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March 23, 2012

Where are the young fans?
Posted by Jim Macdonald at 10:04 PM * 50 comments

They’re right here. (Midnight showing of The Hunger Games.)

One of the interviewees is my beloved younger daughter, founding president of the Simmons Science Fiction and Fantasy Club.

Comments on Where are the young fans?:
#1 ::: Aquila ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2012, 10:24 PM:

A thirteen year old asked me what I was reading yesterday, I showed her my Nancy Kress book and said what I was reading it because I liked the science fiction she normally writes.

"Oh, I don't like science fiction books at all," she says.

I asked her if she liked Hunger Games, and she said she loved it, then stopped and said "Wait, is it science fiction? No."

She asked me at least three times if I was sure it was sf.

#2 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2012, 11:39 PM:

If anybody is feeling generous enough to transcribe what she says, I would be grateful, because I bet it's interesting. She's a smart cookie.

#3 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2012, 11:41 PM:

P.S. The Chronochorea mentioned on the Simmons SF & F Club site looks like it was a lot of fun!

#4 ::: Jacque ::: (view all by) ::: March 23, 2012, 11:59 PM:

Gee, do they have a branch on the Colorado Front Range? Do they allow grups?

#5 ::: Janni ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2012, 12:22 AM:

I have lost track of at how many traditional cons I've had to explain to panel audiences and in hall conversations that no, really, truly, just because teens don't read the sf/fantasy you do, and don't go the places you go to talk about it, doesn't mean either the genre or teens interest in it is dying.

With the inevitable side conversation about how the YA portion of the genre is no longer defined by Heinlein juveniles, and that's okay, too.

#6 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2012, 02:21 AM:

She's the second one to speak, right? Here's her bit.

Pippin: I finished the series yesterday.
Interviewer: And what was the reason why you decided to read them?
Pippin: Everybody was talking about this (finger quotes)"Hunger Games" thing, and, y'know, how they CRIED, and this movie comin' out, and "Pippin, why haven't you read it yet?" and [unintelligible] you guys. (noticeable cut here in the video)
I picked it up 'cause I was bored, and I started reading, and then I just didn't stop.

#7 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2012, 07:18 AM:

Janni #5: Heck, I'd say that "the YA portion" is currently the leading edge of SF/F.

#8 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2012, 08:03 AM:

The unintelligible bit was "...and I'm like, 'fine, you guys'...."

#10 ::: chris ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2012, 03:19 PM:

*Is* it science fiction? I haven't read it, but from the movie ads, it could just be a dystopia.

#11 ::: Xopher HalfTongue ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2012, 04:01 PM:

Fiction set in a future dystopia is speculative at least. That's generally considered science fiction.

Fiction set in a present dystopia is either alternate history (which, while it's no longer considered science fiction proper, certainly fits my criteria for speculative fiction) or fantasy, if the "present" is exotic enough.

#12 ::: Josh Berkus ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2012, 04:06 PM:

Thank goodness. Does this mean that the popularity of Twilight will, at last, be fading?

Others may say what they will, but I for one welcome our new Panem overlords.

#13 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2012, 04:50 PM:

There seems to be a lot of good YA sf being written. Much of it dystopian. Much of it aimed at young women. I find that interesting.

#14 ::: Lin D ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2012, 08:16 PM:

Young Adults are at the anime conventions. Eye candy for both sexes.

Young people don't go to the panels I go to at conventions, but I see quite a number in the halls. They don't usually eat at the hotel restaurant where I go for dinner, but I see them carry in pizzas. I see them in the gaming room, the anime video room, and out having mock battles on the lawn. I started paying attention a few years back, when this seemed to be a hot topic.

I remember when I first joined fandom. I felt very young and sometimes out of place because everybody else seemed so much older. There didn't seem to be a lot of people my age. Then I realized fans don't segregate by age but by conversational ability, and I stopped paying attention. I still don't.

#15 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2012, 08:50 PM:

Fragano Ledgister #13: Hmm. I think I find that unsettling.

#16 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2012, 08:56 PM:

Lin D #14: I suspect that segregation by age (especially in schools, but the "child-molester" hysteria is also relevant) is one of the big things that's "gone wrong" with our current (American) society.

#17 ::: BigHank53 ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2012, 10:33 PM:

I was just in my local Barnes & Noble after not visiting for several months. They're swapped the YA and SF/F sections, with the YA now facing a major aisle and the SF backwatered. The more telling feature, though, was walking the SF aisles and checking out the hardcovers. I bought the new Tim Powers, which dropped the total number of hardcovers available in the entire SF section by about 8%. No-one where I live is willing to pay hardcover prices for SF, but they will for the YA...

The only new part about dystopias written for younger female audiences is that authors (many female themselves, of course) have realized that the market exists and now cater to it. John Christopher's Tripod books were most certainly dystopian. But I can't even remember if there were any female characters in them at all. And those books don't stand by themselves--there was a strong end-of-the-world meme floating about in the late sixties and early seventies. Logan's Run, Silent Running, Soylent Green, etc.

YA dystopias intended for males tend to show up more in video games than in novels, I think.

#18 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2012, 10:42 PM:

I was at an author reading/book signing at my friendly neighborhood SF/Fantasy bookstore yesterday, and somebody said someone was working on a short story anthology of young love stories set in dystopias.

#19 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2012, 10:52 PM:

I just got back from a showing of The Hunger Games, and it left me with a stunned, what's-this-world-coming-to feeling. I'm saying to myself, what? this is creeping me out but young people think it's fun?

It's a taste of evil in a way that makes one wonder, will the audience know how to context it? (I have a similar feeling to the one I have about Cabaret.)

#20 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: March 24, 2012, 11:47 PM:

Erik@19: this is creeping me out but young people think it's fun?

If by "fun" you mean "absorbing and emotionally gripping," then, well, yeah. It's not always about puppies and kittens and sparkly vampires.

(And really, the whole "We're able to understand the implications of [Work X], but [members of Group A] are too young/too naive/too uneducated/too just plain stupid to interpret it properly" line does younger readers a considerable injustice.)

#21 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 12:25 AM:

#19: Do young people really think Hunger Games is fun? Or does it appeal to them in some other way?

I assume that it appeals to adolescent feelings of put-upon-ness, alienation, and anti-authoritarianism.

#22 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 02:01 AM:

Erik Nelson @ #19, from my initial response to book 2 of the trilogy, Sept. 2010:

I’ve read an awful lot of dystopian novels from Orwell and Huxley to Atwood and King, but I’ve never found one that gave me the shudders before. The sheer nastiness of the ruling center goes well beyond 1984′s uncaring state and The Handmaid’s Tale’s theocracy. In this society there’s an added spitefulness and vengefulness toward its citizens those other books didn’t have.
Maybe I should have said "my memory of those other books," but I think I'm right.

I read all three back then and had capsule reviews.

#23 ::: Kevin Riggle ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 02:10 AM:

#19: Do young people really think Hunger Games is fun? Or does it appeal to them in some other way?

I think young adults are picking up on the adults' feeling, much-discussed here and elsewhere on the Internet, that the world has gone/is going/will have gone before they've reached majority to Hell in a handbasket, and are looking for a way to understand and respond to that. Did you read that article about teenage suicides in Michelle Bachmann's district? It's not as though teens haven't already seen evil, and it's not any better because it comes from the smiling panopticon Senator on TV than the smiling panopticon Master of Ceremonies on the silver screen.

#24 ::: thomas ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 02:55 AM:

Music version of the same issue:

In a choir I was in a few years ago, the person to my right was bemoaning the fact that the average age of the audience was over 50, and that classical music was clearly about to die out. The person on my left commented that his mother had expressed the same concerns, in about 1965.

#25 ::: KayTei ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 03:21 AM:

Erik @ 19

I can't speak to Hunger Games, specifically, but we ran World of Darkness games on a college campus for about 10 years, and we had a lot of high school and junior high participants. And yeah, they love that stuff. The darker, the better.

Just based on some conversations I've had with people who grew up a couple or a few decades ahead of me, my observation is that Kids These Days may or may not be dealing with more really serious issues at a much younger age (I find it really hard to estimate whether the change is actual or perception-based), but they're a lot more aware of the problems their families and friends are facing. Also, media is much more graphic and explicit, and news is global. They're constantly getting feedback about how things are going horribly awry in real life. So to get the same horror-shock and to exceed cultural expectations, you have to go a lot more extreme.

But also, in line with Kevin @ 22, based on what I've heard of the plot, it doesn't sound far-fetched to me. Because I do believe that power corrupts, cultures trend to degeneracy and increasing depravity over time, and people (especially large groups and people in power) are capable of incredible cruelty, evil, pettiness, vindiction and selfishness. The few brighter periods we've seen throughout history have typically been short-lived and purchased expensively with human lives.

I find books that shy away from that a little unconvincing. I read them for escape, but I know going in that they won't challenge me or result in any new insights into understanding people. And Junior High and High School are really when I, at least, started putting together my theory of world, not looking for meaning, but rather for a way to understand what was going on around me. This is exactly the kind of book I would have sought out then, as part of that extraspective process.

(Also, BigHank @ 17 - My thoughts exactly. I completely agree with your second paragraph.)

#27 ::: Serge Broom ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 07:38 AM:

I thought the heroine's cheekbones looked familiar. No, I'm not making fun of her cheekbones and in fact think that such cheekbones are quite cute. But I digress. I eventually realized it's because she played Mystique in "X-men: First Class".

#28 ::: elise ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 10:27 AM:

Thank you, David Goldfarb! You are my transcription hero of the day.

#29 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 12:08 PM:

David Harmon #15: It may be unsettling, but the books tell good stories, the futures are plausible, and the themes (growing up, learning to fit into the world, rebelling against injustice) are timeless.

I was reading dystopias (Brave New World, 1984) in my teens, and seeing them as continuous with the science fiction that I was reading at the same time. (Brave New World was a set text for A-Level English, but it's the kind of book that I would have sought out on my own as I did 1984, and as I also did Huxley's Island in my twenties.

#30 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 12:09 PM:

Debra Doyle #20: I second that.

#31 ::: Nancy Lebovitz ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 01:00 PM:

#17 ::: BigHank53 :

It's my impression that YA books, at all sizes, are cheaper than books for adults.

#32 ::: Jenavira ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 03:40 PM:

Hunger Games is hugely popular among my age group as well (about ten years older than the characters), and it's not hard to see why. Panem is a society that, quite explicitly, eats its children; people my age are looking at the difference between what we were told at eighteen that our lives would be like by now and the way they actually are, and seeing much the same thing.

(That delightful job interview, just a month before I finished my degree, where the two final candidates were me and a woman who was in most of my classes? Katniss would have recognized the way we were looking at each other.)

#33 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 04:27 PM:

I had a conversation with someone about it, based on my having VERY SLIGHTLY more knowledge than the person I was talking to, and my guess was this:

It's a combination of pessimism and wish-fulfillment. Teenagers have discovered that adults can and will screw them, systematically. [1] Ask any teenager: the world sucks.
Wish-fulfillment: Teenagers are not important. [2]The number of jobs a teenager can get, never mind "jobs that turn into careers", is ever smaller. [3] At least in the Hunger Games what you do matters. It may be a terrible show but you're the star.

[1] Is "Catch-22" still extremely popular at that age? I can't imagine it isn't. What's good for M&M Enterprises is good for the country.
[2] They're in that Alice-in-Wonderland stage where they're too big for everything, except the things they're too small for. Old enough for an M-16 is not old enough for a bottle of beer; pick your own example.
[3] 16:1 ratio of applicants to jobs at McDonalds, a year ago.

#34 ::: Lylassandra ::: (view all by) ::: March 25, 2012, 09:19 PM:

And let's not forget that to teenagers, everything is the end of the world. Dystopia perfectly captures that mindframe, whereas adults have lived through enough to know that life generally goes on. And as a satire of reality TV gone wrong, THG speaks to where teenagers live, or at least the media culture they're immersed in.

#35 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 02:19 AM:

Is this really a state of affairs that demands special explanation? I respectfully submit that teenagers enjoy dystopias in general and The Hunger Games in particular for the same reason that adults do: for the heart-wrenching drama and the compelling characters.

#36 ::: Nix ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 06:16 AM:

Sandy B@33, Catch-22 is receding into historical fiction, just as WWII itself is receding into history. Yes, it's a great book, but did it feel bitingly relevant when I read it? Not really, and that was more than a decade ago. It's probably even less relevant-feeling now.

#37 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 12:03 PM:

I saw the movie the other night; read the book the week before. Is this an appropriate place for a spoilery discussion?

#38 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 12:45 PM:

Is this an appropriate place for a spoilery discussion?


Wait a moment and I'll create one.

Which I won't be reading/modding, because I've neither read the book(s) nor seen the movie.

#39 ::: Jim Macdonald ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 01:22 PM:

heresiarch #37: Here ya go.... Spoiler discussion for The Hunger Games.

#40 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 01:22 PM:

I'll mod it. I'm spoiler-proof and not immediately planning to either read or watch.

#41 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 02:17 PM:

Re: Catch-22

I do not know a single person who is currently under the age of 25 who has read that book unless it was assigned for school. (I know a few dozen persons under the age of 25.)

More locally, my teen has not read it, nor have any of her friends. WWII is the stuff of history class for them; most of the fiction they have read about that time has been Holocaust-related (and usually was assigned for school, though dd went through a heavy Holocaust period on her own in 3rd and 4th grade).

They haven't read much fiction set in the mid-twentieth century, afaik. It's both too recent and too far away, I think.

#42 ::: pedantic peasant ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 02:55 PM:

The other attraction to these works, wish fulfillment style, is that in the YA they are usually, on some level solvable.

It's not just the truth of what KayTei @ 25, and Sandy B @33 have said regarding the fact that the world sucks, teens can see it, and that they are marginalized by most adults. It's also the fact that generally, in the real world the problems are hugely complex, and it's difficult to get to (indisputable) root causes, and even harder to find a way to do something lasting and productive about them, even on a personal level.

But in all these YA dystopias, whether Hunger Games, Westerfield's Uglies series, (one can even argue that between the Dursley's and the Ministry of Magic there is a healthy element of dystopia in HP) the actions of the teen hero don't just matter, which is valuable and worthwhile enough on its own, but they are also able to affect, change, and fix what is wrong with their world, in ever-widening ripples, even -- maybe even especially -- when they don't know or understand what those root causes are.

#43 ::: Sandy B. ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 03:28 PM:

For me Catch-22 wasn't so much about World War 2 as it was about Vietnam.

... which has also receded into history.

Right, then.

#44 ::: Melissa Singer ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 03:51 PM:

Sandy B: as of 10th grade, dd has not yet studied Vietnam, so it is an undiscovered country. (I take your point, though.)

They are studying protest movements in one of dd's drama classes, so she is getting Vietnam sort of backwards; they started with the Civil Rights movement and then went into the anti-Vietnam War movement. This will likely not teach her much of anything useful or important about the war itself.

#45 ::: Older ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 04:46 PM:

"the fact that the world sucks, teens can see it, and that they are marginalized by most adults." (pedantic peasant, #42) Some years ago, another teacher and I had a discussion with a bunch of students about these facts, wherein the students told us that the world was so screwed up that they were without hope of a better future, or indeed any kind of future. They gave it as their opinion that things had never been worse for teenagers.

My colleague and I were thunderstruck. We both began to tell our stories; which were that when we were their age, we believed seriously that the world would not survive the coming nuclear holocaust, and we worried whether it was okay to have children, considering that they would almost certainly perish. I told them about the absurd air-raid practices at my high school -- we all hid under our (plywood) desks and pondered nuclear fireballs and kissing our asses goodbye. The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists' Doomsday Clock hovered around 2 or 3 minutes to midnight. It is now around 5 minutes to midnight. It's been better, but it's still an improvement.

So much for "the world sucks", and were not teenagers marginalized then? I certainly felt that way. But, as they say, things got better. And now that I'm old, I have a lot more hope for the future, and a better basis for it.

If "The Hunger Games" gives the kids hope that they can affect the way the world develops, I'm all for it, but I also think they ought to hear more about the Cold War before they decide things have "never been worse".

#46 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 08:27 PM:

Back before the house I grew up in got sold and the contents scattered to the four winds, my father still had the 3x5 cards for his high school valedictory speech from 1937 -- in which he informed the adults in the audience that his generation was getting handed a screwed-up world and it was All Their Fault. (Come to think of it, he was kind of right about that.)

#47 ::: David Harmon ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 09:36 PM:

Debra Doyle #46: And today's kids would be just as right. :-(

#48 ::: Debra Doyle ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 09:46 PM:

David Harmon@47:

And so were we, back in our teen years.

It's the circle of life, or something like that.

#49 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: March 26, 2012, 11:15 PM:

This conversation sure beats complaining about the kids these days, an amusement which is said to go back at least to Greek times. Or perhaps that's apocryphal.

#50 ::: Bruce Cohen (Speaker to Managers) ::: (view all by) ::: March 27, 2012, 01:47 AM:

It is better to put out one lawnchair than to chase the children.

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