Wednesday, April 23, 2008

My toe in the YA scifi market

I've started a program to familiarize myself with the work of my teachers-to-be at Clarion West. To pick a low-hanging fruit, I just read D.A. by Connie Willis. Apparently both she and Paul Park write a lot of YA stuff. Not that that bothers me; the YA label must be so broad it means practically nothing if it can include Phillip Pullman's His Dark Materials series.

But D.A. is very YA. Begin with the length; the book clocks in at under 20k words by my count. It's really more of a novella (novelette? I never get that straight). I've written things just a little bit shorter that were supposed to have been short stories.

The tone is also very teen-girl, and the book is focused on the kind of problems teenagers deal with every day. Theodora Baumgarten, the heroine, is surrounded by stuck-up twits who are always saying things like "Ohmigod! Ohmigod!" She is a good student, but she hates all the boring assemblies she has to attend. The first scene in the book involves a teacher trying to take away her cell phone. Speaking as a person whose profession requires him to be surrounded by teenagers I can tell you that whatever else you say about Willis, she knows kids.

Theodora attends a school full of strivers, every one of whom wants nothing more than to be a space cadet. Every one except Theodora, that is, who can't imagine anything she'd like less than to be crammed into a sardine can with a bunch of other people speeding through a lifeless vacuum hundreds of thousands of miles away from any sign of civilization. This makes her a lot like my wife, who has expressed similar astonishment that anyone would actually do that by choice, let alone that I would if given half a chance.

Needless to say, when the school learns that one of their students has been selected to be a cadet, it turns out to be Theodora. And she has to leave in two hours. And no one will stop congratulating her long enough to listen when she tells them that she never even applied, let alone took the exams and the three levels of clearance interviews necessary to even be considered.

Most of the rest of the book is devoted to Theodora trying to talk her way off the ship, with the help from earth of her hacker friend Kimkim. There's some good hard sci-fi details in there showing that Willis did her homework, like what the Coriolus effect does to you on a spaceship with centripetal gravity (apparently it makes you think everything's tilting toward you, something I didn't know).

The ending is a little too neat and tidy, with a few pages of exposition-through-dialogue dispelling all the problems too easily. But the reasoning behind the plot makes sense well enough, in the sense that it's disputable but not absurd. In short, I think I can definitely learn something from this woman.

I also got Fight Club from the library. I wish that I had found a different Palahniuk there, or alternately that I had never seen the movie (which I enjoyed, but it's going to taint how I view the story).

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