on being a prolific reader who reads the best books, and nearly the entire “classic” SF canon does nary a thing for me. When I get excited about a book, it’s one of Scalzi’s (probably why I devour each new work of his as fast as I can) or Jim Butcher’s (Harry Dresden is right up there with Philip Marlowe and the Continental Op for me — I’m a mystery fan as well, but really only of the hardboiled ’30s stuff). I can’t help wondering what this says about me, really — I’m ashamed of not liking the classic SF authors, but at the same time this post does kind of give me a little insight into why I’ve heaved their books away, thinking “This is so boring. I’m going to go reread The Android’s Dream for the eightieth time.”
It’s not just the kids. I’m in my forties and I can’t stand Asimov’s novels–don’t get me started on the gaping holes in Foundation–and only consider about half of Heinlein’s works to be readable. In fairness, I didn’t read either of them until I was in my late teens/early twenties and I wasn’t exactly a very tolerant reader at that time. While I’d probably give them more leeway if I read them today, why would I bother to find out? There’s enough new, good writing coming out every year that I can’t keep up as it is. I see no reason to bother going back to stuff that was out of date when I read it in the 80s. Accordingly, I don’t recommend those authors to my kids either. If any of them get deep into the field, they’ll come across them on their own and form their own opinions.
Back when I was a 12-year-old who had just discovered science fiction, I think I was typical of young readers — avid for as much more of it as I could get. And back then (c. 1940) the relatively small amount of it being produced was almost entirely in the form of books and magazines… not enough to satisfy a voracious reader.
So, after a few years, most of us had read just about all the science-fiction that had ever been published. If you define “Classic” by the date of publication, yup, we read The Classics. (Most of us realized that a lot of these were entertaining but poorly-written potboilers.) This situation was still working when I got into Fandom (c. 1989), but soon after that enough new s-f was being published that readers couldn’t keep up with all of it.
So yeah, I’m surprised that anyone would be surprised that even the kids today who are avid readers don’t have time to read things published years ago.
Put me in the camp that says, “why should they read ‘the classics’?” If they don’t appeal to newer generations of readers, maybe there’s something wrong with the books and not with the readers. Shakespeare’s plays live not because they’re “classic”, but because each new generation of actors and directors finds stuff in them that makes them want to stage them. Though not all of them — there are plays that nobody puts on except when they’re trying to get the “we did every Shakespeare play” merit badge. And some offend modern sensibilities: nobody I know can figure out how to stage “The Taming of the Shrew” that doesn’t come across as male supremacist propaganda.
I’m 62 and started reading SF back in the 1960’s. I remember reading the early Heinlein stuff and most of Asimov’s. Even ten years later, I found Asimov’s writing to be pretty clunky and his characters cardboard cutouts. There’s some Heinlein stuff I still read, but I have to grit my teeth when I do — it’s not just the casual sexism, it’s the way Heinlein’s voice butts into the stories to preach his often crackpot ideas, especially in his later work, and the way the characters’ natures tend to depart from real live human natures in just the right way to “prove” his theories.
Unfortunately, a lot of more recent authors have the same faults. All too often, the only way I can get through a book is to tell myself that the people in them aren’t really humans, but a different species with a somewhat different nature that only superficially appears to be human.
@AAM – exactly. Telling young readers that their taste in books sucks is not a good way to persuade them to read what you (generic you) find appealing instead. The winnowing process of time that left us with Shakespeare and Marlowe instead of dozens of their contemporaries is now working on Asimov, Heinlein et al.
The works that will not survive that process are those works that are basically ‘the society the author grew up in plus better computers (or dragons)’. My money’s on Ursula LeGuin, who did an amazing job of describing how humans might actually work differently under different circumstances.
@ Lee, why are you picking that of all things? Yeah its not right, but that kind of situation seems a likely outcome when you share a psychic symbiotic link with your mount. Its not like there is a lack of modern fantasy and sci-fi with rape scenes that are even more graphic.
But because you failed to address my point it still stands, though despite the sci-fi back story the Pern setting is really just fantasy.
Anyway as other commenters have pointed out the problem with sci-fi is that it can be dated if the author introduces some plot critical tech that seems revolutionary at the time, but is obsolete decades later. Fantasy authors have it easy, the quill and parchment doesn’t go out of style unlike “data discs”.
I’ve read more “classics” in the past 10 years than I ever did in my 20s (44 now). I’ve been an avid reader since I can remember, mostly science fiction, but I didn’t like much written before the 60s. However, at a certain point in my life, a certain maturity level, I became interested in the history of the genre, where the various tropes had come from, and which authors had inspired my favorite authors. I now had the patience to wade through dated, stiff, and awkward dialogue (Foundation, Lensman) to get to the brilliance of the underlying story. Also, I find myself wanting to understand references to older works that I was finding in many modern books. For example, when I came across Fuzzy Nation, I had to read Little Fuzzy.
In Alexei Panshin’s book on Heinlein, written, gosh, back around 1970 or so, he said that he thought only Heinlein’s juveniles would survive, and I hope he was right; I think the juveniles were his best writing and the least weighted down with his more crackpot ideas. Since I’m a boomer and discovered Heinlein at age 10, in 1957, I’ve always loved his juveniles, some of his short stories, and a few of his adult novels, but very little that he wrote after Starship Troopers, except Stranger in a Strange Land and maybe Job. When people talk about him as a crackpot, it usually means they never read any of his really good stuff, and that’s a shame. Except for Preston Sturges, Heinlein was the absolute best at what you might call “snappy repartee,” but he was also an idealist and really believed in the freedom of the mind. The bad stuff is awful, I agree, but the good stuff deserves better.
“I don’t expect new readers of the genre today to read much Heinlein or Clarke or Asimov. 60 years from now, and presuming I’m dead, I don’t expect them to read much of me, or Al Reynolds or Ann Leckie, either (to name just two other contemporary SF writers). They’ll be reading their authors, mostly. I hope they’ll enjoy them.”
You know, I hope I will too. If I get a long life, I hope I will have the presence of mind to read and enjoy their stories too.
@guess you say “At the time it was cutting edge since they had the internet in space, but the bandwidth is a ‘you gotta be kidding’. Its like a 2400 Baud modem in an advanced space faring civilization.”
They really aren’t going to have Gigabit rates between spaceships light years apart. If know how poor ADSL. rates can be 5 miles from the exchange, you will know how quickly rates degrade with distance. I imagine 2400 bps to the edge of the solar system would still be a huge challenge today. Early internet protocols suited to restricted bandwidth. such as NNTP, may seem anachronistic to you, but to a computer guy, it still makes more sense than assuming high speed connections between solar systems or galaxies.
Just now reading this after waking from a dream in which I was holding a beat-up, 40-year-old copy of “Larry Niven’s Old Man’s War.” My conscious and dreaming minds got into a bit of a tiff about the details.
It is always a little sad when kids are into different things than you were. When what spoke to you and moved you deeply and excited you doesn’t touch them in the same way. Your “why should it” arguments are logical, though. The kids are all right.
FWIW the Pioneer satellite bit rates are between 512 and 8 bits/sec depending. I don’t know what the Voyager bit rates are, but small.
In the 1960s, when I started reading SF, it took me about a year to work through all the available titles and the backlog. It seemed that there were about five readable titles published a year (I had no access to eg. the pulp magazines) and since five books were about a fortnight’s reading I largely stopped reading SF.
Mostly you have to accept an author’s work on its own terms; this is probably especially true of SF. For instance, I re-read The Space Merchants sometimes, but I don’t expect its technology to match today’s – it is what it is. I don’t re-read Asimov because I find his characterisation and writing clunky; and Heinlein I find unreadable. (OTOH I also find George R Martin unreadable, so something’s wrong with my taste somewhere.)
Time and chance wears literature away; with luck, and in the absence of book-burning, the good stuff survives for those that want to try it.
I bet that 30, 40 years ago the parents of those people complained that their children were not reading proper classics but all this not really literature new stuff…
Seriously, I can’t with all this modernity hatin’. Times change, there are new games in town and they’ll make way for other things as well.
“But I want my kids to have *my* childhood!” wails the parent. ;)
My lass and I joke about this often, when she likes stuff that was hip in the 70s and when she flat out doesn’t. When I sing along in the car with her and her radio stations sometimes, she smiles and tells me to get out her childhood, that I had my own. I remind her that I am still enjoying my own and that we are just overlapping like a Venn diagram. :) Then we’ll both go back before our times and sing “Swing on a Star.”
Seconding the bit about Tolkien holding up better. I don’t know if fantasy qua fantasy does, though. It’s my genre of choice, but I have a hard time reading a lot of the seventies/early eighties stuff largely because of the writing style and gender roles, and a bunch of the nineties fantasy comes off as A Bit Much, Really.
Like, I’m a liberal feminist and everything, but I couldn’t re-read Mists of Avalon today. Even without knowing that Bradley was a fucking horrible excuse for a human being, the whole “What if God…was a *woman*? What if witches….were *good*?” plot may well have been revolutionary at the time of writing, but by the early 2000s, it was very much Simmer Down, Freshman as a plot. Similarly, a bunch of the first Valdemar books, while I loved them when I first read them, come off as kind of Captain Planet-y in bits now: rape is bad? NO RLY?*
I also agree re: Pern not being timeless. For me it wasn’t even the Aliens Make Us Do It rapey bits, but the Godawful virgin/whore binary in the first three adult novels: yes, this culture totally encourages hedonism, but any woman who embraces that (and God forbid keeps from having kids as a result) is a horrible person who will come to a bad end which everyone will celebrate. *Good* women are so pure that they have to be raped until they start liking it–but it’s okay, because they do and also the guy feels bad about it afterwards. And also aliens. Barf.
And yet I’ve been told that Pern was almost as feminist as you could get for the sixties.**
So maybe (http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/Zeerust) Zeerust applies to social attitudes, too–and the more you feature the new stuff, the worse it ages. As a reader, I can overlook Tolkien’s lack of central female characters a lot more than I can handle the Kylara v. Brekke…thing, or even some of the more Very Special Episode expressions of views I agree with.
Which doesn’t mean nobody should try–I think it’s good that people did push the boundaries, even when that boundary-pushing doesn’t hold up in the future–but it does mean that those works will often be less accessible twenty years later than, at times, even earlier and more problematic-by-absence stuff.
Also, in re: having to read older authors to know where the newer ones came from: that only matters if you care about that sort of thing. I happen to, in this area, in some ways, but in others…enh, I’m not a film major, the history of cinema isn’t my passion, and thus I don’t feel my life is seriously lacking if I don’t ever see Citizen Kane. If a modern kid can enjoy Old Man’s War without reading Starship Troopers, or Protector of the Small without reading Arrows of the Queen, or Martin without reading Tolkien, then good on them. Either they’ll find themselves interested later, or they won’t–either way, it’s probably not the end of the world.
* I admit that my ability to give a damn about teenagers with low self-esteem and the Magic Thingie What Will Be Your Best Friend Forever has also decreased.
** And conversely, no more sexist than certain popular works of today, neither of which even have aliens as an excuse.
On the subject of Pern, don’t forget the weird “green dragonriders ride female dragons and that makes them gay” thing. Maybe it was affirming when it was written, but it is so cringeworthy now.
Ohhyeah. Pern and LGBTA stuff is just a can of Wrong (…teeeeentpeg), especially to modern eyes. Being a het girl born in the eighties, I can’t say if it was better than its temporal compatriots in actually acknowledging that gay men existed and weren’t totally evil, but Jesus, it’s fractally not okay.
My kids are in the “starting with” phase right now (tweens), and while they have access to a full range of sf/f, including YA sf/f, from the 50s on via our bookshelves, the idea of reading Old People books when there is the Hunger Games or Divergent or ALL THE MANGA (so many Magical Girls and Cyborgs/Mecha) — all of which are readily available from the library — is pretty dubious. And all their friends are ALSO reading Hunger Games/Divergent/Manga/Artemis Fowl. It’s not only the geeky kids.
And while I read the “classics” reasonably young, partly because it is what the library had in its not-large-selection, when I *started* reading genre it was what was being published at the time — the Pern books (particularly the YA Harper Hall serise), Neuromancer, Lackey’s magical horse books…
I guess I’m basically calling shenanigans on the idea that it was *generally* routine for people to start with the classics who weren’t vaguely contemporaneous with them or only had that readily available to them. Now it is possible that the people who stayed long-term fans were more likely to have started there — my partner started on his mom’s collection and didn’t realize until he started to buy books being published at the time that it was a carefully curated collection of the good stuff — but what the kids at large are reading? I don’t think so.
It’s all about the connection with the audience. I cant remember which comic book series it was, but the gist was that it kept getting rebooted every few years so that the story was always taking place “now”, and the super powered group had formed 10 years before “now”.
Whether you liked the graphic novel or not, kids these days reading Watchmen will likely stop and go “who the hell is Nixon?”
There does seem to be some child “rebel without a cause” going on too. Where kids have to watch something that is *there* music or their movie or their tv show. That stuff their parents like is always square or uncool or lame or whatever the current slang is. It gives them a sense of their own in group and they’re the founding member. Its fine. But it seems to be driving whoever is the current teeny bopper boy band whatever, so it can be slightly tiresome.
I have read a lot of the classics. They were successful usually for being the first at some idea. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was written on the cusp of modern science just starting out in medical understanding. The story was written based on events that happened *at the time the story was written* and extrapolated into a future possinlbility. But Shelley’s vision of the future hasnt panned out. It now works as a story, but only as a metaphor for science creating something that goes out of control. But at the time, it seemed a reasonable extrapolation of what might someday be possible. Reading it now, it has a lot of baggage from the time of its writing that gets in the way of the reader imagining it as a possible future. Now it reads as an alternate history, basically SteamPunk.
Its like watching pretty much any 80’s movie now and you can barely hear the movie because the shoulder pads and big hair is screaming at you from the screen.
Even more recently, the movie The Searchers won awards when it came out, and is stolen, point for point, in Star Wars ep 4..6. But the preferred narative styles of the audience seems to change over time. If you watch The Searchers now, you would likely be thinking, come on, lets get the story going already. But in Star Wars, Ep 4, the opening scene is the space battle that throws you into the action.
For me personally, my experience of my introduction to SF was reading a “classic” that had been around just long enough for everyone to know it was good, but not around too long to get dated. And it was all new to me at the time, so it blew my mind. But as I have read more and more sf, i have been exposed to more and more ideas, and now they usually dont “blow my mind”.
Agree with isabelcooper on pern (I only read the first three books because I couldn’t get past the hero date raping his girlfriend and the author totally being ok with it) and Bradley (the bits I read out of my roommate’s copy were pretty awful). So… I guess another example of classics of the time not even being good for you know, women who didn’t think rape is acceptable when the books were still new. (Or rape as a plot point or woman as McGuffin etc. etc. all those tired anti-women tropes that have been done to death.)
Romance novels when I was in high school were similarly bodice-ripping no-means-yes. So I didn’t read that entire genre (though I had roommates who did… and harder stuff– anybody remember Anne Rice’s erotica?) But I have been pleasantly surprised with the consent-is-sexy theme in vogue today (ignoring 50 shades), so I’ve been reading a heck of a lot of romance. But I can’t go back too far because even authors that are great now (ex. Mary Balogh) had some pretty crappy anti-woman stuff back in the 80s.
As a twenty one year old geek with lots of female geeky friends I can say that in my experience Tolkien gets more traction than other “classic” writers. As a general rule, I think the major turn off for me as well as my friends has been the white-maleness of old sci-fi. A lot of older stuff doesn’t understand how women work, and I would rather read books that understand that women are people. I do think that the shift from concept-heavy story to character-heavy story is part of it, but ultimately I’m not terribly interested in wading through stories that feel alienating out of some sense of obligation to the past.
It’s funny what can throw you in older works. A little while ago I watched the 1954 Disney film of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. The Jules Verne technology was daft but enjoyable. The racism when they visit an island inhabited by “savages” was disgusting, but not unexpected. What totally surprised and shocked me was when they go hunting for food, and cheerfully drag back a sea turtle to eat.
It’s a sea turtle! How dare you? This is how they got to be an endangered species, you horrible bastards! Of course, that wasn’t really on the radar in the 1950s.
On not aging well, one movie I really liked when it came out in the 80’s, but made me laugh out loud when I watched it recently was “Ladyhawk”. Mathew Broderic, Rutger Hauer, and… Michele Pfifer? Anyway, the recent viewing made me chuckle because the 80’s synthesizer keyboard music is sooo out of place now.
I dont think payphones is what makes Neuromancer not work now. I think the bigger problem with all cyberpunk is that cyberpunk writes about future computer tech the way Mary Shelley wrote about medical advances.
The funny thing is that Shelley’s Frankenstein and Gibson’s Neuromancer now both are part of their own alternate history genres: steampunk and cyberpunk.
Both were originally written as predictions, neither came true, but both struck chords enough that people turned them into alternate history genres, and put into worlds where, gosh darn it, the predictions DID come true.
Frankenstein’s failed predictions have been remade into “Girl Genius” steampunk alternate history. And Neuromancer’s failed predictions of a virtual world and brain/chip implants have been remade into an alternate history hit that was “The Matrix”.
@nicoleandmaggie: Oh, man, there is so much Old Shame in that genre. And so many people are defensive of those novels, even now that we’ve thank God mostly moved past that in works getting published now–though, given what happens when you try to criticize Heinlein/Niven/etc just about anywhere but here, it doesn’t surprise me.
Me, I hold high the banner of It Was 1985, Everyone’s Taste Sucked, Have You Seen Pictures? but that’s me. ;)
(On Pern: weirdly enough, the YA trilogy actually holds up pretty well on a feminist level, and the sexual encounter is, while not entirely consensual–aliens etc–much less Rape Times Now and more Well This Is Just Awkward as Hell. Dunno who decided that horrifying gender politics went best with the adult books, but.)
“I cant remember which comic book series it was, but the gist was that it kept getting rebooted every few years so that the story was always taking place “now”, and the super powered group had formed 10 years before “now”.”
That would be just about ALL OF THEM at Marvel and DC. DC did not have an actual concept of continuity from the 30s-60s. Stuff just happened…and the assumption was that the audience grew out of reading them, so they could recycle stuff or ignore past stories. There were no trade paperbacks or reprint collections, then. Marvel’s big innovation was a true shared universe and actual continuity, in particular was the aspect that time passed in relative ‘real time’. Both Spiderman and the Human Torch graduated High School and went to college. Mr. Fantastic and the Invisible Girl (later Woman) were allowed to marry and then have a child and then semi-retire from being superheroes. Issues of the day were highlighted, even if only in brief. Real world celebrities were name-checked (instead of wink-wink analogues) and sometimes even appeared in some capacity.
But in the early 1970s, someone realized that this couldn’t continue forever. When the Marvel Universe turned 10 years old, they started putting on the brakes. The ‘strangest teens ever’, the X-Men, were allowed to age somewhat, but entered a nebulous period of adulthood. DC, having adopted continuity by the late 1960s, encountered a similar issue with their heroes. Eventually the ‘sliding time scale’ was introduced. The idea that the start of their respective shared fictional universes was only seven years old (roughly). DC completely reboots their universe every 10 years, now…and then rewrites everything to be more contemporary. Marvel simply pretends that everything always was in the recent past. The Punisher is no longer a Vietnam veteran whose family is gunned down after he returns from a tour…he may now be a veteran of one of the Gulf Wars. It keeps rolling forward, as it must for their current audience.
@wizardru: I remember someone explaining this in the context of the three thousand stories in which Jimmy Olsen became a gorilla.
TL; DR. Nostalgia was so much better when I was a kid. Suck it up buttercup. I am so tired of this old-fogey-ism. Let the kids read today what they want, whether it is YA, graphic novels, heck even twitter feeds. At least they are reading.
Again, kids are reading the classics — they are reading more of them than kids did back thirty years ago because a lot of them, short fiction and novels are in course curriculum. Basically, the entire premise of Sanford is off-base, and is part of the kids today aren’t as cool and together as my generation was routine that seems to strike everyone once they pass age 25. The kids are reading more books than adults are today. They are reading more material on the Internet than we used to do in total when we were young. They are reading more comics — and women make up half the audience. They read more stuff from Asia, after thirty years of comics, manga, anime and t.v. cartoons. They are into record players, for stars sake.
Things in the past were more boring, less global and included fewer people and cultures. It’s not so much nostalgia as revisionism.
The fact that people are reading for entertainment is, I think, the exact opposite of “fossilization”. If people were reading mostly classics, it would be an indicator that the contemporary creative pool is thin and unsatisfying. That is the indicator of a dead genre. I don’t know if science fiction was ever at risk for such an outcome… but regardless, the fact that the genre keeps growing and expanding is a good thing.
A brief defense of Arrows of the Queen: That was Lackey’s first published book! Yeah, you can see the seams. But the second in the series is noticeably smoother, and by the third she’s hit her stride.
Oh, totally. And honestly, it’s as much a matter of time and place: I can well imagine that in the late-eighties/early nineties, having rape/abuse dealt with at all onscreen or as a major part of backstory was important and revolutionary. If you didn’t come of age in the era of Lifetime and afterschool specials, then some of the Arrows/Mage/Oath subject matter might not have felt quite so Okay, We Get It.*
This ties into an Extra Hot Great episode I listened to today, in which people–talking about shows from their youths–theorize that even cynical stuff for eighties kids is uncomfortably earnest for youth today. And I’m not exactly Youth any more, but at the same time, yeah…I watch “The Crow” or I listen to “Under Pressure” or, indeed, I read some of the early Lackey/other feminist fantasy novels and they’re just so…itchily *sincere* about things.
But yeah. I like Lackey, on the whole, and I think she got nicely away from the Teenagers With Low Self-Esteem/Social Issues Of the Day thing later. Also deconstructed some of her more…icky….early concepts which I applaud, because: “lifebonds,” ew. (The sort of person who believes in “soul mates” does not need encouragement.) I just blame the era, which was a time when, indeed, Captain Planet could apparently air for *three fucking seasons are you kidding me*.
…I need a drink.
* Reminiscing with a similar-aged geek friend, yeah, there were like five or six years where, if it was a female fantasy author with a certain kind of cover, *someone* major was getting raped. Probably by Christians, if the setting allowed.
One thing that applies both to the lifebonds and the Pern complaints is… If you take the idea of psychic links and follow the implications, yeah you are going to get some icky stuff.
Come to think of it, there’s a few story ideas in considering what happens to personal boundaries in the wake of telempathy.
Yeah–much as I like Spider Robinson, for instance, the “telepathy is great and everyone should be on completely intimate terms with each other” idea is…veeeeeery sixties. Like, the variety of sixties that thinks hanging out in mud with thousands of strangers is a great idea.* And there was a *lot* of “telempathic bonds slash instant sexual pairing is great!” going on in the seventies/eighties. (Oh, Elfquest. Adorbs.)
It’s to Lackey’s credit, and the Pinis’, that their versions were resistible to some extent and didn’t have as many consent issues. (And they lacked the Nice Girls Don’t Want It bullshit I mentioned above re: Pern. I do give both series major props for featuring heroines who choose to have sex, and to do so with people they aren’t going to be with liek omg 4evar). I still don’t like the concepts as originally presented, because they smack of One Twu Wuv and the Highlander model of romance and similar hurlworthiness, but they’re definitely an improvement.
(There is, apparently, a current romance subgenre called “fated mates” that operates along the original-flavor-lifebonding principles. And…I suppose, if you tried and were working with a certain cosmology, you could work a deconstructed version as the equivalent of those cop movies where the mismatched partners must learn to fight crime together, and I do like those. But otherwise: Barf City, USA.)
* Actually, one of the things I was going to mention re: nineties fantasy and social issues/sincerity is that I seem to feel about it the same way many people five to fifteen years older than I do feel about wanting to buy the world a Coke or imagining all the people living for today.
@Kat Goodwin: Manga and anime being another area in which many of the classics suck compared to what’s available today. If you, you know, are interested in complex female characters who aren’t just harem stereotypes.
While I find Gibson extremely dated, I don’t find Sterling or WJW or their precursor, 1970’s Varley overly dated. Perhaps they put enough distance between their worlds and ours, while Gibson said: this is the tomorrow being enacted around us today.
Oh yeah, although they were sometimes sneaky. My daughter made me watch Sailor Moon, and on some levels, ewww, and on other levels, sneaky female empowerment. Let’s face it, the past stuff was often awful culturally and very narrowly focused. (What is saddening today is that it is still often narrowly focused.)
Kids read the classics and often are required to do so because of schools — and they have more of them to deal with than we did at their age, since new “classics” are added. And they will take interesting things away from those works. But they’re also going to be highly critical of them and that’s a normal part of literature and pop culture. The idea of freezing things in amber is not going to work; it’s not how people read fiction or handle movies.
And that’s the main thing. We have fond memories of things that at the time in our youths had horrible things in them. And then these young people come along and either have little interest in them or are critical of them. And for some, that starts the how dare they knee jerk reaction. They conveniently forget how they regarded older people having the same knee jerk reaction to what they were reading and watching when they were young.
But nonetheless, again, young people are reading Asimov, Le Guin, Heinlein, Bradbury, Vonnegut, Clarke (the lions,) and Dick, Wyndham, Russ, Butler, Haldeman, Ellison, etc., because they are assigned in school, at least in western parts. The Princess Bride has been a book report staple for thirty years. Neuromancer is a regular. Forever War, Childhood’s End, Brave New World, The Handmaid’s Tale, Slaughterhouse Five, Flowers for Algernon, Day of the Triffids, I, Robot, etc. As well as Frankenstein, Wells, Verne, Robert Louis Stevenson, Portrait of Dorian Gray, and so forth.
Unfortunately, of course, these readings in the U.S. are very unequally applied because the U.S. does not give a crap about its kids. If you’re in a poor income school, you may not get these or other works either. But the complaint isn’t about them, so the ones it is about are reading classic SF just fine. And they’re reading more new stuff than the adults.
I’ve been reading everyone and thinking over the whole concept of “kids aren’t reading the classics” thing and suddenly it came to me.
Maybe they aren’t reading them at 16,17,18 but they’ll get to them sooner or later.
I didn’t “get” Jane Austen until I was at least 50. Picked up a duo-copy of “Pride and Prejudice” and “Sense and Sensibility” at the Goodwill because “I really ought to read this someday” popped into my head. ( And it was an old book and I’m always a sucker for ‘old’ hardback books.) Ripped right through both novels and went on to read more.
And I’ve bounced off the classics in other genres–‘Rebecca’ did nothing for me and I loathe Lord Peter Whimsey.
Have we reached the point where “radiation” isn’t the cause of superpowers yet? Being in favor of nuclear power, I generally roll my eyes every time a radioactive spider gives someone superpowers.
I figure it will maybe be a century or so where time travel will be proven impossible, and all the time travel stories will look to future people the way Frankenstein’s monster looks to us. An eye roll, and then they soldier through it because it is a “classic”.
I wonder if at some point we as a culture see ghost stories in a similar light. Imagine “Ghostbusters” occuring to people the way “abbott and costello meet frankenstein” looks to us now.
Or maybe kids will be taught in school at a young age extremely good advice on dating, relationships, hormones, etc, and stuff like Twilight will seem ludicrously transparent to them.
Or maybe we finally buck the will to power and quite most of all literature to this point is relegated to a bygone era.
Everything I’ve been reading or watching lately seems to be talking about future tech the way people talked about steam engines being “horseless carriages” rather than seeing the massive industrial revolution it would bring. Writers don’t seem to be seeing their own strings that tie them to the cultural conversations of the times, or how it affects them.
Are we trapped in a scarcity based economy? A war based economy? A social structure that idolizes power? A society that cant see relationships beyond the level of infatuation?
I swear to god, I have yet to read or watch a story where it starts out with one character pursuing another, the other refuses, until at some point, the writers run out of ideas, and decide to have them hook up, at which point, they have no clue what a relationship looks like and the story falls the fuck apart.
I quite enjoyed “Castle” over the years, with the relationship between Beckett and Castle evolving over time, and then … they got married… and I swear to god the writers lost their goddamn minds. And I’ve never seen a story get past that point. If it starts out with a courting/pursuit relationship, its like the writers have no idea what marriage looks like that would make it work.
Christ on a crutch. I don’t have to have space ships. Granted “Firefly” and “Serenity” were great. I would love me one of those ships and go flying through the verse. But “Castle” was quite good until the writers seemed to have run into the limits of their understandings of human relationships. And those limits seem to be the cultural strings that control us all. I don’t want to read about space ships for my speculative fiction. I want to read something where the writer actually cut the strings that they inherited from culture and then read as they create something new that could pan out. Not frankenstein’s monster absurdities. Not “In the Star Trek universe they have no money and we have no idea how that works” utopia fantasies with no connections to reality. Cut the string and then put the spotlight on it by showing a reality that would be possible without that restriction holding us back.
So much of what I’m reading lately is just space ships and blasters with ancient greek plots and medieval cultural drives.
I want something that blows my mind, makes me think outside my comfort zone, shows me some of the strings that control me. And that would take a writer who is really, really thought about those strings and what the world would look like if you cut them. Instead, all the old war movie plots where we were fighting Nazis or Communists have been recycled to fight terrorists or something that acts as a standin for terrorists, like aliens with a brand new Edgar suit, or a racoon and talking tree fighting some space alien with a magic power stone, or a green god of ancient rome and a man who turns into a metal golem. They’re all fine stories, but they’re medieval cultural strings with horses traded for space ships, swords traded for blasters. In the end, its still power infatuation. And I’m a little tired of it.
I can’t bear to watch “Game of Thrones” because it will make me want to tear my eyes out, knowing the number one story right now is nothing but a plot machine adjusting who has the power. I don’t care if Zeus rules Olympus or Kronos leader of the titans. It’s an ancient plot that plays upon ancient cultural strings. And I’m sick to death of it.
That’s why I’m done reading classics. And I’m done reading anything that simply rehashes the same old cultural strings that have ruled mankind for the last couple millennia. Until someone writes something new, I’ll be over here, watching Stevens Universe.
Kat Goodwin: “The U.S. does not give a crap about it’s kids”.
Actually, it’s worse than that: the US is afraid of it’s kids, and has been for a long time. The educational system is designed to keep them under control, and train them in obedience. (Which doesn’t *work* very well, but it’s trying.)
Greg: The problem is, if a story really does cut the culture strings, it’s likely to set off your taboos big-time. And don’t try to tell me you don’t have any taboos… :-)
isabelcooper: “Yeah–much as I like Spider Robinson, for instance, the ‘telepathy is great and everyone should be on completely intimate terms with each other’ idea is…veeeeeery sixties. Like, the variety of sixties that thinks hanging out in mud with thousands of strangers is a great idea.”
These days, though, there’s Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook, and the notion that the age of privacy is over. This time around, the idea that everyone should know everything about everyone seems less benevolent–but maybe that’s because I’m a sixties kid, not a millennial. Helloooo, stalkers!
David Harmon: Re the U.S. education system, I think it’s even worse than that. The U.S. education system has been redesigned to focus on numerical goals involving high-stakes testing and metrics that have to be achieved for the teachers to keep their jobs and the schools to get funding so that they can continue to teach so they can keep the jobs and funding, and so on. The laws that were supposedly intended to improve education have instead hamstrung teachers who want to educate children but have to spend most of their class time preparing the children for standardized tests that the kids have to pass if the teachers want to keep their jobs. The U.S. education system doesn’t give a crap about the kids. It gives a crap about numbers while pretending all that testing is for the benefit of the kids.
But this is going off topic, I think.
Marriage does seem to be a singularity in fiction. You can show the lead up to marriage. You can show an already married couple. But you cannot bring a couple through the singularity without somehow screwing it up.
My guess is that the courting/tension is a major plot line. Marriage is generally the resolution of that arc. Writing an established couple is essentially a reboot of the narrative’s internal logic and how often does any kind of reboot work. There are so many ways for a story to crumble and only a few paths that actually maintain sustained interest. On The Office, the solved this by pushing Pan and Jim’s relationship into the background, which was probably the most viable alternative. See also Bujold’s strategy for Cordelia. Other narratives bring in new romantic interests, which loses sympathy for one or both protagonists, unravels a major plot are that was painstakingly constructed earlier and kind of sends a bad message: marriage is boring and unfulfilling. We cannot show it here because it sucks.
Or they add kids, which is another fraught reboot in itself.
An analogous example is the high school story. High school kids leave high school. Show ends. Or show fails. Or narrative is rebooted or reiterated with a “new” set of protagonists, who often are not all that different from the original set. I loved that “Buffy” actually made a great transition to college. Then, of course, from Season Five forward, they tried to put the genii back in the bottle which is one of the reasons why those seasons are mostly full of fail for me.
PrivateIron: “Marriage does seem to be a singularity in fiction.”
I am stealing that line. That sums it up perfectly.
David: “if a story really does cut the culture strings, it’s likely to set off your taboos big-time. And don’t try to tell me you don’t have any taboos… :-)”
So, a lot of stories that try to cut the cultural strings end up with stuff like green aliens treating the blue aliens badly and the moral of the story is “racism is bad, mkay?” Yes, I already know racism is bad, can we go beyond that? The problem today is that people do racist things that they dont think is racist, or you get racist police that hold themselves above criticism because being a cop is doing the world a favor, and criticizing a cop is criticizing a gift (gift horse/mouth, etc). Someone write a story about THAT taboo. You cant criticize a war without some people turning it into an insult against the troops. Someone write a story about THAT taboo.
Marriage is a singularity, in part I think, because the pursuit part of courtship harkens back to Cinderella stories, where the girl is “saved” by marriage and/or is a “prize” for the man to win. The woman is a macguffin.
I want to see a story where the two people go from courtship, and all its real difficulties, to marriage and all its real difficulties, and show both partners as equals negotiating through their problems, cleaning up messes they make, being responsible, being adult, and still make 5he relationship worth it in the end. Someone write THAT story.
The military stuff is even more ridiculous. I am so tired of black and white stories. And at the same time, I despise noire stories where everyone is a dark shade of grey. The number of stories out there where people are trying to do good and occaisionally screw up and do bad and take responsibility for their mistakes and clean up the mess they created is, as far as I can see, zero. Cop stories are either all good cops, or some good cops and some bad cops. If a story in involves an innocent person being convicted, it is always by a bad cop/regular character, or by a cop who has a cameo appearance, so that the “good” cops can stay good. Someone write a story where someone is trying to do the right thing, fails, and deals with it in a responsible way.
Oddly enough, I was just thinking about how Castle negotiated the transition from rom-com courtship to marriage, in the context of how popular template series attempt to extend their runs once their initial givens have been exhausted or fulfilled.
The notion that marriage is a fictional singularity doesn’t quite work for me, despite the famous Tolstoyan dictum. Then there’s the self-help book cliche about marriage (or “relationships”) being hard work. As a long-time and very contented Benedick-the-married-man, I wonder. Maybe I can tolerate that hard-work stuff if I translate it as “a marriage is a dynamic rather than static system,” which acknowledges the fact that personalities are dynamic, etc., and that all of one’s social and familial connections are subject to change and can’t be expected to just run on their own.
It may mean, though, that in fiction, absent decay-of-relationship possibilities, the dramatic tension needs to come from outside the marriage. Or making depiction of the marriage itself “interesting” might require a vision of relationship that is as much fun as the pre-matrimonial Beatrice & Benedick–do Nick and Nora Charles represent some kind of domestic neoteny? Might Castle’s show-runners have solved their problems with something less melodramatic than kidnapping and stalking-by-supervillain? But then, Castle is already a kind of Saturday-matinee-serial world, so solutions are always going to skew toward the cliff’s edge.
@BW: True. And as someone reasonably comfortable with FB, I’d say the difference is that there you still have some control over what you put out there and what you read.
Re: marriage: there’s a reason pretty much every stand-alone romance ends when the couple gets together. (Me, I don’t mind, but I also kind of work that way in RL, so. ;P) And I don’t think it’s so much patriarchy. (I’d argue that, for most romantic and/or beginning romances in RL, each partner is trying to “win” the other–and the chase, as the song says, is often better than the catch.) It’s…well, New Relationship Energy is a thing. Will-they-won’t-they is sexy and full of untapped potential. Marriage is your parents, or at least my parents: arguing over carpool and spending their weekends doing yardwork.
There’s value in that kind of stability, don’t get me wrong–lots of people, including OGH, are awfully happy as settled married folks, and I love my parents and I think they have a great relationship–but there’s also a reason why most people don’t write that story. And for myself, I don’t know that I’d read it, unless the surrounding plot really appealed to me in and of itself.
I’d add further that examples of “surrounding plot really appeals” have a lot of Bujold first off: the Vorkosigans, and then Dag and Fawn in the Sharing Knife books.
I may be the one apostate who liked Cordelia way better than Miles.
Also, apologies for consecutive post, I want to reemphasize that I think you can start with a married couple, for instance The Thin Man movies or Zoe and Wash on Firefly. It just seems really hard to rework the pre-marrieds into interesting marrieds.
I have this dream in which the Bodleian Library discovers a lost Shakespeare play (preferably an autograph final draft marked up by the Master of Revels) that turns out to be a sequel to Much Ado: Beatrice and Benedick, married for five years but still happily engaged in their merry war and skirmishes of wit, are faced with the problem of convincing Hero that Claudio (whom she has never entirely forgiven for denouncing her at the altar) has not been bonking the adventuress Meretricia, who is secretly Don John’s mistress and partner in conspiracy and blackmail. (John has convinced his soft-hearted brother to forgive him and even grant him a pension but cannot give up his manipulative ways.) Dogberry, still a constable only because of his happy blundering in the earlier play, again manages to get things wrong in the right way and misdelivers Meretricia’s love letters meant for John to Benedick, who shows them to Beatrice, who devises a cunning plan to expose the benefactors. I mean, malefactors.
Who says that a happy marriage can’t anchor a good story? (In 18th-century productions, instead of a bergamask, there was a coda in which Beatrice, Benedick, Kate, and Petruchio play whist on alternate Saturday nights.)
Naw, they just want to kill them and keep them impoverished so they can take/divert the money that would otherwise help them. Take the money for food, healthcare, clothing, schooling, the arts, sports (especially for girls, which is why so many of them try to reverse Title IX,) science research, housing, etc. No childcare help, no paid parental leave, no raising the minimum wage, trying to get rid of child labor regulations, shunting minority children into prison, and so forth. The arrowhead of all of it is of course the right wing, but the full mass of the U.S. basically is content with killing its kids with apathy. And always has been that way throughout the history of the country. It’s not unique to the U.S. by any means, but it’s ingrained in American culture — kids are disposable.
But again, articles like these — geek policing — aren’t usually worried about what black kids are reading. Otherwise, it would be an article about why aren’t black kids reading Octavia Butler. Not even what girls are reading, really, except to hold up Twilight as all that is evil and girl cooties. It’s white middle class boys and young men who are not reading Heinlein, gasp. This must mean the end of the world. More people are reading Heinlein today than probably any time since the early 1970’s, but seriously, you would think that his descendants are living in a gutter, the way some people go on.
The explosion of Harry Potter plus a lot of good middle school and YA titles led to a massive expansion of YA and the children’s market, which so far, while slowing, has been the bright light in fiction publishing for years now. That expansion included the expansion of YA science fiction, which in turn, was one of the factors that helped in the current expansion of adult science fiction. You would think we would be thanking the young people — who again are reading more than the rest of us — for doing that, for proving wrong all the stupid stereotypes that people drag out for every group of young people as they come of age. But no, they aren’t reading science fiction right. Those white middle class boys may not be sufficiently enamored of guys writing about slide rules in space some fifty years ago. They might be more enamored of some newcommer writing about cyborgs in space that was only written last year. Or they may just go see the new Star Wars movie.
That is, the ones who can afford any of it. Food comes first. Plus, some of them can barely read because their schools have no money. Kids with disposable income, however, outside of school requirements, will buy what they want. They’re young people — they don’t care if you disapprove of their reading tastes. They probably disapprove of yours.
Russell, but you still want to jump over the singularity rather than document that transition path. :)
Morticia and Gomez Addams. They are the only couple I can think of that made marriage really functioning, healthy, and good fiction. The fact that they are the archtype of anti-normal is a depressing diagnoses of the human condition.
You know what I would have liked to have seen? I would have loved to have seen the couple from “Up” figure out a way to have their adventures while they were both alive. It was like the writers had a sense of what a great relationship looked like, but couldnt figure out how to make it work in the long haul, so they fast forwarded through middle and old age until the wife died. Standard fucking disney trope: one or both of the parents have to die.
David, if you know of a story that triggers taboos, not out of a voyeristic impulse to see what it would look like, but because the tabboo needs to go and we wouod be better for it, i am open for recommendations.
Mr. & Mrs. Macbeth?
But serially, I find most realistic fiction about domestic life not terribly interesting, even when it focuses on the (melo)dramas of infidelity or addiction or emotional abuse or the heartbreak of parenthood. Fell right out of Anna Karenina about the time Levin was getting deep into mowing. If Tolstoy can’t make me pay attention, I suspect nobody can.
Actually, I don’t think succesful marriage is an absolute artistic singularity, but I do find anatomizing the process(es) by which one develops is pretty thin stock from which to make a compelling long-form narrative. Too much like reading self-help manuals. (Short-form work, maybe.) But then, I also suspect that the bourgeois-realistic novel is a dead end.
Greg: “It has to go” is polemic. SF can overlap with polemic, but it’s proper realm is broader: “could be different”. The thing is, it’s easy to diss the folks who broke taboos behind us and still get set off by people breaking our current set of taboos. To the point where I’m hesitant to name examples because I don’t want to blow up Mr. Scalzi’s forum.
One of them already did come up, the issue from Pern of Dragon-influenced sex. So, let me try a response to the above comment about the green riders, “impressing female dragons makes them gay”. How about: Given the observed gender norms of most riders being male, and the matter of greens flying often, then pointing the riders at each other becomes a matter of public safety. At the time, the stories crossed taboos about homosexuality and licentiousness. Now they cross newer taboos protecting consent and self-determination. It’s not that the newer taboos “have to go” — indeed, they’re part of what might be the most ambitious social-engineering project in history, one which I support. But they’re not how things “have to be”, and the stories didn’t change, the readers did.
I think you nailed it. This isn’t an argument about why people aren’t reading the classics, but about why women and minorities are reading spec fic at all, polluting the genre with their 3D diverse characters and plots that aren’t about saving the princess. It all makes sense now.
I don’t think Jason Sanford was specifically after that. I’m sure that he would say that women should read the classics too. It’s just that these complaints are never really aimed at the actual reading youths, but at a narrow idea of the youths and their seeming rejection of an idea of a golden past. The works are classics, but when they came out, nobody worried if women and non-white kids or young adults were reading them or not. And now they are worried about those works being respected and remembered, they aren’t really worrying about girls and non-white kids respecting and remembering them — because these groups culturally are seen mistakenly as newcomers whose reading habits therefore don’t matter (and will always be bad habits anyway that should be scolded.) What is considered important and iconic fiction is most of the time categorized as that valued by white males, so if young white boys aren’t reading it, that’s a concern.
But the reality is that boys, and in some ways especially white boys, are encouraged culturally not to read. That reading fiction for pleasure makes them seem weak and feminine and nerdy, that if they read it should only be a very narrow band of fiction that has action, gore, male leads, etc. They are actively discouraged away from reading and scolded for what they read. They are the elusive white whale that everybody in fiction publishing obsesses over to the point of systemic bigotry, while at the same time supporting a culture that still tells them to go play sports instead of reading the books. And this is a large part, perhaps, in why people are always thinking that SF is dying, since they see it as relying on white boys and men, while ignoring the rest of the audience.
But more to the point, it’s not specific to science fiction reading. Any of these cultural rants about youths being culturally inept and not as good as generations before them tend to be focused first on white upper middle-upper class males, (followed by concerns about upper middle class white girls who are always portrayed as hormone crazed empty-headed misses who are ruining culture with girl cooties.) And when it’s the arts, it tends to be focused on why they are not paying enough attention to older art made by white guys (the classical education of a gentleman.) Unfortunately for the folks doing these rants, upper middle class young white guys are usually paying no attention to these rants whatsoever.
I do think it is worth bringing up older works and encouraging others to check them out. The works of Mr. Chalker are worth a look. McCaffrey’s early Pern books and The Ship Who Sang are worth a look, etc. But that’s done by first talking about the works themselves — rather than complaining that young people won’t read them — and second by allowing criticism and open discussion of them, rather than claiming them hallowed (dead) works that cannot be examined. Either way, young people will choose what they will choose. And again, ignoring what’s actually going on in school curriculum undercuts these arguments considerably.
Russell: “I find most realistic fiction about domestic life not terribly interesting,”
Zoe and Wash on Serenity wasnt *about* domestic life, but they showed the writers could get beyond the happily ever after handwave, and could show a glimpse of what it could look like.
David: ““It has to go” is polemic”
Meh. Simple black/white good versus evil is polemic as well. Vengeance tales are polemic. Scarcity tales are polemic. Power juggling king of the hill stories are polemic. Adding a spaceship doesnt change that.
The point of the story shouldnt be “it has to go” polemic, but to show what the world would look like if it was gone and the world had adjusted. It is the difference between a story that says they lived “happily ever after”, and a story that actually shows how that would look. The purpose of showing Morticia and Gomez in a great marriage, isnt to command “thou shalt do this” but to show it working so people can choose to follow it, to give people a reference they can borrow from.
I never thought that “green dragons made them gay”. I assumed that green dragons chose them because they were gay. Remember, dragons chose their riders.
I want to see a story where the two people go from courtship, and all its real difficulties, to marriage and all its real difficulties, and show both partners as equals negotiating through their problems, cleaning up messes they make, being responsible, being adult, and still make 5he relationship worth it in the end. Someone write THAT story.
Nora Roberts wrote that story–well, that series–well, IS writing that series–under the name J. D. Robb. It’s a near-future cyberpunk police procedural/romance series, starring a certain Lt. Eve Dallas and her husband, the enigmatic Roarke. The series starts out with her single and him suspect, moves through them falling in love (and him getting cleared, of course), they get married, and they keep on going. I read somewhere that La Nora decided to prove that it was possible to write romance about a married couple.
Agatha Christie also dates badly. I re-read some of her stories just a few years ago, and noticed for the first time how full of appalling and dated classism they were.
Thought: If you take ALL of H.P. Lovecraft’s racism issues out of his horror stories, what you would have is Stephen Baxter’s stories. Convince me Cthulhu was not a Photino Bird. I dare you.
@Magda: I can’t imagine an English class awesome enough to let me read Andre Norton as a school assignment. Lucky!
I’ve noticed a disturbing trend in the children’s and young adult sections of my local library: practically nothing is more than 10 years old unless it got made into a movie. I grew up scouring the shelves for books with a particular rocketship sticker on the spine because they were what I defined as “the good stuff.” Actually they were the old stuff. Early Norton. Bradbury’s best works. Zenna Henderson. Asimov’s juvenilia. Burroughs’ Barsoom. C.L. Moore. Books with stiff yellowed pages and thick, bumpy covers. They ran out of that style of rocketship sticker in the mid-’80s, but even the books with the planet sticker that replaced the rocketship are mostly gone now. The really old stuff is enshrined at Project Gutenberg and other sites where the latest generation of voracious readers might stumble over it, but the stuff that’s just plain old is–poof. How are future nerdy kids going to know they love it if they never see it?
They winnowed half of Bujold. Just the older half. Not the entire Barrayar series. Just the older volumes with most of the backstory.
While they’re still buying the newer ones.