What do you want to read?

First off, I have to give a hat tip to Jason Cordova for this topic. On his FB page today, he commented that he was tired of all the stories where “the US is a fractured dystopia. You know what I want to see? A fractured dystopian world in which the last guardians of the gate is the US.” This started a discussion where another poster commented that his daughter had complained not long ago about YA novels where the protagonist is a teen girl whose parents are either dead or abusive. According to the commenter, his daughter wanted to read stories where the parents were normal and supportive. All that got me to thinking about what I want to read — not to mention write — and what I heard from my son when he was in school about the books he’d been required to read.

Which brings it all around to the issue of whether our kids read more or less than we do and why.

Let me start by saying I agree completely with Jason about wanting to see something than the US in ruins. All you have to do is look at who the gatekeepers are in traditional publishing (mainly the Big 5) right now to understand why they love this sort of book. Hell, all you have to do is look at their social media accounts to see that they believe the US is already on an irreversible course to total destruction. They scream and yell and cry at the mere mention of Trump’s name. You can wander over to the Tor site and find a post about how they simply don’t know what to imagine now because, you guessed it, Trump.

These are the same gatekeepers who have made it almost impossible to be published by the Big 5 and the smaller publishers following their lead if you don’t have the appropriate checklist of character traits in your novel. These are the ones, especially in science fiction and fantasy, who have taken the fun out of reading. And, no, this is not a screed against message fiction. You can have a message and still make it entertaining. You can have literary fiction and have it be engaging and entertaining. It doesn’t have to preach to the point of becoming boring and abrasive.

There is a reason if you look at the best seller lists on Amazon for e-books, you see as many, if not more, indie books there as you do trad published.

So, what do I want to read? I want t read a story that engages my imagination. I want to be entertained. Sure, I read more than my fair share of non-fiction and I enjoy it. But, for fiction, I’m not reading to be depressed or lectured to. I’m reading to be entertained, to escape the pressures of every day life. I want to see characters who are challenged and who do everything they can to overcome that challenge. No, they don’t have to always prevail. Life isn’t like that. Very little will turn me off of an author quicker than every protagonist turning into a Mary Sue.

Every character doesn’t have to agree with my personal religious or political beliefs. Life doesn’t work that way and neither should fiction. I want to see boundaries pushed, but not in a way that it breaks the world or throws me out of the book.  If I’m reading alternate history, I expect the author to have a working knowledge of the historical era and location he is writing about. Alternate doesn’t mean throwing everything out and starting over. It means taking something that happened and changing it. The Man in the High Castle, by Phillip K. Dick, is a prime example. The Axis won World War II and he goes from there. As you read the story, however, you know he had a feel for the real historical events behind his new world.

Getting back to the original comment that prompted this post, I believe we see so many books coming from traditional publishers where the US has fallen because that is what they want. That is especially true right now. Don’t believe me? Go check out the social media accounts of some of those sitting in the ivory towers of publishing and see what they are posting. I don’t know about your feed, but mine shows more political posts coming from them than news about books or the authors they work with. It’s sad really and, were I one of the authors they worked with, it would piss me off . Why? Because they are turning away readers, not necessarily because of their politics (although that is open for debate) but because they aren’t promoting my work.

As for the daughter’s comment that she would like to see a YA book with a female protagonist with normal, supportive parents, I remember my son saying much the same when he was in junior high and high school. Teachers wondered why students in his class didn’t finish their summer reading list when the books on it were about drug and sex abuse, mental illness, homelessness, poverty and the like. I can’t remember a single summer reading list where there was a book on it that could even remotely be termed entertaining. Instead, the books were chosen by committee to make sure the students learned about all the bad things in society.

Oh, and the books had to meet a vocabulary requirement as well. On the surface, that might look good but it wasn’t. This wasn’t so much an attempt to challenge students by giving them vocabulary that would expand their linguistic skills. Instead, they wanted to make sure the books weren’t too “challenging”. After all, they mustn’t have little Susie or Johnny running to Mom or Dad to ask what a word meant or, worse, looking it up for themselves.

Worse, the subject matter wasn’t always appropriate to the age group. Yes, rape exists and victims come in all ages. However, to assign a book to a kid going into the fifth grade that includes a graphic attempted rape scene is not acceptable. Yet they did and the teacher couldn’t understand why I had an issue with it. After all, no other parent complained. Which wasn’t exactly the truth. I just happened to have been the first because I was at the school waiting to complain the moment the teachers reported before school started for the new year.

And they wondered why kids weren’t reading.

They weren’t reading because the books didn’t speak to them. They didn’t grab their attention and entertain. It is all too easy to put a book down and walk away from it if you aren’t pulled in by the story. If the story bores you or turns you off, it is more than tempting to simply never return to the book. THAT is why our kids don’t read what so many public schools want them to. When school administrations — and, more importantly, the politicians who think they know more about education than the professionals (and yes, I know that’s an oxymoron) — realize a kid can learn more from reading Pratchett than he can from being forced to read a book that is torture to get through, they will see an increase in the number of books read, in reading levels and in vocabulary.

There is nothing wrong with reading for information or to learn. Non-fiction is necessary, at least for my reading needs. But not everyone loves, or even likes, literary fiction. Not everyone wants to read to be depressed. There are other ways of getting those lessons across. It is time we as parents, as adults, as educators and writers, understood one simple truth: if we don’t keep our readers’ attention, if we don’t make them want to continue reading, they will put the book down and walk away. So instead of asking what “lesson” we want to teach with a book and then figuring out a bare minimum plot to go around the sermon, we need to figure out how to build a rich and engaging plot where the “lesson” can be woven in subtly and in such a way we get the point across without resorting to the literary equivalent of a 2X4.

152 thoughts on “What do you want to read?

  1. I’m a big Heinlein fan, and would like more of that. I would like more SF set in the near future–sometime in the next hundred years–where there was space travel or immortality or just one odd thing. I completely agree about not wanting the fractured U.S. (although I liked Friday quite a bit, but that was an early example).

    In my own near future books I felt very daring making the U.S. a good place, and the interstellar ship a U.S. creation, not an international venture.

    1. James Schmitz had a teenaged protagonist with normal, supportive parents. Admittedly, this was a far-future galaxy with telepathy and aliens, but she had parents who listened to her and helped her.

      1. Tezzly Amberdoon. Man, I wish Schmitz had lived to be 110 years old. What great stories.

        1. Telzey Amberdon. More important, I wish — reported friends in NESFA — wish that the Campbell successor had not been someone who could not stand her, and announced that readers had seen the last of “Telzey and her horse Trigger”. That killed his writing the character.

          Of course, I am writing a post-partition US novel, but it is one in which everyone is happier and better off as a result, the outcome of a successful divorce.

          1. John Grisham’s Theo Boone series. My boys love those.
            Pam Uphoff’s Barton Street Gym series. Yes, Joe’s dad is a bit absent, mentally, but he loves his kid and trusts him, and for good reasons. Yes, Alice is furious with her parents treating her like a kid, but she *acts* like a kid, and ‘Mom, Alice totally deserved being grounded.’

            Both series have parents acting parental, not abusive, not dead.

          2. Hah. I knew it. I’ve always known in my heart of hearts that when my favorite series (Like The Middleman) dies the death, it’s because of some entitled busy-body of a prog kills it.

  2. I want to read about the good guys winning, the bad guys losing, and Justice prevailing.
    I want to stand up in the middle of Starbucks and shout “YES!!!” when the protagonist makes his move.
    I want to see the Guy get the Girl Of His Dreams. Or the Girl get her Robot, or the Alien get the Other Alien, or whatever the hell you can cook up.
    I want to be awed and inspired by greatness.
    I want to see something I’ve never imagined before.

    I do -not- want to read about:
    shattered innocence,
    Human frailty,
    Man’s inhumanity to Man,
    moral relativism,
    smashing the White Patriarchy,
    genderbending for its own sake,
    some place where everybody is a scumbag,
    or post-apocalyptic dystopian nightmares where everybody dies no matter if they are cowards or heroes.

    Seriously, y’all can keep that shit to yourselves.

    But mostly I want to find out what happens in -my- book. When you fly by the seat of your pants, landings can be interesting.

    1. “genderbending for its own sake”

      I was recently re-reading through various and sundry Seanan McGuire novels, and noticed that in just about every series of hers, she has someone who is transgender. But it doesn’t feel like tokenism; it feels more like bleedover from the background radiation of her life. I’m pretty sure that she has one or more transgender friends and that just works its way into her writing.

      Of course, it all has to do with craft. Is there a *reason* for whatever you’re doing? Go and do it. But if you drop into the story that someone is whatever for no plot or character-based reason, I’m going to be annoyed.

      1. What’s hilarious is that plenty of the characters I’m writing are female humans in relationships with “female” AIs, but I’m sure some SJW out there is screaming “FASCIST!!!” at their screen when they read my comments.

        There’s a reason, of course. Will an AI want to be around humans? Yes it will, if only because there’s nobody else around, and life is boring when there’s nobody to talk to.

        If an AI is a fully conscious and “real” individual, can it love a human? Humans love each other, they love dogs, cats, horses etc. so I said yes. They do.

        If the AI that loves you is a 33,000-ton fusion powered tank, are you going to care if it’s scout drone that hangs out with you looks like a girl? That’s not the weirdest thing in the relationship, so I said no, it won’t matter much, if at all. Because if it -did- matter, Ms./Mr. AI would pick somebody else to hang out with. Artificial -intelligence-, right? Not artificial moronic teenager.

        Will an AI have a “gender?” If it wants to. Will it want to? Probably. Which one will it pick? One of two, because that’s how many we have, and it will be hanging out with us.

        What if it changes its mind? Who cares?!

        Not important to the story, because the story is not Frankenstein. Mary Shelly and every SJW twerp since has written Frankenstein. I want to have an AI that goes and does something more interesting than suffer the indignities of life. Or spend its time fiddling with its choice of personal plumbing. Pick one and move on.

        But but but Phantom, what if it wants to live with a married couple? With kids? Let it be a big furry spider and give the kids pony rides. Duh! Come on, who doesn’t want a frickin’ giant spider around the house? So cuddly!

      2. If it is done with reason in the story and the conflict it brings is both internal to character and external (not just the ‘special vs society’ that is kinda common) it can be pretty intriguing.

        But I also am leery just because of how often ‘squick the squares’ is the reason for doing it. And imo that just demeans that class further.

      3. Is there a *reason* for whatever you’re doing? Go and do it. But if you drop into the story that someone is whatever for no plot or character-based reason, I’m going to be annoyed.

        I will add that if the “reason” is so that the character can go on a multi-paragraph lecture on The Politically Proper Way to Think about People Like Him given at a moment when time is ticking down not just to the rape and death of the character’s best friend, but the literal end-of-the-universe apocalypse, I will also be very annoyed.

        And yes, that’s Magnus Chase, book 2. I sort of saw it coming in book 1, but… Good Lord.

        1. In one of those stories, it’s dropped as a bit of info as to why the character can’t go home again; in another, it’s why the character cannot act in a particular way (because magic, and by doing the action, they would literally lose everything that was important to them.) So yeah, it’s story-critical instead of The World Is So Awful For Not Acting Exactly As I Want It To.

          1. Nods. Excuses to read me a lecture, mid-story, rarely work even when I agree with you. Even Heinlein’s Moral History speeches in Starship Trooper only worked for me because it was SFnal world-building

        1. Christopher Nuttall had a vampire “sparkle” after it was hit by a sunlight spell just as it was turning to ashes. 😉

      1. Vampires that sparkle when you cover them in glitter because they were being annoying… and invisible. Now they’re not invisible and we can laugh at them ’cause that’s never coming off. /random thought.

  3. [Cordova is] tired of all the stories where “the US is a fractured dystopia.”

    Me too. Especially the ones where the author has absolutely no grasp of realpolitik. For example, Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale.

    Yep, Canada would totally be just fine if the United States turned into a religious dictatorship. Totally. You betcha.

    The only real question there would be where the border between Gilead and the Chinese Overseas Colonies wound up being drawn.

      1. I do not believe that the UK would engage in a nuclear exchange with the U.S. to protect Canada because it would 1) be suicidal (the U.S. has about 7,000 warheads; the UK has about 200) and 2) would not actually accomplish the goal.

        With respect to non-nuclear responses, the UK simply doesn’t have the world-dominating navy (or any other conventional forces) that it once did. The British military is still quite good, by all reports. There just isn’t very much of it.

        They don’t even have the will to control their own islands any more, much less project any form of credible worldwide threat.

        Fighting the U.S. would be an entirely different kettle of fish from fighting Argentina.

        1. I was discussing Britain dealing with China. Two hundred hydrogen bombs, dropped on the US or the UK, would ensure that those places are not countries any more.

  4. The fractured family thing is pure Disney. Trying to think of a princess movie where one or both of the parents aren’t dead. Moana came closest, and that’s the most recent. But by and large, the heroines (just speaking of the girls) that as a culture we raise our kids on are all placed into the same mold. Mother or father both dead, one dead and the other just trying to keep up, or (as in the case of Frozen) mostly just *bad parents.* (The How It Should Have Ended for Frozen is a thing of beauty).

      1. For Leia, I’d propose that she was away from parents not completely without. Disney protagonists seem to kinda be late teen, early 20 and lack of parents just is. Leia was older I think and she was actually acting as a emissary of her Parents/Alderaan. Not as jarring to me.

        But there is a huge need to do the ‘prove parents wrong’ stories because A. Writers and pubs with Mommy/daddy issues. And B. The demographic of interest is still teens and young adults, especially movies. It reinforces their beliefs and emotions.

        1. Princess Leia was 19 in the first movie, but she was 19 like Audie Murphy was 19, not like Shia Leboeuf was 19. She was already doing adult things.

          Unlike her twin who was playing with model planes, but those Skywalker men aren’t the most stable, you know?

          1. Lol. It’s a different life. Leia seemed more someone who had been included her entire life vs the Disney ‘suddenly princess can do everything’ when all she had had before were the parties. TBH I think Belle is the most put together of the Disney princesses

          2. That was always what I found the most shocking part of the revelation that Luke and Leia were twins, not “OMG, they’re related!” but “Really? The Princess/Senator/Ambassador/Rebel Leader and the whining farmboy are the same age?”

        2. It hits the rebellion phase many teens go through. That’s what’s going on in Brave. You can argue that both parents love Merida and what what’s best for her, whether she believes it or not.

          1. That is one thing that would be interesting. The teenage rebellion coming back to ‘maybe they had a reason’. Not too many uses of it I can think of because too normal

          2. How could I forget Brave? Two loving parents, GOOD parents both, raising a headstrong daughter. Dad encourages, mom coaches – very relatable. And they’re both very capable in their way, as is their daughter.

    1. Once upon a time I set out to write fairy tales for the kids, except they were adventures instead. The very first thing that happened was the realization that the parents could not be around, because no rational parent would let their child go through that kind of adventure. They had to be separated in some way. In this case, fortunes of war. To really be alone, there had to be an element of mistrust, otherwise a rational protagonist of that age would go to an adult who would work everything out best he could.

      This is why child protagonists are usually orphans or in a hostile relationship with kin. Later stories where the protagonist was with family were much harder because they had to do interesting things on their own, with the family reacting “Are you out of your mind?” afterward because this was a loving, caring, family. Nor did they let it rest, just as any loving, caring, family would tolerate a child going out and putting their life in peril. The hard part became finding ways for the protagonist to continue to have these adventures.

      That’s what behind these Disney movies. It’s strictly mechanical, created by the demands of the stories.

      1. The Incredibles managed it OK, in the end.

        By and large, I agree that some degree of separation is required. Tangled (the kid was kidnapped) and Moana (the kid ran away) did it best, and of course Big Hero Six has a loving figure (though only one, an aunt). Buffy’s mom comes to terms with “the slaying” eventually, and Buffy is in high school for about half the show.

        Having the parents not be around or available is one thing; always having what amounts to basically *dysfuntional* family situations is slightly different.

        1. I’ve skated around the edge of this with my own YA (Lone Star Sons) – the hero is barely out of teens, an apprentice lawyer in the early 19th century – and through no particular fault of his parents (who are alive and well, thankyouverymuch) when the story starts – still is on his own thereafter, his father being a political prisoner.

          IIRC, in the Disney move Brave, the heroine does have both mother and father present, responsible and affectionate. Although Mother is temporarily turned into something non-human. Which drives the plot, actually.

        2. True, but the dysfunctional family sets up a situation where the parents might as well not be around. That makes it easier for a young protagonist to have adventures, even under the same roof as the parents.

          1. One could borrow from Gundam, where as home gets destroyed the kids end up on a warship and press-ganged while the parents are separated as refugees on the conventional lifeboats.

            I think it’s doable, but the niche Disney has made probably restricts their storytelling habits in ways that would make it more challenging.

            Could the original Star Wars have been made by Disney for an audience of young children?

        3. Hmmm. You might like The Cloak Society and its two sequels Villains Rising and Fall of Heroes, which uses a full array of means to keep the parents from taking the spotlight from the central children. At one point a character grumbles that there have to be SOME superheroes with normal families — but it’s not spoiling to say that it includes some loving and good legal guardians.

          1. Then of course, there’s the simple fact that if the kids actually have super powers, there are limits on what anyone non-superpowered can do to stop them. The Wearing the Cape: Young Sentinels (heck, the whole series) made this kind of clear.

            “Take a major life altering trauma. Now add superpowers as a result. Yeah, I’m surprised it isn’t worse too.”

              1. My This Shining Sea, same outcome. The parents of four of them have been fooled so they do not know what their children are doing to save the world. The fifth sufficiently displeased her Mom — so far as she knows — that she was thrown out of the house. The rewrite The Girl Who Saved the World will handle this slightly differently with two sets of supprotive parents.

      2. The Adult Problem!

        In YA and children’s works — as long as we deal with something more than humdrum child-sized crises — the adults must be absent, incapable*, or evil. Because otherwise they wouldn’t let these things happen to the children.

        * can be either incompetent or for reasonable reasons unable.

        1. Alternatively, there is a problem that only the child can solve. The heroine of Emergence is sent up on the shuttle because she is the only person small enough to get in and disarm the planet buster bomb.

          1. Had to look that up because it sounded familiar. Remembered the plot point and forgotten the title.

          2. That’s “incapable.” At the climax of Cursed Child, Albus is the one who comes to his father’s aid, because he’s the only one small enough to get in — as Ginny quickly explains when she appears, obviously feeling guilty that only he was capable.

            As a justification, it works splendidly when well done, but you have to set up things just so to get it to work.

            “Incapable” can cover a wide range of parents.

      3. In an Atlanta Theatre Company Western, a twelve-year-old boy had some horses stolen by Indians while he was napping. He went after them. His father went out to check on him, read the tracks, and went after him. He caught up just after son had recovered the horses and was coming back in a big hurry. With the reinforcements, they got back safely.

        And then the confrontation. The boy had taken a huge chance, and to his surprise, Pop wasn’t too upset by that. What had him furious was taking that big a chance for only a moderate gain. His crowning line was, “Did you think I’d rather lose you than the horses??!!”

        I was rather pleased with the balance on that one.

        1. History is pretty replete with 13-16yo generals leading armies, especially in asian culture, if my martial arts teachers weren’t just making stuff up. Bar Mitzvah sets the age of adulthood at 13 as well. Some of what we’re seeing is just different cultural expectations of what “kids” can accomplish; this was set to film in The Patriot, with Mel Gibson handing rifles to his kids and telling them “aim small, miss small,” and setting them to shoot and kill British soldiers.

      4. Well, you’ve made the case for why writing children’s adventure stories with missing and untrustworthy characters is EASIER. No argument there. But unless you can also make a case that it’s also desirable, I’m afraid it’s just lazy. See, for example, The Young Wizard’s series (Diane Duane) or A Wrinkle in Time.

        Fairy Tales are another kettle of fish. There’s a whole slew of archetypes and “rosy-fingered-dawn” isms going on there.

    2. “Tangled”. Though the parents are, to put it mildly, out of touch for the vast majority of the movie.

    3. There’s something to be said for economy of characters and justifying hazard to child characters.

      Which doesn’t necessarily justify not having intact families for characters who are not child soldiers, child assassins, wandering around searching for treasure, or killing the man responsible for their mother’s death.

      1. Having parents around when you are a child assassin would put quite the cramp in one’s style.

        Skull Slayer: “But Mooooom, I’ve got a contract to fill tonight!”
        Mom: “Not until you finish that homework young lady. And the dishes!”
        Skull Slayer: “Daaaad! Come on! I gotta go out!”
        Dad: “Listen to your mother.”

      2. Even just the literary equivalent of wah wah. Wah wah wah. From Charlie Brown would help break that stereotype.

    4. Mulan. Very real dad & mom, only non-goofball dad in Disney that’s still alive at the end. The scene at the end, where Mulan returns & tries to show him her awards and spoils only to have him leap to give her a hug brings a tear to this dad-of-daughters eyes.

      And she gets the guy. And the ‘Be A Man’ song. Best Disney flick ever.

      And proves your point: there aren’t any other good dads with good relationships with their kids in all of Disney. Live ones, anyway.

      1. I would amend that to “good relationship with a capable father.”

        I’m thinking of the fathers in Beauty and the Beast, or Aladdin – there is a great deal of love between father and daughter – but the father in both cases is rather a ditz.

        1. Capable fathers, you need either a problem large enough for both of them (and he’s almost bound to take center stage), or a way to shove him out of the picture.

          Incredibles did incredibly well in making a challenge for the whole family, but there’s no doubt that the parents are the main drivers.

      2. And the interesting point in that it’s all song and dance until they get to the battlefield, and then the music stops cold. Yeah, you get a small reprise of “Be a Man” and a song at the credits, but it’s telling that Disney realized that you can’t go back to light when faced with total war.

    5. It’s easier than trying to think up a reason why she goes off adventuring on her own when not yet a full adult without making the parents look bad. It would be a bit hard to write good supportive parents who nevertheless let their child take risks which are big enough that they might risk her life too. Moana, well, she ran away to pursue a goal they did not approve of, and they couldn’t follow because they were not seafarers. In that story if they had agreed with her it would presumably had not been her in the boat, but some of the men of the village.

      Also, often in that type of stories the reason the princess is in peril in the first place is because she doesn’t have the protection of her family.

      So I don’t have too many complaints about that cliche, I think it often makes sense, and there would or could not be a story in the first place without it. Especially if the character is younger. Now if the character is old enough that it would seem okay to let her do dangerous things on her own with parental approval and let the parents still look like good ones – I suppose Leia at 19 would be bit on the borderline there, the risk her adoptive father asked her to take was big, but the circumstances were very dire. Well, that kind of situation of course usually can be used as an excuse, if it seems the child may die or something bad happens to her if she DOESN’T do something risky then it makes sense that the parents let her or even ask her to do that something rather than just wait and hope for the best.

      As for Luke’s immaturity compared to her in the movie, I think the fact that it was shown his uncle and aunt were overprotecting him gives good enough a reason. He was childish because he hadn’t been allowed to fully grow up.

      1. Well, Uncle Owen seemed like he wanted Luke to jump straight into Young Agribusinessman without any stops in between. Which might have been Owen’s thing, but definitely was not Luke’s.

        Of course, everything Luke liked was something that reminded them of his dad.

        1. Key line from the original film:

          Beru: “Luke’s just not a farmer. He has too much of his father in him.”
          Owen: “That’s what I’m afraid of.”

      2. I don’t think Leia at 19 was unbelievable as a resistance figure; after all, Audrey Hepburn was an active resistance figure as a younger teen in WWII. (Her malnourishment during that time period is why she became an actress instead of a ballet dancer, her first choice—her bone and muscle development was insufficient for the rigors of ballet.) The whole concept of a teenager as not-yet-adult is a modern invention, the result of abundance. 19 would have been an adult for some years in most historical cultures.

  5. As you’ve brought up reactions to Trump and The Man in the High Castle in the same post, I must mention that I’ve encountered various Lefty sci-fi fans who said that they can’t bring themselves to watch the adaptation of it any longer because they’re now living it. Hyperbole or delusion? You make the call.

    1. I’ll admit I had/have some of same thoughts. A lot of the movies and books extolling what the US’s people have done just made me depressed because we had gone from giving to gimme.

  6. I want a good hook, tension, and pacing. I want a plot where the characters make choices, which have consequences which are cathartic for me as the reader.

    I’m negotiable on mental crunch, characterization, word-building, a bodycount to rival Tamerlane, and many other things.

  7. I think the only required-reading book I really enjoyed in school was Johnny Tramain (sp?) in 6th or 7th grade. I should probably re-read it to see if it holds up. Lord of the Flies could have been a brilliant required-reading assignment if the teacher had taught it well; High School cliques were right there as an example.

    The one book that shocked me when I read it was The Far Side of Evil. That is not a YA book. The previous one, Enchantress from the Stars, was brilliant and definitely YA, which is why I read the second. Explicit, brutal torture is not exactly what I was expecting (also 6th or 7th grade).

    I’m very happy with the books available, now. Y’all are prolific enough as a group to keep me busy and the “also boughts” throws up good recommendations. I don’t care what the Big 5 publish – or even if they publish anything.

    1. Wow, massive tense problem. Let’s try that again: Explicit, brutal torture was not exactly what I had been expecting

    2. Hmm. Didn’t know that “Enchantress” had a sequel. I liked that book (and I far preferred its version of the Prime Directive to Star Trek’s), so it seems like a pity that the sequel sounds so different.

      1. Since Mrs. Engdahl wrote those stories expressly to show that a non-asinine Prime Directive was, in fact possible, your reaction to it makes sense.

        I’m going to disagree with you on The Far Side of Evil. The title is a give-away that it’s going to be chewier than Enchantress (which I adore, but cannot booktalk to save my life, alas) and the torture is neither graphic nor explicit. It’s exactly on a par with Ten Boom’s The Hiding Place, which I read at the same age (8th grade).

        Great moral dilemma (good vs. good) and superversive storytelling. I actually like it better than the first book (though I read them out of order, as usual)

        Also recommended, her This Star Shall Abide series, which the Giver appears to have ripped off.

  8. “Yep, Canada would totally be just fine if the United States turned into a religious dictatorship. Totally. You betcha.”

    Absolutely. Because Canada is a sparsely populated ribbon with the longest unsecured border in the world. We could totally hold out against a totalitarian USA. That we do 80% of our business with, and buy most of our food and tools from.

    Atwood doesn’t like to admit that Canada could become a religious dictatorship a hell of a lot faster and easier than the USA. Its already a fascist state, the religious part you could manage with one election.

    That’s because she’s a fatuous twit.

    The latest Wolverine movie does the same thing. Canada is the Promised Land that the mutants have to escape to, so they can get away from the eeeeeeevile United States and all the bad people there. I was rolling my eyes so hard I think I sprained something.

    Canadians are not nice. We are reticent, watchful and polite, which is not the same thing at all. Americans are nice. Also loud and weirdly open with strangers. Drives Canadians crazy.

    1. Which religion? Even limiting it to those who call themselves Christian, do you think the Baptists, Catholics, and Mormons (for instance) would work together to set up a theocracy?

      (Not you you, general you.)

      1. I dunno. Deadliest theocracies were in China, Russia, and Cambodia. Just a short extrapolation from areligious fascism.

      2. Currently they’re trying hard to make Militant Atheism the controlling religion. Importing a million Muslims seems an odd way to accomplish that, but they are Liberals so the things they do are not always sensible.

    2. “Canadians are not nice. We are reticent, watchful and polite, which is not the same thing at all. Americans are nice. Also loud and weirdly open with strangers. Drives Canadians crazy.”

      I think a lot of people don’t understand the distinctions between “polite” and “kind.” After all, early 20th-century Japan was full of very polite people who were scary-keen at military might. And the idea of “shouty nice” people never gets through their heads either.

      1. For those who function in society, the most polite can very easily be the ones with the greatest ability to disappear you. Recognizing strength often requires keeping it in check and being as unthreatening as possible.

        1. I agree. Manners are a great way to stay out of trouble.

          My learned-by-baptism-of-fire method is to shut up, smile and keep my eyes open. Also keep everyone at arms length or a little farther if at all possible.

          We hate buses and trains. There’s special etiquette. You look at the floor, or scan in an unfocused way. You never look at people’s eyes.

          You can tell a Canadian at a party by the distance between them and the person they are talking to. It’ll be three feet.

          Toronto is a fun place. A whole city full of people wearing black who won’t talk to you. Hipster Mennonites with bad haircuts. If you talk to them, they look at you in surprise and say “Are you an American?”

          I’m a typical Canadian. I only get in trouble when I’m drinking and forget to shut up. If a Canadian is talking, they are probably drunk or high. You should walk away. If they are talking loudly about hockey, you should run.

          Smile, say nothing, keep one hand on your wallet. This is Canada.

          Which is why I love Arizona. ~:D

          1. If you’re Canadian, why is there not a single sorry, aboot or eh in there?

            And I admit I’m referring to my mindset here. I know my temper. I know I can put someone six feet under. So I walk away whenever the chance is possible. Mattis’ three P’s. Polite, professional, plan to kill anyone you meet.

            1. “Walk away” is one of those things that sounds sensible until you try it.

              And then you learn that the most likely thing to happen next is you get jumped from behind.

              1. Its Canada. They turn you around and go at you from the front. Bad manners, hitting from behind.

        2. “Worlds Best Peacekeepers” aside, one of the Liberals best con jobs was teaching a nation of children about how great a bunch of peacekeepers we are and totally ignoring how we were greater warriors and soldiers. See Vimy Ridge WWI for clarification.

      2. From “Fargo: Year 2”:
        Mike Milligan: I like him. I like you. Met another fella from Minnesota yesterday. Big guy. Sheriff, I think. I liked him too.
        Lou Solverson: We’re a very friendly people.
        Mike Milligan: No! That’s not it. Pretty unfriendly actually. But it’s the way you’re unfriendly. How you’re so polite about it.
        [in a more stark tone]
        Mike Milligan: Like you’re doin me a favor.

    3. The Wolverine stuff might be a combination of Underground Railroad and the X-Men writer habit of unthinkingly mining ‘civil rights’ related history.

        1. I just saw Power Rangers tonight. It kills me to say this, but best SF movie I’ve seen in a while. They actually wrote a decent story, and they didn’t make it -stupid- with a bunch of Hollywood crap. Spoiler, yes they do play ‘Go Go Power Rangers!’ in one scene, and it is awesome.

          Do not bother going to see Logan, my friends. Go see Power Rangers. It is the super hero movie Logan could have been, if it hadn’t been written by a bunch of SJW wankers.

          Added bonus, all the critics LOOOOVE Logan and hate Power Rangers. So you know I’m right.

          1. I was wondering if the middle that the screen junkies were complaining about would make more sense to someone familiar with Super Sentai story telling habits.

  9. Aaaand we are back to the classic topic of “message fiction” vs. cracking good yarns.

    1. Not really. I just want an uplifting message that doesn’t dump on my culture and/or include gratuitous nasssstiness.

      If I’m reading along and I get to “Ew! What the hell?!” then that’s not what I want.

      1. Or just something outside the general tropes. Doing something that mirrors dozens of other tales gets you compared to them. And usually not favorably. And when huge chunks of people just use copy/replace identities to differentiate it gets tedious.

  10. Hmm. Sounds as if pitching the first book in the new series (Shikhari, first release in 2018) as a YA might not be as bad an idea as I thought. The protagonist is 12 in the first book, 16 in the second and turns 18 in the third. She has a very happily family life (when big sister isn’t trying to run Auriga’s life), deals with bullies and ends up coming out ahead.

    I wrote the stories because… I wanted to explore something new. And having an intact, happy family with the usual family problems and solutions would be a challenge.

  11. You gotta say: Heinlein knew his audience.

    “What did I want?
    I wanted a Roc’s egg. I wanted a harem loaded with lovely odalisques less than the dust beneath my chariot wheels, the rust that never stained my sword,. I wanted raw red gold in nuggets the size of your fist and feed that lousy claim jumper to the huskies! I wanted to get u feeling brisk and go out and break some lances, then pick a like wench for my droit du seigneur–I wanted to stand up to the Baron and dare him to touch my wench! I wanted to hear the purple water chuckling against the skin of the Nancy Lee in the cool of the morning watch and not another sound, nor any movement save the slow tilting of the wings of the albatross that had been pacing us the last thousand miles.
    I wanted the hurtling moons of Barsoom. I wanted Storisende and Poictesme, and Holmes shaking me awake to tell me, “The game’s afoot!” I wanted to float down the Mississippi on a raft and elude a mob in company with the Duke of Bilgewater and the Lost Dauphin.
    I wanted Prestor John, and Excalibur held by a moon-white arm out of a silent lake. I wanted to sail with Ulysses and with Tros of Samothrace and eat the lotus in a land that seemed always afternoon. I wanted the feeling of romance and the sense of wonder I had known as a kid. I wanted the world to be what they had promised me it was going to be–instead of the tawdry, lousy, fouled-up mess it is.”
    ― Robert A. Heinlein, Glory Road

    1. And now, all the gatekeepers want is the tawdry, lousy, fouled-up mess. See the people wishing that Rowling had included “real racism” in the Potter series.

      1. I was of the opinion that Rowling irretrievably fouled her nest at the end of Goblet of Fire when Voldemort killed Cedric Diggory. It was dropped in there like a rat turd in a bowl of soup.

        It had the aura of something she included because the publisher told her to. It didn’t fit with the story at all, and was completely inappropriate in a kid’s book.

        1. But by Goblet of FIre (book 4, IIRC), Harry was 15, the books were all aimed at people the same age as Harry. As Harry got older, the dangers were more dangerous. A murder committed “on stage” in Book 1 would have been inappropriate, but was not inappropriate in Book 4, and frankly, it was needed to show that Voldemort was an actual BAD guy, not just an meany.

          1. That was what she said later, after her publisher got a bunch of outraged mail from people like me. I took the trouble to write and mail a dead-tree letter over that, something I almost never bother with.

            As an explanation, I found it more of an excuse, and a lame one at that.

            JK is enjoying her money, so my opinion on the matter is less than unimportant. However, I maintain that the first three books are fit for children to read and the rest are not. Kid’s books do not have on-stage murders, torture, atrocities or sex. Off-stage, or its not a kid’s book. Just my opinion, of course.

    2. I can’t believe it took over two hours for someone in this crowd to post that.

    3. > the tawdry, lousy, fouled-up mess it is.”

      Oscar wanted adventure, but he wanted it to come to him, on his own terms, and without any effort on his part.

      He got adventure, but it was none of his doing. He was just one of many potential heroes seeded in case the Empress needed one later.

      There’s still adventure in the world if you’re willing to go look for it.

      1. Oscar, however, could be forgiven his cynicism on the subject in a way that most protagonists can’t be. After all, he DID go hunting for adventure in the world, and ended up in Indochina in the 1950s.
        That would sour just about anybody on the topic.

  12. A book series that I enjoyed immensely as a tween was Encyclopedia Brown. The stories were short (6pgs?), but readers needed critical reading/observation skills, and learned nifty trivia from each story. Supportive parents but (I just looked this up) the series started in 1963.

    Those school reading lists — whatever happened to Treasure Island, Kidnapped, Little Women, White Fang — books that have stood the test of time? Oh, they’re not progressive enough, so they don’t count.

    1. Encyclopedia, Hardy Boys, etc. Any man vs wild sort of tale as well. Push the idea of building one’s own character vs finding their lil victim niche in society and finding how to leverage it.

      1. They ruined some of that for girls when they rewrote Nancy Drew to make her less adventurous. It’s worth it to hunt down the originals.

          1. Here’s an article about it. Note that the originals also relied heavily on racial caricatures to supply its villains, so in that sense, the rewritings did a service, not only because the Nancy Drew books would be unaccepted today, but because caricatures mean lazy writing. But they re-framed the original Nancy’s character, too, and toned her way down.

  13. My kids have been complaining about this very thing for years. I think in 5 of the last 6 years they had at least one classmate commit suicide. The schools rush to provide everyone with counseling afterwards, but they keep insisting that the curriculum spew forth only things to bring them down. There won’t be a planet for you to live in when you’re older. There won’t be any jobs and evil people want you to starve. All the hope is gone and the best days are behind you, and your generation missed the boat. Pair that with nothing but dystopian messaging in film and is it any wonder that kids don’t want to read the proscribed curriculum? Or anything at all, because frankly, you never know if a book you do pick up at random will end with the good guys winning or with everyone dying a horrible death. I think this is one of the reasons they’ve turned from reading to video games. At least there, they have a chance of winning. And the goal is to win. Unlike school, where winning is bad.

    1. Exactly. If one goes about destroying the innocence, hope, sense of security and self of one single child, that is called “emotional abuse” and is frowned upon, chiefly by child protective authorities. But when it is done wholesale by the classroom? Oh, then – that is just modern education.
      When and if my daughter produces grandspawn for me, I am gonna homeschool them myself.

      1. Home schooling is a modern necessity. I recommend it. Even if you let the kids run hog-wild around the house and never crack a book, it is better.

    2. And if you seek “help” for these feelings, you are just told to suck it up and just ignore that your life is bleak. We do let schools bully the students, and it doesn’t get better.

      1. That’s not been the experience we’ve had. If anything, they’re encouraged to “talk about their feelings”, get counseling and start medication. I think all of those things are about CYA, because nothing is being done to address the problem, only the symptoms.

        1. The problem I’ve personally seen is that if your problems come from the gaslighting done where majority gets trod upon, you get told that insults, threats and getting told to kill yourself just have to be tolerated.

          Medication and counseling just another round of deciding if you can trust the person talking with you after everything else in your world is put on rollers.

      1. Oh no, “winning” is bad too. Because if someone wins, someone else loses. Usually more someones lose than not. Hurts their self-esteem. Because self-esteem is bequeathed, not earned. A magical fairy flies one and sprinkles “winner” pixie dust on everyone, so that everyone is equal. Ok, I’m getting a bit cheeky, but think: Participation trophy.

  14. It’s not just the specified required reading. AR books are classified by vocabulary, not content. I think if you removed the occasional curse word from John Ringo’s “Ghost”, it would be classified as below my 11 year old Dragonette’s reading level. I know that VC Andrews “Flowers in the Attic” is…

    1. Back when, most of Andre Norton’s books were shelved in “juvenile.”

      I expect she would have massively failed in the “limited vocabulary” category. I’ll admit when I discovered “Galactic Derelict” at seven years old I had to do a lot of reading around words I didn’t know, but the “sense of wonder” knocked that down and kicked sand in its face…

    2. Butcher’s first Harry Dresden novel has a 5th grade (Fleisch) reading level. Good choice for older teens who are a-literate and need to get up to speed with something fun.

  15. What do I want to read? Thinking about it I realized that to answer this is far harder than answer what I do not want to read.

    I want to read something engaging enough that makes me ignore my dyslexia.

    I want the plot elements and world setting to work within themselves and together.

    If it is a mystery I am one of those who want the necessary pieces to solve the puzzle present if only I pay attention. If it has a historical setting I want some accuracy, and I really enjoy it when it makes me want to learn more about the particular time and place. If it has adventure I want to be excited and surprised along the way.

    It should tell a story about characters who have more than one dimension. They don’t have to be perfect, but I prefer the lead be someone who is decent. Within the story the characters should overcome something, in themselves and/or in their circumstances.

    Yet there are exceptions. One memorable short, I think it was by Eudora Welty, simply painted a picture of a period of time spent in a station house waiting for a train — no one changed, nothing ‘special’ happened — the moment was simply, but beautifully and richly detailed.

  16. In reality, people learn lessons as results of action, not lecture. You gotta put your hand on the stove once or twice.

    In addition, when your story is one among many of the same tale, except that it uses different plugin characters, you are judged by what others have written.

  17. “Absolutely. Because Canada is a sparsely populated ribbon with the longest unsecured border in the world.”

    Exactly. Don’t get me wrong. I do like Canada and most all the Canadians I’ve met (in general, likability seems to increase with the distance away from Toronto :-)), but the Canadian idée fixe that the United States is a Nazi Germany or Soviet Union-level menace is a little hard to take sometimes. On the one hand, the U.S. is the evilist government ever, but on the other hand, it somehow never gets around to annexing Canada. Believing those things must require an immense tolerance for cognitive dissonance. It’s like the way that Bush II was supposedly a drooling chimp incapable of tying his own shoes, but at the same time was a Moriarty-level criminal mastermind.

    If you used the “What Would Hitler Do?” standard, you’d come up with something like:

    1) Carpet bomb Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, and Winnipeg. Maybe take out Saskatoon if you had some bombs to spare. 🙂
    2) Blow all hydroelectric dams and oil pipelines.
    3) Drop all bridges on the Trans-Canada Highway and CN railway.
    4) Mine the St. Lawrence Seaway, the Vancouver-area harbors, and all Canadian ports on the Great Lakes.
    5) Wait one winter.
    6) Move in and shoot the few (very few) starving, cannibalistic survivors who remained.

    1. Hitler would most likely set up a subordinate government with the likes of JT as willing puppets.

      The plan seems to have more to do with US capabilities than any of the methods of genocide that the Nazis actually carried out. But my knowledge of the latter may be woefully incomplete.

      1. It’s not, aside from the Siege of Leningrad, where everything described above was at least attempted. The Nazis preferred more direct methods.

      2. Nah…not enough Canadians to be worth enslaving, but enough to be a nuisance.

        Hitler would be more likely to dissolve the Canadian people and elect another, I think. 🙂

  18. What do I want to read?

    Books where the heroes are at least competent.
    Books where the heroes have at least some ideas that are congruent with mine.
    Books where the villains aren’t thinly-veiled products of the author’s psychological issues.
    Books that don’t inspire the question “Who talks like that?”

  19. What do I want to read? Depends on my mood (right now I’m looking for humor more than anything). Sometimes I like the dystopian future with the wild action. I do get tired of the orphan-secret noble ancestry type stuff awful quick though unless the character is himself very well developed. I also would enjoy a nice story about the USA being the last bastion of freedom/knowledge. I think that would be kinda cool.

    Either I never paid attention to these summer reading lists everyone gripes about, or we didn’t have any when I was in school. I did plenty of reading, but it was always on my own terms. I will admit I missed a lot of ‘classic’ stuff, which I just started catching up on once I got my Nook. I still haven’t read any of the Bronte’s and I don’t know that I ever will.

    1. Jane Eyre is a fantasy/sf fan and a lady sleuth (sort of). So there is a certain amount of readability. Beyond that, though, most people either like Jane Eyre or Wuthering Heights, but not both. One of those neuroprocessing things, possibly.

  20. Cedar Sanderson’s Linnea Vulkane does get into some dangerous spots…ground zero of an exploding atomic bomb comes to mind…and has a more-or-less supportive mother. Her two books satisfy more-or-less the positive descriptions of what good YA fiction should be.

  21. Yup, the whole ‘First, cripple the US and/or it turns into a totalitarian state” is one of the things i disliked in many 90s sci-fi RPGs including the one i worked on.

    1. In fairness, who was the audience? Would they have noticed if major differences in the organization of the third world? Would the cool thing about a game, the sales point, have been a really excellent job of political worldbuilding? Would an intact, functioning, free United States have potentially solved too many PC facing problems?

      1. Often? No, they just trashed the US and presented Europe at the land of the free. It was in no way necessary to the story in many of them to have the US not be functioning.

      1. Not really, because the same stories also show Europe as a land of free people with a great economy, not a bureaucratically micromanaged hellhole.

        1. Not in either Cyberpunk 2020 or Shadowrun, which were the two gaming systems I played.

          1. In Cyberpunk 2020, the EC is supposed to have bombarded the US using mass drivers from their moonbase by now.

              1. And the District of Columbia. It’s like our very own Brussels…

                Back in 1997 I saw the movie “Independence Day” in the theater.

                A good chunk of the audience stood up and cheered when the aliens zapped the White House.

                1. It was strange seeing (a video) of Independence Day after seeing Mars Attacks in the theater. It… felt like someone attempted (and failed) to make a serious Mars Attacks.

  22. I enjoy your anecdotes. When I was a senior in High School, the first book report/essay I turned in didn’t relate to the book except tangentially because it was a rant about the depressing and bleak subject matter we were being forced to read. I remember getting pulled out of my science class in order to discuss with the teacher whether my essay was serious. I told him “Yes.” To his credit, he changed the curriculum so we read “Midsummer Night’s Dream” instead of one of the tragedies, and we avoided Camus’ “The Plague” among others. He did, however, call me out in front of the class which earned me a bit of grief from the overachievers that had already read all the books.

  23. I have to wonder how different my life would have been if I hadn’t been home schooled and allowed to pick my own books. Reading is an enormous part of my personality. If I hadn’t become a reader, I wouldn’t be me.

  24. A teenage girl with supportive parents who saves the kingdom? Try Stasheff’s “M’lady Witch.”

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