The Coolest Alternate Histories Are For Young Adults

Has the young-adult science fiction genre finally moved past future dystopias? A panel of three leading YA authors at BEA suggests the new frontier for YA fiction is alternate histories, including Darwin's genetic engineering and the Prohibition era targeting magic.

The BEA panel happened a while back, but a detailed summary of it just went online over at BSC Review. It's well worth reading, for anyone who enjoys alternate history — but it's required reading for writers, in particular, becuase the authors talk a lot about their writing process, how they deal with moments when they freeze up, and especially how they do research.

The authors in question are: Scott Westerfeld, author of the Pretties/Uglies series, who is now creating an alternate history where Charles Darwin invented bio-engineering and World War I is fought using fantastical hybrid creatures; Holly Black, whose White Cat involves a version of Prohibition where magic is outlawed; and Cassandra Clare, whose alternate Victorian era includes demon-powered automatons.

So why are people, especially young readers, so fascinated with alternate history? Westerfeld theorized that it's because people enjoy recognizing a familiar world, with one jarring difference. But you have to be subtle about revealing this alternate universe to your readers, Black points out: To the characters themselves, this altered reality won't seem strange at all, but simply the fabric of their everyday lives. [BSC Review]