05 April 2011

A Young Adult Hugo Award?

I know I'm resurrecting a months-old topic, but I'd like to post my view on a pervasive argument against a YA Hugo that I've seen. It has a few permutations: would a YA Hugo attract readers to other Hugo nominees that aren't YA? Would the adult Hugo voters nominate and award stuff that kids and teens want to read? Would a YA Hugo attract younger people to WorldCon? I think this is really all part of the same question: would implementing this category actually get younger people to pay positive attention to us?

My answer is a limited yes. I do think it would help younger people to pay more attention to the Hugos and to WorldCon. Why limited? Because of course it's not going to work on every YA reader who's bought a YA novel in the last year. Nor should it. We don't want all the readers who ever read YA fiction. We want the ones who like science fiction and fantasy. The ones with inquisitive minds who like the imaginative elements of the escapist fiction we find valuable. We want the ones who will grow up to read (and maybe write) novels that will resonate with the Hugo voters in other categories as well as YA book nominations. Yes, I know this eliminates most of the "Twilight-only" and trendy paranormal romance crowd who crave romance over the spec-fic packaging it's in (not that all paranormal romance fans are like this, but I feel that the trending ones have more of a tendency to this). I think that's an ok result. Romance books have their own awards. And, after all, while we would like *more* people, we don't want a singular fan base overwhelming the convention or the voting or changing the tone and atmosphere of the convention. But I do think that in every genre, including the paranormal romance one, there are books worth reading and awarding, and we shouldn't throw all the genre out because of our opinion on one or two popular examples.

As to the related question: would a YA Hugo get more kids to read books? I'll have to answer honestly: probably not. I do think, however, that it will appeal to kids like us. Thinking back to Jr. High and High School, though, my parents never agonized over getting me to read more. In fact, I was specifically told to read less (because SOME people think math class is inappropriate for reading :( Can you imagine!?!). My problem was always finding more stuff to read that was of the type I wanted. My choices in a pre-internet Kansas school and library system were incredibly limited, and even finding names of books to order on ILL was a hard thing. While I think the internet makes this easier, I would still think that a YA Hugo would assist in this matter. Knowing the names of five books a year that are guaranteed to be the type of fiction I liked would have made me feel incredibly happy because I wouldn't have felt so alone in liking the "weird stuff" (as my parents, peers, and librarians made me feel when I asked for sci-fi and fantasy). If it also encouraged librarians in smaller public and school libraries in the middle of Kansas to stock more sci-fi and fantasy it would be an incredible boon. Even if it is adults choosing books for children, it's also increasing the choices available to those children who like the stuff we like. I think that giving kids access to Sci-Fi at a young age can only be a good thing. Giving them access to varied kinds of GOOD Sci-Fi would be even better. As someone who read Battlefield Earth five summers in a row because it was the only Sci-Fi book on the shelf in the public library I certainly would have appreciated it. I think that if a Young Adult Hugo makes a Young Adult librarian pause and go "maybe I should get the Hugo winner instead of another copy of this victorian classic" then we have done what the Hugos should do: increase interest in good Science Fiction.

To the final question, "can adults pick out good YA books in an award system like the Hugos?" I say yes as well. Perhaps it is because I still read YA fiction to a great extent, but I don't think it is a reach for adults to judge YA fiction and find the stuff that is good. Good books resonate. Even as an adult they have the ability to make you remember how it felt to be a teenager going through similar difficult times. I also think it is something that would reach down to the readers, especially the readers who will grow up to be Hugo voters. Yes, we may not identify with the girl who lives to fall in love with a sparkly vampire, but I think that a well-written book about a vampire (sparkles or no) would appeal to adults as well as children. And I believe that the YA books that would appeal to the Hugo voters would be the ones that appeal to children and teens that are "one of us". The people we want to attract to the Hugos and to WorldCons in the future. The ones who can be running WorldCon in 2035 because they were attracted to the scene young. I would also argue that reading habits don't change that much over the years. Think back to what you read as a teenager. If you're a hard-core sci-fi fan I bet it was sci-fi. If you lean more towards fantasy I bet it was fantasy. However, I'd bet it wasn't Harlequin romances that developed your love of science fiction. Sure, themes you identify with the most may have changed from "experiences of a teenage boy" to "experiences of a middle-aged man", but I bet those themes were wrapped up in approximately the same package. If we're looking to attract readers who will want to enjoy the media in all the Hugo award categories then it makes sense to award the stuff that the adults like. In doing so we're self-selecting, and the readers who like what we select will understand that the Hugos are the books that mean something to them, so the people that vote on them might be people who will understand them and their loves.

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