Girls in Spaceships, with a side order of robots pleaseFebruary 18th, 2011 at 9:50
It turned up from time to time, of course, and there have been some wildly successful examples: Scott Westerfeld’s dystopian Uglies series, Suzanne Collins’ the Hunger Games trilogy, and zombie thriller Feed by Mira Grant. Then there have been the steampunls stylings of Westerfeld (again), Richard Harland and Cassandra Clare. Cory Doctorow and John Scalzi have both written books for teens.
But… there just haven’t been enough spaceships. To be precise, not enough girls on spaceships. With robots.
Science fiction as a whole has been in a bit of a slump. More specifically, science fiction written by women has been shrinking at a rate of knots – it’s still around, but whenever publishers put out less of something, diversity is usually the first thing to suffer. A wave of spaceships and robots in YA could be just what the doctor ordered, sparking off a renaissance in the larger genre similar to what has happened with the development of urban fantasy and paranormal romance.
There’s a myth that girls aren’t interested in science fiction. It’s far more likely that this idea has come about because, in fact, science fiction has not always been that interested in girls. This post about “hard SF now with girl cooties” was very nicely timed, and those books have gone straight on to my To Read list.
Science fiction has been around a really long time. It needs new ideas, new blood and new waves in order to revitalise itself on a regular basis. The thing that still hasn’t been done to death, in fact has hardly really got started (yet) is the science fiction for and about teenage girls.
(Sarah Rees Brennan once blogged the brilliant idea of doing a Gossip Girl in Space, and it really stuck with me – why has no one written this yet? Do I have to?)
I think it’s coming. I’ve seen the signs. Not just in manga, and in the popularity of shows like New Doctor Who with female audiences, but in the books that are starting to emerge. I recently read Across the Universe by Beth Revis, a generation ship story which gripped me from its opening chapters, because of the compelling teen characters combined with a crunchy, difficult science fictional setting. It’s a great read, with the emotional intensity that makes YA so appealing to the adult (as well as teen) reader, but also raised some really interesting themes that felt fresh because of the way they were being told through the voice and style of modern YA fiction.
Amy, one of the novels protagonists, is cryogenically frozen for a 500 year space voyage to a new planet, along with her parents. They are important military personnel; she is inessential cargo. She is accidentally unfrozen fifty years too soon, and finds herself stuck in the middle of the creepy community aboard the spaceship – the people who are taking the long route to the new planet, generation after generation, their job being to maintain the ship along the way.
Amy’s arrival has a powerful effect on Elder. the boy who is designated the next leader of the ship, and he begins to realise how many unpleasant compromises his predecessors have made to keep the community functioning – and how much of his world is a lie.
The book is packed with all manner of interesting ethical questions, many of which do not have easy answers. Then, right when I was beginning to feel like the book had come to an acceptable though not entirely happy ending, it pulled out a sucker punch in the last couple of chapters which made me realise that the slight discomfort I had been feeling about the romance itself, and the nature of unrequited love/unspoken crushes as a trope, was also about to be paid off in spades.
I’m not sure I liked or approved of the ending, if I thought about it too carefully with my feminist hats on (feminism requires more than one hat) but it fitted with the overall theme of the novel which was – sometimes you have to compromise your ideals to survive. The fact that the ending squicked me out a little bit didn’t actually ruin the reading experience for me or make me throw the book across the room at all – it made me think. As all the best YA does.
In short, I want more – more combinations of the squishy girl cooties YA emotional relationships, and the science fiction toolbox. I can read a LOT more of these before they come close to catching up to my urban fantasy or mainstream girlfic reading history. So what else is coming? Has anyone heard of upcoming releases in this vein? I know Diana Peterfreund is working on Persuasion-in-space which is super exciting. I know that robots are being heralded as the Next Big Thing in spec fic. It’s all very promising, and I’m really hoping that the next couple of years bring me the books I an dying to read.
Robots! Girls in spaceships! Intellect and Romance over Brute Force and Cynicism! BRING IT ON!