What Books Would You Recommend for Pre-Teens?

I’ve seen this question a lot. I think the age range is right there where a young person can start to read solid genre fiction outside of the “kiddie” hold of children’s fiction. There are some children’s books that work for this, obviously, but in general the genre can be a bit too juvenile for a middle-school aged young person.

That isn’t to mock children’s books whatsoever. I have great respect for authors of all age groups, but in this particular age range I’ve found that young people don’t respond well to books with younger themes.

As far as speculative fiction goes, there’s a number of books that could be recommended comfortably to younger readers in order to stoke their imagination and encourage them to read more. So here’s a list I composed of books I’d recommend to middle-school aged young people. I’ll include my recommendation, the genre, and the reason for my recommendation.


Interstellar Pig by William Sleator. Science fiction. My first exposure to science fiction, as I previously mentioned. It’s the story of a young man who goes on vacation when he meets strange kids who share a board game with him. In the game, you have to keep a “Piggy”on your planet in order to prevent the world from being destroyed. The board game seems to simulate reality, and I think most young readers would love this one. It’s fun, imaginative, and has a few twists and turns to it to keep it interesting.

Have Space Suit—Will Travel by Robert Heinlein. Science fiction. One of the more adventurous stories by Heinlein and one of his “juveniles”, the stories he intended for young readers. I previously reviewed Heinlein’s Space Cadet, another of his juveniles, though I wouldn’t put it on this list. A young man named Kip is kidnapped by an alien. From there, the story takes off to become a bizarre exploration of humanity. It’s worth a read and young readers should love it.

House of Stairs by William Sleator. Science fiction. If you can’t tell by now I love Sleator. He wrote mainly for this age range, which is why his work continues to show up on this list. House of Stairs follows a group of kids who find themselves in a strange room with stairs. It’s seemingly calculated to test them in various ways, and there’s more to it then it seems.

The Hobbit by J. R. R. Tolkien. Fantasy. Probably Tolkien’s most approachable book. It’s quirky in weird ways and definately dated, but it’s the forefather of a lot of fantasy stories. It’s worth picking up.

Singularity by William Sleator. Science fiction. A story about twin brothers who discover a small singularity in their uncle’s shed. There’s water and food, and apparently someone is able to stay in the shed while time slows outside the shed. This is widely considered Sleator’s best work.

The Harry Potter series by J. K. Rowling. Fantasy. This should be obvious enough. Rowling is a great writer, and as the characters age up so do the subjects they deal with. It’s imaginative and younger readers will love it.

Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. Fantasy. This one is probably most suited for kids, but the witty wordplay is probably appreciated more by preteens. Alice follows a rabbit and ends up in a strange world. It’s mostly nonsense literature, but I think it’s probably still fantasy.

The Giver by Lois Lowry. Science fiction. I read this book at the appropriate age. I loved it. It’s a dystopian novel about a future society that engineers their citizens to conform to set standards. It’s a great way to introduce philosophy to young people.

Interview With the Vampire by Anne Rice. Horror. Obviously this one contains blood and some disturbing elements. It’s a great vampire story. I recall my sister loving it when she was a young teen, and I suspect many other young readers will find Rice’s story compelling. If you want to wait to suggest it until high school, that would make sense in this case.

Conan the Conqueror by Robert E. Howard. Heroic fantasy. It will contain violence, but if you think your young person can handle it, this book is solid. It follows an older King Conan who leaves and journeys back to retake his kingdom.

Citizen of the Galaxy by Robert Heinlein. Science fiction. Another of Heinlein’s juveniles. A slave boy is bought by a beggar and given a job. It’s based in a space-faring society and clearly one of Heinlein’s best juveniles.

Jirel of Joiry by C. L Moore. Sword and sorcery. There is some violence in these stories. These stories are sometimes collected as “Black God’s Kiss”, the name of the most popular of the stories in the collection. Jirel is a french swordswoman who rules over a medieval state. She’s arrogant, brash, angry, and by far one of the most interesting characters on this list. Young readers should find her stories interesting, but I’m tempted to say that teenagers would appreciate the work more.

Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman. Fantasy. I wrote a review of this one. I didn’t think it particularly showcased Gaiman’s skill, but it’s still some great work. If you can find videos of Gaiman reading it to an audience, I’d recommend looking those up. It’s appropriate for younger readers who’d like to know about this mythology. It does contain some violence, of course, but an early teen should be able to handle that.

Dracula by Bram Stoker. Horror. I hesitate to list this one since it’s a bit unwieldy for modern readers. However, I enjoyed it when I was young and I’m sure young people today would like it as well. It’s gloomy, dark, and mysterious. If you’ve never read it, the book is unique in how it tells its story.


Maybe you’ll like some of my posts on writing:

Where the First Draft Ends and Second Draft Begins

Going from Outline to Manuscript

Writing with Inspiration

Or maybe a couple of my reviews:

Book Review: The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

Book Review: Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny

Book Review: Trading in Danger by Elizabeth Moon

Make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

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What is Science Fiction?

9262561366_05ea466cff_bMy family and I discussed some of the more recent Frankenstein movies, and the conversation drifted into the original novel by Mary Shelley. Inevitably, that brought out discussion of the original novel being the first science fiction novel. Apparently, this was a position Brian Aldiss held as well.

Now, I believe that science fiction, as a form of literature, is not so easily defined. As such, a distinct division between what was and was not science fiction is nearly impossible. However, I believe that there are various requirements that a story should meet to be considered science fiction:

1. It must have been written during or after the Enlightenment.

I would argue that science fiction didn’t exist until the Enlightenment. I would say that prior to this, any sort of fantastical or imaginative speculative fiction wouldn’t have had any concern for scientific ideas.

Now, the timing is intentional. Books like Gulliver’s Travels and Icosameron fit this element.

2. It must have been concerned with a scientific idea.

Even if that idea is as simple as “could we go to another planet?” or “what will life look like in 1,000 years?” Works that explore the possibilities of a hollow earth or people who live on the moon also fit this requirement, and if they were after the Enlightenment, fit the first as well.

I would also include some “soft” scientific ideas in here, such as psychology or politics. Thus, utopias or dystopias can be explored in detail in science fiction. I would exclude current politics or military science from this, if they were by themselves as scientific ideas.

3. It must have been concerned with speculation.

This means that a direct, realistic explanation of an even does not fit. Likewise, general fiction that doesn’t speculate anything isn’t a science fiction novel.

Now here’s the issue: space opera and military science fiction can speculate on the use of space faring technology or fighting aliens, but they don’t expound on those ideas. Nor do they need to!

I think these three elements must be included. Rod Serling once said, “Fantasy is the impossible made probable. Science fiction is the improbable made possible”.

So was Frankenstein the first sci-fi novel? No, I don’t think so, though it may have been the first “hard” science fiction novel, but that’s a different story. Perhaps this is overthinking it, or maybe I’m missing some element that would define certain stories and not others.

What do you think?


You may like some of my other work on this site. Make sure to check me out on Twitter and Instagram.

Maybe some of my reviews:

Book Review: The Gray Prince by Jack Vance

Book Review: The Ship of Ishtar by A. Merritt

Book Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane by Neil Gaiman

Maybe some of my work on writing:

Writing Descriptions

Finding Your Writing Style

Maybe my poetry:

Poetry: “Cardinals in Spring Snow”

Book Review: The Gray Prince by Jack Vance

download (2)I’d previously reviewed Jack Vance’s The Dragon Masters, which I loved. Like that book, The Gray Prince is a blend of science fiction and fantasy. Jack Vance is a master of that blend, and I recommend him to anyone who would desire reading that kind of mix.

However, I can’t readily recommend The Gray Prince. As a book it’s okay, but I feel it ends abruptly and lacks cohesiveness. There’s also a few other issues.

The book follows a small family, with Schaine Madduc returning to her homestead from the space port. Kelse, her brother, is antagonistic towards their old friend Jorjol. Jorjol is a native Uldra who was raised on the homestead, but in later days has become known as “The Gray Prince”, a leader of a rebellion against the human land barons, who took the aliens’ lands.

The main problem with the book is its use of the alien language and personal names. The Uldra use several unique terms that are difficult to explain. Vance describes it in passing, but mostly uses them to immerse the reader in the world. That’s normally fine, but in this instance there’s so many terms that I couldn’t follow it.

The names are another issue. The first third of the book I kept confusing Kelse and Schaine, and I thought Uther Madduc (Kelse and Schaine’s father) was Jorjol’s actual name. I had to refer to a character list online to figure out everything!

As another positive, the morals of the book are interesting. One could say they’re “shades of gray”, to throw a turn of phrase. The land barons are by no means the “good guys”. Uther and Kelse were both clearly bigoted towards Jorjol, and the consequences of those actions are seen in the events of the book.

Ultimately, I’d say that the problems with the book have to be weighed against the creative worldbuilding and storytelling. I think Jack Vance was a talented enough writer to warrant a read of this book, if only because of the recommendations online. However, I think it was just “good”, not great.


You might like some of my other reviews:

Book Review: The Ship of Ishtar by A. Merritt

Book Review: Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny

Book Review: Trading in Danger by Elizabeth Moon

You might also like some of my other work on this blog:

How to Tell if Your Writing is Improving

Writing Descriptions

Poetry: “Cardinals in Spring Snow”

Book Review: The Ship of Ishtar by A. Merritt

Fantastic_novels_194803This is a story I’ve wanted to read for along time. It’s early speculative fiction, and often categorized as either sci-fi or fantasy, but after reading it I can say it’s definitely a fantasy story. The story is more of an adventure tale than anything, which makes sense given the state of publishing back then.

The story follows Kenton, who is whisked away to a bizarre ship that’s divided into two halves. It travels an unknown sea, and is said to belong to the goddess Ishtar. Aboard the ship, Kenton has a unique sword and is mistaken at first for a messenger of the gods.  After it’s revealed that he isn’t who they thought, he’s already met the two other main characters: Sharane, priestess of Ishtar, and Klaneth, a priest of Nergel.

Kenton, upon seeing Sharane in all her beauty, falls for her instantly. The story is then a love story between Kenton and Sharane, with Klaneth serving as the main antagonist. Kenton goes through several adventures and meets people who become his friends along the way.

Ultimately, I think it was a solid book. It’s a great example of the kind of adventure fiction that was popular in the mid-twenties. While it’s certainly a product of its time, I think it’s well worth a read for anyone interested in the history of speculative fiction.

[Spoiler] A major failing for the story is the ending. I really don’t think it ended well. It felt like it ended with no real resolution.


If you liked this, you might like some of my other reviews:

Book Review: The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

Book Review: The Dragon Masters by Jack Vance

Book Review: Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny

Or maybe one of my posts about writing:

75% Writing, 25% Coping

Turning a Hobby into a Career

Make sure to follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

Writing with Inspiration

creativity_idea_inspiration_innovation_pencil_paper_plan_business-714869I often struggle to find a push to write when I’m feeling ill or tired. Since I have a full time job and a family, I’m often tired and just want to relax. However, I think once motivation is conquered, the next hurdle is inspiration.

Where do you find inspiration?

Inspiration can come from anything. Other stories, people you’ve met, ideas you have in the shower, friends and family, and just generally living your life. That last part is important. How can you write about people and events if you don’t live your life?

Being an introvert, I get it. I get tired talking to people and meeting large groups, but I do it to interact and learn about human interaction. Your character dialogue might improve if you learn how other people talk. Who knows, you might even get inspired by a stranger to create a brand new character!

If you find yourself being boxed in, without an idea to move forward with, try stepping out and seeing the world and the people in it. Maybe that will help you as it has me.

Ultimately, inspiration is a result of what you put into it. Go out and experience things, and write about similar things.


You might like some of my reviews:

Book Review: The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

Book Review: The Dragon Masters by Jack Vance

Book Review: The “Troy Rising” Trilogy by John Ringo

You might also like some more of my writing posts:

Turning a Hobby into a Career

Where the First Draft Ends and Second Draft Begins

Book Review: The Sirens of Titan by Kurt Vonnegut

TheSirensofTitan(1959)Kurt Vonnegut is an author I was exposed to early on in my life. In high school I read the short story “Harrison Bergeron” which impacted me the rest of my life.

However, when I was older I truly appreciated Vonnegut as an author when I read The Sirens of Titan.

It’s difficult to put down what this book was about. A succinct summary seems impossible. It follows a history laid out in detail that spans multiple worlds and times.  The ideas, the concepts, and the setting are all interesting and hold up for the most part. Some of the science is a little dated, but it’s charming in a way that Triplanetary was not.

The image of the sirens will always stay in my mind, as will the idea of the Unmoved Mover being a power source. Vonnegut is a skilled author and this is one book I recommend to anyone who enjoys science fiction.

I know this is a short one, but it’s a really complicated story to delve into.


You may like some of my other posts:

Book Review: The Dragon Masters by Jack Vance

Book Review: The Voyage of the Space Beagle by A. E. van Vogt

Book Review: Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card

You may also like my posts about writing:

Where the First Draft Ends and Second Draft Begins

Finding Your Writing Style

Book Review: The Dragon Masters by Jack Vance

1467740I don’t know exactly where to start on this book. It’s fantastic and the author is amazing. I give it my highest recommendation and suggest it to anyone who is a fan of science fiction or fantasy.

The book starts out in the past. This is on a distant world called Aerlith in the far future (relative to us), but the past is showing the history of this world. Long ago, the world was ruled by reptilian masters, aliens who had advanced technology and the ability to breed humanity to serve them.

Mankind, in their own way, bred the eggs of those aliens into dragons for themselves to ride. The eggs were bred into submission and became dragon mounts, able to bring their masters across the rocky, mountainous terrain.

This book packs in so many unique ideas and science fiction concepts. It’s fascinating to see how Vance is able to weave in interesting characters and ideas with plot progression. About the only thing I didn’t like was the aliens themselves. They seemed flat and uninteresting, even though they had an element of mystery.

The main character is Joaz Banbeck, descendant of Kergan Banbeck who defeated the aliens once long ago. He’s an interesting character, with his own goals and such. But he’s missing anything that makes him really unique as a person. He never really felt fully fleshed out.

The other humans were interesting, but some of the side characters were passed over quickly, such as the characters of Phade or Bast Givven. I get that it’s a short book (a novella, really), but it still felt frustrating when so many of those characters were interesting in their own right.

The ending really is bittersweet. Not bad, mind you, but a little sad.

All in all, I recommend this book highly.


You might like some of my other reviews:

Book Review: The Voyage of the Space Beagle by A. E. van Vogt

Book Review: Space Cadet by Robert Heinlein

Book Review: Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny

You may also like my posts on a variety of subjects:

Turning a Hobby into a Career

How to Tell if Your Writing is Improving

Please also follow me on Twitter and Instagram!

Book Review: The Enemy Stars by Poul Anderson

TheEnemyStarsI had heard of Poul Anderson in my readings of science fiction, but I think this was my first venture into his work. I should say I was not disappointed.

The Enemy Stars follows several characters, specifically those aboard the Southern Cross, a vessel for travelling the universe. Apparently the technology used is called a “mattercaster”, which I understood to be a teleporter of some kind.

I can’t speak of this book without getting into spoilers. Let me say, it’s a short read and worth your time if hard science fiction from the late 50’s is your thing. I liked it well enough, but I wouldn’t say I’d recommend it to everyone who likes sci-fi in general.

The book follows characters. As such, the main characters on the ship are interesting people, but I felt that the two main men, Ryerson and Maclaren, were far too similar. I had trouble remembering which one was which. Also their portrayal of Nakamura had him practice Zen and use simple Japanese words, which struck me as a little one-dimensional. The other characters also suffered from this plight, save Magnus, who was interesting in the end.

Like a playwright, Anderson is able to use various characters in a simple setting to make interesting observations and musings on a variety of subjects. The ideas are solid science fiction, with a black star being the central focus of the expedition.

It’s a good book, but not for everyone.


You might like some of my other reviews:

Book Review: Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny

Book Review: Slan by A. E. van Vogt

Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

You might also like my work on books or writing:

Where the First Draft Ends and Second Draft Begins

Finding Your Writing Style

The First SciFi Book I Read

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I Couldn’t Finish “Triplanetary” by E. E. “Doc” Smith

This is mostly an update for anyone who cares about my progress on these books. I update my Goodreads regularly, so check me out there if you have one!

Honestly, the book Triplanetary was far too outdated for me. It was mainly a problem in how the book communicates, I think, but I’ve read Victorian-era books without a problem, so I don’t know.

My complaints from the van Vogt books I’d read were similar, but overall I enjoyed them much more. In this one I had trouble keeping track of anything from characters to events. I don’t know why that was, but it was too hard to understand anything.

So, I’m giving up. I got 150 pages in, and I can’t remember what’s going on.


 

You might like my A. E. van Vogt book reviews:

Book Review: The Voyage of the Space Beagle by A. E. van Vogt

Book Review: Slan by A. E. van Vogt