Young Adult Science Fiction

By C. W. Sullivan Iii | Go to book overview

Introduction: Extrapolation and the
Young Adult Reader

C. W. Sullivan III

I have been a reader of young adult science fiction since I was age-eligible. It is a genre in which I continue to read (sometimes, but not always, as a reviewer and critic), and I have favorite books to which I return on occasion. In the preface to Science Fiction for Young Readers (Greenwood 1993), something of a companion volume to this one, I spoke of my early and solitary reading of science fiction. I knew little of the field, except what I could learn from primary texts, the novels and short stories I was able to buy or find at the Bookmobile.

In those mid-1950s days, very little critical attention was being paid to the genre as a genre with its own aesthetic, and most “educated people,” especially teachers, wrote science fiction off as “escape literature” or worse. Some of the writers, among them Robert A. Heinlein, for whose juveniles I still have great fondness (and great respect as science fiction), knew that they were writing a special kind of literature. Heinlein argued:

I can claim one positive triumph for science fiction, totally beyond the scope of so-
called main-stream fiction. It has prepared the youth of our time for the coming of the
age of space. Interplanetary travel is no shock to youngsters, no matter how unsettling it
may be to calcified adults. Our children have been playing at being space cadets and at
controlling rocket ships for some time now. Where did they get this healthy orientation?
From science fiction and nowhere else. Science fiction can perform similar service to
the race in many other fields. (60)

The reason science fiction can prepare young readers “for the coming of the age of space,” and much more, lies in the extrapolative nature of the genre itself. No other genre is so free to imagine the possibilities of other worlds, societies, and times as science fiction. Except fantasy, of course, but fantasy is allowed much more latitude because it can contain magic. The science part of science fiction

-1-

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