Sciency Fiction — and a Giveaway

What’s that, Mr. Spell-Checker? You say I’ve misspelled science?

I’m afraid you’re mistaken, Mr. Spell-Checker. My letter choice was entirely intentional.

I’m on a crusade. A sciency fiction crusade.

Sciency fiction is not science fiction. Sciency fiction is not at all speculative. It is not set in the future. Sciency fiction depicts actual current (or current for the time if historical) science. Although the characters and situations can be fictional, the science is not.

I made up the term, I admit, and Google is on my spell-checker’s team, misdirecting my searches every time. I have an ally across the pond in Tom Webb, who independently proposed the term for grown-up books.

Who reads sciency fiction? Kurtis Scaletta does. Back in August of 2011, he wrote a post on this blog about science fiction.

“To me, science fiction is fiction infused with science. … I quite like fiction that conveys some understanding about the workings of the universe.”

Kurtis is a fiction lover to whom science is an added bonus. He gains an appreciation of science through novels.

Then there are those who start out loving science. You know the kids—obsessed with dinosaurs, or rocks, or rockets. They love nonfiction. They eat up books like Guinness World Records or Ripley’s Believe It or Not! Novels are not their thing, and they only read them when assigned in school–and then grudgingly.

One day, one of these kids—my son, actually–got a look at The Green Glass Sea by Ellen Klages. It’s a novel set at Los Alamos during the development of the atomic bomb. The book is populated by scientists. Dewey, the young protagonist is smart and inquisitive, with a definite sciency sensibility. My son gobbled up this book and its sequel, White Sands, Red Menace, in five days. But he told me it got boring near the end. Why? Because the science aspect was downplayed and the focus was on Dewey’s emotional journey.

That observation was a revelation for me. While the emotional journey of the protagonist was compelling, it wasn’t enough for him. He needed more than emotion to hold his interest.  I stocked our bookshelves with more sciency novels, and then steampunk and science fiction and fantasy. Now he asks me to get novels for him from the library.

My son is a science lover who learned to appreciate narrative fiction through sciency fiction.

Good sciency fiction combines a compelling story with interesting science, and it can serve is a bridge between science and fiction. Got a student who only reads nonfiction about science? Got a student who doesn’t care for science class, but loves a good story?

Give them both some sciency fiction.

Where to start? Here’s a list.

Kurtis included some great titles in his post, including

The Higher Power of Lucky by Susan Patron

The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate by Jacqueline Kelly

The Apprenticeship of Lucas Whitaker by Cynthia DeFelice

Every Soul a Star by Wendy Mass

He also included some more speculative titles in his list and mentions Isaac Asimov several times.

“The paragon for me will always be Isaac Asimov, a knowledgeable science-minded author. Asimov made his work true to science the way a historical novelist would be true to history… Science was my worst subject in school, but authors like Asimov made science lucid and compelling while telling a good story.”

Some people like their science real, so I’m limiting my list to those titles where the science is not speculative at all.

101 Ways to Bug Your Teacher by Lee Wardlaw

Brendan Buckley’s Universe and Everything in It by Sundee T. Frazier

Fever 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson

Nerd Camp by Elissa Brent Weissman

Ninjas, Piranhas, and Galileo by Greg Leitich Smith

Phineas L. MacGuire . . . Erupts! By Frances O’Roark Dowell

Samantha Hansen Has Rocks in Her Head by Nancy Viau

Back in April, I wrote a post for this blog about sciency novels that address environmental sciences—Eco-fiction if you will. That list is here.

I like to call my debut novel, The Reinvention of Edison Thomas, sciency fiction. It just came out in paperback, and to celebrate, I’m giving away the remainder of my Advance Reader Copies in one big giveaway. If you would like your school or library to have a teaching set of up to 15 ARCs, leave the name of the library or school in the comments, along with the title of your favorite sciency novel (it can be one I’ve listed, or something else) and the number of copies you’ll need. Enter by 11:59 CDT Saturday October 27. Winner will be announced October 28.


Jacqueline Houtman spent 27 years in school so she could be a scientist. Now she’s a freelance science writer and middle-grade novelist–living proof that biology (or chemistry or physics) is not destiny. Find out more at

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Jacqueline Houtman
Jacqueline Houtman is the author of the middle-grade novel THE REINVENTION OF EDISON THOMAS (Front Street/Boyds Mills Press 2010) and coauthor, with Walter Naegle and Michael G. Long, of the biography for young (and not-so-young) readers, BAYARD RUSTIN: THE INVISIBLE ACTIVIST (Quaker Press 2014). Find her at
  1. HOOT is a favorite in my classroom. UNWIND is science fiction with a lot of believable “what ifs”. ASHFALL and ASHEN WINTER with the researched supernova volcano eruption is a dystopia series I can’t stop thinking about since it is set in my backyard. The new INFINITY RING series has many possibilities.
    Thank you for adding our classroom to your contest! @teacher6th

    • @Karla Duff, I’ve heard great things about ASHFALL and ASHEN WINTER. Mike Mullin is going to be at my local Barnes and Noble this week, so I can get an autographed copy!

  2. I love “sciency” as a genre! It’s hard to search for fiction with science because there is so much “science fiction”.

    I enjoyed Every Soul a Star and my middle school readers love Carl Hiaasen’s books: Hoot, Scat, and his newest, Chomp.

    Mrs Simoneau at Ponaganset Middle School Library Media Center

    • @Jen Simoneau, Don’t forget Flush!

  3. My all-time favorite (and a favorite of so many): A Wrinkle in Time by Madeline L’Engle! And a shout out for Plano Elementary School in Bowling Green, KY!

    • @Portia Pennington, A classic!

  4. I really enjoyed the Evolution of Calpurnia Tate, too. Please include North Hill Elementary in Rochester Hills, MI in the giveaway.

    • @Margaret, Ah! Historical Sciency Fiction!

  5. I just read Liar and Spy by Rebecca Stead and I liked the science related to taste buds. Also, A Wrinkle in TIme would be my classic favorite–I learned about tessarae. I teach at Mountainview International School in Salatiga Indonesia (although I can use a state side address) and would love 13 copies.

    • @Stacey, I haven’t read that one yet. *adds to TBR list*

  6. I loved Fever 1793.

    Summit Elementary Library
    # However many are available. 🙂

    • @Heidi Grange, As a microbiologist, I find books about epidemics fascinating.

  7. I loved When You Reach Me, on its own merit as well as its references to A Wrinle in Time. Fever 1793 for its engrossing blend of historical and sciency fiction. Oh, how ’bout Catalyst, also by Laurie Halse Anderson. Anything with her name on it goes on my TBR list. My school pick: Yuma Lutheran School – small budget and an awesome VOLUNTEER librarian!

    • @D.Lee Sebree, Catalyst. I’ll have to take a look at that one.

  8. YES! The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate. When You Reach Me by Rebecca Stead. The Penderwicks on Gardam Street (black matter). Love science-y fiction!

    • @PragmaticMom, I haven’t read The Penderwicks on Gardam Street. I’ll have to check it out.

  9. The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate is one of my favorites! Thanks!
    Roosevelt Middle School, Monticello, IN

    • @Megan Earley” Mine too. And I hear there is a sequel in the works.

  10. Thanks, Jacqueline, for your thoughtful post. Our district’s libraries have a renewed focus on science this year, and I’ll be using your book list with my students. Besides the great books you’ve listed, I like Linda Sue Park’s Project Mulberry. Our school is John D. Hardy Elementary in Wellesley, MA.

    • @Lisa Rogers, Project Mulberry. That’s a good one.

  11. Great post. The book sounds and looks interesting. Thanks for offering the giveaway and congrats to the author.
    I need to go check out your website now 🙂

  12. Sciency fiction is fabulous, and so is The Reinvention of Edison Thomas! That’s my official pick, but I also love Carl Hiassen’s middle grade books. My kids’ school is Iron Springs Elementary and they’d love any copies you could give them. Thanks, Jacqueline!

    • @Elaine: Awww, thanks! I love Carl Hiassen’s books too, and I listed them in the Eco-Fiction post.