Fun sci-fi fiction for a proud and nerdy middle school girl?
July 30, 2018 1:31 PM   Subscribe

My daughter is looking for her next book to read! Sci Fi she really likes: Douglas Adams, Dr. Who, Stranger Things and Welcome to Night Vale. We’re looking for more science fiction writing, preferably with a humorous element (dark humor is totally fine), and of course anything with a female protagonist would be a bonus. Series or standalone, novel or short story, as long as it’s a rewarding read! Thanks for your help!
posted by ericbop to Writing & Language (30 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
Apologies if she's already read them, but A Wrinkle in Time (and the other two books in the trilogy) is great science fiction with a very strong female lead! I think I was in the 4th or 5th grade when I first read those books, but even if she's slightly ahead reading-level wise, they are wonderful stories and do not talk down to kids at all. (They aren't that funny, though).
posted by cakelite at 1:41 PM on July 30, 2018 [5 favorites]

Assuming anything in the "speculative fiction" arena is good enough, the Discworld series by Terry Pratchett. His style is very much akin to Adams'.

There are various reading orders available online, but I just jumped in and read whatever my library happened to have available, and it turned out fine. Just don't start with "Color of Magic". The books focused on the Witches will hit "female protagonist"; she could also read the Tiffany Aching books which are adjacent to the witches' stories and explicitly YA.
posted by damayanti at 1:51 PM on July 30, 2018 [3 favorites]

The Arabella of Mars series by David D. Levine! A teen girl hero, speculative fiction (sailboats sail between the air), a little steampunk. Fun work.
posted by ElisaOS at 1:57 PM on July 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

The Finishing School Series by Gail Carriger is awesome. I think it would be steampunk science fiction young adult

Steeplejack by AJ Hartley

Starflight by Melissa Landers
posted by Ftsqg at 2:08 PM on July 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

I enjoyed The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers.
posted by Quonab at 2:14 PM on July 30, 2018 [8 favorites]

The Thursday Next series!
posted by soelo at 2:15 PM on July 30, 2018 [7 favorites]

Earth Girl by Janet Edwards is an enjoyable read. Looks like it's the first in a series but I can't speak to the rest.
posted by readinghippo at 2:15 PM on July 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Illegal Aliens by Nick Pollotta and Phil Foglio.
posted by Rob Rockets at 2:51 PM on July 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Hexwood, by Diana Wynne Jones!
posted by mustard seeds at 2:54 PM on July 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

Martians Abroad by Carrie Vaughn is a story about a brother and sister raised on Mars who are sent to school on Earth. Riffs a bit on the Heinlein juvies and feels like the start of a series.

The Epic Crush of Genie Lo by F.C. Yee is about a teenage girl who has a strange connection to a Chinese deity. A delightful read and the author is working on a sequel.

Warcross by Marie Lu is about a girl who hacks into a big virtual tournament and causes quite a stir. Sequel is coming.

Dare Mighty Things by Heather Kaczynski is about a group of young adults competing to be selected for a mysterious space mission. Say it with me - sequel is coming!

Exo by Fonda Lee is set after Earth has become an alien colony. Protagonist has an exocel (alien technology joined to his body), and he is abducted by an anti-alien group. Sequel just came out.

Leviathan, book 1 of a trilogy by Scott Westerfeld, is a steampunk alternate history set during WWI. Lots of historical cameos.

Scythe by Neal Shusterman is set in the near future, after humanity has conquered death. Two teens are chosen to be apprentice Scythes, who are the only ones allowed to end a life. Two books out so far, third next year.

If she's willing to read something that's a bit more fantastical, I highly recommend the Lockwood & Co. ghost-hunting books by Jonathan Stroud. Great characters, including the female protagonist, lots of dark humour, and there are 5 books.
posted by mogget at 2:57 PM on July 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

Strong recommendation for Diane Duane's Young Wizards series, which currently has 10 books and much online fiction. Strong female protagonists who begins around middle school. Despite "wizards" in the title, the 'magic' is very tech-oriented and there are aliens, parallel timelines, pocket universes, and lots upon lots of fun stuff. The author wrote a TNG episode (the one with the Traveler, although it was heavily revised from her original ideas), and wrote several (fantastic) TOS and TNG novels.
posted by WCityMike at 3:21 PM on July 30, 2018 [6 favorites]

Yeppers to 'Discworld' and 'The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet.'

Not everything of his is scifi but I cannot recommend A. Lee Martinez enough. Truly another humanist humourist in the vein of Douglas Adams and Pratchett but with American sensibilities and quirks.

A bunch of his novels feature female (and sometimes younger) protagonists.
posted by porpoise at 3:38 PM on July 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

I was this girl! I don't know how appropriate it is, but at her age I LOVED Red Dwarf. It had some crude and sexual humor, but nothing that I couldn't handle. I also loved the original Doctor Who, which at the time was the only Doctor Who.
posted by Bistyfrass at 3:53 PM on July 30, 2018 [5 favorites]

Also more appropriately, my husband is currently reading Tomi Adeyemi's Children of Blood and Bone and loves it. I can't really speak to its themes personally though.
posted by Bistyfrass at 3:55 PM on July 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

I love the Xandri Corelel series by Kaia Sønderby (prequel/book 0 is Testing Pandora, book 1 is Failure to Communicate, book 2 is Tone of Voice). The premise is that in a far-future GATTACA-like society, genetic engineering is used to prevent all disability before birth. After a brief (and subsequently outlawed) fad for natural birth results in the reappearance of disability, Xandri Corelel is one of the only autistic people in the universe. Because being autistic means she's spent her life studying other people and how they do interpersonal interactions, Xandri becomes the head of xenoliaisons aboard a First Contact ship. The books are thoughtful, compelling, and funny. I've got them on my "preorder as soon as announced" list at this point.

I also liked the Saving Mars series by Cidney Swanson. Description from the first book:
When the food supply of Mars’ human settlement is decimated, Jessamyn Jaarda–17 and the best pilot Mars Colonial has ever seen–flies to Earth to raid for food. Earth-Mars relations couldn’t be worse, and her brother is captured during the raid. Breaking rules of secrecy and no contact, Jess finds an ally in Pavel, nephew to a government official, but their friendship only makes more agonizing the choice before her: Save her brother or save her planet?
posted by Lexica at 3:55 PM on July 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

If the fantasy end of speculative fiction is okay, I will recommend the novels of Frances Hardinge. Strong female characters who often end up fomenting revolution! Unique and inventive settings! Humor and also really good middle-grade creepy stuff!

All of her books are great but I will especially recommend The Lie Tree and A Face Like Glass.
posted by darchildre at 4:05 PM on July 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

And not to abuse the edit window, I also like Kaia Sønderby's book Damsel to the Rescue. It's fantasy rather than SF, set in a world where princes and the sons of dukes routinely get abducted by villains, and it's the responsibility of the valiant damsels to rescue them (and then live happily ever after). Terrilyn Darkhorse descends from a long line of successful damsels but has no interest in taking part, until the local prince is abducted and Terrilyn's mother makes her an offer she can't refuse ("rescue him and we'll stop bugging you about being a damsel and rescuing people"). I thought it was smart and funny and managed to both use and cleverly subvert standard fantasy tropes.

(Sadly, although it's listed as book 1 of a series, I gather from what Sønderby has written elsewhere that there will not be further books in the series.)
posted by Lexica at 4:06 PM on July 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

I’m going to suggest something kind of nonstandard but at about 8th grade I discovered William Gibson and my mind was blown. His more recent work features female protagonists and I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend to the 14 and up crowd.
posted by q*ben at 4:14 PM on July 30, 2018 [2 favorites]

To Say Nothing of the Dog by Connie Willis. Screwball comedy + time travel. So funny and sweet. It's part of her loosely connected 'Oxford time travel' universe, but can be totally treated as a stand alone.
posted by lovecrafty at 4:42 PM on July 30, 2018 [4 favorites]

John Barnes' Orbital Resonance and sequels, and even possibly Heinlein's juveniles, most specifically Podkayne of Mars (and if she likes that, look up the story The Menace from Earth also.
posted by zadcat at 5:10 PM on July 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

More fantasy than SF, but excellent, and a female protagonist: The Golden Compass by Philip Pullman. Note that the movie was really bad, but the written trilogy is great.
posted by anadem at 6:10 PM on July 30, 2018 [3 favorites]

If she has an e-reader it is now very easy to get novellas. Some I've liked D. A. by Connie Willis--a young woman apprenticing for the star force. (My goodread note-to-myself is that it reminded me of Heinlein's juvenelia, mentioned above and also good.) Also the Penric and Desdemona series by Bujold (fantasy), which has a male protagonist but with a centuries old female demon inside him. And Karen Memory by Bear (western steampunk, some jokes but serious plot too.)

Non novellas with humor content: Anything by Christopher Moore (urban fantasy comedies more than SF), Installing Linux on a Dead Badger (tongue-in-cheek short stories of the intersection between necromancy and desktop computers). Straight SF with a female protagonist and some jokes--but not primarily humor--is Vatta's War by Moon.
posted by mark k at 6:36 PM on July 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

The True Meaning of Smekday might work.
posted by gudrun at 6:44 PM on July 30, 2018

If Fantasy is on the table (and this is more of a hybrid SF/F where most of the story takes place in an alternate history, but there is a major SF-like "thing" that exists and influences events)...

Depends on how mature (and how bloodthirsty) your middle-school daughter is, but Ash: A Secret History might be a subversive hit with her.

You'll have to decide whether it's appropriate. Lots of violence, sexual violence too. But strong younger female protagonist, and iirc very well written.
posted by porpoise at 7:02 PM on July 30, 2018

Self-link disclaimer (I'm a co-editor). Here's a yearly anthology of science fiction for younger readers, with an emphasis on diversity and representation: The Young Explorer's Adventure Guide.
posted by korej at 8:37 PM on July 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

Does she read graphic novels? I liked The Rise of Aurora West, which is the second in a series by Paul Pope (Battling Boy is the first).

Also Lumberjanes and all other things Noelle Stevenson.
posted by Lawn Beaver at 8:41 AM on July 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

Jo Walton's Among Others? It's more fantasy than SF -- there is magic -- but still a good fit with Dr. Who or Stranger Things. Young woman protagonist, compelling story, and a great branching-off point: the protagonist loves books and talks about her encounters with a lot of the SF&F classic works. I seriously want to go back and read everything that Mori reads. For me, some of the enjoyment was the connection over what I'd already read -- but I know at least one other person who really enjoyed it without having read many of those other books before.
posted by rossmik at 10:54 AM on July 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

I’ll vouch for the Young Explorer’s Aventure Guide! We’ve picked it up every year since it started, and my daughter loves it more than any other books we own. Which is a LOT of books...
posted by Andrhia at 12:38 PM on July 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

Artemis Fowl series by Eoin Colfer -- has fantasy elements but a lot of fun gadgets and gizmos, and a lot of understated humor.
Rite of Passage by Alexei Panshin -- classic spaceship lit featuring a young female protag
Airborn by Kenneth Oppel -- fun aircraft adventure series
In Real Life by Cory Doctrow / illustrated by Jen Wang -- the art is lovely and accessible and the story has a lot of talking points for a young person
Memoirs of Lady Trent -- AU Victorian-era field biologist studies dragons around the world (while being a lady).
Pendragon by DJ MacHale -- adventure-y... time-travelly... big bad defying... stuff. There's a lot to it, so here's the wiki page.

Not a book but still a good time travel story with a female protag: The Girl who Leapt Through Time

I think I saw Hexwood recced upthread, and for the record, young!snerson found it a difficult and confusing read. If your youngin has a hard time with it, encourage her to research a synopsis.
posted by snerson at 7:39 PM on July 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

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