YA Science Fiction and Fantasy: Alienation and Assery

rsz_magical_book_wallpaper_1680x1050_wallpaperhereWhen I read, it’s for a handful of reasons. First: I love stories. My favourite method of assimilating a story is to read it. Sure, video games and movies are all well and good—but they will never replace my sheer adoration and reverence of the written word. Words, man; they’re so good. I like words like people like sports or shoes or vintage Victorian top hats. I collect words; I display words; I freaking love words. So when I’m not reading something in particular, I can grow listless and frustrated. Never more so than when I feel out-of-the-loop with news and new releases. The last eighteen months having been very rocky, I’m completely out-of-touch with most YA SFF releases. Sure, I know what’s upcoming it’s by a writer I’m familiar with on Twitter, and sure, if people tweet about it, I pick up on it that way. But if I’m not in the right circles and a book isn’t being talked about much by the limited people I follow, I likely will miss it. Furthermore, I could just miss the tweet altogether and never know it’s a Thing.

For a while I’ve been trying to deny the obvious, the inevitable: I’ve become alienated from regular SFF. I don’t get excited about books that class themselves as SFF without the YA prefix there to suggest younger protagonists and, honestly, a more open and diverse approach to life and stories. There are notable exceptions, writers who deliver exactly what I want. But, when I think about these books, the characters are younger adults. Not teens, but then I don’t see why anything up to 25-30 isn’t counted as “young adult”. I have Thoughts regarding society and the view of age, so we’ll leave that alone!

Anyway: I can’t seem to approach regular SFF with the same wide-eyed wonder anymore. I don’t like grimdark. Never did. Before, I found it almost trying too hard to remind us how bad life can be. And now? I’m just so over it. It’s not new or shocking or illuminating any more. So, if we take out grimdark, the market of current books diminishes a little. Not by much, because there’s plenty out there that isn’t anything close to grimdark. But… in regular SFF I find myself always wanting, wanting, wanting. There isn’t enough. Not enough emotion, not enough characters I can identify with. Not enough goddamn diversity. I don’t want straight white people to be the sole populous of the books I read. I’m sick of the same kinds of characters, again and again, regurgitated as Adults who apparently act differently and somehow more validly and credibly by virtue of being an “adult”. I’ve found more depth and strength of character in the YA SFF I’ve discovered than through much of the regular SFF I’ve read in the last few years.

If you’ve got a damn big cast spanning three or more books, you’d better damn well give me some LGBT characters, else yes, I am going to damn well judge you. And no, I don’t want that character’s sexuality or gender to define their plot. Let them crush on the same sex and have it be entirely separate to their destined storylines. Just give me people. I want to be able to open a book and see myself. To have casts as wide as books like Peter V. Brett’s The Demon Cycle and to not have more gay and bisexual characters is just a case of “are you kidding me?” by now. I don’t remember if there are any of the Greenlanders who identify as different sexualities (and please don’t make Wonda a lesbian just because of her character—please), but I usually remember this kind of thing. So basically we have Krasians who sometimes boink other men as part of a lifestyle choice that pares down to “oh, hey! We’re warriors and we’re kinda bored down here in the Maze – wait, I know!” and doesn’t travel much beyond “friends with benefits” and what amounts to power-plays between warriors, or, we have a couple of gay men (Inevera’s dead brother [oh, yeah, he’s dead, so he doesn’t count] and Jardir’s son and lover). It’s not enough. Gods, it doesn’t need to be the centre point of the world—but it does have to be there.

I want more bisexuality, but even in YA SFF that’s lacking. But at least the same-sex relationships are there and they get as much attention as the straight romances. I also want characters I can understand. I want the people who ramble on and on about YA protagonists acting differently or less maturely than “adults” to shut it.

Gorgeous art of Celaena/Aelin I found on DeviantArt.

Gorgeous art of Celaena/Aelin I found on DeviantArt.

Maturity is a flexible concept and down to perception. I don’t see how, in books such as the Throne of Glass series, Maas’ characters can be said, at any point, to be acting “like teenagers”. I just don’t. They act like people and sometimes even adult people don’t know what to do. They make mistakes and do stupid things and get angry and make things go wrong. Because everyone does! There is literally no difference between how adults and younger adults act. The difference is between what type of person you are and how you live your life. And a gazillion other contributing factors.

I am so done with struggling along with regular SFF when I just feel completely alienated by it. It’s so colourless and two-dimensional when compared with my precious, precious YA. I can’t identify with the older characters in regular fantasy. I don’t see myself in them. I don’t see myself in anyone around them.

Never mind when I read posts with headlines such as “why you should read this book even though it’s for teens!”. It makes me crazy. Books are just books, and sure, maybe there was a target audience in mind when the author wrote it, but stories are ageless and timeless and they just are. Pinning labels is nothing more than marketing and when it creates this snobbery towards YA I just want to smash a thousand plates and tap dance on the pieces just to make sure.

I see, so often, people making assumptions about romance and what-have-you about YA and I want to break the internet. Firstly, don’t tell me that there isn’t romance in 90% of regular SFF, because there is. But no, YA is all love triangles and romance and girlie heroines being all stupid and crazy over boys. Say that to Caelena Sardothien’s face. Go on; I dare you.

Or not.

Read some YA and then talk to me about what most people think YA is. For real. Because I’m so done with the world and its stupid ideas about YA and younger adults. I see it so often, whilst seeing the same people champion regular SFF books that have literally zero diversity and characters who do stupid things and never learn from mistakes. Characters who don’t react in real, human ways to things.

YA SFF taught me that anger is OK, that being wrong and not knowing how to admit it is OK. YA SFF taught me to always push for more, to push myself and the world around me towards what I want and need. YA SFF taught me that being me is fine, whatever that happens to mean. YA SFF is so introspective, so subtly. YA taught me that feelings are OK! Who would ever have thought!?

You just don’t get this from most regular SFF. Somehow it seems to be all about the world and the plot, not about the characters and their lives within these worlds. I want—need—characters who will become my friends. People in whom I see pieces of myself, for better or for worse. I want characters who are complex and contradictory and woven from pure emotion made flesh. Because that’s what people are like.

I just can’t identify with anyone or anything in SFF that isn’t labelled as YA. It just doesn’t happen. I’m not a teenager, but I’m nowhere near being or considering myself as a fully-fledged Adult with a complete Adulting Licence. Nowhere near. Age and its perception is a very constructed social concept, especially in a society where we live longer and have far more freedom to explore ourselves and just what kind of soul is housed in these peculiar vessels of flesh and blood and bone. There isn’t this desperate need to “grow up”. It’s nonsense. We don’t “grow up”, we simply work towards finding out who we are and becoming that person, those people. We can be many people within one single skin. A thousand different facets.

Tl;dr – I’m grumpy at SFF in general for not being enough like YA, which is ridiculous because YA SFF shouldn’t be a genre. It should just indicate a younger cast. And don’t get me started on how convenient it is when YA ends up being incredibly popular and gets stuck in the SFF section. Suddenly the book is “good enough” and bam, Daughter of Smoke and Bone always filed in the SFF section of bookstores. I don’t care if they are big books, they are damn well YA and if the world can’t accept that, then give them back, you can’t have them! This cherry-picking of yoinking YA titles and slipping them discreetly into the regular and somehow more high-brow section has been cause for many a blistering rant when passing through bookstores. Books are books are books. I don’t look down on SFF or treat the off foray into it as a guilty pleasure, so YA SFF shouldn’t be subject to that, either. Read whatever you want to, wherever you find what you’re looking for, and don’t be snobby about the rest.

Otherwise, you suck.

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One thought on “YA Science Fiction and Fantasy: Alienation and Assery

  1. Whatever you do, Leo, don’t hold back! Wow! Great riff! And, just because it’s a riff, doesn’t mean it isn’t true or you didn’t mean it.
    Though not nearly as wide-read in YASFF as you, I agree with everything you say. At the same time, it’s a personal stance, and I don’t hear you saying that others need to think the same way, have the same experience. Chris

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