Last week, we talked about book recommendations for younger readers—specifically books that put young protagonists in space. We started with one of the most prolific writers of those books, Robert A. Heinlein, whose books are still being reprinted. This week, we'll look at newer generations of books.
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From Juvenile to Young Adult—The Jupiter Novels
Somewhere along the line, the "Juvenile" label, perhaps because of negative connotations, was dropped in favor of the label "young adult." In the ’90s, Tor published a line of young adult novels under the label "Jupiter." The Jupiter novels, modeled after the Heinlein Juveniles, were collectively written by three already established authors, Charles Sheffield, Jerry Pournelle and James P. Hogan. They focused on realistic science and positive outlooks of our future.
In the first Jupiter novel, Higher Education (by Sheffield & Pournelle), a teenager named Rick, expelled from a troubled school system in a bureaucratic Dystopian Earth, trains for a job mining asteroids. In Starswarm (Pournelle), the voice that Kip hears in his head is actually an artificial intelligence, guiding him through the secrets of a space station outpost. The Billion Dollar Boy (Sheffield) sees the coddled, titular rich kid suddenly becoming stranded on a faraway mining station.
In Sheffield's Putting Up Roots, Josh Kerrigan emigrates to a distant planet when Earthside farming becomes unprofitable. There, the autistic cousin under his care makes first contact with aliens. And in The Cyborg From Earth (Sheffield again), the teenage protagonist is enlisted to deal with the threat of rebellious cyborgs. James P. Hogan's contribution to the Jupiter novels is Outward Bound, a book in which 15 year-old Linc Marani, on the path to a life of crime, becomes the fall guy and, in lieu of jail, enlists in a mysterious training camp.
Outside the Jupiter line, young adult novels continued to thrive. In Sylvia Louise Engdahl's Journey Between Worlds, 18-year-old Melinda Ashley is transplanted to Mars where life takes an unexpected turn. Science fiction author David Brin took a spin in YA territory with Sky Horizon, in which an alien visitor leads to a high school being transported to another world. In Michael J. Daley's Shanghaied to the Moon, 13-year-old Stewart's dreams of entering Space Academy are supplanted by the increasingly shady actions of a mysterious spacer and the fact that his memories have been altered. And in Barbary by Vonda N. McIntyre, a 12-year-old orphan sent to an orbiting space station to live with her new foster parents, must contend with a contraband cat and aliens visiting our solar system.
A common premise for getting people into space is for survival, whether on a personal level or a species level. David Gerrold's Dingilliad series (comprised of Jumping Off the Planet, Bouncing Off the Moon and Leaping to the Stars) deals with a family's escape to the outer colonies from an Earth on the brink of economic collapse. K.A. Applegate's 14-book Remnants series (beginning with The Mayflower Project) is about Earth's last survivors hastily sent spaceward on a revamped space shuttle just before Earth was destroyed by an asteroid collision. And in Dom Testa's Galahad series (The Comet's Curse, The Web of Titan, The Cassini Code and The Dark Zone) a passing comet eliminates most of Earth's adult population, thus the last hope for human survival is to send teenagers and children to colonize another planet.
Speaking of space colonization, that's another good excuse to get young people into space. For example, Pamela Sargent's Seed trilogy (comprised so far of Earthseed and Farseed) begins with a generation of children on a ship launched 100 years ago from a dying Earth. The ship's mission if to carries the seeds of mankind to a habitable world. In M.J. Locke's Up Against It, an asteroid colony is befallen by tragedy that includes a life-threatening catastrophe linked with Martian gangsters and an AI gone rogue. (Lots of good space physics in that one.) Finally, Across the Universe by Beth Revis takes place on a huge colonization spaceship where people are segregated and lives are regulated—an interesting backdrop for the murder mystery that plays in the foreground.
Give a Kid a Book—And Read One Yourself
Hopefully you've seen some enticing suggestions for books to recommend to the young adults in your life. And since these books are enjoyable by adults as well, you can also use them as common ground for open dialogue.
So, give a kid a book!
John DeNardo is the editor of SF Signal, a group science-fiction and fantasy blog featuring news, reviews and interviews.