The best books about botched space colonization efforts

Who am I?

I’m fascinated with techno-utopian schemes. Decades ago, I had conversations with a friend who believed that humanity needed to evolve and leave the planet, just as early life once left the oceans. It was an intriguing idea that I have tried to follow up, critically, in Star Settlers. My book is a history not so much of the technology and nuts and bolts of space travel (although I do cover some of that), but of the rationale behind it—the idea that humanity’s ultimate destiny is in the stars. The idea is beguiling—but, likely, wrong-headed. To write the book, I spoke with physicists, science fiction writers, and space enthusiasts of all stripes. 

I wrote...

Star Settlers: The Billionaires, Geniuses, and Crazed Visionaries Out to Conquer the Universe

By Fred Nadis,

Book cover of Star Settlers: The Billionaires, Geniuses, and Crazed Visionaries Out to Conquer the Universe

What is my book about?

The idea that humanity’s destiny is in the stars has long been popular with science fiction writers and space visionaries. Billionaires Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk now lead that choir, insisting that we must establish Earth 2.0 out in space to prevent human extinction. They follow Russian mystic Konstantin Tsiolkovsky’s century-old advice that “The Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot remain in the cradle forever.” Star Settlers traces the waxing and waning of interest in space settlement through the decades, offers a journalistic tour through the influential subculture attempting to shape a multi-planetary future, and tackles the somewhat surreal conceptions underlying the enterprise.  

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch

Why did I love this book?

Gorging on Philip K. Dick novels in the 1970s made me a full-blown science fiction fan. Written in 1964, this is likely his best. It is dazzling in its twists and turns, philosophical, comic, and at times, downright creepy. The earth has become nearly uninhabitable—with temperatures reaching 180 degrees on a typical day—and the UN is forcing people to colonize Mars, Venus, and the moons of Earth, Jupiter, and Saturn. The colonists, miserable outcasts, get their kicks while gathered around a Perky Pat layout, complete with small dolls and accessories. They ingest the alien lichen Can-D which “translates” them into a shared Ken and Barbie-esque fantasy of 1950s-1960s’ life. Billionaire entrepreneur Palmer Eldritch introduces a rival to Can-D called Chew-Z, a diabolical substance that further threatens humanity. Dick was one science fiction writer who had his doubts about the glorious future that space exploration or technological innovation promised.

By Philip K. Dick,

Why should I read it?

3 authors picked The Three Stigmata of Palmer Eldritch as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In the overcrowded world and cramped space colonies of the late twenty-first century, tedium can be endured through the use of the drug Can-D, which enables the user to inhabit a shared illusory world.

But when industrialist Palmer Eldritch returns from an interstellar trip, he brings with him a new drug, Chew-Z, which is far more potent than Can-D. But could the permanent state of drugged illusion it induces be part of something much more sinister?

Hull Zero Three

By Greg Bear,

Book cover of Hull Zero Three

Why did I love this book?

This book has the ideal traits I appreciate in science fiction—as with H.G. Wells’s classic tales, it’s reasonably short and can be read as pure adventure or allegory. We meet the archetypal figure of the “Teacher” birthed by a bioprinting machine on a starship soon to terraform an exoplanet. The Teacher has to grapple with survival, his purpose, the ship’s mission, and his realization that everything is haywire in this high-tech Eden full of monsters. Hull Zero Three is a detective tale with philosophical undertones as the Teacher slowly makes sense of the chaos that surrounds him, contends with his earlier clones, and undergoes a quest. Anyone who has ever experienced the drudgery of actual teaching will appreciate Bear’s creation of the Teacher as a mythic archetype.  

By Greg Bear,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Hull Zero Three as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Trapped on a mysterious spaceship, the only way to escape is to survive. A thrilling novel from the Hugo and Nebula award-winning Greg Bear.

A starship hurtles through the emptiness of space. Its destination - unknown. Its purpose? A mystery. Its history? Lost.

Now, one man wakes up. Ripped from a dream of a new home, a new planet and the woman he was meant to love in his arms, he finds himself wet, naked, and freezing to death. The dark halls are full of monsters but trusting other survivors he meets might be the greater danger.

All he has…


By Kim Stanley Robinson,

Book cover of Aurora

Why did I love this book?

Robinson, a science fiction master, has no qualms promoting views that are science fiction heresies. After publishing his acclaimed trilogy about the terraforming of Mars, in Aurora, Robinson argues that the astrofuture premise of science fiction dating back to its earliest days is wrong. The grand goal of evolving beyond the planet is doomed to fail. In Aurora, a generational starship arrives at its target exoplanet, but what seems a promising terraforming mission is stymied. As Robinson said to me in an email exchange, “The new paradigm might be that life is a planetary expression, and away from its home planet, life withers and dies.” Robinson has since turned to writing “cli-fi” books about how humanity can adapt to and forestall earthly environmental disaster. 

By Kim Stanley Robinson,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Aurora as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

'What a saga! Scifi with honest, complex humanity, physics, biology, sociology' - Tom Hanks

'Aurora is a magnificent piece of writing, certainly Robinson's best novel since his mighty Mars trilogy, perhaps his best ever' - Guardian

Our voyage from Earth began generations ago.

Now, we approach our destination.

A new home.


Brilliantly imagined and beautifully told, Aurora is the work of a writer at the height of his powers.

'An accessible novel packed with big ideas, wonders, jeopardy and, at the end, a real emotional punch' SFX

'Aurora is Robinson's best book yet . . . Heart-wrenching, provocative' Scientific…

Dreaming the Biosphere

By Rebecca Reider,

Book cover of Dreaming the Biosphere

Why did I love this book?

The Biosphere 2 project was the wackiest multimillion-dollar enterprise to emerge from the New Age movement. This book is a nonfiction account of how a New Mexico commune, with a charismatic leader, developed a plan to test the viability of off-planet living by creating a sealed-off biosphere, which would be a self-sustaining and organizing ecosystem in which humans could survive. The goal was to create not a sterile environment but one that supported life that would make off-planet living appealing. The four men and four women sequestered for two years in the 3.14-acre domed-off area outside Tucson grew into two factions that hated one another. All came close to starvation, CO2 poisoning, and madness. For readers that simply must have narrative in fiction form, T. Corraghesson Boyle’s The Terranauts is based on this same early 1990s episode. 

By Rebecca Reider,

Why should I read it?

2 authors picked Dreaming the Biosphere as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Biosphere rises from southern Arizona's high desert like a bizarre hybrid spaceship and greenhouse. Packed with more than 3,800 carefully selected plant, animal, and insect species, this mega-terrarium is one of the world's most biodiverse, lush, and artificial wildernesses. Only recently transformed from an abandoned ghost dome to a University of Arizona research center, the site was the setting of a grand drama about humans and ecology at the end of the twentieth century.

The seeds of Biosphere 2 sprouted in the 1970s at Synergia, a desert ranch in New Mexico where John Allen and a handful of dreamers united…

The Stars My Destination

By Alfred Bester,

Book cover of The Stars My Destination

Why did I love this book?

Alfred Bester, a colleague of Philip K. Dick’s, had as wild an imagination, but preferred his heroes in the Nietzchean mode. Gully Foyle, in The Stars My Destination, is a crude-speaking rogue, out to wreak his revenge on those who left him in space to die. While trying to make his way back to Earth after being marooned, one of his stops is at an asteroid inhabited by the “Scientific People.” These are descendants of lost scientists who chose to live in outer space “practicing a barbaric travesty of the scientific method they remembered from their forebears.” Foyle smashes his way off the asteroid via spaceship. Eventually, after a variety of crimes and fortune gathering, Foyle becomes the first to master the art of “space jaunting” or teleporting himself to distant planets; in the process the sinner man becomes something of a saint. It is a nutty, wild ride. 

By Alfred Bester,

Why should I read it?

4 authors picked The Stars My Destination as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Gully Foyle, Mechanic's Mate 3rd Class, is the only survivor on his drifting, wrecked spaceship. When another space vessel, the Vorga, ignores his distress flares and sails by, Gully Foyle becomes a man obsessed with revenge. He endures 170 days alone in deep space before finding refuge on the Sargasso Asteroid and then returning to Earth to track down the crew and owners of the Vorga. But, as he works out his murderous grudge, Gully Foyle also uncovers a secret of momentous proportions...

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in space colonization, space horror, and Mars?

9,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about space colonization, space horror, and Mars.

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