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L. Neil Smith's
Number 625, June 26, 2011

"What can possibly be worse than a politician?"

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A Few Books for Bright Kids
by L, Neil Smith

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Attribute to L. Neil Smith's The Libertarian Enterprise

A Friend of mine on FaceBook asked a number of individuals about books that might be suitable for his daughter who he says is 11, but reading at a 14-year-old level. It's hard for me to judge these things. My daughter, when she was 11, was reading Oscar Wilde.

But here, with a little embellishment, is what I told my fellow father-of-a-daughter:

Ellen MacGregor's Miss Pickerell Goes to Mars and Charlotte's Web by E.B. White are too young for your daughter, but my memories of them are a treasure shining in my mind and always will be. Charlotte may be the reason I like spiders and write about them so much today.

They're a little hard to find just now, but you might try [see ad at bottom of page—Editor]for copies of my two "juveniles", BrightSuit MacBear and Taflak Lysandra, which I aimed specifically at bright 14-year-olds. My publisher and I have discussed these books—I felt I owed them, somehow, to Robert A. Heinlein, just as I do Ares—and I will write the remaining five I'd planned and outlined, if I can catch my breath a little after I finish Ares. Of course it all depends on sales, in the end, doesn't it?

The Lando Calrissian Adventures, a trilogy between one set of covers, is pretty good, too, if I say so myself. People seem to like it and have remembered it for so long it's positively embarrassing.

Also, and I can't emphasize this enough, anything by the late, great Zenna Henderson that concerns her creation, "The People". (They made an okayish movie of parts of her corpus in the late 60s or early 70s, starring Kim Darby, William Shatner, and Mariette Hartley.) There's an omnibus collection my wife found for me, The Ingathering, which I'm reading right now, and the stories still affect me in the same way—often bringing me close to tears. I can't think of a finer set of stories for bright young people to read, and for me, that's saying a lot, because Henderson was pretty religious, although not obnoxiously so.

There are, of course, the Heinlein "juveniles", and I'll be happy to supply you with a list if you don't know them. You'll be crazy about them, too. The first one I read was either Tunnel in the Sky (which taught me to value Bowie knives) or Farmer in the Sky which taught me that moons are worlds, too, and that they are humankind's, to change and use as we see fit—see my own The Venus Belt.

Another great favorite of mine is The Witches of Karres, by James H. Schmitz. This book is just too good to try to describe. It's one of the freshest and most original novels I've ever read, deeply affected the way I approach my own work, and caused me to insert a little tribute to it in one of the Lando books. Look for tinklewood fishing rods and wintenberry jelly.

I didn't read H. Beam Piper's Little Fuzzy and The Other Human Race as a kid, but I wish I had. I think any 11 going-on 14 kid would enjoy Piper's unique mixture of wonder and common sense. He's almost as good a mentor as Heinlein.

There's a very special little novel called Children of the Atom, by Wilmar H. Shiras. It was a great comfort to me when I had trouble being brighter than most of those around me. Think of it as Stapledon's Odd John with a happy ending.

Not all of these books are particularly libertarian, they're just wonderful. And while we're at it, how about a couple of "mundane" entries, starting with a mystery called The Tightrope Walker by Dorothy Gilman, author of the Mrs. Pollifax stories, which I don't care for, and of The Maze at the Heart of the Castle, a book I have been seeking for many years.

When I was in 6th grade (the same year I first read Heinlein) I started reading Sherlock Holmes, beginning with the ever-so politically incorrect A Study in Scarlet. Romantic that I've always been, I particularly liked A Scandal in Bohemia. Gayle Hunnicutt was far and away the perfect choice to portray Irene Adler in the Jeremy Brett version of the story, and when you think about it, she has the most erotic surname in all of Hollywood.

But I digress.

Last, but far from least, are the great Horatio Hornblower novels by C.S. Forester. I was told to start in the middle of the 11-book series, with A ship of the Line and it was good advice. What Forester has to teach kids about patience and courage is worth great heaping chests of precious stones. If I had read these books as a kid, my childhood would have been a great deal more endurable.

Now you can start in on me about the books—Harry Potter, Tolkein, et al.—that I failed to mention. It isn't that they aren't worthy and important. They simply weren't there when I was growing up. "Making do" with what was there was not too great a sacrifice.

It was several zillion of the most wonderful moments in my life.

Four-time Prometheus Award-winner L. Neil Smith has been called one of the world's foremost authorities on the ethics of self-defense. He is the author of more than 25 books, including The American Zone, Forge of the Elders, Pallas, The Probability Broach, Hope (with Aaron Zelman), and his collected articles and speeches, Lever Action, all of which may be purchased through his website "The Webley Page" at

Ceres, an exciting sequel to Neil's 1993 Ngu family novel Pallas is currently running as a free weekly serial at

Neil is presently at work on Ares, the middle volume of the epic Ngu Family Cycle, and on Where We Stand: Libertarian Policy in a Time of Crisis with his daughter, Rylla.

See stunning full-color graphic-novelizations of The Probability Broach and Roswell, Texas which feature the art of Scott Bieser at Dead-tree versions may be had through the publisher, or at where you will also find Phoenix Pick editions of some of Neil's earlier novels. Links to Neil's books at are on his website

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