Suggest Sc-iFi/Fantasy Books for a brand new High School elective
March 21, 2013 6:01 PM   Subscribe

Sci-Fi/FantasyFilter: I've just been told that I get to be the first one to teach a brand new Science Fiction & Fantasy elective at my High School. I am building this class from scratch and since the students will be responsible for getting the books themselves, I have pretty much free-reign for my book choices. Great, right? Absolutely! However, I want to expand my initial book search so I wanted to enlist the Hive Mind to help with this initial salvo. More details below the fold.

This class is an elective for 10, 11, and 12 and meets 2 or 3 times a week. I haven't even begun the process of planning the structure of the class, but I'm thinking of doing about a novel every 3 weeks or so plus one choice novel a quarter. This is a semester course and I'm thinking of doing a quarter of fantasy and a quarter of science fiction.

My wheelhouse is primarily epic, series based, high fantasy (Malazan, Recluce, Pern, SoT). I'm not that familiar with standalone fantasy novels, and since this is a short class, I would like to probably focus on single novels (or maybe individual novels of a series that can stand alone).

I'm also much more familiar with the classic Sci-Fi canon (Asimov, Bradbury, Dick, Bova) but I'm not really well versed in current Sci-Fi.

I also am not very up-to-date on YA Sci-fi/Fantasy, so any suggestions along those lines would be greatly appreciated.

My request is the following: Please suggest books that would be great to use in a High School elective. At this point I'm not really concerned about Lexile scores so much as I am about quality and length. While I would love have the kids read a book like Reamde or Name of the Wind, those 1000 page tomes are a bit out of reach for my purposes.

Thanks in advance!
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith to Education (69 answers total) 41 users marked this as a favorite
Apologies for the self-link, but I maintained a YA sci-fi blog for over a year which recently close-up shop called the Intergalactic Academy. Most of the titles we reviewed came out in 2012, so they're still quite new. I'd especially recommend Garth Nix's A Confusion of Princes (SF) and Rachel Hartman's Seraphina (fantasy) for slightly older YA readers.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 6:07 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

My first thought is Ender's Game. It touches on a lot of things. (And the author is involved in controversy which might or might not be useful).
My second thought would be a short story anthology - SF shorts are very quick "what if?" stories, so lots of fodder for thinking about concepts, societies, changes, etc. Conversely, not so much about character, motivation, etc. Depends what you'd like to focus on.
posted by anonymisc at 6:08 PM on March 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

William Sleator tends to write interesting stuff. Michael Ende's /Momo/, while not strictly scifi, is pretty good.
posted by oonh at 6:08 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I suggest a mix of light and heavy, shallow and deep, and works from different decades, by men and women, queer and straight, cyberpunk and high fantasy, etc.

I think the cool thing about teaching this genre to kids would be exposing them to so many crazy, amazing, weird concepts, some of which will have application to how they think about their real lives. So I'd be biased toward including some of the weirder stuff that works with gender, social structure, race, government control, etc.
posted by latkes at 6:09 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Some specific canonical ideas: Le Guin, Bradbury, Gibson, Butler, HG Wells, Vonegut, Tiptree, Atwood.

It might be cool to read "Among Others", because it's about a teen who loves sci fi and fantasy. Here's a great visual of the books she reads in that book, for more ideas.
posted by latkes at 6:15 PM on March 21, 2013

Elantris, by Brandon Sanderson is pretty damn good fantasy. The first book of his Mistborn series also functions well as a stand-alone, I think.

Lud-in-the-Mist is a very interesting, not widely known, fantasy novel.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 6:16 PM on March 21, 2013

Canticle for Liebowitz, Left Hand of Darkness, and Ursula Le Guin short stories, particularly "The Ones Who Walked Away from Omelas" and "The Rock that Changed Things." I was also profoundly fascinated by "Solitude."

There are so many excellent SFF short stories, there's definitely a lot of material to be found there. I read "A Mosque Among the Stars" (free pdf linked from there) not long ago on the recommendation of a metafilter post and there were some seriously fascinating stories there. I particularly liked "A Walk Through the Garden."
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:23 PM on March 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

How about something by H. P. Lovecraft? I'm always amazed by how many modern conventions of horror, sci-fi, and fantasy seem to have originated in his works, almost a hundred years ago now.

I'd also vote for an Edgar Rice Burroughs Barsoom novel - something to give the flavor of early pulp sci-fi. Maybe the inaugural A Princess of Mars?

(Both of those have the benefit of being in the public domain, a'course.)
posted by XMLicious at 6:26 PM on March 21, 2013

Ready Player One - Ernest Cline, I think there may be some swearing, so I'm not sure if that would be an issue.
posted by backwards guitar at 6:29 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

I think there could be a lot of 'right' answers for the specific selections, but I think I'd do it like a survey course: mostly short fiction, a few novellas, perhaps take on one or two novels in-depth. Not necessarily in any order:

Flowers For Algernon
a selection from The Martian Chronicles ( Mars is Heaven, maybe )
Harrison Bergeron
The Fun They had
Burning Chrome
Snow Crash
Houston, Houston, Do You Read?
The Cold Equations
something by Zelazny, A Rose For Ecclesiastes
something quirky/fun/funny: Douglas Adams, Neil Gaimon, Spider Robinson

It would be a serious oversight to not do 'Ender's Game' for your audience.
posted by j_curiouser at 6:29 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Oh, popular current stuff for curriculum: Scott Westerfeld's Uglies (Pretties/Specials/Extras) is popular in the "gifted" middle school curriculum and would be a pretty fast read for high schoolers (and definitely interesting to high school students).

Garth Nix's Sabriel series. His "seventh tower" is aimed at younger readers but would read really fast for HS students if you wanted something quick on a "quest/achieve/quest/achieve" theme.

Obviously you must read Flowers for Algernon because CRYING.

Obviously some Kurt Vonnegut (lots of good short stories in "Welcome to the Monkey House.")

Looking Backward by Edward Bellamy and Flatland by Edwin Abbott are classic enough to appear on a lot of mainstream curricula. (Other classics that may be in the mainstream curriculum: 1984, Brave New World, Fahrenheit 451.)

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, particularly when contrasted with The Hunger Games, which I assume most of them have read.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:35 PM on March 21, 2013 [4 favorites]

My 11yo and *all* of his friends (and friends' parents...and grandparents...and teachers...) have become obsessed with Wool by Hugh Howey. Crazy good, appropriate for kids who can handle post-apocalyptic settings. Don't worry about length here; I don't know anyone who didn't devour it in more than 2 days.

Anecdata: my same 11yo did not love Ready Player One, though it is one of my favorites. An awful lot of the enjoyment of that book comes from recognizing 80s music and game references, which go right over the head of your modern tween.
posted by apparently at 6:46 PM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

D'oh, missed the edit window. Everyone devours this book. I don't know anyone who took longer than a week to read the whole series. Most people don't do anything else after starting, though.
posted by apparently at 6:53 PM on March 21, 2013

I'm thinking of doing about a novel every 3 weeks or so plus one choice novel a quarter

This class is an elective for 10, 11, and 12 and meets 2 or 3 times a week

I don't have any specific advice about book choice, but some ideas which may help you choose appropriate books. Forgive me in advance if this is all obvious. :)

Assuming each novel is about 150-300 pages long, let's say this course may be an extra 600-1000 pages of reading a semester for your first students. Are they reading this much in their full-credit literature/English classes? I mention this because I would gently advise that even if you have a class full of super-eager students who LOVE SF/fantasy, they're going to have other demands and classes and may not actually read every page of all of the books assigned. (Obviously, if you're already a teacher you must know this.) Perhaps choose books where either the story is so compelling that everyone HAS to finish it, or books where there's simply a lot of information on the book and its tropes/topics/characters/setting/etc out there - Ender's Game is a good example of this. They're going to look for alternative sources of information; you may even ask them to for a research project or something; if the information is out there it makes it far easier for them to succeed.

Your first crop of students will also have the extra challenge of not having anyone else to ask about the course or how easy it was, or how hard a grader you were, or how "fair" you were when they missed some class for a performance/recital/conference/whatever. Regardless of what you actually do in class, you may find, your class may acquire a reputation entirely divorced from the reality of what you do depending on that first group. Expect your course syllabus to be passed around and discussed in the cafeteria. And expect your students to be labeled with all the nasty names one might call someone who takes an SF/Fantasy-focused elective.

You may be somewhat surprised at the diversity of reading levels of your students - a tenth-grader with weaker reading skills may end up loving the class and zipping through each book but missing things; a twelfth-grader in honors/AP classes may struggle to identify basic themes of a story. And if your school is anything like my high school was, your class may be the only one where students of different grades mix aside from PE/sports.

Finally, because it appears that your course only lasts one semester, you may find that people are there for all the "wrong" reasons - we've taught college-prep students to game the system to earn the highest GPA possible and maximize honors/AP-level courses and go shopping for "interesting" classes that will impress college admissions offices, and student athletes with poor academic performance to take unchallenging courses with sympathetic coach-teachers. You may even have a few ESL students who love SF/fantasy but really struggle to succeed and participate in class. Your class may end up with a wild mix of people, which could be amazing, or could be a huge challenge - especially if all your students mostly take classes with and hang out with people in the same "track"/"band"/level of students at their grade level.

I hope this course goes well! It's probably more like a university-level course in format and demand than almost anything else your students, especially your younger ones, will do in high school.

(On preview: yes to short stories, yes to dystopian fiction, yes to one person-vs.-society themes!)
posted by mdonley at 6:57 PM on March 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

Peter Watts' Blindsight -- may be too "hard-sf", but an excellent example to show that not all science fiction is physics/compsci based. Julie Czerneda also comes to mind for biology based sci-fi, but it's harder to pick out a stand alone book.

Carl Sagan's Contact. Enough said.

Douglas Adam's Hitchhiker's Guide. Classic sci-fi comedy.

Metafiler'sownjohn Scalzi's Old Man's War

Neal Stephenson's Snow Crash (mentioned above) or Diamond Age (although that might get you into trouble)

Orson Scott Card's Ender's Game. I don't have to like the guy to acknowledge that it's a very teachable book.

Raymond Feist and Janny Wurt's Daughter of the Empire is something I remember as being an excellent political fantasy. The sequels, not so much. I prefer to pretend they don't exist. It's been a long time, though so I'd double check it.

C.S. Friedman's Black Sun Rising is a very good character-driven story of moral choices, but may get you in trouble due to themes. Also, it's long.

Steven Brust's The Phoenix Guards is an almost word for word a fantasy tribute to The Three Musketeers, which has possibilities for making connections to classic literature.

Steven Gould's Jumper (the original book, not the movie, oh please not the movie) is a coming of age story for a boy who can teleport. Many books assigned in school are coming of age stories of one sort or another and this one will fit in (except that it's actually entertaining).

Terry Pratchet's Small Gods is a stand alone Discworld religious satire. No actual religions are harmed, so it should be school safe. Alternatively, Feet of Clay is a stand alone detective/civil-rights novel.

Neil Gaiman's Neverwhere is a urban fantasy about myths both ancient and modern.

Or you can just combine Pratchett and Gaiman into Good Omens, if the overt religiousness won't get you into trouble.

Barry Hughart's Bridge of Birds: A Novel of an Ancient China That Never Was. It's just plain charming.

I really want something from Lois McMaster Bujold in this class, but I can't pick out a good stand-alone. Maybe someone else has an idea. On preview: if there's a short story focus, one of the Borders of Infinity short stories might serve you well.
posted by yeolcoatl at 7:00 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

apparently: Anecdata: my same 11yo did not love Ready Player One, though it is one of my favorites. An awful lot of the enjoyment of that book comes from recognizing 80s music and game references, which go right over the head of your modern tween."

I wholeheartedly agree with this. I'm not old enough to remember the 80s and did not enjoy the book enough to finish it.
posted by crazy with stars at 7:07 PM on March 21, 2013

"I really want something from Lois McMaster Bujold in this class, but I can't pick out a good stand-alone."

CURSE OF CHALION, I made my book club read it!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:12 PM on March 21, 2013 [3 favorites]

Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, particularly when contrasted with The Hunger Games, which I assume most of them have read.

I read this in high school although NOT in school and IIRC there is a lot of sex in it (and basically the whole plot is about sex in some ways), so depending on where you're teaching you may want to hold off on this one. I totally think it's great and would be great in a scifi/fantasy class but... it could get you in hot water.

j_curiouser's list has most of what I was going to say, so I'll just 2nd that.
posted by grapesaresour at 7:15 PM on March 21, 2013

I came here to suggest Ready Player One, which I loved and which was required reading (literally) this year for incoming students at the university where I work. The ones I talked to about it said they enjoyed it. (It's actually classified as a YA novel, for what that's worth.)

Also, for fantasy The Blue Sword or The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley (set in the same world but can be read as standalones).

And it's technically for younger readers but Howl's Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones, is a lot of fun. (Again, there are other novels that use these characters but it's a standalone story.)

Back when I was in high school and dinosaurs roamed the earth, I took an elective called Modern American Novel where we read something like six or eight novels over the course of one semester, and it was an extremely popular class. I really hope that there are high schoolers today who would want to take an elective with lots of reading.
posted by camyram at 7:20 PM on March 21, 2013

Instead of Handmaid's Tale, what about Atwood's Oryx and Crake? with the optional follow up of Year of the Flood.
posted by Cold Lurkey at 7:25 PM on March 21, 2013

My wife read The Giver at school, which is explicitly YA utopian/dystopian SF, and is a great little book. Lots of opportunities to discuss society as its portrayed in the book vs. ours, the use of language (Without spoiling it, people in their society aren't able to perceive something we take for granted, and words referencing that perception are absent for the first half of the book ). It's also short, but not underdeveloped or simplistic.

A chapter or so of Riddley Walker could be interesting. Friends I've recommended it to gave up on it because of the phonetic/alternative spellings, but maybe kids would be a bit more flexible about it.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 7:43 PM on March 21, 2013

Novels are going to be too much. There are so many great sci-fi short stories out there, and you can survey basically the entire history of the field from Jules Verne to Neil Gaiman if you want (and I think you should). High School is all about giving people a foundation to build on, and while you may think 'the classics' are too cliche, keep in mind they're going to be brand new to many of your students. I'd also SERIOUSLY consider including film (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind, for example), videogames and comic books -- for example, try a play through of To The Moon, which you can do in probably two classes.

You may also want to consider taking something that's currently extremely popular and breaking down all it's influences in sci-fi from the past.
posted by empath at 7:47 PM on March 21, 2013

John Bellairs' The Face in the Frost is a wonderful standalone fantasy novel, not "for" kids but perfectly readable by them (besides this novel, Bellairs is mostly known for his books for young adults). It's high-spirited but has a couple of legitimately good scary moments, and it doesn't involve you in reading an endless series to find out how it works out.
posted by zadcat at 7:49 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Another recommendation -- try showing one of the Moriarity episodes of Star Trek, and use that to talk about how sci-fi can explore philosophical ideas like the nature of identity.
posted by empath at 7:53 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Only one recommendation thus far for William Gibson? For shame, MeFi, for shame. You can't talk about post-80's sci-fi without Gibson and perhaps Sterling in the mix. I'd recommend going straight for Neuromancer, but you could easily go with his short story collection Burning Chrome and just choose 2 or 3 particularly good ones.

I would be tempted to give them a survey, starting with Clarke and Asimov and moving forward from there.
posted by griffey at 8:04 PM on March 21, 2013

Check out this earlier thread :
I suggest "Little Brother" by Doctorow.
posted by PickeringPete at 8:10 PM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would suggest mixing in some short fiction. Some of the best and most important SF is short fiction, and you wouldn't want to miss it. Also, you can fit a lot more in. In particular, I would recommend Michael Swanwick's "The Edge of the World", because it will speak strongly to teenagers. To pick a few more:
"The Screwfly Solution", by James Tiptree Jr.
"Speech Sounds" by Octavia Butler
"Exhalation", by Ted Chiang (not the obvious choice for a Chiang story, but you won't get away with "Hell Is The Absence of God")
"A Sound Of Thunder", by Ray Bradbury
"Different Kinds of Darkness", by David Langford
"Magic For Beginners", by Kelly Link

All but the last two of these are somewhat dark, so you should mix them up with something a bit less depressing. They also should all be readable to a teenage audience.

Also, a word of warning: when I was in 9th or so grade, I took a semester-long SF course. Our required reading was the then-current issue of F&SF magazine. It contained Nicola Griffith's _Yaguara_, which had quite a bit of sex in it. The teacher was rather embarrassed to have not checked before requiring. So, do make sure the stories you choose won't get you in trouble. The course itself was *wonderful*, not so much for what we read, but because of what we learned about the publishing industry -- how to submit to magazines, what sort of rights they will buy (and what sort you should not sell), etc. We also each wrote a couple of stories. I still remember one dude's darkly hilarious story (sadly, since lost in a hard drive crash), in which the Earth is so overpopulated that only the most nutritious food can be grown: potatoes. And that's all anyone eats.

Also, perhaps this essay would be a useful beginning:
posted by novalis_dt at 8:15 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

John Varley's Red Thunder
posted by Sophont at 8:18 PM on March 21, 2013

Surprised no one else has said this: Childhood's End by Arthur C. Clarke

I second A Sound of Thunder and Flowers for Algernon. They are classics and many current works pay tribute to them.
posted by treehorn+bunny at 8:20 PM on March 21, 2013

Oh, hm. I read that as 10-12th grade, rather than years. But you did say High School. Which is it? Because that makes a huge difference in what to recommend!
posted by novalis_dt at 8:20 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Francis Parker School (private high school in Chicago) has a sci-fi course. I actually observed it once during a rotation and the instructor was very generous with her time in answering my questions, so I suspect she'd be equally forthcoming if a fellow teacher were to ask about her syllabus. Maybe if you contact the upper-school office they'd be willing to put you in touch with the instructor?
posted by d. z. wang at 8:29 PM on March 21, 2013

Sorry, I just need to jump in with another comment that you should really concentrate on short stories. Some reasons:

• SF is really the one genre that still supports a lively short story tradition.
• As before mentioned, kids will sometimes blow off a longer read. Asking kids to read a couple 20 page stories is a more doable thing.
• It's a great, quick introduction to authors they can then explore on their own.
• You could ocassionally read one aloud in class. And get raw, fresh reactions.
• Younger readers, I think, would really appreciate how short story authors can't waste time getting to the point.
• Cost: you could quite reasonably do this with 2 paperbacks: one, an anthology of classic works, along with almost any of the newer Dozois anthologies.

Perhaps this could form the core of your reading, with kids selecting a novel or two to read from a list you supply?
posted by carterk at 8:43 PM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials (you could just read the first one) if you can get away with it. It can be read as very anti-Christian so I'd maybe tread lightly, but it's otherwise perfect. I almost took a college course that read it alongside Paradise Lost.

China Mieville- Embassytown or The City and the City. Great and dense enough to bear close reading.

Octavia E Butler? Kindred is interesting; it's a book about slavery, but also time travel...

For really fun YA, I adore Philip Reeve's Mortal Engines series (again you could just read the first one). Swashbuckling post-apocalyptic steampunky stuff, but also deep enough for considered reading.

Nick Harkaway's The Gone Away World. I don't even really know how to describe it; it's deep and weird and really, really great. It pits mimes vs ninjas. It's disjointed and weird and wonderful.

Also, How I Live Now by Meg Rosoff. It's not strictly speaking science fiction- it's in the context of a shadowy power occupying Britain- but it's extremely good, one of my very favorite books, and if you can sneak it into an actual curriculum I'd be awfully pleased. Oh, except for a romantic relationship which is- due to the actual people in the relationship- might be rather looked askance upon. I wouldn't call it inappropriate at all as reading material- it's not really explicit- but ymmv. It's a beautiful book, it's got the first-person-teenager voice exactly right, and it's got the emotional punch of a bucket of bricks (in a good way).
posted by BungaDunga at 8:49 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Seconding Garth Nix's Abhorsen series. If memory serves, Sabriel is the first book and can stand alone (although most will want to continue the series on their own I predict). I think Sabriel was written around 1995 so its somewhat new (ish).

Please consider Barbara Hambly's The Ladies Of Mandrigyn for one of the fantasy choices. The bonus here is that Hambly writes fantastic male AND female characters. So many of the suggestions in this thread completely turned me off when I tried to read them as a young woman, because they lacked even a single relatable female character.

Post apocalyptic Sci-Fi is brilliantly done in Robert C. O'Brian's Z for Zachariah. This one is a short, quick read.

Finaly, here's another vote for Douglas Adams Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 8:49 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Some of the above I would rate as not appropriate for a high school assignment (for example, William Gibson). (I read the stuff at that age, and if I had kids I would ditto let them read it, but I set the bar for an assignment much higher.)

Some of the above they will probably already have read as part of another class (Ender's Game, Flowers for Algernon--I know people who were seriously sick of reading these over and over, regardless of the quality of the work). On the other hand, if you have a large enough group who's read the original you could offer a split assignment--either the original or one of the sequels. People reading the sequels could compare the author's style and themes to older works.

I would also recommend H. Beam Piper, most of his work is out of copyright, and most of his work is novelette length, better for an assignment. I'd probably go with Little Fuzzy. (Another interesting assignment would be to compare Little Fuzzy with the reboot by Scalzi, although I haven't read the reboot so I can't say if it's appropriate.)

I would probably also throw in some writing-about-writing. Patricia Wrede's blog. A bunch of Asimov's forewords.
posted by anaelith at 9:25 PM on March 21, 2013

I'm happy to introduce you and your students to C.J. Cherryh (scroll down for bibliography), although she's written so many amazing books that it would be hard to select just one or even just one series. But The Faded Sun trilogy, all of the Foreigner books, the Dreaming Tree, The Fortress books. Also The Empire trilogy by Raymond E. Feist and Janny Wurts.
posted by Lynsey at 9:36 PM on March 21, 2013

You absolutely should NOT NOT NOT use Ender's Game. Because some of your kids will like it and then end up reading hateful diatribes against gays by that sick fuck.

I'm thinking of this in terms of "Here are some categories of SF, and some good examples of those categories. I'm assuming swearing, drugs, and non-graphic sex are tolerable.

Cyberpunk -- Neuromancer or Islands in the Net for novels, or there are lots of Gibson stories and ISTR some Sterling stories.

Space opera -- The Player of Games.

Hard SF -- Egan stories. For novels, more Egan or Clarke's A Fall of Moondust. Nota bene: you are FORBIDDEN from using anything from Niven's Known Space as hard sf, because it is not hard sf. This is known.

Sociological/anthropological SF -- The Left Hand of Darkness, Brave New World (it's not exactly a dystopia)

Postapocalyptic -- has to be Liebowitz

There are other, smaller and newer streams too -- singularity and posthuman SF, for example
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 9:38 PM on March 21, 2013

Check out Patricia McKillip (The Forgotten Beasts of Eld or The Changeling Sea (YA, and very short) might be good picks). Juliet Marillier also did a lovely YA retelling of the twelve dancing princesses fairytale in Wildwood Dancing.
posted by littlegreen at 9:53 PM on March 21, 2013 [1 favorite]

Novels are going to be too much. There are so many great sci-fi short stories out there, and you can survey basically the entire history of the field from Jules Verne to Neil Gaiman if you want (and I think you should). High School is all about giving people a foundation to build on, and while you may think 'the classics' are too cliche, keep in mind they're going to be brand new to many of your students. I'd also SERIOUSLY consider including film (Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless mind, for example), videogames and comic books -- for example, try a play through of To The Moon, which you can do in probably two classes.

I think this is a really good suggestion. If I ever had to teach an elective English class again, I would concentrate on short stories. The students who are best at English take AP or honors and don't usually take an elective that could lower GPA and won't look interesting on a transcript.

As for fantasy novels, The Last Unicorn.
posted by betweenthebars at 10:23 PM on March 21, 2013

Definitely something by Diana Wynne Jones. Some of hers are technically for younger readers, but most people don't care. I have read her books cheerfully for most of my life. Fire and Hemlock is so amazing and complex that you can treat it just as a really good read or delve into the myths and legends she references, TS Eliot's Four Quartets and complement it with an essay that she wrote about heroes. Warning: the ending is confusing. I actually think that makes it a good choice to read in class, because it would give people a chance to discuss and nut it out.

I agree with suggestions made above for Robin McKinley's The Hero & The Crown (who doesn't love an introverted redheaded princess fighting dragons?) , Steven Brust's The Phoenix Guards, Scott Westerfeld (either Uglies, which is the first of a series, or Peeps which is very cool and standalone) and Cory Doctorow's Little Brother.

You could also consider graphic novels - not superhero stuff necessarily, but there's some very cool speculative fiction stuff out there. I recommend Brian Wood & Becky Cloonan's Demo and if you want to include some Gaiman in the reading list, why not Stardust (the version with Charles Vess's beautiful illustrations)?
posted by Athanassiel at 10:37 PM on March 21, 2013 [2 favorites]

The Player of Games.

One of my very favourite SF books, but since it's Banks there's always some violent/dark imagery, which probably aren't appropriate for 11-12 year olds in a reading assignment. There's references to a wrestler getting his penis cut off in a match in a gaudy depraved casino, and a set of musical instruments made of repurposed human parts, off the top of my head. It's a great book for 14 yr olds and up outside of school, I'd say.
posted by Jon Mitchell at 10:54 PM on March 21, 2013

You've got to narrow down the criteria here. Just "what books should I use in this class" is too broad and is going to get you a random sampling of people's favorite novels with no coherence. You need to decide what your class is about? Is it a historical overview? A look at the current state? A look at why the F/SF line is one so blurry it is impossible to defend even for reductionists using the old Campbellian definitions? Feminist SF? And so on.

The first step in figure out what books to teach in a course is defining the course. I'm sure we can come up with excellent suggestions but right now it's "name some cool books!"
posted by Justinian at 11:34 PM on March 21, 2013

1. I agree that you need to keep the readings limited and not overwhelm high school students.

2. I like the idea, implied in some of the posts, of taking a historical tour of science fiction. I might not go back to Bellamy and Verne (which are pretty unreadable really) but maybe to the dawn of the pulp era? You could look through Before the Golden Age and pull a few stories, for example.

3. Why not use some of your class time to explore science fiction film, cartoons, and TV series? Buck Rogers and forward from there. The Day the Earth Stood Still, Star Trek, etc. Pair up the videos and the readings where you can.

Sounds like a great class, enjoy it.
posted by LarryC at 12:00 AM on March 22, 2013

Howl's Moving Castle by Dianna Wynne Jones; Wyrd Sisters by Terry Pratchett; Soulless by Gail Carriger are three suggestions. Gail Carriger and Terry Pratchett have great humor, which young people need. Please don't dumb down too much for these kids - if you're going to teach them to enjoy reading, give them something to chew on - something with lots of flavor - and then expect them to finish it. If it has enough substance to it, they'll finish it and come up for air delighted that they read that "whole" book and it entertained them as much as the film that they're used to. As an example, look at the incredible numbers of kids who read the Harry Potter books and The Hunger Games. If it were me teaching the course, I'd try, just for the heck of it, to choose material that isn't automatically dark and depressing - there's a lot of great stuff out there that will encourage reading (and encourage the thinking that's a natural result of reading) without focusing on the end of all good things and all hope. Terry Pratchett's work is full of rich satire and wise at the same time. I'd have a blast introducing young people to good reading material. Have fun. Oh - and I don't know how politically correct you have to be in your choices, but I hope that's not a heavy requirement; it's nearly impossible to find material today that someone won't object to.
posted by aryma at 12:30 AM on March 22, 2013

Like ROU_Xenophobe, I've got to recommend AGAINST Ender's Game: that one particular book isn't itself too hate-filled, but I see no reason whatsoever to encourage anyone to spend one cent on anything from Orson Scott Card.
And as much as I raced through every one of Anne McCaffery's Pern books I could lay hands on at that age, there is actually a LOT of sex in those: consensual sex, rape, and everything inbetween --- your school might object.

Maybe try:
Douglas Adam's Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy
Terry Pratchetts's Discworld novels; The Color of Magic was the first one
Robert Heinlein's The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

If you're looking for an 'origins of the genre' sort of idea, how about Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth, or Robert E. Howard's original Conan the Barbarian or Kull of Atlantis.
posted by easily confused at 1:53 AM on March 22, 2013

How about Phillip K. Dick? I agree that a novel every three weeks sounds like a lot of reading, but PKD's novels are short enough to get away with that. Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (aka Bladerunner) is, I think, high school appropriate.

Speaking of things which are filled with sex, double-check your Heinlein. I do not know which, but I remember some of them being racy for high school.

As a big fantasy reader in elementary and high school, I actually missed out on a lot of sci fi canon. I recommend the classics: Butler, Tiptree, Gibson, Stephenson, Asimov, Bradbury, Vonnegut, etc. Particularly great would be to include and/or emphasize some of the excellent sci fi by women and people of colour.

It might even be interesting to, for your choice book, ask the kids whether they like fantasy or sci fi better and make them read a book from the opposite category. I think courses like yours are awesome because they introduce students to things they wouldn't normally read.
posted by snorkmaiden at 5:35 AM on March 22, 2013

For a one-semester class, one or two novels at most (and they should be short ones!) Short stories are good. I wouldn't bother with kids/YA stuff as those who have enough interest to take the course have probably read it already. The Giver is a great book, but my fourth-grader just finished it - anything with a Newbery Award is probably too young for your audience.

I would choose a few selections from Stanislaw Lem's The Cyberiad. Some Vonnegut stories that aren't "Harrison Bergeron", which seems to get shoved down everyone's throat at some point during junior high or high school. Cat's Cradle or Player Piano would be a good choice for a novel.
posted by Daily Alice at 5:36 AM on March 22, 2013

Definitely, nth-ing short stories. A good place to start are the Hugo-winning and Hugo-nominee short stories, some of these you may even be able to find (legitimately) online for free. My scifi book club reads all the Hugo nominees every year, and many of them would be good for that age. You can present to them a very wide range of scifi without bogging them down in hundreds of pages of reading material.
posted by Tooty McTootsalot at 6:59 AM on March 22, 2013 [2 favorites]

Heinlein: fascist, Asimov: womanizer, Hubbard: scam artist, Card: homophobe...when is the work discrete from the artist personally? I suppose you could say that Card is as bad as Riefenstahl, but I won't be agreeing with that. Ender's Game stands up as a work. My 2¢.
posted by j_curiouser at 7:12 AM on March 22, 2013

Chiming in to suggest Jonathan Lethem - "Gun with Occasional Music" or "As She Climbed Across the Table"
posted by rdnnyc at 8:13 AM on March 22, 2013

If you would like to include a non-western writer, a Haruki Murakami short story would work well. "after the quake" is a good collection.
posted by Quonab at 8:33 AM on March 22, 2013

One of the best classes I took in college (and the first I earned an "A" in) was Fantasy Literature. The teacher started at the beginning; my suggestion is you do, too. And where would that be? Some Edgar Allan Poe short stories. In particular, M.Valdemar (for adding 'putrescence' to the students' vocabulary) and the Tale of the Ragged Mountains which some interpret as time-travel. Then onto Wells' Time Machine ('cause it's short) and maybe The War of the Worlds.
posted by Rash at 10:02 AM on March 22, 2013

Three books I read in high school which fostered a lifelong love of sci-fi:
Alfred Bester's The Stars My Destination (my copy had a WAY cooler cover!)
Joe Haldeman's The Forever War
Clifford Simak's City
None of these is even remotely new, but it's amazing how well they've aged.
posted by subajestad at 10:30 AM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Be sure to read scifi author and creative writing prof John Kessel's essay about how Ender's Game does nothing so well as create a morally non-culpable murdering protagonist ("the fundamental premise of his moral vision: that the rightness or wrongness of an act inheres in the actor’s motives, not in the act itself, or in its results") before deciding to use that book: Creating the Innocent Killer: Ender's Game, Intention, and Morality.

Aside from the awfulness of Card's blatant and despicable homophobia, that essay raises some interesting questions you might want to address for yourself before deciding Ender's Game is a book you want to teach. There's certainly a lot to discuss in the book, but there's just as certainly so much good scifi for young adults out there - most of which is not being written by rabid homophobes your young lesbian and gay students will probably find out about - that there's no reason to consider it a "serious oversight" to leave Orson off your class reading list.
posted by mediareport at 10:34 AM on March 22, 2013

>Atwood's Oryx and Crake?

This does not shelter your audience from sex, by the way. Child rape is an incidental plot point. Similarly Snow Crash has a lot of explicit attention paid to YT's sexuality, as a 15 year old, related to adult men. As a 15 year old I found her easy to relate to (she didn't read like a sexual fantasy) but if your audience doesn't like the idea of sex, it will land you in hot water.

What about Tiptree's Screw Fly Solution? That also exposes your audience to female writers a bit more. Also, A Wizard of Earthsea or A Wrinkle In Time. It's not like women haven't had an active role in the genres.

I feel like you might want to tilt your reading list more towards fantasy than some people are suggesting. One of the Narnia books might be a good example of the 'kids in fantastic worlds' trope that's a fast read. You might want to touch on the concept of fantasy where the audience believes the magic is possible (ie old fairy stories) versus a modern story where nobody actually believes in elves.

Topics you might consider include tropes like the stranger/outsider character used to allow the storyteller to express the weirdness of the setting in a way that seems natural. Another one is the role of the book as a social commentary/satire. your book choices should be built around a point, not just "read these cool books!", I think, if you want to allow your students to take away more than just a good time.
posted by Phalene at 10:59 AM on March 22, 2013

A story from I, Robot might be good.

I'm currently in the middle of the Young Adult anthology After: Nineteen Stories of Apocalypse and Dystopia which so far has great stories by Matthew Kressel and Beth Revis, and a solid one by N. K. Jemisin.

Karen Lord's The Best of all Possible Worlds is getting good reviews.

For Le Guin, I have a soft spot for Lathe of Heaven.

Bujold's Mountains of Mourning is novella length and it might still be free. Miles is given the unthankful task of enforcing reforms in a community still shaped by isolationism.
posted by CBrachyrhynchos at 12:06 PM on March 22, 2013

I loved all the Asimov short stories, and they might lead to interesting discussions about stuff like:
* How our ideas about the future are influenced by our present (all the 50s sci fi with all the Russian baddies!)
* Whether stories need characters or whether ideas are enough - lots of the Asimov short stories in particular are about scientific ideas and concepts and there's little space left over to characters
* Comparing the imagined future with how things actually developed - I read a book recently set in 2015 or so where they are able to record the souls of people and digitise personalities, but don't have mobile phones.

As a teenager I was probably reading a couple of books per week, so your rate of reading would have been fine for me, but I wasn't in the US school system so workloads and expectations may be different.
posted by kadia_a at 12:16 PM on March 22, 2013

If you're also considering longish stories/novellas, you might have a look at E.M. Forster's "The Machine Stops" (1909), which addresses concerns about humans' reliance on/worship of technology. Overview from Wired. Read it here.
posted by MonkeyToes at 1:40 PM on March 22, 2013 [1 favorite]

Absolutely "The Machine Stops" -- incredibly relevant in today's world. In fact, I refer to the internet as The Machine when speaking with those whom I know have read this story.
posted by Rash at 4:19 PM on March 22, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks all for the awesome suggestions. I left the question deliberately vague and open-ended because I am soooo early in the planning process. This class has literally never been offered before and classes in this format have never been offered before at our school. This class is for 10th, 11th, and 12th graders in an American High School, so 16-18 years old.

I'm 99% sure I will have to get curriculum texts approved by the administration, but the student choice texts are much more open.

I do plan on using short stories, which is one reason I was posting this question, I don't know of many good fantasy short stories, Sci-Fi seems to dominate the short story conversation.

So far, I think I am going to try to avoid the more obvious texts like Ender's Game, The Giver, Hitchhikers Guide etc (and several of the other novels are already in the curriculum in other classes), and focus on some stuff that they may not get exposed to. I will probably prepare a list of books "For Further Reading", but I do want to avoid the trap of, "We're going to read a bunch of books I like and I hope you like them too."

I'm liking the concept of exposing them to weird and challenging texts that force them to question their world and the genres in general. I mean, my world was rocked when I realized the dearth of strong, realistic, female leads in Fantasy literature, or when a professor made a comment about fantasy as a metaphor for our world.

This class will also have a strong online component, so the students will be doing work outside of class, and from an informal survey of students that have already signed up for the class, it looks to be a cross-section of the honors kids who are inherently nerdy and are already interested in the class content to begin with.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 6:37 PM on March 22, 2013

Re fantasy stories, I would highly recommend "Home For Christmas" by Nina Kiriki Hoffman; it's in The Year's Best Fantasy and Horror: Ninth Annual Collection (No.9) edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling. (Her book The Silent Strength of Stones would also be good.) Another good story is "Summer Ice" by Holly Phillips. Also, one of the stories in Kelly Link's anthology Pretty Monsters might be good; if you want something that skews towards horror but would be ok for high school the story "Monster" in that anthology is an option. Connie Willis has some good short stories, and did an SF short called "Blued Moon" that might work for you. It's in the Fire Watch story collection.
posted by gudrun at 9:33 PM on March 22, 2013

How about Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd & the Grey Mouser series? Usually considered more sword & sorcery than straight sci fi; there are both novels and short stories, with morally-ambiguous heroes, lots of action, often a lot of humor, and not enough sex to freak out a school board.
posted by easily confused at 6:09 AM on March 23, 2013

Ah, coming back to say that I missed the part about providing a list for further reading. In that case I would recommend for fantasy adding Megan Whalen Turner's Thief series, Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman, as well as Sabriel by Garth Nix, Robin McKinley's books mentioned above - The Blue Sword and The Hero and the Crown, and her retelling of Beauty and the Beast called Beauty, Tanith Lee's Silver Metal Lover, Margaret Mahy's The Changeover, Shannon Hale's The Goose Girl, and some of the other fantasies others have mentioned above like McKillip's The Forgotten Beasts of Eld. Note that the BBC has just done a good radio adaptation of Neverwhere, which can be listened to online.

Beyond what has already been mentioned for class, you can mine the anthologies of Datlow and Windling, like the Year's Best Fantasy and Horror ones particularly, for fantasy stories. Also, you should consider some of the books by Nancy Farmer, like The House of the Scorpion. This page has some resources for teaching using Nancy Farmer books. It's aimed more for middle school, but there are some things you might find helpful if you delve around the links at that page, like some of the lesson plans aimed at 6-8th grade, and the list of Genre characteristics and suggested science fiction texts.
posted by gudrun at 6:34 AM on March 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Does your course have learning objectives? That may help you choose books. A few older SF books will give some balance. Mary Shelley's Frankenstein is the classic. Wikipedia has a History of SF. I'd choose some Asimov and Ray Bradbury from the 'Golden Age.' I'm a big fan of John Brunner, and recommend Shockwave Rider as a precursor/early cyberpunk. Choose some Fantasy, ideally Tolkien, but even The Hobbit is pretty long. Maybe a suggestion for a project. This graphic is an excellent visual, with lots of great ideas and themes. There are excellent suggestions in this thread, and I'd choose some current fiction from it.
posted by theora55 at 9:08 AM on March 23, 2013

For short stories, you might consider Robin McKinley & Peter Dickinson's Water (there's also Fire, but I was less enthusiastic about it) for both real world and mythical world fantasy, Charles de Lint has several urban fantasy collections -- I recommend "Timeskip" in Dreams Underfoot, and Banana Yoshimoto for Japanese magic realism -- Lizard (short stories) is my favorite, Kitchen and Asleep (both novella collections) are also great.

Whichever authors you choose, attempting to balance male and female authors would be awesome, as would making sure you have people of color in your stories.
posted by Margalo Epps at 9:14 AM on March 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

Please please please check into Wool - probably the best book I've read in years, and I read like I breathe. Also clean in terms of sex and language, and very discussion provoking.

I'd also look into Octavia Butler (Kindred as mentioned above).
Oryx and Crake - yes.

More on the fantasy side - Stephen King's Eyes of the Dragon or the Dark Tower. George R R Martin has some good fantasy short stories, tangentally related to Game of Thrones. King also has a wealth of short stories, not all of them horror.

Time Traveler's Wife might skew female and I don't recall how much sex was in it.

Stephanie Meyer's The Host was pretty good (even if she did write Twilight).
Mists of Avalon might be a little long but fits the subject.

The Princess Bride?
Michael Crichton, specifically Prey?

Ender's Game is honestly perfect for your purposes, even if the author is highly controversial.
One of my favorites is Mary Doria Russel's The Sparrow, but I think it will likely be too violent, and there is some sex in it.
posted by mazienh at 9:30 AM on March 23, 2013

Here's the course description for Science Fiction at my high school.

I think Ender's Game, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, and Bradbury & LeGuin short stories would all go over well with the kids. Also, Slaughterhouse 5. I've done all of those but EG personally.

Also: movies and radio dramas are texts too. Don't be afraid to use them.

Let me know if I can help in any way. Writing courses is my new special skill (taught 6 new electives this year!).
posted by guster4lovers at 8:42 PM on March 23, 2013

I just read your last update. Amended responses:

1) The reason a lot of those books are commonly taught is because they resonate with students. Don't underestimate that.

2) Teaching books you like isn't a bad thing. Bringing passion is important, and it's often the best starting point.

3) Get as many books approved as possible, and let the students have choice. Remember - adults are motivated by choice, and teens are doubly so. No one likes to be told what they have to read. Unless you're weird (like me) and tend to find things to enjoy in any book.

4) Exposing them to weird and challenging texts is fine, but not for every book. High school students in most schools (even my super high performing school) often cut corners and use SparkNotes or similar. Unless you're reading the books in class (which I recommend!), challenging/weird texts will probably just frustrate them more.

I don't mean to get preachy. I've totally changed my opinion about what books to teach in the last year after switching to a more student-driven classroom. And it's made a world of difference. I would never go back.
posted by guster4lovers at 8:48 PM on March 23, 2013

I did a 4 book course using Enders Game, Kiln People, Orbital Resonance, and Childhoods End.

Enders Game is a pretty good all around, intro to sci-fi with surprising depth and is very easy to teach.

Kiln people fascinated me, but is BIG and drags at some points. Very interesting book, but BIG.

Orbital Resonance is a decent length and not everybody seems to like Barnes. Book contains a brief masturbation scene. (AS does Snow Crash)

Childhood's end is a good book, but I found it hard to pull enough teachable material from it.

Ready Player One has a lot of 80's nostalgia. You might have to MAME or download the game it talks about and theres like 3 chapters about a RUSH album.

Show some anime? Voices From a Distant Star is short (45 min or so?)

I do highly recommend having a good sized, multiple category list of 'other suggested readings'
posted by Jacen at 7:43 PM on September 17, 2013

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