The Janus Perspective:
Science Fiction and the
Young Adult Reader in Britain
K.V. Bailey and Andy Sawyer
The “Janus Perspective” of our title is that of he and she who look toward the opening up of ever more possibilities—possibilities of individual achievement accompanied by those uncertainties and responsibilities integral to the freedoms of adulthood—but who at the same time remain sensible of the imaginative inner life that has been integral to their relatively secure experiences of childhood. At that adolescent stage there is a distinctive blending of realism and imaginative fantasy, a blending that literary works within the wide spectrum of science fiction (SF) can usefully nurture. The shades of Wordsworth’s “prison-house” are those that may black out from adult life the light of imaginative perception. The phase that can be defined as “young adulthood” is consequently one of vital emotional and intellectual significance, and the identification of relevant literatures a matter of high interest and importance.
Definitions of young adult literature in its British context vary. Many of those qualified to make them agree that age boundaries are elastic, dependent on individuals, education, social milieu, and other circumstances. Insofar as generalizations can be reached, ages thirteen to nineteen would seem to include the readership under consideration. There is recognition that at the upper end of that range purely adult novels and magazines will be read—this is certainly true of science fiction. School librarians realize that the lower end of that range, even extended backwards to eleven, will include pre-adolescent and adolescent children in whom adult interests will be awakening. Television is a medium that has markedly advanced that process.
This two-way gaze—toward the safe but circumscribed innocence of childhood and the seduction of more adult experience—creates occasional moral panics among those who see the world of adult literature as one to which young readers must be introduced slowly and by stages. Books that transgress received