Sci-Fi for young readers?
January 10, 2021 6:23 PM   Subscribe

Can you recommend an adventurous science fiction book series for early teens? Something space related would be nice but not required. Preferably not too much violence or depressing/dystopian themes. Series preferred over individual books.
posted by roaring beast to Media & Arts (26 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Space Case!
posted by goodbyewaffles at 6:36 PM on January 10

The Tripods by John Christopher. Important: read them in the order published.
posted by Rash at 7:25 PM on January 10 [5 favorites]

Check out Isaac Asimov's Robot series. Many (37!) short stories and six novels. Flat characters but seminal world building and great sort of logic/science puzzle mysteries. Very much golden age of space exploration sci-fi, and generally mild, proper, and non-violent by modern standards. I think I started with I, Robot (1950) around age 14 and loved it then and now, even though I've grown to view it more critically from 202X.
posted by SaltySalticid at 7:25 PM on January 10

The Halcyone Space series by L J Cohen is excellent YA science fiction. It deals with some serious themes, but with a light touch, and with a focus on friendship and hope.
posted by Zumbador at 8:10 PM on January 10

I'm not sure if it counts, but the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy was life-changing.
posted by rdn at 8:37 PM on January 10 [5 favorites]

Hitchhiker's Guide books are very good, particularly if your teen enjoys wordplay and nerdy themes/jokes. Discworld is also pretty great but it's a bit epic in scope.
posted by jessamyn at 8:40 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]

Dragon Pearl, by Yoon Ha Lee.
posted by carterk at 8:46 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]

The Tripods by John Christopher. Important: read them in the order published.
posted by Rash at 10:25 PM on January 10 [3 favorites +] [!]

(As a young teen, I found these to be extremely intense and depressing.)
posted by zeek321 at 9:55 PM on January 10 [2 favorites]

I'm not a fan of series SF - generally the first book sets things up and is great, and each further one feels more and more contrived.
There are exceptions: Roy Meyers' Dolphin Boy trilogy held up pretty well though in my opinion the first two are the best. I can usually tell when a book is good because my children pass it around and recommend it, and I get back a stack of loose pages.
Similarly, Burroughs' A Princess of Mars is wonderful, and there were about a dozen sequels, some good, some not. Both my wife and children loved these. (Burroughs also wrote Tarzan, which Dolphin Boy is obviously derived from, but given my choice I'd live in the ocean with dolphins rather than in the jungle with apes.)
Kevin O'Donnell's The Journeys of McGill Feighan series is very good. I'd forgotten it until someone mentioned it recently, and this was fifteen years after he'd read it. The part on doing the rite of passage is obviously based on McKenna's Mine Own Ways, but it's thoughtful and clever.
I should add the obvious observation: for people who read, age doesn't matter. Concentrate on what's good. Enthusiastic readers can absorb nearly anything.
I read John Wyndham's The Day of The Triffids when I was twelve, and still love it. It's an adult book, but there's nothing in it a young teenager can't handle. Clifford Simak's Way Station is the same. I usually keep several copies of both books around so I can give them away, and I've never had anyone give either less than a glowing rating, from adults down to children.
posted by AugustusCrunch at 12:41 AM on January 11

I liked Heinlein's so-called 'juvenile' novels when I was a teen; particularly Between Planets and The Star Beast. Together they all form a mutually consistent quasi-series.

I know some find Heinlein's politics to be problematic; I can't comment on whether that intrudes in his juvenile books. If it does, it was over my head when I read them.

Another extraordinary S.F. book I liked as a teen is Vogt's Slan.
posted by bertran at 1:06 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]

The stories about "Pirx, the Pilot" from Stanislaw Lem are fantastic. They are straightforward adventures about Pirx, who travels the galaxy on his own in his spaceship and has to overcome the most ridiculous and also mundane obstacles through wit and luck.
posted by SweetLiesOfBokonon at 2:15 AM on January 11 [4 favorites]

I've recommended this recently on Ask but Railhead by Philip Reeve is the first book in an excellent YA sci-fi trilogy that's a relatively easy read but still has enough about it to be interesting to older readers too. The premise is that sentient trains criss-cross the galaxy using portals built by a mysterious elder race. I loved it.
posted by Chairboy at 3:12 AM on January 11

Murderbot is actually quite appropriate for young teens. The first book, All Systems Red, takes place on a planet that's being surveyed, but the rest of the series is definitely space adventure.

The Illuminae Files is a YA series that is exactly this--it's an absolutely ripping adventure. Trilogy.

Mars Evacuees is good, but the characters are 12, so skew a bit young for someone older than that. Two books.

Brandon Sanderson's Skyward is a good YA adventure; it's about battling aliens, though most of it takes place around the planet they're defending. It is a series but only the first two are out.

I might recommend John Scalzi. The Collapsing Empire and Old Man's War are two series that might be of interest. The characters do have sex, but it's all offscreen and not a main point. I might give Old Man's War to my 12 year old if he wanted space adventure.
posted by gideonfrog at 5:06 AM on January 11 [2 favorites]

Seconding Martha Wells' Murderbot - actually quite wholesome imo.

When I read Brandon Sanderson's Skyward earlier last year I thought about how I would have loved it as a young teen. It would be a nice alternative to Ender's Game.

I think this was about the age I read Hitchhiker's Guide to The Galaxy.
posted by esker at 5:40 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]

Try the Akata Witch series by Nnedi Okorafor.
posted by childofTethys at 6:20 AM on January 11

Although I realize these authors are unpopular around here, seconding the Heinlein juveniles, as well as the Asimov Lucky Starr series. I enjoyed them very much, when I was much younger.
posted by Rash at 8:03 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]

I was also reading Ray Bradbury when I was in sixth grade, maybe try some Martian Chronicles.
posted by Rash at 8:07 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]

When I was that age I read a lot of Arthur C. Clarke.
posted by ovvl at 8:43 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]

Thanks for so many great responses, everyone.
posted by roaring beast at 10:22 AM on January 11

I thoroughly enjoyed How Rory Thorne Destroyed the Multiverse and its sequel. Light space opera with a teenaged protagonist. billed as the Princess Bride meets Princess Leia (that may be a bit of an oversell, but...) it's a fun space adventure with some nice worldbuilding and a solid, satisfying story.
posted by OHenryPacey at 10:24 AM on January 11 [1 favorite]

A few more recent books (not that there's anything wrong with Heinlein and Asimov, but they may not connect):

Earth Girl by Janet Edwards (only those who are allergic to other planets live on Earth); has a couple of sequels
Martians Abroad by Carrie Vaughn (one sequel)
Stray by Andrea K Host (Aussie girl falls through a wormhole to another planet); several sequels
Binti by Nnedi Okorafor (tw sequels)
The Dark Colony by Richard Penn, maybe? Space colonies in the asterod belt. The dark colony of the name has abusive situations but the victims are rescued/rescue themselves. Has sequels.
Starglass by Phoebe North

Early teens is also when I started reading adult SFF. Both the "Year's Best SF" and the "Year's Best Science Fiction" anthologies were being produced by respected editors until a short time ago- that might be a good way to go?

Otherwise, trying to pick ones where romance isn't a huge driver: the Murderbot series is definitely a possibility. John Scalzi is good adventure stuff. Oathbreaker by J Kathleen Cheney - set entirely on a colonised planet (two sequels, and there's another connected series). Polar City Blues by Katherine Kerr. The early Miles Vorkosign series. Learning the World by Ken Macleod. Ancillary Justice. A Long Way To A Short Angry Planet. Oh, the Xandri Corelel books by Kaia Sonderby.
posted by Shark Hat at 12:58 PM on January 11 [1 favorite]

Terry Pratchett, in addition to the Discworld books mentioned above, also did a lovely series for younger readers, the Bromeliad Trilogy. To describe it in terms of other series you might have read, it's a bit like the Borrowers or the Littles had to develop a space program. Urgently.

Also boosting Murderbot, although I still think the violence might be too much. Should know by the first book.
posted by ivan ivanych samovar at 2:56 PM on January 11

Aurora Rising, by the same authors as The Illuminae Files mentioned above.
posted by yesbut at 5:00 PM on January 11

I’m not so sure about Murderbot either - the character turns out to be warm, but the world is so dark. The sexbots dying in the sloppy killbot rampage is dark several layers deep. Depends on the 12yo.

I read a whole lot of Andre Norton at that age - more kinds of characters than Heinlein or Asimov had, as I recall, though it was a long time ago. ...Holy cats, she published from 1934 to 2005. And there’s fifteen years of nominations for the Norton Award for SFF for the young to mine. Of her own books, the Witch World Series.
posted by clew at 7:02 PM on January 11 [2 favorites]

The Young Wizards books by Diane Duane are great! They're about young teens who live in our world and practice wizardry (i.e. are busy saving the world over and over again) against the background of their everyday lives.

It's technically about magic, but the "wizardry" comes off as much more science fiction-y than fantasy-ish, often with a lot of hard sf-ish detail about outer space, ecosystems, and biology. There's stuff like travel to other universes and planets, meeting alien races, etc. along with smaller-scale daily magic.

The series is about ten books long, and though it deals with serious topics like death, it's not violent at all and is quite anti-violent and optimistic/hopeful in its outlook.
posted by fire, water, earth, air at 3:17 AM on January 13 [1 favorite]

Seconding A Long Way To A Short Angry Planet by Becky Chambers and its sequels (the Wayfarers series). My daughter read these in fifth or sixth grade.
posted by mbrubeck at 9:13 AM on January 14

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