Sunday, July 12, 2009

Uglies and The Hunger Games: GRRL power sci fi

It's no secret that girls read more than boys these days. The amount of effort it takes me to get my girl students to read a novel of their own choosing: 10% The amount of effort it takes me to get guys reading: 170%

Why is this? Well, that's a topic for another blog and a completely different discussion entirely.

If you're writing teen books these days then, it's pretty obvious that you're going to try to write something that appeals to girls. In fact, it almost seems that there are no boy books written these days. There are definitely girl books. And there are books which we could safely say appeal to both genders.

As an author of science fiction, traditionally a "boy's genre," what are you to do?

It seems the hot idea these days is to write a book that would traditionally be marketed to boys--but make the main character female, and throw in a dash of romance. What do I think about this? Frankly, I think it effing rocks.

I've always been a fan of science fiction, mostly because I'm a fan of any kind of storytelling that puts characters in life-threatening situations. Characters behave so differently in life-threatening situations. :) And science fiction is an excellent avenue for that. But usually there's never enough dialogue, romance, emotion in science fiction stories. It's there, but a lot of times it gets overshadowed by the big action scenes. I love a good action scene, when it's crucial to the plot and when I feel locked into the characters and I truly, truly care about them. But there can easily be too many action scenes. Too many.

So two of my favorite books that I've read this year have been the Uglies series by Scott Westerfeld and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins (okay, so technically that's five books, but whatev). I think these two series have started what I think is a new kind of subgenre of YA science fiction.

GRRL-power science fiction.

And also, both are writing what I would call, um, speculative sci-fi with a hard look at human nature and our current society. They recall the kind of science fiction that Ray Bradbury and George Orwell wrote.

And they're doing it for teenage girls!!

About fricking time!

The series take on some pretty heavy themes. Uglies takes on the emphasis of beauty in our culture, the imprint we're making on the environment, the ability of humanity to live in harmony, and (in Extras) the currency of popularity via the internet. The Hunger Games deals with totalitarian governments, the impact we're making on the environment, the gap between the rich and the poor, the inability of the wealthy to grasp the humanity of those less fortunate than them, the appetite for violence within humanity, and the disconnect between actual violence, onscreen violence, and violence as entertainment. Heady, heady stuff. (Enough to make the English teacher within me leap for joy.)

Unfortunately the world doesn't seem to be taking enough notice of this stuff. The books are ignored because they're YA, and furthermore, somewhat dismissed by some as rip-offs. Collins' book in particular is often accused of ripping off Battle Royale and The Running Man. Which, well, it does.

There are similarities between Uglies and an episode of The Twilight Zone called "Number 12 Looks Just Like You," (here, read the wikipedia article:

I could get pretty postmodern here and talk about how all ideas are reused and that the current form of art is pastiche and maybe even bring up Derrida, but--

I think the very truly original thing about these works is their packaging. Sure, these science fiction themes and ideas have been used before and sure, the stories aren't new. But they're being done in a completely new and exciting way. The books feature female protagonists, they have hot guys (both seem to also feature a love triangle, now that I think about it), and the girl protagonists kick ass. :)

None of what is brilliant about the sci fi genre is sacrificed. There's still action. There's still heavy themes. There's still cool technology and crazy fight scenes. It's just that now teenage girls are reading these books and seeing how cool all of that stuff is in addition to hot guys and love triangles. God, it's brilliant.

Plus, with both of these books currently being optioned as movies, we're going to see a new trend in the science fiction genre in general. I think the audience is going to expand from being mostly guys to including girls. And I think we're going to see less and less stupid action-glutted sci fi with no real characters. Yay!!

I want in on the action, myself. I mentioned in my post about the webfic serial that I would never write a story about vampires, because everything had been done before.

Well, I think I'm about to eat my words. Because I have a vampire story I'd like to repackage for teenage girls.

He he. I present to you the garbled version of I Am Legend--now with a love triangle.

Yeah, okay, well, I'm still working out the details, but I really like the original theme of that book (no the Will Smith movie doesn't count), which was prejudice. It's a theme worth writing about, and it's a fun way to do it. Plus, I think Richard Matheson was just fleshing this idea out. There are levels and levels to traverse here.

I'm excited. Who's with me?


  1. I'd love to see what you could come up with.

    When you write it, I'll read it.

  2. My horoscope advises me to finish up what's currently on my plate before turning to a new distraction. So...I think that means I should focus on finishing Tortured for now.