Juvenile and Young Adult Science Fiction

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Juvenile and Young Adult Science Fiction


Genre or mode of speculative literature targeted at young audiences which focuses on issues related to technological, scientific and futuristic theorization.


Robert A. Heinlein, the prolific author of such young adult science fiction novels as Starship Troopers (1959) and Stranger in a Strange Land (1961), commented in his 1957 lecture titled "Science Fiction: Its Nature, Faults and Virtues": "A handy short definition of almost all science fiction might read: realistic speculation about possible future events, based solidly on adequate knowledge of the real world, past and present, and on a thorough understanding of the nature and significance of the scientific method." As such, science fiction as a literary genre, or "mode" as many critics prefer, considers the implications of knowledge and its ultimate course—particularly with regards to the potential of applied science and technology. Juvenile and young adult science fiction as a subgenre is a rapidly expanding field with many of the same trends, though with slight alterations made in deference to the needs of a younger readership. The term "science fiction" itself is sometimes thought to be an all-encompassing term for any media form concerned with these themes, therefore when commenting specifically about science fiction literature, "mode" is often considered a more accurate categorization.

Suzanne Elizabeth Reid has proposed that the "main motivation behind science fiction, and the source of its power and appeal, is escape from the strictures of everyday thinking, allowing the imagination to see beyond what we have been taught is real and possible." In short, it explores the fantastic through rational means. As a result, science fiction is commonly associated with fantasy, indeed it is regarded by many as an offshoot of the form. However, where fantasy uses magic to rationalize that which is not understood, it is mankind's own cognitive intuition that is the driving force behind science fiction. Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley's Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (1818) is often credited as the first novel to demonstrate the early precepts of science fiction. Relying upon the power of Dr. Frankenstein's learned understanding of biological processes to create his creature, Shelley's story utilized science as the means for literary propulsion rather than a mystical infusion of omniscient design or fairy-borne magic. While Shelley's basis for the creation of Frankenstein's creature was shaky in terms of its application of actual science, science fiction does not necessarily arise from science fact, an ethos which is particularly true in young adult works. This mode of literature is meant more as an examination of the hypothetical possibilities arising from the application of science, not simply a factual restatement of proven theoreticals—which, in the case of young adult works, are likely to be either too complicated or dull to be appreciated. Regardless, Shelley established a beachhead in a new territory of implicative conjecture that today is seen as the genesis of science fiction.

In spite of Shelley's pioneering work, young adult and juvenile science fiction developed at a much slower pace than its adult counterpart. Whereas children's fantasy owns a strong tradition of classic tales, among them Lewis Carroll's Alice's Adventures in Wonderland (1865), young adult science fiction yielded no nineteenth-century masters who could cement a standard upon which other children's book authors might later build. And yet children were among the earliest converts to the genre, appropriating more adult-centric works of science fiction due to their natural inclination toward the adventurous heroes, fantastic universes, and creature-laden worlds created by such early giants in the field as Jules Verne and H. G. Wells. Those authors, like many others in the genre, likely intended to cultivate an adult readership. Today, however, books like Verne's A Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864) and Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea (1869), Wells' The Time Machine (1895), The Island of Dr. Moreau (1896), and The War of the Worlds (1898), and Arthur Conan Doyle's The Lost World (1912) are categorized as children's science fiction, even though they retain a large adult fan base. Changing styles and tastes have altered the landscape of science fiction, and the styles and shorter lengths of these books may be responsible for their reclassification. But perhaps more culpable for this confusion of audience is the fact that, throughout much of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, there were only marginal differences between juvenile and adult science fiction. Few true examples from that era even exist, thus establishing a firm "first" children's science fiction work is difficult, with little accord between scholars. One possible candidate for this milestone is Charles Kingsley's The Water-Babies (1863). Jessica Yates has argued that Kingsley's text attempted—like many early science fiction novels—to combine elements of fantasy and science fiction by presenting "a synthesis of children's belief in fairies, the doctrines of Christianity and the new theories of evolution and the origin of species, and was much more successful in communicating his ideas about the wonder of God's creation in this fantastic form than in his pamphleteering and adult novels." Another early fusion of fantasy and science fiction came in the form of L. Frank Baum's The Master Key (1901). Featuring aspects of science as well as future science fiction mainstays as robots and other automatons, the story's plot centered around the principles of electricity—it is subtitled "An Electrical Fairy Tale"—and features appearances of such futuristic inventions as food tablets and stun guns. Baum had an early literary interest in science, and electronic creatures are scattered throughout his more famous "Oz" books, not to mention the very personification of science and fantasy in the figure of the great Wizard of Oz, who memorably uses the principles of science to his advantage. The Wizard is, in a sense, an amalgam of science and fantasy, using skills which were acquired in "our" universe to sham his way into a position of authority in the more fantasy-oriented Oz, thus earning him the magically-inclined moniker of "Wizard."

Perhaps the first true children's science fiction came in the form of the pulp stories that dominated the late Victorian Era. Known variously as penny dreadfuls or dime novels, the cheaply-produced texts—often quickly written, of short length, and packed with thrilling adventures—were among the first literary works written exclusively for children and teens. An early prototype came in the form of the Frank Reade, Jr. stories originated by Harry Cohen (who wrote under the pen name Harry Enton) and made famous by their longtime caretaker, Luis Senarens. First published in 1874, the series starred boy genius inventor Frank and featured an impressive array of mechanical devices like helicopter airships and carriage-pulling robots. Further fantastical dime stories followed, including the Tom Edison, Jr. series (1891–1892)—which was written under the pseudonym of Phillip Reade—and the Edward Stratemeyer Syndicate series Tom Swift, which was written by Howard Garis (also known as Victor Appleton) for much of its 1910–1941 duration. By 1930, American publisher Hugo Gernsback had created two separate pulp magazines dedicated exclusively to science fiction stories: Amazing Stories and Science Wonder Stories. Gernsback is also credited with the derivation of the term "science fiction," a name he created after first experimenting with the name "scientifiction" for the stories in his magazines. Today, the Science Fiction Achievement Award, presented annually by the World Science Fiction Society, is called the "Hugo" in his honor. Of these early stories, Margaret Esmonde classifies two early science fiction models as having been born from this era: the "space opera" stories, concerned with adventures in space, and the so-called "gadgets" stories, which tended to center around the creation of wild inventions. Gernsback's magazines were influential in helping bring science fiction into the literary mainstream, as well as providing higher quality pulp stories than had been previously available. Further, they provided a wealth of inspiration to a later generation of writers who had grown up on the stories themselves.

One of the authors inspired by Gernsback's pulp periodicals was Robert A. Heinlein, who is largely credited with the creation of the first science fiction story targeted specifically for teens. In his 1947 novel Rocket Ship Galileo, Heinlein tells the unlikely story of three boys traveling by homemade rocket ship to the moon where they find a Nazi military base. His story appropriated aspects of the precursory pulp stories, including cliffhanger chapters, high-paced plotting, and conversational styles of dialogue that featured popular slang. Additionally, in a nod to his younger readership, his explanations of scientific details were brief and only loosely based in fact—a characteristic included for clarity and brevity, due to the presumptive shorter attention spans of children. Though Heinlein initially found it difficult to acquire a publisher for the story due to its outlandish nature, its eventual popular success allowed Heinlein to publish a children's science fiction novel annually for the next decade. His continued success in an exclusively children's subgenre soon expanded the horizon for such famed authors as Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and Andre Norton.

Still, as compared to the field of fantasy, science fiction for children was very much in its infancy with little appreciable tradition prior to these early pioneers. Of this early era, Jessica Yates suggests that the paucity of early twentieth-century children's sci-ence fiction may have been due to the fact that "because children willingly accepted magic, there was no need for a pseudo-scientific explanation for supernatural events," thus "the juvenile SF published from the nineteenth century onwards, comparable in popular appeal to other children's genres like the historical novel or adventure yarn, had no market leaders who combined popularity with quality, and whose names are recalled today." However, since the 1950s, juvenile science fiction has seen both its profile and audience base grow dramatically to become one of the most popular forms of literature for children. Though, despite its growing popularity, many adults continue to regard the subgenre with a wary eye. Children's science fiction author Janice Bogstad notes that even though "we may speak of the 'maturation' of the genre during the 1960's, it is undeniable most individuals outside the field (of children's science fiction) or only tangentially connected to it by the more popular media still associate the genre with its pulp origins and so with bad writing, poor technique, and juvenile story-lines." While that image has been slow to change, as children who are exposed to quality works of juvenile science fiction become adults themselves, they continue to propagate the genre by sharing those titles with their own children, thus continuing and strengthening the genre's reputation. Perhaps reflective of this growth, several works of science fiction have been honored with the Newbery Award, the highest honor for American children's literature, among them Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time (1962), Robert C. O'Brien's Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH (1971), and Lois Lowry's The Giver (1993).

While young adult science fiction is difficult to characterize as a whole—given the diverse range of works in its canon—it does differ from its more adult counterparts in several distinct fashions. Most prominent is the youth of its primary protagonists—a presentation style meant to equate the story's hero with that of the reader—and a generally more optimistic tone. Of this latter characteristic, critics speculate that authors and publishers often purposely instill their narratives with hopeful outcomes with the intent of both protecting the young reader and presenting more positive images of potential futures. However, as the field evolves, a wider array of visions about possible future timelines has begun to creep into the subgenre, many offering a more cautionary, and in some cases, dark outlook on the world of tomorrow. Even with these defining characteristics, the cross-pollinization of thematic elements between juvenile and adult science fiction has continued to make classification difficult. Noted children's literature critic Perry Nodelman has suggested that works of young adult science fiction "form a distinguishable sub-genre only because their main characters are almost always youngsters themselves, and because, in comparison with other SF, they tend to describe less complicated situations in a simpler way." Further, the hazy distinction between magic and science in many works purported to be science fiction has caused some scholars to speculate that "true" children's science fiction is uncommon. Farah Mendlesohn has opined that too many works of young adult science fiction "when scrutinized turn out to be fantasy, or to focus on issues other than science, or social science, or in some other way to somehow not quite feel like science fiction. And there (is) a clear sense that the younger the child, the more restricted the choice." This difficulty in distinguishing between genres has also crossed over into critical analyses. For instance, author Samuel J. Lundwall has categorized science fiction as having six basic types of stories: pure adventure, horror, social satire, scientific speculation, sword and sorcery, and literary experiment. And yet, many critics maintain that the "sword and sorcery" and "horror" threads are extraneous to the genre.

But these differences between categories of fiction may be less troubling in the children's market than its adult counterpart. As Thomas J. Roberts notes, "How different, after all, is a wizard with a magic wand from a scientist with a microminiaturized matter-transformer?" Madeleine L'Engle agrees, asserting that the differences between genres are not always so tangible: "The lines between science fiction, fantasy, myth, and fairy tale are very fine, and children, like many adults, do not need to have their stories pigeonholed. Science fiction usually takes a contemporary scientific idea and then extrapolates." Contemporary science fiction blends many of these story fabrics to create works that are more structurally varied and issue-oriented than their antecedents from the first half of the twentieth century, placing special emphasis on political, social, and environmental themes. In her examination of modern juvenile science fiction, Suzanne Elizabeth Reid states that, "[t]he field of science fiction is a most appropriate arena for any reader as wise and hopeful as 12-year-olds in their intimation of innocence and their first bloom of knowledge about the world and the people in it, and about its endless speculative possibilities for re-vision."


Douglas Adams
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (novel) 1979
Mostly Harmless (novel) 1992
K. A. Applegate
Isolation (young adult novel) 2002
No Place Like Home (young adult novel) 2002
Victor Appleton
Tom Swift and His Airship (juvenile fiction) 1910
Edgar Rice Burroughs
A Princess of Mars [illustrations by Frank E. Schoonover] (juvenile fiction) 1917
Orson Scott Card
Ender's Game (young adult novel) 1985
Seventh Son (young adult novel) 1987
Ender's Shadow (young adult novel) 1999
John Christopher
The City of Gold and Lead (young adult novel) 1967
The White Mountains (young adult novel) 1967
The Pool of Fire (young adult novel) 1968
Arthur C. Clarke
Childhood's End (novel) 1953
Babette Cole
The Trouble with Dad (picture book) 1985
Shana Corey
First Graders from Mars: Episode 1, Horus's Horrible Day [illustrations by Mark Teague] (picture book) 2001
Samuel R. Delaney
Babel-17 (novel) 1966
The Einstein Intersection (novel) 1967
Triton (novel) 1976
Peter Dickinson
Eva (juvenile fiction) 1988
Arthur Conan Doyle
The Lost World (juvenile fiction) 1912
The Poison Belt (juvenile fiction) 1913
Sylvia L. Engdahl
Enchantress from the Stars [illustrations by Rodney Shackell] (young adult novel) 1970
The Far Side of Evil [illustrations by Richard Cuffari] (young adult novel) 1971
This Star Shall Abide [illustrations by Richard Cuffari] (young adult novel) 1972; republished as Heritage of the Star, 1973
Nancy Farmer
The House of the Scorpion (young adult novel) 2002
Robert A. Heinlein
Rocket Ship Galileo (young adult novel) 1947
Starship Troopers (young adult novel) 1959
Stranger in a Strange Land (young adult novel) 1961
Frank Herbert
Dune (novel) 1965
H. M. Hoover
This Time of Darkness (juvenile fiction) 1980
Lesley Howarth
MapHead (young adult novel) 1994
Diane Wynne Jones
A Tale of Time City (young adult novel) 1987
Madeleine L'Engle
A Wrinkle in Time (juvenile fiction) 1962
Ursula K. Le Guin
The Left Hand of Darkness (novel) 1969
The Lathe of Heaven (novel) 1971
Lois Lowry
The Giver (young adult novel) 1993
Suzanne Martel
Quatre Montréalais en l'an 3000 [The City Under Ground] (young adult novel) 1964
E. Nesbit
The Story of the Amulet (juvenile fiction) 1906
The Enchanted Castle (juvenile fiction) 1907
Andre Norton
Star Man's Son, 2250 A.D. [illustrations by Nicholas Morduinoff] (young adult novel) 1952
The Time Traders (young adult novel) 1958
Catseye (young adult novel) 1961
Moon of Three Rings (young adult novel) 1966
Robert C. O'Brien
Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH [illustrations by Zena Bernstein] (young adult novel) 1971
Z for Zachariah (young adult novel) 1975
Rodman Philbrick
The Last Book in the Universe (young adult novel) 2000
Dav Pilkey
Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robots vs. The Mecha Monkeys from Mars [illustrations by Martin Ontiveros] (easy reader) 2002
Ann Schlee
The Vandal (young adult novel) 1981
Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley
Frankenstein; or, The Modern Prometheus (novel) 1818
Jules Verne
Voyage au centre de la Terre: Trajet direct en 97 heures [A Journey to the Center of the Earth] (juvenile fiction) 1864
Vingt mille lieues sous les mers [Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea] (juvenile fiction) 1869
Ian Watson
The Embedding (young adult novel) 1973
Sylvia Waugh
Space Race (young adult novel) 2000
H. G. Wells
The Time Machine (juvenile fiction) 1895
The Island of Dr. Moreau (juvenile fiction) 1896
The War of the Worlds (juvenile fiction) 1898
Jeanne Willis
Dr. Xargle's Book of Earthlets [illustrations by Tony Ross] (picture book) 2002
Rocket Science (juvenile fiction) 2002
John Wyndham
The Day of the Triffids (novel) 1951
Dan Yaccarino
Blast-Off Boy and Blorrp: First Day on a Strange New Planet (picture book) 2000
Laurence Yep
Sweetwater (young adult novel) 1973


Margaret Esmonde (essay date 1983)

SOURCE: Esmonde, Margaret. "Children's Science Fiction." In Signposts to Criticism of Children's Literature, edited by Robert Bator, pp. 284-87. Chicago, Ill.: American Library Association, 1983.

[In the following essay, Esmonde charts the origins of juvenile and young adult science fiction, noting that the "curiously ambivalent" genre has "emerged as a significant subgenre of children's literature."]

With children running around wielding light sabres like Luke Skywalker, or zapping Space Invaders on their Atari Video Consoles, or watching the ubiquitous Star Trek reruns, who could deny that science fiction is an important part of their life.

Science fiction—the literary response to the technological explosion—has become an increasingly significant subgenre of children's literature as well. It is a curiously ambivalent literature. Its supporters look back to such distinguished writers as Thomas More, claiming that his Utopia is science fiction. (Imaginary lands and imaginary lunar voyages were the earliest forerunners of modern science fiction.) Its detractors cite the seemingly endless supply of Grade Z "monster" movies, the science fiction pulp magazines, and the old Flash Gordon serials as representative of the genre they unhesitatingly label "trash."

It is difficult to pinpoint the first real science fiction story, but many critics argue for Mary Godwin Shelley's Frankenstein (1817). Although it is basically a Gothic novel, Shelley did introduce as her protagonist a scientist, not a wizard, who revivifies a corpse through "galvanics" rather than incantations; she also introduces one of the central themes of science fiction, the proper use of knowledge and the moral responsibility of the scientist for his discovery—a theme often expressed in later "mad scientist" movies by the hushed statement at the end of the film: "There are some things man was not meant to know!"

Throughout the nineteenth century, various authors such as Hawthorne, Melville, and Poe produced stories which could be classified as science fiction according to modern definitions. But it was the work of Jules Verne and H. G. Wells that is considered the most significant predecessor of twentieth-century science fiction. Wells styled these novels "scientific romances," and they are still highly popular with young readers. But Wells and Verne were not alone in producing literature which extrapolated on scientific possibilities. In the children's literature of the same period, authors reflected the increased interest in science. In his essay, "Juvenile Science Fiction," Francis J. Molson notes that as early as 1879, Lu Senarens turned out the first of his 180 Frank Reade, Jr. stories "which chronicled the adventures of a boy genius responsible for many remarkable inventions." Frank Reade, Jr. was followed by other well-known teen protagonists such as Tom Edison, Jr. and Tom Swift, a series inaugurated in 1910 and continued through the 30s….

In addition to the juvenile series books the children's magazines occasionally offered stories based on the growing interest in science. But these magazines were overshadowed by the emergence of the science fiction pulp magazines in the 1920s. The first magazine devoted solely to stories which its editor, Hugo Gernsbach, labeled "scientifiction" initially, later changing the term to "science fiction," was Amazing Stories, which first appeared in 1926. Depending heavily on reprints of authors such as Wells and Verne, the magazine attracted teenage male readers chiefly. (Girls weren't encouraged to be interested in science, and relatively few were attracted by these magazines.) The original material which appeared in Gernsbach's publication was seldom (if ever) of significant literary quality, but the teenage reader could overlook an enormous amount of bad writing if the action or the idea held his interest. There emerged in this first flowering of science fiction two main types of plots: "space opera," the action-adventure oriented story with a strong young hero in conflict with an evil villain. The young hero is usually associated with a good scientist who practically always has a beautiful daughter whose function, in addition to decorating the cover of the magazine in the clutches of a tentacled monster, robot or other unspeakable horror, was to ask questions so that information could be conveyed to the reader, and to be captured (screaming shrilly) so that the hero could act heroically. It is, of course, a plot familiar to children's literature. Substitute a sword for the hero's laser gun, call the scientist a wizard, make his daughter a princess, the despot a sorcerer, the assorted aliens enchanted animals, and the structure is apparent. In Star Wars, George Lucas capitalized on this rich fantasy vein which underlies so much science fiction, even opening the film with the familiar fairy tale beginning: "Long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away."

The second basic plot in this period was nicknamed "gadget" science fiction because the chief feature of this type of story was the description of the invention. Again, the scientist (often eccentric but with the mandatory beautiful daughter), aided by the young lab assistant (the galactic hero thinly disguised in a lab coat), is asked by the daughter the all-important question: "What is that thing you're working on, Father?" The rest of the story consists of the answer to that question.

Though subliterature, these "thrilling wonder" tales exerted considerable influence on young readers, and many of today's leading scientists have credited these magazines with encouraging them to pursue careers in various scientific disciplines.

The first American juvenile science fiction novel to be admitted to library shelves was Robert A. Heinlein's Rocket Ship Galileo, published in 1947 by Scribner's. The plot is naive by today's standards: three teenagers and their scientist uncle build a rocketship in the backyard, journey to the moon, disrupt a Nazi plot to conquer the earth, discover a lost lunar civilization, and return home, but Heinlein proceeded to dominate adolescent science fiction, publishing twelve novels between 1947 and 1958. Critic Alexei Panshin is of the opinion that it is by these novels, rather than his adult science fiction, that Heinlein's reputation will be sustained.

Another significant writer who contributed to the rapidly expanding field of the adolescent science fiction novel was Andre Norton, whose Star Man's Son (1952) introduced the post-catastrophe science fiction story, less "engineer-oriented" than Heinlein's work. Isaac Asimov contributed the Lucky Starr series, and many other magazine science fiction writers tried their hand at juvenile science fiction, with varying degrees of success. The Winston Science Fiction Series, begun in 1952, was perhaps the most ambitious attempt to provide adolescent readers with science fiction novels.

In addition to the Winston Series, there was the predictable assortment of "tentacled monster" novels and alien invasion novels; there were any number of space exploration novels in which the young cadet saved the galaxy by courageous and timely action. Even Lassie was translated into science fiction in William Morrison's Mel Oliver and Space Rover on Mars, the saga of a super collie.

At the same time that science fiction writers were discovering the juvenile market, children's authors who had no connection with the science fiction magazines began to respond to youth's expanding scientific interests. Ellen MacGregor's Miss Pickerell Goes to Mars appeared in 1951. Ruthven Todd introduced Space Cat in 1952, and in 1954, "middle-aged" children were delighted to make The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet courtesy of Eleanor Cameron. Wonderful Flight, the first of a series of five imaginative space fantasies, followed in the long tradition of stories written for the author's own child. Written for her son David, Mrs. Cameron's series has proved an enduring favorite….

Like its parent, children's science fiction has diversified considerably since the 1950s. Two science fiction novels—Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time and Robert C. O'Brien's Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH—have won the Newbery Medal. Sylvia L. Engdahl has provided a series of novels, including Enchantress from the Stars and The Far Side of Evil, which feature a resourceful female protagonist.

Throughout the last two decades, science fiction continued to gain acceptance as a legitimate literary genre, suitable for classroom use. In the 1970s, courses in science fiction began to proliferate on college and university campuses, and serious literary criticism appeared….

Science fiction has come a very long way from the days of the boys' series books and the pulp magazines. It has emerged as a significant subgenre of children's literature. Blending the realism of today's technology with the magic of future possibilities, it is particularly suited to fire the youthful imagination "to boldly go where no man has gone before."

Suzanne Elizabeth Reid (essay date 1998)

SOURCE: Reid, Suzanne Elizabeth. "New Themes and Trends." In Presenting Young Adult Science Fiction, pp. 199-206. New York, N.Y.: Twayne Publishers, 1998.

[In the following essay, Reid examines the evolving nature of juvenile science fiction, drawing particular emphasis to emerging thematic patterns within the genre.]

"The Golden Age of Science Fiction Is Twelve," writes David G. Hartwell, borrowing a phrase from Peter Graham for the title of his essay in Age of Wonders: "Science fiction is preeminently the literature of the bright child, the kid who is brighter perhaps than her teachers."1 He describes how Robert A. Heinlein, in a speech at the Third Annual World Science Fiction Convention in Denver in 1941, claimed superiority for sf readers who think "in terms of racial magnitude—not even centuries but thousands of years" (Hartwell, 91).

The main motivation behind science fiction, and the source of its power and appeal, is escape from the strictures of everyday thinking, allowing the imagination to see beyond what we have been taught is real and possible. The young, and people with youthful, curious minds, are more apt to tolerate this kind of speculation.

Perhaps the dawn of technology and industry spurred the imagination to visualize with scientific imagery in the same way the Renaissance keyed on images of travel and discovery. Science fiction flourished in North America in the early decades of the twentieth century, when science and technology were considered the salvation of humanity from poverty, crime, dirt, and disease. Especially in the 1950s when Sputnik orbited the Earth, and soon afterward when humans landed on the moon, the frontier for human exploration no longer was bound by geography; topology, physics, and astronomy became the central areas of scientific interest. Now, at the dawn of the twenty-first century, are our minds still 12 years old? Is our collective mind still awed by the possibility of scientific research and technological invention?

In a Piagetian sense, 12-year-olds are just recognizing the difference between literal facts and abstract or metaphorical thought. It is evident in their choice of humor that celebrates puns and other quirks of language. For intelligent readers with young minds, science fiction, drawing heavily on the literal machinery of science and technology to explore the complexity of ideas, is an exciting venue. Their dis-covery of this kind of literature is often the beginning of a long career of reflective thinking and delight in intellectual pursuits. While many adult readers have been traumatized by the escalating, dizzying rate of technological change since World War II into a permanent state of what Alvin Toffler has termed future shock,2 young minds, despite the whirligig of modern time, retain their enthusiasm for the new and different. Many adults have lost their sense of "Oh, wow!" about technological progress because they are legitimately tired of being forced to learn new habits, or they have lived long enough to recognize the complex implications of rapid change. Much of the sf written for adults is conservative, reflecting a pessimism about the use of future technology and a yearning for an idealized vision of the rural past.

Literature for young people, including science fiction written for youth, has traditionally ended hopefully, positing an optimistic belief in new beginnings. Heroes made wise at a young age, such as Douglas Hill's Cord McKiy, Orson Scott Card's Ender Wiggin, and Octavia Butler's Lauren Olamina, will avoid the mistakes of their elders and begin a new way of life. Young readers, inspired by their first understandings of the ironical viewpoint, still believe in their own abilities to change the world by proclaiming their newly discovered principles. They are on the cusp of abstract thinking; they believe that their own sense of logic is universal, that all humans are motivated as they are.

Science fiction for 12-year-olds—including the universal 12-year-old in each of us—began with Jules Verne's Journey to the Centre of the Earth in 1863, which celebrated the possibility of not-yet-invented technology to explore previously unimaginable frontiers. Mary Shelley's work was deeper, probing more into the central dilemmas of science, but was more sophisticated and less hopeful, recognizing the human foibles that could dirty and complicate the clean sweep of progress promised by theoretical science. Although the story of Dr. Frankenstein's monster is beloved by adolescents, hers is an adult novel with levels of complexity young readers may not fully comprehend. In 1910 Victor Appleton wrote the first science fiction novel specifically marketed for children, Tom Swift and His Airship, part of a popular series about a young hero whose virtue and hard work always paid off in success. In the early decades of the century, young readers followed the adventures of comic-strip heroes Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon in the newspapers; read the stories by some of the best writers in the field in the sf magazine Amazing Stories, which began in 1926; and enjoyed the pulp fiction space operas of the middle decades of the twentieth century—all exciting but all merely precursors to the rich harvest yet to come. In the 1960s Madeleine L'Engle's A Wrinkle in Time (1962) was recognized as a classic, an excellent book by any literary standards. Not only science fiction, this work features parents who are scientists and who share their enthusiasm and knowledge with their children. Both the plot and character development center around sophisticated physics, the concept of tessellation. Many readers of children's literature meet science fiction for the first time through this novel.

Since then, sf novels, films, and short stories have joined the mainstream of popular culture as media events worthy of consideration. A growing number of recent writers use science fiction as a pulpit from which to urgently preach their views about ethics, politics, and ecology or to teach a lay audience about physics and space. Science fiction is becoming an acceptable method of teaching, of speculating about the future impact of government policies, our cultural habits of consumption and community, and our attitudes toward the material world.

Part of sf's growing appeal is that modern science is bringing to life the strange ideas and imaginings that once were fiction. So much that seemed wildly fanciful in the past is now possible, though perhaps not probable. Technology has moved the frontiers of exploration from Earth to the moon, Mars, and beyond. The considerable power unleashed by scientific knowledge and its technological instruments is, in science fiction, a source of wishful excitement and vicarious desire, attaining secret insights, skills, machinery, and weaponry that seem to promise instant heroism and the illusion of greatness. To some people, however, science's mastery-urge is a source of profound anxiety, especially its occasional use of cheap thrills to titillate nerves and senses, activating the shallowest impulses of human nature though sometimes playing a part in fiction of a wider scope: "The last few years have seen the rise of a publishing category known as the techno-thriller, essentially a fast-paced action-suspense genre that exploits our fascination with (and fear of) technology. The overlap between this new genre and science fiction, while perplexing to booksellers, has proved stimulating to many writers" (Jakubowski, 75). Science fiction has always appealed to both the philosophical mind that wants to speculate about the future in order to plan, and the part of our minds that wants to play with novelty and stimulation. In a world so ruled by science and technology, science fiction is increasingly the most relevant arena for both tendencies.

And increasingly, young readers and consumers of science fiction are demanding more-sophisticated media. Virtual-reality devices and computerized games provide constant, instantaneous novelty and stimulus, at a pace and with an immediacy that no book can provide. But they are passive media, requiring a kind of focused awareness different from the thought processes of reading, which translates printed symbols into new images formulated from memory and invented from associations remembered from the past. Reading is an actively creative process; virtual-reality games are reactive. There is room for both kinds of science fiction entertainment, especially among intelligent consumers who delight in the intellectual stimulation of speculative fiction. While films, games, and other technologies astound their viewers with increasingly complex special effects, science fiction readers will still enjoy the printed versions of space adventures. They will also enjoy the increasing use of science fiction for satiric social commentary that ridicules ethnocentric thinking and competitive consumerism. When fictional alien characters from other civilizations react with the logic of the truly naive to some of the self-destructive habits of humans on Earth, intelligent readers can laugh or grimace in agreement. The increasing complexity and intensity of more-serious science fiction demand an equally sophisticated intellectual response, and this challenge is gratifying to readers, both faithful fans of science fiction and the growing number of new readers.

Critic and scholar James Gunn summarizes a current definition of today's science fiction by contrasting it with mainstream fiction's focus on characters' reactions to the repeated patterns of life: "Science fiction … exists in a world of change and the focus is on external events."3 While this may be an accurate differentiation, it is interesting to note recent trends of sf that focus on the effects of future technology on individual lives. New directions for extrapolation seem to be pointing inward.

For many writers, the new frontiers are mental. "Mindspeech," telepathy, empathy, travel through time and space, even using mental powers to colonize other minds—these are increasingly common themes in the more recent works of Pamela Service, Piers Anthony, Octavia Butler, and Pat Cadigan. The question of how individuals communicate and relate to each other is a central focus, an increasingly relevant issue as Earth's inhabitants outside of fiction interact more frequently and personally.

As individuals become more aware of each other's motivations and ideas, questions about coping with new people and foreign cultures arise. Traditionally, in our competitive Western culture, the strongest force won the right to make choices for and about the territory and the people in its power. Newer science fiction illustrates a trend toward cooperation as a mode of sharing scarce resources. Douglas Hill's space adventures end with individuals from disparate ethnic backgrounds overcoming their former prejudices and creating new communities. Works by H. M. Hoover and Orson Scott Card tout the necessity for tolerating differences to preserve traditional family values. Now, the message of most speculative media for the young is that war and competitive destruction are too dangerous for humans. Individualism must give way to communities that work together to survive.

What motivates individuals to form a community? Many science fiction works paint futures so desolate that individuals are driven to cooperate in order to survive, adapting to conditions that resemble the past before the evolution of sophisticated technology. Others posit communities held together by the power of technology to impose control over the knowledge of a whole society.

A powerful example is Lois Lowry's The Giver (1993). This kind of story frustrates and fascinates readers both young and old who are willing to grapple with the profound questions the author poses so dramatically. The novel takes place in a perfectly controlled community, the kind of place designed by thinkers who have heeded the warnings against over-population with its concomitant hunger, crime, and unemployment. Lowry's world is orderly, calm, and secure, offering comfort to every citizen, insuring a career path carefully selected to fit each individual, a world so logical as to exclude color, caring, and passion—the messiness that distinguishes humans from robots. It is a reasonable world made possible by technology and logic, a rational plan intended to provide the greatest good for the greatest number. It is one of those successful socialist utopias, a world given much lip service by many liberal Democrats who tend to be teachers, librarians, and readers of young adult literature.

Twelve-year-old Jonas is approaching the age when the lifework chosen for him is revealed to him. When he discovers he will be the next Receiver of Memory, he is apprenticed to the Giver, who transmits to him the color, the emotions, the pain, the joy, love, and death—the story of his people, who can remain sane and comfortable because he will bear their suffering. In the process of receiving the truth about his cultural history, Jonas learns the cost of comfort. Over-population is controlled by killing newborns who do not conform to standards of physical or mental health. Crime is controlled by expelling people who threaten social order, or by destroying any impulses that disturb the calm. People and events are perfectly controlled for the good of the average. When Jason rebels, he is forced to submit wholly to the law of this society, or to leave. The open-ended finale hands to the reader the responsibility for deciding the appropriate ending.

Lowry's book is emblematic of the best science fiction now being written. Simple answers are no longer acceptable. Wooden characters and boring, predictable plots will not entertain; nowadays there is too much competition for readers' attention to tolerate unskillful writing and sloppy thinking. Recent science fiction writers like Greg Bear, Pat Cadigan, Octavia Butler, Orson Scott Card, and Samuel Delany write complex, thought-provoking, difficult fiction. Others like Douglas Hill, H. M. Hoover, Pamela Sargent, Piers Anthony, William Gibson, and Bruce Sterling dramatically illustrate the problems of current cultural habits. All share a pessimistic fear about the impact of our decisions about science and technology on human society on Earth. But they also share a hope that humans will survive by working together.

This is an old vision. David Langford, in his "Twelve Favorite SF Clichés," encapsulates a traditional sf ending: "And I shall call you Eve! says the last man to the last woman after the holocaust, in a favourite version of the 'shaggy God story.'" God either is revived or is actually an alien or some other surprising twist in the traditional format. At any rate, the human story turns out to be recursive.

More-recent endings tend to be variations on the threat of radical differences, keying on a survivalist theme: "Invaders from Space!… an invading fleet battles its way through the planetary defences and despite enormous losses touches down at last on the target area—whereupon great fiery letters appear in the sky, saying GAME OVER—PLEASE INSERT COIN."4 Both scenarios offer a hopeful solution to our worst fears, the ultimate end of humanity.

In her introduction to The Norton Book of Science Fiction (1992), coeditor Ursula K. Le Guin summarizes the categories of literature as delineated by one of sf's most respected scholars, Samuel R. Delany: "Reporting and history … deal with what happened; realistic fiction, with what could have happened; fantastic fiction, with what could not have happened. And science fiction deals with what has not happened."5 At least, not yet. For Delany, science fiction is predictive or extrapolative, describing what might happen. The cautionary tale "deals with what hasn't happened—yet. And the tale of parallel or alternate worlds deals with what might have happened, but didn't" (Delany, 27) In a sense, the imaginative, projective, enhanced worlds of science fiction offer a fuller vision of reality than realistic literature, yet a reality whose seductive or terrifying exaggerations remind the reader that it is not yet reality, still only the art of the possible.

For the young person, full of energy, enthusiasm, and ideas, science fiction continues to offer hopeful wisdom about the reality we are just learning. The field of science fiction is a most appropriate arena for any reader as wise and as hopeful as 12-year-olds in their intimations of innocence and their first bloom of knowledge about the world and the people in it, and about its endless speculative possibilities for revision.


1. David G. Hartwell, Age of Wonders: Exploring the World of Science Fiction (New York: Tor, 1996), 91.

2. Alvin Toffler, Future Shock (New York: Random House, 1970).

3. James Gunn, "The Worldview of Science Fiction," in Extrapolation 36.2 (Summer 1995): 91.

4. David Langford, "Twelve Favorite SF Clichés," in Jakubowski, The SF Book of Lists (New York: Berkley, 1983), 75.

5. Samuel R. Delany, "About 5750 Words," in The Jewel-Hinged Jaw: Notes on the Language of Science Fiction (New York: Berkley, 1977), cited in Ursula Le Guin and Brian Attebery, The Norton Book of Science Fiction, (New York: Norton, 1993), 27.

Works Cited

Gunn, James. "The Worldview of Science Fiction." Extrapolation 36.2 (Summer 1995): 91.

Hartwell, David G. Age of Wonders: Exploring the World of Science Fiction. New York: Tor, 1996.

Minyard, Applewhite, ed. Decades of Science Fiction. Lincolnwood, Ill.: NTC, 1998.

Toffler, Alvin. Future Shock. New York: Random House, 1970.

Farah Mendlesohn (essay date April 2004)

SOURCE: Mendlesohn, Farah. "Is There Any Such Thing as Children's Science Fiction? A Position Piece." Lion and the Unicorn 28, no. 2 (April 2004): 284-313.

[In the following essay, Mendlesohn suggests that many contemporary examples of children's science fiction focus more heavily on issues of socialization and family rather than some of the more challenging socio-political themes found in adult science fiction.]


In 2001 I was a panelist on two different discussions concerning children's science fiction and fantasy, one in the U.S., and one in the U.K. I also sat in the audience at the World Science Fiction Convention in Philadelphia while three publishers discussed the possibility of launching new young adult science fiction lines. A number of issues emerged; we had difficulty recalling many science fiction titles. In the children's and young adult market, fantasy clearly predominated, not merely in the market, but among the accepted genre classics. The two names which occurred most frequently were Robert A. Heinlein and Andre Norton, but no contemporary science fiction writer producing SF for children has achieved the same stature, and no contemporary SF writer who wrote in both the adult and the children's market has been as successful in both. To put this in context, Heinlein and Norton were unusual in their day. Most of their contemporaries who wrote for children have disappeared from the bookshelves, and while we may reminisce, as a consideration of the authors and titles cited by Jessica Yates in her contribution to the International Companion Encyclopedia of Children's Literature (1996) indicates, most (Heinlein, Norton, and Alan E. Nourse may be the exceptions) are not a serious part of the genre canon, in the way in which many of their fantasy counterparts (Lloyd Alexander, Susan Cooper, Alan Garner, for example) are recognized.

Of the titles that were initially suggested as science fiction, too many when scrutinized turned out to be fantasy, or to focus on issues other than science, or social science, or in some other way to somehow not quite feel like science fiction. And there was a clear sense that the younger the child, the more restricted the choice, although fantasy for younger children is very common, and much of it extremely good. One possible reason which was posited were the cognitive requirements of science fiction. Was it possible to tell a tale to a small child which contained the cognitive dissonance—the knowledge that this is a "what if?"—which is considered essential to the genre? The idea that there might be a genre that relied for its authority on adulthood is intrinsically alien to the idea that writing for children should be much like writing for adults; that while children may have special interests, they are not fundamentally different in their needs; but the more we considered the ideological and cognitive demands of science fiction, the more we became uncertain as to whether this mode of writing can be adapted wholesale for a younger audience.

This, it turned out, related to the third issue. Panelists on all three panels had difficulty with the borderland area of young adult science fiction. What marked YA SF before 1970 was the absence of romance. In modern YA marketing, the very presence of romance may define the category. Where SF for adults frequently deploys protagonists without family, and has long been considered the fiction of those who eschew the idea that literature is about inter-personal relationships, modern SF for children and young adults frequently uses the family as either context or motivation. The result was that while the panelists could see the pleasure in the literature for younger children, at the YA level there was unease. The direction of YA SF seemed at variance with the body of the genre. The settings seemed to be deployed to allow the exploration of the individual, rather than of the society. None of which would matter if it were not that most readers come to "mainstream SF" in their mid-teens. Why are they reading SF for adults rather than that marketed for their own age group? One possibility is that the young adult SF novel is actually catering to a different need from that satisfied by SF.

This paper is an attempt to explore some, but not all, of these issues. One aspect to emerge from this paper is the parallel between cognitive development, the structures of children's science fiction, and the structural development of early science fiction, but this must wait for a sequel paper for adequate exploration. Within this paper, I hope to demonstrate that it is possible to generate science fiction for young children, despite the challenges and despite the relative paucity of material currently available. Part of my argument is that this depends less on the images and contextual markers of SF than it does on a way of thinking about the world which requires authors to offer a type of challenge which moves away from an assumption that literature for children should reinforce what they already recognize. Second, that at the intermediate level, children's science fiction seems to be limiting itself in some cases through an insistence on didacticism, in other cases because of a perceived need to reassure children that the universe is stable, safe, and just. In other texts, the issue may lie with non-SF writers assuming that SF is a practical rather than a speculative genre. And third and finally, that science fiction for the young adult is perhaps the most unstable group of the three, as authors attempt to combine the bildungsroman with a realization of one's very small place in a large universe, the outward drive of the romance, the novel of manners.

Because this paper builds its case from a wide trawl of sources, some word on research methods is advisable. All the books selected were produced post-1970, and where authors have produced a significant body of work, only sample texts are used. The picture books—with one exception—were collected on visits to Borders, Books of Wonder (New York) and Waterstone's, or on the recommendation of the panel "Catching 'Em Young" at the 24th International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts, 2003. They are aimed at children of up to, perhaps, eight, but U.K. children are expected to read rather earlier than are U.S. children, which might explain why Company's Coming (Arthur Yorinks [1988]) is rather scarier than a U.K. picture book might be. The chapter books, aimed at elementary to preteen children, were similarly collected, and added to from recommendations made at Readercon 2002, an SF and fantasy convention dedicated entirely to discussing books in a weekend of panels which resemble master classes in their intensity. The young adult books discussed are a reflection of dinner arguments between friends and what we had on our shelves. As a result, there is an inevitable skewing towards what was available in the U.K. before the end of 2003. Where children's books are concerned, until very recently the U.K. shared its market with the Commonwealth (Australia, Hong Kong, Canada, etc.), rather than with the U.S. In part because of the relative brevity of this paper, all of the books discussed in the chapter book and YA category are books that I like and admire. In all categories there are books that reach the level of full SF, but many do not. Not because they are badly written, or lack imagination, but because the expectations and understandings of children's cognitive and emotional development, and the interests of the authors, cut across the needs of science fiction.

What Is Science Fiction?

If I am going to assert that too many of these books are not science fiction, and am going to make this argument to an audience unfamiliar with the genre, it seems sensible to discuss what science fiction is. Science fiction is less a genre than a mode. It is a way of writing about things, events, and people, rather than a description of which things, events, and people should be written about. This way of science fiction is essentially ideological, as it can and has been argued by critics such as Darko Suvin (1979), Robert Scholes (1975), Gary K. Wolfe (2002), and John Clute (1997), and I am able only to skate over the surface of some of the arguments here, but the two most important approaches to SF are the "grammar" of science fiction, and the ideological intentions of science fiction.

The grammar of SF is essentially a structuralist's argument. In The Encyclopedia of Fantasy John Clute argues for the concept of the "full fantasy," defined as a process of identifying WRONGNESS, THINNING, RECOGNITION of the moment of turn (what we might call an epiphany), and the process of HEALING (1098, 942, 804).1 If we borrow the term and the ideas behind it, we can reach for the concept of the "full SF story." The full SF novel might be summarized, to use Clute's style, as DISSONANCE, RUPTURE, RESOLUTION, CONSEQUENCE.

What I have termed DISSONANCE is constructed by the novum and the element of cognitive estrangement. The novum is the idea or object that creates the rupture within the world as we understand it. This may be a robot, a new vaccine or disease, or a change in the social structure. The role of the novum is to be "tackled," either defeated or encompassed within the world order. One apparent marker of SF for small children is that it is oriented towards the novum, or its most rudimentary form, the icon (see Jones, "Icons").

In children's SF, the novum's role may have less to do with its own intrinsic qualities than its novelty value. For example, the qualities of a robot are rarely important to the plot. In Babette Cole's The Trouble with Dad (1985), Dad's robots are the cause of much hilarity and chaos, but they could be out-of-control pets. There is nothing about their robot nature that drives the narrative. Similarly, Ricky Ricotta's robot in Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot vs. The Mecha Monkeys from Mars (Pilkey 2002), could be any large, clumsy best friend. In neither case is the robotness of the robot significant. Although there is DISSO-NANCE, that dissonance does not actually lead to RUPTURE of the expectations of the world or its narrative.

What I have here termed RUPTURE, in order to mimic Clute's grammar, is more commonly known as cognitive estrangement. Cognitive estrangement is intrinsic to science fiction, but it is generated not simply by the presence of the dissonant, but by the cohesion of the dissonant world, and the relationship of the protagonists or point of view characters to that dissonance.

Early science fiction frequently posited only one point of dissonance—the appearance of a miraculous invention or an invader, or one thing changed in the world that is recognizably ours. Children's SF (less so young adults') repeats this early pattern. Sylvia Waugh's Space Race (2000), Lesley Howarth's Map-Head (1994) and Nicholas Fisk's Trillions (1971) are all our world in which aliens arrive. The cognitive dissonance is minimized, and minimized further because in most of these books (MapHead is the exception) we begin from a point of more or less normality and the dissonance is introduced to us: the SF is reduced to its base level of the meeting of the unknown. The rupture is minimized.

But where a world is made fully dissonant, that is, it is not our world and we must begin to know it, science fiction has developed ways to exaggerate rather than minimize the cognitive dissonance. Specifically, SF has developed what Clute has termed the competent character: the point of view character who understands his or her own world and feels no need to explain its strangenesses to us. Children's and young adult SF has often been weak in this. John Christopher in The Lotus Caves (1969) evades the issue by taking his protagonists out of the space habitat with which they, but not we, are familiar, and sending them on a journey into an unknown world. Sylvia Engdahl in Heritage of the Star (1973) does something very similar, as does Neil Arkasy in Playing on the Edge (2000) and Rodman Philbrick in The Last Book in the Universe (2000). Each chooses to minimize cognitive estrangement by sending the protagonist away from what s/he knows and creating a level playing field between author and character. There is plenty of science fiction for adults that does the same, but it is usually mitigated by much fuller world building, which allows the characters to take the dissonance of their point of origin with them. None of these books really achieves this, although the ignorance of Engdahl's hero may be argued as a substitute.

There are books which achieve this full estrangement: Nicholas Fisk's A Rag, a Bone, and a Hank of Hair (1980) is one of the best: no explanation is ever provided for much of what we see, and Brin, rather than acting as guide, takes us through his own familiarity with the city. Diana Wynne Jones's A Tale of Time City (1987), which I have not discussed in full because I am not sure if it is SF or fantasy, uses the trick of seeing her city through the eyes of native children who are very bad guides, because their own interests are very different. Philip Reeve's Mortal Engines (2001) sometimes manages this full estrangement, but often opts for a guided tour through a section of his city. In the end, to achieve this full rupture or cognitive dissonance, the author must be willing to demand that the reader identify with a complete other reality in which nothing is questioned or explained. David Lewis argues that "absorption into the fiction world would be impossible without the reader's knowledge of the rule and code and convention that go into the construction of different kinds of texts" (135). Yet despite the ubiquity of this in fairy tale, many modern SF children's authors seem to balk, accepting Lewis's superficial statement, while apparently rejecting its implicit insight that all texts are constructed and must be decoded by the reader.

It is hard to be sure why, but one possibility is that the assumption that books for children be educative is confused with the concept that books for children should be challenging. Hugo Gernsback, the founder of the first SF magazine, Amazing Stories (1926), himself conflated these two: his understanding of science fiction was that it should teach children real scientific knowledge, and we can see this reflected in the contemporary didacticism of J. C. Greenburg's Andrew Lost books and William Sleator's Strange Attractors (1990). This understanding of SF cannot risk that anything be left uncomprehended. What this leads to is the refusal of SF as a literature of extrapolation and reason, an element of SF which I will discuss further when we consider SF's ideological structures.

After DISSOLUTION and RUPTURE we have RESOLUTION. This is perhaps the least contentious element of the grammar I have outlined. All fiction requires some form of resolution, but in a point to which I will return, it should be borne in mind that the resolutions in science fiction may well not be personal, but leave an individual stranded in a resolved future that does not suit him or her. But more important, in the "full SF story," the resolution is not the end of the story, it is the beginning, for SF resolutions are about change and consequence. Not infrequently, the resolution of a problem is merely the beginning of an SF story. Fred Pohl's "The Midas Plague" (1954) begins in a world which has solved all of its energy problems. But far from a utopia, this is a world in which the poor are forced to consume, and the rich flaunt their wealth through ostentatious austerity. The "story" is merely beginning.

Without CONSEQUENCE any SF tale is incomplete. It is crucial to the SF universe that consequences be more than individual wish fulfilment: this is not fairy tale, in which the invention/magic trick can raise the pauper to prince without some kind of change in the social structure. Consequence in science fiction is the rippling out of effect, the quantum butterfly that flaps its wings and triggers economic panic on the far side of the world. Heinlein was the first formally to identify this, and its significance for science fiction, and it was also Heinlein, one of the most important author-critics in the field,2 who defined adulthood as the age at which one was able to do Higher Math. The two are not unrelated: children's grasp of consequence evolves relatively slowly, not helped by adults' often inconsistent application of the idea (Byrnes 173). We can see this cognitive marker reflected in a subgenre of the YA publication market, the game books of the 1980s, in which children chose the routes they would take through the books. Children become interested in this kind of gaming around the age of ten and are absorbed into it around the early teens, the same age at which most SF fans report their first meaningful encounter with science fiction. Identification of novum and cognitive dissonance usually leads to the idea of causality and consequence. That "what if" needs to be followed by the concept of "if, then." In many of the novels aimed at children and young adults which I will discuss, maturity (the growth into adulthood) substitutes for political and social consequences. In Fisk's Trillions (1971), Monica Hughes's The Keeper of the Isis Light (1980), and Dan Gutman's Virtually Perfect (1999) there are no consequences: the experiment is ended, its manifestations destroyed, and the world restored to the status quo.

This may be disguised by a promise of future change, such as in Sylvia Engdahl's Heritage of the Star (1973), but more often, this circularity—this rejection of consequences and of the future—is one of the structural markers which separate young adult from adult science fiction, yet it is by no means a necessity. Robert Heinlein's juveniles (as they were then called) are almost all open ended; the resolution of the immediate problem opens out challenges for the future. The hero of Tunnel in the Sky (1955) becomes a pioneer, that of Between Planets (1951) is left engaged in an interplanetary war but with his future significance reduced. In Space Cadet (1948) one achievement simply points the way to new challenges. Similarly, Troy in Andre Norton's Catseye (1961) is denied the possibility of return—he is a refugee—and all his problems are externalized in a changing world in which there cannot be any endpoint, and the stasis of the prevailing social structure is not consolatory, but life threatening. Of more recent novels, only Jan Mark's The Ennead (1978) comes close to this situation, but even here Isaac, the protagonist, ends the book with his place in the family assured. Troy is assured only of consequence.

Science fiction is a fiction of rules, and many of these rules are ideological. Any science fiction tale is expected to be internally consistent; things cannot happen simply because someone or something has special powers (even extrasensory perception stories tend to impose limits on their heroes). SF is a fiction of speculation. At its most basic it asks, "If we do this, what will happen/what will we find?" As it becomes more sophisticated, it adds to that basic question others: "How will we react?" "What will be the consequences of that reaction?" Early science fiction began with those first questions, branching out to consider an ever larger matrix of effect, so it is not unreasonable that science fiction aimed at the youngest readers begins where the genre began.

The drive of SF has been, historically, outwards, with a reverse mirror image that says, "If something happens in the macro-world, how will it affect my own life?" But crucial to all of these constructions is that science fiction is about permanent change. Once Pandora's box is opened, modern SF (unlike many of the invention stories of the 1930s) does not accept that change can be undone, or the universe returned to its starting place, but it does insist that we can shape that change, that we are in control, even if only barely. Successful SF may console, but it is rarely consolatory (see Mendlesohn). This does not mean that there cannot be a happy ending, but a successful SF ending usually posits a future: the "we all die" of Robert Swindells's Brother in the Land (1984) is in these terms consolatory because it denies human con-trol over the future—if we can't change anything, why try? This gets to the heart of some classical ideas of what adolescence is for and what adulthood is supposed to be. J. Piaget (as quoted by David Wood) accused the adolescent of "egocentricity … as though the world would submit itself to idealistic schemes rather than to systems of reality." Wood tries to ameliorate this: "The Task of the adolescent is to recognise that a view of the world that might be true 'ideally' may turn out, on further reflection, observation and experiment, to be unrealistic and unworkable. To give up idealism" (Wood 191). But SF writers and readers would, I think, tend to recognize themselves in Piaget's and Wood's descriptions and take pleasure in them. Postnuclear fiction for adults is usually about the reconstruction of the world, the refusal of "unworkability."

One way to consider science fiction is as an argument with the universe. John Clute would say that it is itself arguable; effective science fiction can be disputed. This distinguishes it from fantasy, which is a literature that regards the universe as having a proper moral order. The purpose of fantasy is often to make moral judgments. The drive of science fiction is to explain order, to test and to engage with it. (Gary K. Wolfe describes fantasy as the fiction of desire, while SF is the fiction of reason [16]). Tom Godwin's "The Cold Equations" (1954) is the exemplar of this structure. A young woman sneaks on board a space ship to visit her brother on another planet. The ship is taking a vaccine to the planet and has only enough fuel for the precalculated weight. If the woman stays, the ship crashes. At the end the young woman chooses to step into space. Apart from the ruthless justice which is imposed, note that the "relationship" which is at stake is at all times scientific. Her emotional relationships with her brother and with the pilot are irrelevant. While "The Cold Equations" is an extreme version of SF ideology, usually known as "hard SF," and many SF writers cheat (or the "laws" at stake are political or economic theories), Godwin's understanding of where the issues lie (with the physics rather than with people) is the romantic heart of SF.

The refusal of an extrapolative structure may limit the extent to which the character can be competent in her universe. In H. M. Hoover's The Lost Star (1980), although Lian Webster is an astrophysicist, she is shown only as an archaeologist, a science that at least in 1980 was susceptible to clear description to the young. She is never shown working in a field that might involve communicating ideas that the readership might not comprehend. There may be other examples that I could compare to this, either supporting or not supporting my point, but I found only one, Sleator's Strange Attractors, which plays with the idea of destabilized time and a fractured, chaotic universe. Sleator expects readers to come to terms with chaos theory in comprehending what is going on, but the solution to the protagonists' problems turns out to lie with a straightforward piece of time travel and mechanical destructiveness; chaos theory does not hold the key to the solution. Generally speaking, these novels do not stretch the conceptual or scientific imaginations of their readers because they pitch themselves at what readers may be expected to understand already. This is fundamentally at variance with the declared ideology of science fiction and is one of the clear dividing lines between SF for adults and SF written for the young (even though no SF critic would argue that all adult SF novels fulfill their remit). It may help explain, however, why young people interested in SF rapidly move over to the adult market, seeking material in which the science and the technology do matter.

Despite the influence of hard SF, the genre does have room for the personal, but it is usually in engagement with something much larger. One obvious example of this might be how family life would be different if children were multiply parented. An SF novel might choose to focus on the child, but it might alternatively consider the consequence for society. An example of the former is Eleanor Arnason's recent "Knapsack Poems" (2002), of the latter Samuel R. Delany's Triton (1976). However, when the novel comes to privilege the personal over the political, scientific or social, to see the science fictional plot as an external space in which to work out strategies to apply to one's beginning point (usually home life), rather than to lead one out into the universe, it frequently loses those qualities that are associated with SF. The SF adventure becomes metaphor; it does not matter in and of itself, but is subordinate to the bildungsroman of family or school crisis. The effect is to diminish the sense of wonder intrinsic to SF, and at its worst, as in Lesley Howarth's Mister Spaceman (2000) or Jeanne Willis's Rocket Science (2002), in which the SF turns out to be the internal monologue of unhappy children, it simply cheats.

When reading the first draft of this paper, Michael Levy argued that everything I have outlined above was an imposition,

… a tendency to privilege what you call "full science fiction" over coming-of-age stories … for adults the SF story that actively engages with the society or science and its problems is more interesting, but the novel in which a child or young adult simply finds his place in society is a standard form of YA fiction … the writer who does this kind of book is not so much failing to write a better kind of book as s/he is simply working within standard YA genre conventions. You can criticize books for not doing more, but should you more clearly acknowledge the fact that the writer wasn't trying to do what you'd prefer him/ her to be doing?

                            (E-mail, 10/22/02)

Levy's points are sensible. I am, in Lesnik-Oberstein's terms, attempting to discern and define the quality of a book in terms of those values which I believe children should assimilate from a particular genre (39), or, as John Stephens would argue, imposing a top-down reading which draws on a set of codes established by adult readers (30). But then it is a commonplace that fiction written for children is the ultimate "outsider" text, one which is written by and with different intentions and desires from those embraced by the reader community. Books for children are not (generally) written by children. "The distinctive feature is that all such artwork is in part a one way traffic (Hollindale 27). Given this, the implied community for a children's SF book might be those who are directing the reading of children towards securing a readership for adult science fiction. If the "hidden curriculum" of children's books is to keep children reading, then it seems not unreasonable for a reader or critic of adult SF to argue that the best science fiction for children is that which has, as its hidden curriculum, the desire to persuade children to move into the adult genre (Clerland 118).

The failure to privilege the universe does not necessarily make the book a bad book, but it does make one suspect that the book is less likely to appeal to those who are already reading in the genre or who are likely to be attracted to adult SF. These books can then be tested against what Raymond Williams argues is an idea of quality through "tradition," a way of judging books by the extent to which they promote the values of the communities in which they are marketed (Wood 122). If we accept SF as a community (and the very large number of science fiction conventions at which books are bought and discussed supports this contention), then it is valid to consider these texts in terms of whether they support the beliefs and ideological structures of the genre—and this is why John Rowe Townsend was wrong to argue that genre-critics are ignorant when they enter the field of children's literature (92). So that while Levy may well be correct that what I am engaged in is an exercise in prejudice, his own rebuttal, which argues for a different genre category, confirms rather than denies the thesis. If the writer is trying to "do something else," then it is a reasonable project to say so. This is reinforced by a recognition that the problem is not unique to YA SF. Gary K. Wolfe argues that this problem infects the SF/thriller crossover in which "the very intellectual challenges that traditionally define an effective technological science fiction story seem to mitigate against the largely anti-intellectual (or at least anti-scientist), technologically ambivalent tone of the paranoid thriller" (18). Differing ideologies of power, Wolfe contends, makes it hard for an SF writer to produce effective thrillers, or vice versa.

An extreme example of the problem of competing ideologies is found in slash fiction. Slash is fan fiction which describes a physical relationship, usually homosexual, between two characters in a television show (film and book are less common, but there is plenty of Harry Potter/Snape slash on the Internet). The best known is Kirk/Spock fiction. The trappings of these stories are inevitably SF because Star Trek is science fiction, but the purpose of the stories is very different. The sole purpose of Kirk/Spock stories is to maneuver the two characters into a clinch. Science, aliens, a world war, may well be the tools deployed to achieve this, but we all know where we are going to end up, and it is not arguing the mysteries of the universe.

Arguing with the Universe: "If We Do This, What Will Happen, What Will We Find?"

The most basic children's SF barely even asks this most crucial question. Some of it is science fiction only by courtesy. Aliens and robots are reduced to the level of icon and take the place of fairies, elves and monsters (see Nick Butterworth's Q Pootle 5 [2000], Dan Yaccarino's wish-fulfillment fantasy, If I Had a Robot [1996], and Babette Cole's The Trouble with Dad [1985]), and pretty much anything can happen.

But if we discount these "courtesy" titles, while recognizing that they are often rather wonderful fantasies, and concentrate on those which are clearly intended to function in some way as SF, in that they have rules and a sense that the world is consistent, plenty remain to be tested against the structural demands of science fiction.

One of the commonest types of SF picture books on the shelf is what we might call the analogic book, those picture books that transfer recognizable situa-tions directly to a science fictional stage set. These books attempt through mimesis and analogy to use SF to comfort children. Unsurprisingly, the schoolroom is a favored setting.

Shana Corey and Mark Teague's First Graders from Mars: Episode 1, Horus's Horrible Day (2001) and Dan Yaccarino's Blast Off Boy and Blorrp: First Day on a Strange New Planet (2000), ostensibly look out wards, in that they narrate a child's experience of leaving the home, the archetype for the planetary exploration story. But the purpose of these books is to make familiar, not to make marvelous. The "playground" they present to children is just that: the alien in First Graders from Mars starts his first day at "Martiangarten" and discovers there are no "slime tables," no "snooze mat," and no snacks. Blast Off Boy goes to his alien exchange school in a yellow space bus. For all their nonmimetic setting, these are essentially mimetic books. First Graders from Mars falls into the trap, either to reassure or from simple laziness, of clothing its aliens in recognizable analogues of human clothing (females wear skirts). Blast Off Boy discovers that the zipper on his space suit is down but the issue is embarrassment, not sudden death. The only real dissonance provided is with the food, which in both cases fights back, a favorite childhood fantasy.

The apparently more imaginative and challenging Nova's Ark by David Kirk (1999) also fails to jump this very first hurdle. The artwork is slick: the spaceships on the inside cover are a delight, and the vivid artwork inside makes an immediate impact, but this is science fiction as image (the very definition of "science fictional"). The "what if" of the book might have been about what a planet peopled by robots looks like, but Nova, the hero, is a boy. He is not a newly-built robot who has yet to learn his capabilities: he is a robot, sized to be a boy and with the large eyes we associate with children. His mother cooks oil broth. He is told that he will grow up, and the robots around him are carefully divided by sex (skirts, "hair"). This is not a criticism of sexism, but lack of imagination. Why nuclear families? Why gender divides? The inability to imagine consequence renders the universe untouchable: nothing that is done can change the fundamentals of the world.

Nova's Ark might have become SF in its plot, but while Kirk asks a question of the universe, about energy and what it can do, he chooses not to answer it. When Nova inadvertently goes exploring and discovers both his father and the crystals which will provide his world with the power it needs, this might have been the springboard for thoughts about the future. But this book is actually about father-son relationships: the change that takes place is personal (Taspett declares he will stop exploring and take his family with him when he travels). The much bigger consequence, that the planet Roton now has all the power it needs, is ignored. The book is essentially circular. It begins with the disruption of family and ends with the reconstruction of family; all else is embroidery. This circularity has been identified by Nikolajeva as one of the fundamental markers of children's fiction. But while Nova has a future with his family, the history of his planet has ended.

Contrast this with Kevin Boos's and Bill Clemente's Visitor Parking (2002). This is a very simple Thanksgiving tale. A class of schoolchildren are visited by aliens who work out where to park by the sign "Visitor Parking" and turn out to have come to admire the curly red hair of the schoolteacher, which they too share. They are sent home with pumpkin pie and candy corn, reinforcing the Thanksgiving message of sharing. There is plenty of mimesis and relevance here, but the aliens remain mysterious throughout and we are left with questions: Where were they from? Where are they going to? What kind of people travel so far for such a reason? People like us maybe, tourists.

Company's Coming, by Arthur Yorinks, has a very similar story to tell, but does so in a more complex fashion. And it asks the deceptively innocuous question, "How shall we welcome the stranger?" Shirley and Moe, a small-town American couple, have invited relatives for dinner. As Moe is tinkering in the yard, a barbecue-shaped spaceship lands, decanting two very small and rather frightened-looking aliens. They declare they come in peace and then ask to use the bathroom. Shirley asks them for dinner, and they depart to return at 6:00. Moe, unknown to Shirley, calls the FBI. By 5:45 the house is surrounded by the army. The aliens arrive, disconcert the terrified relatives by saying they are looking for a planet as theirs is overcrowded, and trigger the entry of the soldiers when they present Shirley with a package. It turns out to be a blender.

Two things make this deceptively simple book stand out. First is the language. In this book the word "alien" is never used. The spacemen are "visitors," "foreigners," "strangers," or simply "the men." In other words, they are people, and this book is fundamentally about people and how we all act together. Secondly, the artwork. I've said little about the artwork up to now, because until these three books, the artwork has often seemed peripheral, but here David Small's illustrations are crucial to the dissonance that drives the story. The aliens are tiny, but what Moe sees is their helmets and guns. Moe and Shirley are incredibly ordinary and made to look more vulnerable in their glasses, and the vulnerability of the aliens is emphasized by their big eyes and fragile extremities. Domesticity is emphasized by the juxtaposition of weapons of war against a tiny suburban home. When the house is surrounded we see it as if we are perched on one of the tanks outside; we loom over the house and watch the helicopters gather. As we enter the house with the visitors we are the hint of guns in the darkness, and we know it is us that the guests are frightened of. When the guns burst in, they do so over the laid table, destroying the domesticity that the blender will restore. At the end of this book, "we" are those of us who welcome strangers. Shirley invites the army to dinner, and we have moved on from our initial state of suspicion. The story hints at a new future.

The ideological direction of science fiction is fundamentally the drive to ask questions. It is rarely put this way, but while mimetic fiction is often in the business of supplying answers to the questions we all hold in common ("the meaning of life" being the most obvious) science fiction is the small child saying "Mu … um …?" while working out which "why" to ask next.3Maybe One Day, by Frances Thomas and Ross Collins (2001), makes this SF bildungsroman "storyable." On the surface this is a little boy's imaginary journey through fantastical space; the fact that the little boy is a monster gives it a science fictional appearance but does not make it SF. But Little Monster is engaged in narrating the universe, asking questions of it and working out his own answers in the face of his father's (fantasy) distractions. The tale begins with Little Monster declaring that he has a problem: he wants to be an explorer and this will mean leaving his parents behind. "'Maybe we could come with you,'" his father says (2). "'Don't be silly,' said Little Monster, 'Explorers don't take their mummies and daddies'" (3). This sets the tone. Daddy will propose something preposterous and Little Monster will correct him. Little Monster explains that on the moon one can jump as high as a house. Daddy says, "'You might bounce all the way back into space'" (6), but Little Monster says that can't be done. When Daddy warns him about Martians, Little Monster denies their existence. Daddy warns him not to slide off the rings of Saturn, but Little Monster focuses on the dangers of the meteorites. As Katherine Nelson has observed, young children frequently recast the story "told" into something they prefer (207-09), but here the power is handed over to the child. It is Daddy who tries to retell the "story of the universe" at variance with the evidence.

Throughout, Daddy keeps trying to impose a fantasy narrative onto the adventure, while Little Monster is resolutely in favor of science fiction, and of experimentation, as demonstrated in the illustrations. Jeanne Willis's Dr. Xarggle's Book of Earthlets (2002), illustrated by Tony Ross, functions in a not dissimilar way. The alien Dr. Xarggle is instructing his young charges before they begin a visit to Earth. Most of the book is dedicated to describing human babies,4 and the misinterpretations are glorious. "'To stop them leaking, Earthlets must be pulled up by the back tentacles and folded in half. Then they must be wrapped quickly in a fluffy triangle or sealed with paper and glue.'" The accompanying picture shows a very disconcerted child covered in brown paper and tape. "'After soaking, Earthlets must be dried carefully to stop them shrinking. Then they are sprinkled with dust to stop them sticking to things,'" accompanied by a picture of a child apparently drowning in talcum powder. But Dr. Xarggle absolutely relies on dissonance and cognitive estrangement. The book is hilarious to adults because it relies on sarcasm. Recent research, however, suggests that children "could start to understand the concept of sarcasm by the age of five, but did not start laughing until they reach the age of ten" ("Findings" 6). So how and why might children find this book funny?

Dr. Xarggle requires children to engage with what they know, and with what they don't know, to reconcile the two. In order for this book to work a child must be aware of what is actually happening in the pictures, how it would be described, the literal meaning of Dr. Xarggle's description, and the concept of metaphor. It works because of what it asks children to do: to adopt the classic SF reading strategy which relies on the literal truth of metaphor. Dr. Xarggle relies on the classic Wimmer and Permer test of 1983:

The child watches a boy (Maxi) place chocolate in a cupboard, then leave the room. Someone moves the chocolate.

The child observer is asked to guess where Maxi will look for the chocolate first.

3 year olds predict Maxi will look where the chocolate has now been placed.

4 years olds predict that Maxi will look where he himself put the chocolate.

                                     (Nelson 255)

Dr. Xarggle absolutely relies on the boundary between the age groups. One might expect a four-year-old to laugh at the three-year-old comprehension displayed by Dr. Xarggle. It, and to a lesser extent Maybe One Day, represent an important leap forward in what is expected of the child reader. The world of the imagination and the world out there are to be challenged and defined, made knowable, subject to understanding through evidence and experiment, one of the central conceits of SF. This central conceit is at the heart of David Weisner's June 29, 1999 (1992), a picture book aimed at a rather older age group, perhaps contemporaneous with the audience for chapter books. The book is entirely focused around two questions: What will happen if we grow vegetables in the atmosphere, and where do all the large vegetables come from? In addition, there is a "hidden" question … What is the relationship between the two?

What is interesting is that only June 29, 1999 and Maybe One Day directly tackle the notion of the sublime in science fiction, that sense of wonder that I suggested was at the heart of the original SF tale. Dr. Xarggle demonstrates some of it, but generally, this is an element that seems to accompany the "fullest" of the picture books, rather than to operate as a starting point for the least science fictional examples. However, when we consider children's chapter books there is no automatic "advance" in the understanding of science fiction. If anything, some of the books I considered are less challenging than were the picture books if we hold them to the requirement that they argue with the universe.

Children's chapter books are an uneasy category to begin with because they need to cover both children who are reading on their own, and those children and parents who continue to prefer communal reading. The range of reading abilities is huge; children are not yet fully divided into those who read because they love it, and those who read because they are told they should. Of the former category, many overleap this stage anyway, going straight for books intended for older readers, irrespective of whether they have the vocabulary or understanding to deal with the content fully. The impact on the books themselves is hard to pin down, but there is a difference of feel between those books with big words, and pictures on the pages, and those which are quite clearly novels for younger readers. Some of the books here seem designed to encourage readers, rather than to be written for the joy of telling stories. This does not mean that the books are bad, simply that they have a rather different agenda. Most obviously in this category is the Andrew Lost series, beginning with Andrew Lost, #1: On the Dog (2002) by J. C. Greenburg, a science writer.

Andrew Lost could be compared to Weisner's June 29, 1999 in that the series is about scientific experiment. Produced as graded readers for Random House (and so quite clearly books intended to encourage the act of reading), the Andrew Lost volumes are science rather than SF books. But this renders them more problematic, for unlike the girl in June 29, 1999 Andrew is not encouraged to think or to experiment or to engage in the Socratic dialogue characterized by Maybe One Day, but is instead catechized. All Andrew's questions are answered by his robot, Thudd, a process which reduces strangeness and turns the child inward towards "home" and information, rather than outwards, towards discovery.

The Outward Drive of Science Fiction; or, [not] Getting Away from the Family

Children's picture books and science fiction have at their heart something in common; they aim to encourage the reader to explore the universe. Not all of the picture books do this successfully, but if anything, those which see themselves as teaching tools are even more oriented towards teaching the child to look outwards, beyond themselves to the school, perhaps. It is rather interesting, therefore, that the chapter books seem to have a rather different velocity. Nikolajeva has observed that much of children's fiction is recursive; it directs children back to stability and to comfort. To my surprise, it was these chapter books, aimed at the middle age group (perhaps eight to thirteen years), which most fulfilled Nikolajeva's structural outline. Levy would, I think, argue I am imposing an external agenda on these books, but in their titles and packaging these texts are marketed as SF, and are therefore presumably aimed toward a proto-science fiction fan, given that this is an age group that may be presumed to be choosing its own books to a greater or lesser extent. It consequently becomes a matter of some concern if titles aimed at that proto-SF reader directly deny, in a variety of ways, the structures and ideological drives which attracted the reader in the first place.

At the extreme are what I have come to term the metaphorized fantasies. These are books which superficially look and feel like SF or fantasy but re-solve themselves as metaphorical narrations of personal and interpersonal crisis. Two recent examples are Jeanne Willis's Rocket Science (2002) and Lesley Howarth's Mr. Spaceman. In the first, a boy, isolated from his family, finds an alien, fixes his rocket, and helps him back to space. In the second, Thomas Moon receives letters from an astronaut. Rocket Science is resolved when the alien turns out to be a handicapped Albanian refugee. Thomas Moon in Mr. Spaceman turns out to have been writing the letters to himself. Both boys reach resolution when their family troubles are resolved and when they turn away from science. Both of these books direct the gaze away from the universe. In what I know to be a very personal reaction, I felt betrayed by their endings, not merely because the SF storyline turned out to be false, but because the message appeared to equate maturity with the abandonment of ambition.

Ambition can be limited, and the recursive pattern reinforced in other ways. Dav Pilkey's Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot series is a version of Edward F. Ellis's The Steam Man of the Prairies (1868). Ricky Ricotta is an anthropomorphized mouse. In Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot vs. The Mecha Monkeys from Mars, the robot rescues Mousekind from the title villains. However, the framing narrative, the rupture at the heart of this book, is not the invasion of the monkeys but the destruction of the Ricottas' minivan by the robot. The close of the story sees Ricky and his robot rewarded with a brand new minivan. Although the crisis was global, any real consequences in this book are reserved to the home. The domesticization of the drama is privileged over the effect of events in the wider world, a convention we associate with the classic novel, not with SF.

This domesticization of rupture is the focal point for many of the books in this category, and in some cases is the point. Sylvia Waugh's Space Race tells of a small child growing up in a rather isolated village with his father and a housekeeper. Thomas knows he is an alien, but the meaning of this is less than clear until the day his father tells him that they are to leave. The novel is a fascinating exploration of the nature of our society, dependent on rules and regulations and knowing who everyone is. But above all it is the story of a child working out where he feels he belongs; it is about the nature of family as distinct from friends, and this is made clear by their disappearance not just from the story but from the world. There are no consequences beyond their own village. All of these points describe Daniel Pinkwater's Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars (1979). This is essentially a more adult (and better written) version of those school playground stories we saw in the picture books. The science fiction narrative functions to provide a context for a story about bullying and fitting in; it is not in itself the focus of the story.

The two most effective, and most science fictional, of the "domestic" books are Lesley Howarth's MapHead and Margaret Peterson Haddix's Among the Hidden (1998). Among the Hidden tells of Luke, hidden from the world because he is a third child in a world with strict population control. We see very little of the outside world, and the issue of population control is transmuted into a very domestic scenario in which the issues are boredom, and love in the face of fear. The domestic is used to create the sense of an alien environment: information is leaked, rather than fed to the reader. Luke learns about his world through the changes he experiences; the encroachments on his family's farm precipitate his confinement to the house and bring home to him the nature of the government. His discovery of another child, Jen, alters his perspective on the scenario as a whole. With this device Haddix does force the reader outwards, and Among the Hidden concludes with an opening out, as Luke leaves his family for a school that he will enter under a false name—but nothing in the world is changed. In part this is crucial to the structure of the novel, which is about totalitarianism, and its position as the first in a trilogy; but like Space Race and MapHead it leaves the power in the hands of the adults. The lesson Luke learns is that his freedom is in the hands of others, and the temporary solution he is offered involves the recreation of family structures.

Haddix's message is repeated in Bruce Coville's My Teacher Flunked the Planet (1992), sold as a novel, but packaged more like a graded reader. Aliens are around to protect humans from themselves and to teach them what they really are. The novel matches almost perfectly to Heinlein's Have Space Suit—Will Travel (1958). Both conclude with a court case in which Earth must be defended by children, but in Coville's version, the children are told what is special about them by their guardian alien. In contrast, Heinlein's children must work out their own defense. In Nancy Farmer's The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm (1994) (the only book in this entire article with nonwhite protagonists), the children, although independent and skilled, must eventually be rescued by adults.5 Although Farmer's 2002 novel The House of the Scorpion has a more solitary hero, he too finally relies on adults who are able to make things right.
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And in each case the most immediate effect is to resolve familial tensions. The world may be saved, but the most important issue is whether one is talking to one's father. In contrast, Heinlein's heroes find themselves looking down on their parents from the new perspective of adulthood (Tunnel in the Sky, Starship Troopers) or at least as equals (Space Suit). His heroes look out and away.

Lesley Howarth's MapHead is funny and memorable. The driver of the plot is, again, intensely domestic: Powers and MapHead are on Earth to find MapHead's mother, and the dissonance is introduced because MapHead is a stranger on Earth yet is the narrator of the novel. We see Earth through his eyes, and as with Dr. Xarggle, we discover that our habits are not as immediately comprehensible as we might assume. MapHead's noncomprehension can lead to disturbing moments: the book opens with the reduction of a cat to milkshake and the calm consumption of said milkshake by Powers and MapHead as they sit in the greenhouse. Yet despite this MapHead is a competent protagonist. Within the world of the green-house he understands the power wielded by his father, and the code of behavior to which he is expected to adhere—although he challenges it when Powers threatens to make the kitten into another milkshake. And later, when MapHead does find his mother, it is he who controls the adventure, and later erases the memories of those with whom he has been in contact. But this last action is problematic, for it reduces sections of the novel to a dream sequence in which MapHead reconstitutes and then rejects his nuclear family and returns to the "home" represented by his traveling father. This is the Disney version of The Wizard of Oz, in which one's own home and family are always the most attractive. The disruption that MapHead causes is localized and contained within the domestic. And as we shall see in the young adult books, it introduces us to a pattern in which the maturity of the young protagonist becomes a plot substitute for wider change or long-lasting impact. But MapHead does have a sense of wonder. While the SF is focused on the protagonist's personal life, the glimpse of the universe it offers the reader is outwardly directed.

The assumption that the endpoint of the novel must lie in the recreation of the family structure does not cease as we move into the young adult category. Many young adult novels position maturity as something that is measured in terms of the teenager's response to the family. These novels feel more frustrating than the chapter books because the potential for teenagers to spread their wings is so much greater, yet the heroes of these books seem in many ways more, not less, tied to the family as the focus of their lives. These books are intensely solipsistic, creating a science fiction that lacks wider consequence.

These are the books whose concerns are essentially to use SF as the scenery against which a discussion of personal issues can take place, and which substitute the attainment of emotional maturity for any kind of encouragement of curiosity or response to the universe. We can see this in Dan Gutman's Virtually Perfect, Margaret Mahy's Aliens in the Family (1986), and Terence Blacker's The Angel Factory (2001). In the first of these, Gutman's protagonist uses his father's computer to create a character who breaks free of virtual reality, dates his sister and tries to create a whole human life. Unfortunately, he lacks morality and must be destroyed. The juvenile protagonists are eventually rescued by their grandfather, who uses his mechanical knowledge to defeat an electronic invention, a rather atavistic denouement which forces the juveniles to rely in the end on adult strengths and old technologies. The invention is not released into the world, nor are we permitted to consider the wider implications for machine sentience. Like much early SF, the point is to marvel at the invention, not to engage in an extended consideration of consequences.

Terence Blacker's The Angel Factory is even more insular. Not only are there no consequences for the world in the presence of aliens on the planet, but the relationship between the aliens and their adopted son, as he and the family mature, actually prevents the possibility of consequences as they agree not to interfere with humanity for his sake. It is a saga of adoption, not science. But this kind of insularity does not itself preclude the realization of consequence. In Aliens in the Family, Margaret Mahy succeeds in demonstrating the relevance of the family to society by connecting her visiting alien to the family he inadvertently invades, and in this the consequence is in the future from which he originates. However, once again the real subject of the novel is the alien's role as a catalyst for family crisis. To this extent, this novel is less science fictional than either Gutman's or Blacker's (although it is much more interesting). The alien could be replaced by a vagrant, a refugee child, or any stranger.

Margaret Haddix's Turnabout (2000) is much more daring. It records the lives of two old ladies: victims of an experimental treatment, they have been growing younger, and are now too young to look after themselves. They themselves are the consequence of an experiment, but although at the end there are implications for the wider world, the real interest in this novel is the girls' attempt to reconstruct a family. As the trajectory of the narrative withdraws the protagonists from the world as they become younger, so the reader's attention is directed away from the world. At the end of the novel, we have almost no idea as to what is different in this future.

Consolation and Consequence: Breaking Recursion in Young Adult Books

The recursiveness of the material I have considered in the previous section is centered on the return to the family, and the use of SF to deal with relationship issues, but science fiction for the young adult is recursive in other ways, principally in its consolatory nature.

A number of SF books for young adults are written to warn and to redeem. Principle among these are the postnuclear books popular in the 1980s. It may seem odd to describe these books as consolatory: in most of them everyone dies, but by considering this extreme we can see how children and young adults are actively disempowered by the trajectory of these novels. Within these works, even the possibility of redemption is denied. In Gudrun Pausewang's The Last Children (1983) and Robert Swindells's Brother in the Land the intention is to warn children that action must be taken now, but whether deliberately or not, they end up telling children that they are power-less within the action. This only becomes evident when we compare such books to John Wyndham's The Chrysalids (1955), in which catastrophe is followed by escape into a future, or Robert C. O'Brien's Z for Zachariah (1975), in which the young protagonist refuses to accept that the world has ended, and leaves her valley for an unknown future (see Sambell). Swindells and Pausewang are extremes, but a similar kind of recursive fatalism infects many other books for children and young adults.

Perhaps the most successful modern science fiction written specifically for children is that of Nicholas Fisk. A Rag, a Bone, and a Hank of Hair allows us the pleasure of a protagonist comfortable in his own world, a world very different from ours. We are expected to learn about it from the cues Brin drops, such as his surprise that he is not treated with more politeness: we learn only later why he has this expectation of a reversal of the usual relationship between children and adults. The novel makes the reader work for his/her pleasure and understanding. A second reading of the book reveals clues which unravel to reveal the story that Brin can narrate to us only at the end. This structure is not essential to SF, but it is common to the form. Yet even Fisk is caught in the assumption that children's science fiction must return us to the status quo, a world essentially undisturbed by the events within the covers. In his Trillions, the eventual resolution to the Trillion invasion is that they go home. All returns to normal (save for a few nuked trees and birds). But, worse, very little more has become known—there are no scientific consequences (and the fact that the major realization is discovered in a dream does not help). Similarly, at the conclusion of A Rag, a Bone, and a Hank of Hair, the protagonist is deleted, and the society does not change.

Teenagers are interested in what is happening in the wider world—the debate about political apathy among the younger generation is more often related to whether they share adult interests than whether they are actually interested. This is reflected in the very wide range of issues covered by YA SF, from environmentalism and genetic imprinting in Peter Dickinson's Eva (1988); to racism and imperialism in H. M. Hoover's The Lost Star and Monica Hughes's The Keeper of the Isis Light; social decay in Rodman Philbrick's The Last Book in the Universe, Philip Reeve's Mortal Engines, and Sylvia Engdahl's Heritage of the Star; and peace and ethnic politics in Ken MacLeod's Cydonia (1999). But although it is assumed that teenagers will respond to these issues, in many cases it is as if that response must not be permitted to extend the reader's ambitions: repeatedly many of these novels follow a recursive and consolatory pattern that appears to prize stasis over the provision of agency and consequence.

In The Keeper of the Isis Light, the heroine, brought up by Guardian on Isis in splendid isolation, experiences First Contact with humans from her "home" world. It is no coincidence that Guardian (a robot) makes Olwen's breather mask "pink and pretty": this is an allegory about racism. Olwen is not scarred, but is different thanks to surgery which has enabled her to live unimpeded on the planet. The revulsion of the settler youth and the acceptance by the young child are much more important than the scientific challenges the planet presents. The novel ends with Olwen withdrawing into the wilderness, rejecting any further confrontation and hence any solution. Nothing essential has changed (nor does it change in the sequels). The solution is beyond both the protagonists and the confines of the book—quite different, therefore, from the technocratic impulses of SF, which sees solutions as the goal.

The same is true of Rodman Philbrick's The Last Book in the Universe. In a postliterate world the protagonist meets a tramp. In protecting him, and trying to find a cure for his adopted sister, he is forced first into the world of gangs and then into another world of the genetically engineered. The book refuses a happy ending. The children are not admitted into the upper-caste world, and there is no sign that the upper caste will change their attitudes any time soon, so although—as in Neil Arkasy's Playing on the Edge—there is the promise of change from above, there is no program for change, and certainly no possibility of revolution. The same structure underpins H. M. Hoover's Return to Earth (1981), which posits a corporate earth. The only choice offered to the proles of this book is the fair and wise rule of the corporations or the tyranny of religion, so that the conclusion of the book restores the status quo. Yet the refusal of revolution, far from feeling subversive (by rejecting happiness), leaves a sense that the only importance of the adventure is in its role as a rite of passage. The bildungsroman is substituted for any discussion of social change. Philbrick, Hoover, and Hughes all have their protagonists walk away from an engagement with the future. It is as if, in accordance with Piaget, children have to be taught that they cannot change the world and that therefore there is no point in trying to change anything. As I have already argued, this is ideologically alien to the drives behind adult SF, which have traditionally encouraged, not discouraged, a sense of the powerful self. The result is, once again, to direct the gaze away from the world. These are all very good books, but they are not, in my terms, good SF books.

But there are some books for this age group in which the actions of the protagonists spark long-term change, which refuse the consolation of powerlessness, and leave the reader speculating on the result. One of the best is Robert Westall's Futuretrack 5 (1983). Henry Kitson begins his adventure as the lone rebel, unsure what he is in rebellion against. By the end of the book he has come to understand the system and to realize that it is held together by collaboration. Kitson, although still a hero, must work in partnership with the fenmen to bring the system down. And while we leave Kitson as the sole individual from whom the system computer will accept information, he is not in charge; he has simply replaced the current structure and recreated the status quo. The world outside is very different, and he and we are left to speculate about what it will look like. In terms of the arguments I have been making about consolation and the direction of gaze, Kitson is refused the consolation of powerlessness, and although he has acquired a family, this makes the outside world more important, not less.

Ben Bova's Duelling Machine (1971) and Peter Dickinson's Eva similarly open out. Although both, interestingly, are very self-conscious rites of passage novels, they succeed in moving the focus onto the society. In Duelling Machine, a simulator used to settle personal quarrels is subverted into a weapon of war that kills the loser. At the end of the novel, the machinery of politics is altered, and there are consequences also for psychiatry. That Lieutenant Hector Hector emerges into adulthood is a consequence of the events, not the aim to which the rest of the plot is bent. In Eva, the operation that implants Eva's brain in a chimp is a small fraction of the novel: the conse-quence of the operation and of deforestation, and her attempt to found a small colony of chimpanzees, make up its bulk. By the end of the book the terms of the story have shifted and our concerns are not with Eva's adaptation to the chimp body—which can, but probably should not, be read as a metaphor for puberty—but with the long-term survival of the chimpanzee tribe and the Earth as a whole.

Mortal Engines caused quite a stir upon its U.K. publication. It is a far future novel set on a desolate and destroyed Earth. Some people live in huge, traveling traction cities that prey on smaller towns, destroying and cannibalizing them for their parts. The ideas are big: What are the rights and wrongs of Municipal Darwinism? Is this a way of discussing capitalism? The stakes are high: four children give up their security in order to find out what is happening and why. Class divisions are central to the novel: people who seem part of the status quo emerge as outsiders. Reeve's children end up having greater influence on the future because they relate to the external world politically, rather than personally. Their personal relationships are important but are deprioritized in both their actions and the author's mind by the chaos around them. And the ending of Mortal Engines is open-ended. London is left a broken wreck in the desert. Reassurance, whether through a happy ending or an unavoidable holocaust, is denied.

The same is true so far of K. A. Applegate's new Remnants series, in which a motley group is blasted into space to survive an asteroid impact. They wake 500 years later on an alien ship that is using their data-banks to create an appropriate environment. The world it creates from the Earth's art galleries is disorienting and dangerous. There is no going back in this world, and probably no going forward, as there aren't enough people to start a colony. The children find no reassurance in adults—unusually, the adults are there and are simply themselves, caricatures of neither idiocy nor competence—and if one has read Applegate's Everworld sequence (a pocket universe fantasy) one knows not to expect rescue.

Ken MacLeod's Cydonia was written for the shared-world Web series. A writer of adult SF novels, his only concession is the absence of swearing and the presence of younger protagonists. The book is set in Scotland and the main characters are refugees from a post-Troubles Ireland. In order for the book to work MacLeod must either explain a great deal or assume that readers can work it out for themselves. He mainly opts for the latter. But whereas MacLeod's children have grown up with the politics that threaten them, the children in Neil Arkasy's Playing on the Edge (a novel in which football has become the playground of the political parties and the corporations) must learn the nature of the world in the timespan of the book. Arkasy talks down to his readers, explaining to them that politics is important and must be honest. In his denouement the Prime Minister discovers the corruption in the sport and we are reassured that all will be well: the status quo is recovered and parental authority restored. Cydonia is much more like Mortal Engines and Remnants; children negotiate solutions to the immediate problems but it is made clear that larger, irresolvable problems remain. The reward for solving one is to move on to the next.

Science fiction, even at its pulpiest, has always claimed to challenge the intellect, so if we are to consider YA SF against SF's self-image, we need to consider whether YA and children's SF meets this challenge. Most of the books discussed do not, and the exceptions (Weisner, Willis, Thomas and Collins, Howarth, Haddix, Westall, Reeve, Sleator, Applegate, MacLeod) stand out. And the struggle to write within the demands of SF, but for children, seems to demand compromises or negotiations. Willis and Thomas and Collins may have produced books which are cognitively advanced beyond their target audience. Howarth seems to feel obliged to structure her work around the familiar, and when faced with a real possibility of science, balks. For Reeve it is in the language, which veers from the politically sophisticated and demanding to the romantic or comforting at moments of stress. Sleator explains chaos theory, but in the end bases his plot on much more linear understandings of time. Cydonia and Futuretrack 5 refuse to make compromises and are, ironically, more stable texts but are also indistinguishable from much SF marketed for adults; more specifically, Cydonia is indistinguishable in either language or political demands from MacLeod's novella, The Human Front (2001). Both books require the reader to doubt the wisdom of the actions of the young protagonist, and both extend the world outwards. What all of these authors succeed in creating are books that deny consolation and the sealed nature of the narratives. Consequences leak from the books because we are no longer looking inward, but instead outward to the "what if" of the world. As the world is large, and the variables multiple, suddenly the world of the narrative has the potential to become chaotic. If the reader is capable of handling this, then s/he is capable of reading adult science fiction. The failure of YA SF to take off suggests that once the reading level matches the reader's cognitive and emotional demands, this is precisely what s/he does.


1. Recently Clute has suggested that this might be modified to WRONGNESS, THINNING, RECOGNITION, RETURN (email, 19 Jul. 2002).

2. Science fiction is a genre that produces much of its criticism in the form of fiction. SF writers don't plagiarize; they borrow and argue.

3. I'm indebted to my father for that comment on the nature of inquisitive childishness and the development of an SF reader.

4. There are now several more in the same series considering an alien view of earth pets.

5. Virginia Hamilton is often cited as writing YA SF with Black protagonists, but her books are present-day technoadventures or use SF as metaphor.

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Thomas J. Roberts (essay date 1973)

SOURCE: Roberts, Thomas J. "Science Fiction and the Adolescent." Children's Literature 2 (1973): 87-91.

[In the following essay, Roberts attempts to construct a standard of definition for the conflicted mode of young adult science fiction, arguing that token dismissal of the genre "fails to recognize that the adolescent mind has its own nonadult requirements and that some adolescent genres have an internal complexity and a pertinence that transcends the limitations of the stories that emerge from them."]

It's a poor sort of memory that only works backwards.

                    —Through the Looking-Glass

"The phases of being a science-fiction reader can be traced and charted," says Donald A. Wollheim in The Universe Makers. "So many read it for one year, so many for two, so many for life. For instance, reading it exclusively can be as compulsive as a narcotic for a period of an intelligent teen-ager's life. The length of time as I see it—and I have seen and talked with and corresponded with hundreds and hundreds of such readers in my lifetime—is about four or five years of the most intense reading—usually exclusive, all other literature being shoved aside. After that a falling off, rather rapid (often due to college entry or military life or the hard stuff of getting a job for the first time). There is, I suspect, something like an 80 percent turnover in the mass of readers of science fiction every five years."

Science fiction has many shapes. It is a mode, not a genre, which is to say that its traditions and content vary with the media in which it appears. The science fiction television series (Star Trek) is governed by different conditions than the feature film (2001: A Space Odyssey). Just as science fiction radio (X-One) is beginning to fade from human memory, a new oral tradition is beginning to emerge on records with The Firesign Theatre's Don't Crush That Dwarf and I Think We're All Bozos on This Bus. Even the lowly comic strip (Alex Raymond's Flash Gordon) is actually rather different from both the old comic books and the new underground comics (Planet Stories; Fantagor). But it is science fiction prose—by far the most sophisticated and demanding of all these genres—that is capturing that adolescent reader. We seriously underestimate him if we suppose we understand science fiction prose merely because we have watched The Creature from the Black Lagoon and read Flash Gordon when we were younger. It would be like supposing we know Moby-Dick because we have seen John Huston's film. The science fiction film may be lovable but it is stupid. Science fiction prose is often clumsily written but it is intelligent.

It may surprise some nonreaders to learn that within science fiction prose itself there is a tangle of conflicting traditions. Samuel J. Lundwall, in his study, Science Fiction, identifies five strands: pure adventure (e.g., Edgar Rice Burroughs, The Moons of Mars); horror (the stories of H. P. Lovecraft); sword and sorcery (Tolkien, Lord of the Rings); social satire (Huxley's Brave New World; Pohl and Kornbluth's Gravy Planet); scientific speculation (Hal Clement's Mission of Gravity); and literary experiment (Harlan Ellison's anthology Dangerous Visions). One of the leading magazines makes this mixture of subgenres explicit; it calls itself The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. The truth is that a large part of science fiction is not about science at all; it is about the supernatural. And much of the rest of it is either covertly or quite openly doubtful about scientific values: we all think of Ray Bradbury as a writer of science fiction but he knows very little about modern science and is blatantly antagonistic to it. The adolescent who likes Isaac Asimov's stories about robots (Caves of Steel; I, Robot) probably also likes Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. In some of the best stories, magic and science are deliberately intertwined. There is nothing quite like Jack Vance's Dying Earth and Roger Zelazny's Jack of Shadows in the motion picture, or in any of the classic literary genres. Science fiction stories are often simple, but the genre itself is not simple.

Finally, some science fiction is written for adults and some for adolescents. This is so well recognized by readers of the genre that Luna Monthly, which is devoted to news about science fiction, has a special section of reviews titled "Lilliputia." There are some good novels which only the exceptional adolescent will find absorbing: Stapledon's Last and First Men and Star Maker, and Frank Herbert's Dune, and John Brunner's Stand on Zanzibar, and the oeuvre of H. G. Wells (when read as anything more than gadget-stories). He feels more at ease with simpler books like Arthur C. Clarke's Childhood's End and E. E. Smith's Gray Lensman than with, say, Walter Miller's Canticle for Leibowitz. It is wrong—inaccurate to say the least—to defend adolescent interest in the genre by citing books that will sustain the serious attention of adults.

C. S. Lewis once observed that it is the mark of the serious reader that he returns to certain important books again and again; but I think this is not (or only rarely) true of the serious reader in adolescence. He reads voraciously, drunkenly. He does not return to a book he loved. As soon as he has finished one book he reaches hungrily for something new. In a sense, he is not reading the books, he is reading the genre itself. Only later, and only if he continues to read, will he develop a private canon of books that have earned his continuing attention. Reading by genre is a different style of reading. It has its own logic, its own rationale, its own satisfactions.

Adolescent science fiction is a fictional analogue of those Jacques Cousteau films I suppose everyone has seen. Cousteau is giving us an exotic world invaded by men equipped with exotic devices for survival. Make some of those strange creatures Cousteau finds under the sea intelligent and make that equipment even more exotic and we have the world of technological science fiction. Replace that equipment with strange (but carefully defined) mental powers or with ancient charms and spells and we have moved into the world of supernatural science fiction. In either event, the emphases will be on the alien creatures and on the equipment, not on the people who do the adventuring. (Adult science fiction manifests moral and philosophical and theological concerns and gives greater emphasis to the people in that strange new world, but it is the adolescent variety that interests us.)

What is it in this imagined reality that a certain kind of adolescent finds important? The answer cannot be given in two paragraphs, but a couple of its features are worth remarking. First, science fiction, like Cousteau, shows men working closely with machines. Serious writing (and of course much science fiction too) admits the existence of the machine but treats it as pure menace. There are some notable exceptions to this—Melville's love of the technical apparatus of whaling, Beckett's use of a tape-recorder as a character in Krapp's Last Tape—but the serious writer at his most characteristic moments is as bigoted about the technician and machinery as any aging racist could be about Blacks. A profound concern about technology is appropriate to our times, but it does seem odd that writers should be so unqualifiedly hostile when, in all probability, they can still remember with great affection the first bicycles they ever owned, when they take pride in their high fidelity sound equipment, when they reach their friends normally by telephone, and when—as they must recognize—they may be kept alive and productive later by heartpacers. Ursula K. Le Guin spoke truly: "For modern man, nature is technological." The adolescent knows this without knowing that he knows it, and he finds the world in which he meets "slow glass" and "body shields" and "space skimmers" and "hyperdrives" as realistic in its own way as the worlds of Emile Zola and Frank Norris are in their ways. Science fiction understands the machine intuitively much better than contemporary serious writing does; it, too, often presents the machine as an alien which has invaded our world from within us; it, too, often presents it as irrelevant; but it also presents it as the tool and companion it has come to be. The adolescent is reading a literature which at this moment in our cultural history is unique in its imaginative exploration of manmachine relationships.

Then, there are also those exotic intelligences—not just the bug-eyed monsters of the motion picture and the old fashioned science fiction novel (Wyndham's Day of the Triffids) but the alien life-forms, alien intelligences, alien psychologies to which so much of the science fiction writer's imagination is devoted. Whether it be the sorcerer of Tolkien's stories, or a shape-shifting carnivore in Weinbaum's "Martian Odyssey," or the intelligent and benign virus in Clem-ent's Needle, or the flame-throwing plants in Aldiss's Long Afternoon of Earth, or the bisexual humanoids in Le Guin's Left Hand of Darkness, it is the alien which captures most of the reader's attention. Just as Gulliver's Travels and the Odyssey and Mandeville's Travels did in their own day, these stories make manifest the unadmitted uneasiness we have about the obvious. Like us, the adolescent works with categories that usually serve well enough in his dealings with others. He thinks he knows what a high school English teacher is like, what congressmen are like, what career soldiers are like, what actors are like; but the individual teachers and congressmen and soldiers and athletes he actually gets to know have a perverse way of not quite fitting his pigeonholes. He thinks he knows what he himself is; but he finds himself being surprised now and then by something he has done unconsciously—an "accidental" remark that gives someone else pain, his inability to remember somebody's name when he has to introduce him, a sudden spurt of joy when something nice happens to someone he thinks he dislikes. For him (as for us) nothing quite fits that grid his culture and his experience and his reflection has constructed in his brain. In the science fiction aliens, his unadmitted sense of the mysteriousness of others is given the objective correlative, as Grierson and Eliot called it, for feelings that are always inside him. He is in the process of shifting from a world centered upon him to one in which he is just an individual in a crowd of people whose inbuilt purposes are taking them in other directions. He will come to accept this more easily, I suspect, when the otherness is given an unmistakably alien form; he will learn later—as King Lear did—that all the rest of us are aliens too.

Adolescent science fiction shares this interest in the machine and the alien with adult science fiction, but it has other features which repel experienced readers. For one thing, the stories are thickly smeared with sentimental lard. The work of Cordwainer Smith (e.g., "Scanners Live in Vain") offers a fictional universe so bizarre that it is outstanding even within the genre, but the price an adult must pay to share Smith's vision is very heavy: We must swallow a sentimentality of characterization and event that we find almost indigestible. But now we must ask ourselves two questions students of children's literature have no doubt raised many times before. Are we never to say that a book is excellent for adolescents unless it is also a good book for adults? Must we measure adolescent tastes only by their similarity to adult tastes? When I reflect on the long history of my own reading preferences I find that there was no slow evolution but rather a series of abrupt metamorphoses. Perhaps we are butterflies now, but once we were caterpillars and what satisfies us as butterflies was not what we needed then. I am not displeased, today, to recall that I preferred Robert Heinlein's stories to Scott's Ivanhoe—a book my own high school teachers forced upon me with only the best intentions.

Science fiction includes some of the many forms the ancient tradition of fantasy is taking today. I suppose no one who has ever looked into the genre has failed to notice this, and yet it does not seem to be generally appreciated. It is a simple fact that the adult reader of science fiction is also interested in Kafka's Metamorphoses and Jorge Luis Borges's Labyrinths and that the adolescent reads the stories of John Collier and Saki too. The Lord of the Rings, a fantasy, might easily be transformed from its subgenre to the other. Put the story into outer space and have the adventurers move from one planet to another. Make Gandalf a super scientist. Make the different peoples different species found on those different planets. (The thematic content would hardly be affected: no one thinks of Frank Herbert's Dune as fantasy per se and yet it presents a more complex fictional universe than Tolkien did, it deals with prescience and the prophet, and it raises ultimate humanistic questions—in, I feel, a more sophisticated and disturbing way.) How different, after all, is a wizard with a magic wand from a scientist with a microminiaturized matter-transformer? The reader does not understand how either gadget works. People who would like to believe for a while in magic will prefer the wizard. People who would like to believe in the unending progress of technology will prefer the scientist. It is a matter of one's willingness to suspend certain kinds of disbelief, and not others, when one chooses between them.

Most of science fiction purports to be about the future, and it is either openly fantastic or a translation of the fantastic into super science. It is, then, a projection into an imagined future of the concerns and wonders of the past, a presentation of that future in the language of the past. "It is a poor sort of memory that only works backwards." For the adolescent, "real" life does lie in the future; it will begin when he is released from school. He finds in even the most technological science fiction an impression of that life in which the ancient worries of man appear once again: love and hate, victory and defeat, honor and shame—and always difficulties, terrors, problems, crises in an unfamiliar world he did not make and will never fully understand. In short, what is implicit in Chaucer and Shakespeare and Austen and Dickens and Shaw and Faulkner is made so explicit in science fiction that even inexperienced reader cannot miss it.

True, most of these science fiction stories the adolescent devours are worth no more than one reading, but this does not argue that the genre itself is not worth his attention. The corpus of the genre—the total of all the stories it has generated—constitutes for him one immense collage; it is a loose-leaf book whose chapters are novels and whose subchapters are short stories, which he may enter at any point and explore in whatever sequence interest and chance should suggest. Science fiction is a subliterary genre—subliterary because so few, if any, of its stories will sustain the continued attention of thoughtful readers—which closely parallels the junk sculpture of our age. It is not a story-by-story but a story-with-story analysis that it requires. The first approach will prove that the whole is composed of junk parts but it will miss the interaction of those parts. It will not see that one flawed story may complement another flawed story and the whole become greater than the sum of its parts.

But one might reply, this argument makes it possible to defend any literary genre that has ever emerged and obliterates distinctions in value. Not so. Of adolescent and adult science fiction I think this is true, but not of most other genres. Spasmodic poetry and the western and the "academic" novel never achieved significance. I do not know enough about children's literary genres to identify the significant among them, but it seems to me that the only other subliterary adult genre for which the same claim can be made is the mystery novel—a web of such subgenres as the novel of detection (Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None), the thriller (Eric Ambler's Coffin for Dimitrios), police-procedure stories (William P. McGivern's novels), and especially the tradition which emerged from Black Mask magazine (Dashiell Hammett's Red Harvest). Some genres do not merit the attention of adults or adolescents.

To dismiss books written for children as unimportant because they do not interest adult minds and to dismiss—however regretfully—the children who do prefer them to adult books is, often, to do both an injustice. It fails to recognize that the adolescent mind has its own nonadult requirements and that some adolescent genres have an internal complexity and a pertinence that transcends the limitations of the stories that emerge from them. I think no better example of such an injustice can be found than in the contemporary dismissal of adolescent science fiction by thoughtful readers.

Madeleine L'Engle (essay date 1982)

SOURCE: L'Engle, Madeleine. "Childlike Wonder and the Truths of Science Fiction." Children's Literature 10 (1982): 102-10.

[In the following essay, L'Engle—author of A Wrinkle in Time—contends that children are more receptive to science fiction due to their innate willingness to suspend their disbelief and immerse themselves in the story rather than the details surrounding it.]

For the last hundred years, the number of people who read fantasy and science fiction has been growing. One of the baffling things about this group—baffling to those who are not hooked on the genres—is that it has no age limits. Aficionados usually start reading as children and continue throughout their lives. I blundered into science fiction when I was a child, with the works of H. G. Wells, Jules Verne, and E. Nesbit. I have read it ever since. In science fiction I found the questions about the meaning of life that all of us ask sooner or later. Children have always been interested in these cosmic questions and riddles which adults often attempt to tame by placing into categories fit only for scientists or adults or theologians. Only recently have fantasy and science fiction been published with age levels in mind, and readers seem to be ignoring such labels. Science fiction and fantasy appeal to a certain kind of mind and not to specific stages of development.

On the surface, science seems to be the most rational of all disciplines, relying solely on intellect without need of the intuitive self. Simple equations—or at least simple in appearance—neatly encapsulate great problems. E = mc2 clearly teaches that "energy equals mass times the speed of light squared." Yet this equation has become so familiar that we forget its wildly imaginative implications. The world of contemporary science, of astrophysics and cellular biology, is itself so fantastic and poetic that it almost seems like fiction. A star that is known as a degenerate white dwarf, or another known as the red giant sitting on the horizontal branch—they sound more as if they come from fairy tales rather than from serious books on astrophysics, such as White Holes: Cosmic Gushers in the Universe (Dell, 1977), by John Gribbin, an astrophysicist who sometimes cites science fiction writers in his studies of astronomy.

Science fiction, we must remind ourselves, often relies upon contemporary science. Space technology and places such as Cape Canaveral, Mount Wilson, or Alamogordo frequently appear in science fiction; and scientists, as well as writers with no particular scientific training, write science fiction. Fred Hoyle, the English astrophysicist, write both science fiction and articles for academic journals. Why does a man such as Hoyle bother with fiction when he is so successful in the "real" world of science? The answer is that science depends as much upon the imagination as upon the intellect. Like a poet, the scientist uses inspiration and intuition. In The Double Helix, the book about the discovery of DNA, James D. Watson, who received the Nobel prize for his work in genetics, says several times, "It's so pretty, it's got to be true." Inadvertently he echoes Keats's "Beauty is truth, truth beauty." If a scientific equation is "ugly" the scientist is suspicious; the scientist, like the artist, appreciates aesthetics and balance.

Lay people often envision scientists in white coats, perched on stools in immaculate laboratories, clip-boards on their laps, working out problems. Most scientific discoveries, however, come in a flash, often when the scientist is not in the laboratory at all. Einstein's theory of relativity came to him full-blown, and only later did he work out the equations to prove it. Then, because he was a genius but not very good at mathematics, he made several mistakes that other scientists had to point out to him.

Both the scientist and the science fiction writer understand that imagination, improvisation, and intuition are as important as rational thinking. For a good many centuries we have denigrated the subconscious, intuitive self and elevated the conscious, intellectual self. We have forgotten that the conscious self is only that small tip of the iceberg, whereas the subconscious self is the larger part below the surface.

Abraham Joshua Heschel, in God in Search of Man (Harper Torchbooks), writes that out of his religious tradition comes "a legacy of wonder." Heschel is talking of "The Religious Man" but he could equally well be talking of the writers and readers of fantasy and science fiction when he says, "One attitude alien to his spirit: taking things for granted, regarding events as a natural cause of things. To find an approximate cause or phenomenon is no answer to his ultimate wonder … [which] is not the beginning of knowledge but an act that goes beyond knowledge; it does not come to an end when knowledge is acquired; it is an attitude that never ceases. There is no answer in the world to man's radical amazement" (pp. 45-46).

This sense of wonder constantly prods the imagination of the writer of fantasy or science fiction, and the child, whose sense of wonder has not yet been blunted, goes right along with it: What would life on Saturn, with all its rings, be like? Does a galaxy think? Is it a sentient entity? Do our mitochondria know that they are living with us? There is no end to the questions the sense of wonder prods us to ask, and each question can easily lead to a story.

A young friend of mine told me, with considerable agitation, that her teacher had accused her of "telling a story." This teacher wasn't complimenting the child's imagination; she had accused her of lying. Recently I received a letter from a young mother who wrote that a neighbor had announced she was not going to allow her children to make their minds fuzzy by reading fantasy or science fiction; she intended to give them books of facts about the real world. For these children, I feel, the real world will be lost. They will live in a limited world in which ideas are suspect. The monsters which all children encounter will be more monstrous because the child will not be armed with the only weapon effective against the unknown: a creative and supple imagination.

The lines between science fiction, fantasy, myth, and fairy tale are very fine, and children, unlike many adults, do not need to have their stories pigeonholed. Science fiction usually takes a contemporary scientific idea and then extrapolates: "Yes, but what if …?" In the days before astronauts had landed on the moon, no one was certain just what the surface of the moon would be. We knew that there would be little gravity, but we did not know whether the surface would be hard rock or rock covered with sand and silt. So one science fiction writer described a spaceship landing on the moon. The landing shifted the great layer of fine sand which had built up over the millennia and all the familiar mares and mountains vanished. The speculation of the science fiction writer is not always prophetic, but it always stirs the imagination. We are so accustomed to Jules Verne that we forget that he did, in fact, prophesy many things considered improbable in his day—flying, for example.

Fairy tales usually deal with magic, and magic has power. E. Nesbit used magic to help her protagonists journey into both the past and the future. Although her stories may seem pure fantasy, they touch science fiction, for scientists today conceive of time as nonlinear and suggest that one day it may be possible for us to move along different branches of the tree of time. Ursula Le Guin, in her children's fantasies and in her adult science fiction, touches on myth as well as fantasy and science fiction. In a similar fashion, Susan Cooper's fantasies are deeply rooted in British mythology.

Any story, whether myth, fantasy, fairy tale, or science fiction, explores and moves beyond daily concerns to wonder. A story, instead of taking a child away from real life, prepares him to live in real life with courage and expectancy. A child denied imaginative literature is likely to have more difficulty understanding cellular biology or post-Newtonian physics than the child whose imagination has been stretched by fantasy and science fiction.

The teacher who, with the child, enjoys this stretching (and the stretching of muscles causes healthy growing pains) is aware of human potential. Such a teacher does not neglect the child who does not "fit in" or who cannot come to grips with the curriculum. Thomas Edison was withdrawn from school in the second grade because his teacher considered him uneducable; his mother's faith, her conviction that he was not stupid, led her to tutor him at home. It is not always the bright and well-adjusted child who has the imagination to leap beyond convention to truth, a truth which may upset "grown-ups." Galileo's discoveries did not upset the nature of the universe; they upset only what the established authorities considered to be the nature of the universe.

I remember a science fiction story in which the people of Earth were attempting to colonize a planet with bad weather and hostile inhabitants. The head of colonization picked teams of the brightest and best young men and women available. Team after team went out and then returned, dejected and unsuccessful. Finally a new head of colonization was chosen, who went to the waterfronts, slums, and ghettoes to enlist those who had survived there. These "dregs" succeeded where the others failed. They had the imagination to survive on a hostile earth; this imagination enabled them to survive on the hostile planet. Science fiction appeals to the child with imagination, whether he or she is captain of the sports team, honor student, or the child who lags behind intellectually, athletically, or socially.

A successful story, no matter how soaring the fantasy or how offbeat the science, must be believable. A child must be encouraged to suspend disbelief. Tolkien's hobbits are as realistic to a child as Judy Blume's teenagers, and Anne McCaffrey's dragons are as believable as giraffes. To quote Aristotle, "That which is probable and impossible is better than that which is possible and improbable."

Unfortunately, this "probable impossible" is fraught with risk, and risk implies the possibility of failure and even death. I am worried that we live in a climate where we are not allowed to fail. We are encouraged to take few risks, though "all human endeavor is beset by risk," as Franz König says: "Freedom risks its own abuse, thinking risks error, speech risks misunderstanding, faith risks failure, hope risks despair. The risk of life is death. And man is man only by virtue of his risks of the future."

Perhaps the reason that a mother refuses to give her children fantasy or science fiction is that these genres, like fairy tale and myth, are not only violent, but they involve risk. Why do we shudder at the violence in these tales while the violence of everyday life surrounds us? These stories can help children understand the nature of violence. As for risk—without risk there is no story. The protagonist must always choose, and to choose is to risk. Failure often occurs. In The Once and Future King there is death and tragedy as well as heroism and chivalry. In The Lord of the Rings Frodo does not always make the right choice. The planet on which a spaceship lands may not support human life. The captain of the spaceship may be bestial and may not care if the indigenous inhabitants are slaughtered. There is risk of failure, of horror, and of death in fantasy and science fiction just as there is in the world of everyday. In John Wyndham's "The Day of the Triffids," most of Earth's inhabitants are struck blind and many are killed, but despite a recognition of darkness and death, there is also an unspoken affirmation of the "all rightness" of things, and I believe that the child—and the adult—needs this affirmation.

Before we can affirm this "all rightness," we must accept "all wrongness," for fantasy and science fiction inhabit dark and unknown regions. Although we often think of fantasies as light, with enchanted mirrors, spaceships winging like sea gulls, and time machines shaped like flower petals, such stories speak to us, at first, of dark things. No one is more aware of the dark aspects of civilization than the storyteller; he knows our insecurities, our loneliness, and our fears. But every storyteller is also aware of the value of the human being.

In a story it is usually an ordinary boy or girl who must confront power, take risks, and stand coura-geous against fear. Primitive societies had two words for power: benign power was called "mana"; malign power was called "taboo." The great power lines which stretch across our country and make our lights turn on and our refrigerators run contain both mana and taboo. If we turn on a light switch and fill a room with light, then it is mana. If a metal ladder holding two firemen slips and touches a power line, it is taboo. Those who think they can cope with taboo, or can manage it, fall into hubris. They usurp the prerogatives of the gods. This is Edmund's problem in C. S. Lewis's The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Courage and pride are very different things. Pride masked as fear of failure often keeps us from taking risks, while courage gives us strength to face the unknown.

One of the unknowns which has always fascinated readers and writers of science fiction is time. The subconscious mind is uninhibited by linear time: when we dream, time is sometimes fantastically altered; in a few moments we may dream hours of adventure. As we venture into fantasy and science fiction, we are freed from time. A spaceship may travel at the speed of light, or near it, for short distances, but for trips to distant galaxies or even distant planets in the same galaxy, no speed is fast enough; the spaceship must tesser (go into a time warp). Our nearest star is Alpha Centauri, which is seven light years away. The problem is not only that it would take fourteen years to go there, turn right around, and come back, but that time moves at different rates, and the faster a body moves, the slower time moves. Consequently, the people on the spaceship would be caught in Einstein's clock paradox: fourteen years would have passed in their own chronologies, but far more time would have passed on Earth, so that a baby left behind when the astronauts departed would have white hair and wrinkled skin when they returned.

These current scientific concepts are more easily understood and accepted by children than by adults. Not only are they new to adults, but they also contradict what was taught only a generation or so ago. Our children and young adults have always lived in a world of increasingly rapid change; they have always known about the power in the atom. They have always known that our Earth is not the center of the universe but an ordinary planet on the outskirts of an ordinary galaxy; and that light, swift as it is, is so slow that we are seeing a distant star not as it is today, but as it was billions of years ago when our planet was first being formed. Fresh concepts, which are terrifying to some adults, are casually accepted and understood by children today.

Chronology as we know it began with creation, with the Big Bang. The present "proof" for this theory is the awesome fact that scientists, with their radio telescopes, are picking up echoes of the sound of that primal explosion, which happened so long ago that it is further back in time than most of us can conceive in numbers. There are also events, tied in with the extraordinary durability of sound waves, which are more like science fiction than actual occurrences. For instance, one of the more delightful mysteries of sound came when the astronauts in one of our early space launches heard a program of nostalgic music over the sound system. They radioed to NASA to thank whoever sent them the program. NASA responded that they knew nothing about it. This phenomenon provoked research: Who sent the astronauts the music? Where had it come from? The radio and television programs for that hour on that day were analysed. None broadcast the music the astronauts heard. Could the astronauts have imagined hearing old popular songs? Was it a kind of mass hallucination? It seemed unlikely. Then it was discovered that that particular program had been broadcast in the 1930s.

How does one explain it? One doesn't. It happened, and from events like this come science fiction stories. There is a story in which scientists from Earth are attempting to communicate with people from another planet but cannot make sense of the sounds they receive. One scientist realizes that the planet with which they are in contact is a large and dense planet, and its period of revolution around its sun is much slower than ours. He tapes the sounds and then speeds up the tape, somewhat like playing a 33 1/3 rpm record at 78 rpm. Soon the scientists begin to make sense of the messages. Time on the other planet moves slower than on Earth.

We do not understand time. We know that time exists only when there is mass in motion. We also know that energy and mass are interchangeable, and that pure energy is freed from the restrictions of time. One of the reasons that A Wrinkle in Time took so long to find a publisher is that it was assumed that children would not be able to understand a sophisticated way of looking at time, would not understand Einstein's theories. But no theory is too hard for a child so long as it is part of a story; and although
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parents had not been taught Einstein's E = mc2 in school, their children had been.

Sylvia Louise Engdahl uses the variability of time in many of her stories, particularly in The Princess from the Stars. Time and its vagaries figure in the works of such eminent science fiction writers as Arthur C. Clarke, William Wyndham, and Theodore Sturgeon. Lewis Carroll wrote the truth when the Mad Hatter said, "If you knew Time as well as I do,… you wouldn't talk about wasting it. It's him…. We quarrelled last March…. And ever since that … he won't do a thing I ask!"

Most writers of fantasy for children do not write for children; they write for themselves. "To write for children" is usually synonymous with writing down and is an insult to children. I have said that children are better believers than grown-ups. They are aware of what most adults have forgotten: that the daily, timebound world of fact is the secondary world, and that literature, art, and music, though they are not themselves the primary world, give us glimpses of the wider world of our whole self—the self which is real enough to accept its darkness as well as its light.

There is something of the fantasy or science fiction monster in all of us, but mostly we are afraid to admit it. Chewbacca, the large woolly creature in Star Wars, is so appealing because we are free to recognize ourselves in him as well as in the white-clad hero and heroine. Rainer Maria Rilke writes, "How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples, the myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us."1 Stories which appeal to our imaginations enable us to recognize this helplessness and give us the courage to help.


1. Rainer Marie Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet, trans. M. D. Herter Norton (New York: W. W. Norton, 1934), pp. 69-70.


Perry Nodelman (essay date November 1985)

SOURCE: Nodelman, Perry. "Out There in Children's Science Fiction: Forward into the Past." Science-Fiction Studies 12, no. 3 (November 1985): 285-96.

[In the following essay, Nodelman offers a critical reading of one of the dominant recurring themes in juvenile science fiction—the hero-child escaping a sterile, enclosed society into the natural world—and asserts that the "central paradox of these books is that their characters' curiosity and self-reliance leads them into knowledge of why curiosity and self-reliance are dangerous."]

Not surprisingly, SF intended for young readers is not much different from SF intended for adults. Such books represent a wide variety of SF themes and situ-ations; they form a distinguishable sub-genre only because their main characters are almost always youngsters themselves, and because, in comparison with other SF, they tend to describe less complicated situations in a simpler way.1

Nevertheless, a disproportionately large number of SF novels for young readers explore a pattern found much less frequently in adult SF: they begin in enclosed cities and describe how their protagonists move out into a larger world outside. In John Christopher's Wild Jack (1974), for instance, a boy from such a city learns that self-sufficient tribes survive happily in the wilderness beyond its limits.2 Similarly, Adrien Stoutenberg's Out There (1971) describes how youngsters from a domed city confront danger and learn to live with themselves during an expedition into the wilds "out there." Indeed, the idea of going "out there" is so attractive that the American publishers of a 1975 novel for youngsters by Elizabeth Mace, published in Britain as Ransome Revisited, renamed it with the same title Stoutenberg chose; and although the flavor of this more complex Out There is not adequately evoked by the title, the book does describe how youngsters confront the world outside their original homes.

All these novels deal significantly with ideas of constriction and freedom by representing them with closed environments and the open spaces outside them. In the light of adult SF that follows this pattern, that's not particularly surprising; while there are, of course, exceptions, many adult SF novels and stories about closed cities represent similar ideas with similar images. Gary Wolfe says that "like the hulls of the spaceships in stories of outer space exploration, the walls of the cities become images of barriers that must be broken" (p. 93), and Brian Stable-ford has suggested that the theme of such novels "is almost always escape from the claustrophobic comfort which kills initiative to the wilderness which offers evolutionary opportunity through the struggle to survive" (p. 120). The best known works of this sort intended for adult readers are E. M. Forster's classic novella The Machine Stops (1909) and Arthur C. Clarke's novel The City and the Stars (1956): both describe a young man's claustrophobia in a theoretically perfect city and the delight he feels in the less urbanized world he discovers outside it.3

In fact, the potential to discuss such themes may explain why oppositions between cities and open spaces are so popular in SF intended for youngsters. A potent cliché of adolescence is the idea that young people wish to escape the protectiveness of parents and other adults—a protectiveness they find claustrophobic; and in SF for young readers, breaking out of an enclosed city can easily stand as a metaphor for growing up and leaving the protected world of childhood. In the books for young readers I mentioned before, there are explicit parallels between the maturing of their young main characters and their emergence from closed cities.

But while that may account for the popularity of closed cities in SF intended for young readers, it doesn't explain why four particular SF novels for young readers that describe enclosed cities are so very similar to each other. Andre Norton's Outside (1976), H. M. Hoover's This Time of Darkness (1980), Suzanne Martel's The City Under Ground (1982, a translation of Quatre Montréalais en l'an 3000 [1964]), and Ann Schlee's The Vandal (1983) are not only much like each other; anyone familiar with children's fiction will quickly recognize that they are also significantly similar, in structure, in theme, and even in imagery, to numerous other novels intended for young readers—not just the SF novels I mentioned above, but other novels also, novels as different as Frank L. Baum's classic fantasy The Wizard of Oz and Robert Louis Stevenson's classic adventure Treasure Island—and that the qualities they share with each other are expectable characteristics of children's fiction. These books belong to two different genres at the same time—not just SF, but also children's fiction.4

The continuity between these four SF novels and other fiction intended for young readers is intriguingly confirmed by the existence of a fifth novel that is surprisingly like these four—but that is not SF. Mary Q. Steele's Journey Outside (1972) also describes how a youngster breaks out of an enclosed and highly restrictive society and finds a larger world outside. Here, however, the enclosed society is not a technologically advanced city; it is that of a group of primitive tribesmen who live on a series of rafts that float endlessly on a river in an underground cavern, a river that turns out to be circular. This novel offers none of those logical explanations for the oddity of the situation it describes that we expect of SF.

That a writer should produce a non-SF novel for young readers which closely mirrors the plot, the central themes, and the images of four SF novels is interesting. That five different writers from three different countries should so closely duplicate each other's idea of an SF novel for youngsters is even more interesting—especially when the most striking similarity among the five is that each provides yet another version of the journey out from an enclosed space which occurs so disproportionately in SF intended for young readers, and even more especially when such journeys are a common feature of many stories for children and novels for adolescents. For these reasons, an exploration of these five novels should throw light on some of the problems that inevitably arise in SF that is also intended as literature for youngsters.

The citizens of the cities in all four of the SF novels wear uniform clothing (in two cases uniformly white), live in rooms off a corridor that looks like a vast number of other corridors, and are regulated by computer terminals. In two cases, the cities are underground, like the one in The Machine Stops; and in Journey Outside, the river that is home for Dilar's people flows underground. Much is made of this separation from the world outside; the people who live in these enclosed places are convinced that the world outside is dangerous, and we are told that various cities were first sealed against pollution or radiation. Inside, all these people have the comfort of security—a world that is limited but safe, and safe because it is limited. It sounds much like childhood.

The limitations are social as well as physical. In The City Under Ground, we hear of "the conformity which the first founders believed necessary for life in a closed space" (5:38); and early in The Vandal, Paul speaks of "the beautiful regularity, the changelessness of his home" (2:9). At one point or another, the young protagonists of these books all respond positively to that changelessness; they all use the word "safe" to describe their homes.

But most of these places show signs of decay—as does Forster's city, which collapses at the end of The Machine Stops. In Outside, the systems are failing and no more children are being born; in This Time of Darkness, the underground city has blocked ventilators and clogged drains; in The Vandal, the population seems to be decreasing, so that fewer school positions will be needed (9:85); and in Journey Outside, the number of rafts gradually diminishes as Dilar's people continue their endless round. This decay clearly stands for the debility of age, as opposed to the energy of the young protagonists.

But these books go further than that; they treat the enclosed societies they describe as metaphors for closed minds. In suggesting that the city is dying "from not knowing enough" (17:119), This Time of Darkness only says openly what the other books imply. Their young protagonists share a quality summed up by Clarke's Alvin in The City and the Stars: "Diaspar might be sufficient for the rest of humanity, but it was not enough for him" (3:18). These books seem to be attacks on conservatism, on blind acceptance of what one's forebears have wrought. Not surprisingly, their self-reliant protagonists get what they want; they go outside, and they respond to the vast world they find there with delight, for it represents a canvas large enough for their own vast curiosity.

So far, these books sound like straightforward allegories of maturity; their protagonists achieve the freedom of the world outside only when they no longer require the security of home; going out is growing up. In praising the act of going out, these books seem to express a faith in human ability to confront immensity and conquer it, a faith expressed frequently in adult SF—at least in traditional mainstream SF. Outside Diaspar, for instance, Clarke's Alvin finds at least one city as wonderfully advanced as his own, and evidence of a vast history of human accomplishment and defeat throughout the galaxy; and although he is humbled by it, he is also excited and challenged. The City and the Stars clearly exemplifies the escape from initiative-killing comfort that Stableford believes to be characteristic of such novels; as Gary Wolfe suggests, Clarke proclaims "the values inherent in seeking the unknown, or put more simply, the values of scientific progress" (p. 114).

Wolfe similarly claims that Kuno's move out of his city in The Machine Stops is "an analog of eventual human migration into space" (p. 103); and Kuno does indeed aspire to more than his city can offer. But he does not move towards a more glorious future of the sort Alvin finds beyond his city. Instead, he turns backwards, towards the past: the world outside is most significant for having a direct connection with the way things once were: "We have come back to our own. We die, but we have recaptured life, life as it was in Wessex, when Aelfrid overthrew the Danes" (3:182). The Machine Stops stands counter to a forward thrust expressed by The City and the Stars and by much traditional SF, which often implies a basic faith in the possibilities of change—what Stableford calls "evolutionary opportunity" and Wolfe calls "scientific progress."

It's at the paradoxical heart of the novels for young readers I'm discussing here that they share the anti-technological and even anti-evolutionary bias Forster expresses in The Machine Stops. The worlds that these rebellious, forward-seeking youngsters find outside their enclosed cities are like the one Kuno finds—visions of the pre-technological past, places that are less wildernesses with the potentiality for development than they are pastoral paradises that would be spoiled by development. In these books, "out there" symbolizes everything that the technological perfection of the city is not.

Since the world inside is artificial, a creation of men, the cities of these novels are most clearly condemned for their avoidance of the natural. In Outside, trees will not grow in the city, and in The Vandal, the trees in the city are in cages: "Animals, birds, plants are incompatible with any sort of standard of living worthy of the estates. There was always the fear of contamination" (5:41). The world outside these sterile cities is not merely less technological, but devoid of technology, in every case characterized by greenness and sparkling water and skies full of clouds and stars; and in every case, this world unspoiled by human innovation stands as an ideal, clearly opposite to the stagnating world inside. In Journey Outside, Dilar thinks of how his ancestors fled the danger of the world outside to find a better place, and asks himself, "How could anyone want a better place than this …?" (3:28). In This Time of Darkness, nature itself reclaims its territory from the devastation of technological advancement: "The land remained, slowly covering its degradation with new plant life" (16:114). The City Under Ground is particularly insistent that the natural world outside represents a return, backwards into a past that once was—back to paradise, back to where man was once happy. "Nature has renewed herself in the ruins made by man, and now the whole land belongs to us, more beautiful for having been so long hidden to us…. Here are the sun and the moon and the forests and rivers of prehistory. They are even more beautiful to us than to our ancestors, who did not know how to appreciate them" (17:152). The rediscovery of this world of "prehistory" is no less than a return to Eden: "Like Adam in his earthly paradise, Luke discovered the magnificent world that God had created" (6:49). In all these books, the world God created is directly at odds with the world human beings have made, and the move to "God's world" is a movement from the technological utopia of the future into the natural paradise of the past.

And the past returns quite literally. The move outside for all these youngsters is a re-entry into time, into the knowledge that things were once different and could be different again. Interestingly, however, these books never suggest what Clarke does in The City and the Stars—that a re-entry into time, and a resultant consciousness of history, can lead to the awakening of new and grander possibilities for the future. After these youngsters choose a future different from the eternal present of their static cities and move out, it is not the potentiality of the future which delights them; they are more intrigued by the possibility of restoring the past—regaining what their ancestors lost.

In its endlessly repeating patterns, the technological world inside has lost touch with its own past, even with the passage of time itself; ironically, technological evolution has led to a changelessness that denies the conditions of its own development. In Journey Outside, the raft people have forgotten their past—particularly how they came to be where they are—and so are doomed to an eternal present; in Outside, history is considered to be "just stories, Kristie, made up stories" (2:40); and in This Time of Darkness, "Since history was removed from the learning centers, everyone's forgotten the old stuff…. It's all past now and forgotten. Nobody lives that way anymore. Everything's the same now" (11:76). In The Vandal, the culture of the estates is founded firmly on denial of the past; everyone's memory is erased, because "the past is dangerous, terrible, it must be kept out" (8:76) and without it, "nothing is more perfect than this instant. Only the future can exceed it, because the future is an intellectual thing, and therefore truly perfect" (3:14).

Outside, of course, there is the natural world, in which things do change and in which history is therefore possible. So is selfhood. The Vandal is particularly insistent that loss of the past equates with loss of individuality, for without individual memories, and therefore without individual characters, the people of the estates are all "kind, quiet, law-abiding citizens" (8:76). Once outside and equipped with knowledge of the past, the young protagonists of these books all develop a new sense of the possibilities of self; in each case, the self-reliance that allowed these youngsters to escape their homes finds its real home outside. So it is all the more surprising that, once home, these self-reliant people express no interest in doing anything with the outside but keeping it just the way it is. It's this curious descent into complacency that distinguishes them from so many similar characters in adult SF—characters like Clarke's Alvin and like Chimal in Harry Harrison's Captive Universe (1969), who feel constricted not just by their original homes, but also by the societies they first find beyond the walls of their homes.5

The people who live outside in two of these books for young readers have developed a power unknown to those inside: telepathy. And in both Outside and The City Under Ground, telepathic powers represent the possibilities of the free human spirit as opposed to the supposedly constricting powers of logic, reason, and scientific development. In The City Under Ground, those who live underground have reason but not faith ("It's very difficult to imagine a creator when everything around you has been made by man" [15:140]) but those who have lived outside, surrounded by what God made and therefore conscious of immensities beyond puny human reason, have developed telepathic powers. Andre Norton similarly opposes "psi" powers and reason in Outside, in which Kristie can escape her city only by teleportation, and can teleport only by believing in the impossible: "we must not think that anything is true only because we see it in one way. We must be able to guess that things can happen which are very strange and different from everything we have known before…. Since Kristie had just wanted to know what was Outside, her dreams could all come true" (6:96, 98).

A similar opposition between technology as representative of constriction and telepathy as representative of individuality occurs in The City and the Stars. Alvin's Diaspar is a city of conformists who act upon reason; but beyond its walls he finds Lys, a country of telepathists, and "the civilization of Lys was composed of hundreds of distinct cultures, each contributing some special talent toward the whole" (11:82). For Clarke, however, Lys is as limited as Diaspar; one may have ignored the potentiality of the individual imagination, but the other has ignored the potentiality of scientific thought. Both are closed cities, both need to open themselves to larger possibilities; Clarke's vast vision demands the inclusion of all aspects of human potential, every possible "evolutionary opportunity."

But these novels for young readers are not so convinced of the value of evolutionary opportunity. In making their cities represent the possibilities of technology, and in making them restrictive and stagnant, their authors express a clear prejudice against scientific knowledge; and this is also true of Journey Outside, in which a reasoned and logical response to the harsh environment has led people down into the darkness. And all these novels insist that the virtue of outside is its "naturalness"—its resistance to shaping by human beings. In fact, these novels all express the same curious contradiction apparent in The Machine Stops: they all admire their protagonist's curiosity and lust for knowledge, they all claim that enclosed places become stagnant by closing themselves off from wider knowledge … and they all dismiss the products of human knowledge as artificial and limiting. While attacking close-mindedness, in other words, they are all surprisingly close-minded about technology.

How odd that close-mindedness is in the context of novels that are SF is particularly apparent in the relationships these books demand between the places they describe, the people who live in those places, and the people who read about those places. Young readers are likely to be attracted to these books because they offer what SF often offers, particularly to inexperienced readers: exotic places and strange possibilities, the wonders of the imagination and the vastness of human potentiality. And these books allow readers to understand the wonders they describe by using a favorite technique of SF writers: their main characters are people enough like ourselves to act as our guides to these exotic places. We see the wonders through eyes similar to our own. But in these books, the ways in which those people much like ourselves are much like ourselves require them to confront and deny those aspects of the wonderful place that make it wonderful. Not only do they themselves not find the wonderful places they live in to be wonderful; the main characters in these novels are typical youngsters with typically rebellious attitudes towards their elders, so that they know for sure that the world created by those who came before them is stultifying. Paradoxically, therefore, the qualities these young characters are supposed to share with the youngsters who read about them—impatience with what is and a lust for what might be—are used to deny the value of the same aspects of these books that might have attracted young readers with such qualities in the first place.

That might be said also of The City and the Stars—but only if the book ended after Alvin left Diaspar and came to Lys. It doesn't, of course, and the universe Alvin finds beyond Lys is yet more exotic and more wonderful—a feast for the appetite for wonder, not a rebuke for it. But these books for young readers do not just insist that a place of wonder, a place created by the fecund imagination of an SF writer, is stultifying; they also end by praising a place we might well find more familiar than that wonderful one. What these young characters discover to be a proper medium for their lust for what might be, their boundless imaginations, is the world outside their exotically imaginative homes—it is our own world, our world as it was before technology but still more recognizable to us than those exotic enclosed places. What's familiar to us is strange to them, and viceversa, so that it is only after Dilar gets outside that he thinks, "Oh, who would help him in this alien place, this country of fantasy?" (3:31). And we are asked to share, not just the distaste of these characters for their own wonderful place, but also their wonder in things that we take for granted: the stars, the clouds, the green trees, even the mundane objects of ordinary life. In Journey Outside, Dilar "could not resist staring at all these new and wonderful things: eggs, hens, pots made of iron, cloth woven of sheep's wool, pear trees, butterflies, grass and weeds … who could have imagined there were such things to eat? Tomatoes and berries, beans and squash, melons and potatoes…." (4:38, 40). And in This Time of Darkness, Amy is awed by a room in which "there were pictures on the wall," where "flowering plants grew by a window," and where she is offered sandwiches and ginger ale (23:155, 160).

In moving from a possible world that might exist in our future into one that we can easily recognize, a world of history, these young characters all move forward into the past. As a result, the apparent message of these books—that curiosity and self-reliance are good qualities—is significantly diluted. Youngsters who already live in a place more like the ones these young characters find than the ones they leave—that is, most readers of these books—clearly have no need to strive to find such places; and meanwhile, of course, the love of the strange and the exotic that might have led young readers to these books in the first place has been attacked in the attack on the inadequacy of those strangely exotic places. Although the young characters in these books have enough curiosity to triumph over constriction, their move from what readers might be curious about to what they already know implies a conservative message of contentment with one's lot. Like The Machine Stops, these novels are SF that attacks the basis of what draws many readers to SF in the first place.

Furthermore, closer investigation of what happens in these books reveals a surprising attack on self-reliance underlying the apparent praise for that quality; they all end recommending something curiously like the repressiveness of self that they started out attacking. Granted, all the main characters first become uncomfortable with their societies because they feel repressed by them. But Paul escapes the memoryless city of The Vandals not, as we might have expected, through the strength of his own personal memories, but through the pull of an equally impersonal archetypal memory; he finds himself "running along a path that existed a hundred years ago, before the new enlightenment…. In spring, boys and grown men even, ran along the boundary line striking at things, striking at one another with sticks. The whole ceremony was tied up in primitive superstitions" (13:124). Although Paul finally escapes into unknown territory where he can be himself, he can do so only by being wrapped up in the last sheath during a harvest, a ritual left over from ancient times; he is reborn into himself and his own memories by having access to generalized and impersonal memories—rituals and archetypes. Similarly, Kristie gets out of the city of Outside by enacting a ritual involving the speaking of old nursery rhymes by a man dressed in traditional motley, so that she loses her sense of self: "Now she neither knew nor cared where she might be going—just following the Rhyming Man was enough" (4:74). Although the protagonists of the other books get outside through self-reliance, the world they find once out is itself a self-subsuming place—a place where one must repress human aspiration lest it lead yet once more to the same destruction and enclosure; in The City Under Ground, the world outside implies submission to its creator. The central paradox of these books is that their characters' curiosity and self-reliance leads them into knowledge of why curiosity and self-reliance are dangerous.

The world outside which offers them that understanding is our world, but not as it is now; it is our world as history records it to once have been, or even as we imagine it to have once been, before human ingenuity began to meddle with it. The characters move forward, not just into the past of their own societies, but into our past also. It's possible to interpret the enclosed cities these books depict as exaggerated versions of our own, so that rejection of them suggests that the past is not just better than an imagined technological nightmare of the future, but also better than what we have now. Their message, then, transcends mere acceptance of what is; it becomes the conviction that things have gone downhill ever since people stopped accepting what is and began developing technology, so that now we have to go backwards, and deny what already is, to restore a proper attitude of acceptance.

But in both celebrating and showing the dangers of self-reliance, and in both offering wonders and postu-lating the necessary acceptance of things as they are (or were), these novels are only doing what most novels for young readers do: they are merely proclaiming their adherence to the basic patterns and values of much of the fiction produced for young readers. That fiction typically offers the same paradoxical combination of adventure and conservatism, of wish-fulfillment and cleaving to reality.

There are good reasons for that. Because we write for young people to offer them pleasure but also feel the need to educate them, fiction for young readers almost always offers both what adults think youngsters enjoy and what we think they need to know. We think youngsters enjoy reading about characters who have what we think youngsters themselves wish they had, and so most novels for young readers are fantasies, descriptions of utopian worlds; even those that describe a recognizably realistic world make it safer and more understandable than most of us know the real one to be. But we also believe it our duty to tell young people that they cannot have what they wish for, and to give them knowledge of the world as we ourselves understand it to be lest they be hurt by their ignorance of it. For the most humane of reasons, we want to change them from what they are already—or what they might become if left on their own—into people like ourselves, people who understand and accept limitations that we ourselves understand and accept.

As a result, fiction for young readers is often about a youngster who gets what he or she wants and then discovers it wasn't worth having; and many versions of this story tell of a journey away from home that is not only exciting in itself, but also results in a knowledge of the virtues of what was left behind. Countless children's picture-book stories tell how fuzzy animals or little buses leave home, have adventures that excite them but that nevertheless teach them the inadequacy of the adventurous life, and happily return home again; Dorothy spends her time in splendid Oz both enjoying the splendor and trying to get home to dreary Kansas, and the island in Treasure Island is both what Jim Hawkins first dreams of and what he learns to despise.

These books all end with statements of acceptance. The little buses and such inevitably conclude that "home is best"—the same conviction Baum provides Dorothy with. And the mature Jim Hawkins who tells the story of his own exploits as a boy is the ultimate staid, moralistic prig—the direct opposite of his younger self, whose lack of good sense he speaks of with much disdain. But for both Dorothy and young readers, Oz is splendid, and for both young Jim and young readers the island is exciting. Most children's fiction expresses conservative attitudes; interesting children's fiction often balances consciousness of social responsibility with praise of self-reliance, understanding of what must be with delight in what might be.

The SF novels I've been discussing are a version of the same balance. Instead of leaving home, going somewhere exotic, and then returning home again, the characters in these novels happily leave an exotic but deficient place which is their home for an ordinary place which they find exotic and delightful but which is more like our home. If the message of these books is finally more conservative than their original praise for their protagonists' defiance of societal values might imply, they are merely expressing an ambivalence common in fiction for young readers.

This ambivalence means that fiction for young readers in general, and SF for youngsters as a particularly curious example, tends not just to celebrate, but also to discount those qualities we identify as youthful: creativity, imagination, curiosity, self-trust, denial of tradition, hope for the future. I suspect that these are the qualities that SF first emerged from; they are certainly the qualities that a lot of adult SF still celebrates, often without much qualification. Paradoxically, then, these SF novels for young readers stand apart from much adult SF simply because, like many other books for young readers, they distrust the wisdom of youth.

In his discussion of children's SF in The Science Fiction Encyclopedia, Peter Nicholls claims (p. 114) that most "hard" SF for young readers ("hard" meaning not containing elements of pure fantasy) is less distinguished than either SF for adults or other sorts of fantasy for children. The books I've discussed here are competent works of fiction—SF for young readers that is significantly distinct from the formula fiction we think of as typical of SF for youngsters. But even these competent books support Nicholls' claim—they are merely competent. I suspect that the shortage of good SF for young readers may be accounted for by generic differences between SF and fiction intended for young readers—one of those differences being the characteristic ambivalence of fiction for young readers about acceptance of things as they are, and the liberating potentiality of SF that tends above all to question things as they are. Even the most terrifyingly negative adult SF tends to sug-gest, not that change is inherently bad, but that some kinds of change are less desirable than others; the mere fact that SF connects its imaginary futures with our own real present implies a positive interest in possibility and change in those that read it. But when SF intended for young readers expresses the ambivalence typical of children's fiction, and makes claims for acceptance that balance its appeal to the desire for change, it inevitably dilutes the power of its own evocations of possibility. Books that can successfully fulfill (or, perhaps, successfully ignore) two such different and even contradictory sets of generic demands cannot be easy to write.


1. There is, of course, a lot of SF for adults which describes simple situations in an uncomplicated way; and there is SF for adults in which the main characters are children or teenagers. It's the presence of both qualities at the same time that suggests a particular work might have been intended for young readers.

2. Indeed, John Christopher's SF novels for young readers often ring changes on the idea of the claustrophobic closed city and the freer wilderness outside. In a trilogy beginning with The White Mountains (1967), humans live a superficially pleasant rural life as slaves to a race of aliens who live behind the walls of "the City of Gold and Lead." And in The Guardians (1970), the young protagonist finds another apparent bucolic paradise outside the walls of his overcrowded city; but this rural paradise turns out to be intellectually claustrophobic, and the novel supports its hero's decision to return to the city and attempt to liberate it from an enslavement its residents are not conscious of. These novels by Christopher represent many novels for young readers, not discussed here, which are either SF or else contain elements of SF, and which offer interesting variations on the basic idea of the enclosed space and the world outside it; a few such books are William Sleator's House of Stairs (1974), Monica Hughes's Keeper of the Isis Light (1980) and The Tomorrow City (1978), Robert Heinlein's Citizen of the Galaxy (1957), and Laurence Yep's Sweetwater (1973).

3. Similar themes are explored also in the body of SF that describes life on "generation starships"—stories like Robert Heinlein's "Universe" and Brian Aldiss's variation on it, NonStop (1958). An interesting version of this pattern is Harry Harrison's Captive Universe (1969), in which a curious young man who believes himself to be an Aztec living on Earth moves beyond the restrictive society of his tribe to discover that he is really a passenger on such a ship.

4. "Children's fiction" is a difficult phrase that can mean many different things: the fiction written for children; the fiction read by children; or merely a recognizable type of fiction, a genre with its own characteristics. I use the phrase here to mean the latter, for as I suggest later in this essay, I believe that children's fiction does tend to have distinguishing characteristics that allow it to be defined as a genre. I've explored these matters in "Defining Children's Literature," Children's Literature, 8 (1980): 184-90, "The Limits of Structure: A Shorter Version of a Comparison between Toni Morrison's Song of Solomon and Virginia Hamilton's M. C. Higgins the Great," Children's Literature Association Quarterly, 7, no. 3 (1982): 45-48, and "The Apparent Sameness of Children's Novels," forthcoming in Studies in the Literary Imagination. One odd characteristic of the genre of children's fiction is that, like the SF novels for young readers discussed here, it usually tells a story of its main character's maturing; even picture-book stories for and about quite young children describe a movement from rebellion to understanding that seems less like common ideas about childhood than like what we usually identify as adolescence.

5. It's clearly no accident that the worlds outside found by characters like Alvin and Chimal have obvious failings and need to be changed, whereas the worlds outside in books for young readers seem to be without flaws.

Works Cited

Christopher, John. The White Mountains. NY: Macmillan, 1967.

――――――. The City of Gold and Lead. NY: Macmillan, 1967.

――――――. The Pool of Fire. NY: Macmillan, 1968.

――――――. The Guardians. NY: Macmillan, 1970.

――――――. Wild Jack. NY: Macmillan, 1974.

Clarke, Arthur C. The City and the Stars. NY: Signet, 1957.

Forster, E. M. "The Machine Stops," in Science Fiction: The Future, ed. Dick Allen. NY: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1971.

Harrison, Harry. Captive Universe. NY: Berkley, 1969.

Hoover, H. M. This Time of Darkness. NY: Viking, 1980.

Mace, Elizabeth. Out There. NY: Greenwillow Books, 1975.

Martel, Suzanne. The City Under Ground [1964], trans. Norah Smaridge (from Quatre Montréalais en l'an 3000). Toronto & Vancouver: Douglas & McIntyre, 1982.

Nicholls, Peter. "Children's SF," in The Science Fiction Encyclopedia (Garden City, NY: 1979).

Norton, Andre. Outside. Camelot Books. NY: Avon, 1976.

Schlee, Ann. The Vandal. Magnet Books. London: Methuen, 1983.

Stableford, Brian. "Cities," in The Science Fiction Encyclopedia (see Nicholls).

Steele, Mary Q. Journey Outside. NY: Dell, 1972.

Stoutenberg, Adrien. Out There. NY: Viking, 1971.

Wolfe, Gary K. The Known and the Unknown: The Iconography of Science Fiction. Kent, OH: 1979.

Elaine Ostry (essay date April 2004)

SOURCE: Ostry, Elaine. "'Is He Still Human? Are You?': Young Adult Science Fiction in the Posthuman Age." Lion and the Unicorn 28, no. 2 (April 2004): 222-46.

[In the following essay, Ostry explores how many works of young adult science fiction are set within "the posthuman age"—a timeframe in which issues of cloning and genetic engineering are prevalent—and discusses how particular authors draw parallels between such environments and their readers' burgeoning adolescence.]

The future young adults face is that of a science fiction novel come to life. What their parents and grandparents had always thought of as science fiction—cloning, genetic engineering, prolongation of life, neuropharmacology—are now realities, or possible realities. Human cloning is close enough to being a reality to keep lawmakers busy; "designer babies" created through genetic engineering are on the horizon. Biotechnological feats and possibilities stimulate much discussion about ethics; at the heart of these discussions is what it means to be human. Biotechnology changes the human form and mind, and machines can become part of the human body.

The posthuman body can be "a technobody" (Halberstam and Livingston 3). It may even be injected with genes from another species (Fukuyama 76). With the lines crossed between organic and inorganic, and the human and animal, the word "human" may well be replaced by "posthuman." Authors such as Francis Fukuyama argue that we are entering a "posthuman" age, in which liberal humanist definitions of the human are challenged though scientific advances. What it means to be human has never been more flexible, manipulated, or in question.

The implications of the posthuman age baffle and frighten adults; how are they to be understood by young adults and children? If adolescence is the time when one considers what it means to be human, to be an individual, then there has never been a period of history when it has been more difficult to figure this out than now. Being introduced to and understanding the posthuman age is essential for young adults, as it is their future. They are the focus of biotechnology, but not just because they are future citizens: children are also the subjects of biotechnological advance and debate. Biotechnology focuses on creating "improved" children, designer babies, and on screening fetuses, thereby already determining much of a person before he or she is even born, or created by other means. Fukuyama likens this to adults giving their children permanent tattoos that they must hand down to their children in turn (94), and questions the children's lack of consent. Children are administered Ritalin and other drugs that influence the way they behave and think; this is the neuropharmacological wing of the posthuman age. The control that adults automatically wield over children—control that children come to resent most during adolescence—is increased through biotechnological advances.

Much science fiction for young adults attempts to mediate the posthuman age to a young audience. Through literature, young adults can become aware of, and participate in, the debates surrounding biotechnology. What are the pros and cons of such advances as cloning? Of what value is the human versus the new, "improved" human? Literature confronts both the hopes and fears that biotechnology inspires. Writers use the literary tropes of young adult literature (and adolescence itself) to show the complexities of the coming age: the search for identity and sense of self, the discovery of the lie, the separation between parent and child, the formation of new peer groups, resistance to adult control, decision making, growth and adaptation, and the challenge of hierarchies. The texts, in short, use biotechnology as a metaphor for adolescence. Such extreme treatment of the flexible body that challenges borders adds a dramatic dimension to the changing adolescent body and the identity crisis that arises from it. These texts examine, with different degrees of explicitness and success, the concept of the human. Writers generally assert the liberal humanist model of the human, but in some instances allow the posthuman challenge to this model to stand. With each text, the result is a more informed readership—and a more informed citizenry.

What is the posthuman? Francis Fukuyama, in Our Posthuman Future: Consequences of the Biotechnology Revolution, divides biotechnology into three main categories: neuropharmacology, prolongation of life, and genetic engineering. The most likely to experience advances and affect people is neuropharmacology, or the modification of brain chemistry, and therefore behavior, through drugs. Prozac and Ritalin are the two most popular examples of neuropharmacology. Ritalin is especially important in a discussion about children; many of them are already influenced by biotechnology before they start reading science fiction. Perhaps they can see part of themselves in such books as Lois Lowry's The Giver, in which all adolescents take a pill that suppresses sexual feelings. "Prolongation of life" is trying to extend the lifespan beyond current limits, even trying to achieve immortality through scientific advance, a project very far from completion. In Turnabout, Margaret Peterson Haddix speculates on the possibilities of immortality by presenting two adults who were given "unaging" drugs and now must find someone to take care of them as they approach childhood again. Additionally, posthumanism involves the collapsing of boundaries between the human and the mechanical, as the posthuman body can be "seamlessly articulated with intelligent machines" (Hayles 2-3). It questions what makes a human human, and a machine merely a machine. The boundaries of human and animal are also tested in the posthuman body, as we see in Peter Dickinson's Eva, in which a girl's brain is transplanted into a chimp's body. Posthumanism poses a challenge to the human body, and humanity, as we know it. By far the most fruitful biotechnological speculations for writers and intellectuals alike concern genetic engineering, and most of the books I will discuss derive from such possible innovations. The books I will be using include popular series for young adults as well as single texts. As this essay will show, there is a significant, popular, and current body of work with common themes that mediates the posthuman future for young adults.

The trope that all young adult literature has in common is the search for identity. In the posthuman young adult science fiction novel, this search takes a particularly sharp turn when the protagonist realizes that he or she is not conventionally human, that many people would consider him or her to be an aberration. The revelation is often the result of much searching: the protagonist acts as a detective to uncover the mystery of his or her identity. When assigned to write her own autobiography in English class, Amy in the Replica series by Marilyn Kaye begins to realize how little she knows about herself and her family. As she tells her English teacher, "'I don't know anything about myself'" (Amy 89). She sends off for her birth certificate and finds that there is no record of her birth. Her file at school is empty. Only the discovery of a baby bracelet that reads "Amy #7" gives her a clue about her odd inheritance: she is a clone. Actually, she is genetically engineered, created with selected genes from numerous sources, but the book uses the word clone as an easy way to label her. In Violet Eyes by Nicole Luiken, Mike and Angel team up in their detective work, trying to figure out why they have so much in common. They discover that they are living in the year 2098, not 1987. Moreover, they are a new subspecies of human, Homo sapiens renascentia, thanks to the injection of "Renaissance" genes that make them exceptional.

The revelations about their identity shake their trust in their parents, who had not told them the truth about themselves. The teenaged protagonists are often bitter: "Everyone I had ever met had lied to me on a fundamental level," Angel says (85). In Neal Shusterman's The Dark Side of Nowhere, Jason's father tells him that they are actually aliens who have taken over the genetic structure of previous inhabitants of the town, and Jason reacts angrily: "'I had no choice. You made me live this lie!'" (62). In the Regeneration series by L. J. Singleton, Allison blames her distant relationship to her parents on her origins: "Was there something genetic in her clone DNA that made her unlovable?" (Killer 105). Her fellow experimentee Varina reflects on the carefully constructed lie of her family history, which includes fake wedding pictures: "'How could they be the truth if I was a particle of DNA mixed in a floating lab and then grown like a tropical flower in a fake atmosphere? I wasn't the product of two loving parents, but the result of experimental science'" (Regeneration 140). In Clon-ing Miranda by Carol Matas, Miranda learns not only that she is a clone of a dead sister; her parents have had another clone made so that she would always have perfect matches for transplants. (It turns out that there are several other Miranda clones her parents did not know about.) Miranda broods about their deceptiveness: "'[t]hey were honest in every little detail and lied about the biggest thing, my life'" (103). She does not forgive them. The stage in adolescence of separating oneself from one's parents is writ very large indeed; it is an exaggeration of the adolescent feeling of being adopted, that "these are not my real parents."

The young adults in these books feel estranged not just from their parents and from the society that would likely shun them, but from themselves. The question that all adolescents ask—"Who am I?"—becomes quite complicated when one finds out that one is a clone, or otherwise genetically engineered. "'To find out that your life is a lie is one thing, but to find out that your own face doesn't even belong to you—'"Jason says with disgust, "'I wanted to take my hands and gouge my face until it was gone, but it wasn't like peeling off a latex mask. This living disguise went down to the bone. Down to every single cell of my counterfeit body'" (Shusterman 61). Amy "didn't feel like the same person she'd always been. Sometimes she felt as if she wasn't even occupying the same universe she'd been living in for twelve years" (Kaye, Amy 148). In The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer, Matt takes his bodyguard Tam Lin's metaphor for a clone too much to heart: "He understood he was only a photograph of a human, and that meant he wasn't really important. Photographs could lie forgotten in drawers for years. They could be thrown away" (84). Billy and the other "remnants" of the human race in K. A. Applegate's Remnants series are turning into mutants; Billy views the history of humankind and sees that he is "a wild trajectory off the evolutionary path" (Mother 51), which makes him feel utterly alone. This is an exaggeration of the typical adolescent feeling of being separate from others, and from oneself, a feeling which resonates with adolescent readers.

For the clones, the feeling of being different from others and estranged from oneself is particularly strong. Their sense of identity is confused as they must judge whether they even have a separate self. Tay in Ann Halam's Taylor Five: The Story of a Clone Girl manages to survive in the jungle by drawing strength from the idea that she is "an exact copy of a remarkable person," as her gene-mother Pam is an adventurous scientist (85). However, the notion also leads her to despair: "'Human beings aren't clones, because human beings are supposed to be different from each other, and I'm not different from Pam. You know what that means? It means I'm not a human being'" (92-93). Anna's reaction to her clone identity in Anna to the Infinite Power is typical: "Who am I?… A very special person, her mother had said. A unique experiment" (31). However, when she considers her host, she wonders, "'But exactly what is she to me? My twin? My other half? My alter ego?'" (43) and later wails, "'Anna Zimmerman wasn't really my ancestor. In fact, you might say that I am Anna Zimmerman!… I don't want to be Anna Zimmerman. I want to be someone else. Me'" (110). What is she when she experiences a memory of her host, a distinct and disturbing memory of Auschwitz? This is bad science—memories are not carried through genes—but it fits the trope of the identity crisis central to young adult literature. It does not help the clones feel like individuals when, like concentration camp victims, they are marked with depersonalizing tattoos such as the serial numbers in the Regeneration series, the crescent moon in the Replica series and, in The House of the Scorpion, the words "Property of the Alacrán Estate" stamped on a foot. Amy epitomizes the self-hatred that literary clones sometimes feel when she says, "'I feel like something in a sci-fi movie. Like a monster!'" Her mother's response is supportive yet also shows the difficulty of defining the clone: "'You are not a monster—don't you ever think of yourself that way! You're flesh and blood; you're a human being. You're just—well, you're just sort of an advanced version of a human being'" (Kaye, Pursuing 38).

Central to the clones' debate about identity is the debate between nature and nurture. Chase in the Regeneration series is horrified that he was cloned from a serial killer, and in The Killer tests his capacity for violence. He is relieved to find he can "'resist my killer instincts, that my DNA didn't rule my behavior unless I let it'" (176). In the same series, Allison expects to bond with her host, a model, but is disappointed when their rapport shows distinct limits. Amy's mother warns her, before meeting another "Amy," to "'remember that you're only identical in a genetic sense…. You may have been born with identical genetic structure, but since then you've had different upbringings. The way someone is nurtured, the values she learns, the experiences she has—these help to make a person what she is'" (Kaye, Another 56). But Amy has to learn this for herself. The ge-netically engineered protagonists must ask themselves a variation of a central question of development: "Where do my parents end and I begin?"

Despite the inescapable identity crisis, discovering that one is a clone/genetically engineered is not all bad news. Many of the protagonists already suspect that they are different from others because of their exceptional abilities. One common thread in this genre is the idea of the children developing superpowers when they reach adolescence.1 Amy has never had to go to the doctor or the dentist, and when she enters puberty, she suddenly becomes brilliant at math, develops a photographic memory, and can pick up any sport, like ice skating, instantly. She is thrilled when she excels at gymnastics: "Her whole body felt positively electric!" (Kaye, Amy 64). Although her scientist-creator tells her that she is only capable of doing what human beings can do, just "all to the max," her eyesight and hearing seem to go far beyond that (Kaye, Pursuing 76). In the Regeneration series, each adolescent in the experiment group develops a superpower in memory, strength, hearing, and eyesight, at age 13. Michael and Angel, a Renaissance gene pair, are told: "'Your brains are more complex…. Your immune systems work faster, your reflexes are astonishing, your bodies produce different hormones…. Small things, but recognizable and always an improvement. The media started to call you the Inheritors of the Earth'" (Luiken, Violet 161-62). The special powers appeal to the feeling of invincibility that adolescents sometimes have, as well as the experience of developing talents seriously.

Some protagonists achieve perfection not in their bodies but in their ability to escape their bodies and connect with computers. They become linked to a machine and achieve the superpowers of a computer. Here the boundary between human and machine is challenged. Billy in the Remnants series ends up in control of the strange mothership, building and maintaining its separate environment; he can read email without accessing a computer. The young adults in Rhiannon Lassiter's Hex trilogy possess the Hex gene, a gene initially created to improve computer literacy. Raven, the most talented Hex, completely melds with circuitry, "speeding down data pathways in a microsecond" (Hex 26). She revels in her power, and lords it over everyone else.

These young adults tend to be at the head of their class; on a larger scale, they sometimes occupy, or are expected to occupy, the ruling class. They are bred for it. The Hexes end up taking over the European Federation through their skills. The aliens in The Dark Side of Nowhere, who have been genetically disguising themselves as humans, state that they are meant to rule: "It's our world now—perfect like us" (117). Their superior genes put them first in the survival of the fittest. In Kathryn Lasky's Star Split, the world is split between the Genhants, who possess the 48th chromosome, and the Originals, who have received only the basic genetic programming; likewise, in the futuristic sections of Clone by Malcolm Rose, the class system goes from Class A clones down to the mutants who are "cloning cast-offs" (115). The human members in the Remnants series who go missing at the beginning of the series reappear as superior in power, claiming to be further along the evolutionary path; one woman can even turn her body into a weapon by accelerating her own viruses and bacteria and propelling them towards her victim. The bottom line is that genetics determines power, and thereby power in the class structure.

Indeed, one of the fears about genetic engineering is that it will develop a super class. As Fukuyama writes, "[t]he most clear and present danger is that the large genetic variations between individuals will narrow and become clustered within certain distinct social groups … that social elites may not just pass on social advantages but embed them genetically as well" (156-57). Mike in Luiken's Silver Eyes tells Angel that "'[o]rdinary people look at us, and they see a threat. Unfair competition in the job market and the gene pool. They're afraid that, if we're left to ourselves, in a few generations Renaissance children will become the de facto rulers of the world and they'll be the serving class'" (51).

A striking example of genetics creating a class system is seen in The Last Book in the Universe by Rodman Philbrick. In it, the world is divided into "normals" and "proovs." The proovs are genetically improved people, who live in Eden, the only place where blue sky and green grass are found. The normals live in the Urbs, concrete jungles of violence and poverty. The narrator Spaz is even less than a normal; as an epileptic, he is a "Deef," or defective. He describes his first encounter with Lanaya: "'You can always tell a proov because they're all tall and beautiful and healthy-looking. The other way to tell a proov is how they look at you if you're a normal. A proov can't help shuddering inside when he sees a normal. We give them the creeps. We're a reminder of what human beings are like when they're not born perfect, and I guess if you're a proov, the very idea of imperfection makes you want to throw up'" (22). As Spaz's traveling companion, the old Ryter, points out to Lanaya, "'[s]uperiority has been bred into you from the top of your head to the tips of your toes, and into every chromosome between'" (104). Lanaya is a snob, but good at heart, and is shocked when she realizes that Eden is largely to blame for the terrible conditions of the Urb. With her help, Spaz's sister Bean receives a cure for leukemia through gene therapy. However, Lanaya cannot convince Eden's ruling council that normals are equal to proovs, and the children must return to the Urb.

Many of the protagonists do not get to enjoy their powers as much as Lanaya. Their very strengths leave them vulnerable to those who want to exploit or destroy them. They are sought after as valuable commodities, not just for what their powers can do but for the information that is embedded in their cells.2 Information is power, and they are information. Many of these adolescents were part of government projects that were top secret. In the Replica and Regeneration series, as well as in the books Violet Eyes and Silver Eyes, the young adults are unique because the labs and technology that created them have been destroyed; the experiments cannot be duplicated. This makes them even more precious commodities. Most of the books using clones and other genetically engineered teenagers are structured not just as detective stories, but as suspense thrillers. Chase scenes proliferate and the suspense often overwhelms the philosophical contemplations about the issues.3 Powerful as they are, these teenagers feel exceptionally vulnerable to being used and even destroyed. As Angel says, "'[t]hey [the scientists] want to study us, use us. Another group wants to kill us'" (Luiken, Violet 120).

The teenagers often discover that they were bred to be political instruments, much as Hitler was cloned in the suspense novel and film The Boys from Brazil. As one of the Renaissance teens in Violet Eyes says, "'[t]he purpose of the original top-secret Needham government project was to create perfect weapons. Superspies. Agents to use in Limited Wars. Assassins. Elite soldiers. Us'" (205). The Hexes were created by the government for a perceived social need, and then almost entirely exterminated by them. Amy's mother tells her, "'[o]ne of the project members made a horrifying discovery. Our work was not intended to benefit humankind. A small but powerful group hidden within the national government bureaucracy had employed us to create an elite human species, a superior type of people. A master race…. Probably for some kind of world control'" (Kaye, Amy 187). To prevent this, the scientists destroyed the project. In Silver Eyes, the clones Dahlia and Zinnia are bred by the government to continue the work of the scientist Iris Cartwright; likewise, the several Annas in Anna to the Infinite Power are cloned from a famous female scientist in the hopes that one of the clones will finish her project, the replicator machine. The idea of being cloned in order to continue the work of the host deepens the identity crisis and paranoia of the clone. Anna feels that she belongs to "them" and wonders what "they" will do to her if she does not carry out their plans. She has reason to worry; she alone among the Annas evades elimination.

The young adults who are genetically altered sometimes become commercial commodities valued on the market. Dickinson's Eva survives a car crash only through highly experimental surgery that transplants her brain into a chimp body. She becomes not only a medical wonder, but a media darling. Millicent Lenz calls Eva a "CNN dystopia" (175). Eva wears brandname overalls and makes commercials on behalf of a multinational company. Everyone loves her image; her image sells. She is coerced into selling herself as the money is used to fund the Chimpanzee Pool. A representative of the company calls her "an extremely valuable piece of property" of the Pool (70).4 At a press conference, she rebels and rips off her overalls, asserting her right to be a chimp, and the rights of chimps generally. In Silver Eyes, Angel has been forced to work for the SilverDollar mining company, and is essentially their slave. Mike points out to her that "'[y]ou and I are worth millions, but we belong to ourselves, not to a corporation'" (49). At a time when teenagers are themselves commodified and used to sell products, and are urged to consume them, these books resonate for their audience.

Many of these books have some subplot about a nasty tabloid reporter, often one who is trying to uncover the characters' secrets. The Regeneration series features Dominique Eszingler, whose mission to uncover the clones' mystery must be foiled at all costs. Secrecy is essential to the clones' survival. In Silver Eyes, Angel protects her friend from a tabloid reporter who has used an illegal "Augment," a video camera hidden in his eyes. In Eva, the media sponsors the project of bringing Eva and the city-bred chimps into a wild environment, but Eva eventually evades their cameras for a life in a part of the island where they cannot track her and the other chimps. The two teenagers in Turnabout spend much of the book avoiding a reporter, who turns out to be their descendant, because they do not want their story to be known. The writers of all these books understand that today, information is itself a commodity, and that one's commodification hinders both one's privacy and personal development.

What all of these avenues of exploitation threaten is the characters' sense of self. What many of the characters are most afraid of is being experimented upon, of being merely a medical commodity in the hands of uncaring scientists. This is utter vulnerability. Amy's mother warns her that the people who are pursuing her cannot clone her, as the technology has been lost; instead, they will want to study her "'like a specimen under a microscope. Your mind, your body—they'd want to know how it all works. And I doubt it would be pleasant'" (Kaye, Pursuing 39). Being experimented upon puts the self, both body and mind, in danger.5 The Hexes discover that the government has a secret lab where it experiments on the Hexes it finds (before exterminating them). What they find is horrific: one boy has been turned into a half-machine as "[m]etal seemed to have been welded to his skin, giving him an inhuman appearance"; Raven's sister Rachel has been mentally and emotionally destroyed by the experiments (Hex 164). In the second book of the series, Raven herself falls under the power of the evil Dr. Kalden, and she feels her mind being "systematically shredded" (Shadows 222). Kubrick in the Remnants series is experimented on by the mothership (known as Mother), and given translucent, impermeable skin; the boy considers himself a monster and wants to die. These characters have been tortured, and all torturers want to break down their victims' spirit, their sense of self—their humanity. They are treated as parts rather than, as a liberal humanist perspective would have it, more than the sum of their parts. The grotesque body "is in the act of becoming" (qtd. in Starr 135), just as the adolescent body is, and it is at the interface of boundaries (human/animal, human/machine) that we are uncomfortable crossing. The average adolescent may also feel like such an open, frightening body, subject to violation and very far from finished perfection.

The characters have to assert their sense of self under dreadful odds and constant fear. They have to reclaim their self through resistance. The Regeneration clones and the Hexes work as resistance groups. Angel and her friends act as a resistance group, but her greatest challenge comes from her efforts to override the loyalty chip that the company has installed in her head, a chip that can command her to kill her best friend. Eva resists the commodification she experiences from both the medical and media establishments. The scientist who operated on her is cold, thinking only of the medical advance Eva represents; the media just want to use her to sell their products or themselves.

To succeed, characters have to come to an understanding of just where their self resides. Eva only survives mentally and emotionally because she understands that she cannot separate her human mind from her new chimp body. She actively works to meld the two together. "'I made myself want Kelly,'" she says, referring to the chimp whose body she now inhabits, and whose residual memories haunt her (134). She comes to like being a chimp, and identifies herself as such. Olwen in Monica Hughes's The Keeper of the Isis Light finds out that her Guardian genetically altered her body after the death of her parents so that she could live a full life on a planet hostile to human life. She looks like a monster, but she realizes that she is beautiful if one views beauty as connected to usefulness. Her acceptance of her body as only partially human is essential for her to maintain her self-esteem and humanity despite the settlers' rejection of her as repellent. Similarly, Tay gets a positive sense of self by thinking of herself as "something new," part of the "great romance of finding out" that is science (Halam 167).

Part of this process of developing selfhood involves reclaiming memory. Tay realizes that her memories did not originate from her genemother, and "'[t]hey're the blueprint of being me, same as DNA is the blueprint that tells the cells how to develop'" (Halam 102). Almost all of these books feature characters whose memories have been repressed or manipulated. Amy and Olwen start to remember their pasts, and the memory gives them a stronger sense of self. Eva has to accept the residual memories of her host chimp, and use them to bring the two halves of her self together. If she does not, her mind will reject her new body and die. Angel has to be brought to herself again by having her memories coaxed back by Mike; she has been brainwashed by the SilverDollar company. In those books that deal with the neuropharmacological branch of posthuman thought, memory is the first casualty in the war against the self. Totalitarian societies such as those of The Vandal and The Giver control their citizens by controlling their memories and their desires. In Ann Schlee's The Vandal, Peter refuses to partake of the nightly Drink that suppresses memory, and disobeys the Memory machine that selectively destroys one's memories before morning. The Last Book in the Universe is a paean to memory and the understanding of the self and society that it inspires. Spaz is lucky that he, as an epileptic, cannot partake in the hallucina-tory mind probes in which so many Urb dwellers indulge. These probes destroy memory and the ability to think clearly; if they are overused, the brain turns to ooze. Spaz owns his own memories and therefore has a greater sense of self than most of the people around him; his friend Ryter encourages him to record his own story in the hope that it will survive the times in which they live.

All of the above topics contribute to an overall discussion of what it means to be human in a time when it is being redefined. The boundaries between human and animal are challenged in Eva, as she ends up living the life of a chimp, in the body of a chimp, but with the mind of a human. She is her own entity, worthy of respect. She tells the doctor who gave her the transplant, "'[y]ou're just another monkey, remember'" (143). Eva rebels against the way animals are treated, and against the hierarchy that puts humans on top. The fact that she can let go of human life at all speaks to her belief in animal-human equality. Indeed, after seeing the experiment performed unsuccessfully on other children and chimps, she seems to rate humans one notch below animals. Eva represents current animal studies that "[tend] to erode the bright line that was once held to separate human beings from the rest of the animal world" (Fukuyama 144).

The boundaries between human and machine are more frequently challenged in young adult science fiction. The Hex adolescents in the Hex trilogy and Billy in the Remnants are so attuned to the computer that it is really part of their identity: "For years [Raven] had only really felt alive when her fingers touched the keypad of a terminal and her mind melded with the net to become her true self" (Lassiter, Ghosts 254). The Hexes represent a pinnacle of human achievement: "The melding of mind and machine is a development that has awaited the human race since its creation" (274). In Violet Eyes and Silver Eyes, the world of the future has developed the ability to cure disabilities with mechanical "Augmentation"; those who have received such improvements are looked down upon as being robots rather than humans. Angel is a melding of machine and human when she receives the Loyalty chip that can command her actions and feelings. The "eejits" in The House of the Scorpion are humans with implants that turn them into zombies. In Philip Reeve's Mortal Engines, the Resurrected Men are machines that are partly formed from dead humans whose brains have been emptied of memories and feelings, and are the "[p]erfect workers" because they have no needs (143).

Perhaps the most grotesque examples of unions between human and machine occur in Shade's Children by Garth Nix. In this novel, Earth has been taken over by Overlords, and all adults have disappeared. All children are murdered at age 14, and their bodies are used to create killing machines. This is biotechnology at its most frightening. Ella, Ninde, Drum and Gold-Eye are rescued, along with other young adults, by Shade, a man who no longer owns a body but lies disembodied in machinery. They form a group resisting the Overlords. It is difficult for the children to kill machines that they know were made from less fortunate children: Ninde sobs when she recognizes a machine she has killed as an old acquaintance. The worst episode is when the captured Winger, or killing flying machine, is vivisected by Shade. It is a startling moment when the Winger turns to Ella and calls her by name. It has been made from one of their captured peers, Brat, a creature who is no longer human but has a remnant of human consciousness, memory, and free will. He begs them to kill him.

What it means to be human is in question in all of these books, but the Remnants series challenges these boundaries most, and in the most grotesque fashion. The remnants develop mutations that are unexplainable by evolutionary standards. As Olga puts it, "'Human DNA can only be twisted so far'" (Applegate, No 105). Jobs, one of the leaders, responds, "'Olga's right. DNA is analog. You can twist it only so many ways. Some person or some force is treating human beings as if they were digital—just so many data bits to be added or subtracted or recombined'" (106). The mutations are in many cases controllable: Violet can crank up the reproduction of the worms lodged inside her so that her whole body is turned into worms that can heal others, even bring someone back from the dead as she does D-Caf. When Olga asks, "'[i]s he still human? Are you?,'" Violet responds, "'[a]re any of us?'" (150). There seem to be no boundaries to the human body in Applegate's series, and this is what makes the books particularly interesting.

It is currently the human condition that all of us must die, and that the desire to survive is our primary drive. But in Turnabout, the protagonists have perhaps found the key to living forever: they were part of an experiment in which they, as "centurions," took unaging drugs that made them younger and younger; they speculate that when they reach zero, they may "turnabout" and grow old again. The search for immortality is one of the components of posthumanism, and it challenges the definitions of "human" and human life. Melly remembers one of the points when she realized that the turnabout had drastically altered her definition of what it was to live: she wonders if she can have a child, and realizes that it may not be possible as "[m]y body goes backward, not forward" (122).

In Turnabout, the protagonists search for one of their descendants to take care of them as they become children and babies. They discover that their family lines crossed paths, and they find one of their great-great-great-granddaughters to adopt them. Like the definition of "human" itself, the family structure in the posthuman age must accommodate the advances of science. Carol Matas's Miranda has to explain to her clone that "'[y]ou are more like my twin, only four years younger, and I am like a twin to the original one, Jessica, their child. So Mother really is my Mother, and yours, because she and Father had Jessica'" (Second 7). Explanations of blended families are rather simple in comparison. In most of the books, there is a separation from parents and the family unit, even when the relationship is not an uneasy one. In the clone books, the clones realize that they do not really have parents at all. There tends to be a reconciliation at the end of the books between parent and child; however, the reunions seem either too pat or too fragile, and the parents' authority is always weakened.

What replaces or overwhelms the family structure in these books is the peer group, just as it does in real life. Adolescence involves moving away from the family and towards peer groups. However, the peer groups of these books are like no others. They are peers of like superpowers with the same concerns for safety and privacy. In the Regeneration series, for example, the clones end up living together at a secluded school run by one of the scientists who fostered them; they call each other "clone cousins."

The authority of the adult is definitely less than it would otherwise be, as the young adults are in so many ways more powerful. They are not on the same level as others their age; as one of the enemy group in the Replica series is commanded, "'[d]o not underestimate [Amy]. And keep in mind that she may very well be more than a child'" (Amy 133). The definitions of "child" and "young adult" versus "adult" are under question, and thereby the traditional hierarchy in which adults rule over children. If in the Hex trilogy a small resistance group of young adults and children can topple the evil European Federation, then it seems that ability—ability that comes from superior genetics—trumps age and traditional structures of power. This is the great appeal of the posthuman age: the possibility of unheard-of power, and power that is open to the young. Although their powers may make them vulnerable, the characters also delight in them and use them to their own benefit.

However, the excitement of a changing, flexible definition of the human being is not generally sustained in these books. There is much apprehension about the clones' unusual conditions. Although the posthuman bodies that the books depict are a challenge to the liberal humanist definition of "human," the authors mostly reject this challenge in the end. The characters tend to uphold a conventional definition of humanity despite—or because of—the obvious challenge to it. Even the shockingly experimental Remnants series shows this attitude. Billy "had the strong sense that he was becoming something less human and more something—else. And he was curious to learn what, exactly, he was becoming…. This disturbed him. And it excited him" (Applegate, Mother 47). But when the Shipwright alien tells him "'[y]ou are not human,'" he insists that he is (Isolation 149). 2-Face, one of the remnants, manipulates Billy by appealing to his humanity and his sense of loneliness: "'You're one of us, Billy. A human being. You're not some machine, in spite of what you might think all alone up here …'" (Mother 122).

What does it mean to be human? This is a question that is itself a step in personal development, a question that children do not ask but teenagers do. One reason Holocaust literature is so popular among young adults is because it addresses this issue. It is also the appeal of these science fiction books. The traditional view of humanity is that it is based on a sense of empathy, morality, free will, and dignity. It is a fixed view, and this fixedness jars somewhat with the flexibility, or instability, of the human body and mind in these posthuman young adult science fiction texts.

To say that someone is inhuman usually means that he or she is cruel, lacking the moral base on which human beings pride themselves. It also implies that the person is unemotional, unable to connect with others, lacking a heart. The ability to emphasize is generally considered fundamental to a moral base. The books tend to emphasize the importance of emotion as part of what makes one human. Carl, an Augmented person in Violet Eyes, defends his humanity to Mr. Lindstrom, who claims he is a machine: "'I was born, as you were. My lungs were only half-developed, and my heart was weak, so instead of abandoning me to a half-existence in a bubble, my parents saw to it that I received mechanical Augmentation. The scientists did nothing to my brain. I am as human as you are…. My voice box is manufactured, like the rest of me. I can laugh, but the sound is unnatural, so I prefer not to. My Augmented body does not produce the hormone that causes human tears, but that doesn't mean that I'm never sad. I feel. I love'" (142-43). In Silver Eyes, Angel is able by the force of her will and her love for her friends to override the Loyalty chip that tries to make her a killing machine. The biomachines in Shade's Children write poetic graffiti. Ella asks Shade, "'You're sure there's nothing left of the person when you cut it up? I mean, when I see things like this poem …'" (67). Poetry is an art of emotion, sensitivity and individual perception: human, not mechanical, attributes. Tom feels guilty for killing the Resurrected Man Shrike because he realizes that, somehow, Shrike had retained memory and emotion: "'All right, so he was dead already, technically, but he was still a person. He had hopes and plans and dreams, and I put a stop to them all'" (Reeve 193). Anna is a clone who becomes an individual at puberty. Unlike other clones, she loses her superpowers, but she gains an emotional inner life, crying for the first time. She becomes more human.

If to be human means feeling emotion, then losing total control over one's emotions, or having them controlled for you, puts one's humanity in question. Books using neuropharmacology exploit this idea. Upon reaching puberty, the young adults in The Giver must take a pill that suppresses sexual desires. Jonas is uncomfortable about this rule without being sure why. He secretly stops taking it and finds that all of his emotions become heightened. Likewise, the female leaders in Star Split stop taking the medication that calms their emotions. In Eva, a mother's concern for her daughter's happiness is answered by a doctor's order for "[a] microshot of endorphin" (10), as if human happiness were merely chemical. When Tay is advised to take the drug that will dull her painful memories, the girl rebels: "'Is that what the future is going to be like? Emotions you can order like hamburgers? Hold the pickle, extra mayonnaise? Is that what you think I need? A pill to mend a broken heart?'" (Halam 163). The mind probes of The Last Book in the Universe and, to a lesser extent, the shapes of Eva prove addictive: the mind loses itself in hallucinations, completely mediated sights and emotions. The human loses agency along with genuine emotion.

Losing control over emotions is frightening because without emotion, especially empathy, a moral base is felt to be impossible. Angel asserts her humanity through morality: "'Dave didn't think we were human either. Like Mr. Lindstrom calling Carl a robot. I am a human being, and I will not let another human being die if I can help it'" (Luiken, Violet 226). Chase in the Regeneration series, cloned from a serial killer, tests his moral base when he, an animal-lover, comes across an injured poacher in the wild. He could easily kill him without detection, but he does not: "'my DNA didn't rule my behavior unless I let it…. And knowing this freed something inside of me'" (Singleton, Killer 176). It is a question of mind over matter, or DNA. When Anna realizes that stealing, a lifelong habit, is wrong, she moves closer to full humanity. The ethical basis of humanity is given bizarre, even funny, treatment in Shade's Children, when Shade cross-examines his desire to have a body in order to become human and conquer the Overlords. He needs to get one from the Overlords and use their technology, but this requires him to betray the children and teenagers he has saved. He asks himself whether it is possible to become human if the means of doing so are inhumane—and keeps shorting himself out with this paradox.6 The young adults make an awful discovery: the Overlords, whom they had assumed were alien/mechanical, are in fact human. Since they lack a human moral base, Drum dismisses them: "'It doesn't really matter if they do look human under that armor. What they've done has made them something else. Not human …'" (239-40).

The books often use the posthuman body as a lesson in tolerance. Can others look beyond the unusual bodies and origins these young adults have, and see their humanity? The Augmented people in Violet Eyes and Silver Eyes suffer from the prejudices of others against not only the melding of flesh and machine but also the weaknesses that led to the Augmentation in the first place. Mike tells Angel, "'some would say you and I aren't 'people.' We were genetic experiments, remember?'" (Silver 51). For the young people who face such reactions, life is secretive and lonely. After hearing her friend Tasha exclaim how creepy identical triplets are, Amy decides not to reveal to her that she is cloned. Most of the books strongly assert the humanity of the clone. Miranda pressures her parents to recognize the humanity of the clone they had made from her: it is more than an "insurance policy" or "body parts" (Matas, Cloning 101, 113). Matt is considered inhuman, a "bad animal," and he internalizes this idea until refuted by Tam Lin: "'No one can tell the difference between a clone and a human. That's because there isn't any difference. The idea of clones being inferior is a filthy lie'" (Farmer 27, 245). Clones/genetically engineered characters must also develop tolerance for their own selves, and accept their odd bodies and accommodate themselves to society. The posthuman body is a metaphor for how foreign one's body feels during adolescence, as adolescents must discover themselves and reintegrate into their society.

The desire to teach tolerance is dramatically underscored by allusions to eugenics. In the Replica series, Dr. Jaleski uses the Nazis to explain the motivations of the backers of the project that created Amy: both groups "'wanted to create a master race'" (Pursuing 79). The evil Dr. Victor in the Regeneration series writes an article, "Eugenics: Improving the Human Race," in which he outlines his plan to "improve people by getting rid of imperfections" (Search 101). In The Dark Side of Nowhere, Jason and his friends are trained in the warlike culture of their alien roots, and this indoctrination relies on a sense of genetic—and therefore indelible, undeniable—superiority. They learn catchphrases like "Would we have been created so beautiful if we weren't meant to have the world?" (120), and their leader suggests that if humans cannot adapt to living under the aliens when the invasion occurs, then they would be put to death, as "'[n]othing becomes extinct that doesn't deserve it'" (150). Jason thinks to himself, "'[y]ou could get drunk talking like that all the time'" (117). In the end, Jason rejects the "perfection" of the alien body: he tries to stave off his body's gradual reversion to its natural alien form and walks away from the training sessions that have offended his human sense of morality.

The rejection of "perfection" is a hallmark of humanist rhetoric. To be superhuman contains the potential not to be human anymore. As Emma tells her clone friend Miranda, if she were perfect, "'you wouldn't be human'" (Matas, Second 100). Ironically, human weaknesses—including a moral base and emotions—are strengths. The vicious alien Shipwright ponders humans: they are "perplexing," "emotional, lost, unarmed," "primitive," and "yet they possessed intelligence, tenacity, intuition. Intuition most of all" (Applegate, Isolation 123). Sure enough, the remnants are able to hold their own against aliens far more physically powerful. The challenges that ordinary human beings without genetic or mechanical improvements must face make them stronger. In this line, Ryter tries to convince Spaz that his epilepsy may be compensated for by increased intelligence, ambition, and the preservation of his memory. Lanaya argues to the ruling council of the Proovs that the "normals," even "deefs" are human beings like them: "'Our genetic coding is the same! We're all human beings!'"; and they should be given the same advantages as proovs (Philbrick 206). They could even teach the proovs how to be "'truly'" human, for they have "'risked everything simply to go on living!'" and shown great courage and resourcefulness (206). Darci in Star Split senses that the Originals in olden times had a "special grace, a sacredness" from living in a "time of chance … and mystery when not all could be controlled and not all was known" (108-09).

When characters relinquish some of their power, they seem to become more human. They gain moral power. Lanaya, in her eagerness to share her advantages in life, is more normal than proov. Ironically, some of these characters are never more human than when they are not. Eva rejects the human world in order to help the last remaining chimps learn how to live in the wild, a task for which her human mind is necessary. This act of self-sacrifice—for never again can she talk to another human being, or see her family—makes her more human than ever. Jason in The Dark Side of Nowhere cannot hold back his body's changes, and eventually all his human DNA is replaced by alien matter. "'The human part of you is gone forever,'" his father tells him (183). Jason rejects this conclusion and goes to address the legislature about the existence (and threat of) alien life. He believes that "'no matter what my reflection tells me—no matter what genes give rise to my form—I know exactly who and what I am. I am Jason Jonathan Miller. And I am human'" (185).

What Jason has done is choose to be human. In this decision he follows his parents, who "chose to be human" after studying it and liking "everything" about it (62, 59). To be human is more than the sum of its parts, namely human DNA. It includes decision making, free will, agency—all crucial concepts in young adult literature. Genetic factors suggest "a limitation of moral agency and human potentiality" (Fukuyama 39); these characters go beyond their genetic code. Vivian "knew that she was more than the twisting, spiraling threads that packaged those molecules of DNA" (Lasky 115).7 Miranda tries to teach her clone to make her own choices, difficult when the clone parrots, "'I am made for you. My destiny is you'" (Matas, Cloning 95). Miranda wonders, "'how do I know now, when I make a choice, whether it's me or my programming?'" (127). With the help of Emma, she concludes that "we are all programmed in a way. And if that is true, then what makes us unique is maybe pushing against that, testing that, trying to figure out what is programmed and what it really means to think for ourselves" (Matas, Second 134). In a sense, we are all clones, especially when teenagers, fighting against a conformist society and our parents' conditioning.

Most of the characters in these posthuman science fiction books for young adults are faced with a choice that determines the level of their humanity. The young protagonists display considerable agency in the defense of humanity. They define themselves as human, using the standards of morality set by the liberal humanist model. To be human is to be tolerant, accepting of others' and their own weaknesses. It is to be self-sacrificing, as Melly is when she recognizes that it would be selfish for an unaging woman to have a child. Choosing to be human means rising above matter, to put one's foot rather firmly in the "nurture" camp of the nature/nurture debate. It means getting further away from biology and the way biology can be manipulated. It means rejecting the supremacy of the posthuman body.

Eva, however, challenges this Cartesian duality of mind and body. As Pamela Sargent speculates, "[i]f we alter ourselves biologically, then it follows that our minds, perceptions, and values may also change" (xxviii). In other words, the body can lead the mind. Eva ruminates:

The thing is, you aren't a mind in a body, you're a mind and a body, and they're both you. As long as the ghost of that other body haunted her, she would never become a you, belonging all together, a whole person…. You couldn't just invade a chimp body and take it over with your human mind, like a hero in a history book—you'd never get to be whole that way. Eva's human neurons might have copied themselves into Kelly's brain, but as Dad had said, that left a sort of connection, an interface, a borderland where human ended and chimp began.


Eva must integrate both chimp and human. Similarly, to promote the chimps' survival in the wilderness, she brings human knowledge into their lives. Although she breeds, "[n]ot one human gene would be there [after her death]. Only, faintly, but in all of them, changed by them and changing them, the threads of human knowledge" (219). The human skills that Eva has introduced may be passed down through generations as a cultural phenomenon, and eventually through genes. (This idea has scientific credibility, as Suzanne Rahn has shown.)8 Eva thus bridges nature and nurture, as what is nurtured may become nature.

The books often contain their own statements about cloning, genetic engineering, and other forms of the posthuman body. Even though the chief interest of the books is the way they challenge accepted notions of the human body, the characters in the books generally stand against, or regret, experimentation with the human form. Scientists are seen as fallible. Nancy, Amy's adoptive mother and a scientist who served on the project that created her, says, "'[w]e thought we were working for the benefit of all humanity. We believed we were doing something pure and noble and good'" (Kaye, Amy 186). The verbs "thought" and "believed," and her body language of bowing her head, suggest that Nancy has changed her mind since; indeed, she was relieved when Amy seemed to be a normal child. Dr. Jaleski, the head of the project, tells Amy frankly, "'[w]e had no idea how the embryos would evolve'" (Pursuing 74). Science has its limitations and drawbacks. In Turnabout, the unaging drug is supposed to be arrested by another drug at the age desired, but the first person to try this crumbles into dust. Only Melly and Anny Beth ultimately survive the experiment as all the others choose suicide or dwell in severe depression. Similarly, the aged "gummies" in Frank Bonham's The Forever Formula suffer from malaise and beg to play "suicide bingo." The positive characters in The House of the Scorpion are disgusted by the old men, including El Patrón, who prolong their lives past the age of 150 by means of continual implants from clones. Matt realizes that his host El Patrón will not spare him, but will harvest his adult-sized heart.

The books occasionally openly debate the value of biotechnology. In Anna to the Infinite Power, Anna's mother is in favor of cloning as "a way to master evolution," whereas her father takes the opposite view: "'Who decides who is to be cloned?… This also means that now scientists can design new organisms. What if a new bacterium that could alter or endanger people's lives were accidentally, or even deliberately, created?'" (36, 62). Anna confronts her makers: "'You had no right to make all of us, anyhow…. This whole experiment is monstrous …'" (192). Eva similarly challenges the doctor who "cured" her: "'This [body] belongs to a chimp called Kelly. You people stole it from her. You thought you'd killed her so that you could steal it, but some of her's still here. Some of her's me. She knows what you did, so I know. I know it's wrong'" (143). Miranda protests her parents' decision to have a clone made of her: "'Are you going to grow another one after you've killed that child? And then kill her if something else goes wrong with me? It's murder. Murder!'" (Matas, Cloning 113). The very real possibility that she and the other clones may malfunction distresses Miranda: "'[w]ho knows what's in store for me and for Ariel in the future?'" (Second 41). Malcolm Rose displays the debate throughout Clone in a heavy-handed fashion, especially in the e-mail debates between the scientist and "Churchman." Matas and Rose draw upon scientific knowledge and speculation about how genetic manipulation can cause suffering and unforeseen problems.

There are occasional exceptions to the line of thought that science has lost control and needs to be reined in. The Hex trilogy contains a conservative statement about biotechnology coming from a member of the evil European Federation, who comments about their forebears: "'They were fools and dreamers and they thought to play God'" (Lassiter, Ghosts 21). However, it transpires that what the politicians most dislike about the Hexes is how they threaten privacy, or rather the secrecy that they need to abuse their power. The trilogy ends on a note of hopefulness when the Hexes take over and a world without mental and physical boundaries can begin. The worst thing about the proovs in The Last Book in the Universe is their snobbishness, which could yet be erased. In Turn-about, one of the doctors who invented the faulty unaging drug PT-1 says, "'[w]e messed around with nature, and we shouldn't have'" (129). However, the descendants of the doctors are amazed when Anny Beth and Melly state that they think anyone should be allowed to take the drug if warned of the risks. As Melly says, "'don't you think people would be less self-obsessed if they had a longer time to live? If they weren't scrambling to make their mark on the world before they'd gained any wisdom about what kind of mark to leave?'" (215). Even though the technology of unaging seems to be destructive and dangerous, Haddix leaves the reader with the possibility that the women will not only survive but enrich the lives of others through the accumulated wisdom of their possibly unending lives. Looking at how biotechnology can improve individual lives and society in general can be a way of showing how human nature can indeed change for the better; this would fulfill the agenda that most writers for young adults have of instilling hope in their readers, although care has to be taken not to be naively optimistic.

Biotechnology can both benefit and destroy; this doubleness complicates debate. Yet most writers for young adults simplify the argument in favor of making an ideological point about the fixed quality of human nature and values. The message that these books give to their young readers is a reassuring one: human values and human nature will prevail no matter what changes the human body endures. These values are what literature—and the adult world in general—attempt to inculcate in young people. However, the future of science and the body is much less certain. Can future humans "rise" above their genetically altered and designed bodies? No one knows for sure what the personality of a clone will be like. Fukuyama refers to the "Law of Unintended Consequences" in this regard, as unwanted—even dangerous—consequences may show up long after the experiment takes place (78). Geneticists are currently searching for genes that determine personality9—and the more that is known about the human mind, the more it can be controlled. Who knows? Free will itself may be a combination of genetic factors. These possibilities, however, are too radical for the typical writer for young adults today. They stray from the perceived need in young adult literature to provide a clear moral structure and a hopeful, if not happy, ending. Kay Sambell writes that this need for hope compromises the narrative strategies of postnuclear fiction for young adults; books about the posthuman future show the same pattern. The choice to become human seems a bit too pat in what is a difficult subject that makes almost everyone uneasy. Complicating the biotechnological debate would lessen the "cautionary tale" aspect of the books, the didacticism that is a strong tradition in literature for young adults. Although they may push the envelope in young adult literature in the subject matter and grotesque imagery, most of the writers ultimately play it safe by showing the posthuman body as comfortingly familiar, human despite appearances.


1. The exceptions I found were Anna to the Infinite Power, in which superhuman Anna becomes ordinary at puberty, and The House of the Scorpion, in which Matt's accomplishments are the result of hard work, with the exception of his musical talent.

2. Tay in Taylor Five is herself a supreme medical advance, as her genetic profile is the source of a new super-medicine; however, the Lifeforce company that created her made the antibodies "open-source, non-profit-making" (158).

3. An example of a series that exploits the current interest in genetics without adding to the debate is the Fearless series by Francine Pascal. The focus of the series is not on the heroine's lack of a "fear gene" but on her status with the CIA and her romances.

4. Kathryn V. Graham discusses commodification in Eva in regards to the scientific community, asking "[h]ow far should a scientist go in order to obtain funds for important research?" (81).

5. Another example of experimentation, more psychological than physical, occurs in Nicholas Fisk's A Rag, a Bone, and a Hank of Hair, in which Reborns are created from genetic material and tested in a London Blitz scenario to discover their emotional limits.

6. Similarly, in Bethancourt's The Mortal Instruments, a consciousness from the future searches for a body and ends up inside a master computer.

7. Lasky, alone among the writers I discuss, uses the word "soul" to describe the essential humanity of her character.

8. See Rahn as well as Fukuyama 143-45.

9. A good resource for the layperson is Wade, ed., The New York Times Book of Genetics.

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Bogstad, Janice. "Young Adult Science Fiction." Science-Fiction Studies 27, no. 3 (November 2000): 494-98.

Examines the ongoing attempt to categorize normative young adult science fiction through an examination of four recent critical studies.

Earnshaw, Brian. "Planets of Awful Dread." Children's Literature in Education 14, no. 4 (December 1983): 237-42.

Laments certain emerging trends in contemporary children's science fiction.

Engdahl, Sylvia. "The Changing Role of Science Fiction in Children's Literature." In Children and Literature: Views and Reviews, edited by Virginia Haviland, pp. 250-55. Glenview, Ill.: Scott, Foresman and Company, 1973.

Young adult science fiction author Engdahl argues for a reduction in negativity in young adult science fiction.

Morrissey, Thomas J. "Pamela Sargent's Science Fiction for Young Adults: Celebrations of Change." Science-Fiction Studies 16, no. 2 (July 1989): 184-90.

Compares Pamela Sargent's young adult science fiction with her books intended for an adult audience.

Myers, Alan. "Science Fiction in the Classroom." Children's Literature in Education 9, no. 4 (1978): 182-87.

Explores how the science fiction genre has applications in various educational fields such as history, politics, and biology.

Yates, Jessica. "Science Fiction." In International Companion Encyclopedia of Children's Literature, edited by Peter Hunt, pp. 314-25. London, England: Routledge, 1996.

Asserts that young adult science fiction has overcome its former reputation as weak literature—particularly in comparison to adult science fiction—to become a legitimate and important genre of youth literature.

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