The best books about colonizing Mars of interest to young adults

Sylvia Engdahl Author Of Journey Between Worlds
By Sylvia Engdahl

Who am I?

As a long-term advocate of space colonization I’ve always been drawn to Mars, not by adventure stories but by the idea that ordinary people may someday live there. So this was the theme of my first novel. I wrote it before we had gone to the moon, though it wasn't published until 1970, after my better-known book Enchantress from the Stars. When in 2006 I revised it for republication, little about Mars needed changing; mainly I removed outdated sexist assumptions and wording. Yet the book still hasn’t reached its intended audience because though meant for girls who aren’t already space enthusiasts, its publishers persisted in labeling it science fiction rather than Young Adult romance.


I wrote...

Journey Between Worlds

By Sylvia Engdahl,

Book cover of Journey Between Worlds

What is my book about?

Melinda Ashley has a plan for her life, and a trip to Mars isn't part of it. When she receives a spaceliner ticket as a high school graduation gift from her dad, she is dismayed but reluctantly agrees to go with him. When aboard the ship she meets Alex Preston, a second-generation Martian colonist returning from Earth who is looking forward to the role he expects to play in the settlement's future, she is more and more drawn to him and, while on Mars, to his family. Torn between what she has always wanted and upsetting new feelings, she wonders if she can ever again be content. It takes tragedy and a terrifying experience to make her aware of what really matters to her.

The books I picked & why

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The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must

By Robert Zubrin, Richard Wagner,

Book cover of The Case for Mars: The Plan to Settle the Red Planet and Why We Must

Why this book?

Robert Zubrin is the foremost authority on how to get to Mars, and in addition to his engineering expertise, he is one of the most prominent advocates of colonizing it. This classic book, now in its updated 25th Anniversary edition, should be read by everyone interested in the future of humankind. It contains more technical detail about space travel than some people will care to learn, but that can be skimmed; the section about colonization, and the concluding chapter explaining why going to Mars is important, are what I chose it for. In Zubrin's opinion and my own, Mars is "the door to an open future, a new frontier on a new world, a planet that can be settled, the beginning of humanity's career as a spacefaring species."


Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration

By Buzz Aldrin, Leonard David,

Book cover of Mission to Mars: My Vision for Space Exploration

Why this book?

Buzz Aldrin, best known for having been one of the first two astronauts to walk on the moon, has been active throughout the time since then in promoting an expanded space program. In this book he goes into detail—but not too much detail for non-technical readers—about how space activity can help to preserve Earth, in addition to describing various proposals for returning to the moon and reaching Mars, He believes explorers should go there to stay permanently and build a base rather than return to Earth between trips. The book, published in 2013, was overoptimistic in suggesting that as early as 2020 selected astronauts could be asked to commit to spending the rest of their lives on Mars, but I’m sure that when opportunity arises there will be volunteers.


How We'll Live on Mars

By Stephen Petranek,

Book cover of How We'll Live on Mars

Why this book?

This is a short but comprehensive overview of why we need to colonize Mars and the problems that must be solved in settling it. We would already be there, Petranek points out, if we had preserved and improved the technology that got us to the moon. In his view, NASA has accomplished little of value during the hiatus. But now private companies are making real progress toward turning humankind into a spacefaring species, which is essential both as insurance against disaster on Earth and because “when the first humans set foot on Mars, the moment will be more significant in terms of technology, philosophy, history, and exploration than any that have come before it.” I recommend this book not so much for the information it contains as for the inspiration it offers.


In the Shadow of Deimos: A Terraforming Mars Novel

By Jane Killick,

Book cover of In the Shadow of Deimos: A Terraforming Mars Novel

Why this book?

Most realistic fiction set on Mars is about small exploratory expeditions. There is surprisingly little available about colonization that doesn't bring in the discovery of intelligent inhabitants or a lost civilization, or at least traces of one having existed in the past. And the few novels with no fantastic elements tend to focus on political controversy. So I was happy to find this recent book that depicts what a colony on Mars might really be like. It's based on the board game "Terraforming Mars," which I haven’t seen, but doesn't depend on any knowledge of the game. The story is part murder mystery and while it’s intended to be entertainment rather than serious literature, it will be enjoyed by readers who are excited by the idea of settling a new world.


First Landing

By Robert Zubrin,

Book cover of First Landing

Why this book?

I'm not supposed to list two books by the same author, but they are very different since one is nonfiction and the other fiction, and given the dearth of realistic stories about colonizing Mars I think this one should be included. As Zubrin is an expert on the scientific and technological aspects of travel to Mars, they are described as accurately as our present knowledge permits, though of course the situation on Earth and the details of the envisioned expedition are wholly fictional. What sets it apart from similar novels is its presentation of the idea that merely exploring Mars is not enough—for the sake of humanity's future families must live there, and some people, despite differing and seemingly - irrational grounds for their conviction, will instinctively know this.


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