There are plenty of science fiction books out there for children and young adults, but many of them talk down to their readers or just don't have that satisfying 'mind stretch' feeling you get from proper sci fi. Here are five books that will challenge, intrigue and enthral both teenagers and adults.
Expiration Day by William Campbell Powell
Tania grew up in a world where most humans have lost the ability to reproduce. Human children are rare, so to avoid mass panic, many people raise Teknoids, humanoid robots, produced by the Oxted Corporation, as though they were their own children. They look indistinguishable from the real thing, learn, grow (sort of, through design upgrades) and go to school, unaware of their non-human status, until they reach the age of 18, when they must be returned to the corporation. On her first day of high school, Tania begins to wonder whether her best friend may be a Teknoid, which leads her to wonder how many others she knows may not be real, and what happens to them on their expiration day.
Expiration Day is a beautiful story about growing up, learning to love and to let go. It invites the reader to think about what it means to be human, and what makes living worthwhile.
Genesis by Bernard Beckett
The student Anaximander is taking her entrance exam to join the Academy, the elite ruling class who rule over the island Republic. She has chosen as her special area of knowledge the life of Adam Forde, a rebel whose life was of great significance to the formation of the Republic. She gives a detailed account of Adam's life and his interactions with the android, Art, created by the the Philosopher William, a former leader of the Republic. Through the course of the examination, Anaximander comes to learn more than she ever had before about the lives of Adam and Art, and about the true nature of the Republic itself.
Written by new Zealand author Bernard Beckett, this book is hard to talk about without giving spoilers. It packs a lot of ideas into just 150 pages. It encourages the reader to think about free will, the nature of consciousness, and what, if anything, separates humans from other animals. It won the 2007 Esther Glen Award for Children's Literature and the 2007 New Zealand Post Book Awards for Children's Books.
Salvage by Alexandra Duncan
"But woman, her mettle's thin, Like copper sails to trap the sun's heat. Cover us all, she does, Tame the star's fury and channel life. In the air, she floats;
A perfect, iridescent thing.
But when her feet touch the ground,
Bare time till she falls crumpled and tarnished.
Women of the air, stay aloft, and be whole!"
Ava was born aboard a merchant ship and has never set foot on Earth. Her role in life is to marry a husband chosen for her on another ship and bring honour to her family, but she makes a mistake that will change her life forever and see her cast out into the unknown.
Salvage, by Alexandra Duncan, is a feminist sci fi fairytale, with subtle world building, a variety of interesting female characters and an engaging story that will keep you wanting more.
Jump by Sean Williams
In the near future, teleportation, or D-Mat, is the standard mode of transportation, making it possible to live on one continent and go to work or school on another and still commute home every day. Clare is a teenager who hears a rumour of something called "Improvement", a way of hacking the D-Mat system to make changes to yourself while in transit. When her friend Libby uses Improvement to remove her hated birth mark she begins acting strangely. Improvement appears to have possible deadly consequences, and Clare finds herself teaming up with a "stainer" (person who refuses to use D-Mat) boy named Jesse and a mysterious friend she knows only as "Q" to try and save Libby, and possibly the world.
Jump by Australian author Sean Williams, is action packed and exciting, but also full of food for thought, such as the drawbacks of relying too heavily on particular forms of technology. It's the first book in the Twinmaker trilogy, followed by Crash and Fall.
Uglies by Scott Westerfeld
Tally can't wait to turn 16, because on her 16th birthday she will receive a life-changing operation to turn her from an "Ugly" (an ordinary teenager) into a "Pretty", a stunningly attractive young adult who then gets to live in a high tech city full of parties and amusements. When Tally's best friend, Shay, makes the baffling decision to run away instead of becoming a Pretty, Tally is given the task of finding her and bringing her home.
Uglies, by Scott Westerfeld, is a fast paced adventure story, with a little romance, and also contemplation about issues such as body image, peer pressure and loyalty. It is the first book in a series, followed by Pretties, Specials and Extras.