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Want to talk fantasy? Visit our awesome fantasy forum to find out what's what in the fantasy world and to meet other cool fantasy lovers. The most popular type of fantasy today. Usually associated with High Fantasy. Epic fantasy usually includes a life or death struggle between good and evil, a large cast of characters, and multiple books. Most modern fantasy books are considered epic fantasy. Fantasy with a lot of focus on the journey from youth to man. Always focuses on the development of a hero and usually involves a quest of some sort.
Strong elements of good and evil often present in Heroic Fantasy, though the 's update on the heroic fantasy now merges in grimdark elements morally gray protagonists, gritty settings, depressed heroes, anti-heroes, etc. Because of this, you really can break down heroic fantasy into 'classic heroic fantasy' and 'modern heroic fantasy' with the modern represented with works by Joe Abercrombie, Mark Lawrence, Jeff Salyards, Scott Lynch, and George Martin to give some of the more popular examples.
A broad classification for fantasy. High fantasy sometimes refers to epic fantasy, but it can be it's own subgenre. The classic definition for High Fantasy is a story that includes a well drawn world where magic follows a very specific set of rules. Those rules may be different from the real world, but they are consistent. High Fantasy can include many themes like Coming of Age, Quests, and may be serious in tone or epic in scale.
Because High Fantasy is such a broad definition. The 'opposite' of High Fantasy is the Low Fantasy genre. Fantasy where traditional elements are not present or emphasized. Low fantasy is fairly active fantasy genre these days. Read our full Guide to Low Fantasy. A subgenre that focuses on the soldier's life or the day-in and day-out of a group small or large of soldiers. There is a difference between fantasy books with military elements many fantasy books feature this, especially epic and heroic fantasy and military fantasy in that military fantasy is ABOUT the military life and people in the military.
See our Best Military Fantasy Books. A genre that includes plenty of hand to hand action and was one of the first 'fantasy' genres to emerge nearly a hundred years ago. The sorcery aspect usually centers around the antagonist or villain character. Another old classic that's considered among the best would be Karl Wagner's Kane books. This genre is in a state of flux as new modern takes on the classic sword and sorcery are being penned. The genre has gone through different updates over the past years.
Moving into the 90's and onward, Sword and Sorcery tales combined with other subgenres such as epic and military fantasy -- combining the gritty undertones of military life with the sword heavy style of the classics and emphasis on complex antiheroes. This modern take on this old genre stable includes heavy uses of magic and sword play but with a gritty, dark undertone.
A fantasy subgenre that combines elements of fantasy with horror. Dark fantasy is often used to refer to horror fantasy and include stories about demonic creatures, mummies, vampires, and the like. If you like vampire fantasy, you may want to read Anne Rice's Vampire Chronicles. One of the best dark fantasy series is C. Mythago Woods is a urban Celtic fantasy tale that you will want to check out.
Read our Guide to Celtic Fantasy Books. A fantasy where traditional mythological elements are woven into the story. A broad subgenre arguably even a genre to itself of fantasy. Unlike Mythic Exploration Fantasy, Fables tend to focus on imparting some sort of moral wisdom to the protagonist the end of the tale. A Fable is often approached from the perspective of a child or youth. Currently, some writers are modernizing fables for the modern adult reader. A blend between the romance and fantasy genres. The focus of romantic fantasy is the romantic interactions between characters. Elizabeth Haydon Rhapsody is one of the more popular romantic fantasy authors.
Epic fantasy is by far the most popular fantasy subgenre. Similar to Romantic Fantasy, but the plot exists to funnel the romance and not usually as the focus of the novel. See our Epic Fantasy subgenre recommendations. Fantasy with explicit sexuality. The setting of erotic fantasy take place in a fantastical landscape. Read our Guide to Erotic Fantasy. A broad subgenre of fantasy. Urban Fantasy is often called Contemporary Fantasy. The setting is contemporary, often taking place in urban settings. Often the magical world hides behind the normal world -- i. May include creatures like vampires, fairies, witches, and werewolves.
Read our Guide to Urban Fantasy. Fantasy that often includes elements of the occult, vampires, werewolves, and other mythical beasties from modern folklore. Usually but not always takes place in an urban setting. May also include Fantastical Romance elements or incorporate the detective genre. Fantasy with strong stylistic elements In format or language and more meaning behind the story than is first apparent.
Fantasy that's completely different from what one considers normal fantasy. Landscapes and peoples present in the novel often bizarre; language is often highly stylized or poetic. China Mieville is the author that most represents this genre check out Perdido Start Station. A type of fantasy where magic is accepted as part of the system. Magic itself has consequences you can't just throw fireballs with impunity and may involve the use of some prop or tool to utilize spell, amulet, potion, incantation.
The main quality of Magic Realism is that magic must follow a set of established rules i. There are often negative effects resulting from the use of magic, overuse of magic, or negative use of magic. Read our Guide to Magic Realism. Fantasy that's combined with Science Fiction elements. Often, Science Fantasies take place far into the future where advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. The landscapes may be completely unidentifiable from our own. Fantasy that incorporates the tale of King Arthur in some way or set in the same period Celtic or period English history and the courtly romantic elements.
Read our Guide to Arthurian Fantasy. Fiction set in a world where the world's history has been altered from our own. Involves the retelling of actual events in human history, with a healthy does of the fantastical or magical thrown in to boot. For example, one could be fighting naval battles with talking dragons instead of ships as in His Majesty's Dragon or a great historical leader from the past might be capable of using magic.
Read our Guide to Historical Fantasy. Fantasy that incorporates both fantasy elements and technology. Technology is often steam-powered and may capable of fantastic feats almost magic like. The setting present in Steampunk Fantasy tends to be industrial. Read our Guide to Steampunk Fantasy. Fantasy that contains science fantasy elements usually highly advanced technology. The story is usually one with people who have super human powers fighting against evil in a world-saving struggle.
The setting tends to be modern. Another subgenre of fantasy that melds science fiction and fantasy. The characters present in the story are often pre-teen or younger teenagers. A very specific fantasy subgenre where characters "cross over" from one realm to another realm, via some sort of magical portal.
Typically, the characters are normal people from earth who cross into a new realm; the realm is usually medieval in nature and magic, in this realm, may exist. The characters crossing into the new realm may gain magical powers or bring with them modern knowledge which is used to challenge some sort of evil which is seeking to dominate that land.
Read our Guide to Cross Over Fantasy. Allegory has a long literary history. Allegorical stories have a specific purpose: to make truths, morals, philosophies, or lessons easily understandable. Personification as a literary device is used quite widely in the sub-genre. Fantasy is used as a tool by the author to explore ideas and in a way to make the abstract concrete. Get ready to immerse yourself in a whole new world. Alternate World Fantasy takes readers on an adventure through a mysterious other world or worlds.
Sometimes the story is contained within the alternate world completely and sometimes someone from our world crosses over to the other world. What if magic were real? The story presents the world as different from our own, but as completely ordinary to everyone in the story—unless the author employs the stranger in a strange land trope. Anthropomorphism is the attribution of human characteristics to something else usually animals —language, clothing, housing, food, behaviors, relationships, thought processes. Anthropomorphism has very old roots as a literary device, often used to help convey a message or lesson, like in fables and fairy tales or other juvenile literature.
In fantasy we often see anthropomorphic animals as characters, who may even wield magic. Anthropomorphic characters may be protagonists or the companions of a human protagonist, but to really be a part of this sub-genre, they must be key players in the story. The fantasy sub-genre is most often an adventurous one, big quests and even some swashbuckling. In an Arcanepunk Fantasy world magic and science coexist and shape the world—they are complements.
Magic and science are interconnected and often used together. Magic is used widely and is continuously being developed, much like science. In fact, in some Arcanepunk non-mages have access to magic, sometimes in the form of magitech. It is a bit noir, a bit broody. Looking for a dark story about what happens in the shadows? A bit of intrigue in a fantastical world?
Just who is that hooded figure? Assassin Fantasy stories are character driven stories set in a grey world. The assassin character is an intriguing person that draws readers into their world—the assassin is highly skilled in dangerous arts, works in a morally reprehensibly or just grey profession, and has the potential to shape world events. The assassin is a fascinating and disturbing character that makes a great hero, or anti-hero—a sympathetic villain perhaps—and weaves a complex story for readers to unravel. The cognitive dissonance is minimized, and minimized further because in most of these books MapHead is the exception we begin from a point of more or less normality and the dissonance is introduced to us: the SF is reduced to its base level of the meeting of the unknown.
The rupture is minimized. But where a world is made fully dissonant, that is, it is not our world and we must begin to know it, science fiction has developed ways to exaggerate rather than minimize the cognitive dissonance. Specifically, SF has developed what Clute has termed the competent character: the point of view character who understands his or her own world and feels no need to explain its strangenesses to us. Children's and young adult SF has often been weak in this.
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John Christopher in The Lotus Caves evades the issue by taking his protagonists out of the space habitat with which they, but not we, are familiar, and sending them on a journey into an unknown world. There is plenty of science fiction for adults that does the same, but it is usually mitigated by much fuller world building, which allows the characters to take the dissonance of their point of origin with them.
None of these books really achieves this, although the ignorance of Engdahl's hero may be argued as a substitute. There are books which achieve this full estrangement: Nicholas Fisk's A Rag, a Bone, and a Hank of Hair is one of the best: no explanation is ever provided for much of what we see, and Brin, rather than acting as guide, takes us through his own familiarity with the city.
Diana Wynne Jones's A Tale of Time City , which I have not discussed in full because I am not sure if it is SF or fantasy, uses the trick of seeing her city through the eyes of native children who are very bad guides, because their own interests are very different. Philip Reeve's Mortal Engines sometimes manages this full estrangement, but often opts for a guided tour through a section of his city. In the end, to achieve this full rupture or cognitive dissonance, the author must be willing to demand that the reader identify with a complete other reality in which nothing is questioned or explained.
David Lewis argues that "absorption into the fiction world would be impossible without the reader's knowledge of the rule and code and convention that go into the construction of different kinds of texts" Yet despite the ubiquity of this in fairy tale, many modern SF children's authors seem to balk, accepting Lewis's superficial statement, while apparently rejecting its implicit insight that all texts are constructed and must be decoded by the reader.
It is hard to be sure why, but one possibility is that the assumption that books for children be educative is confused with the concept that books for children should be challenging. Hugo Gernsback, the founder of the first SF magazine, Amazing Stories , himself conflated these two: his understanding of science fiction was that it should teach children real scientific knowledge, and we can see this reflected in the contemporary didacticism of J.
This understanding of SF cannot risk that anything be left uncomprehended. What this leads to is the refusal of SF as a literature of extrapolation and reason, an element of SF which I will discuss further when we consider SF's ideological structures. This is perhaps the least contentious element of the grammar I have outlined. All fiction requires some form of resolution, but in a point to which I will return, it should be borne in mind that the resolutions in science fiction may well not be personal, but leave an individual stranded in a resolved future that does not suit him or her.
But more important, in the "full SF story," the resolution is not the end of the story, it is the beginning, for SF resolutions are about change and consequence. Not infrequently, the resolution of a problem is merely the beginning of an SF story. Fred Pohl's "The Midas Plague" begins in a world which has solved all of its energy problems. But far from a utopia, this is a world in which the poor are forced to consume, and the rich flaunt their wealth through ostentatious austerity. The "story" is merely beginning. Consequence in science fiction is the rippling out of effect, the quantum butterfly that flaps its wings and triggers economic panic on the far side of the world.
Heinlein was the first formally to identify this, and its significance for science fiction, and it was also Heinlein, one of the most important author-critics in the field, 2 who defined adulthood as the age at which one was able to do Higher Math. The two are not unrelated: children's grasp of consequence evolves relatively slowly, not helped by adults' often inconsistent application of the idea Byrnes We can see this cognitive marker reflected in a subgenre of the YA publication market, the game books of the s, in which children chose the routes they would take through the books.
Children become interested in this kind of gaming around the age of ten and are absorbed into it around the early teens, the same age at which most SF fans report their first meaningful encounter with science fiction. Identification of novum and cognitive dissonance usually leads to the idea of causality and consequence. That "what if" needs to be followed by the concept of "if, then. In Fisk's Trillions , Monica Hughes's The Keeper of the Isis Light , and Dan Gutman's Virtually Perfect there are no consequences: the experiment is ended, its manifestations destroyed, and the world restored to the status quo.
This may be disguised by a promise of future change, such as in Sylvia Engdahl's Heritage of the Star , but more often, this circularity—this rejection of consequences and of the future—is one of the structural markers which separate young adult from adult science fiction, yet it is by no means a necessity. Robert Heinlein's juveniles as they were then called are almost all open ended; the resolution of the immediate problem opens out challenges for the future.
The hero of Tunnel in the Sky becomes a pioneer, that of Between Planets is left engaged in an interplanetary war but with his future significance reduced. In Space Cadet one achievement simply points the way to new challenges. Similarly, Troy in Andre Norton's Catseye is denied the possibility of return—he is a refugee—and all his problems are externalized in a changing world in which there cannot be any endpoint, and the stasis of the prevailing social structure is not consolatory, but life threatening.
Of more recent novels, only Jan Mark's The Ennead comes close to this situation, but even here Isaac, the protagonist, ends the book with his place in the family assured. Troy is assured only of consequence. Science fiction is a fiction of rules, and many of these rules are ideological. Any science fiction tale is expected to be internally consistent; things cannot happen simply because someone or something has special powers even extrasensory perception stories tend to impose limits on their heroes. SF is a fiction of speculation. The drive of SF has been, historically, outwards, with a reverse mirror image that says, "If something happens in the macro-world, how will it affect my own life?
Once Pandora's box is opened, modern SF unlike many of the invention stories of the s does not accept that change can be undone, or the universe returned to its starting place, but it does insist that we can shape that change, that we are in control, even if only barely. Successful SF may console, but it is rarely consolatory see Mendlesohn. This does not mean that there cannot be a happy ending, but a successful SF ending usually posits a future: the "we all die" of Robert Swindells's Brother in the Land is in these terms consolatory because it denies human con-trol over the future—if we can't change anything, why try?
This gets to the heart of some classical ideas of what adolescence is for and what adulthood is supposed to be. Piaget as quoted by David Wood accused the adolescent of "egocentricity … as though the world would submit itself to idealistic schemes rather than to systems of reality. To give up idealism" Wood But SF writers and readers would, I think, tend to recognize themselves in Piaget's and Wood's descriptions and take pleasure in them.
Postnuclear fiction for adults is usually about the reconstruction of the world, the refusal of "unworkability. One way to consider science fiction is as an argument with the universe. John Clute would say that it is itself arguable; effective science fiction can be disputed. This distinguishes it from fantasy, which is a literature that regards the universe as having a proper moral order.
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The purpose of fantasy is often to make moral judgments. The drive of science fiction is to explain order, to test and to engage with it. Gary K. Wolfe describes fantasy as the fiction of desire, while SF is the fiction of reason . Tom Godwin's "The Cold Equations" is the exemplar of this structure.
A young woman sneaks on board a space ship to visit her brother on another planet. The ship is taking a vaccine to the planet and has only enough fuel for the precalculated weight. If the woman stays, the ship crashes. At the end the young woman chooses to step into space. Apart from the ruthless justice which is imposed, note that the "relationship" which is at stake is at all times scientific.
Her emotional relationships with her brother and with the pilot are irrelevant. While "The Cold Equations" is an extreme version of SF ideology, usually known as "hard SF," and many SF writers cheat or the "laws" at stake are political or economic theories , Godwin's understanding of where the issues lie with the physics rather than with people is the romantic heart of SF.
The refusal of an extrapolative structure may limit the extent to which the character can be competent in her universe. Hoover's The Lost Star , although Lian Webster is an astrophysicist, she is shown only as an archaeologist, a science that at least in was susceptible to clear description to the young.
She is never shown working in a field that might involve communicating ideas that the readership might not comprehend. There may be other examples that I could compare to this, either supporting or not supporting my point, but I found only one, Sleator's Strange Attractors , which plays with the idea of destabilized time and a fractured, chaotic universe. Sleator expects readers to come to terms with chaos theory in comprehending what is going on, but the solution to the protagonists' problems turns out to lie with a straightforward piece of time travel and mechanical destructiveness; chaos theory does not hold the key to the solution.
Generally speaking, these novels do not stretch the conceptual or scientific imaginations of their readers because they pitch themselves at what readers may be expected to understand already. This is fundamentally at variance with the declared ideology of science fiction and is one of the clear dividing lines between SF for adults and SF written for the young even though no SF critic would argue that all adult SF novels fulfill their remit.
It may help explain, however, why young people interested in SF rapidly move over to the adult market, seeking material in which the science and the technology do matter. Despite the influence of hard SF, the genre does have room for the personal, but it is usually in engagement with something much larger.
One obvious example of this might be how family life would be different if children were multiply parented. An SF novel might choose to focus on the child, but it might alternatively consider the consequence for society. Delany's Triton However, when the novel comes to privilege the personal over the political, scientific or social, to see the science fictional plot as an external space in which to work out strategies to apply to one's beginning point usually home life , rather than to lead one out into the universe, it frequently loses those qualities that are associated with SF.
The SF adventure becomes metaphor; it does not matter in and of itself, but is subordinate to the bildungsroman of family or school crisis. The effect is to diminish the sense of wonder intrinsic to SF, and at its worst, as in Lesley Howarth's Mister Spaceman or Jeanne Willis's Rocket Science , in which the SF turns out to be the internal monologue of unhappy children, it simply cheats. When reading the first draft of this paper, Michael Levy argued that everything I have outlined above was an imposition,.
Levy's points are sensible. I am, in Lesnik-Oberstein's terms, attempting to discern and define the quality of a book in terms of those values which I believe children should assimilate from a particular genre 39 , or, as John Stephens would argue, imposing a top-down reading which draws on a set of codes established by adult readers But then it is a commonplace that fiction written for children is the ultimate "outsider" text, one which is written by and with different intentions and desires from those embraced by the reader community.
Books for children are not generally written by children.
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Given this, the implied community for a children's SF book might be those who are directing the reading of children towards securing a readership for adult science fiction. If the " hidden curriculum " of children's books is to keep children reading, then it seems not unreasonable for a reader or critic of adult SF to argue that the best science fiction for children is that which has, as its hidden curriculum , the desire to persuade children to move into the adult genre Clerland The failure to privilege the universe does not necessarily make the book a bad book, but it does make one suspect that the book is less likely to appeal to those who are already reading in the genre or who are likely to be attracted to adult SF.
These books can then be tested against what Raymond Williams argues is an idea of quality through "tradition," a way of judging books by the extent to which they promote the values of the communities in which they are marketed Wood If we accept SF as a community and the very large number of science fiction conventions at which books are bought and discussed supports this contention , then it is valid to consider these texts in terms of whether they support the beliefs and ideological structures of the genre—and this is why John Rowe Townsend was wrong to argue that genre-critics are ignorant when they enter the field of children's literature So that while Levy may well be correct that what I am engaged in is an exercise in prejudice, his own rebuttal, which argues for a different genre category, confirms rather than denies the thesis.
If the writer is trying to "do something else," then it is a reasonable project to say so. This is reinforced by a recognition that the problem is not unique to YA SF. Differing ideologies of power, Wolfe contends, makes it hard for an SF writer to produce effective thrillers, or vice versa. An extreme example of the problem of competing ideologies is found in slash fiction. The trappings of these stories are inevitably SF because Star Trek is science fiction, but the purpose of the stories is very different.
Science, aliens, a world war, may well be the tools deployed to achieve this, but we all know where we are going to end up, and it is not arguing the mysteries of the universe. The most basic children's SF barely even asks this most crucial question. Some of it is science fiction only by courtesy.
Aliens and robots are reduced to the level of icon and take the place of fairies, elves and monsters see Nick Butterworth's Q Pootle 5 , Dan Yaccarino's wish-fulfillment fantasy, If I Had a Robot , and Babette Cole's The Trouble with Dad  , and pretty much anything can happen. But if we discount these "courtesy" titles, while recognizing that they are often rather wonderful fantasies, and concentrate on those which are clearly intended to function in some way as SF, in that they have rules and a sense that the world is consistent, plenty remain to be tested against the structural demands of science fiction.
One of the commonest types of SF picture books on the shelf is what we might call the analogic book, those picture books that transfer recognizable situa-tions directly to a science fictional stage set. These books attempt through mimesis and analogy to use SF to comfort children. Unsurprisingly, the schoolroom is a favored setting. But the purpose of these books is to make familiar, not to make marvelous.
The "playground" they present to children is just that: the alien in First Graders from Mars starts his first day at "Martiangarten" and discovers there are no "slime tables," no "snooze mat," and no snacks. Blast Off Boy goes to his alien exchange school in a yellow space bus. For all their nonmimetic setting, these are essentially mimetic books. First Graders from Mars falls into the trap, either to reassure or from simple laziness, of clothing its aliens in recognizable analogues of human clothing females wear skirts.
Blast Off Boy discovers that the zipper on his space suit is down but the issue is embarrassment, not sudden death. The only real dissonance provided is with the food, which in both cases fights back, a favorite childhood fantasy. The apparently more imaginative and challenging Nova's Ark by David Kirk also fails to jump this very first hurdle. The artwork is slick: the spaceships on the inside cover are a delight, and the vivid artwork inside makes an immediate impact, but this is science fiction as image the very definition of "science fictional".
The "what if" of the book might have been about what a planet peopled by robots looks like, but Nova, the hero, is a boy. He is not a newly-built robot who has yet to learn his capabilities: he is a robot, sized to be a boy and with the large eyes we associate with children. His mother cooks oil broth. He is told that he will grow up, and the robots around him are carefully divided by sex skirts, "hair".
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This is not a criticism of sexism, but lack of imagination. Why nuclear families? Why gender divides? The inability to imagine consequence renders the universe untouchable: nothing that is done can change the fundamentals of the world. Nova's Ark might have become SF in its plot, but while Kirk asks a question of the universe, about energy and what it can do, he chooses not to answer it.
When Nova inadvertently goes exploring and discovers both his father and the crystals which will provide his world with the power it needs, this might have been the springboard for thoughts about the future. But this book is actually about father-son relationships: the change that takes place is personal Taspett declares he will stop exploring and take his family with him when he travels. The much bigger consequence , that the planet Roton now has all the power it needs, is ignored. The book is essentially circular.
It begins with the disruption of family and ends with the reconstruction of family; all else is embroidery. This circularity has been identified by Nikolajeva as one of the fundamental markers of children's fiction. But while Nova has a future with his family, the history of his planet has ended. This is a very simple Thanksgiving tale.
A class of schoolchildren are visited by aliens who work out where to park by the sign "Visitor Parking" and turn out to have come to admire the curly red hair of the schoolteacher, which they too share. They are sent home with pumpkin pie and candy corn, reinforcing the Thanksgiving message of sharing.
There is plenty of mimesis and relevance here, but the aliens remain mysterious throughout and we are left with questions: Where were they from? Where are they going to? What kind of people travel so far for such a reason? People like us maybe, tourists. Company's Coming , by Arthur Yorinks, has a very similar story to tell, but does so in a more complex fashion.
And it asks the deceptively innocuous question, "How shall we welcome the stranger? As Moe is tinkering in the yard, a barbecue-shaped spaceship lands, decanting two very small and rather frightened-looking aliens. They declare they come in peace and then ask to use the bathroom. Shirley asks them for dinner, and they depart to return at Moe, unknown to Shirley, calls the FBI.
The role of fantasy literature in the juvenile reading habit
By the house is surrounded by the army. The aliens arrive, disconcert the terrified relatives by saying they are looking for a planet as theirs is overcrowded, and trigger the entry of the soldiers when they present Shirley with a package. It turns out to be a blender. Two things make this deceptively simple book stand out. First is the language. In this book the word "alien" is never used. The spacemen are "visitors," "foreigners," "strangers," or simply "the men. Secondly, the artwork.
I've said little about the artwork up to now, because until these three books, the artwork has often seemed peripheral, but here David Small's illustrations are crucial to the dissonance that drives the story. The aliens are tiny, but what Moe sees is their helmets and guns. Moe and Shirley are incredibly ordinary and made to look more vulnerable in their glasses, and the vulnerability of the aliens is emphasized by their big eyes and fragile extremities.
Domesticity is emphasized by the juxtaposition of weapons of war against a tiny suburban home. When the house is surrounded we see it as if we are perched on one of the tanks outside; we loom over the house and watch the helicopters gather. As we enter the house with the visitors we are the hint of guns in the darkness, and we know it is us that the guests are frightened of. When the guns burst in, they do so over the laid table, destroying the domesticity that the blender will restore. At the end of this book, "we" are those of us who welcome strangers. Shirley invites the army to dinner, and we have moved on from our initial state of suspicion.
The story hints at a new future. The ideological direction of science fiction is fundamentally the drive to ask questions. It is rarely put this way, but while mimetic fiction is often in the business of supplying answers to the questions we all hold in common "the meaning of life" being the most obvious science fiction is the small child saying "Mu … um …? But Little Monster is engaged in narrating the universe, asking questions of it and working out his own answers in the face of his father's fantasy distractions.
The tale begins with Little Monster declaring that he has a problem: he wants to be an explorer and this will mean leaving his parents behind. This sets the tone. Daddy will propose something preposterous and Little Monster will correct him. Little Monster explains that on the moon one can jump as high as a house. Daddy says, "'You might bounce all the way back into space'" 6 , but Little Monster says that can't be done.
When Daddy warns him about Martians, Little Monster denies their existence. Daddy warns him not to slide off the rings of Saturn, but Little Monster focuses on the dangers of the meteorites. As Katherine Nelson has observed, young children frequently recast the story "told" into something they prefer , but here the power is handed over to the child. It is Daddy who tries to retell the "story of the universe" at variance with the evidence. Throughout, Daddy keeps trying to impose a fantasy narrative onto the adventure, while Little Monster is resolutely in favor of science fiction, and of experimentation, as demonstrated in the illustrations.
Jeanne Willis's Dr. Xarggle's Book of Earthlets , illustrated by Tony Ross, functions in a not dissimilar way. The alien Dr. Xarggle is instructing his young charges before they begin a visit to Earth. Most of the book is dedicated to describing human babies, 4 and the misinterpretations are glorious.
Then they must be wrapped quickly in a fluffy triangle or sealed with paper and glue. Then they are sprinkled with dust to stop them sticking to things,'" accompanied by a picture of a child apparently drowning in talcum powder. But Dr. Xarggle absolutely relies on dissonance and cognitive estrangement.
The book is hilarious to adults because it relies on sarcasm. Recent research, however, suggests that children "could start to understand the concept of sarcasm by the age of five, but did not start laughing until they reach the age of ten" "Findings" 6. So how and why might children find this book funny? Xarggle requires children to engage with what they know, and with what they don't know, to reconcile the two. In order for this book to work a child must be aware of what is actually happening in the pictures, how it would be described, the literal meaning of Dr.
Xarggle's description, and the concept of metaphor. It works because of what it asks children to do: to adopt the classic SF reading strategy which relies on the literal truth of metaphor. Xarggle relies on the classic Wimmer and Permer test of The child watches a boy Maxi place chocolate in a cupboard, then leave the room. Someone moves the chocolate. Xarggle absolutely relies on the boundary between the age groups. One might expect a four-year-old to laugh at the three-year-old comprehension displayed by Dr.
It, and to a lesser extent Maybe One Day , represent an important leap forward in what is expected of the child reader. The world of the imagination and the world out there are to be challenged and defined, made knowable, subject to understanding through evidence and experiment, one of the central conceits of SF. This central conceit is at the heart of David Weisner's June 29, , a picture book aimed at a rather older age group, perhaps contemporaneous with the audience for chapter books.
The book is entirely focused around two questions: What will happen if we grow vegetables in the atmosphere, and where do all the large vegetables come from? In addition, there is a "hidden" question … What is the relationship between the two? What is interesting is that only June 29, and Maybe One Day directly tackle the notion of the sublime in science fiction, that sense of wonder that I suggested was at the heart of the original SF tale.
Xarggle demonstrates some of it, but generally, this is an element that seems to accompany the "fullest" of the picture books, rather than to operate as a starting point for the least science fictional examples. However, when we consider children's chapter books there is no automatic "advance" in the understanding of science fiction. If anything, some of the books I considered are less challenging than were the picture books if we hold them to the requirement that they argue with the universe.
Children's chapter books are an uneasy category to begin with because they need to cover both children who are reading on their own, and those children and parents who continue to prefer communal reading. The range of reading abilities is huge; children are not yet fully divided into those who read because they love it, and those who read because they are told they should. Of the former category, many overleap this stage anyway, going straight for books intended for older readers, irrespective of whether they have the vocabulary or understanding to deal with the content fully.
The impact on the books themselves is hard to pin down, but there is a difference of feel between those books with big words, and pictures on the pages, and those which are quite clearly novels for younger readers. Some of the books here seem designed to encourage readers, rather than to be written for the joy of telling stories. This does not mean that the books are bad, simply that they have a rather different agenda.
Greenburg, a science writer. Andrew Lost could be compared to Weisner's June 29, in that the series is about scientific experiment. Produced as graded readers for Random House and so quite clearly books intended to encourage the act of reading , the Andrew Lost volumes are science rather than SF books. But this renders them more problematic, for unlike the girl in June 29, Andrew is not encouraged to think or to experiment or to engage in the Socratic dialogue characterized by Maybe One Day , but is instead catechized. All Andrew's questions are answered by his robot, Thudd, a process which reduces strangeness and turns the child inward towards "home" and information, rather than outwards, towards discovery.
Children's picture books and science fiction have at their heart something in common; they aim to encourage the reader to explore the universe. Not all of the picture books do this successfully, but if anything, those which see themselves as teaching tools are even more oriented towards teaching the child to look outwards, beyond themselves to the school, perhaps.
It is rather interesting, therefore, that the chapter books seem to have a rather different velocity. Nikolajeva has observed that much of children's fiction is recursive; it directs children back to stability and to comfort. To my surprise, it was these chapter books, aimed at the middle age group perhaps eight to thirteen years , which most fulfilled Nikolajeva's structural outline.
Levy would, I think, argue I am imposing an external agenda on these books, but in their titles and packaging these texts are marketed as SF, and are therefore presumably aimed toward a proto-science fiction fan, given that this is an age group that may be presumed to be choosing its own books to a greater or lesser extent. It consequently becomes a matter of some concern if titles aimed at that proto-SF reader directly deny, in a variety of ways, the structures and ideological drives which attracted the reader in the first place.
At the extreme are what I have come to term the metaphorized fantasies. These are books which superficially look and feel like SF or fantasy but re-solve themselves as metaphorical narrations of personal and interpersonal crisis. In the first, a boy, isolated from his family, finds an alien, fixes his rocket, and helps him back to space. In the second, Thomas Moon receives letters from an astronaut.
Rocket Science is resolved when the alien turns out to be a handicapped Albanian refugee. Thomas Moon in Mr. Spaceman turns out to have been writing the letters to himself. Both boys reach resolution when their family troubles are resolved and when they turn away from science. Both of these books direct the gaze away from the universe.
In what I know to be a very personal reaction, I felt betrayed by their endings, not merely because the SF storyline turned out to be false, but because the message appeared to equate maturity with the abandonment of ambition. Ambition can be limited, and the recursive pattern reinforced in other ways. Ellis's The Steam Man of the Prairies Ricky Ricotta is an anthropomorphized mouse. In Ricky Ricotta's Mighty Robot vs. The Mecha Monkeys from Mars , the robot rescues Mousekind from the title villains.
However, the framing narrative, the rupture at the heart of this book, is not the invasion of the monkeys but the destruction of the Ricottas' minivan by the robot. The close of the story sees Ricky and his robot rewarded with a brand new minivan. Although the crisis was global, any real consequences in this book are reserved to the home. The domesticization of the drama is privileged over the effect of events in the wider world, a convention we associate with the classic novel, not with SF.
This domesticization of rupture is the focal point for many of the books in this category, and in some cases is the point. Sylvia Waugh's Space Race tells of a small child growing up in a rather isolated village with his father and a housekeeper. Thomas knows he is an alien, but the meaning of this is less than clear until the day his father tells him that they are to leave. The novel is a fascinating exploration of the nature of our society, dependent on rules and regulations and knowing who everyone is. But above all it is the story of a child working out where he feels he belongs; it is about the nature of family as distinct from friends, and this is made clear by their disappearance not just from the story but from the world.
There are no consequences beyond their own village. This is essentially a more adult and better written version of those school playground stories we saw in the picture books. The science fiction narrative functions to provide a context for a story about bullying and fitting in; it is not in itself the focus of the story.
Among the Hidden tells of Luke, hidden from the world because he is a third child in a world with strict population control. We see very little of the outside world, and the issue of population control is transmuted into a very domestic scenario in which the issues are boredom, and love in the face of fear. Little Brother is thus highly political — an effective example of how fantasy writing can directly comment upon real-life scenarios.
Both Anderson and Doctorow work within the genre of futuristic sci-fi, which happens to be immensely popular with teenagers at the moment — perhaps because it offers readers a way to make sense of our times. But fantasy is an extremely broad literary category that encompasses a wide variety of subgenres. This wonderful novel tells the story of Bod, whose parents are murdered when he is a small baby, leaving him to be raised by ghosts in a nearby graveyard. But between now and then, there was Life; and Bod walked into it with his eyes and his heart wide open.
Fantasy is a genre that has much to offer young readers. One of the most compelling reasons for giving children fantasy is that it comments on social reality through indirections metaphor, allegory, parable and can therefore deal with complex moral questions in a more playful and exaggerated manner. Fantasy also prompts young readers to play at seeing the world in different ways and accordingly teaches them to construct meaning by making connections between seemingly unrelated concepts or things.
The other bonus is that, unlike green vegetables, children can often be persuaded to read fantasy without the adults in their lives resorting to bribery. A contemporary Robinsonade — York, York. The polar oceans and global climate — Milton Keynes, Buckinghamshire. Edition: Available editions United Kingdom. Victoria Flanagan , Macquarie University. Fantasy comments on social reality through indirections.