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Science Fiction for Reluctant Readers

I've been contributing thoughts on teaching science fiction at enotes.com.  Most of the teachers in the discussion thread I've been following don't know much about science fiction, so I've been offering advice and titles where I've thought I might be helpful.  The topic today was short stories that reluctant readers can get into.  My argument is that science fiction is perfect for reluctant readers because even if they don't like to read, the science fictional ideas are still interesting.  They don't have to love reading to enter the discussion.  I'd love to get suggestions of titles that will appeal to reluctant readers for a second post.  What do you suggest?

The enote interface only allows 1,500 characters for a post, so I had to pick and choose carefully:

Here are short stories that engage the reluctant readers (and the enthusiastic readers go to town on them). 

"All You Zombies," by Robert Heinlein.  This is the ultimate time travel paradox story.

"The Green Hills of Earth," by Robert Heinlein.  A great story of the power of poetry, the love of home, and the meaning of sacrifice.

"Harrison Bergeron," by Kurt Vonnegut.  This provocative story about individuality and equality asks what is beautiful in the human spirit, and why is it feared.

"Do You Want My Opinion," by M.E. Kerr.  What would high school be like if sex wasn't taboo, but sharing ideas was intimate and forbidden?

"The Silent Towns," by Ray Bradbury.  A funny and sad twist on the last man/woman on Earth story.

"The Veldt," by Ray Bradbury.  A children's play room reveals the extent of a family's dysfuntion.

"A Pail of Air," by Fritz Leiber.  A truly frightening end of the world story.

The previous list is all classics.  For more modern discussion provokers, try this pair:

"Second Person, Present Tense," by Daryl Gregory.  What, exactly is consciousness, and why do we need it?  The point of view character is a high school girl who has overdosed on a very dangerous drug.  Gregory discusses the ideas behind the story at http://darylgregory.com/stories/SecondPersonPresentTense.aspx

"Think Like a Dinosaur," by James Patrick Kelly.  A better version of "The Cold Equations," which is a good one too. 


( 15 comments — Leave a comment )
Oct. 21st, 2009 01:22 pm (UTC)
Reasons to Be Cheerful by Greg Egan
That is one modern suggestion I'd offer. A story about a Brain Implant which supposedly cures the protag's mental health issues. Unfortunately, the cure does not erase the underdeveloped nature of the protag's socialization ability.

S. F. Murphy
On the Outer Marches
Oct. 21st, 2009 02:33 pm (UTC)
Re: Reasons to Be Cheerful by Greg Egan
I've heard of that one but not read it. Is it in one of the year's best anthologies? I might already have it.
Oct. 21st, 2009 01:48 pm (UTC)
"Zima Blue" by Alastair Reynolds is really thought-provoking among the new ones.

And I'd definitely go with Konbluth's "The Marching Morons" from the classics - it might not be the greatest piece of SF prose, but its guaranteed to start a nice discussion!
Oct. 21st, 2009 02:32 pm (UTC)
Oh, I can't believe I forgot "The Marching Morons." That's a definite addition for the second list. I don't know the Reynold's piece. I'll look for it.
Oct. 21st, 2009 03:44 pm (UTC)
Here are the other stories I used most often in teaching, although my students were 7th-9th graders, so it skews a bit younger than your list:

"All Summer in a Day", also by Ray Bradbury (this is the one where Venus only gets 1 day of sunshine every 7 years, and classroom bullies lock one girl in a closet, forget about her, and she misses it)

"Keep Out", by Fredric Brown (human teens engineered to live on Mars rebel against their "regular" human teachers)

"What Friends Are For", by John Brunner (a family is assigned a robot to make up for their ineffective parenting)

Oct. 21st, 2009 04:00 pm (UTC)
I think it's interesting how many Bradbury stories I want to include in the list. Besides "All Summer in a Day," which was so good, I loved "The Long Rain," "The Sound of Thunder," "The Small Assassin," "The Pedestrian," and "The Fog Horn," and dozens of others I can't pull off the top of my head now.
Oct. 22nd, 2009 07:18 pm (UTC)
I think Bradbury works well in the classroom for a bunch of reasons. His stories tend to have rich sensory detail and emotional intensity, but they're crafted in a way that still makes sense to kids who may have a wide variety in vocabulary levels, life experiences, etc. They tend to hit just the right level of "dark" -- enough that it really captures the kids' imaginations, but not so dark that you get horrified parents and colleagues. And to top it all off, even very anti-genre people don't question Bradbury's legitimacy in the classroom setting.
Oct. 21st, 2009 10:25 pm (UTC)
Great list. Thanks for sharing :)
Oct. 22nd, 2009 09:30 am (UTC)
"Think Like A Dinosaur" was cover story of the first issue of Asimov's I ever read, at 11 years old.

Is "Bloodchild" by Octavia Butler too graphic? I can't think of a more thought-provoking short story than that one.
Oct. 22nd, 2009 09:38 am (UTC)
Oh, and something from Stanislaw Lem's CYBERIAD should be in there. Maybe "Trurl's Electronic Bard" (with the machine to write poetry--my favorite) or "How The World Was Saved" (machine can do anything that starts with the letter N) or "Trurl's Prescription" (with the Steelypips).
Oct. 26th, 2009 02:30 pm (UTC)
I'm not sure about "Bloodchild." I know the title but I don't remember it. I'll check it out.
Oct. 23rd, 2009 01:37 am (UTC)
If they're really reluctant. . .
How about Light of Other Days by Bob Shaw? Nothing in the title to object to, to start with. A single, simple, easily understood science fiction trope applied with elegance, and it packs a tremendous emotional wallop. One of the principle objections by people who hate science fiction is that is doesn't involve people and human interaction as much as it does ideas. This story reverses that objection and gives them no recourse but to look at the story on its merits. It has plenty.


or Ron to people in real, or approximating real, life
Oct. 26th, 2009 02:30 pm (UTC)
Re: If they're really reluctant. . .
I really love that story.
Oct. 26th, 2009 12:10 pm (UTC)
Very late to this thread...

"Enemy Mine" by Barry B. Longyear. Not the movie, the story...
Oct. 26th, 2009 02:29 pm (UTC)
Good suggestion. That's a great story.
( 15 comments — Leave a comment )


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