Jun 18, 2011

Joining the Technorati

Sometimes I hate technology. I'd like to get more readers, which means I want to post more on my blog, which means I need more readers, which means research into blogging publicity, RSS feeds, and social networking, and I really don't have the time or inclination to become an expert, and yet I must ...

I find that computers suck all your free time, like vampires. The more time you put into learning something to improve your self-marketing, the more things you will need to learn.

All right, Technorati: V4R4TTU8P2VG

Jun 16, 2011

Kids Today Read the Darndest Things

I'm going to try to be objective about the Wall Street Journal's Darkness Too Visible article, in which editorialist Meghan Cox Gurdon asserts that modern fiction aimed at the teenage market (Young Adult, or YA fiction) is far more brutal and graphically sexual than it should be. This claim has angered many YA authors. Jay Asher responds here.

The book industry has undergone major changes in the last decade, including the creation of a humongous teenage market. YA did not exist when I was growing up in the 1980s-90s. Now it is a multi-million dollar industry (perhaps multi-billion). Household name authors such as J.K. Rowling, Jim Butcher, and Stephanie Meyers dominate the YA section of each bookstore. Booksellers and publishers have finally learned that a voracious teenage reader will buy as many books as any adult bibliophile--and they advertise accordingly.

This new market is having some side effects on the book industry. For one thing, writers are flocking to YA because it's a hot market. Many books that would have been unquestionably adult ten years ago are now considered crossover, or YA. If Anne Rice or Stephen King were new authors breaking in this year, I suspect they would send query letters to the YA market. That's how hot it is. Contemporary adult-level science fiction/fantasy/horror is a little stagnant right now, so if you happen to be a genre novelist, you will consider YA.

On top of that, publishers are under a lot of pressure to produce best-sellers. Many publishers are hit hard by the recession, and their business model relies entirely on their few best-selling authors. They're going to push the envelope. Teenagers like shock value. The more adult a book seems, the more likely it will garner controversy, and therefore buyers.

So I think Meghan Cox Gurdon makes some valid points. The YA market is swimming with adult books, and perhaps these books should not be marketed towards teens and pre-teens.

However ...

I picked up my first Stephen King book when I was 11 years old. I picked up an Anne Rice book the year after. And I was not the only child reading adult novels in the 1990s. True, I didn't understand the sex scenes or the adult themes, but I enjoyed those books all the same, and it was fun to reread them as an adult and "get" the things I'd missed the first time around. Back then, the books marketed to kids my age were Babysitter's Club titles and R.L. Stine's Fear Street. When I outgrew those books, I turned to the adult section because I was ready for something more challenging.

I would have been thrilled if there was a special teenage section in the bookstore tailored to my reading level. That way, I could read the books I wanted to read while still seeming "cool." And I could discuss those books with more kids my age. Thanks to the YA section, more kids are reading ... and most importantly, they're actually enjoying the experience.

Meghan Cox Gurdon moans: "Whatever happened to fostering a child's happiness, moral development, and tenderness of heart?" She apparently feels that teenagers should restrict themselves to Judy Blume ("objectionable for some parents, but not grotesque") and other tame or outdated authors. She doesn't mind 1970s books that explore puberty, but she's disturbed by modern YA books that deal with drugs, cutting, rape, incest, and other very unfortunate situations. According to her, Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games is "hyper-violent."

Well, those darned kids, readin' stuff they shouldn't. Next thing you know, they'll be turnin' to violent video games and murdering each other in the streets.

Meghan Cox Gurdon writes, "So it may be that the book industry's ever-more-appalling offerings for adolescent readers spring from a desperate desire to keep books relevant for the young." I would have to agree. This is probably at least partly true, and it's at least partly working. I applaud them for it.

Then Cox Gurdon writes, "No family is obliged to acquiesce when publishers use the vehicle of fundamental free-expression principles to try to bulldoze coarseness or misery into their children's lives."

Misery? Really? How does enjoying a good book, relevant to your own situation, equate with misery? I don't think the kids who read The Hunger Games or Shine are sitting there with tears streaming down their faces, asking mommy and daddy, "Why, oh why, did you make me read this? I want to stop!" On the contrary, I think they're eating it up like popcorn.

And that's a good thing. A dark, challenging, twisted, thought-provoking book that deals with real life situations isn't going to transform a good kid into a morally depraved high school drop-out. Instead, it will challenge that kid's inner beliefs. Perhaps that kid will look at the world and the people around him/her in a new way. That's the whole point of reading. And generally, when a book makes a big impact on a kid, he/she will pick up another.

Jun 10, 2011

X-Men and telepaths

First time ever: two posts in one day!

A telepath can't play a fair game of chess. If you play chess against a telepath, he's either training you, or letting you win. Why doesn't this bother anyone (like Erik) playing against Charles Xavier?

A telepath would be a guru on social interaction and psychology. He would tailor manipulative words to suit each person he speaks to, so he'd rarely need to resort to mind control (which gives him an awful lot of power, by the way).

It seems that the writers of "X-Men: First Class" failed to think telepathy through thoroughly. I can think of several things Professor X failed to say to Magneto at the end of the film, and I'm not even a telepath. Like, "Are you trying to create a master race? 'Cause you should have a moral problem with that." If Professor X truly wanted to stop those warheads, he would have said something along those lines. And then Magneto could respond to it with something mind-blowing, and then maybe I would actually believe his sudden character plunge from good-vigilante to tyrant-bent-on-genocide.

Ah well. If believable character development were a priority in Hollywood, this would be a different world.

As for the telepathic diamond lady ... if she has Xavier's power to control minds, she would be the one in charge, not fetching the ice. Sorry, but that's just the way mind control works. It trumps other powers.

FYI for all people reading my blog: I write better telepaths.

"Jumper" and "Reflex," by Steven Gould

I recently reread two highly underrated super-hero novels, "Jumper" and its sequel, "Reflex," by Steven Gould. These books remain among my favorite super-hero stories, and I only wish the movie version had been an actual adaptation, instead of crapping all over the book.

"Jumper" is an engaging hero's journey. Davy doesn't spontaneously decide to put on a costume and fight crime (in fact, he wears ordinary clothing throughout the book). His character develops exactly the way a real 18-year-old with a sudden ability to teleport would develop. He can't find his birth certificate or social security number, and like many young people, he's unaware that he can write to his state department to get a copy--so Davy can't get a job. In need of money, he uses his power to rob a bank. Then he starts messing with bullies, from his thuggish neighbors to his abusive father. He takes creative revenge on people who have hurt him. But even with endless freedom and money, Davy is lonely, without friends or family. In need of someone to share his fortune with, he gets a girlfriend. He finds his long-lost mother. He does good deeds. But he doesn't decide to hunt criminals until a suicide bomber kills his mother.

A timely theme in "Jumper" is about terrorism. When Davy hunts suicide bombers, the U.S. government treats Davy as a lawless vigilante--so they abduct Davy's girlfriend and hold her as a hostage. Outraged, Davy starts jumping agents all over the world, stranding them in dangerous countries. Homeland Security then labels Davy as a terrorist. Davy reacts like most 18-year-olds, with extreme anger. In the end, both Davy and the man in charge at Homeland Security have to reconcile their mistrust of each other, and work together for the people they are both trying to rescue.

Both of these books are short and fast-paced. I will add that "Reflex" is a bit more geared to adult audiences. It takes place ten years after the first novel, so Davy is a married man. He's also gained some very powerful enemies, and one of them is a woman who treats him like her pet dog.