Challenger Logo by Alan White   A Science Fiction Fanzine   Summer 2009

And for more on Mr. Heinlein


Curt Phillips

Many people who care about the future of science fiction these days seem to be more than a little concerned about where the coming generations of SF readers are going to come from.  Here in the early 21st century – a time that many of the readers of this fanzine grew up thinking of *as* the future – science fiction is more ubiquitous than ever and may already have become so much a part of the mainstream for school-age children that they may well not even recognize that science fiction even exists as a seperate literary or stylistic vehicle.  To the youngest readers, it may simply be the world they've known all their lives.  So how do we "recruit" young readers into the genre that many of us admire?  In all honesty, I'm not certain that we can, or even should. But if one is going to try to turn a kid onto SF a certain amount of care should be taken – and the effort must begin by recognizing a few things about the target audience.

If you give kids *lousy* SF to read they’ll spit it out and never take another taste.  Reading, after all, is *work* compared to watching television or doing the many other leisure time activities that kids have available to them.  I remember one of the first SF books I ever read at the age of 10.  It was The X Factor by Andre Norton, and it not at all a good book to pick for your first sample of SF.  It was way over my head and I just happened to mention this in a conversation with my school librarian, Mrs. Dameron.  She gave me a studied look for a moment and then took me over to the shelf where the Heinlein books were kept.  “Give it one more try with this book”, she said and she handed me a copy of The Rolling Stones by Robert A. Heinlein.  So I did, and the path of my life was changed forever.  On the other hand, I’ve never been able to get any of my cousins, nieces, nephews, schoolmates, or really, any other person at all to take up an interest in SF.  Every SF friend I’ve ever had was already into SF when we met.  So has entry level SF ever really been shown to work?  I’ve no idea, but I suspect that one is either a natural born reader of SF or one isn’t. 

I think the biggest difference between “good” kid SF as represented by Heinlein’s juvenile novels and the bad ones as represented by Apollo at Go by Jeff Sutton (just to pick on the third SF book that I ever read and hated) is that the bad ones seem to be “written down” as if the poor little mites were assumed to be not terribly bright and couldn’t possibly understand ideas bigger than rockets and ray guns and monsters that like to eat bad children who don’t do their homework.  Such books only describe some big world where adults did all the important thinking and kids just sort of bumbled around and found out things only by lucky accident.  Grown-ups always had to save the day in the end.  This concept is crap, of course.  Its crap today and it was crap when I was 10 and I knew it.

The good stuff was different.  In The Rolling Stones, for instance, the family was constantly doing things together.  The whole family; kids, parents and even grandparents.  Sometimes the kids screwed up but then sometimes the adults did too.  Even more radical, the *ideas* of the kids were listened to and given fair consideration and the adults tried to take time to realistically explain things that the kids wanted to know about.  In other words, the kids were treated like ignorant but intelligent people.  Now this is the key point:  all children are ignorant.  And it is important to understand that ignorant does *not* equal stupid.  Ignorance means nothing more than that there are facts or bodies of knowledge that one is unaware of.  And further, ignorance can be eroded by time, education, experience, and the inborn ability to learn from time, education and experience.  This is as good a definition of intelligence as I’m aware of.  Children are ignorant but they’re not necessarily stupid and Robert A. Heinlein understood this and made use of it in his work.  Go and reread some Heinlein with this in mind and see if you don’t agree...

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