Next Generation Readers and the Future of Fandom

Amazing Stories SoapboxLet’s pull the ol’ soapbox out once more and take a closer look at what has become an uncomfortable trend.

What are our kids reading these days? The next generation of fandom may be in for quite a surprise from the literary perspective of my (baby boomer) generation. Influenced by Hollywood and the marketing monster that pretends to have the reader’s interests at heart, it’s obvious that times have changed.

I had an eye opening experience last week when the school our kids attend hosted their bi-annual book fair. What happened to all of those great genre classics of science fiction, fantasy and horror? In the heart of the holiday shopping season, what better opportunity to do a little gift buying than at a book sale. In our household, a wrapped book is always a welcomed gift. But when the choices are limited, well, it’s just not the same.

Finding the right books for our kids may not be as simple as going to a book sale anymore. Of course the term “right books” is purely subjective, but when your options are narrowed drastically, the future of fandom suddenly becomes uncertain.

scholasticLike many book fairs, this one was presented by Scholastic (not sure if any other organization offers similar services to local schools). And it should also be pointed out that their contribution to the inspiration of young readers has been nothing short of tremendous. When you see the children’s eyes light up as they walk among the makeshift shelves, it reminds you of the importance of first impressions and the need for exposure to all genres of literature.

So, what classic science fiction books were available at this event? Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. That was it! There were about six copies. There were also a couple of box sets of J. R. R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, but they had images from the films on the covers and that kinda tainted the “classic” feel.

Convinced that I must have missed others, I methodically went back and checked, shelf by shelf, table by table. Nothing. No H. G. Wells. No Edgar Allen Poe. No Edgar Rice Burroughs. No Arthur C. Clarke. No Isaac Asimov. No Philip K. Dick. No Philip José Farmer. No Bradley, Silverberg, or Bova. Nothing could be found on the discount/sale table either.

Now I understand that the Scholastic Corporation has a vested interest in publishing works by author’s who they may have rights to and are limited by what books they can put their banner on. I get it. It’s a business. But there are a lot of classic works out there that they could still put in print and help preserve the institution of fandom if they really wanted to. Sadly, it seems that unless the work involves wizard schools or dystopian stories of teenaged resistances that are attractive on the silver screen, young readers must turn to other avenues.

So I’ll step down from this soapbox and thank Amazing Stories for giving readers, young and old, a home for fandom. The book fair might be a fine place to get affordable reading material, but you better look elsewhere if you want to pick up the classics.

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  1. You’re right about what is popular with the kids today. Luckily my youngest is showing an interest in the older classics that I grew up with and often asks me for suggestions. My other two, they look at me…well, I guess the same way I looked at my own dad when he sat down to read his dime westerns (though I admit to have read a few of those in my day too).

    Thanks for the input Saul, its appreciated.

  2. Bookstores, book fairs and even libraries are somewhat of a lost cause. And depending on age, tastes of “kids” these days can swing widely. Here’s the deal, no one is dragging heavy boxes of books that kids don’t buy or read. They read what is popular at school. And while I agree that classic SF is wonderful, much of the stuff written in the 60s and 70s is meaningless to the current YA audience. Some of the authors you mention are/were New Wave writers. No way in hell will kids get that stuff. And Burroughs and Wells? Their writing style is not very modern, and will turn many kids off. Now we can argue about what writing appeals to particular age groups, but book fairs/stores sell books by popular “modern day” writers. What else can we expect. I do my best to read some classic YA to my daughter. Daniel Pinkwater is now one of her favorites. But it wasn’t easy. His writing came off a bit strange at first, and he talks about all sort of cultural phenomena from his childhood that she can’t relate to. Thankfully, with me guiding her, she now “gets” his stuff. For most kids, that sort of connection will be hard to forge on their own. I mean, they might make it if they stop messing with xBox, youtube, iPhones, Cartoon Network, Disney Channel and the mobs of other crap hitting them square in the face.

    Don’t get me wrong, you’re right to promote the classics. All I can say is that I share your pain. I share your pain…

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