Monday, September 21, 2009

My Top Five Sci-Fi Books for Kids

At the behest of Bookmonkey, here's some of my favorite sci-fi books for kids, or at least some of the ones I liked as a kid. By the by, Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Terry Pratchett's 'Only You Can Save Mankind', and Heinlein's Podkayne of Mars are really great, too. There are hundreds of great sf books for kids and I only scratched the surface while I was on my way from child to giant man-child.

5.Keeper of the Isis Light- Monica Hughes 1980. Olwen lives on planet Isis with her Guardian, runs a space-lighthouse, is turning 16, and is about to meet people from Earth for the first time. She learns that there is nothing easy about being an alien.
This is a lonely book for lonely, weird kids, like I was.
O.K., First of all, it's Canadian content, so you gotta love that. I read this book in elementary, then dove into Hughes' 'Crisis on Conshelf Ten' about a kid from the moon who moves to an ocean city, which is also, coin a phrase, stellar. Like Podkayne of Mars which, darn it, really should have made this list (I don't know what I am thinking!) it has a girl protagonist, and I was still o.k. with that as a seven or eight year old boy. I had a very open mind- as long as there was a spaceship, a robot, and didn't involve sports I was into it.
This wasn't the cover of the copy I got from the library, but this new one is a lot cooler.

4.Danny Dunn- This science-themed adventure series was written between 1956 and 1977 by Raymond Abrashkin & Jay Williams, mostly Jay Williams, since Mr. Abrashkin was dead. To get the premise you pretty much watch the t.v. series 'My Secret Identity' without a super-hero. Derek McGrath would make a great Professor Bullfinch, who was always inventing astonishing things in his garage. Bullfinch's housekeeper's son Danny was like Archie Andrews, average red-haired kid getting into shenanigans with his dour Jughead-like buddy Joe and their friend Irene (who was better than either Betty or Ronnie because she was smart). I loved Danny Dunn and the Anti-Gravity Paint, where they repelled gravity and nearly shot out of the solar system! Pictured here, D.D. Invisible Boy, featuring a telepresence robot dragonfly surveillance camera, with the standard moral dilemma of what to do when you have the power to spy on people without them knowing.

3.Not Quite Human- Seth McElvoy's 1985-1986 series saw Dr. Jonas Carson build a robot son called Chip, and his human daughter, Becky having to assume the responsibilty for a very literal-minded mechanical brother. As sort of a Turing test, Chip was meant to pass as human for a year in school, and hijinx ensue.
I utterly DEVOURED these books (also, my dog ate one, I think). If you want to watch the Disney movie adaptation, (and frankly, why WOULDN'T YOU?) you can just skip over the lackluster first one and sup-par third one and watch Not Quite Human 2. I frickin' LOVE that cheesy freak-fest.
Before I met a loveable android called Mr. Data, there was the 'emotionless' and literal-minded metal nerd called Chip Carson, who manages to find love...? OF COURSE he does!

2.Killobyte- Piers Anthony's 1993 thriller is best for a mature kid, but I read it anyway. Walter is a former cop, now in a wheelchair escaping his pain in a VR fantasy game, where he 'meets' Baal, a homely woman avoiding her feelings about her diabetes in the same fantasy world. And Phreak is a mad hacker who will turn the game deadly if his demands are not met. There is sex, and violence, and I assure you, those things HELP make this a REALLY good book. I was rather more of a prude as a kid than I am now, but darn it all, this is a page turner and I remember it fondly. Also, you had best read the Xanth series by the same author. Those ones are fantasy, not sci-fi, and they are not for prudes, sensitives, or beings with an aversion to puns, but I read a fair number of them as a horny young man and that side of me was never disappointed.

1.Have Spacesuit Will Travel. Robert A. Heinlein, 1958. It was the last book the great man wrote entirely aimed at kids, and very possibly the first sci-fi book I ever read. This is the one to blame for who I am, ladies and gentlefiends, it had EVERYTHING I was looking for. I burned through it for days and a night. (ruining my eyes under the blankets, no doubt) And thus the science fiction genre had a new acolyte called Mike. I still love this one. Farmboy Kip Russell wins a jingle contest and the prize is an old spacesuit. He fixes it up all summer long, dreaming of the space travel he can never afford, when suddenly he is shanghied by an irritating girl called Peewee and her alien protector, Mother Thing. They whisk him to the moon to help them battle the evil Wormfaces, and all too soon they all end up imprisoned on Pluto. Kip freezes to death in the escape attempt and then things get a bit strange.
I don't know how to oversell this book, it is JUST THAT GOOD. Heinlein's frank and down-to-earth dialouge in the midst of the bizarre settings is like a plain old hot dog on a fairground ride. It's a very summertime book. A very Kids' book. A very human book. This is the Boys' Adventure Tale Supreme. I never stopped reading Heinlein books for months after this one: Red Planet, Starman Jones, the aforementioned Podkayne of Mars (Girls' Adventure Tale Supreme?), all the way up to 'Variable Star' a few years ago. I've read a lot of Heinlein but I thank my lucky stars I haven't read them all- I still have tons to look forward to.

Sci-Fi is all about looking forward. Maybe the spot you're in right now ain't so perfect. Maybe you're poor, you're lonely, you're sick, you're afraid. Maybe you're part robot or a little bit green around the gills. You're just a regular, plain, old, ordinary kid. You probably don't even HAVE a genius scientist neighbour OR a jingle contest spacesuit, you poor soul. But there's always tomorrow. You never know what might happen next.

1 comment:

Bookmonkey said...

Cool list - I've always found it tricky to find girl-themed SF, so thanks for the reccomends!