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I compiled my list of books during a couple weeks of "market research" - i.e. trolling a dozen Goodreads lists (like this one) and this wonderful blog, Charlotte's Library (devoted to MG and YA science-fiction and fantasy). Since my current work-in-progress is a YA science fiction story (working title: Startripped), I wanted to find out what's already been done, over-done, and where there might be room for new ideas in this area.
I thought others might be interested in my results, so I've got all the books listed on my YA SF survey page, with short descriptions and links. But to sum it up quickly for this post, I grouped the 164 books into these 9 categories:
Rebellion against futuristic government control (e.g. The Hunger Games) 22 books
Our bodies are not under our own control (e.g. Uglies, Delirium) 27 books
Memories or minds are messed with(e.g. Adoration of Jenna Fox) 9 books
Computers / artificial intelligence / virtual reality (e.g. Feed) 11 books
Space travel / new worlds (e.g. Across the Universe) 23 books
Aliens (e.g. I Am Number Four) 7 books
Time Travel or Time Twist (e.g. PathFinder) 8 books
Apocalyptic/post apocalyptic (e.g. Gone or Ashfall) 37 books
Paranormal/fantasy/steampunk/SF crossovers (e.g. Leviathan) 22 books
(This list does not include fantasy or paranormal novels unless they also include a scientific element, not just magic or superpowers. Also, I did not include sequels, but the list does include upper middle grade SF novels.)
The categories are my own definitions (other might classify SF books differently), and there is considerable overlap among categories, too. For instance some of the space travel books overlap with time travel and with other categories.
But I thought it was really interesting that the category with the most books was Apocalytic/post apocalyptic. I'm thinking that area of YA science fiction might be getting saturated? I mean, how many ways can civilization as we know of now might be drastically altered? Volcanos, earthquakes, meteors, plagues, seas rising, deserts spreading, monster sandstorms, toxic air, global economic collapse, electromagnetic pulses, global winter, nuclear war, solar flares, and a technocaust (hmm, that last one sounds unique!) Lots of great science and great ideas here.
Some concepts are definitely overdone though: I found at least four books where society is living inside protective domes. And three books with "ash" in the title: Ashfall, Ashes, and Ashes, Ashes.
My WIP falls in the "memories or minds are messed with" category, and I only found 9 books with a main premise in this area (admitting that my grouping might be flawed though since I was basing these categories off of one to two paragraph blurbs). But I'm pretty hopeful that my idea hasn't been overdone and it's not too close to other ideas out there. (phew).
And speaking of ideas, I also learned while compiling this survey, that light-hearted space opera doesn't fly in the YA realm. You have to have a really gripping high concept premise. You could pretty much state 80% of these books in a single sentence of this type:
In a [insert society, location or world] where [insert premise, such as everyone has a genetically engineered sixth sense], sixteen or seventeen year old [insert name] is [choose one: a rebel, misfit, defective, different some way, discovers a secret or is keeping a secret].
I just came up with that genetically engineered sixth sense thingie on the fly. Hmmmmn, I like that idea!
I tried this formula for a couple books I've read:
The Hunger Games: In a world controlled by a despotic Capitol, where teenagers must fight to death for the entertainment of the audience, sixteen year old Katniss rebels against the rules.
It takes a little modification though to get it to work for SF that isn't dystopian:
Cinder (Marissa Meyer): In a science fiction twist on Cinderella, Cinder is a second class citizen and a cyborg and her enemy isn't just her step mother but also a lurking lunar society.
How cool is that??? A science fiction twist on an old fairytale? (Cinder just released this month, by the way). Also recently released is:
A Long, Long Sleep (Anna Sheehan) - the SF version of Sleeping Beauty. Rosalinda Fitzroy has been asleep for sixty-two years when she is woken by a kiss. Locked away in the chemically induced slumber of a stasis tube in a forgotten subbasement, sixteen-year-old Rose slept straight through the Dark Times that killed millions and utterly changed the world she knew.
And releasing this coming July, there's a SF retelling of Jane Austen's Persuasion called For Darkness Shows the Stars (Diana Peterfreund). So, not just fairy tales. Now we have SF retellings of 19th century classics. Cool! I wonder if it will be sort steampunkish?
Speaking of steampunk, I think that's another up and coming trend in YA SF, after the amazing success of Leviathan (Scott Westerfeld). I found less than 10 books in this genre so far (both YA and upper Middle Grade). Traditional science fiction is usually futuristic, so I love that steampunk is sort of science fiction set in the past.
Okay, now for the YA SF giveaway. Leave a comment and you are entered to win one of these:
In Beatrice Prior's dystopian Chicago, society is divided into five factions, each dedicated to the cultivation of a particular virtue—Candor (the honest), Abnegation (the selfless), Dauntless (the brave), Amity (the peaceful), and Erudite (the intelligent). On an appointed day of every year, all sixteen-year-olds must select the faction to which they will devote the rest of their lives. For Beatrice, the decision is between staying with her family and being who she really is—she can't have both.
What was once the western United States is now home to the Republic, a nation perpetually at war with its neighbors. Born into an elite family, fifteen-year-old June is a prodigy being groomed for success in the Republic's highest military circles. Born into the slums, fifteen-year-old Day is the country's most wanted criminal. June's brother has been murdered and Day is the prime suspect. Caught in the ultimate game of cat and mouse, Day is in a race for his family's survival, while June seeks to avenge her brother's death. But in a shocking turn of events, the two uncover the truth of what has really brought them together, and the sinister lengths their country will go to keep its secrets.
No one knows why Juliette's touch is fatal. The world is crumbling to pieces, and The Reestablishment said their way was the only way to fix things, so they threw Juliette in a cell. Now so many people are dead that the survivors are whispering war-- and The Reestablishment has changed its mind. Maybe Juliette is more than a tortured soul stuffed into a poisonous body. Maybe she's exactly what they need right now. Juliette has to make a choice: Be a weapon. Or be a warrior.
The giveaway ends at midnight on February 13. (So you may get a little Valentine's day surprise if random.org picks your comment number on February 14)
Make sure your comment includes your email or some other link I can contact you at, and which book you'd prefer (if you have a preference). And I'd love to hear any opinions on my oh-so-scientific YA SF market predictions!