My top ten sci-fi reads for teens

Science Fiction was practically my entire life when I was a kid and it’s still one of the most imaginative and exciting genres available to young readers.  Whether you come for the science or for the fiction, sci-fi has something to offer everyone.  These are some of my favourites – in no particular order – because they’re all just great!

1. The Iron Man – Ted Hughes 1968: A giant iron man arrives in England from outer space and is befriended by a local boy named Hogarth – which comes in handy when the Earth is attacked by a giant space dragon.  Giants, dragons, space robots – what’s not to like?

2. Mortal Engines – Philip Reeve 2001: A futuristic, steampunk story set after the ’60 minute war’ in which the major cities of the world roam the barren wastelands of the earth trying to eat each other.  Set in the ‘traction city’ of London it tells the story of Tom Natsworthy, an apprentice historian, who discovers a plot by the guild of Historians to recreate a terrible ancient weapon.  The recent movie has introduced a new generation to this brilliant sci-fi adventure but the book is soooooomuch better.  It features one of my favourite adventure heroines, Hester Shaw, and possibly the best opening line in any sci-fi adventure ever!  (Now you’ll have to look won’t you?).

3. Ender’s Game – Orson Scott-Card 1985: Orson Scott-Card proved himself to be something of a visionary with this tale of a Ender Wiggin’s journey through battle school as he learns how to fight the insectoid aliens known as ‘the buggers’.  What is extraordinary is Card’s prediction of the importance of computer gaming technology in modern warfare.  Hard and gritty – if you want to know what it’s really like to fight a space battle, this is the book for you.

4. Cosmic – Frank Cottrell-Boyce 2008: Liam is eleven years old, a joker and big for his age – so big in fact that he can ride the Cosmic rollercoaster, impersonate a teacher and persuade a car salesman to let him test drive a Porsche.  But when he wins the chance to go to what he thinks is a theme park in China he finds himself in charge of a spaceship bound for the moon as the only ‘adult’ in charge of a group of kids.  Cosmic is brilliant, funny and an easy read with some surprisingly deep messages about growing up and taking responsibility.  Plus, I love Frank.

5. The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins 2008: A worldwide phenomenon both in films and books – THG tells the story of a dystopian future in which teenagers are randomly selected each year from twelve districts to compete in a televised battle to the death.  Collins supposedly thought of the idea when channel surfing between a news channel showing war footage and a gameshow.  The tale is brilliantly written and speaks powerfully to teens about how they can often lack any real power in the societies in which they live.

6. Dune – Frank Herbert 1965: Ok so this is really an adults’ novel and it’s a good two inches thick – but when I was aged 11 a kid in my class ‘discovered’ Dune and pretty soon it went round the school like a dose of chicken pox.  Literally everyone was reading it in maths class.  Set in the far distant future it tells a story about a young boy, Paul Atreides whose wealthy and powerful family are betrayed and overthrown.  Paul has to learn to survive on an inhospitable desert planet, populated by a nomadic race called the Fremen and over time he becomes their leader and leads a rebellion against the emperor.  Aliens, spaceships, emperors and gigantic sandworms have got to be better than maths – no?

7. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea – Jules Verne 1870: Three friends hunting a mysterious sea monster discover that it is really a giant electrically powered submarine with a design very far ahead of its time. When they are captured by the crew and brought on board, they meet the mysterious commander of the vessel, Captain Nemo who takes them on a round-the-world-adventure, under the sea.  Written in an era when science and engineering were both in a golden age and new wonders were being discovered every day – 20,000 Leagues is a cracking adventure.

8. Railsea – China Mieville 2012: The world is covered with an endless network of railway tracks (the ‘Railsea’) and to step on the earth means to risk being eaten by the giant moles who live underground and can sense the vibrations.  Sham Soorap is an assistant doctor on a moletrain which hunts the moles for their meat and whose Captain is obsessed with finding the great white mole, Mocker Jack.  Welcome to the beautifully bizarre mind of China Mieville.

9. The Time Machine – HG Wells 1895: Astonishingly, written over 120 years ago, TTM was the first book to popularise the concept of time travel (something widely accepted in sci-fi novels these days).  It tells the tale of a victorian scientist and inventor who uses his newest invention to travel to the year 802,701 where he discovers the grisly future that awaits mankind.  Years ahead of its time – this is a corking adventure story and the grand-daddy of modern science fiction.

10. The Hitch-hikers Guide to the Galaxy – Douglas Adams 1985: Arthur Dent is the last surviving member of the human race, who escapes from the earth dressed only in his pyjamas and dressing gown, moments before the planet is demolished to make way for a hyperspace bypass.  Rescued by the alien, Ford Prefect – Arthur is introduced to the delights of the galaxy and meets the two-headed President of the Galaxy, Zaphod Beeblebrox and the perpetually depressed Marvin, the paranoid android.  This book is so damned funny – just don’t try to eat or drink anything while reading it or it could be messy.

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