14 Great But Lesser-Known Sci-Fi Novels for Lil' Nerds

By Bri Buckley in Daily Lists, Miscellaneous
Thursday, March 17, 2011 at 8:04 am
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Recently, TR ran a list of "14 Great But Lesser-Known Fantasy Novels for Lil' Nerds" and received many, many more fantastic reading suggestions in the comments (please check it out if you're looking for gift or class reading ideas for the young bookworms in your life). We would be remiss in our nerdly duties if we didn't also run a list for science fiction. If you recall, the purpose of the previous list was to shed some light on fantasy novels for nerdlings that aren't necessarily known to everybody, even we nerds. If there were movies or television shows based on it, it didn't appear on the list, and the same guidelines were applied to this one. Remember, if you see an obviously well-known author, we're going for B-sides and rarities here... as well as books that haven't had movies made of them or a lot of chatter about film adaptations for a long, long time (*cough* Ender's Game *cough*) won't appear here, either.

So try not get bent out of shape if you feel this list is missing something - make your own suggestions in the comments, so that we can get a lot more great recommendations out there! This is, after all, in service to the next generation of the nerds. But again, if some of you old crotchety nerds want to see what the "kids these days" are (or should be) reading, feel free to partake of the young adult SF goodness. Here, in no particular order, are 14 science fiction novels for young readers that you might not already know. Apologies in advance - some of these books might be a little difficult to acquire. Scour your libraries and used booksellers! And remember, please add your suggestions in the comments!

14) This Place Has No Atmosphere by Paula Danziger
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It's hard enough to pick up and move when you're a teenager, but imagine how difficult it is to leave your school, friends, and your home planet behind. Aurora couldn't have been happier with the way her life was going - she was popular at school, she had an awesome best friend and she'd just been asked to a big school dance by a guy she thought she had a future with. All of that changes when her parents give her the thrilling (to them) news: they've been selected to join a colony on the Moon. She and her family must travel 250,000 miles to a tiny colony, and try to start new lives in orbit. With great distance comes great perspective, however, and Aurora is surprised to find that there is life outside Earth's atmosphere.

13) My Teacher is an Alien by Bruce Coville
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Reach back into your memories of school and try to think of just one teacher you had that wasn't at least a little strange. Coville capitalizes on the natural distrust kids have of adults that try to make them learn things by confirming what they've always suspected - their teacher is from another planet! Susan, Peter, and Duncan discover that their tough and distant teacher, Mr. Smith, is actually an alien named Broxholm. After the kids publicly out Broxholm, Peter decides to help him escape on the condition that Broxholm take him along. He meets several other kinds of aliens on his journey, and discovers that humanity is being evaluated by these advanced races - and that a failing grade would be much, much worse than a bad mark on a report card. Be sure to continue with the sequels: My Teacher Fried My Brain, My Teacher Glows in the Dark, and My Teacher Flunked the Planet.

12) Have Space Suit - Will Travel by Robert Heinlein
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Kip Russell's greatest desire is to travel to space, so he jumps at the chance to win a free trip to the Moon by entering a jingle-writing contest. Unfortunately, he doesn't win first prize, but has to settle for a used previous-generation space suit. He doesn't let his disappointment get him down, however, and soon has the space suit (which he names "Oscar") back in working order. Intending to sell Oscar for college tuition money, he decides to take the suit for one last "space walk" around the backyard. During his walk, he answers a distress call and quickly finds himself in the company of a girl named Peewee and an alien called "Mother Thing". The three of them are captured by Mother Thing's pursuers and Kip finds his wish for space travel granted - though not in a way he ever expected, and perhaps more thoroughly than he wanted.

11) A Tale of Time City by Diana Wynne Jones
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Vivian Smith, a London schoolgirl being evacuated to the country during the start of World War II, didn't need any more complications in her life. She soon finds some anyway when she's kidnapped by two strangely-dressed boys, Jonathan and Sam, who think that she's a mysterious figure known as the Time Lady. The boys take her to Time City, a place that exists outside of History and is home to the Time Patrol and Observers, who make sure that History continues on the "correct" trajectory. The boys had overheard some high-ranking City officials discussing worrying trends in History, and how the Time Lady was to blame. Taking matters into their own hands, Jonathan and Sam thought they'd discovered her in disguise. When Vivian finally convinces them that she's not the Time Lady, it's too late for her to leave the City safely, and so she must integrate herself into a strange new society and learn all she can in order to get home again.

10) Groogleman by Debra Doyle and James D. MacDonald
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This novel is actually an expansion of a short story called "Uncle Joshua and the Grooglemen," which was written by the same authors and appeared in the Bruce Coville's Book of Monsters anthology. The novel is set in a future that has been ravaged by a deadly plague. Dan Henchard is a 13-year-old boy who seems to be untouched by the disease that is afflicting his village. Believing that his immunity has destined him to become a "weller", or healer, he travels with his friend to the "Dead Lands", which is the region that has been most heavily affected by the plague. There, they also face the Grooglemen, which are strange and terrifying creatures that steal the heads of plague victims. When the Grooglemen take a live person, however, Dan must work with a mysterious hunter named Joshua in order to rescue them, and learns some unexpected truths along the way.

9) Interstellar Pig by William Sleator
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Barney wasn't expecting any more from his summer vacation than being cooped up in his parents' rental house and reading science fiction novels. Though a whole summer of reading might seem like a great vacation to some, a 16-year-old boy sometimes wants a little excitement in his life. He gets it when some strange new people move in next door and get him hooked on a new role-playing card game: Interstellar Pig. The players take the roles of different alien races by drawing cards, and the object of the game is to be the one holding the Piggy card when the game ends. When that happens, every alien's home planet will be destroyed except for the player holding the Piggy. Barney soon comes to realize that Interstellar Pig is more than a mere card game, and the stakes are much higher than he ever imagined.

8) Uglies by Scott Westerfield
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In this post-apocalyptic future, civilization as we know it has been wiped out by a type of bacteria that decimated the human race and threw society into chaos. The survivors are concentrated into small city-states, which are independent of each other and don't encourage much travel. People are rigidly divided into age groups: "Littles" (0-11 years), "Uglies" (12-15 years), and "Pretties" (16 and older). When reaching the age of 16, everyone undergoes a cosmetic operation that makes them beautiful - and surprisingly very similar-looking. Tally Youngblood wants nothing more than to have her sixteenth birthday, and with it the customary beautification. Things start to change for her when she befriends Shay, a girl who shares her birthday but not her desire to become a "Pretty." In order to avoid this mandatory operation, Shay leaves the city and a note to Tally with an invitation to follow if she chooses. Tally must make some life-altering decisions and face many dangers head-on as she tries to discover what it is she really wants, and what she's willing to sacrifice for it.

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