2012 is an important year, readers, and not just because of the Hobbit movie and the impending apocalypse. This year marks the 50th anniversary of the publication of beloved YA SciFi classic A Wrinkle in Time–a book that, as was pointed out in a recent New York Times article, turned a whole a generation of girls on to the wonders of science fiction. As readers of science fiction have been disproportionately male throughout its history, a book that both genders find equally compelling is a monumental triumph. What A Wrinkle in Time demonstrated through its success was something that should perhaps have been self-evident: everyone loves a good story. Compelling characters in an interesting setting doing exciting things will attract readers of all kinds. There, that’s not so hard, is it?
At this point you might be thinking something like: Wow, your amazing writing has inspired me to read good science fiction! How do I find some? I applaud you! Here are some tips and a booklist to get you started.
- Classics are classics for a reason.
Don’t be afraid to pick up oldies but goodies like The Martian Chronicles and Ender’s Game–these books are still in print decades after publication because they are awesome and have almost universal appeal. In addition to the usual Ray Bradbury and Robert Heinlein, make sure to check your library for the works of influential female SciFi writers like James Tiptree Jr. (who is really a woman, I swear), CJ Cherryh, Ursula K. LeGuin, Joanna Russ, Tanith Lee, and Andre Norton. These innovative and creative ladies really helped to expand the horizons of the genre.
- Award stickers ain’t just for show.
To find the cream of the crop of science fiction, look through the latest awards lists. The 2011 Nebula Award nominees, for instance, were announced only last week. You can also cruise the Hugo Award winners, which include gems of equal-opportunity, YA-friendly science fiction like Boneshaker and Girl Genius. Of course, YALSA’s awards can be a great source for exciting science fiction: 2012’s Best Fiction for Young Adults list includes offerings like Enclave and The Dark City, which are notable for their strong characters of both genders.
- A starter booklist of equal-opportunity scifi.
The Diary of Pelly D by L. J. Adlington (Best Books for Young Adults 2006)
Pelly D has a great life. She’s rich, popular and on top of the world. That is, until gene-tagging becomes mandatory, and she and her mother are found to have undesirable genes. Overnight, Pelly’s life becomes a nightmare of privation, limits, ghettos, and eventually war. In the end, what happened to Pelly D? There is only one clue to her fate: Dig. Dig everywhere.
Why it’s for everyone: This novel was a dystopia before dystopias were cool, and it hits the real heart of the dystopian concept: dystopias are scary because of how easily they could come true. Pelly D’s sad story closely resembles actual historical events which have happened all too often, giving the book that extra depth for the thoughtful reader.
Ship Breaker by Paolo Bacigalupi (Best Fiction for Young Adults 2011)
Oil and parts are scarce in the future, and poor kids like Nailer make a living by scavenging them from huge, beached ocean liners, a dangerous job with no promise of safety or stability. When a rich girl’s private ship crashes on the beach, Nailer’s world is thrown into confusion. This could be his lucky strike–Nita is worth quite a lot, not just to her father, but also to his enemies.
Why it’s for everyone: This book contains plenty of gritty action and fisticuffs, but also a great look inside Nailer’s head at his conflicting emotions and conscience. Nita is no slouch, either, demonstrating throughout the book that she’s more than just a damsel in distress.
Saturn Apartments by Hisae Iwaoka (Great Graphic Novels for Teens 2011)
The surface of the Earth has been declared a nature preserve, and humans have moved en masse to a ring-shaped space station that encircles the world. Mitsu is a young window cleaner, who washes the windows of those wealthy enough to pay so that they can see natural sunlight. As he learns the ropes of his new job and meets new people on the station, he struggles to come to terms with the death of his father–who fell from the station while washing windows.
Why it’s for everyone: Hisae Iwaoka creates a rich and intriguing world inhabited by realistic and endearing characters. Mitsu will appeal to anyone who has ever worked to find their place in the world, and ended up discovering it anew. Reading these books is like a refreshing cup of tea for your brain.
The Knife of Never Letting Go by Patrick Ness (Best Books for Young Adults 2009)
Todd has grown up in a village that has no women–and no privacy. All men on this alien planet are afflicted with the Noise, an organism that makes men’s thoughts audible to everyone. Despite this, it seems to Todd that everyone in town is keeping secrets from him. When Todd finds Viola, a girl from a crashed scout ship, hiding in the woods behind his house, his town’s dark secrets will be revealed, and he and Viola will have to go on the hardest journey of their lives to protect the new settlers from those who would exploit them for power.
Why this is for everyone: This book is a non-stop action-fest, but its emotional heart is the relationship between Todd and Viola. Two very different people who bond through hardship, Todd and Viola share a powerful love story remarkably devoid of the angst of traditional teen “romance.” This book also explores the issues of the corruption of power, the desensitizing nature of violence, gender politics and the treatment of indigenous peoples.
Fever Crumb by Philip Reeve (Best Fiction for Young Adults 2011)
Fever is an orphan who has been raised by the most rational and logical of London’s future denizens, the Order of Engineers. At this point in the future, London’s technology has decayed to almost medieval levels, and until recently regular humans were tyrannically dominated by long-lived mutants known as the Scriven. On an archaeological dig with researcher Kit Solent, Fever begins to experience memories of a past that cannot be hers–memories that belong to a Scriven. At the same time, an alliance of mobile cities encroaches from the north. Will London go to war?
Why it’s for everyone: Philip Reeve’s London is a masterpiece, a gritty, decaying, probably doomed, work of art. Fans of creepy atmosphere will eat up his setting with a spoon. And Fever herself is marvelous: raised by Engineers, she believes only in logic and reason, but her new memories make her question everything about her past.
For more suggestions on the YA SciFi front, check out Jessica Miller’s excellent post, Taking Teens to New Worlds With YA Science Fiction. And, of course, if you have your own suggestions for excellent science fiction that appeals to all genders and ages, tell us in the comments!
— Maria Kramer