Books like "The Martian" (for a 9-year-old)
October 10, 2020 4:32 PM   Subscribe

My 9-year-old read "The Martian" for the first time about six weeks ago and is now on his third read-through of it. He reads it for HOURS at a time. So, I want to get him more books like The Martian! Specifics within.

He's a very advanced reader (obviously) but has been a reluctant reader of fiction. He is obsessed with The Martian. We let him see the movie when he was 4 and obsessed with Mars, as long as he promised not to repeat Mark Watney's "astronaut words" until he himself was an astronaut. At the start of the school year, he was watching the movie again, and I sent the book to his kindle and told him he was probably old enough for it.

He liked that it was an exciting fiction story, but it was chock-full of actual facts, and that Mark Watney was sometimes funny. (Mark Watney using F-bombs definitely helped, he's in the "giggle about bad words" phase.)

Can you recommend other books that are similarly fact-heavy with an engaging story? We don't mind obscenities and adventure/danger is okay (even death is okay if it's serving the story). General human sexuality is fine. But we'd like to avoid graphic violence, graphic sex, and gross misogyny.

I thought about some golden-age sci-fi, but a lot of it involves facts/speculation that have since been supplanted, plus extremely gross misogyny. He otherwise enjoys encyclopedic fact-heavy books like "The Works" by Kate Ascher, or kids' graphic novels like Dogman. Basically if it's fact-y, he's reading like a college freshman and super-engaged, and if it's fiction-y, he's reading like a second-grader and just wants bathroom humor. So "The Martian" has hit a real sweet spot where he's willing to engage with a (loooooooong) work of fiction that isn't a graphic novel, and we and his teacher are all very excited that he's finally willing to read a novel voluntarily and would like to give him more of the same! (And he would like to read more of the same and approved this question.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee to Media & Arts (54 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
(He literally reads it for 6 hours at a stretch and growls at people who try to distract him and it warms the cockles of my bookish heart.)
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 4:34 PM on October 10, 2020 [19 favorites]

Michelle Cooper's Dr. Huxlye's Bequest: A History of Medicine in Thirteen Objects. I have not read the book but I have read Cooper's [Montmaray Journals] trilogy and really enjoyed it.

Here's an excerpt from the book
posted by Constance Mirabella at 5:01 PM on October 10, 2020

It's been a while since I read them, but this very much describes Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy.

(Note: He has later also-fiction books that are basically like: I was WRONG we are nowhere NEAR ready for any planet but Earth)
posted by aniola at 5:03 PM on October 10, 2020 [4 favorites]

I wouldn't assume it's the science fictional aspects that are the most important to him. I think I know what it is – it's the point of view: an engrossing first-person account of a difficult situation and exactly what the narrator is doing about it, and why. The closest thing I know is The Wasp Factory but it's not suitable for a kid. Riddley Walker is also a bit like this, but not suitable for other reasons (dense dialect). But there must be books told in the first person by people who had to survive when lost at sea, or on difficult voyages, which would grab him in the same way, whether fictional or non.
posted by zadcat at 5:08 PM on October 10, 2020 [3 favorites]

I wonder if he might like the second Becky Chambers book, A Closed and Common Orbit?

The two main characters are an AI that's gotten a body and a 10-year-old girl who's been raised by droids as basically a parts-scavenging slave - the girl escapes, and with the help of an AI she finds in an abandoned ship, she learns to find food, read, speak a more widely-spoken language, and more.

I would suggest you read it first in case any of the violence is inappropriate for young McGee ... and also just because it's a really good book and I think YOU might like it your own self.

(Note: the book is sort of minimally related to the first Wayfarers book, but it is completely unnecessary to read that one first.)
posted by kristi at 5:14 PM on October 10, 2020 [7 favorites]

Has he read Artemis, Andy Weir’s second novel? It has a female protagonist but otherwise feels very similar. You/others should confirm but I don’t remember graphic sex/violence or misogyny.

The Becky Chambers books are great but may not hit the same spot for him - they tend to be much more focused on relationships than plot or facts.

He might like Falling Free by Lois McMaster Bujold - it’s pretty engineery, the main character is an engineer who teaches zero-g welding, and the author is the daughter of a famous engineer who wrote a lot of the textbooks for his field. There is some sex for sure - you’d have to see if it’s too graphic for him. MeMail me if you want me to send you Kindle screenshots from the relevant scenes. If he likes it, the books from her Vorkosigan Saga where Miles is young might also be good - I’m specifically thinking the novella Weatherman that is also part of the novel The Vor Game. Still a lot of science fiction with “assume this is true” facts that don’t necessarily hold up with current science (they have wormhole travel between planets, etc.). Both Falling Free and Weatherman can be read as stand-alone books.
posted by bananacabana at 5:34 PM on October 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

For some reason my first thought was The Hunt for Red October - many facts, much problem solving. I know someone who read it at around your son's age and loved it. Does he like the competence porn aspect? I see the Master and Commander series described in those terms a lot but get the impression it might be too mature to hold his interest.
posted by eerie magi at 5:50 PM on October 10, 2020 [3 favorites]

I would definitely give him Hatchet - same “guy has to save himself from the hostile environment using only his smarts” narrative.

I would not give him the Kim Stanley Robinson Mars books as suggested above - there is too much weird fraught sex/relationship stuff in them for a prepubescent kid.
posted by showbiz_liz at 5:51 PM on October 10, 2020 [20 favorites]

If violence/etc. is okay, a modern Mars series is Red Rising. I would definitely look into it first just to make sure it jives with what you're okay with.... it's basically a more brutal Harry Potter in Mars if it was also Rome.

Definitely read Skyward (and its sequel). Not necessarily very "factdriven", but the world building is important to the story and that might work for him. It's written by Brandon Sanderson, so no worries about sexuality and that sort of thing. I feel like his entire library fits your requirements, if he ends up attaching to world-building.

I loved advanced reading when I was his age (I read Jurassic Park in Grade 2), and I loved the Foundation series and some Heinlein at around that age, so I definitely connect with that drive to read and am excited he gets to explore these worlds. :)
posted by aggyface at 5:51 PM on October 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

Seconding the Becky Chambers rec. First book is more space opera, but the second one has significant first person problem solving to rebuild the shop. I recall some things that may need to be framed properly (like the kid having escaped from slave labor), but zip through it yourself first and be prepared and I think it'll work out.
posted by hankscorpio83 at 5:53 PM on October 10, 2020

If you think he could tolerate ancient history and how we got to the world where the Martian was plausible, then how about The Right Stuff?

One of my sons was only a little older, ten or eleven, when he first read it (I think he might have seen the 1983 movie first, but he loved the book). Tom Wolfe may be writing nonfiction, but he uses all the techniques of fiction to make his account compelling and god knows it’s one of humanity’s great stories.
posted by Quinbus Flestrin at 6:01 PM on October 10, 2020 [8 favorites]

What about John Christopher's Tripods trilogy? It would definitely check the problem-solving and engaging story aspects. Also, the protagonists are young people and nothing in the books would be age-inappropriate, but at the same time the books are engaging and clever. Something that really drew me in as a kid reading those books was the characters finding and figuring out what different relics may have been used for. If you've not read the trilogy, it is about a future Earth where humans have been enslaved by an alien race (so the things they find are historical relics for them, but everyday objects for the reader). My daughter read these books around your son's age and loved them too.

A warning re the Red Rising books: I've read these and found them super over-the-top violent... and for perspective I've enjoyed all theGame of Thrones books (except the last one I guess which kind of sucked), & also let my kid read the Hunger Games when she was about 11.
posted by DTMFA at 6:05 PM on October 10, 2020 [6 favorites]

I remember reading Swiss Family Robinson multiple times, for similar reasons - competent people MacGuyver themselves a home/food/etc. after a shipwreck. Much ingenuity. Less cursing. Probably misogyny given the era.

I second Hatchet, and would add Island of the Blue Dolphin (another "marooned person" children's book).
posted by mersen at 6:06 PM on October 10, 2020 [14 favorites]

Also, I wonder if he might appreciate a Wrinkle in Time? Again not quite what you're looking for, yet may still be a good fit.
posted by DTMFA at 6:10 PM on October 10, 2020

I would suggest "Alexander X (Battle For Forever Book 1)" by Edward Savio. For what it's worth Amazon's listing mentions Young Adult, but you say he's advanced and you'd also have to vet it. I don't want to give spoilers but let's just say that the protagonist has had to deal with a very difficult situation that affects every aspect of his life for a long, long time and it starts to get even worse. He is constantly having to use his wits and make difficult decisions. And whereas "The Martian" is heavily science laden, "Alexander X" is heavily world history laden (plus related science and military). That might hook his non-fiction interest (?).
posted by forthright at 6:15 PM on October 10, 2020

I remember reading Swiss Family Robinson multiple times...

OK, just a quick word of warning here. There are many many editions of SFR, and the closer you get to the 1812 first printing, and to the original language, the more... um, no polite way to write this.. German... it gets.

I'm speaking from sad experience here, because I loved the book so much that I tracked down earlier, non-condensed versions, and was absolutely horrified (in my mid-20s, no less!) at multiple passages like this, which I will render into my own words:

"We continued upon this jungle trail, when suddenly a large bird of enormous tufted blue and yellow plumage sprang into flight from a bole at our feet. 'Johan,' I said with excitement, we are surely the first white men to see this rare creature.' BOOM, Fritz's shotgun rang out, and we dined very well that night on the beast's succulent flesh, which was most tender and prized by the whole family. (LATER) 'Look, MaMa,' Jack cried, "The rare testuda magnificata, the Madagascar turtle! By it's size it has lived for more than a century.' With a quick swing of his shovel, he neatly decapitated the huge tortoise. 'We shall boil our soup in it's empty shell tonight!'"

Seriously, in the earlier editions, there are episodes like this on almost every page. It's very much a product of its time. I don't normally advocate for Bowdlerized editions, but this is a case where I think you should definitely aim for a more Americanized, Disneyfied, edited edition. ;)
posted by seasparrow at 6:25 PM on October 10, 2020 [5 favorites]

I would recommend My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George. It's not science fiction, but it is a story about using one's wits to survive a hostile environment — a kid runs away from home and survives a harsh winter in the wilderness. I loved it when I was a kid and thought of it often as I read The Martian.

(Apparently there's a whole series now; it was a standalone book when I read it).
posted by thedward at 6:30 PM on October 10, 2020 [30 favorites]

Okay one more - how about Into Thin Air? It is a climber/journalist's account of a Mt. Everest expedition that turned into a disaster due to various factors, including weather. People die, but it is an interesting & engaging account. I think it would be okay for a mature 9 year old? I enjoyed learning about how Everest expeditions operate, and there is definitely a lot of problem solving/figuring stuff out to survive. My daughter really loved it although when she picked it up she was 13.
posted by DTMFA at 6:39 PM on October 10, 2020 [5 favorites]

The Martian is unusual in how accurate its facts are, for fiction. If handwavy science doesn’t scratch the same itch, maybe age appropriate biographies and autobiographies would do? Plenty of compassion and history in paying attention to real people’s lives.

I know I read a ton of these as a kid, but can’t remember specifics. My shelves are pretty dour and grownup - oho! Samurai William isn’t too gory, iirc, and he rebuilds a whole circumnavigating ship from memory.
posted by clew at 6:41 PM on October 10, 2020

I was coming to them having played Myst and Riven extensively, but I think the Myst Reader novels stand on their own well enough, and they follow scientifically-minded nerds (including at least two female ones, though I remember both as having been on pedestals of sorts rather than fully developed characters) around on journeys of various discoveries. They aren't real like The Martian, but there's plenty of internal logic and the same strong world-building as was in the games, and they are definitely meant to be read by young people, rather than being adult books that a precocious kid might be able to handle.
posted by teremala at 7:02 PM on October 10, 2020

It's not fiction, though it is speculative, but what about "What if" by Randall Monroe? Lots of cool interesting facts in there.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 7:13 PM on October 10, 2020 [4 favorites]

The Tripods books are really good and very engaging and thought-provoking.

I hated everything about Artemis - it has virtually nothing of what made The Martian interesting.
posted by mogget at 7:25 PM on October 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

100% yes to Hatchet as well as Gary Paulsen’s other YA novels (Hatchet has multiple sequels). He also wrote a nonfiction book, Winterdance, about his attempt to train a dog sled team and run the Iditarod. It’s got lots of humorous parts - early on he has no idea how powerful the dogs are and hooks the full team up to his bike (!) and they fly for dozens of miles during a practice run while he hangs on for dear life, and keep veering off course to chase rabbits as he crashes into trees. It has lots of fact sprinkled in about husky dogs and dogsledding and Arctic weather survival.
posted by castlebravo at 8:01 PM on October 10, 2020 [6 favorites]

I also came in to rec My Side of the Mountain. I thought about it a lot while reading The Martian. My fantastic fifth grade teacher read it to us out loud as "a book there won't be any tests on"; I think it's just right for the age of your kid and has a lot of the kind of detail and perseverance of spirit that he might be looking for.
posted by Mizu at 8:18 PM on October 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

I think My Side of the Mountain is a good reco, my 9 year old loves it. I'm going to suggest something a little different, because I think kids sometimes get obsessed because they are so hungry for experiences, and don't realize how MANY there are to be had. A book I loved as a child (and where I first learned to count in binary) is Chocky, by John Wyndham.
posted by SNACKeR at 8:29 PM on October 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

20,000 Leagues Under the Sea is surprisingly similar to The Martian. A rollicking tale with accurate descriptions of estimated scientific achievements around the corner, written in an episodic style.

Another one might be Moby Dick, but replace the spaceships and methane production with a sailing ship and tying knots.

By Tom Clancy, if you like hardware, in particular Red Storm Rising, and The Hunt For Red October
posted by nickggully at 8:31 PM on October 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

He might like Diane Duane's Young Wizardry series. It's up to 10 books now and the interesting thing is that it's wizardry filtered very much through the concept of science. It reminds me much of Arthur C. Clarke's "indistinguishable from magic" quote in that there are very specific things that must be done and that it's basically a service one takes upon one's self. It's also, unlike Potter and other such things, something that takes place with kids in the real world who have to go to school and deal with mankind's emotions and have to deal with real responsibilities and such.
posted by metabaroque at 8:50 PM on October 10, 2020 [3 favorites]

Farley Mowat's Never Cry Wolf, Lost in the Barrens, The Curse of the Viking Grave.

Never Cry Wold is about a scientist studying and surviving with a pack of wolves. It's a heavily fictionalized autobiography of Mowat's own studies. The book was instrumental in curbing wolf culls in both Canada and Russia.

Lost in the Barrens and The Curse of the Viking Grave are a rough douology about a pair of boys, one white and one aboriginal, surviving in the far north. The first features a trek for survival much like The Martian requiring resilience and problem solving. The second is the same characters trying to save their village from a disease outbreak.

All three have been made into movies though Never Cry Wolf is the better interpretation. (Warning: the movie is a bit more adult than the book IMO and does have brief male full frontal male nudity and flashes of bare buttocks.
posted by Mitheral at 8:58 PM on October 10, 2020 [5 favorites]

Thinking of YA books with a scientific exploration edge, I wonder if the Search for WondLa books would interest him? I only read the first one but it's about a young girl who's raised in isolation by a robot and has to learn to survive on what might be another planet. It has good illustrations too.
posted by fiercekitten at 9:13 PM on October 10, 2020

Hal Clement's Mission of Gravity is a golden-ager both of you might be able to tolerate.

Clement was a science teacher with a Bachelor's in astronomy and a Master's in chemistry; I read it when I was 10, I think, and I learned a ton about gravity, centrifugal force, planetary rotation and orbits, weather, weight and its relation to gravity, and etc. It's basically a mission impossible adventure story in which the mission is the retrieval of a probe which crashed on the pole of a planet where the gravity at the poles is a couple hundred times the gravity at the equator because the planet is spinning so fast, and because that has caused the planet to assume the shape of a flying saucer. Half the narration is in the voice of a centipede-shaped alien whom humans have recruited to lead the mission because they can barely tolerate even the gravity at the equator.
posted by jamjam at 9:27 PM on October 10, 2020 [3 favorites]

You'd probably eventually have to explain about him fucking teenaged boys, but Clarke's _A Fall of Moondust_ might fit?

A boatlike thing for lunar dust gets "sunk" by a gas bubble and a bunch of people have to science the shit out of it to save the crew and passengers. IIRC the most "adult" thing in it is they sedate the passengers so's they use less oxygen and one of them freaks out because he's a injection drug user who'd been Clockwork Orange'd out of it. I don't remember gross misogyny but am male and haven't read it in, oh, at least ten years.

Downside: no brightly-speaking narrator, just Clarke being third person omniscient (IIRC). He might well find the story engaging but the writing insufferable.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 9:30 PM on October 10, 2020

Adore The Martian. I was reading a LOT of Michael Crichton at that age. Faves were Jurassic Park, Sphere, and the Andromeda Strain. Lost World too but that one didn't come out until I was a bit older. Less quantifiable fact based when it comes to the overall plot, more speculation, but plenty of technical descriptions and a good but not gratuitous mix of astronaut words. Plus, they're all movies to watch and compare to later--fun! There is some misogyny because Crichton is a dick, but I grew up into a mega feminist anyway. (Remember, the dinosaurs are ladies and they eat men almost exclusively. The casual misogyny went over my head as a third grader but you better believe I remembered the boys all got eaten.)
posted by phunniemee at 9:36 PM on October 10, 2020 [13 favorites]

Going to nth the tripod books if you can find them, Farley Mowat , The Hatchet and My Side of the Mountain. And i’m going to add the Lord of the Rings - he’s ready 😀 but start with the Hobbit - and Watership Down, which I read obsessively at about the same age.
posted by mygothlaundry at 9:37 PM on October 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

I wouldn't assume it's the science fictional aspects that are the most important to him. I think I know what it is – it's the point of view: an engrossing first-person account of a difficult situation and exactly what the narrator is doing about it, and why.

This isn't a callout necessarily to this particular comment, but in general, I would trust Eyebrows' assessment of her own kid. I have tried my entire life to explain why I like particular books and not others while other people who are not fans of hard sci fi try to diagnose what they think I actually like about books. No, I really do actually enjoy this 30 page digression about how this fictional computer program runs. Yes, I want another book where someone spends 10 chapters solving their problems with chemistry. A fondness for highly technical fiction is not a pathology. Some people, I am one of them, really do think the best part of Apollo 13 is when they dump the parts on the table. For some people, the science & technical aspects in the story are more important than the characters or their situation.

It's a conversation I have had over and over and over in my life and my heart bleeds for any other small nerds trying to find their way in a sea of space opera and fantasy.
posted by phunniemee at 9:50 PM on October 10, 2020 [18 favorites]

Oh! Yes! Back to the Moon by Homer Hickham. Written by a NASA aerospace engineer about a well-meaning, off-label use (borrowing? hijacking?) of the space shuttle Columbia to go to the moon (the heroes have a good reason). All the same good stuff as The Martian in terms of brilliant people winging it in space, with real technology.
posted by amaire at 9:52 PM on October 10, 2020

Maybe, Neal Stephenson. In particular the first 2/3 of Seveneves. It falls apart at the end.
posted by willnot at 9:54 PM on October 10, 2020 [1 favorite]

Also! Has he read the Ender's Game series? I LOVED that as a kid because it's about brilliant genius kids - but they are adult fiction. (Less heavy on facts, but it's very smart. And deep and philosophical. They can be a little dark, but I read them in 3rd grade (age 9).) The Ender books proceed past childhood, but there are the Bean and Petra books (the "Shadow" series) which feature them still as kids, at least at first.

I bet he would also love Michael Crichton novels like Prey (nanobots), Sphere, Jurassic Park, The Andromeda Strain. Fast-paced science thrillers that I adored as a kid.
posted by amaire at 9:56 PM on October 10, 2020 [4 favorites]

Homer Hickham also wrote Rocket Boys, about miner's sons building model rockets at the start of the space age:

With the grace of a natural storyteller, NASA engineer Homer Hickam paints a warm, vivid portrait of the harsh West Virginia mining town of his youth, evoking a time of innocence and promise, when anything was possible, even in a company town that swallowed its men alive. A story of romance and loss, of growing up and getting out, Homer Hickam's lush, lyrical memoir is a chronicle of triumph—at once exquisitely written and marvelously entertaining.
posted by monotreme at 10:01 PM on October 10, 2020 [5 favorites]

some misogeny as a struggle for the protagonist, but I LOVE the "Lady Astronaut Series" by Mary Robinette Kowal.
posted by alchemist at 11:55 PM on October 10, 2020 [2 favorites]

I loved Tristan Jones' books at his age. I still do. They're all about his exploits sailing and getting into trouble, and they're true. I very often read SF, but Jones, who isn't, is a favourite.
Half-Safe is about a man and his wife trying to drive around the world in a completely unseaworthy amphibious jeep. It ends halfway round, and there's a sequel I've never seen. It's very good.
I think Clarke's Earthlight is the best thing he ever wrote. It's about a war in the future, and the technology gets better until it's like magic, but the people are still people.
The Black Cloud presents ideas that are impossible, and yet might be real. It's very addictive, and everyone I've given it to has loved it. It was the first book I read which showed me that ideas are as important as the plot, and it's a solid mass of ideas, and intelligent people trying to figure out what's going on and deal with it.
Clifford Simak's City is one of the books you remember years later. I think his Way Station is is best work, but people differ on this. I have never given anyone a copy of Way Station who didn't love it.
Poul Anderson's BrainWave got read a lot when my children abandoned other books, probably for being too advanced or odd.
Also Roy Meyers' Dolphin Boy trilogy. John Averill isn't about to hang out in the jungle with a pack of apes - he lives in the ocean and is raised by dolphins. I've seen an older child browbeat a younger one into reading these, which I think is a solid recommendation.
posted by AugustusCrunch at 12:27 AM on October 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

There's an Australian YA series Space Demons by Gillian Rubenstein written in the late 80's that has kids being sucked into a video game and have to work together to find their way out. One of the books, Skymaze, is one of those books that has stayed with me 20 years after I first read it. If you can get them on Kindle they're worth a shot (though there's likely some technological hurdles and you may have to explain why you'd have to type RUN to play a game).

Artemis is ok, not as good as the Martian, and also features a prototype of a reusable condom which may or may not be an issue.
posted by cholly at 1:42 AM on October 11, 2020

When I was about your kid’s age I read a trilogy of YA books (the Giants trilogy) by James P Hogan - I particularly loved the first one, Inherit the Stars, and I think it ticks a lot of your boxes. The set up is great: an expedition to the moon finds a human skeleton in a space suit, but dating reveals that it’s 50 thousand years old. The story follows a team of scientists as they gradually put together the pieces of the mystery. The trilogy brings in more overtly science fiction elements in the second and third books, but the first novel (as I recall) is quite firmly rooted in hard science and it’s about smart people (admittedly pretty much all men, which is not ideal, but these were written probably over thirty years ago now) applying logic to solve problems. I adored it and read it many times around that age. I’m not sure if it’s still in print, but might be worth trying to hunt down.
posted by damsel with a dulcimer at 2:42 AM on October 11, 2020 [2 favorites]

"How to Invent Everything: A Survival Guide for the Stranded Time-Traveller" by Ryan North is technically narrative non-fiction, but very much reads as a novel. The premise, as you might guess, is that your time machine broke and you have to invent society from scratch. It is extremely funny and very much based on "okay, you have basically nothing, here's how to make solutions". He will learn A Lot and there are zero issues with sexism, racism, violence, ect. It is long but there's poop jokes. It's one of the few books I've reas that hit that Martian sweet spot which I think I love for identical reasons. Highly recommended!
posted by hapaxes.legomenon at 7:35 AM on October 11, 2020 [7 favorites]

Bill Bryson's "A Short History of Nearly Everything" is not fiction and not about space travel but it has similarly engrossing stories about science.
posted by pazazygeek at 10:19 AM on October 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

Maybe, Neal Stephenson. In particular the first 2/3 of Seveneves. It falls apart at the end.

I'd respectfully disagree on Seveneves. One of the things that makes Martian priceless is how well Andy Weir depicts human reactions on the page. In fact, it's one of his best writing qualities, if you look up his other work (he is the author of a famous Internet viral short, "The Egg", in which you learn something quite amazing after dying).

Seveneves is an absolute polar reverse on that. Everyone reacts to their situation almost inhumanly – and that's not the word 'inhumane', that's the word 'inhuman' – they are moved around the plot emotionlessly. It's a polar opposite to Weir's writing, and if he liked Martian, Seveneves is going to be very unpalatable (as it was, honestly, to me).

Mind you, it's a flaw that's present in some of Stephenson's later, more recent work, but not in his earlier work, which might be of interest at a later age, i.e., Snow Crash or Diamond Age. He definitely could enjoy them at some point with appropriate supervision or introduction, but there's a lot of sexual elements that would be (at least IMO) premature to introduce to a child's reading. (I'm thinking, hoo boy, of the explicit sex in Snow Crash and a particular self-defense mechanism ... )
posted by metabaroque at 11:25 AM on October 11, 2020

I think Have Spacesuit, Will Travel is best in class of Heinlein’s juveniles, and avoids many of the issues of his other works because there’s no love interest. IIRC there is a three-page description of space suit mechanics.
posted by bq at 1:21 PM on October 11, 2020 [1 favorite]

Treasure Island slaps: tons of atmospheric detail and descriptions of sailing gear & technology, sailing culture & mores, plus adventure and pirates obvs.

I agree on Crichton. Very page turney and convincing even though it's totally bullshit science obviously it feels convincing.

Maybe Jules Verne although we listened to them on audiobook when my kiddo was that age and she did ultimately bounce off of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea. A few too many details about submarine equipment and weird underwater fauna.

Sherlock Holmes.

I did love Heinlein & Ray Bradbury at that age.

I bet you'd find some good ideas searching the or Io9 archives - like this list.
posted by latkes at 2:59 PM on October 11, 2020

I would strongly recommend "We Are Legion (We Are Bob)". It's about Bob, who dies and whose consciousness get's uploaded to one of the first interstellar probes. But on his way th Alpha Centauri humankind starts the third world war, and as he is equipped with self replicating machinery, he begins building copies of himself, and the Bobs are starting to explore the universe.
There's no sex, no graphic violence (besides the end of mankind) and it's full of technical details about nanobots, machine consciousness, dyson spheres, building a nanofactory, travel to other star systems, time dilation etc.
posted by SweetLiesOfBokonon at 3:43 AM on October 12, 2020

Lots of great suggestions in here. I'll throw in Hornblower (maybe start with Lieutenant Hornblower). Like The Martian it's kind of Gary Sue smart boy solves all the problems by carefully explained engineering. There are also some "slow" social interaction bits, but its classic literature for kids of this type. It's almost 70 years old, and set in the 17th Century, so there is a fair amount of racism, classism, etc, but for what it's worth the racism tends to be against the Spanish and French, and the author is winking at it as he writes it.
posted by agentofselection at 10:49 AM on October 12, 2020

Greg Egan is full of solid ideas carefully worked out, but might be beyond a nine year old. Check out The Clockwork Rocket and Permutation City if you’re curious. I know I read a lot of stuff that I missed most of as a kid, that part’s fine, I just don’t know if the plot is understandable for a beginner reader. Clockwork Rocket especially is nothing but a comprehensive research program undertaken to save the world.

Or, easier, MJ Locke’s Up Against It, which is pretty much a Heinlein juvenile written by a modern non-creep.
posted by clew at 11:42 AM on October 12, 2020

He might enjoy the Mad Scientists' Club series, which is about a group of teenage boys creating gadgetry out of an endless supply of army surplus gear in order to engage in wacky hijinks. The author was an engineering analyst for Lockheed Martin and also wrote books on rocketry, and they are obviously written by someone who, as my engineer brother put it, "knows how to build [stuff]."

I wonder if he would enjoy the classic Little Fuzzy, by H. Beam Piper, which is a reasonably hard-science story about a space miner slowly coming to the conclusion that the adorable little native animals are actually sapient, tool-using creatures, and the implications for a mining company's monopoly on the planet's resources. (This novel has actually been rewritten/updated by John Scalzi, as Fuzzy Nation, but I haven't read that version.)

It sounds like you're all set for graphic novels, but he might like the Nathan Hale's Hazardous Tales series if he hasn't already read them. They are nonfiction middle-grade graphic novels with true historical subjects, but they are very much about the story/narrative and have a quartet of British/American characters in each book providing frame story, commentary, and occasional goofy humor. They might provide a good transition between true nonfiction and
posted by The Elusive Architeuthis at 12:05 PM on October 12, 2020

I happened to see this list referenced on Hacker News today.

Andy Weir - "The Martian"

Charles Stross - "Accelerando"

Daniel Suarez - "Daemon"

David Brin - "Sundiver"

Dennis E Taylor - "We Are Legion We Are Bob"

John Sandford - "Saturn Run"

Fred Hoyle - "The Black Cloud"

Gregory Benford, David Brin - "Heart of the Comet"

Greg Egan's "Schild's Ladder", "Axiomatic", "The Clockwork Rocket", etc.

James P Hogan - "Inherit the Stars"

Kim Stanley Robinson (KSR) - Mars Trilogy, "Aurora"

Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle - "Footfall"

localroger's "Passages in the Void" series.

Octavia Bulter - "Lillith's Brood"

Paul J McAuley - "The Quiet War"

Poul Anderson - "Tau Zero"

Peter Watts - "Blindsight"/"Echopraxia", "Rifters"

Robert L. Forward - "Starquake"/"Dragon's Egg"

Rosemary Kirstein - "The Steerswoman's Road"

Robert Zubrin - "First Landing"

Simon Funk - "AfterLife"

Steve Perry - "The Man Who Never Missed"

Stephen Baxter - "Titan"

Stanislaw Lem - "His Master"s Voice"

Ted Chiang - "Exhalation" "Understand" and all his other shorts.

Tobias Buckell - "System Reset"

Vernor Vinge - "Rainbow's End"

William R Forstchen - "One Year After"
posted by stinkfoot at 5:01 AM on October 13, 2020

Having read some of Watts' work, do not give that to your child. Watts is an excellent writer but he's incredibly dark.

I think my favourites from around that age are:

1. Isaac Asimov's Foundation and Robots series'.
2. Larry Niven's Known Space books (Ringworld, Protector, etc.) Note that Niven's work tends to have a lot of sex and I have no idea how regressive it is. I was waaaay to young to get it when I read those books. Also, Niven kind of milkshake-ducked politically over the last couple of decades.
3. Heinlein's juveniles. And also not-so-juveniles, at that. (I remember enjoying Number of the Beast which probably does not say good things about young me as a discerning reader.)
4. Fred Saberhagen's Berserker series.

And probably others that I've forgotten.
posted by suetanvil at 12:51 AM on October 17, 2020

Andy Weir got started in writing with a short story, that's well, a favorite of mine.

"The Egg",
posted by talldean at 12:06 PM on October 17, 2020

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