Monday 9 July 2012

Science-fiction: Dystopia for boys?

This week I wanted to do something different.  In response to Teri's great post Dystopian fiction: Science Fiction for Girls? I wanted to look at the question from a boy's perspective.
But not just any boy - a young me, Julienne lite, as yet untouched by the mindtwisting effects of
James Herbert, Shaun Hutson and Stephen King 
(I went through a brief but intense horror stage).

Me at school!
So, as Demention's resident interviewer, I give you an interview with myself:

One of the main topics discussed in the Worlds of Tomorrow presentation was how referring to future-based 'other-worldy' stories as dystopian instead of Science Fiction made them more likely to be read by girls.  What do you think of when someone says Sci-fi?

Sci-fi is one of those boy geek-words, it always has been.  Think Star Trek, Star Wars and all the spin-offs and copy-cats and you'll always think of a group of boys who aren't good at sports and aren't brave enough to talk to women.  The US sitcom Big Bang Theory has reached over 100 episodes.  It's a worldwide hit and four of its five main characters tick all of the Sci-fi nerd boxes.

But that's just what people think.  I know loads of girls who are fans of Star Wars, Star Trek and Red Dwarf.  Some of them just don't like to talk about it in public!

But what about books?  There always seem to be a lot more boys than girls in the Sci-fi/Fantasy sections of bookshops.

The Sci-fi sections are still crammed with images of planets and spaceships, heroic men in space suits with laser guns.  The same sort of things that have been used for decades.  But look at the covers of modern dystopias - girls' faces looking defiant or mournful, or striking, graphic logos with a sinister edge.

Compare old vampire books with today's - scary man in front of a castle vs pale skinned woman on a black background.  You'll know Sci-fi is written for girls when Judge Dredd takes off his helmet and there's a tear running down his cheek!

Are you saying that current dystopian novels are just for girls?

No way!  I love some of the modern dystopian stories - great characters facing hard trials in harsh futures.  But what I like about the older stuff is the 'nuts and bolts' of the worlds they are set in: the way that the embryos are sorted and graded in Brave New World; the six (or possibly seven) different bullets that Judge Dredd's Lawgiver pistol can fire; the television screens in Fahrenheit 451 that fill whole walls and sync the viewer's name into the programme so they feel like they are part of the drama.

And there isn't any of that in modern books?

It's there, all right, but only in the background.  Sometimes it feels a bit like the author doesn't want to put too much in just in case it puts people off.


Girls, I suppose

And do you think it would?

No.  Not the ones who like Star Wars!

Relationships stuff doesn't put me off.  I like it when a boy rescues a girl (or a girl rescues a boy) because they are in love and the evil forces of the scary future police are chasing them in their solar driven hover pods.  But as well as knowing how much in love they are, I'd like to know how the pods hover and what happens if they run out of solar power.  And I think a lot of girls would too ...

This is how I think I would have answered, but do you agree with teen-me?  Are you a girl who wants more 'hi-tech' in your stories, or a boy who likes the romantic relationships?  Or do you think that young-Julienne doesn't know what he's talking about?

Readers and Writers of YA fiction, tell me I'm right
... or tell me I'm wrong!


  1. Personally I love Sci-fi, and fantasy and Dystopia novels, and films, and tv-shows ect...
    I wan't always so er I guess 'Nerdy' but I've morphed over the years becoming interested in all the above and getting a steadily more addicted to IMDB. I know a LOT of girls who love SCI-FI, but what is strange to me is the amount of teenage boy's who I come across who are into 'TWLIGHT', it's 'Sick' (which apparently is the new generations term for cool), and really don't get why it'd appeal to them.

    1. Thanks, Sally

      That's one vote for teen-me being on the right track ;)

  2. I think I'm one of those girl readers who glaze over technical details - what I love about other worlds is the delicious familiarity of it all if you know what I mean. And the challenge is how our basic humanity responds to the extremes of the new world. The threat that it could come true also gets me going - like in Julie's book Exodus. Lovely post! More photos of you as a hot teen please!

    1. Thanks, Candy and a great alternative view. I'm fascinated how different readers draw different things from the same story (note for future blog post!)

      And, me as a hot teen ?!? Madam you're making me blush ;)

  3. I’ve always liked Sci-fi because it is a discourse on science, tech, and socio political ideas. Maybe I’m not really a girl.

    1. Those are definitely the elements that teen-me enjoyed (and not so teen-me still does.)

      (However I respond to your last comment makes me sound like a letch - so I'll just let it slide ;)

  4. What I like about sci-fi is the new world it can bring in terms of technology-and people. Older sci-fi in particular does a lot more with a bit more violence, stuff a little more out there. I'm a girl who likes the more gory, weird stuff, so I wouldn't say that that put me off. But there are a couple in my book club who wouldn't think of going near that kind of sci fi...Great post :-)

    1. Glad you enjoyed it Nina.

      Really interesting comment about your book club, thanks. There are some writers in my SCBWI crit group who's insight into plotting and character is rapier-like, but they skim the technical stuff almost entirely.

      What's coming across seems to be that the subject isn't as clear cut as is believed.

  5. My next post on the teenage readers and writers at the Future Manchester event (Manchester Book Festival) follows on nicely from this great post by Julienne - coming up shortly! I was - and am - one of those girl readers who wanted to be in the space ship but didn't want to know how it worked.... :)