by Luke Forney
For the past two weeks, we have been taking a look at some fiction that would be great entry points for young readers into science fiction. Not all of the choices have been widely loved, but this writer thinks that all of them hold that certain trait that draws in new readers, and even more importantly keeps them exploring genre fiction long after the reader’s first foray is over. I had planned on making this a three part piece (of which this would be the final part), but far too many wonderful works of science fiction are out there for this to end. Look for “So Your Kids Want to Read Science Fiction” to pop up semi-regularly, perhaps once a month or so. There is little more important to the genre than the future of readers and the birth of a new generation of fans.
So far, we have looked at six points of exploration for young readers new to science fiction: Ray Bradbury, K.A. Applegate’s Animorphs series, the Heinlein Juveniles, Madeleine L’Engle’s Time Quartet, Edgar Rice Burroughs, and the X-Men. Each of these choices is fairly different from each of the others, but they all bring a lot to the table, including high appeal to readers of all ages. Now, we will take a look at three more places for young readers to dive right in.
7) Isaac Asimov
This section is very near and dear to this writer’s heart. Outside of some forgotten children’s books that perhaps helped form my leanings but didn’t create any roots, it was Isaac Asimov’s I, Robot that first introduced me to the world of science fiction. After devouring I, Robot, the Foundation series followed, along with books of short stories, stand-alone novels, and I. Asimov, which first introduced the writer to the broader world of science fiction, and the science fiction community that had been growing and creating itself for decades. Asimov was brilliant in both fiction and non-fiction, always telling his stories without elaborate flourishes, yet infusing them with his wit, charm, and over-flowing sense of humor. His stories are also perfect for new readers, as they encompass the true power and sense of wonder that is science fiction at its greatest, and puts it all in plots that are fast-paced without necessarily being full of action or, even less likely in Asimov’s work, violence. Instead, especially with the Robot stories and Foundation series, he creates complex puzzles that are both caused and solved by the specific intellectual framework of his dual series, the Three Laws of Robotics and Hari Seldon’s Psychohistory, respectively. Readers will never forgot the robot forever running back and forth on a deserted planet in one of the stories in I, Robot, the chilling conclusion of “Robot Dreams,” or the transcendental evil of the Mule when he first exploding on the scene in Foundation and Empire. Asimov represents the best that science fiction has to offer, and his unbelievably large body of work leaves a vast treasure trove for new readers to explore.
8) Gary Paulsen’s The Transall Saga
Gary Paulsen is much better known for his works of children’s and young adult’s outdoors fiction, such as Hatchet. However, Paulsen also writes the occasional young adult science fiction tale, such as The Time Hackers and The White Fox Chronicles. The best of these side-trips in Paulsen’s writing, however, is The Transall Saga. Seemingly heavily influenced by H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine and Pierre Boulle’s La Planète des singes (translated as The Planet of the Apes. Yes, that Planet of the Apes. Likely the most important science fiction novel to come out of France since Jules Verne), the novel follows Mark as he, in a scene right out of the beginning of A Princess of Mars, disappears from the middle of a dessert on Earth, and reappears on a strange planet. The story is high on excitement, as all readers who enjoy Paulsen would expect, and it has a lot of fun with different science fiction tropes. Whether all of the seeming allusions to famous science fiction scenes is intentional or simply the over-using of genre conventions, it all adds together to be great fun for young science fiction readers.
9) Lois Lowry’s The Giver
A bit of a modern classic (and incredibly controversial at times, which, one might suppose, is simply another requirement to be a classic), Lois Lowry’s The Giver made a huge impact on the writer of this article. The incredibly dark scenes work brilliantly as counter-points to the too perfect scenes elsewhere. Lowry handles the telling of the story brilliantly, giving out new information about the “utopia” as the novel moves along. The characters are rich, the fall out of the truth is painful to the extreme, and the book winds up being one that you won’t read only once, and that will reverberate in your mind and imagination for a long, long time. The Giver ran the gauntlet of angry parents, yet still managed to round up all of the awards, is taught in schools, and is one of the best science fiction novels, young adult or not, of the past 20 years. Give this short novel to a young reader, and you will do them and their imagination a world of good.