Do kids still read Asimov/Heinlein/Bradbury et al?

I was born in 1980. As a kid I read lots of the ‘greats’ of sci-fi. My school/local libraries were stocked with them, and perhaps more importantly, we had a few on the shelf at home that were likely first and second run paperback editions that my folks had bought/read when they were in high school and college.

My parents are not ‘die-hard’ sci-fi/fantasy folks, but they owned a fair number of the genre novels that made it into the public consciousness (Dune, Stranger in a Strange Land, The Martian Chronicles, The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings, and a few others).

Today, the general public aren’t buying Bradbury or Heinlein . . . though they may have Andy Weir on their shelf, even if they’re not self-identified ‘sci-fi fans.’

So I’m wondering if the sci-fi greats are fading into niche obscurity, and what’s taking their place.

I don’t think kids are reading SF at all, opting more for fantasy. (IE: Harry Potter and his ilk.)

Bradbury is taught in schools, and Heinlein is still in print and very popular in some circles.

Asimov hasn’t fared quite so well. Neither has Clarke. And many other of the early greats are being completely forgotten. (Dune seems to be holding its own).

It used to be that publishers would reprint classic novels on a cycle; I remember missing out getting Davy on one go-round, knowing it would show up in a few years (it did). For a variety of reasons, that doesn’t happen; older books are only available from small presses (NESFA Press, for instance) which don’t get the mass market treatment.

If you look in bookstores, the SF section has far fewer older novels than it used to, and there are very few perennials. has made the books easier to buy, but harder to find, and next to impossible to browse.

It’s hard to say what is replacing the older writers. There are many successful authors (John Scalzi, Rob Sawyer, Connie Willis, etc.), but none of the stature the Golden Age authors had. That’s because Heinlein, etc. were pioneers, creating the new genre. By now, though there are plenty of new ideas, they aren’t as groundbreaking as they were. (And some writers of the era were forgotten long before you got into SF: A. E. Van Vogt was considered the equivalent of Asimov and Heinlein in the 40s).

As the parent of two smart, culturally-interested teens, and as someone who was an avid reader around them, I would say reading novels in general is on a decline. They read on and off, went through a Potter phase, etc., but tend to avoid long-form reading except for assignments.

They both really enjoy sci-fi worlds and characters, but consume them in non-novel-reading ways. They may be able to say they’ve heard of Asimov, Heinlein, etc., but haven’t read them. I couldn’t even get them to read Dune, which they knew is a favorite of mine. My son read Ender’s Game and is into Haruki Murakami’s Kafkaesque noir-magical realist stories. I’ll take what I can get.

Binge watching a Series on Netflix is the new novel. My kids will invest their long-form time on that well before a novel.

I just checked Baen Books catalog and they currently have works in print by Poul Anderson, L. Sprague deCamp, Gordon R. Dickson, Randall Garrett, Robert A. Heinlein, Keith Laumer, Murray Leinster, Anne McCaffrey, Andre Norton, James H. Schmitz, and Cordwainer Smith.

I’d agree with most of this. We have three teenage boys and I’ve read some sf to them and encouraged them to read it, and they’ve certainly seen me reading it, but most of their sf interest goes towards movies and TV.

I always look to see who’s on the shelves at the book store. Clearly Somebody is reading Asimov, Heinlein, and Clarke, because I almost invariably see at least some of their books on the shelves. Asimov is often there because of his Foundation series. Clarke usually gets it because of 2001. (Movie tie-ins help enormously. For decades you saw copies of Fantastic Voyage and 2001 on the shelves, with practically unchanged covers). Heinlein has stayed in place from sheer popularity, I think. Aside from Starship Troopers, I don’t recall ever seeing a movie tie-in cover.

That said, an awful lot of their respective ouevres is not in evidence. Asimov published over 400 books, but you’d be hard-pressed to find even a lot of his SF anymore. I haven’t seen Clarke’s A Fall of Moondust or Earthlight or The Sands of Mars in ages. But most of Heinlein’s stuff seems to be out there.
Forget about other Golden Agers or "Silver Agers’ A couple of years ago they reprinted several of Cordwainer Smith’s stories, but your average Barnes and Noble won’t have Fredric Brown or L. Sprague de Camp or Harry Harrison or even Poul Anderson. Most of Larry Niven’s works aren’t on the shelves. Hal Clement has disappeared. Zenna Henderson, James Tiptree – who are they?

I have to admit that even more recent authors aren’t well-represented. I’ve never seen a big John Scalzi display, or Dan Simmons, or Kim Stanley Robinson. I’m seeing a lot of Neal Stephenson lately, but I suspect that’s because of Seveneves.

That makes me a little sad. When I was a kid I had maybe 40 books by Asimov. Not all SF, I liked his non-fiction a lot also. I think I still have quite a few. Nearly all are long out of print, I’m sure.

A few months ago I happened to be reading one of his old science history essays and was reminded of how amazingly readable it still was.

I think it’s natural that they would fade. By and large, kids these days are not reading many books of any kind from the 1950s. Nor are they watching many movies from back then, etc.

The first generation of sci-fi hung around as long as it did precisely because it was first, and I see the fact that they’re retreating as a sign that the field has matured and deepened.

Agreed that things should move on. But you still see plenty of Lovecraft and Robert E, Howard 9to give a couple of examples from fantasy). You’d expect to see more than just Heinlein and some random Clarke and Asimov. Look in the literature section, and you’;ll see works from the twenties, thgirties, forties, and so on.

(There’s a parallel with mysteries. You see Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle, but I’m surprised that I usually see no more than one or two Rex Stouts. And most of that vast field of classic mystery authors has virtually vanished)

Martin Prince: As your president, I would demand a science-fiction library, featuring an ABC of the genre. Asimov, Bester, Clarke.

Student: What about Ray Bradbury?

Martin Prince: I’m aware of his work…

I would vote for him just for that.

Let’s be honest, some of RAH’s juvenile’s just don’t hold up anymore. I’m thinking of “Rocket Ship Galileo”. It was great juvie fiction when it was published in 1947, but in the post-Apollo world, the idea of 3 teenagers and one of the guys’ uncles building a rocket to fly to the moon where they fight Nazis sounds kind of far-fetched.

I remember when I was in grade school finding my Heinlein, Asimov, and Clarke in the school library. If the OP is seriously concerned about this, try paying a visit or investing in a phone call to a grade school librarian.

My kids are voracious readers. One of them likes Bradbury.

That’s too bad. These are completely different forms and cannot replace one another.

Real live teenager checking in: I’ve read Asimov, Bradbury, Phillip K Dick, and a bit of Heinlein. Oh, and Douglas Adams, many times over. :smiley: Clarke is still on the to-read list, and Dune was . . . not really my cup of tea. My favorite of the “masters” is Bradbury, by a long shot - I think he had the best feel for poetry and lyricism. He’s the only science fiction (or fantasy, come to think of it) author we’ve read in school, apart from Mary Shelley.

As a whole, I’d agree fantasy is currently more popular than science fiction, but don’t despair! Scifi is far from dead. Of course, you won’t really find “popular kids” or whatever who can do an analytical comparison of Jules Verne vs HG Wells, but could you ever? I was under the impression that fantasy/scifi has always been something of a niche interest among kids.

ETA: I just realized I actually DID read Clarke a while back - I forgot he wrote one of my favorites: “The Star”.

I’m thinking about what I see elementary kids reading today. Tolkien still shows up in elementary school, and there’s plenty of modern fantasy, from Gaiman to Di Camillio, that’s popular. Science fiction tends toward the young adult and toward the post-apocalyptic: Hunger Games, the Giver, that sort of thing. I’ve seen City of Ember and its sequels around a fair amount–but I’m having trouble thinking of much other SF written for kids, especially SF in the space opera tradition. Which is interesting, given the popularity of Scalzi and Corey and other space opera for adults.

My son read all the Heinlein juveniles when he was a preteen. He hasn’t had as much time or energy to read fiction since he started college though.

Bradbury and Tolkein wrote THE BIBLE in our house. (Mr. Salinqmind plowed through ‘Dune’ and sequels decades ago, but I could never get into those. When I was in high school decades ago we girls were mad for sci-fi, but we only had our village library to get books. There were quite a few, if there had been a bigger selection, we would have expanded our horizons.) As for now, well, it seems kids like sci-fi videos and videogames rather than sitting down to read Heinlein or Clark, they seem kind of …dated. No matter how I raved about “Out of the Silent Planet”, no one was interested. :frowning: (I would love to read some Cordwainer Smith again, though.)

I used to read Bradbury short stories to little Pianola and little Banjo at bedtimes.

Back in the day, I plowed through all of Poe and Wells and a good deal of Verne and Conan Doyle by the time I was fifteen, then moved on to Rex Stout and Dorothy Sayers and Ellery Queen and Agatha Christie. My kids have read none of these, and Pianola at least is a voracious reader (now holding history degrees from Yale and the University of Chicago). Odd to think you could say something like “Oh! Just like ‘The Purloined Letter!’” And she’d have no idea what you meant.

It took me 3 starts before I could finally finish Dune. If only they told you at the beginning that there was a glossary and some other info in the back of the book.