So Your Kids Want to Read Science Fiction, Part 2

The Time Quartet

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By Luke Forney

Last week we kicked off “So Your Kids Want to Read Science Fiction” with a trio of excellent entry points into the genre for young new readers: Ray Bradbury, K.A. Applegate’s Animorphs series, and the Heinlein Juveniles.  Each had an impact in some fashion of the field, and each drew new readers to the fold of the science fiction community (a community that, when we take a look at Dario Ciriello’s new anthology, Panverse Three, in a couple weeks, we can realize is at times still as tight as it was in the beginning of the genre—although that is a story for another article coming soon!)  However, even more important than their impact on science fiction is their ability to draw new readers to the genre, which is the crux of this article series.

Everyone loves stories, but few can embrace them as wholeheartedly and immerse themselves as deeply in the folds of a good tale like kids.  Story telling evolves, which is something few can debate, and something fans of the genre of the future should be able to embrace.  In this new world of storytelling, our stories being told more and more through movies and television, both of which are growing as mediums and telling truly interesting stories worth being explored.  The interactivity of a story has changed as well, from live audiences to enraptured readers, Choose Your Own Adventure-style decision making to the video games of today, many of which are retaking the lost art of plot that disappeared among video games for an extended period.  All of these mediums are wonderful ways to tell stories.  However, despite the fears of the old guard, the written word is far from dead.  It just has more competition.  However, kids are, if anything, willing to try new things, so give them their stories in all forms.  Hand them a book, let them enter the world of reading, and, in the name of all that’s worthy, give them some good science fiction!

On to the next three:

4)      The Time Quartet

Madeleine L’Engle, Newbery Medal winner and powerhouse of fiction for children and young adults, is best known for her science fantasy series following Meg Murry and her quests through space, time, and other strange dimensions.  Beginning with A Wrinkle in Time and the appearance of Mrs. Whatsit, Mrs. Who, and Mrs. Which, Meg, her brother Charles Wallace, and their friend Calvin O’Keefe travel across the universe to save Meg’s father.  The adventure continues in the rest of the Time Quartet: A Wind in the Door, A Swiftly Tilting Planet, and Many Waters.  Meg’s children, in particular her eldest daughter Polly, feature in another quarter, starting the magic over for a new generation of characters in The Arm of the Starfish, Dragons in the Waters, A House Like a Lotus, and An Acceptable Time.  Due to the reappearance of Meg and company, and its science fantasy elements, An Acceptable Time is frequently tacked on to the end of the Time Quartet to form the Time Quintet.  While the series definitely straddles the line of what is science fiction and what is fantasy, like many other great works of science fantasy before it, it will appeal to fans of both genres, rather than pushing them away.  This series, and Madeleine L’Engle in general, are great choices to hand to new science fiction readers.

5)      Edgar Rice Burroughs

Edgar Rice Burroughs is most famously remembered for Tarzan of the Apes and the series that spawned from it.  However, much of his best work is well grounded in science fiction.  Two Burroughs series helped ground this writer’s love of science fiction.  The Barsoom Series (soon to be immortalized on the big screen in the film John Carter) hits on the sense of wonder, awe, and majesty of a solar system full of life and adventure, exactly as any reader wants it to be.  There are ten books in total exploring John Carter, former Confederate soldier, and his adventures among the Martians: A Princess of Mars, The Gods of Mars, The Warlord of Mars, Thuvia, Maid of Mars, The Chessmen of Mars, The Master Mind of Mars, A Fighting Man of Mars, Swords of Mars, Synthetic Men of Mars, Llana of Gathol, and the collection John Carter of Mars, which contains the two stories “John Carter and the Giant of Mars” and Skeleton Men of Jupiter.”  All are available for free on the internet, and most are out for the eBooks everywhere, although print editions past the first three books are a little harder to find.  The other series that impacted this writer so deeply was the Pellucidar series, featuring adventurous heroes, extravagantly evil villains, and terrible creatures, all set in a world within our own.  The story is told over seven books: At the Earth’s Core, Pellucidar, Tanar of Pellucidar, Tarzan at the Earth’s Core (featuring a crossover with Burroughs’ most successful series), Back to the Stone Age, Land of Terror, and Savage Pellucidar.  The stories take action, adventure, and excitement in a strange and bizarre land to new heights, and are wonderful fun.  Famous in the genre and forgotten outside of it, these two series are perfect choices for kids craving science fiction reading.

6)      X-Men

A classic.  A household name.  And a fine introduction to science fiction for readers of all stripes.  This writer more or less learned to read on Uncanny X-Men, grew up with it, and based on a recent literature degree, it must not have been too bad of a formative period choice.  Young readers are looking for epic scope, characters to believe in, and causes they relate to.  Welcome to the X-Men, who travel the entire globe, as well as the farthest reaches of outer space, fight battles to save people who hate them, and struggle with isolationism, fear, and prejudice, things any kid going through their school years can relate to.  Buy your son or daughter a copy of Essential Uncanny X-Men, Volume 1 or Marvel Masterworks: The Uncanny X-Men, Volume 1, and leave them a better person.

(So Your Kids Want to Read Science Fiction, Part 1)
(So Your Kids Want to Read Science Fiction, Part 3)

2 Comments:

  1. ER Burroughs?? X-Men??? Noooooooooooo…!!!! You start with CS Lewis and Narnia, got through Harry Potter, graduate on to something like Artemis Fowl – and then move on to serious stuff, like Poul Anderson. Heinlein, even. Then Larry Niven, and they’re hooked.

    Oh, and they have to watch Dr Who, Battlestar Galactica, Firefly, Futurama, and all of teh Star Wars movies too.

    ER Burroughs?? I’ve been reading SF since I was 12 (44 years gone by) and I’ve never read Burroughs!! Capt WE Johns, yes, and even some kid who invented good stuff, but I also started on Theodore Sturgeon and Anderson in 1966, and I’ve never looked back.

    • Thanks for the comments, Ed, although I’m going to have to admit to disagreeing with you.

      My goal is to present books that will help new readers get into science fiction through science fiction works that are, A) accessible to younger readers, B) intelligent and engaging enough to get these readers to read more science fiction, rather than leave it behind, and C) will help build readers that will help keep science fiction alive and well. The only other requirements, based on the title of the articles, is that it be science fiction, as this is the genre we are addressing, and that it be written word, as the title specifies “to read.”

      Narnia, Harry Potter, and Artemis Fowl are all fantasy. That isn’t what I’m trying to work with here, as fantasy would need an entire other list all to itself (in a place that focuses on fantasy, as well, rather than Digitial Science Fiction). The move to Anderson, Heinlein (who was in the first part of this list, which is linked to at the end of the above article), and Niven are all strong choices. I personally started with Isaac Asimov (who I’m planing on including in the third part), but Niven wasn’t far after that. Outside of the juveniles, much of Heinlein’s work doesn’t do much for me. I find many of his short stories to be weak, and his later novels were frequently bloated filled with lame, bizarre, and at times incoherent philosophical ramblings. I enjoyed Time Enough For Love, for example, but it could have been much shorter and not lost its impact, and it certainly isn’t a book that is something most young readers would go for.

      I didn’t get much as to why you are against the inclusion of X-Men, but to hit that concern quickly: Chris Claremont, the man who made the X-Men what it is today, was a HUGE science fiction fan, using quotes from science fiction novels in his works, and being deeply inspired and influenced by them. Some of his grand scale science fiction, such as the Phoenix Saga and Dark Phoenix Saga, are classics of graphic storytelling in any front, just as some of his more grounded works, like God Loves, Man Kills, are as well. There is power to be found here, and the seeds of new science fiction fans. If you even look at the more recent X-Men title The Rise and Fall of the Shi’ar Empire, written by Ed Brubaker, one would be hard pressed to find it anything other than strong space opera of the Hamilton/Doc Smith variety.

      As to the absence of Burroughs in your reading life, I feel as though you are missing out. I’m sorry you feel that that is something worth proudly waving. Burroughs is of great importance to the genre, as is the sword and planet genre he helped bring to fame. He must have been on to something for so many among the science fiction crowd to have written pastiches, sequels, and homages, most frequently to A Princess of Mars and its sequels. Burroughs was truly gifted at weaving fun, fast-paced, exciting tales that can be enjoyed by all ages, both adults and children. If you have an ereader, you can find much of Burroughs work for free. I’d suggest giving one of his novels a shot. Suggestions include A Princess of Mars, At the Earth’s Core, Tarzan of the Apes, and The Land That time Forgot. They are all quite short, and easy reads. For no cost, you can check him out and see if he might be to your taste after all, even if he never reached your reading stack before. You just might like it!

      As I tried to state in my first part of this series, my goal wasn’t necessarily to focus on classics. It was to focus on works that can help bring new readers to fiction, and to science fiction in particular. I fervently believe that all of the works that I have discussed so far have that potential.

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