Books Like The Martian for my 14 year old
January 15, 2016 3:18 PM   Subscribe

I have a son who has struggled to find books that he likes. Over the holiday break he picked up The Martian by Andy Weir and devoured it! What other books have the same feel?

He's a kid who has struggled to finish any books in his life. Reading has always been a struggle for him. So his reaction to The Martian was a surprise to us all. We are eager to find something else like it that he might like as much. He loved the science. He loved the fact that it was exciting. He loved that "it all lead to an amazing final conclusion".

Can anyone think of another book that might capture his attention in a similar way?
posted by crapples to Media & Arts (46 answers total) 36 users marked this as a favorite
The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell has good science in it
posted by childofTethys at 3:32 PM on January 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Red Thunder by John Varley

Maybe short stories, a collection of Analog/Asimov's magazines from ebay may be a way to discover other authors he likes.
posted by Sophont at 3:33 PM on January 15, 2016

Nonfiction, but a gripping read about smart people in space getting help from other smart people: Lost Moon: The Perilous Voyage of Apollo 13
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:34 PM on January 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Hugh Howey has some glorious adult and YA writing. The Wool series, for starters.
posted by ftm at 3:41 PM on January 15, 2016 [9 favorites]

What about World War Z? It's told in a diary style as well. Scary as hell of course, but maybe that's a good thing?
posted by Cuke at 3:50 PM on January 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

Up Against It, Sf from the last decade. Maybe biographies of invrntors for that can-do feeling?
posted by clew at 3:54 PM on January 15, 2016

Heinlein's juveniles, starting with Have Space Suit, Will Travel.
posted by bq at 3:55 PM on January 15, 2016 [7 favorites]

An Astronaut's Guide to Life on Earth: What Going to Space Taught Me About Ingenuity, Determination, and Being Prepared for Anything by Chris Hadfield.
posted by shiny blue object at 4:11 PM on January 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

Jon Krakauer's Into Thin Air. Nonfiction, but I bet he'd like it.
posted by theodolite at 4:15 PM on January 15, 2016 [4 favorites]

Here's some suggestions from librarians! From New York Public Library, Cincinnati Public Library, and the Douglas County (CO) Public Library.
posted by jabes at 4:29 PM on January 15, 2016

I don't think there really are other books like the Martian (which is frustrating and stupid).
Ender's Game is a classic for 14-year-olds that has some of those elements of figuring out novel solutions from limited resources, leading to a big final conclusion. Both books have movies now too. But if he was also responding to the grounded-in-real-world-technology aspect of the Martian, then Ender's Game might be too sci-fi.
posted by anonymisc at 4:45 PM on January 15, 2016

Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson

Aurora, same author.

Seveneves by Neil Stephenson.
posted by jeffamaphone at 4:45 PM on January 15, 2016 [3 favorites]

Ready Player One. I enjoyed it, as did my 13 year old.
posted by bondcliff at 4:46 PM on January 15, 2016 [6 favorites]

Arthur C Clark is good for the feel-good sciency stuff like:
A Fall of Moondust,
Islands in the Sky,
Tales from the White Hart

Snowcrash, Neil Stephenson (a really fun cyberpunk book and about 10x as good as any other book by him)
posted by w0mbat at 4:55 PM on January 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

It's not science fiction, but My Side of the Mountain is an easier read (maybe more of a middle reader than a teen book) that explains a lot of the details of one kid's time spent living in the woods by choice, and it includes a few sketches and drawings where appropriate.

Hatchet, on the other hand, is a much more intense survival story of a kid surviving in the wilderness after a plane crash.

I love Mary Doria Russell's The Sparrow, but I would hesitate to recommend it to most younger readers (and even a some adults) unless I truly felt they were prepared for it. It's got some intense emotional stuff going on.
posted by redsparkler at 5:04 PM on January 15, 2016 [9 favorites]

The Sparrow is probably too much of a downer and too intense for a 14 year old.

He might like Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan series. Start with The Warrior's Apprentice. This series is space opera with much more of a moral core than the typical shoot em up style. Miles uses his brain much more than his weapons.

Scalzi's Old Man's War might also work, if he can get past the hero being a rejuvenated old guy.

Both of these series are set in the far future, so the science isn't remotely real by today's standards, but the universes are internally self consistent, and plausible, and most importantly the characters are realistically drawn.
posted by monotreme at 5:18 PM on January 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

The Giver, maybe. And The Tripods trilogy.

I suspect it's not so much the science that grabbed him as the immediacy of the storytelling. The Wasp Factory is told like that, but it's been called "depraved" so you'll have to decide if it's suitable.
posted by zadcat at 5:29 PM on January 15, 2016

I agree with above recommendations of Seveneves, Snow Crash and Ready Player One.

I would add Armada by Ernest Cline (same author as Ready Player One).
posted by forthright at 5:30 PM on January 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Not the same as The Martian, but I loved Ender's Game at about that age. Even better if he hasn't seen the movie. Ian Tregellis' The Mechanical is a great, fast-paced story that might be good for a 13 year old.

I also agree with upthread suggestion about The Sparrow. I'd have probably enjoyed that more at 18 than 14. (But I really enjoyed it at 35).
posted by tayknight at 6:03 PM on January 15, 2016

Would he read "Contact" by Carl Sagan?
posted by honeybee413 at 6:05 PM on January 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

He might like the Trader series by Nathan Howell - start with Quarter Share and go from there. Essentially, the young male protagonist loses his mother to an accident and has to make his way in the world alone. The science, survival and resourcefulness components of The Martian are echoed in this series.
posted by ninazer0 at 6:05 PM on January 15, 2016

Starship Troopers, or better yet The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Heinlein. Both feature a lot of problem solving under pressure.
posted by The Hyacinth Girl at 6:37 PM on January 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

Kim Stanley Robinson's Red Mars etc. are very sciency books about terraforming. They're often called dry but if your kid liked The Martian, give him a try on Red Mars. I remember a part about climbing Olympus Mons that was amazing.
posted by irisclara at 7:01 PM on January 15, 2016 [2 favorites]

In a slightly different direction, he might like narrative non-fiction like "The Lost City of Z" or "Devil in the White City" (warning: mass murderer). "Lost Moon" and "Into Thin Air," recommended above, are also in that genre. "The Martian" (and "World War Z," recommended above ... and "Wool" to a certain extent) reminded me of that type of narrative non-fiction that I really enjoy. Lots of facts and information, packaged in a fast-paced and gripping true story. Maybe "Into the Wild," "Unbroken" (real Christian-inspirational in the final section but up until that section, great), "The Ghost Map," things like that.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:14 PM on January 15, 2016

Sherlock Holmes has a similar narrative in some ways.

Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

The sparrow ending is sort of intense for a 14 year old perhaps.

Starship Troopers.

Old Man's War.
posted by nickggully at 7:25 PM on January 15, 2016

Thank you so much! He and I have read through the list and he wants to try Ready Player One. I have read it and I think there's a good chance he'll like it. He says he also wants to try World War Z, which I have not read. We'll check that out next. But we'll come back to this list for further recommendations! Thank you - this has been great.
posted by crapples at 7:42 PM on January 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

The novellezation of Interstellar was excellent, as was the book that the movie The Edge Of Tomorrow was based on.

I'd also suggest a non space YA that just came out called The Big Dark.
posted by tilde at 7:59 PM on January 15, 2016

It's more horror and fantasy than science, but he might like 14 by Peter Clines. I liked it for the group of people working together to try to figure things out and it had an exciting conclusion.
posted by capsizing at 9:00 PM on January 15, 2016

I've read many of the books suggested here and I've, read The Martian. I think the ones suggested so far that come the closest to what you are looking for are Snowcrash and Ready Player One. To those two I would add Wool. Out of the three I think Wool is actually the most exciting read.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 9:28 PM on January 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

If he tries and likes World War Z, then he might also like The Girl With All The Gifts.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 9:30 PM on January 15, 2016

I've always liked The Forever War by Joe Haldeman
posted by H21 at 9:38 PM on January 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

I came to suggest ready player one.

Also, Jurassic park. I read it at about that age in about two sittings. (I haven't read it since so maybe I'm misremembering).

If less realistic fantasy is ok, the glass sentence.
posted by dpx.mfx at 9:45 PM on January 15, 2016

I'll second The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress. It's the book I was most reminded of when reading The Martian.

Also, try Allen Steele's Orbital Decay.
posted by veedubya at 10:39 PM on January 15, 2016

crapples, have you read any of Mary Roach's books? Would they be appropriate for your son? She has a great one called Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void.

I love all her books and would have loved them at your son's age.
posted by futz at 11:24 PM on January 15, 2016 [5 favorites]

Another thought, what about The Right Stuff or Apollo 13?
posted by futz at 11:36 PM on January 15, 2016 [1 favorite]

I like Ready Player One, but I feel like you have to be a child of the 80s to really appreciate it.

I would take a look at Daemon or Reamde. Both have characters that are smart and need to solve problems. Both are thrilling reads with contemporary video game influences that are similar in some ways to Ready Player One.
posted by willnot at 12:21 AM on January 16, 2016

Seconding Hatchet. I just finished reading it-- I honestly don't recall whether it's short or fast-paced-- felt a bit like both.
posted by Sunburnt at 12:33 AM on January 16, 2016

When I was 14 I started reading in English (not my mother tongue) with The Tripods.
posted by bluedora at 12:44 AM on January 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

For the purposes of these suggestions, I'm assuming that what works about The Martian for your son is the presence of a first-person, wise-cracking narrator who explains science things and also does some McGyvering for plot-relevant reasons. Also, compulsively readable.

Adult books:

Surely You're Joking, Mr. Feynman. Autobiography of Richard Feynman, lots of fun stories and science. (It has some dated attitudes towards women, fair warning, but it's compulsively readable.)

I love Neal Stephenson, but his later books can be kind of doorstop-y. I would actually suggest one of his earliest books, Zodiac, which is a thrilling romp through environmental science, chemistry, and the Boston Harbor Cleanup with a smart-ass first-person narrator. (On the content warning front, I will note that it does contain a sex scene and some drug use, primarily nitrous.)

Born to Run by Christopher McDougall is a thrilling adventure tale about running and a book about the science-y side of running.

Books actually published as YA:

Scott Westerfeld has a number of different series, but his PEEPS (vampires/parasitology) and So Yesterday (marketing) books both have smart-ass first-person narration and lots of details about technical topics.

John Green's An Abundance of Katherines has a smart-ass narrator who's good at math.

Finally, Little Brother by Cory Doctorow. Smart-ass kid, lots of tech stuff (which may be a bit dated, but hopefully is still readable).
posted by pie ninja at 4:23 AM on January 16, 2016 [4 favorites]

The Sparrow and The Wasp Factory (!) would have torqued my mind at that age, and were great, but very emotionally difficult reads as an adult. Ender's Game is the gold standard for folks this age and was something I happily re-read multiple times.

Two I didn't see listed here that might be up his alley are: How I Live Now--about a young lady who is in England visiting cousins when the bomb falls and how the kids cope with that--And, Illuminae, an action-packed tale of teens dealing with their planet being invaded by megacorporations as well as a bonus plague. The book is HUGE, but the story is told through the conceit of hacked military files that include emails, transcripts, IMs, medical reports, etc. making reading it rather quick and pleasingly futuristic.
posted by thebrokedown at 5:40 AM on January 16, 2016

Into Thin Air by John Krakauer
posted by absences at 7:44 AM on January 16, 2016

438 Days: An Extraordinary True Story of Survival at Sea, the story of Salvador Alvarenga surviving in a fishing boat in the Pacific Ocean.
posted by release the hardwoods! at 1:36 PM on January 16, 2016 [1 favorite]

For me, the best part of the Martian is being in the mind of a really smart guy as he solves problems, which makes you feel smart too.

For that, and for the sense of adventure, I might try the Miles Vorkosigan series. Start at the Warrior's Apprentice (Barrayer is about his mother and father, which is less fun).

Another good option is Ender's Game. The series goes downhill after the first book, but again, for the mind of a genius, it's good fun.

Both of these also happen to take place in space.
posted by kingjoeshmoe at 4:43 PM on January 16, 2016

The fact that Michael Crichton hasn't been mentioned makes me feel like I'm missing something.

Jurassic Park and The Lost World. Dinosaurs.
Sphere takes place at extreme ocean depths and involves aliens.
Congo gets silly, but it's pretty Chrichton-y.
Pirate Latitudes. Pirates and nautical minutia!
Airframe has a lot of info about airline crash investigations.
When I was his age I read Outbreak by Robin Cook and Andromeda Strain by Crichton back to back within about a week, so I don't really remember which is which but I liked them.

These are just the ones I've read myself. Crichton's whole thing was, "Adventure! And also science at some level of credibility!"
posted by cmoj at 6:41 PM on January 16, 2016

Not technically a book, but a text that recently really captured our 14-year old: Lifeline (and its iterations).

On a hunch, based on its being a first-person account, with a unique suspense and adventure balanced with chapters of unusual science/facts/instructions: Life of Pi?
posted by progosk at 6:34 AM on January 17, 2016

> I've always liked The Forever War by Joe Haldeman

Not appropriate for your average 14-year-old in 2016. It's dated, or tricky to navigate, when it comes to gay characters.
posted by The corpse in the library at 9:32 AM on January 22, 2016

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