Saturday, March 30, 2013

Reading in Youth and Adulthood

Scott D. Parker

It's nice to know that the one subject I wanted to write about this week was given a bit of a lead-in by Russell yesterday. His post on Doctor Who--hardly a crime fiction story--has paved the way for my post on the changing definition of a genre. Today, I'll be talking space opera, but you can easily make this case with crime and mystery fiction.

I've been in a space opera mood recently lead primary by Alan Dean Foster. He was my first favorite SF author, the one that introduced me to literary SF. Granted, the first books I read was Splinter of the Mind's Eye and the Star Trek Logs, but I quickly moved on to his Pip and Flinx adventures that took place in Foster's own universe.

A month or so ago, I started to re-read the first few Pip and Flinx novels and found myself transported by to the time when I first discovered space opera that didn't have the words "Star" and "Wars" in the title. These are great stories, following the teenaged Flinx and his flying snake, Pip, on their adventures. Naturally, the youth that I was latched onto the youth that was Flinx and I was an easy sell. Even now, reading them again, I am  captivated by the breadth of Foster's universe, the little details he drops in and the entire world he has built. More often than not, back then, I wanted to be in that universe. Such is the way of young readers when they find something they crave that can only be found in books.

Moreover, as the years go by and more books are read and you grow up, that yearning starts to diminish and you don't always find that same level of involvement as you do when you are both a young reader (age wise) and a young reader (one who has just learned to read and you realize that there are whole worlds ready for the discovery). Many of us cut our young reading teeth on the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew and longed to be a tagalong on their adventure, but how many want to tag along on some with some of the great character of the past decade or so? As good as  the books are, sometimes they don't transport you.

So it was with great interest that I selected Leviathan Wakes by James S. A. Corey as this month's selection for my SF book club. Billed as realistic space opera set entirely in our solar system, but still hundreds of years in the future, I was intrigued by it's promise of a large story told by characters lower in the totem pole. This book did not disappoint. It was splendid. I'm easily going to start the second one just as soon as we have our meeting over the first novel.

What surprised me was the feeling I got while reading the newer novel. It was the adult version of the feeling I go way back when I first started reading SF. But it was an adult feeling, complete with all the years I've lived and the things I've learned. Still, within that prose, I was transported to a universe I'd could see myself living in. And despite what you might think of when you hear "space opera," this novel had real, in-depth characters. Heck, one of them was a cop (there's the crime fiction angle).

It was while reading (listening actually) that I figured out one of the main differences between the type of story Foster told in the 1970s and Corey told in the 2010s. Foster, while having interesting characters, let the plot drive his story and, consequently, drive the reader (in this case, me) to enjoy and want to "be" a part of the story. Corey did the same thing, yet used his characters as that medium, with the side effect of me realizing the world was neat, but the people were neater.

Is that the difference between being an adult reader and a young reader? As a youth, one likely is driven by the plot and wants to rush alongside the protagonists, but, as an adult, one prefers to know what the characters are thinking and why they are taking the actions of the plot?


We here at DSD are very excited at Joelle's new venture. Her YA novel, The Testing, drops in June, but you can get a preview via the book trailer here. And, if you need some words to keep you entertained and enticed, the prequel ebook is here. Oh, and it's FREE.

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