Five books that improve on Heinlein’s juveniles

Here’s a post at by James Davis Nicholl: Five books that improve upon Heinlein’s juveniles.

Five Books That Improve Upon Heinlein’s Juveniles

That’s a great detail of a cover from one of Nicholl’s picks. I’ll get to it in a moment.

First let me say that when I tried to re-read The Star Beast not that long ago, I was …. kinda underwhelmed. I expect Nicholl could easily have expanded this list to ten. Or 100. But then, others of Heinlein’s juveniles were certainly better.

Nicholl’s criteria:  For me, that requires the intended audience to include teens, that the genre be science fiction in the narrow sense, that the protagonist be a young adult, and that they get to do something that actually matters in the course of the book

Sounds fair. I might add, “Has kinda the same feel as a Heinlein juvenile,” which would exclude things like, say, the Illuminae trilogy by Kaufman and Kristoff , even though this does fit Nicholl’s listed criteria.

Click through to check out all of Nicholl’s picks and his comments about them and which Heinlein juvenile he thinks they go with. I have read only two of his suggestions and I question them both.

The first of those is Falling Free by LMB. I question whether that one fits because the adult protagonist is so important in the book, more so than any of the quaddie kids.

The second is Growing Up Wightless by John M Ford. Although this is a good book, I don’t think it has any close resemblance to the adventure stories Heinlein wrote. It’s far, far more introspective. 

Rocket Girls by Housuke Nojiri sounds much closer, plus it sounds like a fun book, plus I sort of think I might have seen people saying it’s good? Weigh in if you’ve read it: what did you think?

The art above is from the cover of Martians Abroad by Carrie Vaughn.  It also sounds good and it also sounds more like it might resemble a Heinlein story. 

Next is The Trove by Tobias Buckell. It didn’t sound all that inviting to me until Nicholl says “Jane is more in control of her destiny than is Don in Between Planets. Kudos to her parents for raising a kid with serious coping skills.” I like a kid with serious coping skills, so that instantly bumped the book from my Whatever, maybe list to my Maybe I should take a closer look list.

And last, Nicholl asks for suggestions for a Heinlein-like YA novel with a protagonist who is “‘Not smart but determined,’” to match Tunnel in the Sky.  I am not super keen on non-smart protagonists, so if I’ve read any SF YA that matched this criterion, I can’t remember it. Yet it sort of seems to me that I have in fact read something where the protagonist’s outstanding characteristic was sheer determination. But it’s not coming to me.

Preferably, as far as I’m concerned, any suggestion to pair with Tunnel in the Sky would have a better ending. Wow, did I ever hate the ending of that one. 

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4 thoughts on “Five books that improve on Heinlein’s juveniles”

  1. I can’t think of any that might fit the request for tunnel in the sky. I also didn’t do well with Star Beast when I hauled it off the shelf a few years ago.

    Timothy Zahn’s Dragonback series (6 books) fits the basic niche, though, and I and the Teen have read it with enjoyment. I’ve heard some of Scott Westerfield’s work also fits, – the Uglies? – but haven’t read it myself.

    I haven’t read any of Nicolls’ suggestions. In the comment thread, though, someone suggests Host’s Stray for pairing with TUnnel.

  2. The closest I can think of is David Freer’s Cuttlefish and Steam Mole, but the young protagonists in those are definitely smart.

  3. I generally like Carrie Vaughn’s stand-alones, and hadn’t seen this one. Maybe I’ll look for it at the library. She jumps around in terms of genre & subject matter more than most authors – greek mythology, superheroes, dragons, hard sci fi…

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