Monday, May 7, 2012

Are book readers too prude?

Confession time: I’ve been the worse blogger of the whole blogging universe. And probably any alternate universes as well. It wasn’t even a time issue – I know this is the excuse most bloggers give, but let’s face it: if we can find the time to write multiple drafts of a 80,000 words novel, we should be able to write a one page blog post once in a while. No, in my case, it was (is) the fear of inflicting mind-numbing posts onto precious writer friends. This is just as weak of an excuse, so let’s hope I can break the cycle.

And so I bring you this post which addresses an issue, or rather a tendency, which I noticed during my quest to find new books to read: adult sci-fi and fantasy appears to be extinct. How did I come to this conclusion?

I watch quite a bit of TV shows. I’m a photographer, so I spend ungodly amount of times in front of a PC editing photos, creating albums, corresponding with clients (or wooing them), etc. In the interest of efficiently using my precious time, I work with a triple monitor setup.

On the center screen, this is where the magic of photo editing happens (an exercise which involves correcting exposures, boosting colors, but can go all the way up to pimple removals or breast augmentation (yes, I get such requests. Don’t ask)). On the left, I usually have a TV episode playing which feeds off my DVR (so I never have to see awful commercials) and on the right, anything from Photoshop tools to an e-mail client.

So why does this matter at all? All this time spent multitasking requires entertainment to keep me sane. Shows like Game of Thrones, True Blood, The Borgias, Homeland, The Good Wife, Damages, Downton Abbey or Fringe continuously bless my left screen. Shows with great acting, but especially, fantastic writing. It is this habit that brought on an epiphany: where has the adult-themed literature gone to?

You see, while I was browsing Amazon for new sci-fi or fantasy books to read, I was flabbergasted at how very few recent books, if any, were targeted at adults. Every single writer knows the YA genre is mega popular. They’re accessible, usually tame and appeal to teenagers and adults alike. I get it.

Yet, shows like True Blood and Game of Thrones (which constantly break viewership records) have proven that there’s plenty of room for adult-themed entertainment. Sure, Charlaine Harris and GRRM were popular before HBO produced these fine series, but there is also no doubt these productions skyrocketed the popularity of both sagas.

In spite of this, I could not find more than a handful of sci-fi or fantasy books that were recently written (say, the past five years) which were not YA. Why is it that no one writes for adults anymore?

It isn’t violence, gore or sex that makes a book an adult book. In my limited reader experience, I find adult books (such as A Song of Ice and Fire) to be much more ambivalent on the moral themes they exploit. Villains are not fully black, heroes are not fully white. There’s just a lot of grey. This, I find, makes for much more interesting characters. Good people can commit horrific acts and bad people can do some good from time to time. If anything, this very concept finds its roots in human history, as The Crusades: The Authoritative History of the War for the Holy Land (which I am currently reading) has reminded me.

Is it not acceptable to depict plunder, rape or sex if it serves a narrative purpose? If nine million viewers tune in to Game of Thrones every Sunday, and millions of books of the same saga were sold, isn’t there room for colorful renditions of the human nature, no matter how horrifying it is?

Apparently not. At least not in the publishing industry. Case in point: if you Google “sci fi for adults”, one of the top results is “9 Best Science Fiction Novels For Young Adults Besides 'Mockingjay'” by the Huffington Post. Gee, thanks Google.

So, readers and writers… are we just too prude?

PS. If you have book recommendations, I’m all ears!