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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2018 Year End Review

An interesting image I found online.
I just thought I’d share it with you.

I think 2018 was a good year for me. Granted, while I may not have been as active as I would have liked, I feel the posts I made were of a higher quality than the ones I started out with.

Before I list out some of my favorite posts from 2018, I want to thank you for participating in this site of mine.

I’ve got even more going on in 2019. From contest submissions, to novel writing and poetry, it’s going to be a goodyear!

Here’s some of my favorite reviews from 2018:

  • My review of The King of Elfland’s Daughter. This was published back in September, and was part of an ongoing series of reviews I did covering the early days of 20th century speculative fiction.
  • In the same vein, my review of A Princess of Mars was also one of my favorite posts. It was my first time really reading the book, and I was taken by it.
  • Back in July I did a review of The Broken Sword, a Poul Anderson classic I read for the first time. It was fantastic, and the review is worth your time.
  • In June was a review of N. K. Jemisin’s The Fifth Season, which I truly enjoyed. The review is much further in depth than some of the others, and based on only the effort alone, I think is worth your time.
  • Starting off the year strong was another review I did for a book I wanted to read for years. The Dragon Masters was a great read, and a book I recommend anyone into either science fiction or fantasy to enjoy.

Now, some of my more general posts were somewhat enjoyable as well. Let me go through a few of my favorite:

  • In April I posted a poem called “Cardinals in Spring Snow“. It was by far my favorite poem of the year.
  • In June I tried to sort out my thoughts on the big question, “What is Science Fiction?” I think it’s in interesting post, but after all these months, I’m not sure I agree with it. It’s still a good read, though.
  • In April was a writing post I made called Writing Descriptions. It stemmed from a conversation I had with an author friend of mine, and is still interesting to me.
  • In March was a more personal post I wrote about my struggles as a writer. It was called 75% Writing, 25% Coping, and was mostly about my thoughts on being a writer and dealing with rejection. You become able to handle rejection the more you’re exposed to it.

I hope this has been interesting, and I appreciate your time.

Thank you!


If you liked this, you may want to follow me on Twitter or Facebook!
You can also find me on Instagram, though it’s mostly pictures of books.

Book Review: The Children of Hurin by J. R. R. Tolkien

1009005228NOTE: Like a lot of Tolkien’s in-universe names, “Hurin” is spelled with an accent, which I do not include. This is simply because it’s hard to type every single time I have a letter that requires it. As such, I will not include those in this review.

Previously I reviewed The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien, but the book Children of Hurin is more in line with The Silmarillion (considering the story was straight up mentioned in that book).  Likewise, it is one of three newly released volumes edited by Christopher Tolkien based on works by his father. Like “Beren and Luthien” and “The Fall of Gondolin” it follows events long before The Hobbit.

I’m not really sure how to summarize the entire book in one review. To be honest, there was a lot to it that I simply don’t remember after reading it. I do recall, however, that it reads like a Viking legend or Greek tragedy.

Essentially, the story follows the children of Hurin, who was taken prisoner by Morgoth. While imprisoned, great tragedies befall his family involving a daughter born and a son who leads his people in battle. His son, Turin, goes by a pseudonym several times in the story, and as such there’s a Greek tragedy element resulting from a dragon’s curse.

The book reads like a blend of The Lord of the Rings and The Silmarillion. If you liked both of those, you will like this book. If you liked Lord of the Rings but didn’t like The Silmarillion, then you’ll probably think it’s boring.

I, however, loved this book. I actually liked it more that The Silmarillion when I read it. Remember that this is a tragedy, so if that isn’t something you’d like, then avoid this. Beren and Luthien might fit you better.



You might like some of my other reviews:

Book Review: The King of Elfland’s Daughter by Lord Dunsany

Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

Book Review: The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

Book Review: Age of Myth by Michael J. Sullivan

9781101965337-us-300Age of Myth by Michael J. Sullivan is a fine work in high fantasy. I will admit I imagined a far different story from the summary than what it ended up being, but it was a good read. I think I burned through it in about one afternoon.

I will be covering the characters, so if you don’t want to hear the beats of the story, just know I think it was a good book, but wish it had been more focused.

The story follows a few characters:

Raithe is a warrior from a barbarian-type clan. He maliciously kills a Fhrey, a god to humans, in a dispute of his father and his father’s family sword. Raithe is called the god-killer, and as such travels with his new companion, Malcolm, a former slave of the Fhrey. They eventually find themselves in Dahl Rhen.

Arion is the next character, though it feels she was underutilized. Arion is the tutor to the prince, and as such holds a great amount of respect in Fhrey society. She’s a gifted mage (or whatever they call them) and has great powers even among the Fhrey. Interestingly, the Fhrey society seems to have almost developed a caste system over time, and it was only slightly touched upon in the book. She is eventually told to find the god-killer.

Persephone is the widow of the former chief of Dahl Rhen. She is intelligent and finds herself drawn to Raithe, when the man arrives. However, it’s interesting how she keeps him at arm’s length due to her recent loss. She also listens to Suri, a young mystic with a pet wolf.

Suri is my least favorite character. She seemingly has no real problems or weaknesses. Instead, she’s already gifted and even Arion sees a skilled mage in her. I’m not sure why she rubs me the wrong way other than the fact that she’s supposed to be perfect; all bad things seemingly come to her from outside, never internally. Suri has foretold the coming destruction of their society, and because of that she works with Persephone to forestall it.

REAL SPOILERS BELOW, read on at your own peril!

The only thing I didn’t like was the mention of Raithe’s killing of the Fhrey actually after he had incapacitated the elven being. It seemed like a big deal, but it was tossed aside with a single line of dialogue towards the end of the book.

Also, there was the “conspiracy” aspect. I won’t spoil it for you, but it came out of nowhere and felt like it wasn’t set up at all. Payoffs require setups, so I wish it had been setup better.

 

Ultimately, I liked the book. Great characters and an interesting setting. I would love to see more of the Fhrey, so we’ll see how the next books are!

 


 

If you liked my review you might like these others:

Book Review: The Broken Sword by Poul Anderson

Book Review: The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

Book Review: The Fifth Season by N. K . Jemisin

You may also like these posts I wrote about scifi and writing:

What is Science Fiction?

Finding Your Writing Style

Where the First Draft Ends and Second Draft Begins

Book Review: The High Crusade by Poul Anderson

TheHighCrusadeFollowing in the footsteps of my The Broken Sword review is another Poul Anderson masterpiece, mostly unknown to modern readers.

The High Crusade is a book about English knights, priests, and peasants from the medieval period who take over an alien spaceship and begin to fight the aliens on other planets. It’s fun, exciting, and from that premise comes one of the most interesting explorations of the medieval mindset I’ve ever read.

To be honest, the weakest part is the characters. It was pretty clear which direction the characters were going to go, and with the medieval mindset it was clear the person who broke fealty was doomed from the get go. This is honestly a flimsy weakness, though, since the book is excellent despite this.

Before I get into spoilers, I can’t recommend this book enough. If you like science fiction or the medieval age, this is right up your alley.

SPOILERS BELOW

The main thrust of the book is Sir Roger’s campaign against the Wersgorix Empire. He’s successful only because he’s modifying medieval warfare to the new technology they acquire, and because the aliens have had a relative peace due to the empire controlling much of the galaxy.

The most interesting element is the idea that Earthlings will go into space far in the future and find a feudal system throughout the galaxy!


If you liked this review you might like some of my others:

Book Review: The Lord of the Rings by J. R. R. Tolkien

Book Review: The Shadow of the Torturer by Gene Wolfe

Book Review: The Fifth Season by N. K . Jemisin

You may also like my work on writing:

What is Science Fiction?

Turning a Hobby into a Career

Writing Philosophical Science Fiction

Book Review: The Fifth Season by N. K . Jemisin

jemisin_fifthseason-tpI’ve had this book recommended to me multiple times over the past year, but just recently picked it up. I’m glad I did!

The trilogy of novels started with The Fifth Season is critically acclaimed, the first book winning the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 2016.

The Fifth Season is three stories in one, told throughout the novel. The first follows a young girl who revealed supernatural powers, the second follows a young woman in the Fulcrum (which is essentially a guild for the orogenes), and the third story is in second person following an older woman. The stories switch between each POV throughout the story.

Throughout the three stories you explore a little about the characters but a lot about the world. Honestly, the world as a dying Earth with strict social structures and a magical system based on geology was creative and unique.

A few things I don’t like:

  • Damaya doesn’t seem to have much of a character, and is a little obvious as far as her characterization goes. She has no real growth or change, and seems to remain the strong-willed overly intelligent girl right from the beginning.

To be fair, she does have some interesting storylines, like the one with the kids bullying her in the Fulcrum. I also like the interactions she had with her Guardian.

  • The second person sections were creative, but difficult to read. Honestly I had so much trouble adjusting to it, but once I did, I enjoyed what I read.

A few things I like:

  • Syenite and Alabaster’s story is the most interesting story in the book. It’s got character development, growth, change, and mysteries that are explored. I loved it.

Syen is a little shallow, but Alabaster was fascinating. When they’re first introduced it was awkward and uncomfortable. As they went on, they maintained a level of awkwardness but it was understandable.

  • The big star was the worldbuilding. N. K. Jemisin’s worldbuilding is fantastic. From the fully-developed organization and culture to the magic system everything is fleshed out and interesting.

Before I get into spoilers, let me say this: the book is award winning. It’s well deserved.

I think this is one of the best written books I’ve read in the fantasy genre, and would recommend it to anyone who errs on the side of experimentation and creativity with genre fiction. Despite how picky I am, I would say it’s fantastic.

SPOILERS BELOW

The first main twist in the book is the fact that all three storylines follow the same character. I absolutely loved that revelation. Syen as a character was a little boring, but the story was told so brilliantly that it didn’t matter.

What’s more is that Alabaster basically made up for Syen’s lack of depth. ‘Baster was forced to continually impregnate other orogenes due to his status as a ten ring. However, he was most likely a closeted gay man. He also never fell in love with Syen, which made a ton of sense.

I think at this point my other major complaint can be aired: the lack of love. I understand this was probably intentional, given the world the story takes place in, but it felt alien and inhuman, transferring that oddity to the characters. It was also apparent when Syen had her first child. You felt little to no love between mother and child, and made Syed seem robotic.

Now, I want to talk about the ending, so I’ll give you a nice warning and white out the text below:

ENDING SPOILER

Syen ends up killing her son in the end, to kill the Guardian that was bonded to her. It was heartbreaking and sad, but also felt soulless because it didn’t seem like Syen even cared about the kid to begin with. I kind of don’t understand why she had to kill him anyways if the obelisk was all ready moving towards her for aid, or why she didn’t just launch more projectiles at the ships.

The ending revelation as to what caused the Earth to get into its “current” state was interesting. I also noticed the distinct lack of description of the moon, and when they revealed that humanity killed Earth’s child, I knew it was the moon (as did most readers I’m sure). So for the book to end with the question from a damaged Alabaster concerning the moon was a nice surprise. 

All in all I would, again, recommend this book.


If you would like to support me, please use my Paypal link.

You may also like some of my other reviews:

Book Review: Arabella of Mars by David D. Levine

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

Book Review: Trading in Danger by Elizabeth Moon

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: Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge by Mike Resnick

seven-views-of-olduvai-gorgeI don’t know if it’s cheating to review this, but I received a small pamphlet, about 40 pages long, of Mike Resnick’s novella “Seven Views of Olduvai Gorge”. Since I read it as a single bound material, I guess it counts as a “book review”.

I liked this story! I really enjoyed it after a small adjustment period.

The story follows alien scientists researching the origins of humanity, who has gone extinct thousands of years ago. Humanity was an empire that stretched across the stars, but they began from a small world called Earth. There are seven flashbacks related to seven artifacts recovered related to humanity, and the scientists learn more about human nature as it goes on. Ultimately, it shows how humanity came about, and how it grew to become the dominant force in the galaxy.

Mike Resnick is renowned for his prose, and this story is no exception. His still with words is fantastic, and as a writer, his ability to plot out fiction shines through.

“Seven Views” is a fantastic story, and one I’d recommend to anyone interested in science fiction. It’s a great story about human nature.

The ending, without getting into spoilers, is a great way to cap the crescendo on human nature.


 

You might like some of my other reviews:

Book Review: Jack of Shadows by Roger Zelazny

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

Book Review: Norse Mythology by Neil Gaiman

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!