Worldcon, YA and Women

Yesterday’s post on women in SF led to some interesting discussion with Aurora about the visibility of women YA writers in the wider science fiction community. I thought it would be worth going over some of the issues in a separate post.

My basic thesis was that while, in the wake of the success of The Hunger Games, women writers are producing a lot of SF for the YA market right now, this isn’t being recognized by the SF community at large. I’m hearing of some very interesting books from Tansy Rayner Roberts (who may well be reading them in part because she’s a Tiptree juror this year), and Aurora mentioned a few more. Here are some that are worth checking out:

  • Moira Young, Blood Red Road
  • Ally Condie, Matched and Crossed
  • Megan McCafferty, Bumped
  • Beth Revis, Across the Universe
  • Karen Sandler, Tankborn
  • Tahereh Mafi, Shatter Me

Given the way her book is picking up mainstream award nominations, Moira ought to be a serious candidate for the Campbell next year.

The question that Aurora and I were discussing is how best we can bring these writers to the attention of the SF community.

We probably shouldn’t get into discussing the YA Hugo proposal here as that’s a huge can of worms that could easily take over everything. Let’s leave that for another day, please. There are other awards.

Indeed there is already a set of awards for children’s SF&F, the Golden Ducks, which are actually given out at Worldcon. However, as far as I can see, they have mostly failed to engage the interest of the massive YA readership. They are a juried award, so young people can’t get to participate much.

SFWA, of course, has the Andre Norton Award, and welcomes YA authors as members. However, I’m not sure how successful they are in engaging with them. I saw on Twitter a few days ago that they were appealing for members to serve on the Norton jury, which suggests a lack of interest. I’m sure that the SFWA management is very busy, but equally it seems to me that this burgeoning interest in SF is a potential source of new members. I very much hope that people starting out writing YA SF will want to join SFWA, and not do an Atwood on us.

Getting a YA author as a GoH would be difficult because being a Worldcon GoH is very much a lifetime achievement prize. You need at least 25 years in the business. Ian McDonald is venturing into YA right now, and he’s very much the sort of person who deserves the honor. Indeed I’d venture to suggest that one of the reasons he hasn’t got it yet is that everyone is waiting politely to see what London does. McDonald is by no means a shoe-in, as Iain Banks hasn’t had the honor either, but the Americans won’t want to be seen as treading on London’s toes.

Worldcon can, of course, have Special Guests as well. I’d love to see Chicago try to get Suzanne Collins along, but I suspect that she’s already too big a name for them. However, getting authors to Worldcon is always a chicken and egg situation. Authors will attend a convention if they think they are likely to meet a lot of existing and potential readers there. This is why the work that people like James Bacon are doing to encourage young people to attend Worldcon is so valuable. I’m pleased to see that both Chicago and San Antonio have YA membership rates.

Locus does have occasional YA reviews from Gwenda Bond. They also have a YA category in the Recommended Reading List. I think it is about time that they did a special feature on YA dystopias (hello, Liza?).

Mostly, however, I think it is down to people to talk. If we get enough buzz going online then more people will take notice. It is always hard to get older people to take an interest in what young folks are doing, and that’s especially so when you are talking about asking old men to read books about pregnancy and marriage, even if they are SF, but talk we must. No one else will do it for us.

Well, not quite. I’d like to finish with a quick shout out to Strange Chemistry, the new YA imprint from Angry Robot. Amanda Rutter, I know the above ladies are not in your catalog, but this is very much your fight now. Glad to have you on board.

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44 Responses to Worldcon, YA and Women

  1. Nicky B says:

    As a YA genre author – fantasy/hist fantasy/alt history and recently SF/horror I feel pretty invisible. Although genre readers are not as dismissive as lit fiction readers there is still a sense that only people who can’t write would write for kids. I am over it – more or less.

  2. Steve Berman says:

    I emailed to be on the Norton jury but never heard back. I was surprised how unqualified some past jury members were–with no experience writing YA fiction.

    Also, I’m not a fan of the Condie books–her Mormon background has influenced her writing and LGBT individuals are not represented whatsoever in her fiction (in fact, she was not prepared for a question asking where such individuals would place in her world).

    • Aurora says:

      Condie and McCafferty are both examples of what is popular right now in YA, and unfortunately that doesn’t always coincide with what is excellent or unbiased writing. If you’re looking for good recs on LGBT and PoC writings I highly suggest following Malinda Lo’s blog. She’s an excellent advocate for finding good stories that include one or the other (or both, although I don’t think I’ve seen that yet). YA lit has some good LGBT books that are also well written, from Lo’s Ash to Scott Tracey’s Witch Eyes.

      ((my apologies if you already had this info))

    • For a good LGBT novel, I can suggest “Hero” by Perry Moore, though that is a super hero novel from 2007. Hardly relevant right now & not all that SF. I view super hero fiction as a sub-genre.

  3. Aurora says:

    I can see from the Ducks’ website why they have little recognition. The site looks outdated, and their “recommended list” for YA doesn’t have any books published later than 1985 (other than maybe the one that I couldn’t find any info on). It would be much more useful as a “recommended classics” list and have a list of 10-15 good books per year that didn’t make the finalist cut but are still worth reading for sci-fi fans. There’s also no information on how you can volunteer for the jury, or what their requirements are for jury members, which is strange and doesn’t lend any value to their award. I also find it a little sad that DucKon is a general sci-fi con and not a YA sf/f con because I think that would be valuable to fans young and old alike. ((in fact, I’m young and stupid starry-eyed enough to think it would be so useful I’m tempted to start one myself.))

    My proposal in the other thread was a bit different from your proposal here, I was suggesting *adding* a YA GoH in addition to the regular GoH. I don’t exactly like it because it segregates out the YA from the “regular” writers, but it would give them more recognition. I’m also not sure how it would fit in WorldCon budgets, but I can certainly think of plenty of authors that have a body of work and deserve the recognition (Tamora Pierce always comes up when talking about YA with WorldCon groups and is popular with people of many ages and still read by high schoolers and younger, Neil Gaiman has been recognized as GoH but this would be an excellent excuse to bring him back, Eoin Colfer’s long-running Artemis Fowl series is good and introduced a lot of young readers to fantasy, Holly Black has several excellent series, Scott Westerfeld likewise has three very popular and excellent series, Susan Cooper’s Dark is Rising series is still enjoyed by children and attracts fans of all ages, Rick Riordan’s works are wildly popular and educational as are Phillip Pullman’s). Perhaps a “special guest” is what I was really asking for, I’m not sure of the terminology or the difference, or how hard/political it would be to add in another GoH to the current slate.

    Perhaps another thing would be to lobby for better programming. I went to all the YA panels at WorldCon this year, and the audiences were overfull, so there is obviously some interest. The panelists were not entirely ignorant, but I am still annoyed in how long it takes a WorldCon circle to come back to Heinlein Juveniles in any YA discussion (my research says the longest time you can expect is 20 minutes) and how few had read anything in YA since the 1980’s. Perhaps a panel with some Duck jurors talking about good YA from the last year or good YA to anticipate in the 6 months after the con. I’m not sure it would fly, though, because I get the impression that there’s a stubborn contingent to WorldCon that doesn’t want to celebrate SF and instead wants to promote only the sliver they like and anything that doesn’t go there (like YA since Heinlein) shouldn’t be discussed in case it promotes free thinking of what SF is that doesn’t meet their standards. It goes with a lot of conversations with SMoFs that go “we don’t want a lot of attendees, we want attendees that agree with what we like” (which I’ve come to see as code for “we only want young people who have read all the classics on the list and now only read what we have on the approved list, not any other kind of SF like media releases or YA). It seems like making inroads into planning committees is a lot harder than getting the general attendee crowd to show interest in YA.

    I also wonder if we can make some promotional offers to YA imprint labels. I know I was very disappointed when I went to DragonCon and found out that Beth Revis had pamphlets with the first chapter of her book that her publisher had given her for publicizing Across the Universe (which, btw, should absolutely be on your rec list) because I would have paid my own money to bring a case of those to Reno and pass out like candy. Perhaps we can get publishers to send promotional stuff for books to WorldCon for YA panels and passout tables to get attendees interested in new books and work towards inclusion of YA authors.

    And, finally, Yay for a Locus special on YA Dystopia and to Strange Chemistry! (And apologies for making this so long, I’ve been thinking on it too.)

    • Cheryl says:

      As I understand it, the Ducks are run by librarians and academics for librarians and academics. They don’t seem to get fandom.

      There’s no requirement for Worldcon GoHs to fit any particular group of categories. It would be unusual not to have any writers, but aside from that there are no rules on numbers and roles. The important rules are a) longevity, and b) (these days) only once.

      Worldcon programming is a problem I should have raised. The trouble is that if the people running program know nothing about YA then they will fill the panels with people they know who volunteer, not with people who are knowledgeable. Possibly the best thing a young and enthusiastic person could do for Worldcon would be to volunteer to help run programming, and in particular help run the YA track.

      The big US Publishers generally won’t do promotions at conventions that attract less than 10,000 people, it is not worth their while.

      And don’t apologize, this is good stuff. πŸ™‚

      • Aurora says:

        When I’ve offered to help with programming I’ve been told “thanks but no thanks” and “you’re not a professional”. I’m not sure that someone volunteering would help, it would need to be the “right people” pushing things and they don’t seem to be interested. Perhaps I just talked to the wrong crowds, some committees seem more open than others. In the end, though, it seems the key is buying in to bids early, and even then the major choices seem less about who’s committed to helping and more about political pandering to segments of established fandom.

        • Cheryl says:

          Well the “you’re not professional” excuse is ridiculous. WFC aside, no convention that I know of requires you to be an industry professional in order to be involved with programming. What are your local conventions?

          Also, Bobbie Du Fault is running programming for Chicago. I know her. I’ll see if I can get her to come here and comment.

          • Aurora says:

            I was talking strictly of WorldCon, I volunteered to help with Reno and Canada. I’ve had much better success with regionals (ConQuesT had Tamora Pierce as a guest, and Arisia has had some good panels and I saw Esther Friesner read from her YA there).

          • Cheryl says:

            *sigh* OK, let’s hope we can get a better result out of Chicago.

            If you know people from local cons who are Worldcon regulars, citing them as referees would help.

  4. Just to add to your list, there’s Allegra Goodman’s The Other Side of the Island. It’s on the curriculum at a very posh girls’ school in Toronto, which is doing a unit on dystopian fiction in Grade 9.

    Am also very excited about Strange Chemistry.

  5. I just read Blood Red Road and I really can’t recommend it enough. I will be thrilled if it wins an award. I’m flogging it to everyone I can without being annoying, which unfortunately mostly means my two Goodreads groups for which it is suited–YA SF&F and Apocalypse Whenever…

    • Aurora says:

      I missed it somehow, but I picked it up yesterday from my local bookstore after so many good words here πŸ˜€

  6. For SF/Fantasy YA authors who’ve put in their time and had a huge influence, there’s always Tamora Pierce.

  7. Another thought: would it be possible to create a committee of teens to handle worldcon YA programming?

    For it to work, the adults would have to trust them enough to accept their ideas even if they disagree, and not try to push them toward what said adults consider the good stuff. But if such a committee was trusted with a fairly long rein and given real power, interesting things could happen.

    • Aurora says:

      On one hand I like this idea to give teens a home at WorldCon, but on the other I really don’t because it marginalizes the adults (like me) who like YA too, and it defeats the purpose of getting adults to read YA. I think it would still result in YA being invisible because it would end up being the babysitting room you drop your older kids off at and come back for them after a few panels. It might also discourage kids from going to other programming which is bad because if a kid is a fan of older programing I think they should feel free to attend it instead of being pressured into the “for kids” stuff.

    • Cheryl says:

      I think you are assuming that the same group of people runs Worldcon programming year after year. That’s not so, each convention is independent, and while some people may feature in several years, there’s a lot of turnover. It would certainly be good to have young people involved, but there’s no official mechanism to carry that on from year to year.

  8. Nina A says:

    The Condie books are designed to appeal to Stephenie Meyer’s audience-the worldbuilding is problematical in general-which is why I suspect her confusion as to the place of LGBT characters in her world may have had more to do with the question itself then with any feelings about LGBT people necessarily.
    Yes, the Mormon religion is extremely anti-LGBT, but many Mormons don’t fit that mold.I don’t know Condie at all-I just don’t want to call her a bigot if she isn’t. She might be just a mediocre Sf writer.
    Aurora, I disagree with you about the programming question My SO runs the SFF track for our local comic-con, and we have been lucky enough to have several YA genre authors participate, so we do a fair amount of programming listed as YA. Both adults and teens attend those panels-I don’t think either the authors who provide the track or the teens who attend it think of it as “kids stuff’.

    • Aurora says:

      I wasn’t speaking of local conventions, but of my experience with WorldCon. I agree that I have had much better success with local conventions. And it’s good that you welcome adults to your YA programming. I don’t think it’s always a rule that people will think of YA programming as “for the kids”, my point was that I think it would be much more likely if you had a panel of teens doing the planning.

  9. Hi Cheryl!

    I don’t think any of those YA books I recced were recommended to the Tiptree jury – by anyone but me, anyway! I had an eye out for the McCafferty anyway because I love her previous series, and the Ally Condie mysteriously found its way into my shopping basked because the cover was OMG so pretty but I did have Tiptree-ish considerations in mind when reading both of them.

    I think that YA mostly comes to the attention of the SF community in a scattershot way, and it’s the books by authors already known to that community which tend to get the most attention. Suzanne Collins, for example, didn’t make it on to the Locus Recommended Reading List until her 3rd book, at which point the fervour surrounding the series was hard to miss.

    I’d also venture to suggest that there’s a girliness about a great deal of YA fiction which makes it easy for certain quarters in our community (sadly very large, influential quarters… more three quarters to seven-eighths really) to ignore them, or simply not prioritise them – the same thing happens with a great deal of urban fantasy, where it needs some kind of ‘serious seal of approval’ to be allowed in, while the rest is kept fenced out with the paranormal romance, the SF romance, and a great deal of the military SF.

    I’d love to see Tamora Pierce as a guest at a major SF/fantasy convention some day. Her career has spanned at least 20 years and she is a hugely influential fantasy author, who was doing some pretty radical things back when I was a teenager, and continues to produce excellent, inspiring books with a healthy streak of feminism in amongst all the swords, armour and magic.

    • Cheryl says:

      Pierce published her fist novel in 1983, so she will have had 31 years’ involvement by 2014, the next Worldcon to select GoHs. That definitely puts her in the frame. Of course London is liable to pick non-US GOHs, so 2015 is the first feasible date.

    • Aurora says:

      She did attend WFC this year and did programming. I’m seeing her at more regional cons too (I dunno if this is recent or just a function of me not paying attention): ConQuesT in Kansas City, LunaCon in New York, DragonCon in Atlanta, and Ad Astra in Canada are where I’ve seen her (or anticipate seeing her) in the last few years.

      However, although she’s amazing good and my favorite author of all time I think we really need to push a variety of authors. It is a bad thing in my mind that when we’re talking good YA authors we can only come up with one name again and again. There are so many other good authors out there, and I think we need to push many names so people will see that there’s more out there and encourage exploring instead of just jumping over to YA for one book and then leaving as fast as possible.

  10. I think we are forgetting Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan. I have been sceptical about reading YA, because yeah I have had some misconceptions about, but I have loaded my TBR list with quite a few titles, which I have been promised that do not hold back.

    I may be regurgitating old comments, but there is a social stigmata that since the audience is younger, then the books are simpler or have less of an impact, regardless of the gender of the author. It’s the same misconception that writing for children is super easy.

    • Aurora says:

      Glow was good but I’m not sure a wider audience would go for its religious overtones.

      There’s also the Leviathan series by Scott Westerfeld, which concluded with Goliath this year. Scored by Lauren McLaughlin was excellent and rec’d by Cory Doctorow (another point I forgot to make on WorldCon programming, I think everyone in the room was confused, panelists included when Cory walked in to YA programming and sat in the front row because he wasn’t put on programming for it.) Blood Magic by Tessa Gratton is a great magical fantasy that’s just dark enough without being too dark. Divergent by Veronica Roth is another ‘good not great’, but it’s very popular with teens this year and I’ll be following the series to see whether it sustains. Jackie Morse Kessler’s Horseman series (Hunger, Rage, Loss out in 2012) is simply amazing and I recommend it to everyone. And I can’t believe I didn’t put Chime by Franny Billingsley on my original list. It’s an amazingly gorgeous book. The writing style is so lyrical it’s almost epic poetry. The characterization seems stilted at first, but as you read you realize why and it gets so much more rich and involved. And the plot is wonderful, with twists and turns that keep it fresh and exciting. This book is getting tons of awards this year (it’s the one that cause the Lauren Myracle Shine/Chime problem with the National Book Awards) and Fantasy readers should really be paying attention to it too.

  11. Nina A says:

    Aurora, I know you were speaking of Worldcon-my point was that I didn’t think having YA panels specifically called that would be a detriment to attendance by both adults and teens, also that teens don’t behave as though it’s kid’s stuff. Admittedly, the con I was speaking of is 4-5 times the size of Worldcon and has a large teen audience there anyway-also unlike Worldcon.
    I am also, by the way, on the bid commitee for the potential NASFiC in 2014. We are planning to have a lot of specifically YA themed programming , drawing heavily on the local YA contingent, as well as to have a conference on SF in the classroom.

    • Aurora says:

      Actually, I think you missed my second point. It’s not YA programming in general that I see as being automatically for kids, it’s Programming planned by teens. I think there would be a medium to large block of adult WorldCon attendees that would see “planned by kids” as “by kids for kids!” and not attend.

      Very exciting about NASFiC! I’m growing hesitantly hopeful that not all the WorldCon bids will be as disapproving or non-responsive as the ones I’ve talked to. I know the Orlando bid is working hard to include younger people and has talked to me about the possibility of YA programming, but that is also a contested bid so it’s only a possibility right now.

  12. Real-world efforts are crucial, but what about a strong online presence for YA SF? Where do readers go to find out regularly updated information about this genre?

    A blog buddy of mine started Young Adult Science Fiction back in 2008, with the goal of creating a gateway site for the genre.

    http://youngadultsciencefiction.blogspot.com/

    She hasn’t been able to update it since 2010, and maybe she was a bit ahead of the curve, but now seems like a ripe time to exploit such a blog. Someone could grab the reins and create a Web site or blog focusing exclusively on YA SF/YA SFR.

    A reader driven site would be ideal, but it could also be a consortium of authors (or an aspiring YA SF author, perhaps?) dedicated to promoting all of the books in the genre and helping to raise it’s visibility.

    To do it well, though, would require a 100%, long-term commitment and a deep passion for the genre. But a strong, unique voice and perspective would help provide a showcase for the books and could help draw many of the authors together in an online community.

    Such a blog/site would create a convenient way for readers to find books in the genre. And there’d be all kinds of topics to discuss. It could also track events like cons. A really ambitious blogger could then cast her net wider by doing guest blogs at other sites (Tor.com?). And so on.

    My two cents, anyway. Easier said than done, that’s for sure.

    ps love your blog, Cheryl!

    • Cheryl says:

      That sounds like a very valuable project, Heather. I am trying to review a lot more SF by women here, but I’m by no means an expert in YA. It would be good to find someone willing to take that site over and revive it.

      • Preferably by someone who loves YA SF so much they can’t shut up about it!

        Another fun thing for that kind of blog to do would be to delve into the genre’s history, discuss its origins and trends, and showcase both classic and obscure books.

        The sky’s the limit, really.

    • Cheryl says:

      PS Thanks! πŸ™‚

    • Aurora says:

      I write a YA book blog: Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy Blog. It’s about a year old, and I’ve been reviewing only YA SF/F, mostly new releases. I don’t feel that my review style is very mature (I mostly started reviewing because I couldn’t find anyone else who reviewed what I read and I said “darnit, I’ll do it myself!”) because I’m not very educated in what’s “proper” writing, but I do know what I like and have been developing ways to figure out why.

      There’s also a consortium of writers running Intergalactic Academy, which may be closer to what you are looking for since they do discussion posts.

      What would you be looking for in such a site/blog? Posts on upcoming releases? Reviews? Author interviews? Posts on older stuff that’s still worth reading? News on cons and book tours and book festival appearances? How would you work to attract adults and not just teen readers? I’m really liking the thought, but I’m not sure how it would work in practice.

    • Andrea says:

      The Intergalactic Academy is a YA-SF blog site. Quite new, but growing.

      http://www.intergalactic-academy.net/

  13. I’ve said this a couple of times on my blog, that there are two types of YA books, those that only appeal to teens (lots of angsty people doing things that make adults cringe) and stuff that appeals to both adults and teens. The problem is, if you don’t know this and pick up the wrong book, you decide it’s not for you or all YA is ‘bad’ and don’t try any more.

    There’s also the matter of personal taste. I didn’t like Blood Red Road or Matched, but have enjoyed a number of recent YA titles. I’m almost through Shatter Me, which is fantastic so far, and really enjoyed Legend by Marie Lu. The Knife of Never Letting Go proves YA lit isn’t just for girls (as do The Maze Trials, Human.4, Dark Eden and Unwind). There are a lot of fantastic SF YA novels that adults would enjoy if they took the time to find them.

    Thanks for this post.

  14. This is a great post. There seems to be a HUGE lack of communication between the YA SF community and the adult SF community. You see it on a yearly basis when nominations for young adult SF go to, say, a book by an adult SF author that was part of his adult series for an adult imprint and a middle grade fantasy book an adult SF author published on her website. They were fine books, but hardly indicative of what the kids were ACTUALLY reading (at least until the self-published book did go out in the middle grade world).

    It’s getting better, though, as what is happening in YA SF is shifting into the mainstream. It’s too bad it takes the kinds of high six-or-seven figure deals and the resulting publicity push of most of the titles you mentioned to make adult SF readers and the SF community sit up and take notice. For instance, Robin Wasserman’s cyborg series from a few years ago (SKINNED CRASHED WIRED) has just been repackaged as SHATTERED, TORN, and FROZEN and rereleased with new covers. Check it out.

    The other thing you see happening in YA SF is that the YA publishers and booksellers will pretty much die before they say the word “science fiction” to teens. They think it drives away the female audience. The buzz word is “dystopian” which is why the ones on your list are ALL dystopians (even ACROSS THE UNIVERSE, which the author describes not as a “generation ship SF story” but as a “murder mystery set in space.”) That’s why Wasserman’s series, which is set in a bleak futuristic world, is being repackaged to play down the “cyborg” and play UP the dreamy, dystopian elements that make things like “Matched” such a hit. (The cover now features an ice sculpture shaped like a woman, in keeping with the “shattered glass/ice” look of titles like Shatter Me, Matched and Crossed, and Possession, instead of the obvious ‘cyborg’ look of the original.)

    There are dozens of “dystopians” coming out from my publisher (Harper Children’s) alone next year.

    So who do we contact if we want onto the Norton committee? I’m an SFWA member and I did not see this tweet.

  15. Awww, man. I don’t know how I missed that. I read Scalzi’s blog religiously.

    Aurora, I agree it is weird about the “call it dystopian, not sci-fi” thing. Also how they call all kinds of things dystopians that.. um, aren’t.

  16. Jared says:

    I agree with the overall point of the article – YA’s had a great deal of commercial success over the past few years, but very little critical success (for this purpose, defined as ‘recognised by the current genre award/con traditions’). Which is pretty silly – there’s a crop of new authors, new fans, additional diversity and wild media support for YA titles.

    I suppose the title is a bit pejorative – we pride ourselves on reading difficult, exclusive and rigorous stuff, and the concept of books that are supposedly made to be approachable to readers? Well, what’s the fun of that? But there’s also just the normal fan-inertia when it comes to anyone new playing in our treehouse. See: manga, steampunk, paranormal romance, YA etc.

    There’s also the very apparent, and very depressing, point that all these new, vibrant and overlooked sub-genres are largely dominated by women. It is hard not to see some institutionalised sexism in the pattern.

    As far as the existing award/con traditions, there are very few de juris institutional barriers for YA.

    YA isn’t explicitly *not* eligible for the other UK awards either – BFS, BSFA and ACCA. The BSFA is member nominated and the ACCA books are also submitted by the publishers. Getting books into consideration is not difficult.

    And, of course, YA titles are eligible for the Kitschies. We’ve had about twenty submitted by their publishers this year.

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