deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
So [livejournal.com profile] diceytillerman and I have an expression, "killing the baby." For us it means that moment when an interesting thought experiment ceases to be interesting because there is a clear moral choice. (It comes from the moment in Lois Lowry's The Giver when, in my opinion, no reader can continue to think that there's a moral option in not destroying the protagonist's society. Although I have definitely learned over years of teaching the book that for many students that moral decision comes much earlier. Never seems to come later, though.)

One of the things I find frustrating about most dystopian novels is that, well, they are clearly dystopian. We don't have a word for Potential Utopia, Sort of Dystopia, Chetzi-Chetzi Dystopia/Utopia. By definition they are Bad Places™.

Yet for me, they're more interesting, not just as philosophical thought experiments, but both aesthetically and viscerally as stories, if it's more complicated than that. I don't want the dystopia to hold my hand and show me why a certain societal structure is wrong, I want the story to make both me and the story's own protagonists think about trade-offs. Is the society in The Giver one that has benefits that might offset its costs? Is the Empire really that much worse than the decadent final days of the Old Republic?

Of course usually the answer to these questions are easy. Usually there is some disastrously evil act the dystopian society participates in: infanticide, having a comically ugly evil dictator, secret slavery. But all this disastrous evil does is prevent us from having to consider the pros and cons of the two structures. All it does is make reading too easy.

I've talked about this before when I addressed my feelings about the difference between The Hunger Games the novel and The Hunger Games trilogy, how after book one I still thought the trilogy might be the dystopia I had been waiting for, the one that shows contemporary American society's dark mirror without requiring a cackling evil overlord.

Can you think of any dystopian societies where it's not that cut and dried? Ones where, ultimately, there's not a correct moral answer? And are any of them created for young audiences?

(What I think might come closest that I can think of is The True Meaning of Smekday, which isn't a dystopia at all, it's an alien invasion story. But within that alien invasion, there are constant reminders that what is the right versus wrong way to run a society is complicated. But alien invasion stories have their own genre conventions, and finding complication in your relationship to the other is, well. It was thinking about Ursula Le Guin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," that made make this post, but now I am inclined to think about her "The Word for World Is Forest" as an example of the alien-is-us trope. My first exposure to it was probably Enemy Mine. It's different, is what I am saying.)
deborah: Kirkus Reviews: OM NOM NOM BRAINS (kirkus)
I wanted to make a post about The Hunger Games trilogy before I saw the movie, because I didn't want this post about the trilogy in general to be colored by how much I'm having reactions to the film right now. Instead, I will break it into two parts. And if I wait until I have all of my thoughts coherent before I make this post, the second movie will be out, so maybe I should just go ahead and post it.

Why I will not stop judging the trilogy for my own misreading of book one )

A subset of my reactions to the film, mostly but not entirely in that context )

General non-spoilery positive thought: if this movie and trilogy of movies do as well as it looks like they might, perhaps it could be the end of the of no female action heroes or superheroines in film? Television realized a decade ago that there's money to be made with high-quality female action heroes; will film finally catch up? Where the studio realizes that not only do women have plenty of money that they like to spend on movies marketed to women, but also men show up for these movies and buy tickets as well?

And for a completely non-academic note: when I was talking to my boss about how awesome Lenny Kravitz's portrayal of Cinna was, she said "everyone wants a Cinnabon".
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
I continue to be troubled by the Edwards awards. Here is the list of previous winners of the Edwards award.
24 winners )Maybe I'm missing something, but out of 24 winners I count two authors of color (both black), three out queer women (and two authors of explicitly homophobic books to balance them out). As long as I am running statistics in my head, I also get two authors of nonfiction,11 authors known primarily for their realistic fiction for young readers, 4 authors known primarily for fantasy or science fiction for adults, 1 author known primarily for suspense and mystery for young readers, 1 author known primarily for humor.

When compared with the Printz (11 winners, 4 winners of color -- 2 black, one Korean born American, one American of Taiwanese descent; no out authors), the Edwards starts looking like they are not really paying attention to representation when they make statements of lifetime achievement. And I don't just mean representation vis-à-vis the usual factors, but also genre. In those 11 years, Printz winners included one fantasy graphic novel, two post-apocalyptic novels (one far future and one near future), one humor novel, and a couple of really weird surrealist pieces. No mysteries, horror, nonfiction, romance, or thrillers. (Expanding to include the Printz honors-- which isn't fair, because the Edwards award only gets to honor one person the year, so I should be comparing apples to apples -- nets you a whole variety of things I'm not going to run statistics on right now, including several out authors, a heroic crown of sonnets, a couple of books which are at least kinda-kinda as far as fat politics goes, steampunk, autobiography, nonfiction, funny chicklit, and yes, Terry Pratchett. Also a wide variety of books about queerness written by straight people and books about people of color written by white people, but at least the books in question are awesome.)

In this light, I am more happy about the Pratchett award in the Edwards' just because that means they have finally given an award to humor, although personally I'd have been happier to see it go to someone like Pinkwater. Nancy Werlin would go a long way to approaching the dearth of representation for suspense and mystery. I can't even begin to approach the absence of horror from that list. I'm not fond of the genre myself, but even if you don't want to credit R. L. Stine, Christopher Pike, and Anthony Horowitz, you could give a little bit of love to John Bellairs. Chicklit would be well represented by Meg Cabot.
deborah: the Library of Congress cataloging numbers for children's literature, technology, and library science (Default)
I was lucky enough to see an early copy of Kristin Cashore's forthcoming Fire, which takes place in the same universe as her debut Graceling although substantially earlier. There are many things I could talk about when discussing what I love about this book. I could talk about how much I love the protagonist and the plot, which is true. I could talk about how squeeful it makes me for there to be incidentally disabled characters in this world. I could talk about how much I love Fire's unconventional character arc -- so unconventional, in fact, that even knowing Graceling as I did I fully expected a last-minute situational reprieve.

But instead of going to talk about what really fascinates me: how Fire is not a Mary Sue. Generally, that's not such a big deal. Most fictional characters aren't Mary Sues. But Fire ought to be. I just plugged her into one of the Mary Sue Litmus Tests and got a 96. If I hadn't read the book, but had somebody describe it to me, I would have yelled "Mary Sue! Mary Sue!" gleefully. Unusually colored hair? Check. Everyone loves her? Check.

And yet, ultimately, Fire is a fully realized and intensely flawed character, far more than the sum of her identifiably-Sueish traits. If I didn't know better, I'd see her as a reaction to litmus tests, almost as if the author said "these are bogus; I can write a character with all of these traits who is not a Sue at all". (Cue aside about authorial intent and how interesting it is to read her as a reaction to litmus tests even though I know she wasn't written that way.)

One of the things I love about Kristin Cashore's writing is how, while writing firmly within genre, she consistently breaks narrative expectations. Yet my love for Fire as a character who breaks out of Mary Sue tropes is a little bit silly, isn't it? After all, the clearly identified trope of Mary Sue doesn't come from conventional published original fantasy (although it certainly exists there as well). How can I read across genre-boundaries when I say that the text is breaking narrative expectations?

Here, of course, I'm the reader whose expectations have been so satisfyingly broken. I read both girls' fantasy and fan fiction, so I have narrative expectations that cross both genres. But the book itself certainly doesn't have an implied readership of fan fiction readers. Although that's not necessarily true. Given the marketing and demographic realities of current young readers of fantasy, there may well be an extremely large overlap between this book's implied readership and those who are familiar with the tropes of fan fiction, just as there is probably an extremely large overlap between this book's implied readership and those who are familiar with, say, High School Musical. Is that overlap relevant, though? Would Hunger Games be a different book if its implied audience weren't very likely to be familiar with Survivor-like reality shows?

I'm just thinking aloud here; I don't have answers to any of these questions.

Except to say that Fire was totally awesome.
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