It is so easy to get distracted while writing. My goal the other night was to focus on what it means to search for sense of wonder books in late middle age, but I got sidetrack from this intent by reminiscing about Clifford Simak’s City. We science fiction fans often agree that around age 12 is when discovering science fiction is the most exciting. But should that be so? And is it true for everyone? Indeed, it is easy to become jaded as one gets older, as well as becoming better educated, more cynical, sophisticated, and, dare I say it, more discerning.
Does that mean we are destined to outgrow science fiction? I have to admit that I find it very hard to discover new SF&F to enjoy. Furthermore, I’ll admit that when I reread some of my favorite books from my golden age of discovery they often fail to bring me back to the good ole days. The thrill is gone. And when I do reread books that I still love I’m worried that I’m just wallowing in nostalgia, and not appreciating the story for its own merits.
Is the power of science fiction at its greatest potency when viewed by twelve year olds because they are wild-eyed, full of enthusiasm, and anxious to discover everything exciting about the world, or because children are easily manipulated by the slight-of-hand of fantastic stories? At 12 our critical x-ray vision isn’t very strong, so we tend to welcome everything with believability. I know it’s just entertainment, but when I was a kid I wanted to believe in science fiction. It was my religion.
To play devil’s advocate to my own supposition, I should admit on cross examination that I read with great excitement the Harry Potter novels and the Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. There is a clue here. Those are young adult (YA) novels. Furthermore, my all-time favorite novels to reread are Robert A. Heinlein’s twelve YA novels.
The mature of the literary world have often sneered that science fiction is crude pulp fiction for adolescents. I don’t know how mature I am at 56, but I still find excitement in the concept of science fiction, and want it to be an art form for all ages. Now this could be avoiding adultification on my part, and I may not be alone, because look how successful Harry Potter books have been with my fellow boomers. Many of the blogs I read about science fiction are written by old guys like myself fondly looking back to their favorite books.
There is a boom in YA fiction, being read by kids and adults. I know plenty of middle age people who have found a renewed excitement for reading through YA novels. So, is it the age of the reader, or just the YA subject matter that stir up our minds? YA writers know how to target their audience with stories that resonate with the teen years. Science fiction and fantasy, whether marketed as YA or adult fiction strongly appeals to youthful readers.
This finally brings me to the question I want to ask: If literature can be targeted to the formative years, can it also be targeted to the waning years? When I first started reading Old Man’s War by John Scalzi I thought, “Hot damn, science fiction for old guys.” If you’ve read the novel you’ll also probably guess my disappointment in the change of direction it eventually takes.
As a boomer seeing my golden years glow on the horizon, I want those years to be a new golden age of science fiction. I wonder if there’s a market for sunset science fiction? Who knows, maybe I have a bad attitude towards aging, but I can’t help but thinking I’ll have 15-30 years of wrinkly freedom. It won’t be like being young, but it doesn’t have to be all about dying either.
I think the excitement of reading YA fiction is the quality it brings to thinking about the future and exploring what we can be “when we grow up.” One reason many people turn away from fiction is because growing up turns out to be a dud in relation to our YA fantasies. Adultification sets in and dreams dissipate with compromising. One of the tragic beliefs of youth is we’ll have lots of time to pursue our dreams after high school, but college, jobs and marriages kills that dream fast.
If I retire and have 15-30 years of free time, I’m going to have that free time I wanted in my youth. I might not be fit to do anything, but I shouldn’t give up. What we need is RA fiction, Retired Adult fiction that inspires us to do something with those years of freedom. Fishing, golfing and shuffleboard are philosophical lacking, so I want sense of wonder ideas for my elder years.
Hell, maybe J. K. will write a series about a Hogwarts Retirement Home. Or Victor Appleton II can be resurrected to write about the adventures of a geezer Tom Swift. However, this time around I want maximum sense of wonder with less fantasy. I can believe fantasies about a robotic Jeeves becoming a geriatric companion easier than I can believe being downloaded into a cloned body. I’d love to read more stories about the possibilities of mental rejuvenation. I’m not against physical overhauls, but so far medicine only seems to produce scary people with rigid faces.
What we need is the idealism of the 1960s for octogenarians. Let’s see some creative utopian assisted living homes. And does anyone write erotica for the wrinkled?
Science fiction original sold me the Brooklyn Bridge on Tau Ceti. It’s easy to fool kids that rocket travel is just around the corner. This time around I want science fiction writers to really wring their imaginations and bring about another golden age of SF.