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The Next Big Thing in SciFi: More Like Fringe

2012 October 19
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YALSA’s upcoming YA Literature Symposium will explore the future of young adult literature. The symposium begins on November 2nd, but we wanted to get a head start here at The Hub, so we’re devoting October to 31 Days of the Next Big Thing. Each day of the month, we’ll bring you forecasts about where YA literature is headed and thoughts on how you can spot trends and predict the future yourself.

During a bit of downtime during a teen program last summer, I pulled out my laptop to show the group the trailer for the upcoming final season of “Fringe.” I knew some of the people in the room were fans — a couple of the girls and I have often discussed the attractive merits of Peter Bishop — but the great things about “Fringe” go beyond a mysterious man in a pea coat.

It has science (the believable sort and the totally crazy sort), complex character relationships, and an air of suspense where you know at any second the rules of its fictional world could change. One particularly major change was the revelation that a parallel universe existing in tandem with our own was home to alternate versions of familiar characters. The collision of these two worlds and a war between them caused many strange occurrences. The survival of both universes hinged on the actions of Olivia Dunham and Peter Bishop, each with their own extraordinary connections to the parallel worlds. For its final season, the show has changed again, leaping forward into a dystopic future where humans are ruled by the mysterious bald-headed Observers. Now the “Fringe team will have to save the world from this new threat. In addition to its apocalyptic storylines, “Fringe” also has some excellent non sequitur zaniness, usually in the form of Walter Bishop’s inappropriately-timed sugar cravings. I lamented at the time that I couldn’t think of a single readalike that I could recommend to fans of the show.

Then, like the Observers, they began to appear: books with parallel worlds, speculative science, and world-changing storylines. Could “Fringe” read-alikes be the next big thing in science fiction for young adults?

The first one I noticed was The Obsidian Blade by Pete Hautman, the first in the promised Klaatu Diskos series. Tucker’s father, the reverend Adrian Feye, is a serious man. One day, reverend Feye disappears. He returns with his faith gone and a young girl in strange boots in tow. The mysterious Lahlia is adopted by a family in town. Then both Tucker’s parents disappear. In search of his family and some answers, Tucker slips in and out of strange worlds through shimmering disks that hang in the air. One moment he is on his uncle’s roof, and the next, the World Trade Towers on September 11, 2001. Another time, he finds himself about to be sacrificed in some kind of religious ritual. And another, in an ageless wilderness with an old woman who claims to have lived for centuries. The course of Tucker’s life is looping back on itself and Lahlia has something to do with it.

Fair Coin by E.C. Myers has a great cover: the protagonist’s face, flanked by the faces of two versions of his love interest with a ripple across them all, illustrating the ripple effect that occurs when a choice changes everything. When Ephraim first finds the coin, he thinks he’s making wishes, making his life better, making the world a better place. But sometimes, his wishes come out terribly wrong. It turns out that every time he wishes, it creates a set of parallel worlds where each version of his choice comes to pass. As Ephraim skips through different versions of his world, he discovers the coin is more than it seems.

Malinda Lo, author of Adaptation, is a self-professed fan of “The X-Files,” to which “Fringe” is a spiritual successor. Instead of parallel worlds, Adaptation is a story of speculative science and government conspiracy. Flocks of birds are causing plane crashes all around the world while Reese and David are trying to get home from their debate competition. They rent a car and try to drive from Arizona to San Francisco and keep finding their route diverted by military vehicles and closed roads. In Nevada in the middle of the night, a bird flies into the car and they crash. They wake up almost a month later in a secret government facility that makes them sign a nondisclosure agreement before they can go home. Re-adjusting to the real world and beginning a relationship with the intriguing Amber, Reese starts to notice strange things about herself: headaches, scars that heal too quickly, dreams of a yellow womb-like place, and intense emotions of connectedness make her wonder what really happened in that government hospital.

While these three titles that I read recently definitely have a certain “Fringe”-like quality, I am curious about several other recent releases that sound like they might fit this list.

  • In Through to You by Emily Hainsworth, Camden goes through a portal to a parallel world to be reunited with his lost love, Viv.
  • The Lost Code by Kevin Emerson deals with a teen descendant of Atlantis who may have the knowledge to save the earth from self-destruction.
  • So Close to You by Rachel Carter sends Lydia back in time in conjunction with the mysterious Montauk Project.
  • In Gwenda Bond’s Blackwood, two outcasts try to solve the mystery of a second disappearance at Roanoke Island.

Each of these sound as though their strangeness comes from a specific concrete elsewhere that is connected to our world by something different than magic. Have you read these? Do they fit in with my speculation?

Science fiction with a bit more science, even the unbelievable sort, would make for an interesting Next Big Thing. It would be a pendulum swing in the direction opposite of paranormal romance and magic, which, much as I love magic, would be a refreshing change.

Want to get caught up on “Fringe?” The first four seasons are on DVD. Watch new episodes on Fridays at 9pm (8 Central), on Fox, or catch it the week after it airs on Hulu.

— Erin Daly, who just finished reading an awesome middle grade comic, Broxo by Zach Giallongo

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