PJ’s Science Fiction Books for Young Adults

Welcome

PJ

Hi, my name is Patrick Joseph (you can call me PJ) McDermott. You may never have heard of me, so here’s the short version of my bio: I live in Australia, and I’ve been writing since 2012. Mostly, I’ve published science fiction books for young adults, although my first was a Scottish historical fiction set in the 1960s. It’s called Small Fish Big Fish and you can explore the background to the storyline and the setting here. I’m sure you’ll find it makes for interesting reading.

Every author will claim he/she has at some stage written “the book I had to write.” Small Fish Big Fish is my claim to fame, mainly due to the circumstances of my upbringing, but my true love is science fiction.

I’ve been reading SF since I picked up John Wyndham’s Day of the Triffids when I was 11 years old. Now, if you haven’t read this one, take my advice – get yourself a copy! On reflection, I can say without doubt this is one of the most imaginative adventure books I’ve read. It certainly made an impression on me, and, like most books I enjoy, I’ve read it multiple times over the years!

I didn’t realize then, of course that Wyndham’s masterpiece was written at the beginning of a golden age of science fiction, but I was lucky to experience the imaginative works of a host of master-writers over the next ten years. Arthur C, Clarke, Ray Bradbury, Robert Heinlein, E.E. “Doc” Smith, Philip K. Dick, to name only a few who wrote stories I have read and will never forget.

I hope to discuss the work of these artists over coming weeks. Today, I want to cover off a few pieces of SF that made a huge impression on me as a young man and influenced my own writing.

More About Me

another adventure book

Although I quickly gravitated to the science fiction genre, I didn’t begin there. My mother loved reading and every year since I can remember, I’d wake on Christmas morning with a new book in my stocking. I’m not sure what the first one was, but  the 1956 Rupert Bear Annual certainly made an impression. Released every year, this was based on the UK Daily Express comic strip created by brilliant British artist, Mary Tourtel (1874-1948.) It was first published in 1920 and her works have sold 50 million copies internationally.

Okay, not a candidate for inclusion in the golden age of science fiction, BUT I loved the color, the characters and the adventures the little bear got up to. (I still have the 1956 Annual!)

When I started High School, I was encouraged to read at least one classic adventure each week. Most weeks I’d finish two. Have you read Treasure Island, Robinson Crusoe, Master of Balantrae, Tom Sawyer, Little Women (yes, and Jo’s Boys!) Kidnapped, and Call of the Wild, to name just a few favorites. All these are great adventure stories for younger readers.

Later, as a teenager, I read fiction books day and night. So much so, that when I dodged school (Which I did most Friday mornings to avoid maths!) I’d go to the town library and trawl through a treasure trove of fabulous stories and pick out one by H.G. Wells or Isaac Asimov, then settle down in a reader’s chair to enjoy. Strangely, none of the librarians asked me why I wasn’t at school!


Isaac Asimov Science Fiction

The Master

Isaac Asimov was born in Russia and moved to the US with his family when he was four years old. A prolific writer and editor throughout the golden age of science fiction, he is said to have written/edited more than 500 books.

Later in life, he became an instructor of chemistry and biochemistry at Boston University School of Medicine. He died in 1997 at the age of 77, and is probably remembered best for his books about robots and his futuristic sci-fi series.

I, Robot

In I, Robot, Asimov introduced two of the most original science fiction concepts ever, which he also incorporated into later books, notably the Foundation Series – the positronic brain, and the three laws of Robotics.

science fiction books for high school students

The Three Laws first made their appearance in the short story compilation, I Robot. They were designed as a safety device built into the positronic brain, devised to protect humans from potentially dangerous interactions with robots.

The laws form the basis for many of Asimov’s stories. They are:

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

They seem foolproof, don’t they? Many people believed these would become the template for future robotic design (and some still do.) If you are intrigued, check out Asimov’s collection of short stories, titled I, Robot, featuring the inventor of the positronic brain, Susan Calvin. It’s a great introduction to science fiction books for young adults.

The Foundation Series

science fiction books for high school students

Considered by many to be the best science fiction adventure books of all time (and awarded the HUGO Award to prove it) the foundation series comprises seven novels written by Isaac Asimov between 1942 and 1993.

The trilogy, perhaps the most read three-book science fiction series ever, was written 1952-1955 They are Foundation, Foundation and Empire, and Second Foundation. According to Asimov himself, the premise for the trilogy was based on Edward Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire.

It was invented by the author as he traveled to meet with the editor of Astounding Science Fiction magazine, John W. Campbell, who is credited with heralding in the golden age of science fiction.

Together, Asimov and Campbell developed the concepts of the collapse of the Galactic Empire, the civilization-preserving Foundations, and psychohistory that form the basis of the plot.


Frank Herbert

Science Fiction Born in 1922, Frank Herbert held a variety of jobs while writing his socially engaging science fiction stories. He wrote over two dozen novels including Dragon in the Sea (1956) and The Green Brain (1966) which are still popular today.

He was working as a journalist when his seminal work Dune was published. The novel has been translated into fourteen languages and sold some twelve million copies, more than any other science-fiction single book in history.

Interestingly, Dune was rejected by twenty publishers before it was published in 1965. Shades of JK Rowling who was turned down twelve times before finding success with the Harry Potter books!

For more on Frank Herbert, check out Dune Fandom

Dune

If we use readership to evaluate the best science fiction book for young adults, then the honor would surely go to Frank Herbert. 

science fiction books for young adults

Some will scoff and say this is because the whole Dune saga is a science fiction multimedia franchise (having been released as video games, movies, TV series and sequels, prequels, etc. by multiple authors, which is true.) I say it would never have been such a successful enterprise if the first novel wasn’t so darn good!

In Herbert’s universe, computers, robots and  other artificial intelligences are outlawed. In their place, civilization has developed advanced mental and physical abilities as well as advanced technologies that comply with the edict on computers. Dune tells the story of House Atreides, specifically Paul Atreides, whose family accepts the stewardship of the planet Arrakis.

While Arrakis is an inhospitable desert wasteland, it is the only source of melange, a drug that extends life and enhances mental abilities. Melange imparts multidimensional awareness and foresight to space pilots and is vital for space navigation.

Melange can only be produced on Arrakis, so control of the planet is a profitable but dangerous undertaking. The story explores the politics, religion, ecology, technology, and human emotion, of the different noble houses as they struggle for control of Arrakis and the melange.


H.G. Wells Science Fiction

Photograph by George Charles Beresford, 1920

Herbert George Wells is commonly referred to as the “father of science fiction.” He was born into poverty but developed an interest in reading early in his childhood and read everything that came his way.

Wells was a prolific writer publishing several books (including The Time Machine) in the year 1895. Two years later, in 1897, he published The invisible Man, and War of the Worlds.

Wells’ first bestseller, Anticipations (1901) was about what the world would be like in the year 2000. Wells said that the purpose of Anticipations was “to undermine and destroy the monarch, monogamy, faith in God, & respectability, and the British Empire, all under the guise of a speculation about motor cars & electric heating.”

Many of the themes and propositions advocated by Wells in Anticipations such as racism, fascism, and arguments against the longevity of democracy were condemned then and by later generations of readers. But it’s worth noting that within a few years, Wells refuted much of what he had written in Anticipations and became a leading advocate of human rights.

The Time Machine

hg wells books amazon

Published in 1895, this one isn’t in the golden age of science fiction, but it is a dead set classic and the archetype of numerous time travel stories that use a machine to travel across time. (Thinking “Ready Player 1” by Ernest Cline, “A Statue for Father” by Isaac Asimov, “The Pendulum” by Ray Bradbury, to name a few.)

The main plot in Wells’ story plays out over many hundreds of thousands of years into the future to a point where humanity has been reduced to two very different races of people, both battling extinction, The Eloi and the Morlocks.

The Eloi, and the Morlocks are compared and contrasted to illustrate the themes that fascinated Wells at the time—fear of dark/light, the evolution of society into master and servant classes, and finally those who eat versus those who are eaten!

The Eloi

The Eloi are portrayed as a society of incurious, childlike people living a seemingly idyllic life dedicated to the pursuit of pleasure, and existing on a diet of fruit and nuts. All food is generously provided while they sleep by an unknown benefactor. 

Science fiction adventure
Rod Taylor and Yvette Mimeux (Weena) in the 1960 movie!

None of the Eloi question why, or who would do such a thing. People in this society also “disappear” overnight, but no-one is concerned by this either.

The Time Traveler thinks the entire planet Earth has evolved to become a garden, with no sign of industry, construction, or engineering after hundreds of thousands of years of history. He considers the growth of human intelligence, which appears to be sadly lacking in the Eloi, to be a function of the need of the species to respond to danger. But, if there is no danger to fear, is it possible a society could regress to the likes of the Eloi?

Thinking back to the world he came from, the Traveler wonders whether humanity’s pursuit of leisure and pleasure, with the consequent reduction in life challenges might lead to the eventual decline of humanity into mind-numbing mediocrity and complacency

What do you think?

Much has changed since H.G. Wells wrote The Time Machine. Many would say, our society has become even more hedonistic than the one Wells lived through. Could it be humanity will end up like the Eloi if we continue down our current path? I hope not, but the signs are there, and you never know!

The Morlocks

Morlocks are depicted as brutish, sub-human creatures who live underground during daylight and emerge to the surface as the sun sets. Wells plays on the reader’s fear of things that go bump in the night. The Eloi never see the Morlocks because they’ve been trained to retire to their dwelling and sleep the night away. However, as we delve deeper into the story, we learn the Morlock farm and feed on the Eloi because no other means of sustenance is available.

hg wells science fiction
The Morlocks having a bad hair day.

So, which would you rather be? Morlock, or Eloi? A cannibal who does what he must to survive, or a beautiful person, oblivious of his/her fate, who is harvested at the prime of life?

That’s the skill H.G. Wells brings to his writing. He sucks you in with a terrific adventure and WHAM! he hits you with a great philosophical meaning of life question.

All HG Wells books are on Amazon and other on-line retailers. You can download The Time Machine from here. 

There are a heap of great science fiction authors I could recommend you read, but lets stick with hg wells science fiction for now.

The War of the Worlds

The War of the Worlds, again by Wells, was written during 1895/98. It is considered one of the first novels dealing with alien invasion. I think it easily fits into the category of best science fiction books for young adults ever written. The plot arose from Wells’ concern over British imperialism, specifically the devastating effect the British had on indigenous Tasmanians.

science fiction books for high school students

Most of the 7,000 Indigenous Tasmanians were killed during the twenty-seven years of British colonization. By the end of colonization in 1830, at least two families of Aboriginal people were still living on the Island. By 1835 only one Aboriginal family remained on the island, living in a white sealing village near the Bass Strait, hiding from British authorities. Almost all the survivors were incarcerated and placed in camps.

Historians estimate all but forty-seven were dead by 1847. By 1876, the only survivors remaining were mixed-race Aboriginal Tasmanians.

As a man of some social conscience and a prolific writer, Wells wondered what would happen if an invader (let’s call them Martians) did to Britain what the British had done to the Tasmanians. Art imitating life? Once again, HG Wells asks an important question of his readers!

Where should you begin?

Well, anywhere really! But, if you’re new to Science fiction and want a recommendation, my suggestion is you read in this order. 

  1.  The Time Machine
  2.  War of the Worlds
  3.  Foundation Series
  4.  Dune Trilogy.

I’m sure you’ll agree all four represent the best science fiction books for young adults ever written!

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