Based off my post yesterday about the decommissioning of the ‘Lifeinpublishing’ tumblr blog, some friends wanted to know how I feel about the recent charges that many new Young Adult dystopia novels and series are ‘derivative’.
I have strong feelings about the direction YA has been going, especially in science fiction and fantasy. I have strong feelings about the publishing industry’s collective decision to break YA categories out of adult genres, in the first place.
(Puts on old-lady glasses, and practices yelling ‘Get orff mah lawn!’)
Some of my favorite books as a teen and young adult would now be considered YA literature because of their non- or low-sexual content and the ages of their main protagonists. That didn’t keep these books from being magical to read, or profound influences on my later writing. But because I also read adult fare as a teen, the YA books had to stand on their own compared to grittier stories.
I would never have accepted ‘simplified’ writing supposedly tailored to my age and statistically determined reading abilities.
In one of my in-progress fantasy novels, my main character is an eighteen-year-old woman on a quest to learn about the father she never knew. Despite that set-up, I would not market this book as YA fantasy. My protagonist has already been married and amicably divorced by the time she leaves home. Her world is incredibly brutal, and the worldbuilding is too alien to easily fit most YA strictures. While sex is largely off-camera, it’s a big part of her life and the new cultures she moves through. Finally, at 122K, the book is just too big for many YA imprints.
So, I am not qualified to talk about YA (and YA dystopias in particular) from a writing standpoint. How about reading?
I don’t read much in the genre, at least not the books that everyone else seems to be evangelizing right now. From just seeing Wiki entries, I can tell that bad worldbuilding and illogical plots would probably derail my reading. Plus, I have this internal quirk that makes me pull away from many trends as soon as they become popular. I’m unlikely to bother reading those particular novels, not when so many other people have effectively dissected them for me.
I can’t say from my own experience whether those books are derivative, any more than any other genre story. I can say, from comments I’ve heard and read from publishing industry professionals, that YA dystopias might be so currently overbought there’s a glut. New ones are probably going to need to shine, to stand out.
Lastly, I shy away from dystopias in general. I’m a shameless romantic at heart. I like functioning universes. Most real and made-up cultures have a certain level of ‘broken’ already. Call me a coward, but I dislike seeing utterly-shattered systems in literature. Sure, they can be a crucible to refine a character’s heroism. But they are more realistically prone to revealing lives that are ‘nasty, brutish, and short’. These are places where human potential is perverted, if not stillborn.
I’m fine with settings that hang on the verge of dystopia, where there is still some life and hope. To give a media example: more ‘Almost Human’ than ‘Judge Dredd’.
For me, true dystopias can be a symbol of ultimate ennui and hopelessness, possibly even a denial of spec fiction’s long-held ‘bright futures’ slant. When we stop dreaming about better futures, we often stop trying to build them.