We have a special guest post for you today, and we could not be more thrilled to welcome author Carrie Vaughn to the Slatebreakers blog. We first learned about Carrie through frequent Slatebreakers reader Deb Vaughn. Deb helped us connect with Carrie and learn more about the Andre Norton Award and some fantastic, feminist fiction from the science fiction and fantasy genre. Without further delay…here’s Carrie!
Thanks to Brianna and Sarah (and to Deb for bringing us together!) for inviting me to write for Slatebreakers about one of my favorite things in the entire world: science fiction and fantasy. Specifically, the Andre Norton Award for outstanding young adult or middle grade science fiction and fantasy.
The details: The Andre Norton Award was launched in 2005 by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (www.sfwa.org) to recognize the year’s outstanding young adult and middle grade works. It’s named for one of the giants in the field: Andre Norton, who was herself a slatebreaker, donning a pen name (she was born Alice Norton) and making a career for herself in a male-dominated genre starting in the 1930’s. She broke through assumptions about what kinds of books women could read and write. In 1984 SFWA named her a Grand Master of the field — the first woman to be so honored. Norton’s career as an author lasted some seventy years, and she inspired countless young people (including my mother) with her stories. Launching this award in her honor, a year after she passed away, was the most natural thing in the world.
I have the good fortune and honor to be part of this year’s Norton Award Jury. Eligible works are nominated by members of SFWA, but the jury has the task of reviewing books and adding up to three additional titles to the ballot. I’m doing a lot of reading right at the moment — which I consider a perk, not a drawback, I must say. The final ballot is then voted on by SFWA, and the award is given in the spring at the Nebula Awards Banquet.
This all leads to some obvious questions: Why science fiction and fantasy? Why young adult? Why both at the same time?
First off, science fiction and fantasy are awesome. These are the stories of the imagination that don’t take place in the “real” world. They’re stories of the future (like The Hunger Games), of magic (like Harry Potter), of alternate worlds that are sort of but not really like ours (like His Dark Materials), of worlds that look like ours but with a touch of the supernatural (like Twilight). They’re stories that ask, “What if?” and answer with the outrageous and wondrous. Many people also point to science fiction and fantasy as a way to explore real-world problems and issues by turning them inside out and looking at them in a new light. Combine all that with the kinds of stories we see in YA — about rebellion, identity, coming of age, negotiating society and its problems — and we get a category of literature in which, more than any other, kids can change the world. I love that.
Young adult and middle grade literature often has to struggle for recognition and respect — it’s not just “kid stuff,” it’s not simple or easy, the category includes some of our greatest classics. Science fiction and fantasy also struggle for respect — it’s not all ray guns and aliens, it’s also not “kid stuff,” and once again, some of literature’s greatest works fall into the category. (It’s not always easy to convince some people that books like Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale or Bradbury’s Farenheit 451 are science fiction, but they are.)
I sometimes think that in talking about science fiction and fantasy for young readers, I face a double whammy of difficulty: convincing people that an already “out-there” genre like science fiction and fantasy, when targeted at young readers, is a rich, amazing field with endless possibilities. Fortunately, a lot of people agree with me. Still, I find myself spending a lot of time persuading fans of young adult and middle grade books that yes, The Hunger Games is science fiction and yes, they do read fantasy whether they know it or not because their bookshelves are filled with the Harry Potter series. Just like I spend a lot of time convincing science fiction and fantasy fans that some of the best work in the genre today is being written by young adult authors like Scott Westerfeld and Holly Black.
I think one of the greatest potential benefits of the Andre Norton Award is to highlight how much crossover there really is between categories of science fiction and fantasy and books for young readers. If you’re a fan of YA, I can pretty much guarantee you’re already reading SF&F, and if you’re a fan of SF&F, you really need to see the amazing things going on on this side of the genre.
Science fiction YA and Slatebreaking
Science fiction and fantasy have struggled with diversity and including developed women characters just as much as every other branch of fiction, but the genre has a long history of reaching for feminist ideals, and feminist readers are on the constant look out for books in which women aren’t just damsels in distress, evil witches, or prizes for the heroes to win, but full-blown heroes in their own rights.
Ask a room full of avid science fiction readers what book brought them to science fiction and made them fans, a significant percentage of them will name one book: the Newbery Award-winning novel A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle. Protagonist Meg is a girl who doesn’t fit in, but when her scientist family (even her mother is a scientist, in a book published in 1962! I love that!) gets in trouble, she’s the only one who can save them and embarks on a wild, trans-space and time adventure. This is such an important book, not just because it’s, you know, good, and because it introduced so many people to science fiction, but because it showed them that there’s a place for girl heroes in the genre.
The feminist YA reading list in science fiction and fantasy is experiencing a golden age right now, with more women authors and protagonists than any one reader can keep up with (however much I try). Here’s a bit of a reading list of some of my own favorites:
Robin McKinley’s Damar books, especially the The Blue Sword and the Newbery-winning The Hero and the Crown, are favorites of mine. Great sword-swinging, demon-slaying adventure. She’s one of my favorite writers. If you got cranky during Lord of the Rings because you wanted more Eowyn, read these.
Tamora Pierce has been writing fantasy adventure starring girls for over twenty years, and many women fantasy authors just now breaking in grew up reading her books. Try the first in the Beka Cooper series, Terrier.
Scott Westerfeld often features girl protagonists, and I like his steampunk trilogy, starting with Leviathan, not just for cross-dressing girl protagonist Dylan, but for the mysterious lady scientist, Dr. Barlow. Even more intriguing, though, is his Uglies series, about a future where at age sixteen everyone is surgically altered to conform to societal standards of beauty. The series deals with issues of body image and societal pressures to conform.
Holly Black is best known for writing the Spiderwick Chronicles, but she’s written many other books based on fantasy and magic as well. The most recent is her Curse Workers series.
And a few more authors for you to check out: Malinda Lo (Ash, Huntress), Diana Peterfreund (Rampant, Ascendant), Nnedi Okorafor (Akata Witch), and Catherynne Valente (The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making). So many writers! Just ask, and I’ll find more for you. . .
In the meantime, if you come across any great SF&F published in 2012 you’d like to recommend for the Norton Award — let me know!
Carrie Vaughn’s young adult novel, Steel , featuring time travel, pirates, and lots of fencing, was named to the 2012 Amelia Bloomer list, highlighting books for young readers with significant feminist content. Learn more about her work at www.carrievaughn.com.