Sunday, January 25, 2009

The essential introductory Science Fiction library

One of my nephews recently turned thirteen, and I decided to get him a present that might stick with him for a while: a collection of what I consider to be essential Science Fiction books, ones every kid should read. My nephew is already a huge fan of Star Wars in all of its permutations, but I'm trying to show him that there are other things in the world of Science Fiction. These are (mostly) books that I was reading when I was his age, and I'm hoping they fire his imagination the way they did mine.

In a case of perhaps Going Too Far, I wanted to replicate my experience of these books as closely as possible by buying the same editions that I originally read, or at least editions that are as similar as I could find.

The Hobbit, J.R.R. Tolkien. This is technically Fantasy, not Science Fiction. I was probably fourteen when I first read this book. I was already into Dungeons & Dragons, and I bought this book mainly out of a sense of necessity, like it was required reading for me. Also, I wanted to plow through The Lord of the Rings, and I knew this was a critical introduction. I had the paperback edition with the yellow-orange cover with a painting by (I think) the Brothers Hildebrandt on the cover of Gandalf, Gwaihir, and Bilbo. I bought this for my nephew as a paperback, but with a different cover.

The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams. This isn't just a book; it's also a membership to the global society of fans who get all of the inside jokes, a passport to a larger world of fandom. Ideally I would present my nephew with the radio series first, which is how I was originally exposed to the Hitchhiker's Guide, but I did the next best thing: I purchased an undersized hardcover copy that purports to be the seventh printing of the First Edition, in exactly the same size, shape, and cover art as my copy, which I purchased in 1981.

Dune, Frank Herbert. Heady, complex stuff, and I think I was a bit older when I read this for the first time. Still, it's a great book, and it's a cool introduction to all sorts of ideas. Pity the sequels never lived up to the original. I got this in paperback - I had the burnt-orange paperback, which was coordinated with the other books in the series at that time (Dune Messiah, Children of Dune, and God-Emperor of Dune.) Hey, my nephew will finally get all the Dune references on The Grim Adventures of Billy & Mandy!

Starship Troopers, Robert Heinlein. I believe this was technically written as juvenile fiction, though I was closer to thirty when I first read it. Larry Niven recommends that all kids be exposed to Heinlein by age ten. I doubt Starship Troopers was what he had in mind. Really more along the lines of military fiction or even social fiction, it is filled with plenty of original ideas and thought-provoking images. I was able to get the same edition that I bought for myself years ago, with the James Warhola cover.

The Star Wars trilogy. OK, not essential, but it's fun to spot the errors and differences - Luke flies in Gold Squadron as Gold Five, Yoda is a wizened blue figure, the ghost of Obi-Wan explains how he gave baby Luke to his brother Owen for safe keeping...

I probably should have thrown in George Orwell's 1984 for good measure, since that is essential reading for everybody. And The Hugo Winners Volumes I & II (edited by Isaac Asimov) is a wonderful collection of short stories providing introductions to Harlan Ellison, Larry Niven, Fritz Leiber, and dozens of other giants of science fiction - maybe I'll get that for him eventually, too.

That wasn't everything I got him for his birthday, but those books formed the core. I hope he reads them, and they don't just wind up tossed aside or collecting dust on a shelf.

Other people, I am sure, have their own ideas as to what books provide an essential introduction for young readers. Please share your own ideas in the comments!


whimsical brainpan said...

What wonderful gifts (and great choices)! If he likes the genre maybe you could throw in some Phillip K Dick and Robert Silverberg.

Todd HellsKitchen said...

What a fabulous gift!

hedera said...

No Arthur Clarke? How about Rendezvous with Rama?

No Poul Anderson? Any kid who can read The Hobbit should also read Three Hearts and Three Lions - an all time favorite of mine, along with The Midsummer's Tempest, and of course, ALL the Nicholas Van Rijn books. Every red-blooded boy should be exposed to that fat old crook.

Super G said...

Memorable books:

John Brunner - Stand on Zanibar - dated now but way ahead of its time. (Christ what an imagination I have).

The Illuminatus Trilogy - Robert Wilson

Gene Wolfe - a series of books that includes Shadow of the Torturer, etc.

Neal Gaiman - American God (and others)

Skywalker said...

Good choice of books, loved the Hobbit and Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy when i first read them (about 11 and 13 respectivly).

How about David Eddings, he has a couple of fantasy series which I highly recomend

D.B. Echo said...

Skywalker! I've been meaning to get in touch! Did Missy ever figure out what's wrong with her computer? I miss her blog!