Guest Post – The Future of Young Adult Science Fiction: A Prediction by Katie French

Hey there, Lytherians. I just want to take a moment to introduce the incredibly talented Katie French. Katie is a co-creater/contributer to one of my favorite blogs, Undergroundbookreviews.com. As someone tuned into the YA science fiction and fantasy market, I wanted to pick her brain on her thoughts about where this industry is headed. She was kind enough to provide the following article:

 

There used to be a time when reading Young Adult science fiction or fantasy was social suicide. As a teen getting caught with an Anne McCaffery paperback tucked under my arm was as embarrassing as having a peer see me in my New Kids on the Block fanny pack. I was a closet nerd, pretending to read the latest teen chick lit with the rest of the social elite all the while soaking up sci-fi like a leather-skinned sunbather soaks up sun. I thought that reading YA would plunge me into the depths of nerdom. I’d be sentenced to the back of the cafeteria with the misfits trading Magic the Gathering cards. I’d no longer be cool.

 Times have certainly changed. Fantasy fiction has joined the A list. Ushered in with Harry Potter and rekindled by Twilight and Hunger Games, nerds like me can frolic in freedom. No longer are we resigned to hiding our hardcovers behind our backs. Everyone, from the cheerleaders to the jocks, has joined the fantasy band wagon. The evidence is everywhere. I don’t have to go ten feet in the high school in which I work to spot someone with a Hunger Games novel splayed open on a desk. Right now seven of the top ten YA series are fantasy or science fiction, and the review requests I receive from debut novelists on undergroundbookreviews.com are 90% fantasy or sci-fi. Fantasy has taken hold, but is it here to stay?

As a high school teacher for many years, I happily dragged teens through the literary movements of the 19th century. I can’t help but compare today’s boom of YA fantasy with the Gothic movement in the mid eighteen hundreds. Edgar Allen Poe is by the most famous Gothic writer, but others, such as Nathaniel Hawthorne and Washington Irving, helped to shape American Gothic forever. Audiences were captivated by The Raven, shocked by The Scarlet Letter and intrigued by The Legend of Sleepy Hallow. Though these are the literary equivalent of Ambien to today’s teens, back then they were the Maze Runners of their time. That is until audiences grew tired of it.

      I fear we are on the precipice of such a movement in today’s literature. Just as audiences turned from Poe and flocked to his Realist predecessor Mark Twain, I fear audiences may soon grow tired of the fantastic. There are, after all, only so many things you can do with a vampire (they already sparkle). In the last ten years teens have cast spells with Potter, ridden Dragons with Eragon and fought the future with Katniss. I think it is only a matter of time before they go, “Huh, I wonder what it’d be like to read a book about something that could really happen.”

 So even though I lament my prediction, here it is: in the next few years we will see a decline in fantasy and science fiction and a rise in realism. Teens will put down Suzanne Collins and pick up Sarah Dresden. Don’t get me wrong. If that happens, I’ll lament the time I spent being part of the literary in-crowd, (as will many of you, no doubt) but I’ll never abandon my fantasy fiction friends. My fellow book nerds and I will be plunged back to the land of the lost. We’ll go there happily, clutching our novels to our chests. Afterall, who cares about being cool when you’ve got a good book?  

 

About Katie:

Katie French is a high school counselor, wife and mother of two. She is the co-creator and contributor to Underground Book Reviews, a site devoted to providing quality book reviews and interviews to self-published and debut novelists. When she’s not reading new YA or working on her novel or playing with her children, she’s sleeping because frankly there isn’t time for anything else. You can find her at www.undergroundbookreviews.com.

 

Posted on by Jackie Krah



  • Gavin

    I’m not so sure about that. It seems to me that fantasy itself will not go out of style, but rather new fads will arise. For example, in recent years it’s been paranormal teen romance. But I have a feeling that that particular genre is going to fall out of favor in a few years. But for now, authors are trying to get as much success as they can out of the style before it dies out. I think the steampunk style of fantasy is beginning its rise, and it would take a big-hit Twilight-equivalent steampunk novel to kick-start the process. Or it could be something completely different. But no, I don’t think that fantasy will dwindle. There’s simply too large of a following.

    • me

      About the paranormal romance thing: One can only hope…

      • Gavin

         Indeed. Vampires, werewolves, angels, and demons as teenage love interests was interesting for about… actually, come to think of it, it was never interesting. Let it die!

    • The Grey Rider

      Would you count Alternate History in that vein?
      Because I can think of a series in that category that is set to become mega popular in a few years, even though it’s gone unsung for roughly eight years…

  • Rkduncan

    I am very proud of you .!

  • http://www.lytherus.com/ Lauren Zurchin

    Wow, great food for thought Katie. Very interesting. Though there is a part of me that agrees with Gavin’s comments, your words on the trending towards YA realism aren’t the first I’ve heard on this topic. This saddens me, but at the same time, you are totally right. How many times can we re-tell the same story? 

    I wonder though if it will really disappear, like the American Gothics of our past. So much of YA isn’t just for teens, and the reason that so much of it is selling like the wildfire Katniss has to dodge is the cross-over factor. This makes me think, won’t fans, both young and old, want to support a creative, fun, ‘new’ fantasy or sci-fi based book? I don’t doubt the truth in your words of good, original realism overriding crappy, overdone fantasy, but the hopeless romantic in me wants to believe that fans will never truly let it disappear, at least as far back into the dark hole that fantasy lived in in the 80’s and early 90’s. Only time will tell, but I’m glad you raised this issue , and it will be interesting to see what trends truly do stick in YA in the next decade. 

    I’m curious: what makes you personally believe this? Is there something you’ve experienced in your school environment, or the blog setting?
    Hope to see more guest posts from you in the future! :)

    • Katielynne French

      Thanks for the comments, Lauren. I’ve formed this opinion based on what I see in the YA market right now. One is the influx of YA Fantasy I see everywhere. As with any hot trend, writers are over saturating the market. Nine out of ten books I receive for reviews are Sci Fi or Fantasy. The YA books debuting seem to be 80 – 90% fantastic. While this is fabulous, it can’t last. No trend this big can hang on. The bubble will pop at some point. I am not sure when, but, just as we can only take so many Adelle songs on the radio before we turn it off, audiences will become engorged with Fantasy. The core of readers like those on this blog will still be there, yes, but the causual Sci Fi reader will look elsewhere.  

  • The Grey Rider

    Fantasy and sci-fi will NEVER go out of fashion.
    It’s a form of escape:
    You get to step out of this stagnating, burueacratic nightmare for a few, glorious, hours to be captivated by characters like Eragon, or Capt. William Laurence.

    Realism just hasn’t got that same sort of element of wonder.
    It is written about MUNDANE LIFE, even if it is mundane life from a time when the world wasn’t quite such a screw up.

    Also, I think you’re confusing sci-fi and fantasy with ‘teen trash’ a little bit there.
    That is what Twilight is.
    I won’t comment on Hunger Games because I’ve never read it and don’t care too.
    Sci-fi like Halo and Mass Effect is timeless, whether it be in video game or literary form.
    When it comes to fantasy, you read a tale like Blood of Aenarion, the Inheritance Cycle or the Lord of the Rings, and you’ll come back to it.

    I have read a few books like the ones that could be classed ‘realist':
    The Great Gatsby, which was good, and more recently Year of Wonders, which is most definitely the worst book ever written just for how badly written and uninteresting it is.

    Given the choice, I’d pick Twilight over Year of Wonders, and I make no bones over the fact I hate Twilight.
    That’s how bad Year of Wonders is.

    So no, I think you’re thoroughly wrong on this one.
    With the popularity of sci-fifantasy video games, not to mention the skill with which authors of those genres weave their tales, I feel entirely justified in saying that you are wrong in this regard.

    • Katielynne French

      I’m with you. I love the escapism that I find in a great fantasy/sci fi book. I just feel that those mainstream readers who have jumped over to “the dark side” with us, may soon jump off. A trend can only last so long. The rest of us will still be here hungrily awaiting a new adventure. 

  • Sedjwick

    I disagree.  Fantasy and science fiction will never die.  Fantasy was the first genre in the literary tradition, starting with the epic of Gilgamesh, and it has endured for thousands of years.  Others have come and gone, but science fiction, and fantasy even more so, have endured the test of time.  There is something fundamentally different about fantasy that makes it resonate so deeply with us.  Inheritance, Lord of the Rings, these are the myths of our time.  That is what makes the genre so much more powerful than any other genre that has been or is to come.  Fantasy and science fiction, it’s son, have the ability to tell the Hero’s Tale replete with all the archetypes of ancient mythology better than any other genre because that is what it was made for.  In every fantasy or science fiction book or series I have read, you can trace the protagonist’s progression through the Hero’s Cycle and identify a myriad of archetypes that resonate with us on a deeper level than most people can understand.  The Hero’s Cycle and the archetypes resonate with us on a subconscious level.  No other genre has ever been able to present them so clearly and vividly as have fantasy and science fiction.  Yes, they appear in other genres, but they are not as clear and vivid in them and thus we don’t recognize them in our subconscious which is where fantasy and science fiction resonate, a deeper level than other stories.  Don’t get me wrong, there are a number of great stories out there that aren’t sci-fi or fantasy, but they just don’t grab you quite the same way.  Fantasy and sci-fi have a much more primal appeal to them, dating back to when we sat around the campfire at night and told tales of how the world was created or of great warriors battling ferocious beasts.  That is eternal.  Nothing else quite reaches that height.

    • Gabs345

      beautiful.

    • Katielynne French

      I agree with you, Sedjwick, that Fantasy and Science Fiction will never die. Us die harders are here to stay and the points you made about it being the original literary genre are valid. I just think their popularity may decline. It can’t always be the golden era for YA Fantasy and SciFi. The bandwagoners will jump off at some point. 

      • Sedjwick

        True, but still, no other genre can capture those primal elements that make fantasy and sci-fi resonate so strongly with us.  Fantasy and sci-fi are eternal.  Nothing else can stand up to them in those elements.  They will decline after a while, maybe within the next few years, but unlike many of the other genres that have come and gone, fantasy and sci-fi will rise again and again.  True, the golden age will fall, but the genre will never disappear and I think it will still hold a certain popularity even if it isn’t among the “social elite” I don’t think it will be relegated solely to the “nerds” either.  Not that I really care about that since I’ve never really been much a part of any clique other than my own.  I’ll always have my books and when you have that what more do you need?

  • Gabs345

    let’s enjoy our reign of sci-fi/fantasy while it lasts!  

    • Gabs345

      however, sci-fi/fantasy provides an escape that realistic stories cannot provide. personally, when i have a long day, i cant wait to get home and dive into a harry potter or wheel of time- esque book and just lose myself in it
      LONG LIVE ESCAPISM!  

      • Sedjwick

         Yet another reason why fantasy and science fiction will never die.  True, you can escape into other genres, but none of them provide quite the same level of escapism that fantasy, sci-fi, or any sort of speculative fiction does.

  • http://lytherus.com PJ Carroll

    Amazing article! I appreciated your viewpoint on the tides of change that are prevalent in all forms of entertainment. While I do agree with some of the other comments (yes, fantasy and scifi will never die), there is a time where anything that is trending loses steam and appeal. Fantasy and Scifi will return to the hands of the die hards (yes, I was one of those people carrying Dragonlance or Lord of the Rings books in high school) until the next revolution.

    Look at it from my point of view. I’m a horror fanatic. The mid to late eighties say a huge fervor for vampires which died out within a year or two. Then we saw the return of zombies as the flavor of the day (last seen in the 70’s). Zombies are so prevalent in all mainstream media that it is on the verge of jumping the shark and moving back into obscurity. All media forms and flavors move in and out of style. It is the way of things.

    • The Grey Rider

      Thank you for the nod.

      I must wonder when next someone will try a hybrid like Dragonriders of Pern?

      I mean, dragons in space isn’t really something you see.
      Dragonriders of Pern is actually the one place I have found where creatures recognisable and identified as dragons actually crop up in a sci-fi setting.

      And even then, it was started in the ’60s, and no-one has tried to do anything remotely similar.

      Hybridising like Dragonriders of Pern is how you prevent stagnation, so how come no-one has done anything similar?

      Oh, and I’d say supernatural romance is going to go about the same time as zombies.

      • a smart guy

        Ummm… The Dragon and Thief series is very similar to the Dragonriders of Pern. It has dragons in space, but the dragons are 2 dimensional. They are still alive, they just have to rest on their human hosts as a living tattoo for about 6 hours a day. After that, they can become 3 dimensional or even 4 dimensional to slip between walls. It is a great 6 book series and I recommend reading it.

  • http://www.youtube.com/user/GreedLin?feature=mhum Stephen Bove

    Well I cast spells  with Harry and his gang, and I road the dragons with Eragon (starting with the movie) but I’ll never fight the future with Kitness. I hope that there will always be some people that like YA Sci-Fi/Fantacy because that’s what my books are based around. But that would be my luck, just as I’m getting ready to see about my stories being published the genera dies.

    • The Grey Rider

      Erm…
      You DID see the general consensus is that Sci-fi and Fantasy will never go out of fashion, right?

      • Jackie

        No need to be rude. I think it’s pretty clear what Katie is saying is that the large hype of it will go out of fashion. There will always be core group of readers, but nothing can maintain this high of a level of popularity forever.

      • Katielynne French

        The Grey Rider, I love a good natured debate, so thanks for participating. I did see that many feel that Sci-fi and Fantasy will never go out of fashion. I am excited people care so much about a genre I love and hope will never die. However, you must realize that the people that read this blog are not, on the whole, a complete cross section of America. Most who tread here are the lovers of Sci Fi I am talking about. Now the other (albeit less handsome and interesting) part of America are those I am talking about that will jump off our little party when the popularity fades.  

    • Katielynne French

      There will always be people who love YA Sci Fi and Fantasy. Never fear, Stephen. If you write a thrilling story, people will read it. 

  • AB Riddle

    I know I’m biased, but you are an amazing writer. And I agree, it’s a booming fad right now, especially in YA, and some day something else will take its place. But it will always be there for those of us who don’t care what’s “in.”

  • James King

    Sorry, coming to this game way late. I’m a retired male. I guess I’m old because I grew up in  the 40’s,  50’s and 60’s when the sci-fi light was bright. I saw it dim, but it never went out. Now it’s bright again. This is the cycle of popular demand. Thus, interest in this genre will dim again. As in the past the flame will flicker, but not go out. I write YA SF now because I know as long as we tell a good yarn with interesting characters some kid, young or old, will read for enjoyment, escape or adventure. It maybe with a flash light under the covers, in a bathroom  or at lunch in school or at work, but they will read. As long as they read I will write.
    James King