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Young Adult Science Fiction as a Socially Conservative Genre
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Young Adult Science Fiction as a Socially Conservative Genre
Applebaum, Noga. Representations of Technology in Science Fiction for Young People. New York: Routledge, 2010. 198 pp. US$125.50 hc. ISBN 978-0-415-98951-0. Print.
Beckett, Bernard. Genesis. Toronto: Tundra, 2009. 186 pp. $21.00 hc. ISBN 978-0-7710-1142-9. Print.
Dunnion, Kristyn. Big Big Sky. Calgary: Red Deer, 2008. 250 pp. $14.95 pb. ISBN 978-0-88995-404-5. Print.
Mendlesohn, Farah. The Inter-Galactic Playground: A Critical Study of Children's and Teens' Science Fiction. Jefferson: McFarland, 2009. 284 pp. US$45.00 pb. ISBN 978-0-7864-3503-6. Print.
Sawyer, Robert J. Wake. Toronto: Viking, 2009. 356 pp. $30.00 hc. ISBN 978-0-670-06741-1. Print.
Sawyer, Robert J. Watch. Toronto: Viking, 2010. 352 pp. $30.00 hc. ISBN 978-0-670-06742-8. Print.
Sawyer, Robert J. Wonder. Toronto: Viking, 2011. 338 pp. $30.00 hc. ISBN 978-0-670-06743-5. Print.

In recent surveys of Young Adult Science Fiction (YASF), Noga Applebaum and Farah Mendlesohn criticize the genre for various faults in recent decades, including technophobia. Mendlesohn summarizes the general tone of both her book, The Inter-Galactic Playground, and Applebaum's Representations of Technology in Science Fiction for Young People with the following question: "Why is sf for children so socially conservative?" (112). Both authors build on arguments made in 1985 by Perry Nodelman, who identified technophobic and dystopian attitudes in stories set in future worlds: "Nodelman concludes [that] sf for teens [End Page 162] and children is very like general fiction for teens and children. What it is not like is science fiction for adults" (Mendlesohn 3). Applebaum echoes this sentiment by claiming that "[y]oung SF published today is dominated by authors writing solely for a young audience" (9), as opposed to pre-1980, when attitudes toward technology and the future in YASF were supposedly more balanced, and when it was not uncommon for authors to write for both adult and youth audiences. Applebaum "agree[s] with Mendlesohn's assertion that a fundamental change has occurred in young SF post-1980" (11) and that "[t]he literature [that authors who write solely for a young audience] produce is often disconnected from trends within SF as a whole" (9). If we can consider YA to be a literary genre rather than a marketing term, then modern YASF as a sub-genre constitutes a diseased form of the adult SF genre for Applebaum and Mendlesohn, both of whom demand its rehabilitation.

Applebaum considers this disconnect of YASF from adult SF problematic due to its appearance within "books intended for a technologically savvy generation. Young readers, internalising this technophobic message, are in danger of learning to fear the future" (19)—an ironic danger in the field of science fiction, to be sure. Mendlesohn points out a similar irony: when a book offers a young reader some pessimistic vision of the future, it also "advocates some kind of return to a world just like ours. Where we are now is the best we can ever be" (151). In what follows, I test Applebaum's and Mendlesohn's similar claims concerning the difference between SF intended for young readers and for adult readers by comparing two dystopic novels for young people, Kristyn Dunnion's Big Big Sky and Bernard Beckett's Genesis, with Robert J. Sawyer's novels Wake, Watch, and Wonder (known collectively as the WWW trilogy), which explicitly concern the impact of an earth-shattering technological advance (the spontaneous rise of artificial consciousness in the near future). Sawyer writes primarily for adult readers, although he also considers himself a YA author in the sense that many of his novels have found appeal with crossover audiences, including the WWW novels, which contain a teenaged protagonist. Sawyer states on his blog that while composing Wake, he researched "what was appropriate for YA novels" by consulting with a YA librarian, since "it was absolutely [his] intention to appeal to both the adult and YA markets with the WWW trilogy."

Social Conservatism and YASF

At the heart of both Applebaum's and Mendlesohn's books lies the...