Sci-fi books for non-readers?
July 9, 2004 9:06 AM   Subscribe

I need to recommend a book for a male, teenage, esl student. Which book would you recommend to a person who says he's kind of interested in science fiction but doesn't like to read?

So far, I'm thinking Ender's Game but I'd like to have a few more choices.
posted by Zetetics to Media & Arts (25 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Asimov's Foundation Trilogy.
posted by the fire you left me at 9:12 AM on July 9, 2004

Ender's Game is my standard answer to this question. Or maybe Snow Crash. Foundation, I think, is a bit more subtle--much of the action takes place off-stage, as it were--and might be less immediately appealing.
posted by mookieproof at 9:16 AM on July 9, 2004

Ender's Game? Do you have something against this individual? What's next? A novel by L. Ron Hubbard?

I'd highly recommend and of the Phililp K. Dick short story anthologies.
posted by juiceCake at 9:21 AM on July 9, 2004

Whoops my <snide playfully="true"> brackets didn't come through! So thats:

<snide playfully="true">Ender's Game? Do you have something against this individual? What's next? A novel by L. Ron Hubbard?<snide>

I'd highly recommend any of the Phililp K. Dick short story anthologies. And Snow Crash crossed my mind as well.

posted by juiceCake at 9:25 AM on July 9, 2004

Let me say that Asimov doesnt go over so well with younger people (atomic what?) but Snow Crash should be right up his alley. Start him on good Cyberphunk, throw in some good space opera like Peter Hamilton's Night's Dawn Trilogy, then some tasty hardcore sci-fi like the Mars Trilogy by Kim Stanley Robinson. Yum yum.

Keep him off of Hubbards or Heinlein (unless it's Stranger in a Strange Land or Moon is a Harsh Mistress). And heck, Ender's Game is a classic.

OOOOOOOH, and do NOT forget Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy!!!!
posted by Dantien at 9:34 AM on July 9, 2004

Iain M Banks' Consider Phlebas. Fast-paced action; so easy to read (I read it like I was a warm knife slicing through butter); so good (I've never read a fiction book more than once, with one exception).
posted by Blue Stone at 9:41 AM on July 9, 2004

(And Hitchhiker's.)
posted by Blue Stone at 9:45 AM on July 9, 2004

All those book are great, but the guy said he didn't like to read right? Are there some literary graphic novels that might pull him into reading? I've heard Sandman is a good series, but I've never read it myself.
posted by willnot at 9:47 AM on July 9, 2004

If he doesn't like to read, you may want to start with something that is immediately rewarding, like shorter novels or even short stories. The payoff is quicker and you can start by reading in small doses per day without getting lost.

I rather like the short stories of Ted Chiang, check out "Stories of your life and others". Most of them are very atypical of the science fiction genre. I recently read Cory Doctorow's "A Place So Foreign" and I thought that was pretty good. Arthur C. Clarke has some good collections of short stories.
posted by RustyBrooks at 10:00 AM on July 9, 2004

Vonnegut might be good also...
posted by cohappy at 10:11 AM on July 9, 2004

Stephen King short stories and novellas. They're very good, they're easy, and they're short (relatively.) I'm also partial to some of OSC's short stories, but they're not in the same league. Much of Heinlein is easy too, although I don't particularly like him.

Whoever wouldn't recommend Ender's Game to a teenager, juicecake, has some serious issues and needs to check his or her teen scifi quality meter. The author's issues (i.e. being a homophobic, warmongering nutcase) notwithstanding.
posted by callmejay at 10:16 AM on July 9, 2004

Another thought: Hyperion, by Dan Simmons.
Though I still think Ender's Game is the best bet and callmejay is onthemark
posted by mookieproof at 10:18 AM on July 9, 2004

Isn't Snow Crash the one with the vagina dentata in it? If you're the kid's teacher, you might want to wait until you have tenure to recommend that one.

Also, if you're in the US, Iain M Banks' stuff is mostly out of print here so don't get confused if you check Amazon and turn up very little.

Would Dick & Vonnegut really make any sense to a 16 year old ESL student?

(Erm, sorry if this sounds like I'm pissing all over the recommendations--I think they're all good authors, but in context perhaps a little off-base)
posted by bcwinters at 10:31 AM on July 9, 2004

Any book by William Sleator. My favorites are Singularity, The Boy Who Reversed Himself, and Interstellar Pig. Young adult science fiction.
posted by mfbridges at 10:58 AM on July 9, 2004 [1 favorite]

The Lensmen series might be good. They are straightforward stories, from the 30's and 40's and still essential sci-fi. It's like alien-fighting boy scouts in space.
(personally, I think they are better than people give them credit for, but I am, perhaps, a small percentage)

Daniel Pinkwater and Roald Dahl are not too young for and early-ish teenager and are also appreciated by many adults. (not really sci-fi I guess, just weird)

And I agree that it's never too early for Douglas Adams.
posted by milovoo at 11:03 AM on July 9, 2004

Any book by William Sleator.

House of Stairs is my favorite and I second this recommendation. Stephenson is awesome but he's got a pretty high readibility level, maybe not great for ESL students. There are a lot of good Young Adult sci-fi novels [see sci fi, fantasy and time travel booklists on that link] that are really good. My favorite is the semi-dystopian [read: no happy ending] Feed by MT Andreson. Daniel Pinkwater's book Alan Mendelson The Boy From Mars is sci-fi ish and one of my favorite books of all times.
posted by jessamyn at 11:25 AM on July 9, 2004 [1 favorite]

Whoever wouldn't recommend Ender's Game to a teenager, juicecake, has some serious issues and needs to check his or her teen scifi quality meter. The author's issues (i.e. being a homophobic, warmongering nutcase) notwithstanding.

Ahh, ok then, well, it is rather subjective (hence my snark playful="true" disclaimer), and I have read the book, and long before I was aware of the author's "issues" I felt it was just short of complete garbage. I was told there were sequels. I told them I didn't care. But I submit to your quality meter as it is, no doubt, much more legit than my own, subjective though it may be. Please send me your list so that I can adjust my taste.

Having said that, I have to agree that King's shorts are fabulous (you can strike that from the list, i've already got it.) The reason I recommended Dick is that Dick has a unique combination of everyday situations (job tasks most specifically) and great ideas expressed in a "plain english" manner, which may be a little less intimidating to a new english speaker. Not to mention modern science fiction films are laced with his ideas (among others), which may also be grounds for comfort and familiarity.

Of course said individual may be at such a level that he can jump straight into something like Hitchhiker's. But Zetetics would be a far better judge.
posted by juiceCake at 11:45 AM on July 9, 2004

As a frequent language learner myself, I'd be a bit wary of Dick; even if he has great ideas expressed in "plain english," a really trippy book induces lots of moments of "Wait, I can't possibly be reading that right, can I? That would be weird," if your grasp of the language isn't perfect (it depends, of course, on how advanced the reader is).

I'd vote for Stephen King, those of Anne McCaffrey's Pern books that are marketed as YA (the older ones, anyway), Daniel Pinkwater.

Hitchhiker's is something I love, too, but it's too British for some Americans. It might be downright mystifying to an ESL student.
posted by Jeanne at 12:03 PM on July 9, 2004

I'm seconding William Sleator. Absolutely pheonomenal!

Also John Christopher's Tripod trilogy is great.
posted by ruwan at 12:14 PM on July 9, 2004

Lois McMaster Bujold's The Warrior's Apprentice has a very engaging teenage protagonist, but it's been a while since I've read it and I'm not quite sure of the reading level. It's a good start, and the sequels to that are a lot easier for a teenager to understand than the sequels to Ender's Game.
posted by Electric Elf at 12:14 PM on July 9, 2004

Ursula LeGuin's A Wizard of Earthsea. Beautiful, straightforward language, a gripping story featuring a protagonist growing from adolescence to adulthood, and a refreshingly brief read.
posted by clever sheep at 12:20 PM on July 9, 2004 [1 favorite]

I (second, third, fourth) Ender's Game.

Also, it may be a little loopy, but I like to recommend Rudy Rucker's Software as a fun quick read. Rucker makes up a lot of crazy slang in it, though, so it may not work so well for an ESL student.
posted by neckro23 at 12:26 PM on July 9, 2004

When I was younger I really enjoyed Red Planet, despite the fact that it was written by Heinlein.
posted by mmcg at 1:04 PM on July 9, 2004

If the student is really interested in SF (vs. fantasy), some Larry Niven short stories might be a good place to start. "N-Space", "Convergent Series", "Flatlander", and "All the Myriad Ways" are collections of Niven stories. (Note: the last book contains Man of Steel, Woman of Kleenex, which may leave you some explaining to do to an irate parent.
posted by joaquim at 3:30 PM on July 9, 2004

Much thanks to all for the excellent suggestions.
( I think I'll re-read some of these for myself.)
posted by Zetetics at 10:28 PM on July 9, 2004

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