Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Is "Light-Hearted" SFF Taken Seriously?

My friend's boyfriend asked me for book recommendations the other day. He said that he liked Brandon Sanderson's works and the Wheel of Time series but that Game of Thrones, which everyone had recommended, was too dark and bloody. But more importantly, he asked me whether I thought that SFF books generally were too dark, whether I could think of some light-hearted SFF books.

My instinctive, gut reaction was to say that there aren't many light-hearted SFF books (though I speak less for the adult market-- I'm much more familiar with YA), and that those books which are light-hearted tend to be taken less seriously. Is that a correct assumption? And why?

When I tried to think of more light-hearted SFF books, a few came to mind. The Lunar Chronicles by Marissa Meyer was definitely at the forefront, yet I rarely see those books in discussion or put on par with another series like The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater, which was given a lot of starred reviews. (I don't consider those books light-hearted despite some humor; hey, if Ronan's the heart of the series, where he's involved, there's usually anger, thievery, dreaming, car explosions, you know... the usual). The Lunar Chronicles are highly successful and well liked, but how they're viewed in terms of "serious value" reminds me of when I was at jury duty. I was ecstatic to see that a fellow juror was reading Matched by Ally Condie and reading it so openly too! I asked her what she thought, and she said that it was entertaining, you know "high school stuff." That discussion was immediately shut down. And really, I consider Matched to be one of the dystopians that was written in a symbolic way, meant to be discussed (and considered among the serious crowd).

The boyfriend said that he enjoyed The Mortal Instruments / Shadowhunter books by Cassandra Clare but not the original trilogy as much, because there was too much romantic angst between Clary and Jace. And truthfully, I don't even know that I consider them light-hearted; sure, they have a lot of sarcastic humor, but does that qualify? I tried looking through my Goodreads list for more examples. The Selection series by Kiera Cass - I don't really consider that SFF because in my head they're still pitched as dystopian lite meets the Bachelor, but with much more focus on the Bachelor end, and the feel despite being futuristic is kind of contemporary to me. Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley - okay, so this has some quirky humor, but it also involves a girl who is dying; I don't know that that qualifies. Feed by Mira Grant - my one adult example also has sarcastic humor, but if you've read the book, you know that things go downhill in a zombie apocalypse, and ooh man, not light-hearted in the second half. There's Team Human by Sarah Rees Brennan and Justine Larbalestier, but I think, like Beauty Queens, it was meant to be a satire, a comedy, so it might not have been going for the "serious" value anyway. And Paranormalcy trilogy by Kiersten White presents an interesting example: I really loved those books, and I believe that their "light-hearted" nature was what made them stand out amid the paranormal craze years back. But I also remember when I followed Kiersten White's blog, and how one of her posts - I think - had been on emails from readers about the main character's love for her pink taser. So clearly there were some people who'd been taking a small detail out of the books as a means of denigrating their value. (Or at least this is my memory of the pink taser complaints).

Of course the counterpoint to what I've said is the Harry Potter series and the Percy Jackson series. My kidlit professor had always said that one of the reasons she thought that Harry Potter had been so successful was its humor. It stayed light-hearted even as the events and symbolism of the books grew darker. And while there are certainly detractors of the books, there are a lot of people who have published books analyzing their layers and themes. Percy Jackson was always light-hearted, and I wrote a post about how those books had helped teach me some Greek mythology when my school hadn't, but one of you told me that they're criticized for Riordan sometimes skips over or trivializes certain details about the myths.

So I guess the answer is: I don't think light-hearted SFF on the whole is taken less seriously, but I do think that there is a trend that way, and that the ones that are taken more seriously are the exception to the rule. And for every one light-hearted SFF book, you'll find ten others that are much darker. I can't help but wonder why. Is it something to do with the audience, the people who read SFF? I mean, I have probably been a part of the crowd that may very well say, 'oh this is much lighter, so it's lite SFF' or something like that, but then I tend to correct myself because I feel guilty for being so judgmental. (And is "lite SFF" less serious anyway? There's plenty of magical realism tales with less enough emphasis on the magic that are taken rather seriously). Or is it something to do with our own expectations of what SFF means? Isn't part of SFF a sort of escapism, much like comedy, yet are they considered compatible? I don't think that something has to be dark in theme to be literary-- do you?

(P.S. if you have any recommendations for my friend's boyfriend based on the description above, let me know!)

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