Scifi Books for a 13yo
January 14, 2021 7:13 AM   Subscribe

My 13yo loved The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet but they're sort of meh on A Closed and Common Orbit. Also loved The Last Human (by Zack Jordan) and the Not Your Sidekick series. What should they read now?

Social Justice and LGBTQ+ themes are very welcome.
posted by signal to Media & Arts (23 answers total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
Maybe it hasn't held up for modern teens, but in my experience 13 is THE AGE to read Hitchhiker's Guide to the Universe for the first time.
posted by theweasel at 7:16 AM on January 14 [8 favorites]

Maybe try the Murderbot Diaries? It definitely has more violence, but in a good way (as much as violence can be good?).

The main character is on a journey of learning who it is and how to be itself in a society that has strong stereotypes/expectations about what it should be. It slowly goes from hiding its true self to learning to be itself.
posted by jpeacock at 7:27 AM on January 14 [15 favorites]

Lem's Cyberiad, maybe.

All the POV characters are male, basically, but aside from that it's goofy and clever enough that it stands up well.
posted by sebastienbailard at 7:34 AM on January 14 [2 favorites]

Some of Scalzi's stuff would be fun for thirteen year olds too - Redshirts or maybe Fuzzy Nation?

Oh, and the Binti trilogy has recently been republished with all three books in one. Not in the same theme of rollicking space adventure, but definitely full of representation and justice (and healing from injustice).
posted by theweasel at 7:42 AM on January 14 [2 favorites]

May get shot down hard on Metafilter, but I loved the Ender's Game series around that age, though the later books get more adult. The Ender's Shadow series stays more YA.
posted by slide at 7:52 AM on January 14

If comics/graphic novels work: On a Sunbeam by Tillie Walden

Finna by Nino Cipri
posted by carrioncomfort at 8:15 AM on January 14

Here to also rec Hitchhiker's Guide and Murderbot. Also the Tiffany Aching Discworld sub-series OR all the Discworld series (if you look around online, there are some recommendations about where to start that isn't the very first books, which are a little bit before he really hit his stride). The Uglies series was really good and very popular with kids, and I think is being made into films currently. I'm told the graphic novel of V for Vendetta is quite good for 13-14, too.

I have just listed five books/series by white people, four of them by men. They're still good but I do think it's worth noting as you talk about the genre with your young reader.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:00 AM on January 14

They should pre-order Charlie Jane Anders' Victories Greater Than Death, which is coming out in April and feels like Small, Angry Planet for a teenage audience and with a tighter plot.
posted by yarntheory at 9:07 AM on January 14 [2 favorites]

Be warned that some books in the Ender’s Shadow have explicitly homophobic themes (including: “A man can’t live a full life without marrying a woman and having children” and “Gay people are engineered by a government conspiracy”).
posted by mbrubeck at 9:17 AM on January 14 [3 favorites]

(And since someone's got to say it: I enjoyed Ender's Game as a thirteen-year-old too, but even as a kid I could tell Orson Scott Card's attitude toward women was weird, and I would never, ever give his work to someone looking for hopeful and happy LGBTQ representation.)
posted by yarntheory at 9:19 AM on January 14 [3 favorites]

when I was that age I was mostly reading garage sale copies of science fiction anthologies--tons of variety there, and it allowed me to learn about lots of genres and authors. My parents really only read scripture, or church history, and had zero knowledge about what i was reading. I would have been grounded if they found my Playboy Science Fiction and Fantasy anthology.

The old golden and silver age scifi anthologies have a lot that is pretty dated, but also lack much of the violence and adult themes prevalent in modern YA fiction. I think I read Stranger in a Strange Land around that age, which my parents would have freaked out over if they understood what kind of books I was reading, and after about 3rd or 4th grade I was never reading science fiction written for kids.

that experience of digging through books and discovering things--at garage sales or at the used bookstore I'd visit on my way home from school--is as foundational for me as what I read.
posted by th3ph17 at 9:32 AM on January 14 [2 favorites]

I've been reading (listening) to the Revenger Series by Alastair Reynolds. It's far future space opera written sort of as an Age of Sail adventure. Not much adult or social justice content but the main characters are sisters and among the sailors there doesn't seem to be much misogyny (ie, many female characters but that doesn't really make much difference?).

It's not YA, but it almost is. Much of Reynolds' space opera might be a bit intense for a young reader but this series seems more suitable.
posted by jclarkin at 9:46 AM on January 14 [2 favorites]

And I second the Binti series and some of Scalzi's books/series.

I anti-recommend OS Card's works for a young reader. I really do like some of his writing but it's got some pretty slimy parts that require understanding the context and subtext in a way that might be beyond someone with little life experience.
posted by jclarkin at 9:55 AM on January 14 [3 favorites]

I don't know any 13 year olds, but I'm pretty sure I would have enjoyed Vernor Vinge's Rainbows End when I was 13.
posted by eotvos at 10:03 AM on January 14 [2 favorites]

There's also Cory Doctorow's young adult fiction: For the Win, Little Brother, Homeland, Attack Surface, etc. (I find them a bit pedantic and tedious and haven't read the last one, but they're very popular and are based in an ethical world view.) His adult fiction is actually not all that different from those.

N'ting Reynalds' Revenger series - which is violent, but not more so than a superhero movie - and also the caution that you might want to preview his other stuff with the specific young person in mind before suggesting them. Also, n'ting all of Douglas Adams' books.
posted by eotvos at 10:17 AM on January 14 [2 favorites]

I'd go along with Scalzi (The Interdependency series, starting with The Collapsing Empire, might be good. Includes some same-sex relationships. I don't *think* it's too explicit, but you might want to check. Redshirts could be good if they are a Star Trek fan) and Reynolds' Revenger series (youngish protagonists).

Not mentioned yet: Seanan Mcguire's Wayward Children series, starting with Every Heart a Doorway (teens can walk through doors to other worlds; they love those worlds so much that they are distraught when they return to earth. The worlds are often dark, but probably at a level that teens could handle. Has very strong LGBT representation).

[With the disclaimer that I don't have kids. But those books seem like they'd be accessible to teens, and have teen protagonists].
posted by Pink Frost at 10:58 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]

Planesrunner by Ian McDonald! Multiverses and kidnapped parents and blimp ships and a 14 year old hero. Also great female characters .
posted by Omnomnom at 11:17 AM on January 14

Provenance by Ann Leckie is a space opera with good social justice and LGBTQ+ themes. Maybe a little heavy for a 13-year-old, but there is an interlude before the final act that spells out most of the subtext.
posted by Phssthpok at 11:46 AM on January 14 [1 favorite]

Ancestral Night by Elizabeth Bear might be of interest, particularly for someone who liked The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet. It's space opera, but subverts some of the common libertarian-esque genre tropes. If it goes over well, there's a sequel (Machine), set in the same universe but following different characters.

Just for something different, how about the His Dark Materials trilogy? It's not space opera, but has good worldbuilding, and the characters are realistically (IMO) portrayed young adults. It's apparently controversial in some quarters due to its critical take on organized religion. (Which I consider a plus, but YMMV.) My recollection is that there's nothing in it that's terribly inappropriate for a 13 y/o.

I'd second the Murderbot novellas as well.
posted by Kadin2048 at 1:21 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]

At the risk of apparently only recommending white, male LDS authors, I also liked Brandon Sanderson's Skyward series and think it would be age appropriate. The second book has some non-binary characters as I recall and I don't think there was anything inappropriate thematically in the books.

Breaking from that trend, I also read the Miles Vorkosigan saga by Lois McMaster Bujold around that age, and really enjoyed it. Don't know if it's problematic in any respects though.

I'm also a big fan of Celia S. Friedman's limited scifi - this Alien Shore is probably too advanced, but her most recent book in the same universe (which is standalone) is more age appropriate and very interesting - this Virtual Night.

** I do appreciate folks pointing out the actual problematic issues in Card's' books themselves - it's been a while since I read them and was unaware of those quotes from the books (I'm aware of Card's abhorrent personal views). I'll still personally suggest them to my kids to read (I think) when they're old enough, but will definitely discuss those issues in advance. By that age, I was picking out my own books at the library and my parents never had any idea what I was ready just called them my dragon books. In retrospect, Piers Anthony was not the best reading for a kid that age...
posted by slide at 4:55 PM on January 14

Ancestral Night and Machine by Elizabeth Bear are great suggestions. Machine leans into Social Justice and LGBTQ+ themes more than the former book but they are standalone works in the same universe so order doesn't matter.

Not as utopian as the (interior of) The Culture but a better place than our world for sure.
posted by jclarkin at 5:13 PM on January 14 [1 favorite]

I've been staying up way too late and tearing through Mary Robinette Kowal's Lady Astronaut books. It's an alternate history of human space travel starting in the 1950s so pretty heavy on the social justice themes, gets a little jargony but mostly to add color, and while the narrator and her husband always seem to be horny (to the point where the other characters comment on it), it doesn't get more explicit than a lot of rocket launch double-entendres. It's a little more somber and less goofy than Wayfarers, but it's hitting a lot of the same gentle epic space opera notes for me.

I'd also add that A Closed and Common Orbit was my third favorite of the Wayfarers books. If it's made your son hesitate about Record of a Spaceborn Few, I'd strongly suggest he still give it a shot.
posted by yeahlikethat at 7:49 PM on January 14

This may be considered a controversial recommendation, but Robert A Heinlein wrote some excellent YA novels. Heinlein's personal reputation has taken a beating but the books are great. And readily available.
posted by Billiken at 10:52 AM on January 15 [1 favorite]

« Older Hacks to Shut Off Your Intuition   |   Are we there yet? Newer »

You are not logged in, either login or create an account to post comments