When I was young, SF was a relatively obscure genre. Many librarians assumed it was just children’s stuff and classified it as such. Consequence: I was allowed to view and read books that would otherwise have been considered totally inappropriate for young children1. Which isn’t to say that I didn’t enjoy reading some of these books, but I’m pretty sure if my librarians and teachers2 had had any idea what these books were, they would have been appalled. (Maybe two ghosts!)
Some librarians must have thought that some of Heinlein’s books were rather daring. At least in my experience, someone seems to have classified them in children’s and adult books: stuff like Foreigner in a foreign country Where I wouldn’t be afraid of any demon went upstairs, where only suitable adults and mature teens were allowed. (I don’t remember how old you must have been to view adult books, but I remember it was boring from my point of view.) There were, however, sometimes bugs in the system. sorting; Farnham Freehold finished in the children’s section. The first part was pretty classic: After the bomb meets Incest: no longer just for the ancient Egyptians. But then it turned into… how do you put it politely? A Racist Book I don’t imagine anyone would benefit from being read. Even less a ten-year-old.
Some books on the effects of nuclear weapons (not SF, but the adjacent SF) have entered the children’s section. These weren’t the delightfully mathematical versions I discovered in high school. But the books had pictures, as children’s books should … they were pictures of places like Hiroshima and Nagasaki, or of ships like the Lucky Dragon. When, years later, I encountered the H. Beam Piper fiction, these images helped me appreciate the effects of Piper’s Hellburner missiles on a visceral level. When I was six, the books helped me worry about planes overhead… that might be preparing to drop the bomb on us.
My primary school3 had a policy of NOT purchasing books intended for readers above a certain age. Again, however, the system was not perfect. As well as that of Jeff and Jean Sutton The beyond and various books by Franklin W. Dixon, they stored the full version of Herman Melville Moby dick. This may be because someone thought kids should know that the redacted version of the picture book (also stored) was not the real thing.
Moby dick isn’t sci-fi, but the way it includes readers – infodumps the size of the white whale itself – may have predisposed me to love sci-fi. Which, as you know, Bob, is also subject to huge information dumps. Trying to read Melville in fourth grade may have also pre-adapted me to my life as a critic: I realized early on that life is too short to finish reading everything I start.
How Norman Spinrad is Men of the jungle, which features drugs, violence and infanticide, entered the children’s section, I don’t know. Is there anything by Spinrad which is suitable for children? It was indeed a traumatic book to encounter when I was prepared for something more like Take off at Woomera. If I think about this Spinrad book now (even though I’m older and a little hardened), I still feel uncomfortable.
that of James Blish Star Trek script adaptations place it firmly in the children’s section when it comes to public libraries. It must have seemed logical to place Blish’s other works alongside these books, including his SF theological novels (A case of conscience, Black easter), not to mention the most sexist one every time I read it And all the stars a scene. Well, without a doubt, reading these books has forged character… if understood. Maybe they were just confusing.
On the beneficial side of the ledger:
Alexei Panchine Rite of passage probably seemed safe enough for the library keepers. For the most part, this fits perfectly into the mold of the maturity of so many YA SF novels. It was a little surprising when the young protagonist has sex with another tween during the rite of passage… but that was the character development, not the titillation. The plot development that surprised me was the brutal genocide inflicted on a defenseless world. Mia, the protagonist of the novel, decides that all people are people, not just those of her privileged class, and that the mass murder, even though the people of the planet are freeborn, is wrong. This is not bad moral for a book. I also appreciated Mia’s belief that even long-established rules can be changed by sufficiently determined activists.
Earthsea established Ursula Le Guin as a children’s author with local authorities. Every fictional book she wrote was found on the ground floor of the Waterloo Public Library, where the youth books lived. This is where I first met The left hand of darkness. Genly Ai’s adventure on an ice-covered world populated by people of varying biological sexes was certainly an interesting change of pace from Freddy and the Mars Baseball Team, The wonderful flight to the mushroom planet, and Son of Star Man, 2250 AD
I never questioned Le Guin’s policy; never asked librarians: “Did you really read these books? ”It was revenge. Old town crier (the beloved dog dies), The Terabitha Bridge (the beloved friend dies), and The red balloon (the magic balloon dies). Without speaking about On the beach, in which everyone dies AND the romantic plot crumbles (because the romantic protagonists die). If their oblivion greatly expanded the range of topics found in the kids’ section beyond a seemingly endless rush of sudden tragedy, I wasn’t going to spoil the game by pointing out their mistake.
1: Books that looked innocuous but weren’t were offset by all non-sexy books with covers depicting naked people (naked people that didn’t appear anywhere in the book – trust me, I have checked). I could give examples (the free shirtless blanket for The Flying Mountains, the nude woman’s cover The children of Methuselah, the frontal type on this cover of Stand on Zanzibar) but I’m not sure Tor.com wants to publish NSFW art.
2: My parents let us read whatever we wanted, which is why the first stories I read of Arthur C. Clarke and Larry Niven were in the December 1971 and August 1970 issues of Playboy, respectively. This is also why, when my school assigned us The Pearl, it would have been very useful if they had clarified “the novel by John Steinbeck, not the famous publication reprinted by Grove Press. “Before, I mean. I understood my mistake after the fact.
3: North Wilmot, I mean. My previous school, Josephsberg, had a small library (supplemented by an occasional bookmobile) and the filter there was more effective because there were fewer books to filter. Having said that, I still remember reading a graphic and horrifying Fulgencio Batista story, so it wasn’t completely trauma-free.
In the words of Wikipedia editor TexasAndroid, prolific and lasting literary critic Nominated for the Darwin AwardJames Davis Nicoll is of “dubious notability”. His work has appeared in Publishers Weekly and Romantic Times as well as on his own websites, James Nicoll Reviews and Young people read old SFF (where he is assisted by the editor Karen lofstrom and webperson Adrienne L. Travis). It is surprisingly flammable.