>The Golden Age of Science Fiction is supposed to be 15. And seriously the one thing our genre needs is the youth. It’s been heading into the silver age, and rapidly toward the bald and toothless age for years now — something evidenced by where money is being made: out of hardbacks. They’re expensive, not something that your young, experimenting audience is buying. So when they get to being your main source of income… you have a problem – you can come up with all sorts of arguments saying it just ain’t so, but, well follow the money. On another list I belong to a rather predictable old chestnut came up from some of the younger writers, who, as something completely original which has never ever happened before, reckoned it was time the old geezers who were blocking up the ladder to the stars get bumped off to retirement so they can rise and bring some young audiences along with them. Some peeps then predictably said it wasn’t happening and really there was no greying of the audience, and xyz authors were young and exciting and appealing to the youth… The youths cheered and added a few more names of young Turks appealing to the t’yoof o’ today. A happy little bit of stick-in-the-mud un-hip granny-and-gramp writer (you know – old, like… over 40) bashing ensued. They really are terrible and so out of touch, these fossils… should NEVER write teens or YA, yadda yadda….
And then some miserable elderly curmudgeon RUINED the party, by pointing out that of the list of ‘young hip examples’ were ALL over 40 when they wrote the books, and several of them wouldn’t see sixty again either. I was keeping a low profile but shaking my elderly gray head and thinking that I’d beat the young whippersnappers to death with my Zimmer frame just as soon as I got it out of the kayak. I’d have bitten them too, only I left my dentures drying next to the spear-gun. See… I’ve read some of the work of the youth who thought they’d attract a young audience. Some of it is quite good. But none of it really appeals to an entire young audience — I’d say it appeals to that subsection (principally female in their case) young audience who wants to be thought old and sophisticated, and you know, adult (like, you know, like 23). It’s got fashion and sex and teen angst (which is pretty much like angst from any age group) and… well that’s about it. It’s a real audience. And they’re reaching it. But it’s not ‘the youth’. It’s just a fragment of the whole young audience, the wanna-be adult section, who perceive that sort of thing as the essence of adulthood. I’m happy they have writers that appeal. No one ever will get the whole audience, but well, for boys anyway, James H. Schmitz would do better on the appeal. He’s been dead some years, and, um, would be little long in the tooth by now. But here is the point: his writing isn’t. It’s still full of a boyish enthusiasm and fast moving adventure. It’s accessible, easy to read, and um… entirely free of angst. There’s not much sex or fashion either, actually. And herein lies my theme for today: There are authors who are themselves good at relating to younger people — I suspect I am one of them, at least for the kids who don’t desperately want to be adults, (I dunno. Ask Chris’s kids) but who love the joys of fish, mud and a fire on the beach. There are a small subsection of kids 5% of teen males and maybe 20% of teen girls I have huge difficulty talking to. Boring brats trying to pretend to be grown-up without the experience or intellect to make them more than cardboard cut-outs of what they think adult is, IMO. But then I never really got this whole adult bit too well myself, so maybe it’s just me. There are other writers who do the teen-angst well – Misty Lackey really gets through to them. It’s REALLY truly nothing to do with the biological age of the author.
But that’s my two cents. So what does the genre need to get more readers involved in the Golden Age? Sex? Violence? Tech savvy? Adventure? Language? My youthful writer friends say that as by 15 50% of teen girls are sexually experienced it’s got to have more sex. Grittier and kinkier they think will work. While I can believe that might have more appeal to that 50%, I would like to add a couple of small caveats – firstly most of us are liars about sex (the average 15 year old pimple-face who tells you he’s getting lots is a prime example), and secondly even if 50% is the real figure, if you had to take the kids who will ever read for pleasure and do the same analysis… I think you’ll find readers are often in the other 50%… which is why they have time and inclination to read. For some it will be wish-fulfilment. But it is a very broad and segmented audience, a lot of whom did not read Harry Potter for the sex.
So – repeat – how do we get that young audience?