Skip to content

Tag: Cory Doctorow

Ethical Sci-fi in YA Lit

stars_credit_ralpharvesen
photo by flickr user Ralph Arvesen

I can still remember the way I felt reading the last sentence of Ender’s Game by 2008 Edwards Award winner Orson Scott Card some twenty years ago.  Indeed, each subsequent reading has left me with a similar sense of profound sadness, self-reflection, and an inexpressible ache to make the world a better place.  I’ve since read other novels that have inspired equally, if not more complex emotions but, at the age of twelve, Ender’s Game was the first time I can recall being so deeply affected by the underlying message of a book.  The story made me think not only about the ways in which human beings willfully harm others but also about my own complicity within that.  It was an exercise in compassion—a mirror in which I could see myself, others, and society itself more clearly.   As an avid sci-fi fan, I strongly believe that the best sci-fi, the kind that stays with you, succeeds in doing just that.  It makes you think both about yourself and about the world you inhabit.  It entreats you to reconsider the status quo and challenges you to question where we are headed as a species.  And like Ender’s Game, the very best sci-fi manages to both entertain and raise ethical issues.

As Ender’s Game finds itself in the limelight again due to the recent movie adaptation, I thought that this would be a good time to celebrate other ethical sci-fi titles. Books, whose main purpose, more than to entertain, are to explore issues that plague society today and to push us to ponder their future impact.  Think 1984 versus Journey to the Center of the Earth.

ALA 2013: Bleak New World: YA Authors Decode Dystopia

Photo by 96dp1. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.
Photo by 96dp1. CC BY-NC-SA 2.0.

Dystopian societies remain a popular topic for young adult fiction, and the first panel I attended at ALA this year brought together some of the best authors in the genre to discuss their own works and the wider implications of dystopias in young adult fiction. Despite being held in the evening on the first night of the conference at a hotel that was quite a distance from the convention center, this event was packed. The larger hall that it was held in was standing room only even after the hotel staff brought in additional chairs (which brings me to my disclaimer that some quotes may not be entirely accurate since I was trying to quickly take notes while standing at the back of the room). And, given the line up of speakers, this is no surprise: The event brought together Lois Lowry, Patrick Ness, Veronica Roth, and Cory Doctorow for a conversation about their books, why they choose to write dystopias and why they think that dystopias are popular with teens.

ALA 2013: YALSA YA Author Coffee Klatch

2013 YA Author Coffee Klatch via YALSA's Facebook Page
2013 YA Author Coffee Klatch via YALSA’s Facebook Page

Although ALA 2013 wasn’t my first ALA Annual Conference, I missed out on attending YALSA’s YA Author Coffee Klatch the first time around and I wasn’t making that mistake again.

The YA Author Coffee Klatch is a unique session at ALA, where, for an additional paid ticket, conference attendees can meet and connect with YA authors, from new writers to industry superstars whose books appear on YALSA’s selection lists or awards. Around four to seven attendees sit at a table, and every few minutes authors rotate to visit the tables and chat books and writing and sometimes pass out goodies. Here’s a sampling of some of the amazing authors that visited my table.

ALA 2013: Ten Years of YALSA’s Teens’ Top Ten

2013-07-03 20.11.39I just got back from the ALA Annual Conference in Chicago where I had a great time at the Ten Years of YALSA’s Teens’ Top Ten (TTT) preconference program. This jam-packed half-day program included everything from a short explanation about the program to tips by former and present TTT teen book club advisors on how to run a program.

The Teens’ Top Ten is a “teen choice” list, where teens nominate and choose their favorite books of the previous year. Nominators are members of teen book groups in sixteen school and public libraries around the country. Nominations are posted on Celebrate Teen Literature Day, the Thursday of National Library Week, and teens across the country vote on their favorite titles each year. Readers ages 12-18 vote online between August 15 and September 15; the winners are announced during Teen Read Week.

Another portion of the program also included tips on how to use technology to make keeping track of the many books the teens receive and review easier. As attendees, we also got to participate in a brainstorming session to offer suggestions on how to improve marketing and promotion of the TTT. We also received a bound copy of all the TTT titles that included not only the selected top ten titles from 2003-2012, but also useful fun facts and read-alikes for many of the titles.

Fact + Fiction = Fantastic: Fiction Readalikes for Steve Jobs by Karen Blumenthal

Steve Jobs: The Man Who Thought Different by Karen Blumenthal is one of the finalists for the 2013 YALSA Award for Excellence in Nonfiction for Young Adults. If you’ve already read Steve Jobs and are finding yourself wanting more, you may also enjoy these fictional stories with similar themes, subjects, and elements. Read and liked a bunch of these novels already? Give Steve Jobs a try!

(Summaries from jacket copy.)

Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks
Cadel Piggott has a genius IQ and a fascination with systems of all kinds. At seven, he was illegally hacking into computers. Now he’s fourteen and studying for his World Domination degree, taking classes like embezzlement, misinformation, forgery, and infiltration at the institute founded by criminal mastermind Dr. Phineas Darkkon. Although Cadel may be advanced beyond his years, at heart he’s a lonely kid. When he falls for the mysterious and brilliant Kay-Lee, he begins to question the moral implications of his studies for the first time. But is it too late to stop Dr. Darkkon from carrying out his evil plot?

Books That Make Me Want to Change My Life

Some books are so engrossing, so engaging that even once you put them down, they never leave you. Every time I reread Pride and Prejudice, my inner dialogue develops a British accent and I find myself using the word “impropriety” a lot. Some books stick with you, in the form of a British accent or perhaps by inspiring a fervor to make a difference in the world. The following books have left a lasting impression on me, encouraging me, in turn, to leave a lasting impression on the world.

The Gospel According to Larry by Janet Tashjian (2002 Best Books for Young Adults, 2005 Popular Paperbacks for Young Adults)

Josh Swensen is out to change the world one blog post at a time. Under the pseudonym Larry, Josh blogs about the evils of consumerism, waste, and greed. His ideas spark a fire online and soon Larry is a demigod, preaching minimalism and giving back. But not everyone is a fan of Larry’s teachings, and Josh begins to experience the dark side of fame. With few options left to him, Josh decides to fake Larry’s death in a last ditch effort to free himself from his fans.

Josh values minimalism in all things, and to that end he limits himself to 75 possessions, total. After finishing the book, I did a quick count of what I had on me: shoes, shirt, pants, coat, bag, 3 pencils, 1 laptop, 1 phone, 2 books, 1 pack of gum, 3 keys, the list when on an on. When I finished the audit I had almost 50 items on my person, let alone what was in my car, office, and house! I felt so uselessly lavish, so pointlessly posh, I immediately went home to purge my closet of clothes I hadn’t worn in years. Josh is an ideal of example of living your principles. His story is very inspiring–but beware, you might feel inadequate and wasteful after reading this book.

Steal This Blog Post: Books for the Teenage Hacker

Teen Tech Weekis here! The theme this year is Geek Out @ Your Library. But let’s be honest—a lot of us do just as much geeking out at home, alone, in front of a computer. Lucky for us, libraries are online, too.

The word “hacker” started to strike fear into the hearts of mothers everywhere in the early 1990s, and there’s a cheesy Angelina Jolie movie about elite high school hackers to prove it. But not every member of the computer underground is seeking world domination and destruction (that’s only the black hats). Some are technological superheroes fighting crime and seeking justice (white hats). And others are somewhere in the middle (grey hats)—not causing big damage, but not feeling too guilty if their skills allow them to, say, hack into the school’s system to change that B+ to an A-.

The characters in these books are black hats, white hats, grey hats, and completely-unaware-there-are hats. Some are new, and some are old; some are fiction, and some are non fiction; but they are all packed with very real hacker-style adventure. Read on for the list!

Book Review: Welcome to Bordertown

Welcome to Bordertown: New Stories and Poems of the Borderlands edited by Holly Black and Ellen Kushner

On the border between our world and the realm of Faerie is a city where magic and technology collide.  A gritty urban landscape full of runaways from the world and the realm seeking freedom, magic and mystery, making music, love and war.  The Borderland series of shared-world stories was created for teen readers by Terri Windling in the mid-80s.  Emma Bull, Charles de Lint, Ellen Kushner, Will Shetterly, and Midori Snyder authored some of the early Borderland stories.

Four anthologies of short stories were published:  Borderland and Bordertown in 1986, Life on the Border in 1991, and The Essential Bordertown in 1996.  Three novels were set in Bordertown as well: Elsewhere (1991) and Never Never (1993) both by Will Shetterly and Finder by Emma Bull (1994).

After that, Bordertown disappeared.

Welcome to Bordertown is a return to the shared-world series with stories by some of the original Bordertown writers, and some new authors who grew up reading about Bordertown.  The lapse in time is cleverly accounted for with the conceit that the Way to Bordrtown closed for 13 years in our world and 13 days in Bordertown itself.  Now a new generation of teen wanderers, full of Internet savvy and all new cultural references, are finding their way to Bordertown.