But then the brilliant Gwenda Bond posted an article called "Call the Reading Police," and I realized I had one more thing to say.
I remember early on in my writing career (which, honestly, isn't that long anyway), joining a conversation online with professional writers. It was a thrill for me just to be able to talk to these idols of mine--it was like getting invited to the ultimate cool kids table.
But you know, the only thing I really remember happened near the beginning of the conversation.
Moderator: We have a lot of new people this time. New writers, please introduce yourself and your debut work.
Me: I'm Beth Revis, and I wrote Across the Universe, a YA science fiction.
Veteran Colleague: Oh, like a dystopia? Another Hunger Games?
Me: No, not really--it takes place on a space ship.
Veteran Colleague: I have no idea why you'd bother to write that; we already have the Heinlein juveniles.
I was...gobsmacked. At the time, I was so shocked and cowled that I just ultimately silently left the conversation. How does one recover from that? I was essentially told by someone who I'd hoped to be encouraged by that my work was useless, and there was no place for it.
I have since learned to not be silent about this topic. Which is good, because at a signing I did in November, an audience member (who also happened to be an aspiring SF writer) accused me of plagiarizing Heinlein. His reasoning? Heinlein also has a story with a generational space ship. And this is not the first time such an accusation has been laid at my feet--at least a half dozen other people have said the same, often to my face, in person.
It's not that I've not tried to read Heinlein before. I almost made it to the end of Starship Troopers when the movie came out. And I've started a couple more of his works. While I respect and appreciate all Heinlein has done for the genre, I couldn't help but feel his works were not written for me. I was born a few years before his death; we are of very different generations. And I'm a female, and, frankly, his works are not very kind to females.
And yet, the pervading argument among some is that there is very little need for more YA SF; after all, we already have the Heinlein juveniles.
Lest you think I'm exaggerating about how prevalent this attitude is among the community, let me point you to this Locus Roundtable discussion, held because so many people were posing the very same question during a series of posts about SF for kids and teens. Or how about this article by John Scalzi, commenting on this article by a publishing professional which argues that Heinlein is the ruler against which all other SF is measured. Or, just ask your friendly local YA SF author--nearly every YA SF author I've met has mentioned a similar attitude to their work by some.
Now, one of the most important things I want to make clear now before saying anything else is simply this: I do not want to take away from Heinlein's legacy. Although his work is not for me, I don't want it gone.
I experienced a similar attitude when I was in college, working on my Masters degree in literature. I'm in the South, so of course, everyone likes Faulkner. Everyone, that is, except me. I actually rather dislike Faulker, and find his works pretentious, and aside from a handful of his short stories (which I think have as much substance as his novels, just, thankfully, more succinct), I don't like anything he's written.
The thing is: despite the fact that some of my professors loved Faulkner with an all-burning passion, he is not the be-all and end-all in literature. There is NO standard against which all literature can be measured, because literature is personal. Literature is more than just the words on the page; those words morph and become something more in the mind of the reader. And that cannot be measured.
That said, I cannot deny that Faulkner means a lot to some people, and that some people find something within his words that I simply do not see.
So I don't want to take away from what Faulkner is and has done. I don't want to take away from what Heinlein is and has done.
But what I am saying is this: we should not stop writing.
The suggestion behind the Heinlein debate is that Heinlein's juveniles were the epitome. YA SF peaked there, and everything else is downhill. That nothing more needs to be said.
And that, frankly, is bullshit.
Here's the thing: we will never have the epitome of story. Never, ever. The world is constantly changing, and while there are threads within our stories that always stay the same, the shape of those stories is just as amorphous as the world we live in.
As literature evolves, it is not at all about denying the history of the genre. Heinlein has a great place in history, and even if I've not been influenced by his work directly, I know that he's influenced the world of SF enough that his mark is on most of the genre today. I don't want to take away from what he's done--no more than any author--and his work still has power in the hands of the right reader.
But I also present a plea to the YA SF community. Change is good. Moving on from Heinlein isn't about forgetting him. We're not taking away from his legacy by adding to it.
|Illustration by Zen Pencils; available for purchase here|