In its earliest days, science fiction would never have been called literary. But for every “astounding” story of the 50′s, there’s a lyrical Bradbury tale or an experimental Mieville novel or a pointed dystopian story. Both science fiction and fantasy now share shelf space with literary novels of the more typical contemporary and historical bent. In the YA and MG markets, literary science fiction and fantasy particularly flourishes.
There’s no shortage of praise for literary science fiction and fantasy for young readers. Last year’s Printz award-winner was the surreal Going Bovine by Libba Bray. Franny Billingsley’s Chime, a recent fantasy novel whose dominating element is its lyrical voice, has received an incredible six starred reviews. Meg Rosoff’s How I Live Now, a novel about telepathic cousins who fall in love during a future war, received the 2005 Printz. And M. T. Anderson’s futuristic satire, Feed, was a finalist for the 2002 National Book Award. Not to mention all the middle grade science fiction and fantasy novels that have won the Newbery, including The Giver, A Wrinkle in Time, and When You Reach Me.
What makes this particular strain of YA/MG literature so successful? It might be that it’s a magnet for both high sales and good reviews–teens are drawn to the high-interest elements, like supernatural romance, while reviewers are keen to praise the quality of writing. It might also have to do with the perception that young readers are open to reading books that experiment with structure, voice, and setting–something common in literary works as well as science fiction and fantasy stories.
In any case, it seems that agents and editors are looking for sf/f literature that blends literary style with high-interest stories. What do you think of literary science fiction and fantasy–are you writing it? Reading it? Do you love it or are you sick of hearing about it?