Like some others, I never heard of Heinlein’s juveniles until I was an adult. And by then I’d already decided that Golden Age SF in general was not to my taste: while I know there are exceptions, both on the level of individual titles and authors’ entire bodies of work, my impression was (and largely still is) that the stuff from that period doesn’t do the things I’m interested in reading. I like good characterization, especially for a diversity of characters; I’m rarely drawn in by stories where the idea is king, especially when the idea is one that has become common furniture for the genre since then.
We shouldn’t “move on” in the sense of chucking those books out completely and never talking about them again; if kids pick them up and enjoy them, or if adults do, then fine. Far be it from me to rain on their fun. But I think the notion that they’re still the perfect gateway into reading science fiction is *deeply* misguided: it rests on the assumption that Heinlein’s work is universal, which it isn’t.
(My context: I was born in 1980, and since I’m more of a fantasy reader than an SF one anyway, my biggest gateway was Diana Wynne Jones. On the SF side, probably Ender’s Game — I know a lot of people in my generation who started there — and the Harper Hall books from Pern. Then Anne McCaffrey’s other work, and so on into adult SF.)
Absolutely off-the-top-of-my-head, knee-jerk response. (Anatomically challenging and physically uncomfortable.): Why should one “move on” from any effective art? Have we moved on from Durer or Gershwin or Ben Jonson? Audiences, especially over generations, do move on from works or styles, but that’s not the same process that the pop-psychology phrase, with its I’m-so-over-that overtones, implies.
Less top-of-the-heady: I suppose there’s a question being begged in the previous paragraph, to wit, How much of the YA fiction of a previous generation really is enduring or effective art, as distinct from carefully-engineered age-targeted entertainment product? I suppose it’s possible for a book to be so embedded in its own time that a later audience finds it impossible to enter except as an exercise in cultural-historical tourism, in much the same way that we look at antique advertising and wonder that our ancestors could be so gullible or sexist or racist or whatever. (Boing Boing is fond of this kind of thing.)
Some of the books I grew up on were passed down to me by one of my father’s older cousin–they were the ancestors of modern YA from the turn of the 20th century through the Thirties, produced by commercial-fiction factories like the Stratmeyer Syndicate. There were cycling-chums stories, sports stories, aviation adventures, dog stories, and some Bobbsey Twins titles. Actually, these, along with The Sword in the Stone, Tom Sawyer, Johnny Tremain, and a handful of others, were the only kid-targeted books I read past age ten, when I discovered SF via (as it happened) Rocket Ship Galileo. When I was reading through that box of inherited books, I was aware that they described an earlier world (though I was not fully aware of their moral-cultural agendas), but I still enjoyed them, even if none of them came up to the level of the Heinlein (or Andre Norton or T.H. White) or to the kind of magazine/paperback SF (and mysteries and historicals) I was starting to read at the same time. (My reading history is rather like Gary’s–I’m only a year older.)
I also read all the Winston titles our library carried, and I wonder how many of those would look to contemporary kids–I know that the only one I have re-read in adulthood, Vandals of the Void, is Vance-and-water. I haven’t re-read any of the Heinleins for 30-plus years, but I recall that the best of them–Have Space Suit-Will Travel, The Star Beast, Citizen of the Galaxy–wore pretty well, even for a 30-year-old fresh Ph.D. On the other hand, contemporary teenagers are probably more sensitive to what’s cool and what’s not than I am now or even was fifty-plus years ago. (Is the Golden Age of SF not an age but the condition called geek or nerd or grind or brain, depending on how far back we trace it?)
By the time I was 12 (1970)–Heinlein juveniles already seemed square, from an era I had difficulty relating to. The writers I devoured then and for some time later were Norton, Keith Laumer, and ERB, especially Pellucidar. For today’s youth, as they say, Heinlein is ancient history. He simply doesn’t matter–nor should he. He’s had his day, planted his flag. All honor, but the world has moved on.
Heinlein has had his day, but Edgar Rice Burroughs hasn’t?
Hollywood certainly seems to think so. 😉
By that standard, most of today’s favorite writers haven’t even HAD their day.
Gary K. Wolfe
On the other hand, there are those reports that Have Space Suit–Will Travel is in development for 2013, with a completed script.
Using Hollywood as the standard by which to judge the worth of literature seems like a poor idea to me. That way lies madness.
You beat me to it.
Not literature–but the sensibilities of young adults. That way lies profits.