There are a lot of young adult fantasy and science fiction books in the world, but a lot of authors today are crediting fiction from the 80s as their introduction to the genre world and inspiration for starting their writing career. Having read a lot of these books myself, I can’t help but agree. The 80s were awesome!
1) The Song of the Lioness by Tamora Pierce
This is actually a quartet, published between 1983 and 1988, following the adventures Alanna of Trebond as she switches positions with her twin brother to disguise her gender in an effort to become a knight. It takes place in the imaginary medieval world of Tortall and is chock full of fantastic creatures and magic. But it also dwells a little into politics and gender roles. The world and characters Pierce builds are very real, and the action through all four books is quick and fun to read. I’ve read the entire series, and the three that follow it, more times than I can count.
2) Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
Published in 1985, Ender’s Game is a staple of science fiction reading lists, YA or otherwise. The story follows Ender as he undergoes combat training in anticipation for an alien invasion. Card won the Nebula award in 1985 for this book, and then the Hugo in 1986. While the series continues, following Ender’s travels to other area of the galaxy, the first one is hard to top. A thrilling space opera, this book is hard to put down, and I’m hoping the talk of it being made into a movie actually happens.
3) Young Wizards by Diane Duane
Duane started this series in 1983, and it now spans nine titles, with the 9th
being published in 2010. The series follow Nita and Kit, two NYC teens who recently have discovered that they are wizards. What captured my attention from the beginning is how Duane’s magic is based on science, and astronomy plays a huge part in this series – books take place on other planets and aliens are common. But what is also wonderful how natural magic is, based not on spell ingredients but on how well you know your surroundings and can articulate what you want. Magic is math and english, and it’s accessibility as Duane describes it made me wonder when I would be called upon to take the Wizard’s Oath, something that even now is more attractive than a Hogwarts letter.
4) Redwall by Brian Jacques
Redwall is a fantasy series similar to Watership Down in the fact that the characters are all small animals. The protagonists are usually mice and voles, while rats and weasels make up the villains. There are twenty-one novels, the first published in 1986 and the most recent in May 2010, and are primarily based on the characters that live in Redwall Abbey over the generations. The books skip around in the time line, but each tale can be read alone so there is a lack of cliffhangers. The BBC turned three of the books into a cartoon of the same name in 1999, spiking a renewed interest in the books in the early 2000s. These books are very imaginative, and some of my favorite scenes involve feasts at the Abbey because Jacques describes the food so well I can always feel my mouth water when I read about it.
5) Howl’s Moving Castle by Diane Wynne Jones
Jones dominates the YA fantasy/sci-fi market, with many of her books incorporating elements from both. Howl’s Moving Castle however is exceptionally good. I’m sure a few of you have heard of the 2004 movie by Hayao Miyazaki of the same title, and indeed it is based on Jones’s book. It’s about Sophie Hatter, a cursed girl who takes shelter working as a cleaning woman for the wizard Howl. Howl’s Castle, which moves and is powered by the fire demon Calcifer, sounds like such a great place to explore. Jones really has an amazing talent to make places come alive.
6) The Blue Sword by Robin McKinley
cKinley has wonderful, easy prose to read. It’s no surprise that The Blue Sword has won a several awards. The story follows Angharad “Harry” Crewe, as she become involved in the political struggles of her world and learns to become a warrior to protect her homeland from invasion. The magic in McKinley’s world is really interesting here, as it seems to have a mind of it’s own and at times forces those who wield it to act in matters they wouldn’t normally, simply to please the magic. Even years down the road, it’s hard to forget this book, which in my mind makes it a wonderful read.
7) Birth of the Firebringer by Meredith Ann Pierce
This book, published in 1985 starts out the Firebringer trilogy. It follows the story of a herd of unicorns who have been exiled from their homelands by posionous dragon and are waiting for the legendary Firebringer, a warrior with the power of fire who will lead a victorious campaign to reclaim their homeland. This series was so popular that when it fell out of print used prices soared and it was republished by Firebird Books. What makes this such a good read is the lack of humans, the book is solely focused on unicorns, and great action scenes. Reading fights from the point of view of creatures who lack arms is very interesting and is an increadible feat of imagination.
8) The Pit Dragon Chronicles by Jane Yolen
his series is another mixture of science fiction and fantasy. It takes place on a different planet, Austar IV, whose economy is almost entirely based on ‘the pit’ where owners force dragons to fight – similar to cock or dog fighting. The story follows Jakkin as he steals a dragon egg in an effort to earn the money to earn his freedom, by buying himself out of bond from his masker, Sarkkhan. Jakkin also gets wrapped up in issues surrounding Austar’s position in the Federation, and thus threats to Austar's lifestyle. I love Yolen’s placement of dragons here, not quite pets and not quite partners. Even after reading these books over a decade ago, they still cross my mind from time to time – they stay with you that long.
9) The Isis Trilogy by Monica Hughes
Published between 1980 and 1982, the Isis Trilogy is a science fiction series. They follow what is to become of the planet Isis, from its transformation to being a home of only two inhabitants to Earth’s overcrowding forcing settlers to land on the planet. Each book focuses on a different cast, but the world stays the same. And what an engaging world it is! It’s full of danger, but that’s part of what makes Isis so irresistible.
10) The Tachyon Web by Christopher Pike
Sadly, this 1986 title is out of print, but it is a great read. It’s about five teens who steal a space ship for a joy ride, aiming to go beyond the Tachyon Web which is a boundary that prevents humans from interacting with other planets. For good reason, as they discover. A mixture of contemporary times and future tech, this book captures the YA spirit from the start and though out of print there are a lot of people who still want to read it. It’s a fun adventure read where teens are teens.