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
7) Loch by Paul Zindel
When he was younger, Luke Perkins thought that he'd seen a lake monster. This experience earned him the nickname "Loch", which seems very appropriate when his father takes him and his sister along on a scientific expedition to Lake Alban in Vermont. Loch's father is funded by a hardass businessman, Mr. Cavenger, who favors a hands-on approach to expedition management and also expects major results for his money. Ask and ye shall receive - because Lake Alban turns out to be home to a pack of pre-historic plesiosaurs. Conflicts between the ancient creatures and modern man ensue, and Loch and his sister find themselves caught in the middle while trying keep everyone - human and lake monster - alive. (On a side note, I did a book report on Loch in the sixth grade, for which I drew a large and totally awesome picture of the climactic scene in the book. Without spoiling anything, I will say that it included a very large explosion and one character was depicted bleeding from an empty eye socket. My teacher was concerned.)

6) Spacer and Rat by Margaret Bechard
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Even though Jack is an orphan, he was at least lucky enough to be born on the Freedom space station located on the asteroid belt in the solar system. Power sources and jobs are more plentiful in space, and Jack hopes to take a new job on another space station where he might encounter some distant relatives, which would make a nice change from apprentice food service. His plans change when his friends ask him to join them in chasing a "rat". The "rat" turns out to be Kit, an illegal immigrant from Earth whose father died making the journey to Freedom. Jack has to decide whether to risk everything he's ever worked for to help Kit escape detection by the authorities, and to keep a promise to her father.

5) The House of the Scorpion by Nancy Farmer
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Matt grew up without any family, confined to a small shack and in the care of a servant on an opium plantation. When he first encounters other children, he's so desperate to interact with them that he leaves the shack through the window and cuts himself on the broken glass. While he's being patched up at the big plantation house, he learns that doesn't have a family - not in the way the other children do. He's actually the clone of the plantation owner/powerful drug lord, Matteo Alacran, who intends to harvest organs from him as he ages (for those of you who might think this sounds both familiar and stupid, rest assured that this book is much smarter and more enjoyable than Parts: The Clonus Horror or The Island). Unable to accept that he had been created for spare parts, Matt throws himself into his studies and practice, hoping to prove his own worth as an actual human being.

4) Feed by M.T. Anderson
If you think that pop-up ads on the internet are annoying and intrusive, you should try accessing the Feednet through a computer chip implant in your brain. Most of the population in Anderson's novel has undergone implantation, in many cases right after birth. With almost everyone constantly "plugged in", privacy has become an antiquated notion. People can chat mind-to-mind. The government can even subpoena people's memories, and corporations have free reign to data-mine consumers' minds for more specific ad-targeting, sometimes to a physically debilitating degree. Titus meets Violet during his Spring Break vacation on the Moon. While partying together at a club, their Feeds are hacked by anti-Feed activists, causing them to lose control of their own voices and scream anti-Feed slogans until they pass out. When they regain consciousness in the hospital, they discover that their Feeds will not reactivate for several days, and they actually begin talking to each other the old-fashioned way. This experience leads them to question things that they've known their entire lives, and forces them to make hard decisions about the way they want to live.

3) Shade's Children by Garth Nix
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After the Change wiped out all adult humans, most of the surviving children have been incarcerated in dorms under control of the Overlords. No one is allowed to live past their fourteenth birthday, when they are sent to the Meat Factory and harvested for organic parts that are used to make creatures to serve the Overlords. The only people who live past fourteen are a few young women kept for breeding purposes, and those that manage to escape the compounds and survive on their own. The Change has also given some of the older escapees "Change Talents", which are usually psychic in nature. This story follows a boy named Gold-Eye, who has managed to escape the Overlords and evade their creatures for a while, though his pursuers catch up to him in the beginning of the book. He is rescued by a group of strangers who call themselves Shade's Children, and they take him back to the safety of their hideout. Shade turns out to be the consciousness of a professor, who was downloaded into his hideout's systems before the Change happened. Gold-Eye joins Shade's Children, but soon discovers that his new leader may not always have their best interests at heart.

2) The Last Book in the Universe by Rodman Philbrick
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This story follows Spaz, a young boy who has grown up in The Urb, an earthquake-ravaged city that is also rife with poverty, rival gangs, and technological escapism in the form of mind probes. Mind probes allow the users to immerse themselves in images, which provide temporary relief from the horror of existence in The Urb. Almost no one still has the ability to read or write, and books are ancient relics of the past. That is, until Spaz meets an old man named Ryter in the course of running errands for one of the more powerful gang leaders. Ryter knows the old ways of reading and writing, and still possesses the tools to do so. Spaz later enlists Ryter's help in saving his step-sister Bean, who is dying of leukemia. Their journey takes them beyond the boundaries of The Urb to Eden, the city that is home to the wealthy and genetically-improved. Through its imaginative settings and characters, the novel explores interesting themes of class and prejudice.

1) David Starr, Space Ranger by Isaac Asimov
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Why writing as Paul French, you ask? Originally, Asimov was asked to write the Lucky Starr series by his agent and a science fiction editor to serve as the basis for a planned "Lone Ranger"-style television series. Interested in the project (aka, the money) but worried that the show would suck, he decided to publish the novels under a pseudonym, so that any disappointed fans could blame this "Paul French" person instead of the reigning master of science fiction. The show was never realized, so in later editions Asimov allowed his real name to be associated with the series. If you were to read this novel (and the rest of the Lucky Starr books) without knowing Asimov as the author, however, you'd see Asimov's wordy fingerprints all over them: the Three Laws are incorporated in Lucky Starr and the Moons of Jupiter later in the series. David Starr, Space Ranger introduces the title character, a biophysicist with no family who has just acquired some professional credentials. While eating in a restaurant on Earth, David witnesses the death of another patron. After some investigation, he discovers that many more similar deaths have occurred recently, and that all the victims had eaten food grown on Mars. Determined to get to the bottom of things, he travels incognito to Mars in order to get work on a Martian farm, find out what's going on and hopefully prevent any more deaths from happening. Though fun for young readers, older readers will enjoy it as well. Think of it as a science fiction nostalgia tour, and a possible source of inspiration for elements of SF that are considered essential today.

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