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Young Adult science fiction novels

Copyright 2000 by William F. Wu

Most of my novels have been for sale on the general science fiction shelves of bookstores, yet I wrote them to Young Adult standards, following the agreement in my contract. Readers sometimes ask, what's happening here?

The answer requires an explanation at some length. Here goes:

In the early days of the American science fiction genre, science fiction in general was acceptable for young readers by modern standards. Violence was mild and sex barely implied, except on magazine covers. As the field matured and society evolved, more complex themes and mature handling of all aspects of human life and technological possibilities emerged.

Book Cover to Predator Even as writers such as Isaac Asimov and Robert A. Heinlein wrote more challenging work, they also had science fiction novels labeled and sold as "juveniles." Yet in later editions, the same books were reissued without the "juvenile" label and were sold as general science fiction. Given the prestige associated with their names, no one seemed to care very much.

While most science fiction now is written with general readers in mind, the distinction can still be made; some work would be considered acceptable for young people by most parents and some would not. Franchise work such as the Star Trek series have both general lines and Young Adult lines. Yet the labeling can also remain arbitrary.

For instance, the six-book Isaac Asimov's Robot City series, for which I wrote volume three, Cyborg, and volume six, Perihelion, was written to Young Adult standards, but is sold as general science fiction. The same is true of Isaac Asimov's Robots in Time, for which I wrote all six books. What does this mean for readers?

As author, I have no control over the labeling. For me, as well as the publisher and readers, the situation creates a conundrum, related to the marketplace. Several issues are involved.

First, more readers browse the science fiction section of a bookstore than the Young Adult section. Adults, teens, and older children all look for books in the s.f. section, while of course the Young Adult section usually draws only younger readers and adults shopping for them. From the standpoint of exposure, the s.f. section has more traffic.

The second issue is contradictory to the first. The s.f. section has more traffic, but parents concerned about the content of books for their kids either have to read each one themselves first -- a daunting task in sheer numbers -- or guess at the content from the cover information, a quick glance through the book while in the store, or reviews if they find some. For families with this concern, books in the Young Adult section at least narrow the job somewhat, though of course personal values will always be still an individual matter.

Third, adult readers can be disappointed with what they find on the s.f. shelves. I've had readers come up to me at bookstore signings and science fiction conventions and ask, with varying degrees of embarrassment or annoyance, if those books I wrote in Asimov's robot universe aren't rather simplistic in plot structure, or awfully tame regarding sex and violence.

Of course they are; I wrote them to Young Adult standards. Yet how would readers know that? They can't.

Adult readers finding these books in the s.f. section have every right to be disappointed, if that's their response; nothing on the cover suggests that these series were written with Young Adult concerns in mind.

Naturally, many adults enjoy reading good children's books; I've remained a fan of the work of Edward Eager and the Narnia series by C.S. Lewis, among many others, all my life. Yet the experience is different when we know the author's intentions from the time we open a book.

The author, of course, is caught in the middle.

Since I can't influence the labeling, the best I can do is inform visitors to this site. The Isaac Asimov's Robot City and Isaac Asimov's Robots in Time series have received good responses from readers in their target age group and have received understandably lesser regard when judged as general science fiction.

Personally, I found it an honor to work in Isaac Asimov's universe and to write adventures that would have excited me when I was a child.

I hope that readers looking for such work will give them a try and those who found them a little too "simplistic" will understand why.




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Last Modified: December 31, 2002
Modified by: LJL

Copyright William F. Wu 1999, 2000-8. All Rights Reserved.