Hypocritical Sci-Fi

I have a confession to make. I’m a hypocrite. When I read young adult books, especially dystopian science fiction, I get annoyed by the didactic nature that is so prevalent among them. In Uglies, readers are hammered by the implications of beauty and freedom. Rash charges its audience to embrace a little danger because too much safety can be, well ridiculous. Feed presents the dangers of the internet age. And on and on it goes. Most of these books focus on a single issue, a single question they want to be answered and then drill that point home, to the point of redundancy.

That said, one of my favorite aspects about science fiction is the fact that it is always asking questions and trying to answer them. Now, here comes the real hypocritical part. I don’t mind when adult books do it.

I recently finished reading Dune for the seventh or eighth time and I was struck again by how preachy it really is. For example:

The Missionaria Protectiva – The Bene Gesserit created a missionary system in which they sent women to every planet in the known universe to spread myths and religion to the people. These myths would serve to protect the Bene Gesserit generations later since they planted prophecies that were often so convoluted the women could use them to their advantage.

The Spice – The Spice must flow. It is vital to space travel. Whoever controls the spice, controls the universe. It is more valuable than money. The people who truly understand it’s worth are those of the desert. Now, simply replace the word spice with oil and one cannot miss the lessons in that particular imagery.

These are actually some of the less blatant examples as Frank Herbert is unafraid to point out the evils of computers taking over what men can do, the Orange Catholic Bible, Messiah complexes, and drugs.

So why do these blatant metaphors and analogies not bother me in adult books but rankle me in young adult fiction? I think a simple explanation is that Dune is complex, not trying to answer just one question. It has an epic scope that although in your face about some issues, it such a large composite of intricate ideas that you are simply swept away by the story. With Young Adult fiction though, you cannot be swept away so easily, not if the entire book is so hyper-focused on one single issue.

And then I realized that this is only an issue with these recent dystopian novels, because real science fiction, both for teens and adults is so much bigger and grander than one single issue. But the real question is, do teens care? I don’t think they do. As an adult, I find myself really searching for character and story and the theme doesn’t matter as much to be. At least not as a reader. As a writer, that is a whole different story. I think teens are looking for the same thing though and for them, the message isn’t as important as the story and so things like Feed and Rash and Uglies don’t bother them as much.

For this blogger, if your only going to harp on a single issue for an entire book, it better be one very awesome plot with some incredible characters, otherwise YA sci-fi writers should take a hint from their adult counterparts and begin thinking bigger. Much bigger.

Even so, I plied through my considerable library and found all kinds of wonderful sci-fi books that aren’t so preachy and they are wonderful and epic and they blow some of these one-issue novels out of the water.

Remnants by K.A. Applegate

Orion by Ben Bova

Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

Tripods Trilogy by John Christopher

The Earthborn by Paul Collins

The Maze Runner by James Dashner

The Tomorrow Code by Brian Falkner

The Eye, the Ear, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer

House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer

Dayworld by Philip Jose Farmer

Invasion of the Body Snatchers by Jack Finney

Jumper by Steven Gould

Among the Hidden by Margaret Peterson Haddix

Away is a Strange Place to Be by H.M. Hoover

The Lake at the End of the World by Caroline MacDonald

The True Meaning of Smekday by Adam Rex

Ship of Fools by Richard Paul Russo

House of Stairs by Williams Sleator

Psion by Joan D. Vinge

The Time Machine by H.G. Wells

Dragon & Thief by Timothy Zahn

As I pulled these books out, my mind swirled with all these incredible stories that have weird aliens called Boov, labrynths, rhionitis attacking diseases, teleportation, dark caves, dome cities, drug lords, space stations, space ships so large they have their own gravitational pulls, symbiotic dragon poet warriors, and on and on. (if one of these descriptions sounds intriguing, just ask and I’ll tell you which book it is.) Check out your local library or order them on-line, I promise you won’t be disappointed.