SF Saturday: recommendations for a teen boy?

FoxBase Alpha, originally uploaded by RobWMy son is currently absolutely fascinated by the idea of space propulsion systems and orbital habitats. He has just possibly been playing too much Halo.

He’s full of questions and schemes for writing his own stories/future world. He’s got to the point where he’s rapidly out-pacing the knowledge of two admitted SF-geek parents about these things, because we’re not totally immersed in that tech. We thought Clarke’s 2001: A Space Odyssey might be a good start, just because the tech described is generally thought to be within realistic bounds for this century sometime.

What would readers recommend as some of the best novels out there that actually deal with the hard science of space travel, and that are still a rattling good read?

Categories: arts & entertainment

Tags: ,

13 replies

  1. This isn’t a recommendation from me, really, but from other SF readers I know: the Red Mars books. I actually tried to read them and got entirely too bored for words and walked away, but they are all about the science of making Mars habitable. I found them extremely ‘boy’ in their appeal, which is why I got bored—all very much about science, when I wanted to think about the effects of the science rather than ‘how’d they do that?’— and the focus is on men with the occasional woman thrown in (coz y’know, they have to breed!! Sorry, I’m cynical) but many many people devour them voraciously. And the science stuff is extremely good. The dude who wrote them—Kim Robinson, from memory?—apparently spent years and years and years researching in order to make the technology he had his characters developing as plausible as possible. It won’t all be propulsion systems, but I suspect they’re in there!

  2. What about “Rendezvous with Rama”? The whole novel is exploration of a space habitat/ship. And I really enjoyed reading Cherryh’s “Downbelow Station”, but it might not have enough about the station itself to keep your son’s interest.
    Also, David Zondy’s web site has a nice collection of fictional space stations your son might enjoy browsing, and NASA’s space settlements web site has a bunch of information and links about possible real space settlements.

  3. (Not all propulsion based). Yes – at that age I was loving Asimov and Clarke. Would he get into the Robot and Foundation books? And try Ben Bova’s Grand Tour series and Greg Bear (Eon/Eternity etc), Ender’s Game (mix of soft/hard), Niven (Mote in God’s Eye, Ringworld). How about the Vorkosigan books, which have plenty of space opera? I’m hard pressed to come up with women authors otherwise, possibly because my knowledge here is rooted in what I was finding in Australian library SF sections in the 1970s and 1980s. You might do worse than to work through Hugo winners, maybe?

  4. Arthur C Clarke and Asimov are my essential starting points but can I recommend Asimov’s NON fiction works for the teen years? He was a brilliant science writer – I basically owe him my career. Starting volume “The Stars in their Courses”.
    Clarke’s “The Fountains of Paradise” in which he describes a space elevator is terrific and Kim Stanley Robinson’s “Red Mars”, “Blue Mars” “Green Mars” trilogy are also very good.
    Asimov’s short story collection “Buy Jupiter” is great and Larry Niven created a terrific universe with some fascinating space technology.
    EE Doc Smith is from an earlier era and his social views reflect his time but the “Skylark of Space” series and the Lensman series are both great.
    grendel’s last blog post..My Favourite Bee Picture

  5. I second Asimov, especially the Foundation/Robots series, and Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game and Ender’s Shadow (reading the two books back to back, with the same events from different perspectives, is eerie and awesome. Also, they are pretty much designed for teenage boys, though they offer much for girls and really people of all ages). My favorite Ben Bova are Mars and Return to Mars, mostly because I really identify with the Native American main character.
    My husband recommends Charles Sheffield, particularly the Jupiter series, and his wife Nancy Kress with Beggars in Spain and the Probability series. If your son is at all into manga/anime, check out Planetes by Makoto Yukimura: “It is among the best near-future science fiction in existence.” Also, Frederik Pohl’s Heechee series, and Elizabeth Moon’s sci-fi (although I personally think her fantasy trilogy, The Deed of Paksennarion is among the best ever, and it doesn’t even have a romantic subplot!)

  6. Thirding the reccs for the Mars trilogy-plus-one by Kim Stanley Robinson. His books Icehenge and Antarctica are also thoroughly awesome in a future-science way.

  7. And I really enjoyed reading Cherryh’s “Downbelow Station”, but it might not have enough about the station itself to keep your son’s interest.
    “Heavy Time” might though.

  8. You’ve dragged out a lurker with this one. Hi!
    Lauredhel basically covered mine, but I wanted to put in a word of my own for Niven’s (sometimes painfully, IMO) technical writing. From what I remember, it’d be right up his alley. My partner also suggests Jerry Pournelle for the technical aspect.
    While it’s not as technical, I also love Asimov’s Foundation series. I’m just beginning Second Foundation, and loving every bit of it. For those of you who’ve read it and loved it, try to track down Orson Scott Card’s ‘The Originist’ in Maps in a Mirror. It’s Foundation fanfic, but of the very best kind.

  9. I also really enjoyed the Mars trilogy, the science in it strikes me as very realistic (based on what I know about astrophysics etc, which is to say, nothing). The problem with it is it gets bogged down in the politics of colonising Mars. Which I found interesting but might lose someone more keen on the science side.
    Ender is also great, but might be a bit young for him and isn’t as sciency.
    My boyfriend loved Greg Bear’s Eon, but I put it down after finding a spelling mistake on the first page of his copy. Yes, I am a pedant and I’m prepared to use the word “sciency”.

  10. This is looking like a cracking reading list for any reader, to say nothing of rocket-combustion-fixated adolescents.
    When I was a teenage boy I loved the Foundation books and the I, Robot stories, so I’ll second Lauredhel’s vote for those. Ray Bradbury short stories are always magnificent despite getting a bit dated (nuclear war might need explaining to young readers who don’t recall the Reagan era). When I was 12 or so I lived with my parents in a foreign country and read Dark They Were And Golden Eyed, and it remains the most evocative thing I’ve ever read about being alien. Dune. OK, it satisfies none of your requirements but… it’s great. Finally how about Tom Wolfe’s (or the film based on) The Right Stuff for the space race as it was?

  11. One point, please: Everything that has been mentioned is relatively old. I found most Clarke and all Asimov works complete turn-offs from SF, yet they’re the things that are always proffered as examples of ‘start with this’ SF. (KSR I find…meh. The bits where he’s actually talking about science are fine, the rest less so. Although Purple Mars is just hilarious if you’ve read the Mars trilogy). There’s so much good recent hard-sf!
    Just a few I can think of quickly:
    Space habitats, space travel, near-future extrapolation and funny: Charles Stross, particularly Accelerando (which can be downloaded free as a pdf from the author’s site, if you can’t get to the library for a bit).
    I second the Vorkorsigan books both for good science and actual! characters! with relationships and everything! (Clarke…sigh…not one of his strengths)
    Vernor Vinge’s A Deepness in the Sky has good slower-than-light space travel, convincing societies and a very good alien society at the developing-tech stage, plus nifty astrophysics. The related A Fire Upon the Deep is not half bad either.
    There’s always Greg Egan if you want diamond-hard sf: Diaspora is probably a good starting point. (bonus points for being an Australian author?).
    Plus, John Scalzi has some good modern quasi military sf that deals with the trouble of logistically fighting a war in space: Old Man’s War and one or two others.

  12. Another vote for Greg Egan. Fantastic hard sci-fi. Not necessarily space-propulsion-related, but really good stuff. Quite a bit of freely downloadable material on his web site
    Neal Stephenson’s Anathem has some interesting bits involving the physics of combat in orbit, and Orion drives!

  13. Im a teenage boy and i absolutely love the same things as described, the whole concept of space etc. Well first of all, i really love star trek and think that is a good thing to watch if u love the more theatrical side of science, the “what if” science, so to speak. Right now I am currently reading whats called: Saga of Seven Suns. One of the main concepts in that book is space travel. Basically, in the book, there is only one way of travelling at FTL speeds (FTL meaning faster then light) and that is by the way of “Ekti.” A fantasy allotrope of hydrogen that is harvested by a group of humans called “Roamers” and they supplt the galaxy with this vital fuel. But when they cant harvest Ekti any more, they have to find a different way of powering their star ships, and reaching other colonies etc. They also delve into the concept of communication through great distances. This is a very scientifically factual book, although it has elements of a space opera, another main plotline being a romance. Putting this aside, it is a great teen book. I am only up to number 3 (out of 7.) The first is called “Hidden Empire”
    Hope this helps, and questions email me 🙂

%d bloggers like this: