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March 10, 2005

Dear Sir or Madam, won’t you read our book. All the other cool kids are doing it, so I guess it’s time to post the table of contents of The Year’s Best Science Fiction and Fantasy for Teens: First Annual Collection, edited by Jane Yolen and Patrick Nielsen Hayden, forthcoming from Tor Books in hardcover and trade paperback this coming May. Help this fledgling annual get off the ground: pre-order a copy now.

Kelly Link, “The Faery Handbag”
S. M. Stirling, “Blood Wolf”
Lynette Aspey, “Sleeping Dragons”
Garth Nix, “Endings”
David Gerrold, “Dancer in the Dark”
Adam Stemple, “A Piece of Flesh”
Delia Sherman, “CATNYP”
Rudyard Kipling, “They”
Theodora Goss, “The Wings of Meister Wilhelm”
Leah Bobet, “Displaced Persons”
Bradley Denton, “Sergeant Chip”

All of these stories first appeared in 2004, save for the Kipling, first published in 1904. We intend to run a 100-year-old “golden oldie” in each annual volume. [09:13 PM]

Welcome to Electrolite's comments section.
Hard-Hitting Moderator: Teresa Nielsen Hayden.

Comments on Dear Sir or Madam, won't you read our book.:

CmdrSue ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2005, 09:45 PM:

How excellent! Definitely one for the collection.

shsilver ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2005, 10:38 PM:

I really like the idea of running a century old story each year.

TomB ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2005, 11:17 PM:

Whoever came up with the idea of an annual collection of SF&F for teens should be congratulated. It's brilliant.

I buy young adult SF&F for my niece, and either read it first or get my own copy. A story collection is good because we can talk about each story. That they are new stories is even better. Thanks!

Bob Oldendorf ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2005, 11:35 PM:

My daughter is your target audience. Thanks.

Helen ::: (view all by) ::: March 10, 2005, 11:40 PM:

My daughter is another ont of the target audience. I assume it'll be available in paperback in Australia before too long?

Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 04:16 AM:

Looking at Kathryn Cramer's Year's Best Fantasy, I noticed that six (of the twenty-four) stories are drawn from the same anthology (Sarrantonio's Flights). While I don't disagree with any of the particular choices (in fact I truly loved Tim Powers' "Pat Moore"), that seems like an odd decision for any number of commercial reasons (for one, it means that anyone with an F&SF subscription, a copy of Flights, and an Internet connection already has access to half the stories). Do you worry about issues like this when you're putting together a reprint anthology, Patrick?

Janeyolen ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 06:14 AM:

We don't have any more than two from a single anthology, though we may have three from one of the magazines.

Kathryn's book is twice the size of ours, so maybe she had problems filling it up.But we decided early on that two stories per anthology was the most we'd reprint.

And even though we don't have a contract for the next anthology, we are already reading.

Jane

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 06:51 AM:

Our process is mostly venue-blind, focusing more on stories and authors than on source. A couple of random decisions between several stories by the same author brought the number up. Once we realized how many strories from Flights were going to be in the book, half the permission forms were already circulating and it was really too late. (Al Sarrantonio is delighted.)

Regarding availability on the net, we can't worry about that, otherwise we wouldn't be including stories from those venues in consideration in the first place.

Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 06:53 AM:

This is fascinating. Since most teen SF fans seem to read the genre widely -- or so it seems to me -- I'm curious what criteria you used to select the particular stories. What would make one story suitable for a collection aimed at teens, and another story not suitable? Or would that information be contained in the Introduction? Or perhaps my perception that teen SF fans read the genre widely is wrong?

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 07:18 AM:

I should add that we have never had feedback from our publisher about taking too many stories from the same venue. Harper doesn't see that as a commercial concern. What they care about is that we have as many recognizable commerical names in the book as possible as early as possible. They would be delighted if we finished the book round about August 15th.

(There is another discussion of YB picks and venue going on on Ellen Datlow's discussion group concerning why few if any stories from Cemetery Dance get into her book.)

In a longer book, second or third even fourth picks from a major venue are usually how the stories by lesser-known or new writers get into the book. What is he likelihood that we would pass on the best stories by major writers in Asimov's and F&SF in order to take a story by an unknown? So we don't have a quota.

Flights had the advantage of coming out early.

Keith ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 08:59 AM:

I was about to write that my wife is the target audience for this book, but then realized how creepy that sounded. (Though, she is and so am I.)

Like Michael Weholt, I'm curious to know what criteria separates teen oriented stories form the rest. Obviously, no overt sex and maybe toned down violence but are their particular themes you look for? Young protagonists? Coming-of-age scenarios?

Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 10:25 AM:

FWIW, "Sergeant Chip" was my favorite story from last year. Great choice there. (And a great idea for an anthology, too.)

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 10:53 AM:

"Whoever came up with the idea of an annual collection of SF&F for teens should be congratulated. It's brilliant."

Tenkew tenkew. [bows]

"I assume it'll be available in paperback in Australia before too long?"

Well, Tor has world English-language rights, and we do get distributed in Australia by our corporate cousins at Pan Macmillan Australia. As for paperback, the book is appearing in hardcover and trade pb simultaneously -- basically, the softcover for normal sales, and the hardcover primarily for institutional sales. This is the same way the Dozois and Datlow/Grant/Link annuals are published.

Regarding the stories' individual publication venues, the only reason we really care enough to set an arbitrary "no more than two" rule is that our project, being for the YA market, is a lot shorter than the other Year's Bests. By and large we try to be, in Kathryn's phrase, venue-blind. Also, Kathryn's experience with her publisher is pretty much the same as ours--Tor doesn't care about where the stories originally appeared, but they do need us to select some marquee names early on, so they can sell the book. Schedules are always a problem for Year's Best annuals of any sort.

As to our criteria for considering something a good pick for younger readers, well, I doubt I can reduce it to a formula. I tend to do a lot of channelling my inner 15-year-old; I know very well that there are stories (and subjects) that interest that person and stories that bore him to tears, but I'm not sure I can sum up the distinction in a few sentences. It's not just a matter of young protagonists or "coming of age" narratives; there are stories we picked which feature neither. I do think younger readers are as a rule more interested in stories that tell them interesting and empowering things about how the world works, which is one of SF's specialties overall, and less interested in stories that sensitively probe the confusions and ambivalances of people in middle age. Judith Berman had some pointed things to say about this in her 2001 essay Science Fiction Without the Future, a piece that made me want to stand up and cheer.

However, that's just me. Jane has her own criteria and her own much deeper well of experience, not just selecting stories for but also writing for young people. Our basic agreement is that everything in the book has to be an acceptable choice to both of us; we know perfectly well that we have some differences of taste and opinion.

Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 11:55 AM:

Kathryn, thanks for the enlightening responses. Just to clarify, I wasn't criticizing the selection in any way (Flights really is an amazing anthology, and there are plenty more great stories in it than those six), I was just honestly curious how these things work.

Sometimes I feel like I can't even keep up with all of the Year's Best anthologies, much less all of the other great shorts stories being published, especially the great free stuff online at Scifiction and Strange Horizons and the like.

All those people who keep claiming that SF is dying ought to settle down and read more.

Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 11:59 AM:

I do think younger readers are as a rule more interested in stories that tell them interesting and empowering things about how the world works, which is one of SF's specialties overall, and less interested in stories that sensitively probe the confusions and ambivalances of people in middle age.

Ah. Of course. Obvious when I think about it for one moment.

Judith Berman had some pointed things to say about this in her 2001 essay Science Fiction Without the Future, a piece that made me want to stand up and cheer.

I've only had a chance to quickly scan Berman's essay, but I have to say I laughed out loud when I read her description of the contents of the October-November 1999 of Asimovís. Heh. Point taken.

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 12:34 PM:

Alex:

Another way to look at it is that the person who has all the subscriptions and knows which are the best anthologies of the year and already owns them is not the target audience for the book.

(Somewhere in the middle distance someone is trying to read between the lines to find out how to game the system: What is the right venue in which to publish to get in the best of the year anthologies?)

Rivka ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 01:52 PM:

Wow, Patrick, thanks for the link to the Berman essay. It's fantastic.

Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 02:06 PM:

What I find most terrifying about that Berman essay is how well it describes all the stuff I'm working on now. Alternate past history, check. Future shock, check. People wrestling with mortality, check. How did that happen? Uhhh... look! A spaceship!

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 02:18 PM:

However, don't turn into a giant snake. It never helps.

Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 03:22 PM:

Yesterday, on some random bulletin board, I was reading a thread in which several people stated that they didn't read SF magazines any more because so many of today's stories are just too hard to read. Chock full of literary depth and subtle nuances, but without a scrutable plot or sentences you could swallow in one gulp.

I personally like a lot of those lovely enigmatic stories, as long as they say something, but I got the point. Reading F&SF and Strange Horizons and SCIFI.com, it does seem sometimes like all of Delany's proteges have ganged up on all of Asimov's and Heinlein's proteges and beat them to death with flowers.

Then, today at lunch, I read John McDaid's "Keyboard Practice, consisting of an Aria with diverse Variations for the Harpsichord with two manuals" (F&SF, January 2005) on my Treo. It took about an hour. I felt numb afterwards. It's a beautiful story. It is, in fact, too f***ing beautiful. It reads like an Anne Rice vampire: gorgeous, melancholy, and magnificently groping for purpose without ever quite reaching any. It's also really bloody long, and has sentences in it like "Not having any schematic for such a tale, I seek refuge in a broad alluvial fan of context, in which the flickering possibility of the Other World can meander."

It'll absolutely get nominated for the Nebula. And any teenager, or any fan of adventure stories, or anyone who's just in a hurry, is going to wonder why they're reading F&SF when they could be playing something with more plot on their Gameboy. Me, I was impressed by it, but I'm still totally unsure whether I enjoyed it. I might have. I honestly don't know.

Just now I read that Berman essay, and a few more things clicked into place. Berman casts the conflict as nostalgia vs. innovation, and when I look at short SF I see echoes of the same conflict as "pompous vs. fun." Too many writers are trying to be impressive. Nothing inherently wrong with that, except when you lose all of the readers who aren't at your level and who just want to be entertained. When that happens too often, the magazines lose the readers too.

I'm not trying to be a doomsayer here. I do read F&SF semi-loyally, because for every "Aria with diverse Variations" or wistful story about a painter haunted by his artistic vision, it's generally got a "Sergeant Chip" in it too. Diversity is a good thing. At least, it is if you want to be a diverse reader. But not everybody does; and those who don't ought not be criticized for it.

All of which, I think, is an annoyingly long-winded way of applauding Patrick for "channeling his inner 15-year-old," and saying that if this anthology is full of fun stories with cool stuff that happens, then I'll not only be buying it, I'll be harassing all my friends to buy it too. Especially those with no patience for the magazines any more.

Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 03:49 PM:

I stopped reading the magazines because they were hard to read, but in my case it was that I wasn't willing to carry reading glasses...

David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 04:37 PM:

Yesterday, on some random bulletin board, I was reading a thread in which several people stated that they didn't read SF magazines any more because so many of today's stories are just too hard to read. Chock full of literary depth and subtle nuances, but without a scrutable plot or sentences you could swallow in one gulp.

Hey, Steve, do you remember which random bulletin board? I've just been reading some editorializing about how SF is driving away its potential future Delanys (Delanies?) with its intolerance for stylistic experimentation. It'd make a nice contrast.

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 05:04 PM:

For those of you feeling tired, go read All-Star Zeppelin Adventure Stories, an anthology that is much better than it has any right to be, all because its authors think zepplins are soooo coool.

Jeff Smith ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 05:42 PM:

We drive Tachyon mad with the Tiptree Award Anthology because it's so dependent on what the Tiptree Award jury decides each year -- they aren't done until March, and the publisher needs catalog copy in January. We can tell Tachyon nothing. They sigh, and vamp.

As for my own reading, I don't read nearly as much as I used to, or would like to, and I read pretty randomly all over the place. I love plot, and am always happy to reread a John D. MacDonald book just to revel in plot. But I also loved "Keyboard Practice, consisting of an Aria with diverse Variations for the Harpsichord with two manuals," my favorite story out of recent magazine reading (recognizing while reading it that not everyone would be as fond of it as I was). I don't know that I can actually figure out what my taste is at the moment.

I'll be buying the teen anthology, though.

David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 06:21 PM:

Thanks, Kathryn! "Better than it has any right to be" is exactly what we were hoping for. :)

Kathryn Cramer ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 06:38 PM:

David:

Congratulations on doing a good book.

John Scalzi ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 10:25 PM:

Steve Eley writes:

"Too many writers are trying to be impressive. Nothing inherently wrong with that, except when you lose all of the readers who aren't at your level and who just want to be entertained. When that happens too often, the magazines lose the readers too."

I think writers often make the mistake of writing primarily for other writers. The problem with this is that there aren't enough writers out there for commercial success with this strategy. Now, why editors would buy pieces from writers writing to impress other writers is another question entirely.

Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: March 11, 2005, 10:54 PM:

David: The thread was in the Absolute Write forums. It really got interesting a few posts down, when one of the Andromeda Spaceways guys showed up to say that this was why they started their magazine.

Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2005, 01:18 AM:

The Berman essay touches harmonics on a theme that Patrick and I have gone back and forth about for years. Old stuff isn't intrinsically better than new stuff because it's old, but new stuff isn't intrinsically better than old stuff because it's new, either.

The best s-f programming that I've been to at conventions frames discussions of both old and new stuff in terms of the ongoing dialog and evolution of the field. I think the Berman essay is a bit unfair. I might simply be an old and tired reader who proves her point about Boomers. But I think she picked the worst examples in citing "vintage" classics that aren't worth young people caring about. I'd still throw "Fancies and Goodnights," "The Dying Earth," or "Citizen in Space," up against more contemporary stuff.

I haven't liked Asimov's much in the last ten years -- but I don't blame it on the stories being all about old people and their issues or on their being all about young people and _their_ issues. David Marusek's "The Wedding Album" is about old people and I think it's one the best short stories of the last ten years. Vinge's "The Cookie Monster" is about young people and it's also a great story (although that one appeared first in Analog).

jane ::: (view all by) ::: March 12, 2005, 03:49 PM:

I think STORY is a big interest for younger readers. (There's a great speech by I. B. Singer when he got the National Book Award (I think) about how young readers are interested in story.)

But it has to be story with concerns a young adult is interested in.

And it has to have what I call "the getting of wisdom. . ."

Age of the protagonist does not necessarly matter. Nor does gender, race, or species. "Sgt Chip" is the perfect example.

Mostly, though, it's a gut feeling. I think Patrick and I agreed immediately on well over 2/3 of the stories in the book. One of the ones he pushed me toward and I went kicking and screaming to re-read it, is now about my favorite story in the book (and no, I won't tell you which one.)

The stories we disagreed on but each still felt passionate about are in an Honor Roll at the back of the book, some 34 other stories. And one of those we both wanted in the book and couldn't get permission for.

Jane

Lenora Rose ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2005, 12:35 AM:

yaaargh! I just got about 3 more shiny new books, and borrowed two more off mom (well, okay, KIM isn't exactly shiny and new), and have another stack about ten tall specifically marked to read, plus at least as many that I put on the shelves so i would know if there was room for them. Plus a whole lot of F&SFs and a handful of Asimov's of which I've read only one or two stories.

By the time May comes around - all of the above will still be true, it'll just be a slightly different set of books.

Why do people keep insisting on mentioning books I'm going to want? Whimper.

LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2005, 01:09 AM:

Xopher, I love you, dude. You totally crack me up.


-l.

LauraJMixon ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2005, 01:12 AM:

I love pulp. There's some great stuff there. Trouble is, the field just has so much, now, it's hard to winnow through the stuff that isn't what you're looking for.

'Specially for us grownups. I still read a few books a month, but with job and raising kids and writing books on the side, I don't have time to network and learn about the good stuff (i.e., the stuff that I like). It can be frustrating.

So I make do with what I stumble across.


-l.

Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: March 13, 2005, 08:03 PM:

I recently read Kipling's "They" for the first time, and realized that it is the inspiration for a large part of both "Burnt Norton" and _The Children of Green Knowe_.

There's glory for you.

I'm glad it's going to be easily available.

I also thought "Sergeant Chip" was an incredibly strong story -- it was one of my Hugo nominations.

I haven't read any of your other selections, but if they're good enough to go with those two, it's looking pretty good to me.

Unfortunately, my teen has turned into a little "I have read 16 Cherryh novels in the last month, don't bother me with kid stuff, gimme spaceships and the smell of oil" snob. It won't last. At least, I hope it won't last!

Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2005, 03:15 AM:

My teenager spends more time in the children's section of the bookstore than in the adult section, though her actual reading is all over the place. The fact that she collects everything ever written by Tamora Pierce is one reason she keeps going back there.

David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2005, 10:57 AM:

Jo, have you tried to get your teen to look at Cherryh's fantasy? Or, failing that, the Morgaine novels? ("Yeah, I know there's a half-naked chick with a sword on the cover of Gate of Ivrel, but read the prologue! It's a Union-Alliance novel in disguise!")

Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2005, 12:24 PM:

Data point: I love Cherryh's SF, but find her fantasy dreary beyond words.

clark e myers ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2005, 01:29 PM:

Might suggest Caroline's ""On Kipling and Weekday Afternoons" in HEADS TO THE STORM, 1989 for the Cherryh fan.

Poul Anderson "He [Kipling] is for everyone who responds to vividness, word magic, sheer storytelling. Most readers go on to discover the subtleties and profundities."

Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2005, 02:00 PM:

Jo Walton:

"Unfortunately, my teen has turned into a little "I have read 16 Cherryh novels in the last month, don't bother me with kid stuff, gimme spaceships and the smell of oil" snob. It won't last. At least, I hope it won't last!"

If we're lucky, some of your genius at Fantasy will have been inherited, PLUS she'll write Hard SF. Robert Heinlein could do both, Poul Anderson could do both, and readers of this thread could list others.

There are Physics and Aerospace Engineering majors at Caltech and MIT who love your writing. It is a GOOD thing that your daughter likes dragons and spaceships alike.

Well done!

Laura J. Mixon:

Pulp rocks! Or at least nanorocks.

Jane Yolen:

The books that you autographed for my son over a decade ago both entertained him (and myself and my wife) and led him towards being a writer himself. You do SO much more than story, as your language never fails to be poetry, your social insight is so acute, your knowledge of the history and tropes of our genres so deep, and you taste in selecting illustrators so fine. Thank you again for everything, including this latest anthology.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2005, 02:03 PM:

Actually, JVP, Jo's offspring is a son, not a daughter.

Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2005, 04:48 PM:

Patrick:

Ummmm... for contextual reasons, I refuse to admit that this would make any difference to the ability to write hard SF. But I apologize anyway.

David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2005, 04:53 PM:

So, Xopher, by that criterion, are the Morgaine books fantasy or SF? :)

Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2005, 04:53 PM:

I'm the one with the daughter (who can't stand Cherryh currently, and reads much more fantasy than science fiction).

Xopher, once again, great minds think alike (re Cherryh's fantasy: I adore the Alliance-Union stuff).

David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2005, 04:53 PM:

Er, "science fiction", I mean.

CHip ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2005, 05:21 PM:

Also to Xopher: which fantasies? I don't remember the early pieces well, but loved the "Fortress" set -- which I'd think about recommending to some YAs because of Jane's "getting of wisdom" factor.

I've sometimes wondered if the publisher of Asimov's knew what he was getting with Dozois; I remember talking to Scithers when he was still editor (early 80's) and getting the idea what the magazine is doing now is not what the publisher was looking for then.

Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2005, 05:55 PM:

Well, obviously YMMV...I read Well of Shiuan and found it boring, confusing, and depressing. But it's not Cherryh's fault it was confusing; I hadn't read Gate of Ivrel. As it was, I never read any more Morgaine books.

I read one of the Fortress books, I can't remember which one. I think it was the first one. Boring and depressing, IMHO. It would have been a better book had it been 100 pages shorter.

The Tree of Swords and Jewels books I kind of liked. They were depressing, but not boring, though I have a high tolerance for slow-moving action.

I quite liked Rider at the Gate and Cloud's Rider, which are essentially fantasy stories in a science-fiction setting (one could almost say "with a science-fiction excuse").

Rusalka made me want to kill myself, but that was because I didn't have the sense to stop reading it even after I realized that nothing was ever going to happen at all. A very little eventually did happen, but not enough to justify all the dreary moping and breast-beating that preceded it.

As a lifelong depressive, I would strongly recommend that YAs with any tendencies in that direction be discouraged from reading most of Cherryh's fantasy, especially Rusalka.

That's just my $/50. YMMV. The above is not medical advice; flush eyes with water, and do not induce vomiting.

David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2005, 07:10 PM:

I agree about the Rusalka books. I think I plowed through the first two, or maybe one and a half, during my hard-core Cherryh fan phase, and that was all I could manage. Too much cold water and dead wood.

I liked the first couple of Fortress books, but by the end of the series (which she should have saved those 100 pagese for) I got the feeling she'd chickened out of writing the dramatic high tragedy she'd set herself up for, in favor of rehashing the same "let's march to the border and fight the faceless bad guy" plot she'd used in the first one.

That said, I think her science fiction can be just as hit and miss. "Foreigner" got off to a great start, but now we're on, what, book 7? and they've all had pretty much the same plot.

Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2005, 08:47 PM:

Years before he was a teen, I gave Jo's offspring a set of beaded zipper pulls: a dragon and a rocket. He played with the dragon all the weekend, I wonder if he still has the spaceship, now that he likes SF better.

http://misc.mjlayman.com/zippulls.jpg

RooK ::: (view all by) ::: March 14, 2005, 11:44 PM:

It's a little nerve-wracking to pose a stupid question amidst all these authors and editors (and a Hellhost Emeritus, if I'm not mistaken), but here it goes:

What exactly is the qualifying characteristic of "for teens"? I used to speculate that it was either actually a euphemism for "stuff that a teenager's parents won't object to", or material that won't intimidate insecure readers.

Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2005, 01:06 AM:

What qualifies as YA is hard to pin down, but if you go to a really good bookstore and read a bunch of randomly-chosen YA books, you'll find that "inoffensive" and "unchallenging" are not defining characteristics.

Good YA books are usually pithy, and the concerns of youth -- whatever those are -- are prominent, and the language is not necessarily simple, but frequently crisp. There are YAs written for kids whose tastes and concerns are more mature than their reading ability, but that's a subset.

You're not going to find much that is autumnal and nostalgic, but you will find some (I think Tuck Everlasting is a good example of that). You don't usually find 3000 page family sagas in YA, but I wouldn't bet on never finding one.

Passions tend to run high, and to be acted out in adventures rather than entirely internal (though there's Speak as a counter example to that).

Sorry, I don't think it can be made clearer than that. Best advice I can give: go to that really good bookstore and browse the YA section.

Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2005, 10:51 AM:

That said, I think her science fiction can be just as hit and miss. "Foreigner" got off to a great start, but now we're on, what, book 7? and they've all had pretty much the same plot.

That's very true. I guess I put it in the same category as her fantasy. I guess she's uneven and the books I don't like just tend to be on the fantasy side of the line, if there is one. I couldn't stand Foreigner and never read even a second book of that series...which was all she wrote for a long time, so I essentially stopped reading new Cherryh.

Until Hammerfall. I really liked that one. Hope it's a new trend but not a new series, if you know what I mean.

RooK ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2005, 11:08 AM:

Thanks, Lucy. I suppose that I found myself contemplating the distinction partially because the thread title was "Dear Sir or Madam" and not something like "Yo, Dudes" or "Hail Proto-Adult".

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2005, 12:42 PM:

It's based on a novel by a man named Lear.

David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2005, 01:01 PM:

How often does that come up in cover letters?

Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2005, 01:41 PM:

Rook, think of it like this. All the titles for the genres and subgenres exist for one reason: to match the book to the reader. So if a genre label seems excessively inclusive, consider that what it really means is "books likely to be savored by people who respond to this label."

Jo Walton ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2005, 01:57 PM:

Marilee: Sasha lost the dragon zipper-pull some time ago when he left the coat it was fixed to on a train. He still has the spaceship one AFAIK, but I haven't actually seen it in a little while, now he's so grown up and sophisticated.

Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2005, 04:22 PM:

and I need a job, so I want to be a paperback writer...
paperback writer!

Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: March 15, 2005, 06:23 PM:

I'd like to see Sasha "grown up and sophisticated," but rumor is you guys aren't coming to Minicon this year.

sdn ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2005, 12:07 AM:

hi. i need to read the comment thread, but i wanted to say thank you for taking some stories from my books.

the end.

mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2005, 10:02 AM:

Thanks for the link to Berman's essay. I think it explains why a lot of more recent SF anthologies depress me.

One anthology I remember loving as a pre-teen would be something with a title that sounded like "50 Great Short Shorts SF" (I forget). It had a white cover, possibly with a spaceship on it. I loved that it was short shorts -- story lengths from half a page to 3 pages, with very clear punchlines.

I'm not in the target audience for this book, but my inner teenageer wants it. Non-deppressing SF shorts -- yay!

Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2005, 10:08 AM:

On that note, Patrick, what's up with Up? Is it still in process?

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2005, 10:45 AM:

Just to clarify: I am in no way crusading against downbeat stories, or calling for an influx of happy-clappy narratives in which everything works out swell.

First, notwithstanding the rhetorical claims of latter-day SF reactionaries, popular "Golden Age" SF was full of downbeat stories, many of them by fan-favorite writers like Robert A. Heinlein.

Second, the idea that young readers disdain downbeat fiction is repudiated by even a cursory glance at contemporary YA fiction shelves.

Where Berman and I agree is in a sense that a lot of modern SF is at best only slightly relevant to the intellectual and emotional concerns of younger readers. And that, historically, one of the strengths of SF has been its emotional and intellectual usefulness to young people who are trying to sort out how the world works. (As Thomas Disch pointed out in response to the observation that commercial SF is dominated by power fantasies written for teenagers, who on earth has a greater need to read about power than those persons who are just now starting to have some?) SF is, among its many characteristics, a terrific tool with which to sharply dramatize "how the world works."

None of which is meant to condemn SF written by older people for the concerns of older people, or to claim that all members of the fuzzy sets "older people" or "younger people" have the same views or interests or needs, or even to adduce for SF some unique status as a "literature of ideas" or any such rot. Etc etc. It's remarkable how much underbrush one has to clear away before wading into these kinds of discussions.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2005, 10:46 AM:

Alex: Up has been on hold for a bunch of reasons, but will re-open for submissions very soon. I'll be writing about it in a front-page Electrolite post when that happens.

dave heasman ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2005, 12:30 PM:

I read "Sergeant Chip" in F & SF a few weeks ago (I'm about 5 years behind, have a huge stack to read). It's really good; I never thought of it as a story for teens, but yes, it'll do well. For boys and girls.

Michael Wehole ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2005, 01:44 PM:

Heh. I would just like to mention that it's awfully hard to find meaningful search engine results on a forthcoming book called Up even when the author and/or editor has a three part harmony name all parts of which I can correctly spell. :)

Michael Weholt ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2005, 01:52 PM:

Wehole?

I've finally signed on to the abusive names dreamed up for me by my schoolyard tormentors. Apparently you can go home again.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2005, 02:18 PM:

That's because Up only exists as a several-years-old contract between me and Tor, to assemble an original anthology of near-future science fiction stories involving solutions to current global problems.

What I want to do is provoke the field's best writers into deliberately writing some optimistic SF, specifically including some writers whose imagination doesn't often run in an optimistic direction. I'm not going to be looking for Pollyannaism--without problems, you don't have very interesting fiction--but, rather, scenarios for avoiding catastrophe and actually effecting real civilizational progress.

Anyway, I agreed to do this some years ago, but a bunch of other things got in the way--the events of 2000 and 2001, which certainly bruised my optimism, were only part of it. However, it is time to get the project going again, and I intend to do so soon. Meanwhile, it's no surprise that very little about Up is discernable by Google.

CHip ::: (view all by) ::: March 16, 2005, 09:41 PM:

mayakda: that sounds like Asimov & Conklin's Fifty Short Science Fiction Tales (except that on my copy the rocket is much less prominent than the tentacles coming from behind the 5). It's certainly not all roses, including "The Altar at Midnight" (Kornbluth) among others, although it may have fewer downers than more recent anthologies.

Pace Patrick, there have been arguments that SF as practiced then was more optimistic; in one of the Spectrum forwards, Amis argued that Brave New World would never have had such a down ending if it had been written by a real SF writer instead of an interloper. OTOH, a common response to people calling SF escapism was to talk about the "realities" of marathon dancing, game shows, etc. compared with post-holocaust stories.

Patrick Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2005, 07:26 AM:

"Pace Patrick, there have been arguments that SF as practiced then was more optimistic"

Yes, CHip; this is known as "the conventional wisdom." I was, you know, arguing with it.

Lucy Kemnitzer ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2005, 11:06 AM:

There's always been a pessimistic thread in sf, but I think it's for a really simple and utilitarian reason: it's really easy to invent stories from that point of view. Because unless something untoward happens at some point, there's no story at all. It's more complicated to balance a story's need for something untoward with a generally sunny outlook. I'm not talking about happy endings. Happy endings can be pessimistic. Like the story that's resolved by the protagonist and his sweetie getting away from the irredeemable society. And you can have a tragic or at least ambiguous ending that reflects optimism, but that's harder.

(from my own personal world view, I think anybody who supports the capitalist system and the political and economic relations that currently exist is a pessimist, and sheerly lacking in imagination -- if they think this is the best we can do!)

David Moles ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2005, 11:06 AM:

Anecdotal data point: I’ve been working my way through the collected short fiction of C.M. Kornbluth, and I’m not seeing a lot of optimism. Famine and overpopulation, yes; eugenic concerns (‘subnormals’ outbreeding ‘us’ — dysgenic concerns, maybe?), yes; Toynbee-style cyclic theories of history, yes; optimism, not so much. Except in the fantasy stories.

Pretty good prose, though.

Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2005, 01:43 PM:

Escapism does not equal optimism. Frequently escapist fiction is an expression of pessimism. Two scientific discoveries that were troubling to people of the latter half of the 19th century were (1) mass extinction of species and (2) entropy. The first of these meant that God, if real, was willing to exterminate his own creations; the second meant that the sun was going to eventually cool off and die, taking all earthly life with it.

These ideas led to a whole genre of "steady state" stories (the most enduring of which was Doyle's "The Lost World,"), in which a modern man discovers a hidden tropical land (at the North Pole or inside the earth, generally) where dinosaurs still live and where it's always hot - basically, where the laws of nature don't apply. My college's library had a complete run of The Strand (heaven!), and these stories appear over and over. I think they're another example of fear of the future and deliberate turning to the past - in fact, much as I like the idea that SF is about the future, I think that escaping from the future is also a fundamental building block of the genre. (Pardon my ungainly metaphor)

After all, I don't think you can find a more pessimistic tale than The Time Machine, (which, incidentally, features the heat-death of the sun along with the whole evolution story), and that's pretty much the rock on which we've built our church.

Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2005, 02:51 PM:

Mary Dell:
After all, I don't think you can find a more pessimistic tale than The Time Machine, (which, incidentally, features the heat-death of the sun along with the whole evolution story), and that's pretty much the rock on which we've built our church.

"Nightfall." If The Time Machine is part of SF's birth trauma, "Nightfall" ought to be considered part of its growing pains. It's an incredibly downbeat message (civilization won't just end, it'll end over and over again), but it's also a strong, well-plotted, and -- dare I say it -- beautiful story.

Man. It still sticks with me.

Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2005, 03:09 PM:

On the Beach is not known for being particularly upbeat, either. (Although, true, it's not strictly claimed by the genre.)

I think this really is reflecting a change in public attitudes towards science and technology. In the 1950s, anything was possible, and science was going to deliver it. (Where "total annihilation" is a subset of "anything.")

Now, as George Lucas insists on pointing out, we are caught in a war between robots and clones, and both sides are run by the dark side.

mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2005, 04:22 PM:

CHip, thanks, it might be Fifty Short Science Fiction Tales, but I'd have to track down a copy to be sure. The cover amazon shows is not the one I remember. Does it have the story where there's just one man and woman left on earth, except the woman's rather prudish, and the man's a jerk, then the man has a (heart?) attack in the men's room and he knows there's no way she's going in there?
(What's not upbeat about that?)

Steve Eley ::: (view all by) ::: March 17, 2005, 05:03 PM:

Mayakda:
CHip, thanks, it might be Fifty Short Science Fiction Tales, but I'd have to track down a copy to be sure. The cover amazon shows is not the one I remember.

It's also possible you're thinking of 100 Great Science Fiction Short Short Stories, edited by Asimov, which I checked out from the library several times as a kid and thoroughly loved. I'd love to see another anthology like that, collecting the best from all the various "flash fiction" markets. (I don't have the interest in wading through all the bad flash fiction to find the good stuff.)


Does it have the story where there's just one man and woman left on earth, except the woman's rather prudish, and the man's a jerk, then the man has a (heart?) attack in the men's room and he knows there's no way she's going in there?

The story is "Not With a Bang," by Damon Knight. I first read it in Alfred Hithcock Presents: Stories That Scared Even Me, but a quick ISFDB check shows it was anthologized a large number of times between 1950 and 1988.

Great story, too.

mayakda ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2005, 09:41 AM:

Steve: Thanks! for that ISFDB link. I looked at the list of titles in 50 Short Science Fiction Tales and it's definitely that. I'm going to get myself a copy and indulge in the nostalgia.
:)

Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2005, 12:46 PM:

Steve Eley:

There's also the companion anthology:

100 Great Fantasy Short Short Stories, edited by Asimov, et al., which has a pun-laden story of mine that I knew Asimov could not resist.

This leads to another matter: how to write stories that you KNOW a specific editor will find irresistable. There's a classic example of the editor (I think Anthony Boucher) being known to adore cats, opera, and murder mysteries. So the author (Fritz Lieber?) wrote a story about a cat helping a detective solve the murder mystery of an opera star. The check was in the mail within 24 hours.

Alex Cohen ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2005, 01:22 PM:

This leads to another matter: how to write stories that you KNOW a specific editor will find irresistable. There's a classic example of the editor (I think Anthony Boucher) being known to adore cats, opera, and murder mysteries. So the author (Fritz Lieber?) wrote a story about a cat helping a detective solve the murder mystery of an opera star. The check was in the mail within 24 hours.

I remember hearing the story, except the punchline was that it didn't sell.

Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: March 18, 2005, 11:55 PM:

Alex Cohen:

Some say the anthology is half-empty, I say it's half-full...

David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2005, 05:36 AM:

I remember hearing that story too; I even remember the name -- Randall Garrett (maybe in collaboration with Robert Silverberg, I forget that part). There were several stories involving cats, mysteries, and Catholicism in various combinations, and none of them sold.

Paul ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2005, 09:23 AM:

Steve said:
It's also possible you're thinking of 100 Great Science Fiction Short Short Stories, edited by Asimov, which I checked out from the library several times as a kid and thoroughly loved.

I had a copy of that myself, when I was young and green. I read it over and over again until, in a fit of pique (a fight about something stupid), my brother shot it full of BB's.

Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2005, 12:01 PM:

David Goldfarb:

Then Robert Silverberg would remember. But, jeez, I hate to bug him about it. Maybe he described this in a column?

Paul:

"my brother shot it full of BB's" -- which was more punctuation than it could bear.

John M. Ford ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2005, 06:51 PM:

The version of the Boucher story I've always heard (from people who were close friends of the man himself) is that a story arrived containing a puzzle mystery, a nun, some gourmet cooking, and so forth, and he sent it back with the comment, "Dear Sir: you have pushed all my buttons, but in the wrong order." I've never heard that Boucher bought the story.

Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2005, 08:07 PM:

my brother shot it full of BB's

I'm picturing that old cliche where a guy gets shot in the chest, but is saved because the bible he carries next to his heart stops the bullet.

Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: March 19, 2005, 09:29 PM:

Was it George Carlin that tells a routine about someone (akin to Ricky Jay and the playing cards versus watermelon stunt) who could throw bibles with high velocity and deadly aim? Fortunately, the protagonist of the joke is saved because he happened to have a bullet in his chest pocket.

Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2005, 11:37 AM:

The final ep to one "Black Adder" series had Adder getting shot in the chest, but he says "Aha! The bullet was stopped by the cigarillo box in my coat!" And he shows the dented box.

Then the idiot Prince gets shot too. He says "Not to worry! You see, I had a cigarillo box too." Pats his coat, can't find it, says "Oops! Must have left it on the dresser" and drops dead.

Hugh Laurie did that beautifully.

Dave Luckett ::: (view all by) ::: March 21, 2005, 08:48 PM:

Final eps of "Blackadder" - "Blackadder Goes Forth". One of the most hilarious, and blackest of all comedies, and the only one I can ever recall watching the end, and weeping, after having been roaring with laughter three minutes before.

It was enough to make me go and read the history, and to say this: that wasn't the war to end war, but it ended some things that were best ended. The idea that war is a profession suitable for a gentleman, for instance.

Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2005, 01:34 PM:

Xopher and Dave Luckett:

Thanks for the memories. That was a uniquely funny-tragic conclusion of the WW I thread, "Blackadder Goes Forth".

On an only slightly related point, which ties together Espionage Fiction, a mention of "Sci-Fi" and actual espionage history:

The Great Game: The Myth and Reality of Espionage [versus?] Reality of Espionage
By Frederick P. Hitz. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 2004. 211 pages. Reviewed by Hayden B. Peake

Mark ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2005, 06:53 PM:

Was it George Carlin...

Woody Allen, "Bullet In My Breast Pocket," found on the CD Woody Allen: Stand-up Comic: 1964-1968, which I just happen to have on this very laptop:

"Years ago, my mother gave me a bullet. A bullet. And I put it in my breast pocket. Two years after that, I was walking down the street, when a berserk evangelist heaved a Gideon Bible out a hotel room window, hitting me in the chest. [pause] The Bible would have gone through my heart if it wasn't for the bullet."

Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: March 22, 2005, 11:40 PM:

Mark:

Much thanks! Woody Allen's text is better than I remembered, with the action word "heaved," the specificity of "Gideon" and "two years," and the backgrounded Jewish Mother. I'm not sure to whom I owe the apology: Woody Allen, George Carlin, Patrick and Teresa, or the readers of Electrolite.

And how clearly he forecast the dangers of Emperor Bush II's Theocracy!

Support Our Troops.
Keep a Bullet in your Pocket.

Sarahjane ::: (view all by) ::: April 05, 2005, 10:35 AM:

Thanks for sharing my all-time favourite Kipling short story, They, with a whole new generation! (I'm trying not to sound snotty, since I'm 20 myself.)

It looks like a great collection, and despite being a year outside its target age group, I'll surreptitiously buy a copy.

Xopher (Christopher Hatton) ::: (view all by) ::: May 08, 2005, 06:22 PM:

OK, "Dancing in the Dark" is one subversive story. I love it. I want to send it to all the gay teens I know who live in horrible repressive Christofascist communities.