Recommend me some kiddie SF
October 18, 2008 1:45 PM   Subscribe

What are some great YA science fiction novels (other than Ender's Game)?

I'm doing an independent study with a professor at my graduate school next semester on science fiction aimed at young adults. Great! Only problem is that we're having a surprisingly difficult time coming up with a book list (and, heck, she used to write in the genre!). Here's what we've come up with so far: Orson Scott Card, Anne McCaffrey, John Christopher, Lois Lowry, Margaret Peterson Haddix, Madeline L'Engle. Extra love for excellent, challenging, fairly current sci-fi and extra EXTRA love if it's about extraterrestrials, although none of these are requisites. While fantasy is a no-no, soft science fiction is fine. And we're not too worried about the age categories--so long as it might appeal to teens, even if it's shelved in the adult or children's section of your local library, it's fine with me.

So Mefites, help a girl out! There's so much great YA fantasy out there that I can't believe we're coming up so short in her sister genre!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi to Media & Arts (58 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Feed by MT Anderson is really the most recent OMG YA title in that realm that I've read. NB: it's several years old already. YALSA [library services to YA] has a recommended booklist from 2004 that is called Simply Science Fiction that might give you some other pointers. Connie Willis's Doomsday Book and some Ray Bradbury are titles on that list that I can recommend personally.
posted by jessamyn at 1:57 PM on October 18, 2008

The Mortal Engines series by Philip Reeve is superb and recent (apparently called the "Hungry City Chronicles" in the US).

Terry Pratchett's "Only You Can Save Mankind" is science fictional and could be thought-provoking: a kid finds his video game is real when the aliens ask him to stop killing them.

Going back a bit, there are plenty of Heinlein juveniles: I always liked "Have space suit, will travel".

Nicholas Fisk wrote loads of fun books: I remember liking "Trillions" and "Robot Revolt": don't know how they'd stack up to an adult.

"The Homeward Bounders" by Diana Wynne Jones was one of my favourites as a kid, though it's only marginally SF.

The Tripods series by John Christopher was pretty good (post-apocalyptic alien invaders).
posted by TheophileEscargot at 2:00 PM on October 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding the Heinlein juveniles. Also, there was a series of novels wriiten in the 90's that was patterned after the old 50's and 60's juveniles, its called the Jupiter series.
posted by anansi at 2:06 PM on October 18, 2008

I'm a big fan of Lois McMaster Bujold. In particular, the Miles Vorkosigan series.

It's not YA but it is SF on the lighter side with plenty of humor and romance.
posted by cjets at 2:07 PM on October 18, 2008

I used to love books by Monica Hughes, especially Invitation to the Game, the Isis trilogy, and Devil on my Back and its sequel The Dream Catcher. In fact, these books so strongly define what I think of as young adult science fiction that I can't really think of anything else that fits, even though I'm sure I must have read a bunch more.

You've already got Orson Scott Card and John Christopher...

Bruce Coville's My Teacher is an Alien series was fun, though more children than teens.

I also remember reading and enjoying Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451, Orwell's 1984, and tons of Asimov and Arthur C Clarke in my teens. Hope this helps.
posted by PercussivePaul at 2:15 PM on October 18, 2008

My wife and I enjoyed the Uglies series. It's not high literature, but it raises a number of interesting ideas and would be a good springboard for discussion about YA novels.
posted by gregvr at 2:22 PM on October 18, 2008 [3 favorites]

My Summer on Earth by Tom Lombardi
Spacer and Rat by Margaret Bechard
I would think that Slaughterhouse-Five by Kurt Vonnegut might also work.
posted by gudrun at 2:47 PM on October 18, 2008

William Sleator. I might be able to argue that Stephenson's 'The Diamond Age' is YA SF. John Scalzi wrote a book aimed at teens, Zoe's War.
posted by jeather at 2:49 PM on October 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

The Stainless Steel Rat series by Harry Harrison
posted by Confess, Fletch at 2:49 PM on October 18, 2008

Garth Nix's stuff is pretty good. Some classify it as Fantasy, but I see it more as Science Fiction, especially Shade's Children.

Other classics that utterly transfixed me as a teenager (12-14):
- Girl With the Silver Eyes
- Quozl by Alan Dean Foster (in fact, much of ADF's science fiction is readable by pre-teens, tweeners and young adults).

Some of Jack Chalker's science fiction is appropriate for young adults. The same is true of old H. Beam Piper novels, and Peirs Anthony's science fiction (also his well-known Fantasy novels, but you're not asking about those).
posted by at 2:52 PM on October 18, 2008

Zoe's Tale, not war.
posted by jeather at 3:00 PM on October 18, 2008

My introduction to SF was through the books of Andre Norton. She wrote both pure SF and fantasy. From there I went to Heinlein's Future History series.

I'd also highly recommend John Wyndham's books, such as The Midwich Cuckoos and The Chrysalids. Wyndham is a Brit, and the flavour of his books is somewhat different than a lot of American SF.

I loved Dragon's Egg by Dr. Robert L Forward, hard SF by a well-known physicist.

Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K LeGuin is a must-read, too.

And an author who I don't think is read nearly as much as she should be is the late Octavia Butler, even though she was a Hugo and Nebula award winner. In a genre dominated by white men, Butler was an African-American woman.
posted by angiep at 3:00 PM on October 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

Lost and Found, The Light-Years Beneath My Feet, and The Candle of Distant Earth, all by Alan Dean Foster. A good, somewhat humorous trilogy about a man and dog abducted by aliens.
posted by Gneisskate at 3:01 PM on October 18, 2008

A Wizard of Earthsea by Ursula K. Le Guin - all of them (the last one is important)

The Watch by Dennis Danvers

The Black Canary by Jane Louise Curry
posted by jammy at 3:02 PM on October 18, 2008

New and Forthcoming Science Fiction and Fantasy Titles for Teens (check the docs at the bottom, too)

These sell really quickly at the bookstore:
Jeanne Duprau's City of Ember series is popular enough to spark a movie, which prompted this post about post-apocalyptic YA stories.
Gemma Malley's Declaration
Nancy Farmer, e.g. The House of the Scorpion
James Patterson's Maximum Ride series - "A group of genetically enhanced kids who can fly and have other unique talents are on the run from part-human, part-wolf predators called Erasers."
M.T. Anderson' Feed
Isobelle Carmody's Obernewtyn
posted by mediareport at 3:05 PM on October 18, 2008

btw, my co-worker (I work in a bookstore) has been emphatically recommending Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins to folks lately - it looks quite intense
posted by jammy at 3:07 PM on October 18, 2008

William Sleator's Singularity

Heinlein's Star Beast, Tunnel in the Sky, Red Planet, Time for the Stars, Citizen of the Galaxy, and Have Space Suit, Will Travel (why, yes, I did just name fully half of the Heinlein juveniles)
posted by Zed_Lopez at 3:18 PM on October 18, 2008

Tom Swift and Foo (several serieses)
Danny Dunn and Bar
Lucky Starr and Baz
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 3:19 PM on October 18, 2008

nthing Feed -- honestly one of my favorite books.

Neal Shusterman has some pretty good YA spec fic titles: try Unwind, Everlost or Downsiders.

The Uglies Series
is very popular, but I wasn't wild about it.

Life as We Knew It by Susan Beth Pfeffer is a decent read if you like apocalypse survival sci-fi.

Also, seconding Hunger Games -- read it a week ago. Great fun.

The Compound is getting a lot of YA buzz.
posted by changeling at 3:20 PM on October 18, 2008

The Big Empty series by J.B. Stephens. Essentially a novel stretched out into four volumes. Set in the US after a virus has wiped out more than half the human race.
posted by JaredSeth at 3:21 PM on October 18, 2008

Please don't forget A Wrinkle In Time by Madeleine L'Engle, and the I Robot stories by Asimov. Without them I would probably have wandered a different path entirely.
posted by hannahkitty at 3:23 PM on October 18, 2008 [1 favorite]

InterWorld by Neil Gaiman and Michael Reaves. Seconding Le Guin, particularly The Annals of the Western Shore. The War of the Worlds by H.G. Wells and Kaput & Zosky by Lewis Trondheim just for fun.
posted by Alex Voyd at 3:31 PM on October 18, 2008

There's a lot that's already been mentioned that I'd nth, like Ursula Le Guin. Two more for the pile:
  1. Jane Yolen - The Pit Dragon series.
  2. Garth Nix - The Old Kingdom series.

posted by Axle at 3:48 PM on October 18, 2008

Z for Zachariah, if you count post-nuclear earth as sci fi.
posted by salvia at 3:49 PM on October 18, 2008

I third The Uglies series. The writing isn't deep, but it's fun, and I think there's a lot of relevant ideas in there. I would put them up against any other dystopian science fiction.

I read Dune as a teenager and thought it was awesome (I know I read the second ... not sure after that). I know other people who also adored it as a teen and started a band because of it.

Ray Bradbury was also a big part of my teenage years.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to Galaxy books are also a big hit with teenagers. All of my friend read them way back when.

(Except for The Uglies, some of these recommendations may not be quite relevant anymore. There wasn't really much YA sci-fi when I was a kid so my friends and I just wandered into the adult section.)
posted by darksong at 4:04 PM on October 18, 2008

I can't believe nobody has mentioned Jumper by Steven Gould. Very soft SF, but a really interesting, thought-provoking book. About a boy who can teleport at will. It really explores every dimension of what having that power would mean.
posted by Rock Steady at 4:15 PM on October 18, 2008

Response by poster: There wasn't really much YA sci-fi when I was a kid so my friends and I just wandered into the adult section.

Ditto, darksong, and I was totally the target audience for this stuff just ten years ago (I was busy reading Anne McCaffrey, Frederick Pohl, Asimov, Adams, Bradbury . . . back then, the YA section was filled with romance novels).

Great suggestions so far, guys! I'd totally forgotten that I'd read City of Ember and wanted to pick up the rest of those. Feed and The Annals of the Western Shore Books (already have read the Earthsea books) sound especially tasty, but I'll be sure to check out all of these and run them by my professor!

Keep 'em coming.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 4:15 PM on October 18, 2008

I second the Philip Reeve recommendation for steampunk - Mortal Engines (4 books) is great, and so are Larklight (3 books so far) although they're a slightly younger age. I also like Kenneth Oppel's Airborne, Skybreaker, and Starclimber, although they're more alternate technology history (i.e. what if the airship were still the primary mode of transit) than true sci-fi.
posted by clerestory at 4:29 PM on October 18, 2008

When I was of YA-reading age, I was obsessed with Anna to the Infinite Power.
posted by lunasol at 4:37 PM on October 18, 2008

I've seen Ursula K LeGuin shelved in the young adult section before. I don't remember which titles though.
posted by at 4:47 PM on October 18, 2008

nthing William Sleator (esp. Interstellar Pig) and Monica Hughes (I always like Space Trap and Invitation to the Game.) And the really old-school stuff is good, too — when I was 11 I was obsessed with Jules Verne and C.S. Lewis' Space Trilogy.
posted by Johnny Assay at 4:54 PM on October 18, 2008

Stanislaw Lem. Start with The Cyberiad.
posted by plinth at 4:58 PM on October 18, 2008

Oh, also: Margaret Atwood has two books with "non-real" settings, The Handmaid's Tale and Oryx and Crake. I read the former in high school English class and enjoyed it then, and I would have loved the latter if I had read it when I was 14.
posted by Johnny Assay at 4:58 PM on October 18, 2008

How about Connie Willis' Doomsday Book?
posted by thebrokedown at 5:01 PM on October 18, 2008

Anything by Ursula K. Le Guin, though her books can be very complex and some of them have sexual themes, so they'd probably be better understood by older teens.

I, Robot by Isaac Asimov.

Brave New World by Aldous Huxley.

The Cyberiad by Stanislaw Lem.

Virtually all the short stories written by Asimov and Clarke.

If I think of more, I'll post 'em...
posted by Cygnet at 5:14 PM on October 18, 2008

The Last Legionary series by Douglas Hill.
posted by manyon at 5:14 PM on October 18, 2008

I read the So You Want to Be A Wizard books when I was young. (Actually I think those might be more like books for 12-14 year olds). While it is about modern day wizards, I would definitely place them in the science fiction category; there is a lot of science in them.
posted by bluefly at 5:20 PM on October 18, 2008

What are you trying to find/avoid? When I was in high school I generally wanted to read about characters that I could see myself being in a few years. Reading about kids in science fiction scenarios always seemed kind of patronizing to me.

I remember enjoying Larry Niven and reading a bunch of Edgar Rice Burroughs back in the day, but apart from a few specific novels it all kind of blends together.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 5:27 PM on October 18, 2008

I will definitely second Ursula LeGuin as a great and popular YA author, but we should be clear that about half of her oeuvre is fantasy rather than sf. Wizard of Earthsea is definitely a masterpiece of fantasy, as Jammy mentioned, but Left Hand of Darkness is probably her best in the sf genre.
posted by voltairemodern at 6:25 PM on October 18, 2008

I'm surprised no one has mentioned Cory Doctorow's Little Brother. That's been getting alot of hype lately. It's actually quite good (even for non-YAs out there), but I found the end a little lacking.
posted by miasma at 6:34 PM on October 18, 2008

Seconding the "So You Want To Be A Wizard" books. I really loved those.
posted by Cygnet at 6:52 PM on October 18, 2008

They're for much younger children and not modern, but I'm fond of the Mushroom Planet books by Eleanor Cameron.
posted by lemuria at 7:19 PM on October 18, 2008

As a teen, I loved Bruce Coville's Aliens Ate My Homework series.
posted by roomwithaview at 8:54 PM on October 18, 2008

Lots of great stuff already mentioned, so I'd like to add Zenna Henderson's series of short stories: The People, No Different Flesh, The Anything Box, and Holding Wonder. Really wonderful stories, some fantasy, but mostly an inter-related science fiction stories about refugees from another planet stuck on earth. I loved them as a teenager-they weren't patronizing at all, and address some teen themes of alienation.

A classic that hasn't been mentioned yet is Alexei Panshin's Rite of Passage.

I'm unclear from your question whether you're interested in stuff currently being marketed to the YA market, or a history of that genre-mine both fit in the latter category.
posted by purenitrous at 9:19 PM on October 18, 2008

I loooved Heinlein. I read quite a few of them, although Red Planet was my favorite.

TheophileEscargot, The Tripods gave me nightmares. Ugh.
posted by radioamy at 10:07 PM on October 18, 2008

Jumping back in to mention Tanith Lee, favorite of my youth, esp. The Silver Metal Lover and Biting the Sun.
posted by gudrun at 11:19 PM on October 18, 2008

as voltairemodern pointed out I did indeed suggest fantasy when you specifically requested sci-fi - there's not much of anything sci-fi'ish in Earthsea - apologies for that

seconding then The Left Hand of Darkness - hopefully whatever edition you find has the afterword, which is worth reading - also, The Lathe of Heaven and The Dispossessed - again, older teens might be more into these than younger ones

her collection of stories The Birthday of the World has many amazing tales, the last one especially the last one "Paradises Lost" - here's a review

also, Elizabeth Moon is a great scifi writer that I think teens would enjoy, especially Remnant Population and The Speed of Dark
posted by jammy at 7:22 AM on October 19, 2008

What, no Sylvia Engdahl?? I'd have thought Enchantress From the Stars pretty much a bull's eye for your query.

And what about Nancy Farmer's excellent The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm?

Then there's Peter Dickinson's Eva.

...and, um, is there any Science Fiction that ISN'T YA?
posted by dpcoffin at 8:34 AM on October 19, 2008

Seconding Jane Yolen. "Dragon's Blood" and the other dragon books...I remember loving them when I was YA novel age.
posted by toomuchkatherine at 9:06 AM on October 19, 2008

Fantastic Fiction is a good place to look.
posted by bjgeiger at 9:38 AM on October 19, 2008

Barbary, by Vonda McIntyre, is a great sci-fi book about a young girl.

I liked Patricia Kenneally-Morrison's Keltiad series as a teen--King Arthur in space (what if the Celts had left Ireland in spaceships and formed a galactic alliance....)

I think Jack McDevitt's stuff, while not great literature, might fit the bill okay.

Some of Robin McKinley's work? I think most of it is fantasy but I believe she's got at least one sci-fi, and she's a fantastic writer.

Nth-ing Elizabeth Moon, Ursula LeGuin, Octavia Butler, Madeline L'Engle, Connie Willis, Diane Duane.
posted by min at 11:16 AM on October 19, 2008

is there any Science Fiction that ISN'T YA?

Off the top of my head, I don't think either Gene Wolfe or George R.R. Martin would qualify as YA.
posted by JaredSeth at 4:40 PM on October 19, 2008

Off the top of my head, I don't think either Gene Wolfe or George R.R. Martin would qualify as YA.

But isn't it mostly YAs who READ them, anyway? Along with YAs-at-heart, of course…

Can't believe that Gene or George are mostly read by "adults" who have out-grown most other SF authors. I certainly out-grew much of it years ago, including those guys (who were never favs, FWIW; aren't they kinda the Metallicas of SF?). I do still enjoy N.Stephenson, W. Gibson, K. S. Robinson, etc., and I can't believe that these are unlikely to be enjoyed by YAs, too.

BTW, I enjoyed all the books I recommended above within the last decade and it's been decades since I was myself a YA…
posted by dpcoffin at 9:12 PM on October 19, 2008

I'm randomly reminded of a series I started reading when I was in middle-school about a group of kids that are visited by an extra terrestrial who gives them the power to acquire DNA from animals and then change into the form of that animal. It was called Animorphs.
posted by greekphilosophy at 7:41 AM on October 20, 2008

Have to second Nancy Farmer's House of the Scorpion. I actually just read that recently and passed it along to my friend's nephew, who loved it.
posted by JaredSeth at 8:03 AM on October 20, 2008

Response by poster: is there any Science Fiction that ISN'T YA?

Philip K. Dick.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 8:26 AM on October 20, 2008

Cordwainer Smith's Instrumentality of Mankind series would be great for young readers. Norstrilla or A Tale of Three Worlds, or any of his various short story collections.

I'm pleased that someone mentioned Lem's Cyberiad upthread. It's playful and brilliant and should be accessible for youngsters.

What about some of the golden age greats? Theodore Sturgeon or Alfred Bester. I still think about The Stars my Destination (aka Tiger, Tiger) all the time (Gully Foyle is my name, Terra is my nation...). The Demolished Man is great, too, but stay away from Bester's strange and very adult-oriented Golem^100.

They seem sooo cheesy now; so very dated. But I didn't realize them when I first read them, and they worked so powerfully on my young imagination.

Also, don't forget Mary Shelley's Frankenstien. It might be a little difficult for younger readers, but this proto-sf will really rock their world. I wish I had read it when I was younger. I'm reading it to my kids @ bedtime, and it really is an amazing, thought provoking read.
posted by Barry B. Palindromer at 3:23 PM on October 20, 2008

I second "Rite of Passage" by Alexi Panshin. It remains one of my favorite books to this day.
posted by pushing paper and bottoming chairs at 4:02 PM on October 20, 2008

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