Top science / STEM contests for kids 2016-2017

ScienceThrillers.com, the only website dedicated to page-turning fiction with real science, is proud to compile the internet’s most comprehensive list of 2016-2017’s top science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) contests and competitions. Please share, tweet, re-post this list to parents, educators, potential sponsors and judges.



Encourage your kid to participate. Help your niece, nephew, grandchild, or the neighbor kid complete a science project. Volunteer to work at your local science fair; if you’re a scientist, technician, or engineer, volunteer to be a judge or mentor a team at your neighborhood school. Make a donation or sponsor a special award. Get involved to support STEM education!

K-12 eligible:

1. The DuPont Challenge: Science essay writing contest.

  • Grades 6-12 (junior & senior divisions) Science essay writing contest 700-1000 words on the science topic of your choice in broad categories of food, energy, environment, and innovation
  • Open to students in U.S. and Canada
  • Prizes: expenses-paid trip to Walt Disney World & the Kennedy Space Center in Florida, plus thousands of dollars
  • Online entry dates (based on last year): November 2016-February 2017
  • Grades K-5: Science Story writing contest. Entries consist of one story board or presentation created by group of students. Teacher wins a trip to NSTA conference, kids get a special event and other prizes. entry dates are November 1, 2014-March 1, 2015

2. ExploraVision: ExploraVision is a science competition that goes beyond the typical student science competition and into what it takes to bring ideas to reality. Students work in groups to simulate real research and development. A teacher will guide his or her students as they pick a current technology, research it, envision what it might look like in 20 years, and describe the development steps, pros & cons, and obstacles. Past winners have envisioned technologies ranging from a hand-held food allergen detector to a new device to help people who have lost limbs regain movement in real time.

  • K-12 students in US and Canada in public, private, or home school
  • 2-4 students per team; four age categories
  • Entry deadline: February 6, 2017
  • Entry consists of an abstract, project description, bibliography, and 5 web pages
  • Sponsored by National Science Teachers Association and Toshiba
  • Prizes include travel and thousands of dollars in savings bonds
  • View summary brochure


3. US FIRST Robotics & Tech Programs: World-wide eligibility. Team competitions. You’ve probably seen winners of these competitions featured in the media.

  • FIRST Lego League Jr.: For kids ages 6-10. Team event. Event season is now until April 2017. This year’s theme is “Creature Craze” (the animal kingdom). Kids use basic engineering concepts to build a model made of LEGO elements. They will also present information through a Show Me Poster.
  • FIRST Lego League: For kids grades 4-8. Team event. This pdf is a nice summary. Season starts in the fall. This year’s theme: Animal Allies. Identify a problem when people and animals interact. Design a solution. Share with others.
  • FIRST Tech Challenge: For grades 7-12, teams of 10+ members. Big scholarship prizes at stake. Kickoff on September 10, 2016.

FTC is designed for students in grades 7-12 to compete head to head, using a sports model. Teams are responsible for designing, building, and programming their robots to compete in an alliance format against other teams. The robot kit is reusable from year-to-year and is programmed using a variety of languages. Teams, including coaches, mentors and volunteers, are required to develop strategy and build robots based on sound engineering principles. Awards are given for the competition as well as for community outreach, design, and other real-world accomplishments.

Combining the excitement of sport with the rigors of science and technology. We call FIRST Robotics Competition the ultimate Sport for the Mind. High-school student participants call it “the hardest fun you’ll ever have.” Under strict rules, limited resources, and an intense six-week time limit, teams of 20 or more students are challenged to raise funds, design a team “brand,” hone teamwork skills, and build and program industrial-size robots to play a difficult field game against like-minded competitors. It’s as close to real-world engineering as a student can get. Volunteer professional mentors lend their time and talents to guide each team. Each season ends with an exciting FIRST Championship.

4. Science Olympiad: School-based team competitive science tournaments for K-12.

  • Elementary Science Olympiad (K-6) (Division A) Wide-ranging, hands-on content using kids’ natural curiosity. Host an all-building Science Olympiad Fun Day. Can be used as a feeder program for middle school Science Olympiad. Some people even use the content for birthday parties!
  • Grades 6-9 (Division B): Up to 15 students allowed per team. Here are the events for 2017.
  • Grades 9-12 (Division C): Up to 15 students per team. Division C events 2017

5. National STEM Video Game Challenge: Grades 5-12; Solo or small team.

  • Goal is to motivate interest in STEM learning among America’s youth by tapping into students’ natural passion for playing and making video games. No programming experience required. Competitors may use a variety of game design platforms including Scratch, Gamestar Mechanic, and others
  •  Categories for middle school (grades 5-8) and high school. Also prizes for educators. Homeschoolers are eligible.
  • To enter, you or your team of up to 4 people must design a “video game” (defined at the site) that incorporates STEM learning
  • Game can be fully programmed and playable (in one of the platforms suggested) or submitted as detailed written game design documents
  • Entry dates are different from most other competitions, which match the school year. For this one, last year they STARTED accepting entries in April, with a deadline in August.
  • Prizes: laptop computers + $2000

6. American Statistical Association poster and project competitions: Grades K-12

  • Poster competition for K-12; entry deadline April 1
  • Project competition for grades 7-12; entry deadline June 1
  • “A statistical project is the process of answering a research question using statistical techniques and presenting the work in a written report.”
  • “A statistical poster is a display containing two or more related graphics that summarize a set of data, look at the data from different points of view, and answer specific questions about the data.”
  • Cash prizes in the hundreds of dollars

7. Odyssey of the Mind: A wide-ranging intellectual team competition for grades K-12+ that includes solving problems in these categories, most of which involve STEM:

  • Each year, five new competitive problems are presented for the teams to solve. These long-term problems are solved over weeks and months. Some of the problems are more technical in nature, while others are artistic or performance based.
  • Worldwide
  • Find dates for coaches training in your state/country here. Most are in September.
  • Categories: Mechanical/Vehicle; Classics; Performance; Structure;Technical Performance

8. EngineerGirl Essay Contest: Grades 3-5, 6-8, 9-12

  • Individual contest; open to girls and boys
  • Write an essay describing a promising new technology (see website for details)
  • Deadline: February 1
  • Cash prizes

For middle school only:

9. 3M/Discovery Young Scientist Challenge

  • U.S. students in grades 5-8
  • Submit entry December-April
  • To enter, students need to submit a 1-2 minute video which describes a new innovation or solution that could solve or impact an everyday problem related to: [1] the way we move; [2] the way we keep ourselves healthy; or [3] the way we make a difference. {These topics may change for this year’s Challenge.}
  • Ten finalists will be mentored by 3M scientists and win a trip to 3M headquarters in Minnesota
  • First place wins $25,000. All finalists win a Discovery Student Adventures trip
  • Finalists announced June-July

10. eCyberMission: is a web-based STEM competition free for students in grades 6 through 9 sponsored by the U.S. Army. Teams can compete for state, regional and national awards while working to solve problems in their community.

  • Registration deadline: December 7, 2016
  • Project submission deadline: February 22, 2017
  • 3 or 4 student members in the same grade and state, with an adult team advisor. US citizens or permanent residents only.
  • Team chooses one category of “mission challenge”, asks a question, and tests it using scientific method. Basically an online science fair with lots of structure.
  • 1/5 of final score is based on project’s potential benefit to the community
  • Virtual judges and other volunteers needed. Can you help?

11. Junior Solar Sprint: Grades 5-8

  • “free educational program for 5th through 8th grade students where students design, build and race solar powered cars using hands-on engineering skills and principles of science and math.”
  • Timeline: late fall, webinars and local training for teachers and students; January-March: build cars; spring: competitions

12. Future City: Grades 6-8 

  • A national, project-based learning experience where students imagine, design, and build cities of the future that showcase their solution to a citywide sustainability issue.
  • Students (up to three) work as a team with an educator and engineer mentor to plan cities using SimCity™ software; research and write solutions to an engineering problem; build tabletop scale models; and present their ideas before judges at Regional Competitions in January. Regional winners represent their region at the National Finals in Washington, DC in February, travel expenses paid.
  • This year’s topic (2016-17): Power of Public Space.
  • Educators can do the program without competing if they wish. Teams of 3 students + educator + engineer mentor. More students can participate but only three will present.
  • Register by October 31, 2016

13. mathcounts MathCounts Competition Series: Grades 6-8. Live, in person, competitive math contests.

  • School, chapter, state and national contests. National competition is a major event held in May; 12 students vie for title of Raytheon Mathlete Champion
  • Enroll your school online now to get your MathCounts handbook (early deadline: November 18, 2016; final deadline: December 16, 2016). Homeschools are eligible. Club program is free. Competition teams of 1-4 students: fee $25-$100.
  • Competitions begin in January

14. MathCounts Math Video Challenge: Grades 6-8, through schools or non-school groups. Free.

  • Students develop their math, communication, and technology skills in a collaborative video project. Must solve a math problem from this year’s handbook and show a real-world application of the math concept used in the problem. Link to FAQ.
  • Teams of four
  • Video less than five minutes
  • Video entry deadline: February 13, 2017

15.BrightSchools_NSF_NSTABright Schools competition: Grades 6-8; teams of 2-4

  • Sponsored by National Science Teachers Association
  • “The goal of the Bright Schools program is to create a learning experience that will help students, parents and teachers better understand the link between light, sleep and student health and performance. Through the Bright Schools competition, students in grades 6-8 will select a topic related to light and sleep and select one of three exploration options (developing a prototype, creating an awareness campaign or writing a research proposal) to create an original project.
  • Submissions due February 6, 2017
  • Cash prizes up to $5,000 per student

For grades 7-12:

16. Team American Rocketry Challenge: Teams of 3-10 students in grades 7-12

  • Design, build and fly a model rocket that reaches a specific altitude and duration determined by a set of rules developed each year. (This year: carry two raw eggs to an altitude of 850 feet and return uncracked within 44-46 seconds)
  • The contest is designed to encourage students to study math and science and pursue careers in aerospace. The top 100 teams, based on local qualification flights, are invited to Washington, DC in May for the national finals. Prizes include $100,000 in cash and scholarships split between the top 10 finishers. Overall winning team will travel to United Kingdom to compete in International Rocketry Challenge at the Farnborough Air Show in July.
  • Enter your team before December 2, 2016

verizon17. Verizon Innovative App Challenge: Grades 6-12, teams of 5-7 students

  • Registration opens in August
  • Submission deadline is November 18, 2016
  • The app challenge is a nationwide contest in which students are challenged to develop concepts for mobile apps that solve a problem in their community. It’s a unique, hands-on activity that teaches collaboration, critical thinking, problem solving, and entrepreneurship, as well as STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) skills and coding.
  • Prizes: up to $20,000 and chance to work with app development experts from MIT

18. sciencebowlNational Science Bowl: Grades 6-8 and 9-12

  • Teams of 4-5 students
  • School-based. Regional competitions feed into national event (all expenses paid to Washington, DC in April)
  • “The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) National Science Bowl® is a nationwide academic competition that tests students’ knowledge in all areas of science and mathematics. Middle and high school student teams from diverse backgrounds are comprised of four students, one alternate, and a teacher who serves as an advisor and coach. These teams face-off in a fast-paced question-and-answer format, being tested on a range of science disciplines including biology, chemistry, Earth science, physics, energy, and math.”

19. Technology Student Association TEAMS: Tests of Engineering Aptitude, Mathematics, and Science (TEAMS) is an annual competition for Grades 7-12 students to discover engineering and how engineering can help make a difference in the world.  Students work collaboratively to solve real-world engineering challenges, applying their math and science skills in practical, creative ways.

  • Teams of 4-8 students
  • Open to any group or organization (homeschoolers, Scouts, 4H, etc.)
  • Register online starting in September
  • One-day competition (sometime between Feb. 13-March 19, 2017) includes essay and multiple choice test and hands-on build. The 2017 TEAMS competition “Engineering the Environment” focus on topics such as geothermal heat pumps and wastewater treatment.
  • Events are held at schools and universities around the U.S.
  • National finals June 21-25, 2017 Orlando, FL. TEAMS take a multiple choice test to apply math and science to novel situations, then offer ideas for engineering solutions in response to five tasks.

20. World of 7 Billion video contest: Grades 6-12

  • Create a short video – up to 60 seconds – about human population growth that highlights one of the following global challenges: Climate Change, Ocean Health, or Rapid Urbanization. All videos must include a) how population growth impacts the issue and b) at least one idea for a sustainable solution.
  • Entry deadline February 23, 2017
  • Cash prizes in multiple divisions

21. Science without Borders Art Challenge: Ages 11-19. International.

  • Purpose: to get students and teachers more involved and interested in ocean conservation through various forms of art. This annual contest inspires students to be creative while using different types of media to promote public awareness of the need to preserve, protect, and restore the world’s oceans and aquatic resources
  • Submission deadline: April

22. Technovation Challenge: Teams of girls only. Worldwide.

  • Challenges girls all over the world to build a mobile app that will address a community problem
  • Depends on volunteers coaches/mentors; volunteers needed
  • Middle school (age 14 and under) and high school (age 18 and under) divisions
  • Top teams win $10,000 and trip to San Francisco
  • Registration begins in October

23. Engineering For You video contest: Happened in 2016, not sure if it is annual

24. isefIntel International Science and Engineering Fairs (ISEF) and their affiliated regional fairs are the granddaddies of the science fair world. I can only summarize this massive global enterprise and direct you to the website of the sponsor, Society for Science and the Public.

Traditional science fairs like these require students to perform actual research / do experiments. Many other contests in this list are more “thought experiments.”

Science fairs were a crucial formative experience for me.  I’m competitive by nature but not interested in sports. I loved science and I was smart. Science fairs were a perfect match for me. Competing in three ISEFs truly changed my life. (Thank you, Minnesota State University SC/SW Regional Science Fair–so happy to see you’re still honoring kids with a passion for science!)

  • Students in grades 6-12 are eligible to compete in affiliated regional fairs. ISEF itself is for high school students only.
  • Individuals or small teams perform a real scientific investigation (sometimes engineering, math, or computer programming) with well-designed experiments following the scientific method. This can be from the most basic level (such as, testing effect of water on seed germination) to the most advanced (ISEF national winners often have worked in university laboratories on cutting-edge science).
  • Check your regional fair’s website for deadlines. Regulations for use of human subjects, chemicals, etc. are quite strict and most projects require pre-approval as early as December, but certainly before the student starts work.
  • ISEF is May 14-19, 2017 in Los Angeles. Volunteers needed. Local/regional fairs always need qualified judges. Find your local fair and volunteer.
  • Broadcom MASTERS competition is part of the ISEF enterprise, a kind of junior ISEF. Top winners in grades 6-8 at ISEF-affiliated regional science fairs are nominated to enter their work in Broadcom MASTERS. Entry is by nomination only. Semifinalists are announced in August/September from the previous school year.

25. google The Google Science Fair: Ages 13-18, worldwide

  •  “an online science competition seeking curious minds from the four corners of the globe. All you need is an idea. Geniuses are not always A-grade students. We welcome all mavericks, square-pegs and everybody who likes to ask questions.” As best I can tell, Google Science Fair entries are traditional science fair projects (real experiments performed using the scientific method and following all safety/ethics rules of the sponsoring fair) that the student enters online in a virtual science fair. You are allowed to enter a project that you also entered in a “real” science fair. Ideal for kids who don’t have access to an ISEF-affiliated regional fair.
  • Individual or team entries (up to three students per entry)
  • Entries begin in February; close in May
  • Awards in 3 age divisions. Big prizes: previous year’s winners won tens of thousands of dollars, media coverage, a trip to Google, and even a visit to the White House, and a grand prize ten-day trip to the Galapagos Islands.

Only for high school (grades 9-12) and up:

26. Conrad Spirit of Innovation Challenge: Team event (2-5 kids) for high school students, ages 13-18.

  • Season is September through April
  • Choose one of four categories: Aerospace & Aviation, Energy & Environment, Cyber Technology and Security, and Health & Nutrition
  • Challenges high school students to create innovative product or service that solves a real-world problem in their chosen industry. Open to students worldwide.
  • Initial entry is Investor Pitch and video, conducted online (deadline: early November). Entries chosen for semifinals work in prototype development and submit a Draft Development business Plan.
  • Teams compete for the opportunity to attend Innovation Summit and share an anticipated $500,000+ in awards including: seed funding grants, investment opportunities, patent support, business services, scholarships and other opportunities (as provided by our partners and sponsors) to grow their solution into a real business.

Envirothon_Logo(1)27. NCF-Envirothon: Grades 9-12. Teams of five.

  • Nationwide team competition for high school students in U.S. and Canada.
  • Teams organized in schools, homeschools, scout groups, etc.
  • In-class learning + hands-on outdoor activities to learn environmental science.
  • Key topics: soils/land use; aquatic ecology; forestry; wildlife. 2017 focus: Agricultural soil and water conservation
  • Students are tested at local competitions. National event is five-day competition held July 23-29, 2017. Hosted at a different location each year.
  • Registration will open in late fall.

28.  Microsoft’s Imagine Cup: Ages 16 and up. Global. For budding tech entrepreneurs, teams of up to four. Three technology competitions for high school & university students worldwide. Imagine Cup World Finals 2016 will be in Seattle in July. Huge cash prizes. Contests:

  • Code Hunt Challenge: 24-hour intense individual coding event. Next challenge begins April (probably). Play/practice any time at codehunt.com
  • Games: Best new game made by students. $50,000 prize.
  • Innovation: “Incredible, world-changing software innovations often come from students. Social networks, music services, digital photography apps, gadgets and robotics – the list goes on. We’re looking for the next big thing and we know students like you are going to make it.” Top team wins $50,000.
  • Competitions begin in September; final submissions deadline March 15

29. CubeSat Competition: Grades 9-12, US and abroad *2016 event over; uncertain if it will be repeated*

  • Sponsored by the Museum of Science Fiction
  • “CubeSats are small, grapefruit-size spacecraft that use commercially available space technologies and simple logistics for launch and operation. CubeSats usually have a volume of about one liter (a 10 cm cube) and a mass of no more than 1.33 kilogramsto offer the most compelling concept for a new CubeSat.”
  • Competitors submit a CubeSat mission design proposal

30. M3 Moody’s Mega Math Challenge: Grades 11-12. Teams.

  • Math competition to solve an open-ended, realistic, applied math-modeling problem focused on a real-world issue. Sample problems here.
  • High school juniors & seniors. Homeschoolers eligible.
  • Teams of 3-5 students have 14 hours over one Challenge Weekend to do the problem; prepare by working on problems from previous years. In 2016, challenge weekend was February 27-28.
  • Entirely internet-based
  • Scholarship prizes total $150,000
  • Registration begins in November, closes in February.

31.siemens  Siemens Competition in Math, Science and Technology. Grades 9-12.

  • Registration opens May 2017; all materials due in September
  • Scholarship awards from $1,000-$100,000
  • Individual, or two or three team members
  • “The Competition is the nation’s premier science research competition for high school students and seeks to promote excellence by encouraging students to undertake individual or team research projects. It fosters intensive research that improves students’ understanding of the value of scientific study and informs their consideration of future careers in these disciplines.”
  • Lots of regulations governing research; make sure you know the rules ahead of time.
  • Students entering this competition likely should also enter an Intel science fair

32.biogenius The BioGENEius Challenge: Grades 9-12; US and others

  • Along with Intel ISEF and Siemens, another option for big-time high school science projects/research
  • Specifically for biotechnology research
  • Categories: Global Healthcare (medical biotech); Global Sustainability (agricultural biotech); Global Environment (industrial/environmental biotech)
  • Students in US and Canada enter science projects that meet criteria in a local BioGENEius Challenge fair to be held in April

33. Stockholm Junior Water Prize: Grades 9-12

  • “The Stockholm Junior Water Prize (SJWP) is the world’s most prestigious youth award for a water-related science project. Projects should be aimed at enhancing the quality of life through improvement of water quality, water resources management, or water and wastewater treatment. The competition is open to any high school student in grades 9-12, and are 15 years of age by August 1st of the competition year.
  • Deadline to enter state competition: April 15th
  • All state winners will receive an all-expenses paid trip to the SJWP National Competition.  The national winner will receive $10,000 and an all-expenses paid trip to Stockholm, Sweden to participate in the SJWP International Competition.
  • Eligibility and rules here

34. I-SWEEEP: Grades 9-12

  • “I-SWEEEP, The International Sustainable World (Energy, Engineering, and Environment) Project, is a groundbreaking science fair competition open to high school students. It is the largest science fair event of its kind world-wide. I-SWEEEP works with local, national, and international science fair organizations to bring top-ranking participants and qualifying projects to Houston each year.”
  • “promotes engineering inventions and energy efficiency/management discoveries, that will nurture environmentally friendly technology concepts”
  • Affiliated with the Intel/ISEF science fair network, this is a specialty science fair and symposium that targets the best science projects on sustainability themes.
  • Most participants are nominated from their local/state science fair but you can apply directly here

35. MIT THINK competition: Grades 9-12

  • Students submit a proposal; finalists receive free trip to MIT, mentorship from MIT students, funding and support to complete their project, and superb networking opportunities
  • “THINK project proposals are science, technology, and engineering ideas that span many fields from green technologies and practical devices to software applications. As long as it can be completed in one semester with a $1,000 budget, almost anything is fair game! A good proposal has an insightful idea, clearly defined goals, and a well thought-out procedure for implementation.”
  • Application deadline: January 1, 2017

Local & Regional competitions:

36. The Tech Challenge: Grades 4-12. Teams. This is an awesome program with tons of support (workshops and clinics throughout the preparation process) but everything is at The Tech Museum of Innovation in Silicon Valley (San Jose, CA) so contest is effectively restricted to Bay Area teams.

  • The Tech Challenge is an annual team design challenge for students in grades 4-12 that introduces and reinforces the science and engineering design process with a hands-on project geared to solving a real-world problem.
  • Teams of 2-6 people compete in three divisions: Elementary (grades 4-6), Middle (grades 7-8), High (grades 9-12)
  • Teams put their solutions to the test in front of judges at the showcase on April 29-30, 2017 at the Tech Museum.
  • This year’s challenge: Build a device to help explorers cross an ice field with multiple ravines
  • Registration begins in October 2017

37. Jet Propulsion Laboratory Invention Challenge: Southern CA middle & high schools

  • a friendly, yet challenging competition open to JPL employees and contractors, their family members, and students from local middle and high schools. Each year, a different engineering challenge is selected. The goal of the Invention Challenge is to show students that math, science, and engineering can be fun.
  • The theme for this year’s contest is:“Don’t Waste a Drop Contest” Create a device that can transport water in a plastic cup into the water vessel located 2 meters away in the fastest time without wasting a drop of water. The winner will be the team whose device accomplishes the task in the fastest time.
  • Monday, August 29 – Saturday, October 1, 2016

38. Pennsylvania Society for Biomedical Research poster contestFor K-12 students in Pennsylvania, Delaware, and West Virginia only.

  • Students illustrate different aspects of biomedical research through art
  • Prizes $25 and feature page in a calendar. Entry deadline: April 2, 2017.

Do you know about another contest which should be on this list? Please leave a comment!


Teachers: Combine science learning with thriller fiction. Use the PETROPLAGUE Teacher Guide to easily incorporate Dr. Amy Rogers’ page-turning eco-disaster novel Petroplague into your advanced biology or microbiology curriculum. For more information or to schedule a virtual visit from Dr. Rogers, email amy@AmyRogers.com

BONUS: Get a free ebook of PETROPLAGUE by Amy Rogers to see if you can use it in your classroom. Offer expires 9/30/16

What if bacteria turned all the gasoline in Los Angeles into vinegar?
Carmageddon doesn’t begin to describe it.
Petroplague does.
A microbiology-themed science thriller in the style of Michael Crichton


Want to know more about how to do a science project? Need project ideas? ScienceBuddies.org will walk you through everything.

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Book Buzz: WAYWARD PINES by Blake Crouch

ScienceThrillers.com discusses Pines by Blake Crouch.

waywardpinesTech rating (out of 5):  N/A

Publication date: August 2012
Category: Suspense / SciFi

Summary (from the publisher):

Secret service agent Ethan Burke arrives in Wayward Pines, Idaho, with a clear mission: locate and recover two federal agents who went missing in the bucolic town one month earlier. But within minutes of his arrival, Ethan is involved in a violent accident. He comes to in a hospital, with no ID, no cell phone, and no briefcase. The medical staff seems friendly enough, but something feels…off. As the days pass, Ethan’s investigation into the disappearance of his colleagues turns up more questions than answers. Why can’t he get any phone calls through to his wife and son in the outside world? Why doesn’t anyone believe he is who he says he is? And what is the purpose of the electrified fences surrounding the town? Are they meant to keep the residents in? Or something else out? Each step closer to the truth takes Ethan further from the world he thought he knew, from the man he thought he was, until he must face a horrifying fact—he may never get out of Wayward Pines alive.

ScienceThrillers review:

You’re probably thinking, sure, Amy, I’ve heard this one before. Novel begins with main character waking up with no memory, no identity, in a strange place, usually with people trying to kill him. Big deal.

Pines by Blake Crouch is kind of a big deal.

I hear that FOX turned the Pines trilogy into a TV show that maybe wasn’t particularly good. Let me tell you–the book is really really good.

This isn’t high art or a towering work of intellect. It’s an absolutely arresting page-turner that will tie you in knots wondering WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON IN WAYWARD PINES and HOW IS HE GOING TO GET OUT OF THIS. (Once in a while a smaller inner voice will say, “That makes no sense. Why doesn’t he just…” Ignore that voice. Keep reading.)

Yes, this is a masterpiece of suspense writing, especially for people who think perfection is suspicious. For the first many pages, creepy is the operative word. Slowly, excruciatingly, creepy evolves into disturbing, then terrifying. I can’t tell you more about the plot. You’ll find plenty of tightly written chase scenes, mysteries, and a fair amount of horror/gore. Good news: although you might at times think there’s no way to pull a satisfying conclusion out of this cobweb, the author does. In the end, the reader’s questions are answered. Made me wonder how book #2 (Wayward by Blake Crouch) could possibly follow up to this gem. I haven’t read it yet but my hubby swears it’s as good as or better than book 1. Sounds like I’ve got something to do in the wee hours of the night.

By the way, if you’re a fan of the 1960s British TV series The Prisoner, you’ll love this book.

Click here to amazon listing

Blake Crouch has a hot new release as well that I purchased but haven’t read yet: Dark Matter 

“Are you happy with your life?”
Those are the last words Jason Dessen hears before the masked abductor knocks him unconscious. Before he awakens to find himself strapped to a gurney, surrounded by strangers in hazmat suits. Before a man Jason’s never met smiles down at him and says, “Welcome back, my friend.”
In this world he’s woken up to, Jason’s life is not the one he knows. His wife is not his wife. His son was never born. And Jason is not an ordinary college physics professor, but a celebrated genius who has achieved something remarkable. Something impossible.

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Book Buzz: Star Wars AFTERMATH by Chuck Wendig

ScienceThrillers.com discusses Star Wars: Aftermath by Chuck Wendig.

Tech rating (out of 5):  N/A

Publication date: September 2015
Category: science fiction / space opera

Summary (from the publisher):

As the Empire reels from its critical defeats at the Battle of Endor, the Rebel Alliance—now a fledgling New Republic—presses its advantage by hunting down the enemy’s scattered forces before they can regroup and retaliate. But above the remote planet Akiva, an ominous show of the enemy’s strength is unfolding. Out on a lone reconnaissance mission, pilot Wedge Antilles watches Imperial Star Destroyers gather like birds of prey circling for a kill, but he’s taken captive before he can report back to the New Republic leaders.

Meanwhile, on the planet’s surface, former rebel fighter Norra Wexley has returned to her native world—war weary, ready to reunite with her estranged son, and eager to build a new life in some distant place. But when Norra intercepts Wedge Antilles’s urgent distress call, she realizes her time as a freedom fighter is not yet over. What she doesn’t know is just how close the enemy is—or how decisive and dangerous her new mission will be.

Determined to preserve the Empire’s power, the surviving Imperial elite are converging on Akiva for a top-secret emergency summit—to consolidate their forces and rally for a counterstrike. But they haven’t reckoned on Norra and her newfound allies—her technical-genius son, a Zabrak bounty hunter, and a reprobate Imperial defector—who are prepared to do whatever they must to end the Empire’s oppressive reign once and for all.

ScienceThrillers review:

It’s safe to say that some readers of this blog are Star Wars fans. The massive Lucas-inspired pop culture universe now includes 7 major movies, plus TV series and a bunch of books set in the Star Wars universe, at different times in the history of the movie series.

Years ago I read the first after-the-movies Star Wars book trilogy, the “Thrawn trilogy” written by Timothy Zahn (Heir to the Empire etc.). I hadn’t read any Star Wars books since then. With The Force Awakens renewing interest in Star Wars, the Powers That Be are doing a bit of a reboot of all the off-screen history and novels. Because I’m not a dedicated fan, I can’t tell you the details or argue the merits. I was simply curious: what happened between Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens?

Star Wars: AFTERMATH by Chuck Wendig is set in that time period and while it doesn’t answer the question the way I would’ve liked, it does create a nice sense of the chaos and conflict that would accompany the overthrow of Imperial power in the galaxy.  (Shades of Iraq, anyone?) Aftermath is a tidy, simple, quick read that allows fans to spend time in the Star Wars universe. If you can’t get enough of bounty hunters, TIE fighters, dingy alien worlds, droids, and whacked-out aliens, then this is the book for you.

If like me you’re looking for more of your familiar, favorite characters (ie Luke, Leia, and Han) you’ll be disappointed. The only “famous” character with much of a role in this book is Wedge Antilles. If you want the Big Three you’ll have to read Heir to the Empire, which I loved. Whether the events described in the Thrawn Trilogy will remain part of the official canon remains to be seen, I guess.

Click here to amazon listing

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SENECA REBEL: Guest post by Rayya Deeb

ScienceThrillers welcomes Rayya Deeb, author of Seneca Rebel, a new young adult (YA) technothriller set in the near future.

Seneca Rebel coverSummary: What if your one chance to change the world means you have to leave everything you love behind?

In the not-too-distant future, math genius Doro Campbell is introduced to the Seneca Society: a secretive, technologically-advanced subterranean utopia dedicated to inventing and perfecting the most effective ways to benefit our planet.

But there’s a hitch. Like all that have come before her, Doro is given the ultimatum: Stay in Seneca forever, or leave now with no memory of the place, its goals, and its inhabitants.

She stays.

Her ideals are shattered when, together with biotechnology whiz, Dominic Ambrosia, Doro uncovers profound deceptions beneath the surface of this all too-perfect community.

Will one teenage girl have what it takes to go up against swarms of drones, psychological manipulation and biological attacks, to uncover the truth and change the trajectory of the world?


Nanotechnology in YA novel might stimulate interest in real science

Guest post by Rayya Deeb

Seneca Rebel explores emerging medicines and technologies through a fast-paced fiction narrative that, I hope, will inspire youth into STEM. I think it is super-important that media narratives have role models and encourage positive action in these fields that are crucial to our very existence. The convergence of science and technology is particularly fascinating to me. Right now, unfolding before us, the application of nanobots in medicine is just mind-blowing, and something that I believe the average individual doesn’t know much about. Researchers are using nanobots in blood to communicate with cancer cells to stop the spreading of the disease… And while it may seem to many like sci-fi, it is far from it. Scientists and technologists are working on ways for nanotechnology to fight disease, increase memory and enhance mental ability… and it doesn’t stop there. These very advances will change the shape of humanity, not in the far off future, but in our lifetime.

The Seneca Rebel storyline incorporates nanotechnology, amongst other science and technology advances, in an enthralling adventure. It is my hope that young readers will take a strong enough interest to ask questions and engage in conversation in the real world so that they may find their curiosity leading them towards a deeper understanding. The Seneca Rebel‘s protagonist Doro Campbell is a teenage math genius, and her love interest and partner-in-crime, Dom Ambrosia, is a biotechnology whiz. To me, their exploration of The Seneca Society is quite simply art imitating life, a life that isn’t so prevalent in the awareness of the collective conscious as it will soon be. I hope the ScienceThrillers.com readers will enjoy reading Seneca as much as I enjoyed researching and writing it. And maybe they will be amongst the first to crack the code on the cover of the book…

Buy Seneca Rebel from amazon


 

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New release book review: THE HUMAN SIDE OF SCIENCE by Wiggins and Wynn

ScienceThrillers.com book review of The Human Side of Science by Arthur R. Wiggins and Charles M. Wynn Sr.

The Human Side of Science cover

 

Publication date: April 2016
Category: Popular nonfiction / history of science / science biography

Summary (from the publisher):

This lively and humorous book focuses attention on the fact that science is a human enterprise. The reader learns about the foibles and quirks as well as the admirable ingenuity and impressive accomplishments of famous scientists who made some of the greatest discoveries of the past and present.

Examples abound: James Watson and Francis Crick formed a legendary partnership that led to the discovery of DNA, but they essentially ignored the contribution of female colleague Rosalind Franklin. Later, in the race to sequence the human genome, Watson criticized J. Craig Venter’s technique as a process that “could be run by monkeys.” Nikola Tesla once worked for Thomas Edison, but then quit after a dispute about a bonus. Robert Hooke accused Isaac Newton of stealing his ideas about optics. Plato declared that the works of Democritus should be burned.

With tongue-in-cheek illustrations by renowned science cartoonist Sidney Harris, this book takes the reader behind the scenes of scientific research to shine new light on the all-too-human people who “do” science.

ScienceThrillers review:

The Human Side of Science, subtitled “Edison and Tesla, Watson and Crick, and other personal stories behind science’s big ideas,” is ‘lite’ history of science. Essentially this is a collection of mini-biographies of famous scientists, with an agenda. The agenda is to convey the messiness of doing science in real life. Personal conflicts between brilliant minds make good stories. Based on the many, many bits of biographical information contained in this book, such conflicts were not uncommon.

Unfortunately the authors of this volume are not themselves good storytellers. I finished this book and took away some interesting ideas (and themes, which I’ll get to in a moment). But I was disappointed because I had high expectations for the stories that could be told with the material at hand. As it is, information in the book does not flow in narrative form. Anecdotes are chosen and told but not prioritized in an artful sequence. Several times I was left hanging with key questions that I felt were not answered in the material provided.

Thematically, though, the book succeeds in conveying how people we look back on as “obviously” geniuses were not born with the word “genius” stamped on their foreheads. Like everyone else, they began as youths trying to make their way in the world, struggling through problems with school (a remarkable number were poor students), families, money, jobs, and girlfriends (’cause this is a book about men–see below). If you want to inspire kids to press forward with their ideas in spite of resistance, you’ll find plenty of role models here.

A nice part of The Human Side of Science is a broad cast of minor characters, people who worked with, worked against, supported, stole from, and fought with the heavyweight scientists featured in each chapter. Most of them I’d never heard of so it was fun to be introduced.

Another problem with the book is the scientists are almost exclusively male. While this isn’t normally a big deal for me, in this case it felt like a major oversight. Marie-Anne Lavoisier is credited for her work assisting her husband Antoine; Rosalind Franklin, the “dark lady of DNA,” gets a mention inside the chapter on Watson and Crick; Mileva Maric is featured not for her status as a physicist, but as Albert Einstein’s first wife; Lise Meitner gets two pages for her study of nuclear fission; Vera Rubin gets a paragraph for work on dark matter; a SETI astronomer named Jill Tarter gets two sentences. Inexplicably, a woman named Ann Druyan who worked as cowriter and TV producer for Carl Sagan gets a page, and the actress Hedy Lamarr gets two, which makes the absence of a chapter on Marie Curie, two-time winner of the Nobel prize, all the more glaring. And where is Barbara McClintock? In the authors’ own words, “In this book we have chronicled almost four hundred people’s interactions over twenty-five hundred years and in dozens of countries of the world.” About ten of those people are women. I’m not impressed.

Despite its weaknesses, The Human Side of Science is a decent book with a welcome approach to making science interesting. An easy read, definitely worth checking out from your local library.

Most interesting thing I learned from this book: Einstein’s firstborn child “disappeared”–thriller novel, anyone?

Buy The Human Side of Science  from amazon.com

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New release book review: THE BIG SHEEP by Robert Kroese

ScienceThrillers.com book review of The Big Sheep by Robert Kroese.

The Big Sheep cover

BlueStar4

(excellent; top 30% of SciThri)

Tech rating (out of 5):

Biohazard2

Publication date: June 28, 2016
Category: Science fiction noir mystery/suspense with a touch of snark

Summary (from the publisher):

Los Angeles of 2039 is a baffling and bifurcated place. After the Collapse of 2028, a vast section of LA, the Disincorporated Zone, was disowned by the civil authorities, and became essentially a third world country within the borders of the city. Navigating the boundaries between DZ and LA proper is a tricky task, and there’s no one better suited than eccentric private investigator Erasmus Keane. When a valuable genetically altered sheep mysteriously goes missing from Esper Corporation’s labs, Keane is the one they call.

But while the erratic Keane and his more grounded partner, Blake Fowler, are on the trail of the lost sheep, they land an even bigger case. Beautiful television star Priya Mistry suspects that someone is trying to kill her – and she wants Keane to find out who. When Priya vanishes and then reappears with no memory of having hired them, Keane and Fowler realize something very strange is going on. As they unravel the threads of the mystery, it soon becomes clear that the two cases are connected – and both point to a sinister conspiracy involving the most powerful people in the city. Saving Priya and the sheep will take all of Keane’s wits and Fowler’s skills, but in the end, they may discover that some secrets are better left hidden.

ScienceThrillers review:

I first discovered author Robert Kroese when his independently published science thriller Schrodinger’s Gat came to me for review in 2013. I loved it and am kicking myself for not reading more of Kroese’s work (an ebook of his novel Starship Grifters languishes on my computer–so many books, so little time). Kroese is now a hybrid author; his new release is published by Thomas Dunne Books, one of the big players in the publishing world. I gave The Big Sheep a try and was totally hooked by the end of chapter one.

The Big Sheep is science fiction, set in a mildly dystopian (but quite recognizable) future Los Angeles. It’s also a mystery/suspense novel that shamelessly pays tribute to both LA noir crime fiction (Raymond Chandler’s The Big Sleep) and to Sherlock Holmes. By adapting those influences to SciFi, The Big Sheep is fresh and original.

Absurdity and humor (including moments when I laughed out loud) begin in the opening scene at a laboratory where we meet Erasmus Keane, self-described “phenomenological inquisitor” whose quirkiness and brilliance are a clear tribute to a Holmes-like private investigator. We see everything through the point of view of Keane’s Watson-like sidekick, Blake Fowler. Fowler’s voice carries the novel. He’s loyal, sensible, capable, snarky at the right times, and a force of sanity in Keane’s life. Like Watson, he also makes a good foil for Keane to show how clever he is. Heart and brain, these two make a great team.

The plot gets going when Keane and Fowler are visited by Priya Mistry, LA’s hottest starlet. In possibly my favorite scene of the whole book, Fowler is discombobulated by Mistry’s charisma while the oddly distracted young woman describes her fear that someone is trying to kill her. Questions abound as Keane and Fowler are drawn into a web of media powerhouses, warlords, scientists, and of course, sheep. Kroese’s storyline unfolds unpredictably and with plenty of delight. The author builds an interesting future world and creates future science that extrapolates nicely from what’s real today. Multiple plot threads come together for a satisfying climax that emphasizes words and thoughts over gunplay and chases.

I love Kroese’s writing style. To give you a sense of what he does, here are a few quotes:

“There had been a lot of technological advancements in firearms over the past twenty years, from biometric authentication devices to smart bullets that could go around corners, but for my money nobody in the past hundred years had really improved on the basic idea of making a hunk of metal go really goddamned fast in a straight line.”

“After all, paranoia was just the flip side of narcissism: it’s a short walk from ‘everybody loves me’ to ‘everybody is out to get me.'”

“I felt like hugging her, but something told me that would be wildly inappropriate–not to mention logistically difficult, since she was hunched down in a chair on the other side of my desk.”

The Big Sheep is an innovative and entertaining blend of science fiction and detective story. Smart readers of genre fiction will love the buddy pair of Erasmus Keane and Blake Fowler. With just enough snark and plenty of sheep jokes, Robert Kroese’s book will be a favorite for fans of Philip Dick’s Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, Terry Pratchett’s Guards! Guards!, and Scalzi’s Old Man’s War.

Buy The Big Sheep on amazon

Note: The Big Sheep has much less foul language than Schrodinger’s Gat.


If you like science-themed fiction set in Los Angeles, you might enjoy: Petroplague by Amy Rogers


FCC notice: A free copy of this book was given to me for review. I made no promise that I would write a review, good or bad.

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New release book review: BEIJING RED by Alex Ryan

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ScienceThrillers.com book review of Beijing Red by Alex Ryan.

BlueStar4

(excellent; top 30% of SciThri)

Tech rating (out of 5):

Biohazard4

Publication date: May 10, 2016
Category: Science thriller

Summary (from the publisher):

When ex-Navy SEAL Nick Foley travels to China to find purpose and escape the demons of his past, he instead stumbles into a conspiracy his Special Forces training never prepared him for. A mysterious and deadly outbreak ravages a remote area of western China, and Nick finds himself the lead suspect in a bio-terrorism investigation being conducted by China’s elite Snow Leopard counter-terrorism unit.

To clear his name and avoid prosecution, he must team up with beautiful Chinese CDC microbiologist Dr. Dazhong “Dash” Chen to find who is really behind the attack. As their investigation proceeds, their budding friendship is tested by nationalistic loyalties and suspicion.

In a race against time, Nick and Dash must risk everything to stop a mad man before he unleashes the world’s next super-weapon in Beijing.

ScienceThrillers review:

Beijing Red is the first book in a new thriller series by Alex Ryan, the pseudonym for the writing team Brian Andrews and Jeffrey Wilson. Andrews and Wilson, both thriller novelists with books of their own, happen to both be US Navy veterans, Andrews having served as an officer aboard a nuclear submarine, and Wilson as a combat surgeon with the Navy SEALs. International Thriller Writers annual summer conference ThrillerFest brought these two together, and a collaboration was born.

The result is awesome. I love it when smart people who can write, write thrillers, and their intelligence shines through.

Beijing Red delivers everything you’d want from a thriller: an exotic setting (China), an unlikely pairing of hero and heroine (a former Navy SEAL and a Chinese scientist), a ticking clock to mass disaster, and plenty of twists. On top of that, it’s got science.

The book opens with a sudden, unexplained, gruesome death. An unknown killer germ is high on the list of suspects. Dash’s investigation of the deadly agent proceeds in a largely believable way (with the exception, perhaps, of her inadequate protections against a possible BSL-4 organism) and the laboratory scenes get a thumb’s up from me. When the nature of the agent was revealed, I gave a squeal of delight. Any thriller that correctly uses acquired vs innate immunity, and apoptosis, makes my day.

While I was attuned to the science aspects of this novel, its military / special operations angle is perhaps its greatest strength. Nick Foley, the main character, is an ex-Navy SEAL medic, and the expertise of the authors shows in their portrayal of this man. You’ll get a sense of how real veterans must think when confronted with a hunt, or a threat. And there’s plenty of military lingo and weapons vocabulary, all of which I’m sure is accurate (not that I would know).

In fact, I think the strongest scene in the entire book isn’t even part of the central plot. It’s a flashback to Foley’s time in Afghanistan, and the scene is brilliant.

Twists in Beijing Red don’t rise to the level of being total, breathtaking surprises, but they’re good enough. Without giving a spoiler, I’ll say that I particularly liked the way certain alliances were formed counter to my expectations.

The novel has its imperfections. My main criticism is that logic and motivation are sometimes given a back seat to the page-turning plot. A couple of great scenes unfold that make the reader happy, but they do raise my eyebrows in terms of whether they are believable. Late in the novel, a decision to enter Beijing’s Underground City was an example of this.

But this is a thriller novel. In exchange for entertainment, the reader will forgive a little unreality. Beijing Red delivers the goods in terms of fun, thrills, a little horror, science, and heroics. The Nick Foley series is off to a great start.

ScienceThrillers BLURB:

Beijing Red features a character who thinks like a real scientist, in a relentlessly paced thriller set in an exotic locale–science thriller fans, rejoice!


This book should appeal to fans of:

The Sigma Force series by James Rollins

Other books by Brian Andrews: The Calypso Directive (science thriller); By Jeffrey Wilson: The Traiteur’s Ring and others

FCC notice: A free copy of this book was given to me for review. I made no promise that I would write a review, good or bad.

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Classic SciFi reviews: The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula LeGuin

Here at ScienceThrillers.com, I primarily review thrillers (fiction and occasionally nonfiction) with science or medicine in them.  Previously, I’ve discussed how SciThri is different from SciFi (read post What is a Science Thriller?).  This is part of my series of reviews of classic SciFi novels.

Left Hand of Darkness
Summary (from the publisher): A groundbreaking work of science fiction, The Left Hand of Darkness  by Ursula LeGuin (author of Earthsea cycle) tells the story of a lone human emissary to Winter, an alien world whose inhabitants can change their gender. His goal is to facilitate Winter’s inclusion in a growing intergalactic civilization. But to do so he must bridge the gulf between his own views and those of the completely dissimilar culture that he encounters. Embracing aspects of psychology, society, and human emotion on an alien world, The Left Hand of Darkness stands as a landmark achievement in the annals of intellectual science fiction.

Review:

I’m a fan of Ursula LeGuin’s Earthsea novels. Recently I ran into two unrelated mentions of another of her books, The Left Hand of Darkness (1969) (including this one). Because I had not heard of this novel before, two encounters seemed like a sign. I checked out a copy from my library.

The Left Hand of Darkness does what the greatest SF novels do so well. It takes a speculative setting (another planet in an unspecified future), adds a deeply developed civilization that is almost human but not quite, and uses this setting as a way to explore aspects of the human experience. In this case, the novel is about love.

As mentioned in the summary, the defining difference between the humans of the planet Gethen/Winter and the rest of us is their indeterminate gender. With the exception of rare natural “perverts,” every person on Gethen is neither male nor female, but both and neither. With the regularity of a menstrual cycle, Gethens enter kemmer, a period of a few days when they become sexually active—basically in heat—and they sexually differentiate into either a man or a woman in a semi-random fashion, and sexual reproduction follows in the usual way. Therefore everybody on Gethen can be both a mother and a father at different times in their lives.

LeGuin notes that sexual duality influences human society in profound and subtle ways, and presents Gethen society as a vision (neither “better” nor “worse”) of how this lack of duality might manifest.

To my surprise, however, sex is not a major, overt theme of this story. Rather the focus is on a (nonsexual) relationship between a (male) human and a Gethen individual. The first 2/3 of the book is a setup for the extraordinary final third. In the beginning, the author builds a world and a society, sets up political intrigue and conflict. The world-building is masterfully done, though I wondered a little about the languid pace at times.

The novel abruptly changes at the halfway point, when the protagonist’s fate takes a dramatic turn for the worse. For many pages I couldn’t put this book down. Then things slowed again during a prolonged journey across a glacier. Without giving too much away, I’ll say that this section which seems devoid of plot is actually the big payoff of the whole book. In understated and psychologically profound ways, LeGuin shows what is intimacy, what is love. She pulls it all together for an appropriate conclusion that carries a heavy authenticity and emotional resonance for the reader. I think the feeling I got of slogging through the long journey as a reader is precisely the effect that the author was going for, as it is necessary for the emotional finish.

In summary, a splendid work of literary science fiction with a few thriller elements that I’m very glad I decided to read.

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