Why the time is now for YA speculative fiction

From the Guardian
Laxmi Hariharan explains why speculative fiction genre is on the rise in YA. She also tells us what it is, what it’s for and how you’ve probably read some without realising!

All through my teens I was too afraid to experiment. Maybe it’s a measure of the society where I grew up (in Mumbai), where compliance to the larger system was demanded as the route to success; success itself being defined in terms of material possessions. And failure frowned upon. Or perhaps it was just me. I never could let myself take the leap and just try things for fun, without worrying about the outcome.

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It is my writing that made me realise that it was important to try new things without worrying about the results; for only then could I differentiate my “true” feelings, from the ones I’d been told I “should” have. Only then could I get more “real” in what I write. And it is this very “non-fear” of experimenting, the “non-judgment” of outcomes, which attracts me to speculative fiction (sometimes shortened to spec-fic).

I write fantastical, action-adventure. Thrillers, which are sometimes magic realist, and which sometimes borrow from Indian mythology. Oh! And my young heroes are often of Indian origin. So yeah! My brand of YA is not easily classifiable. Imagine my relief when I found I had a home in speculative YA. There are less rules here, so I don’t worry so much about breaking them.

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So, then, I wanted to understand what YA speculative fiction really meant in today’s world.

Rysa Walker, author of the Chronos Files YA series told me, “Anything that couldn’t happen in real life is speculative fiction.”

Speculative fiction is, as I found, an umbrella term for fantasy, science fiction, horror, magic realism; everything that falls under “that which can’t really happen or hasn’t happened yet.”

A great example is The Old Kingdom series, by Garth Nix. It’s a story about the daughter of a family of necromancers, who lives on the cusp of a world with technology and a world with magic, where one doesn’t work in the realm of others, can definitely be placed in the speculative fiction genre.

One of my all time speculative YA favourites is Scott Westerfield’s Uglies. Set in a post scarcity dystopian future in which everyone is turned “Pretty” by extreme cosmetic surgery when they turn 16 years-old.

Nicole Ciacchella, author of the Contributor Trilogy, told me: “YA speculative fiction allows its young characters to play the starring role in the narrative. Since it centres around ‘what if\ questions — What if there were magic in the world? What if the government threw a bunch of teenagers into an arena and made them fight to the death? — it lends itself very well to placing young protagonists front and centre. Plus, it’s no coincidence that the teens in these stories are often acting in defiance of the adult characters.”

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But it’s more than that isn’t it? It’s fiction which tackles the essential question of what makes us human.

YA speculative fiction always has a twist to what is considered, “acceptable.” The Many Lives of Ruby Iyer, my YA dystopian adventure series set not in the familiar New York, Chicago or Los Angeles, but in Bombay/Mumbai. The story while grounded in reality has a thread of the fantastical, an almost not possible – yet could be possible feel, running through it. You could call it magical realism, yet with a foreboding sense of the dystopian.

The time of YA speculative fiction is now, because these stories raise questions very relevant to an increasingly unsafe and intolerant today. Stories, which build a vivid world, one which is all too real, and yet somehow “off”. And it’s this I like most, check out some of the books in this article and see if you like it too!

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