|"Zita the Spacegirl" - Ben Hatke's fantastic sci fi romp is a rare bird indeed...!|
The whole of geekdom got all in a tizzy this week as one of its most beloved Geeks, Mr Simon Pegg, seemed to roundly stick the boot into the very genre that provides him with a comfortable living through various involvements with Star Trek and Beyond.
You can read his retraction (which had a whiff of "Oh DANG, I'm in danger of persecuting the very folk who provide me with that livelihood" here).
Warning, it's very sweary and not for the eyes of children. Read it like you're reading about a man backpedalling furiously to avoid falling into a deep crevasse.
As much as "The Peggster" has some valid points to make about huge corporations cashing in on our love of extending our childhoods well into adulthood (which isn't really a new thing, it just feels like it as geek culture wholeheartedly embraces "the pursuit of things" for people with disposable income and not much to spend it on other than the pursuit of things they perhaps couldn't afford as kids), he has made a slightly odd statement along the lines of science fiction being 'childish' that really didn't ring true.
If you discount Star Wars, Marvel, DC and Star Trek, kids are sold a pretty raw deal when it comes to science fiction. Proper science fiction that is, not action-led space operas that endlessly churn out the same trite storylines, space battles and good vs evil tropes.
Proper science fiction, in fact, that makes you want to get into science, to make real the things you've read about depicted as fantasy. Stories, in short, that inspire children to look to the future to see what they can do about it and how they can be a huge part of it.
We kicked off this article with a fantastic cover image from "Zita the Spacegirl" by Ben Hatke. Ben's fantastic action hero shows that you can write engaging, deep and brilliant science fiction for children (and hey, it's durned good stuff for adults too) - but why are books like Ben's not more commonplace for children? And why does it always seem that, until you hit the rich heady YA genre that is very sci-fi heavy, there's very little to pick and choose from when it comes to sci fi stories that don't arrive in comic or graphic novel form for the 3-8 year old age group.
Is it that science fiction has become synonymous with big branded franchise stories more or less taking over from clever and original stories and characters, as "The Peggster" describes? Now that would make a worthy rant!
Personally, being initiated into geekdom at a very early age by two sci-fi loving uncles who introduced me to Star Trek, Doctor Who, Star Wars (all of which are still hugely popular with kids today) but who didn't stop there, letting me read the likes of Robert A. Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke and Michael Moorcock (probably wholly unsuitable reading for an 8 year old, to be fair), I quickly grew to realise that there was a lot more to science fiction than just making up stories about robots, spaceships and space damsels in distress.
Clarke's highly knowledgeable and 'technical' approach to Science Fiction was attractive for so many reasons. It all felt possible, believable. It all felt as if Clarke was writing about a future that was tomorrow rather than aeons from now. Other authors chose to enhance my appreciation of science fiction by describing the most alien and surreal future imaginable. In Asimov's case, his characters imbued the important lesson that even despite humankind's successes in harnessing the elements to make our lives easier, the same human frailties often led to our undoing (and ditto for Heinlein who had a knack of reflecting society and culture of today in stories about tomorrow).
From there, it was easy to start absorbing books written more for my age at the time by geniuses such as John Christopher, John Gordon and John Wyndham (must be something about the name "John" that instantly makes you an expert at writing tight and sometimes horrific sci fi dystopia stories that grip you from the front cover to the back) and of course discovering the scintillating future worlds in comics like 2000AD and Starlord (amongst many many others).
Kids are OK for science fiction comics, as we've already mentioned. We've shouted long and loud about the fantastic Phoenix Comic, which does not shy away from mature and gripping science fiction stories (Troy Trailblazer is just one example of a science fiction story that doesn't treat its intended audience like dumb actioneers, it deals with some pretty astonishingly mature concepts for a children's comic story - almost hard-fi for kids).
I guess the point I'm trying to make is that for younger children, science fiction is a relatively unexplored frontier. There are some books - but they're usually fairly low impact (though Jonny Duddle's sublime "King of Space" is a notable exception and the perfect example of a children's picture book with sci fi themes that works absolutely perfectly on a number of levels - we love it!) It would be fantastic to see less "Johnny and the Rocket to the moon" type stuff where the science fiction backdrop is incidental (and quite often interchangeable).
Simon Pegg's interview rant may have been taken the wrong way by a number of folk, and his retraction felt like it could've been a lot shorter (A simple sentence like "I made a huge generalisation, and I'm sorry, Science Fiction and Fantasy ROCK and SO WHAT if it keeps us thinking young!) but the sting for me was hearing science fiction described as childish when kids seem to get the raw end of the deal when it comes to stories from the future that aren't branded in some way.