Big Questions

There’s a general conversation floating around the internets about the relationship between science fiction and young adult fiction. I get this question a lot, as a writer of both adult sf and YA books. And recently I was interviewed for this article in Baltimore City Paper.

So why are sf and YA so compatible? Well, there’s an old joke that goes, “The golden age of science fiction is . . . fourteen.”

In other words, the time when you’re most likely to think about the rules being different, or everything we know collapsing, or how different the future will really be is . . . when you’re fourteen. That’s because most teenagers haven’t been brain-washed into thinking that the assumptions and customs of our little corner of space and time are hardware—fixed, immutable, natural.

To young people, the rules are more like software: hackable, tweakable, tossable. Updateable, rewritable, rethinkable.

And maybe even fixable. Because whatever the Secretary of the Treasury does to unmelt our economy over the next few weeks, you guys are going to have to do the real fixing.

You’re going to spend your entire adult lives in the future, after all. So it’s mostly your job to think about it, worry about it, and read about it. That’s what makes it so much fun to write for you guys.

Anyway, check out the article, and let me know what you think.

Special Note to Folks in Philly! Tonight Justine will be talking about How to Ditch Your Fairy at the Big Blue Marble Bookstore:

Justine Larbalestier
Wednesday, 24 September, 7:00PM
Big Blue Marble Bookstore
551 Carpenter Lane
Philadelphia, PA

46 thoughts on “Big Questions

  1. I live near Philly but I probably won’t be able to go to the bookstore πŸ™
    And great post. I agree, it’s this present generation that can make a difference though we have been claimed as ‘dumb’. Great post. πŸ™‚

  2. That is true. We often think about science and the universe and wonder in it’s really true and love reading about different things.
    We worry about stuff it seems that adults don’t give a s*** about. I shall check the article in a second!

    WOOT! Numbah 2!

  3. Pretty True article. I’ve only recently seen one adult in the YA section of my library. And that’s because the person was learning english at one of the tables…which are for teens only!….

    sooooo wish I could go but it’s like 2.5 hours away.

    Scott-la, do you think that you could, oh I dunno, make a pit stop at D.C. for us who live in that area?

  4. Funny how as adults we’re constantly reminded to think “out of the box” when as kids we always had that talent. It took years of “growing up” to take it away.

    Lucky for me I had some stashed away. πŸ™‚

  5. I haven’t posted on here before, but I felt the need to post about this: this was seriously the topic of my final paper in college last fall, comparing science fiction and YA literature (using Uglies as my YA example, of course!)

    What I wouldn’t have given for this article to be published 12 months ago!!!

  6. this generation’s teens worry about everything coz everyone before us f***ed everything up sooo bad we know that we’re the ones who are going to have to fix it! do the adults today realize how much pressure that is???!!! i mean seriously when i think about it, i realize im gonna have to become like freaking genius to solve all the problems the adults have left behind (ok maybe not all but some of the problems). sometimes when i think about it, it makes me want someone to invent that oil exploding nano, just so we can start over (of course everyone who reads Scott’s books would survive and their families… if they wan them to). i scare myself sometimes when i think that way but the world scares me too.
    I am going to the tour in Philly tonight!!! soooo excited! i can’t believe my mom is taking me!!!

    NUMBER 3!!! how cool is that!?!

  7. this is soo true.

    “…the time when youÒ€ℒre most likely to think about the rules being different, or everything we know collapsing, or how different the future will really be is . . . when youÒ€ℒre fourteen. ”

    ^^ and that, that is sad.

    the adults of the world should be more aware of that, not us.

    oh, by the way.

    my name is the dedication to Bogus to Bubbly. <3

    i was soo happy when i bought it today. =]

    thank you!

  8. Yeah, it’s true… Being fourteen I randomly think about that sort of stuff… :/ Probably a result of all the videogames and such… Usually I get trapped in a paradox of some sort and move on though, so it’s intriguing to read about all the ways the solve those… Mostly occuring in time travel books… :/

  9. Lol, yes I do tease my friends if they haven’t read a book that I declare to be awesome, but even we have less time to read than we used to, high school takes up a good chunk of your life.
    I bet that’s you’ll find me staking out the young adult section well into my twenties, I just find someway to look younger so I won’t feel as strange…

  10. Whoa, Bogus to Bubbly is out, Prue-la?

    “When they really like a book, they make their friends read it and ostracize those who don’t. Yay, them.” Ha! That was a good one! XD

    But, yeah. During those adolescent years of twelve and fourteen, we’re just lumps of clay, barely developing our own ideas and being influenced by cool people like you, Scott-la. πŸ˜‰

    Point well taken, TYC Leader. We see all these problems and wondering why nobody’s done anything and then we find out that we’re the ones who have to fix it. Thanks, adult people.

    I’m getting over my cold! Yay me! XD

  11. I think that when we all grow up (phisically) we’ll all still be totally awesome and be like NO!!
    What we really need to do is brain wash everyone to preserve the enviroment!
    And thats so true, the whole fourteen and awesome thing, thank you Scott-la!horray!
    Thanks to adults that never grew up! (Only in a >GOod< way though not like offensive)

    And the reason we know about the whole ‘everything is a conspiricy’ is because the internet radiation wears off whatever signals the television send out!!

    ..none of that made sense..

  12. “Certainly teens have more time to read, but they also are less genre-identified,” New York Times best-selling YA and SF author Scott Westerfeld says in an e-mail interview. “I’ve met adults who read only Tom Clancy knockoffs, for example. But teens haven’t specialized nearly as much as adults, in reading as in everything else. Quite simply, this means that SF for a YA audience is going to get a larger slice of the population, not just the 10 percent of us who don’t mind having a spaceship on the cover at age 30.
    [[[YAY!! SPACESHIPS!!!]]]

    “This brings me to another point about sales comparisons: Teens are more networked than adults,” Westerfeld adds. “When they really like a book, they make their friends read it and ostracize those who don’t. Yay, them.”

    “YA is a bit like airplanes in the early 20th century: There are biplanes and triplanes, flapping wings, and engines front and back,” Westerfeld says. Plus, he adds, with a teen audience, a high level of narrative tension is built in.

    “As Cory Doctorow has put it: The teen years are a time of irrevocable first experiences,” Westerfeld says, quoting an SF writer whose YA whose Little Brother spent four weeks on the Times’ best-seller list. “Not just your first drink or sexual experience, but the first time you tell a significant lie, stand up to a bully, or betray a friend. The consequences of our actions are huge in those years–or at least feel that way–so it’s not surprising that YA lit reflects that intensity. A fantasy where a protagonist has to save the world is fundamentally more believable to a teen. Adults don’t think they can save the world anymore, and they rarely feel their setbacks as acutely.”

    I bug ALL of my friends about your books and I’m always like:
    “Kate you gotta go to!!”

    but I don’t know why everyone thinks that people who read Sci-fi are like weirdo freaks, they just know whats AWESOME.

  13. Kay-la: I haven’t read Revelation yet. I heard it was good but if you haven’t heard what its about yet…well it seems like shes repeating herself. Its about Reed solving another murder. So,i don’t know, ill have to read it for myself i guess!

  14. I hope I’m never brainwashed into thinking like that! Geez. That would be like having a Pretty surgery. I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t question the rules.

    That could not have sounded cornier. Oh, well. I got my point across.

    I read a lot of adult science fiction as well as YA science fiction. Both awesome. Though I’m a bit more apt to read YA, for some reason. Probably because it’s my age group and all.

    There are some great quotes in that article.

  15. Quote:
    “And maybe even fixable. Because whatever the Secretary of the Treasury does to unmelt our economy over the next few weeks, you guys are going to have to do the real fixing.”

    Dang. That’s REALLY gonna suck. Why can’t everyone else deal with it? Why us? Why me? Why America?

    I hate greedy, malicious men who control the people. And I hate that so many have sunk to a level where they don’t even see it and have done nothing to improve themselves.

    I guess I’ll just have to be the Robin Hood, leading my merry band in a quest to rob the rich to feed the poor. More like educate. *sigh* Since the school hasn’t done that AT ALL.

  16. I like that post, Robin Hood
    (robin in the hood)
    ha, but yeah I think our society is going to collapse like
    the Romans’ did and everything.

  17. “Brain-washed”

    That’s a nice way to explain it. It’s also ever so true.
    I’ve been thinking about me being brain-washed right now in school. Having the facts they want shoved down my throat and the same facts in everyone else’s.

    Where’s the individuality in that? If everyone learns the same stuff, then there will be no creative and innovative new ideas. Just the regurgitated ideas of the dead or past.


    and yeah, I’m 14 years old now, and I definately am always thinking about ways that the world can be changed. It makes me so mad when people are so…. shallow, you know? Like, they think “this is how it’s always been, it’s not gonna change” UGH It makes me SO FREAKING mad!
    Sometimes I wish I could just hit adults over the head and be like, “stop losing hope. you can change the world. You just have to want to”

    Society is so messed up, you know? Ughhhh.

  19. Well, i’m glad not ALL adults have lost hope…thank you Scott!!
    yeah, Hannah-la, all those cynical adults going “nothing’s ever going to change” get on my nerves. like my health teacher. he just kept saying stuff like “this is the way things are. this is how they’re going to be.”

  20. I love that theory, possibly because i’m fourteen. It would be so much FUN to tweak stuff like the space-time continum. like in the movie Click. XD


  21. UGH I hate all those adults that just stand around and stuff things up and letting “the next generation” (great we gotta label) fix it all up despite them saying it’ll be hard or impossible.
    And all those fatalistic people get on my nerves too. ESPECIALLY when they’re wrong.
    Those people should not be in positions of power but they always seem to be. Unless that’s what having power does to you? At any rate, people who can make something GOOD happen should be in power, and given all the support they need. That’s what will make a difference. not just talking, but doing, doing something GOOD, and actually being able to make that difference.

    BTW Andrea-la just in case you didn’t hear me last time, I know a MALE oboeist!

    I reckon in ways kids are smarter than adults, we just gotta be able to pull that knowledge thru when we’re older πŸ™‚

    Look at me trying to be some sorta wise person …

  22. I like rule-tweaking πŸ™‚
    i’m almost 14!!!! Give me just over a month and I’ll get there! (Taking ages …)

    Yeah maybe a part of being so flexible when you’re young is that we aren’t biased so much? You know, we haven’t had so many experiences or so many people telling us what to think and what not to than adults have? So looking at things we’re able to see more than one side of it and evaluate it.
    Do ya get me?
    That’s just a musing from me anyway.

  23. The artical was a bit confusing to me (much like everything else through this headache…I hate head-colds.), but it does bring up a good point. While teen minds do have their own biased opinions (for example, I read pretty much all SF/F. They bend my imagination like no auto-biography or NF book ever could.), and are less experianced in just about everything, that’s what makes us the better (again, I’m sounding all biased-like) readers. Most of our opinions form on their own, and are just as easy to change as they are to build. Also, part of it is the cliched yet so-true teen rebellion. Now more than ever before or again in our lives people are telling us what to do and think, and now more than ever we’re likely to roll our eyes at them and do the thinking for ourselves.

  24. I love the part when you say, “This brings me to another point about sales comparisons: Teens are more networked than adults,” Westerfeld adds. “When they really like a book, they make their friends read it and ostracize those who don’t. Yay, them.”

    Its so unbelieveably true!

  25. I AGREE WITH U ALL 100%! adults screw everything up for us and then they expect us to fix it when we get older but at the same time they want us to think the way they are right now and that’s wat got us into this mess in the first place! (this topic really bugs me if u haven’t noticed) Seriously i think teens should like control the things that happen in the world coz we’ve got better ideas, more of an imagination, AND, unlike ADULTS, WE will actually DO SOMETHING ABOUT IT!! (god, this makes me mad!) ok i think im done ranting (well im not but i have to be coz i’ve got like some rough draft for journalism due tomorrow…and i haven’t started it soooo….ya…. i’ll get right on that)

    BTW! Scott i hope ur mouth feels better!!! i heard that u just had surgery! that SUCKS SOOO MUCH!!! i was surprised when i found out coz u didn’t tell us on ur blog (i congradulate u for not complaining to us. thank u!) no i didn’t find out from ur blog… ur wife told me!! i was sooooo excited to meet her! she was really cool and funny!! im trying to start HTDYF but there’s skool work and sports and everything (tonight i swear i’ll start it!)

    also today i had an assembly and they showed us a movie about not getting into drugs and stuff (that’s beside the point) but in the movie there was a song about cutting. i don’t know wat it’s called but when i heard it i was like “TOTALLY MADE FOR SPECIALS!!!” just thought i’d let u all know!

  26. I think most teens my age are being dumbed down, and would never think about the future. They are all too busy checking their myspaces, worshiping Miley Cyrus, and stalking the Jonas Brothers. I feel like everyone I know is being controlled by the media. The bad kind of controll.

  27. O, I almost forgot. I did a bad thing today and I have to tell everybody. Okay, it’s not that bad but still it’s kinda funny. I was in borders, and there were a ton of those annoying cliche books out on display, and I hate them so much (no offense to anyone who likes them) So I sort of took them off of the YA display table, put them in the cook book aisle and replaced them with five copies of So Yesterday that the store hid where no teen can see them or reach them, so high up on the shelves my friend had to lift me up a little. Sorry, I just hate it when they hide the good books. they even had twilight hiding and it’s like a best seller right? I haven’t read it. O, and sometimes when I see another teen just staring at the YA section I’ll point to Peeps or something and say “Now there’s a good book.” and they’ll be all like “Really? Maybe I’ll try it out.” So, yeah, hows that for messing with the future. πŸ™‚

  28. scott!
    that was genius!
    i’m glad at 19 i’m still able to look at the world, and know that it doesn’t have to be like this!
    your books, and books like yours are what made me like this.

  29. GO MIRANDA-LA! That would have been SO AWESOME!
    PLUS you were in a Borders store. Borders is one of the best bookstores there is.
    Yeah I reckon that the media also has a big part to play. It really does control our lives and the way we think.

  30. Uglies is officially one of our book club books at school! Even though I already read it I still voted for it, cuz well duh it awsome fawsome foolie coolie. πŸ™‚ I love book club its all nerds with our awsome librarian with some kind of sugary treat, perfect. AAANND we have a giant pumpkin plant in our little garden. It only has one pumpkin so far but its HUGE! like twice the size of my head. That means its full of seed, mmmmm pumpkin seeds. I love fall/pumpkin treats, like pumpkin pie, pumkin cookies, pumpkin seeds, thanksgiving, nutmeg(yes I know its a spice but it smells so nice along with cinnamon) Fall is my favorite!

  31. Hey guys.
    I went into shock yesterday over three things- one, that the biggest RTS i’ve ever met PAINTED HER SHOES (Well, I think she painted her shoes… I could’t see them, but she sounded like she was saying something about her shoes and paint… But another semi-RTS girl did… Although she may be more punk than RTS.)
    Anyway, two, the biggest RTS I’ve ever met IS READING UGLIES! And three is pretty close to that- I was shocked that the biggest RTS I’ve ever met READS! I mean, come on, she the same person who said that she’d rather get bad grades than good grades, cause people with good grades look like suck-ups… Which I immediately thought was stupid. But hey, I’m at a new school where they couldn’t shut up if their lives depended on it… even if they only had to shut up for two minutes… Which I just realized could most likely happen, considering the area my school is in we’d probably have a lock-down because some kid brings a gun to school or something. Crap, now I’ve got my mind focused on the fact we’ll probably have a lockdown at school.

    Anyway, to get one subject of the blog here, I have to say I agree with Scott-la. My mom thinks the idea of global warming is stupid. I think it’s actually happening, as most *Cough rational cough hack cough* people think. Unfortunately people back then didn’t realize that their mess would be cleaned up by us, their kids. Can you say “Thanks, guys!”?
    Scott-la, please come to us in Kentucky with Justine! I mean, I’d cancel any plans I’ve got to see you guys… Come to Lexington, it’s nearby… I used to live there, actually. I moved, but it’s only a short while away… So is Richmond, but it’s not as big of a city than Lexington.

    M’kay thanks Scott-la and Justine-la and um yea. Oh, and one more thing- how is you guys, you westerbloggians?!

  32. Ah! I’m so utterly confused!


    Someone please explain this before I hurt someone.

  33. tweakable. hehe. kinda like my frizzy hair…hehe.


    -Lizzy-wa OUT! πŸ™

  34. Miranda-la:
    What books did they have out? And don’t feel bad; I’ve done that–a lot, lol.

    Random, but I love the “awesome fawesome foolie coolie” thing, totally bubbly, lol. And congrats on the pumpkin thing, I probably would’ve killed it. I have a black thumb when it comes to plants, lol.

    Okay, I’m feeling a bit stupid here…what’s RTS?

    Haha, that was pretty much my reaction when I found out. I thought my jaw would fall off when my friend told me it’s in the BOOK ORDER her class got!! My school doesn’t get books for book orders until they’re, like, older than the students themselves. Is there some secret bookstore I don’t know about that sells them?! Lol.

  35. PrettyxMIndedxRusty:

    All they had out where the several different cliche series, some book called finding alaska or something like that and Rapunzel’s revenge. (which really looked like it should have been in the kids section)

  36. OMG!!!!!! I couldn’t believe Bogus to Bubbly was out, but it was at my bookfair (at school)!!!! So as a really big uglies fan, I bought it and well I love it. Never relized Tally’s city was in California! Still cant believe i have it thought it was coming out in october. I <3 Tally and David!!!!!! <3 Nicole-la =)

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