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Full title: Fortress of solitude or our last best hope? The role of libraries in fostering YA spec fic

An interesting discussion, particularly for SF fans – it was reported that young adults are requesting exclusively speculative fiction in a place like Sunshine, and in some cases are using it to upgrade their reading level by some years. My grave doubts about the quality of YA speculative reading were not exactly allayed by the news that science fiction was only a fraction of the market and fantasy & particularly paranormal romance (Twilight) were the bulk of the reading, though; what does it say about the state of manhood in the West that the dominant metaphor for male-female relationships is features men who are lifeless, monstrous parasites with violent appetites?

The big takeaway was finding the balance between the shift to a more communal quality to library spaces generally, and the opportunities that creates to facilitate the socialisation of the quiet reading-focused kids with each other and into their wider peer groups, and protecting the possibility of just sitting and reading, of the private and solitary time that fosters reflection and individual growth.

My own question, which I didn’t get the chance to ask, was how games integrate into this; to my mind, a good game (especially a good co-operative game) is a chance to combine thoughtful engagement with social interplay. If you’ll pardon the pun. There will be more on this, but I need to get the stuff from the Con out of my head quickly and get to sleep for tomorrow.

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OK, got to get to bed for tomorrow’s sessions, but the thing that struck me from this session was that there are a lot of false divisions that need to be overcome.

There was one bloke – didn’t catch his name, but he was coming from the science end, and talked about the influence of science fiction on encouraging people into careers in the sciences – who basically slagged off “greenies” and accused them of being incredibly selfish people who thought hugging trees would make everything OK and who ignored science. I have never once met someone who seriously advocated hugging a tree, and I know rather a lot of greenies, all of whom got interested in the topic precisely because of the science. I know there are people out there who match the stereotype, but it’s completely irrelevant and kind of destructive. I suspect it comes from the opposition to things like genetic engineering of food crops; but everyone I know who opposes it does so on historically-informed scientific grounds, by which I mean that they are conscious of how radical human intervention in complex systems can completely derail them – has done so in the past, for instance the ways the Green Revolution of the 70s has directly contributed to degradation of crop soil – and so they are not gung-ho optimistic about how right it’ll all be.

Another example was the tension between human rights and the pressing need for sweeping changes in human systems; reconciling the need to re-engineer our lifestyles with people’s freedoms is a toughie. But in fact the tension isn’t an opposition; human rights violations will only increase as environmental change takes place and competition over resources grows, while ignoring human rights while creating change will only lead to conflict that will slow change at best and (if it grows violent) lead to tremendous destruction.

Another union of contrasts is the solution: science and literature. As pointed out in the session, both require imagination, exploration and publication; and they offer a chance to show how the world might work in sustainable ways. I actually think we need to go beyond that, to try to imagine new forms of heroism and new kinds of solution. Too often heroism is defined as the quality of a particular individual or small group of individuals, whereas what we require here is co-operation on a truly epic scale, of the kind that won World Wars. And the solution here is not only new technologies, but the wisdom to accept voluntary austerities and restraints before they become scarcity and constraint; in other words, not the single stroke that saves the world, but the steadfast, ongoing will to hold ourselves within limits set by reason rather than blindly bloating out to the boundaries of a capacity we know extends well into self-destruction.

It’s possible. It just needs to be imagined loudly enough.

An interesting session, despite being a shambles, with one of the panellists recruited as she was walking in to be an audience member – apparently the original panellist’s flight had been delayed. But they all rallied to the cause, giving some good reading recommendations for those interested and doing some useful analysis of why mothering and mothers are portrayed so ambivalently when they are portrayed at all in SF.

One thing occurred to me, which is that mothering (or parenting) is a slow, nurturing job, one that unfolds over many moments whose connection is not always immediately obvious – the example or explanation you give a child one day may resurface in quite startling fashion, sometimes quite transformed, months or years down the track, and only that close, deep attention to another person for their own sake can equip you to understand or even notice their epigenetic and epicultural (epimemetic?) transformation of the influences upon them. Not the stuff of traditional SF – or traditional anything really. But if done right, utterly fascinating; and maybe some of the forms SF seems to suit well, the longer narratives like novel series and episodic TV, are better suited to that kind of slow-motion bloom. Don’s daughter Sally in Mad Men is one example of this kind of literal character development, come to think of it, and Betty’s relationship to her motherhood has been consistently fascinating; having only seen up to the end of Season Three, I’m suddenly very anxious to see how more we get to see of of this in Season Four.

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