spicysaurus (spicysaurus) wrote,

Are young-adult sci-fi writers inventing a new genre?

I recently finished Diana Wynne Jones's Hexwood, and was astonished by its format. When you think of young adult sci-fi/fantasy, you probably think of Harry Potter, right? I did too.

But Hexwood threw me a real curve ball. The story isn't just non-linear, it's multi-linear. The main character, Ann, experiences four separate events more or less simultaneously, and we're right there with her, repeatedly passing the pretzel bag in the tree on her way to meet Mordion. Ann's friends in Hexwood forest might be any age when she meets them, but, judging by the cut on Mordion's wrist, only a few days pass for them as well as for Ann. Then, suddenly, we discover Ann isn't 15-year-old Ann, but 21-year-old Vierran, who we are introduced to about halfway through the book. To be honest, it's a bit hard to keep up.

But that's sort of the fun of it, isn't it? Trying to keep pace with a book that throws convention to the wind. The postmodernists discovered this decades ago, and changed the face of fiction. It seems sci-fi/fantasy is catching up, and it's the authors who write for children who are leading the way.

Even C.S. Lewis dabbled with this sort of format in his Narnian chronicles. Although the Pevensies grow into adulthood in Narnia, they emerge from the wardrobe only moments after entering it at the end of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. When they return not long after in Prince Caspian thousands of years have passed in Narnia, and they find their castle lies in ruins and their names are the stuff of legend, much like our King Arthur.

Ursula K. LeGuin employed this sort of device in her short A Fisherman of the Inland Sea, in which Hideo devotes his entire life to the study of time travel just so he can rewrite his own biography. Granted, not all of LeGuin's work is for children, but a great deal of it is, and I think this story is one children can easily enjoy.

Upon reflection, it seems sci-fi/fantasy authors are the logical choice to begin to play with the structure of a story. The genre lends itself well to manipulations of time, perception, and reality. It does seem surprising, though, for the children's authors to be the trailblazers in this respect. Perhaps children are more receptive to their notions of reality being smudged? Perhaps the things that inspire authors to write for children inspire them to bend the rules?

At any rate, I couldn't be happier.

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