Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Science Fiction Short Stories For YA Readers

I haven't responded to any books here in a while because I've been reading The Starry Rift: Tales of New Tomorrows, a rather hefty volume of short stories edited by Jonathan Strahan. The Starry Rift is one of those themed YA anthologies that are often very uneven in the quality of its offerings. I think this one is better than average.

A couple of the stories are a little preachy. And some might not technically be YA. For instance, is a consciousness that's been alive for hundreds of years but inhabits a body that looks to be in its late teens a YA character or something else? (Infestation by Garth Nix) One story that I liked a lot, The Star Surgeon's Apprentice by Alaistair Reynolds, takes your classic tale of the cabin boy forced onto a pirate ship and moves it into space. The protagonist, though, seems as if he doesn't need to be a teenager.

One of the big pluses with this book is that the stories really are science fiction, something that I think hasn't been getting a lot of attention in young people's fiction since fantasy became king of the hill. In fact, the Nix story I mentioned in the preceding paragraph involves vampires, which usually fall into the fantasy category. But he gives them a nice science fiction twist here. Strahan's introduction provideds a history of science fiction, particularly in the twentieth century, that I think new, young science fiction readers should be able to get a lot out of.

I also like the way some of the authors took classic situations from other genres--or from the headlines--and used them in science fiction scenarios. In addition to the pirate story, we have a story here about kids thinking they've found a spy and spying on him themselves, something that might be described as a whaling story (Whales in Space!), and a tale of illegal immigrants coming from the past.

Then there was the story set in a future, high-tech India. India was ruined as a setting for me after having to read A Passage to India twice when I was in school. The Dust Assassin by Ian McDonald may have opened a new world to me.

Really, reading this book was an experience. I only skipped two stories.

For a much more serious critique of The Starry Rift, check out this post from The Inter-Galactic Playground. The post's author, Farah Mendlesohn, is the author of Rhetorics of Fantasy.

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