Rumors of Ed Champion's retirement from litblogging were premature. After a short break, Champion's entertaining and informative blog -- now titled Ed Champion's Filthy Habits -- is once again active. And yes, you should be pleased to hear that Champion is still holding the New York Times Book Review up to an exacting standard of excellence.
In an entry posted yesterday, titled Dave Itzkoff: The Genre Dunce Who Won't Stop Dancing, Champion took issue with the opening sentence of the NYTBR's science fiction column, Across the Universe, the latest installment of which appeared on Sunday.
Clearing his throat before getting on with the work of reviewing "Un Lun Dun," a new work of juvenile literature by British "weird fiction" author China Miéville (it sounds pretty good; I'm putting it on my Amazon wish list), columnist Dave Itzkoff mused that riding the subway with Harry Potter-reading New Yorkers (these rides, according to Itzkoff, "tend to resemble scenes from an 'Evil Dead' movie, in which I am Bruce Campbell dodging zombies who have had all traces of their humanity sucked out of them by a sinister book") sometimes makes him "wonder how any self-respecting author of speculative fiction can find fulfillment in writing novels for young readers."
Very neat, right? Itzkoff signals that he's down with the long-overdue J.K. Rowling backlash, gets off a hip horror/slapstick movie reference, and sets up a conflict (dignified, satisfying speculative fiction vs. undignified, unsatisfying juvenile fiction) that a close reading of Miéville will synthetically resolve. (The purpose of "Un Lun Dun," according to Itzkoff, is not to dispel the fear of leaving home for its youthful readers, "but rather to provide them with irresistible incentive to take those tentative first steps into unpredictable worlds beyond.")
Champion isn't having any of it.
For one thing, he says, Itzkoff's Bruce Campbell reference is "cutesy," and it doesn't work:
... In fact the "Evil Dead" films concerned themselves with the backwoods, not an urban setting, and it was the supernatural (as opposed to zombies) that Bruce Campbell dodged in the "Evil Dead" films. [Itzkoff] might have had a decent comparison on his hands had he evoked something along the lines of Lamberto Bava's "Demons." But a tired and clumsy reference to Bruce Campbell? Clearly, this was one of those "hip" comparisons that Itzkoff sneaked into his column not with the intent of relating to his audience, but to desperately pine for a geek chic he clearly does not and can never possess.
Over-the-top? Champion does have his facts straight. In the first "Evil Dead" movie, anyway, demons possess mortal bodies. No zombies. I never saw any of the sequels.
Also, Champion isn't pleased with the premise of Itzkoff's essay: "But this ignoramus," he fumes, "also has the temerity to suggest that speculative fiction authors can only write speculative fiction and that there is nothing of value in [Young Adult] books."
Now, I agree with Itzkoff that writing speculative fiction has to be more satisfying than writing Harry Potter books -- I, for one, have never been impressed with J.K. Rowling's work. And I must say that Champion is going too far in calling Itzkoff a dunce and an ignoramus. (Although it occurs to me that the character "Ed Champion" is probably supposed to be the "Ed Anger" of literary criticism -- in which case, anything goes.) However! Champion is absolutely right to scoff at the premise that speculative fiction and juvenile lit can only be written by the same author at the risk of cognitive dissonance and loss of dignity. Anyone who says so has been reading the wrong juvenile lit.
So, being for the benefit of Mr. Itzkoff, I herewith present a short, hastily annotated list of some of my own favorite examples of post-apocalyptic and dystopian fiction. Each of the following titles could and/or should be categorized as juvenile lit. NB: Although many of my favorites happen to fall near the top of the list, it's in chronological order.
* The excellent 1967-68 "Tripod" series -- "White Mountains," "City of Gold and Lead," "Pool of Fire" -- by British author John Christopher.
* The top-notch 1968-70 "Changes" trilogy -- "The Weathermonger," "Heartsease," "The Devil's Children" -- by British author Peter Dickinson.
* "The Guardians" (1970), by John Christopher.
* The terrific 1971-72 "Sword of the Spirits" or "Winchester" series -- "Prince in Waiting," "Beyond the Burning Lands," "Sword of the Spirits" -- by John Christopher.
* "Andra" (1971), by Louise Lawrence.
* "Out There" (1971), by Adrien Stoutenberg.
* "Kamandi: The Last Boy on Earth" (DC), the 1972-78 comic book series by Jack Kirby -- I recently bought volume 1 of the hardbound series, and read it to my sons.
* "Children of Morrow" (1973), by HM Hoover.
* The great 1974-7? comic book series "Omac: One Man Army," by Jack Kirby.
* "Planet of the Apes" -- the kid-friendly 1974 TV series. Plus action figures!
* "Wild Jack" (1974), by John Christopher.
* "Outside" (1974), by Andre Norton.
* "The Girl Who Owned a City" (1975), by OT Nelson -- I purchased this through the Scholastic Book Club when I was a kid. It's very pro-capitalist, now that I re-read it.
* "The City Under Ground" (1975), by Suzanne Martel.
* "Z for Zachariah" (1975), terrific book by Robert O'Brien -- author of a classic work of juvenile fiction, "Mrs. Frisby and the Rats of NIMH."
* "Children of the Dust" (1975), by Louise Lawrence.
* "Noah's Castle" (1975), by John Rowe Townsend -- also from Scholastic Book Club.
* "City of Darkness" (1976), by Ben Bova.
* "Empty World" (1977), also by John Christopher.
* "Riddley Walker" (1980), by Russell Hoban. OK, this is really for adults, but the protagonist is a young adult. And Hoban is most famous for his "Frances the Badger" children's books.
* "Blakely's Ark" (1981), by Ian Macmillan.
* "Jimbo" (1982), the comic by Gary Panter -- again, not really for kids. But it's a comic!
* "Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome" (1985): A kiddie version of the "Mad Max" movies.
* "Fiskadoro" (1985), by Denis Johnson -- not exactly for teens, but I read it in high school.
* "Galapagos" (1985), by Kurt Vonnegut -- ditto.
I'm sure there are other books that should be included on this list. But I graduated from high school in 1986, and lost track of post-apocalyptic juvenile lit. Readers, help me out! What am I overlooking? PS: Please don't tell me "City of Ember." Not impressed!
UPDATE: Thanks, io9, for the link!
More SF- and comics-related stories: "We are Iron Man!" (Brainiac) | "Post-Apocalyptic Kiddie Movies" (Brainiac) | "The Slacktivism of Richard Linklater" (Slate) | "Black Iron Prison" (n+1) | "Back to Utopia" (Boston Globe Ideas) | "In a Perfect World" (Boston Globe Ideas) | "Philip K. Dick: Hermenaut of the Month" (Hermenaut) | "Journeys to the Center " (New York Times Book Review/IHT) | "Climate of Fear" (Boston Globe Ideas) | "Pulp Affection" (Boston Globe Ideas) | "Eco-Spaceship Redux" (Brainiac) | "Post-Apocalyptic Juvie Lit" (Brainiac) | "The New Skrullicism" (Brainiac) | "Prez" (Brainiac) | "Life Imitates Comic Book" (Brainiac) "Vintage Ads of Fictional Futures" (Brainiac) | "The Partisans" (Brainiac) | "The New Gods" (Brainiac) | "Rarebit Fiend!" (Brainiac audio slideshow) | "Dr. Strange vs. Dr. Craven" (Brainiac)
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