The best stories about near-future, near-space

Why am I passionate about this?

I always wanted to work with space systems, and my first assignment in the US Air Force exceeded my expectations in that regard. As chief of bioenvironmental engineering at the AF Rocket Propulsion Laboratory, I kept test programs safe for everything from small satellite thrusters to huge solid rocket motors, and eventually found myself on the support team for Space Shuttle landings, the flight readiness review committee for the first launch of a Pegasus rocket, and monitoring Titan rocket launches. During that assignment, I first thought of writing a story about environmental engineers working to keep a lunar colony alive: the genesis of Walking on the Sea of Clouds.

I wrote...

Walking on the Sea of Clouds

By Gray Rinehart,

Book cover of Walking on the Sea of Clouds

What is my book about?

Survival and Sacrifice on the Lunar Frontier!

Before permanent lunar encampments can ever be built, the first settlers have to set up shop and eke out an existence on the Moon. Walking on the Sea of Clouds is the story of such pioneers: two couples determined not just to survive, but to thrive, in this near-future technological drama about the risks people will take, the emergencies they’ll face, and the sacrifices they’ll make as members of the first commercial lunar colony. In the end, one will leave, one will stay, one will hesitate… and one will die so another can live.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress

Gray Rinehart Why did I love this book?

Robert A. Heinlein's masterpiece The Moon is a Harsh Mistress was, if I recall, one of the first books I bought with my own money. In it, Luna City is a bustling colony—of inmates—about to declare its independence. 

Heinlein envisioned a colony that, by necessity, developed new societal rules to cope with the realities of scarce resources and skewed demographics—ideas that expanded my young mind perhaps more than my parents would have liked! The main characters foment a revolution to liberate the Moon from Earth's governance, with the assistance of a newly sentient computer. And in this novel Heinlein introduced an acronym I never forgot—the libertarian watchword, TANSTAAFL: "There ain't no such thing as a free lunch."

By Robert A. Heinlein,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In 2075, the Moon is no longer a penal colony. But it is still a prison...

Life isn't easy for the political dissidents and convicts who live in the scattered colonies that make up lunar civilisation. Everything is regulated strictly, efficiently and cheaply by a central supercomputer, HOLMES IV.

When humble technician Mannie O'Kelly-Davis discovers that HOLMES IV has quietly achieved consciousness (and developed a sense of humour), the choice is clear: either report the problem to the authorities... or become friends.

And perhaps overthrow the government while they're at it.

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress has been called…

Book cover of 2001

Gray Rinehart Why did I love this book?

Obviously we have passed 2001 chronologically, but unfortunately we haven't reached the levels of technology depicted in this novel. Part of 2001: A Space Odyssey takes place on the Moon, where it introduces a large, well-established lunar base at Tycho (that I alluded to in my own novel). The mysterious alien monolith nearby pushes the action beyond Luna and toward the outer planets aboard the spaceship Discovery, which I consider still to be one of the best-designed spacecraft ever. Clarke wrote the novel while Stanley Kubrick was making the 1968 film, but expanded the story to take the action beyond Jupiter all the way to Saturn; however, much of the basic plot remains the same, including the sinister malfunction of the HAL-9000 computer. 

By Arthur C. Clarke,

Why should I read it?

7 authors picked 2001 as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Written when landing on the moon was still a dream, and made into one of the most influential films of all time, 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY remains a classic work of science fiction fifty years after its original publication.

The discovery of a black monolith on the moon leads to a manned expedition deep into the solar system, in the hope of establishing contact with an alien intelligence. Yet long before the crew can reach their destination, the voyage descends into disaster . . .

Brilliant, compulsive and prophetic, Arthur C. Clarke's timeless novel tackles the enduring theme of mankind's…

Book cover of The Martian

Gray Rinehart Why did I love this book?

Jumping from the moon to another target of significant interest, we have The Martian. Personally, I was thrilled that reviewers compared my novel to this one, but they're quite different stories: mine explores social interactions as people work together to develop the lunar colony, while The Martian is a study in the psychology of loneliness and the solitary determination to survive. 

Having a little experience with rocket propellant and space systems, I think Weir did a marvelous job putting science in a very prominent place in the story. We watch Mark Watney make water from propellants, cultivate potatoes in Martian soil, and communicate using outdated technology, making The Martian one of the best stories in which ingenuity, focused action, and sheer grit are needed for the character to survive.

By Andy Weir,

Why should I read it?

17 authors picked The Martian as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it. This book is for kids age 10, 11, 12, and 13.

What is this book about?

Six days ago, astronaut Mark Watney became one of the first people to walk on Mars. Now, he's sure he'll be the first person to die there. After a dust storm nearly kills him and forces his crew to evacuate while thinking him dead, Mark finds himself stranded and completely alone with no way to even signal Earth that he's alive--and even if he could get word out, his supplies would be gone long before a rescue could arrive. Chances are, though, he won't have time to starve to death. The damaged machinery, unforgiving environment, or plain-old human error are…

Book cover of Red Mars

Gray Rinehart Why did I love this book?

Staying on Mars for the moment, it was tempting to go back to Edgar Rice Burroughs' Barsoom books, or include another Heinlein story, but I'm choosing Red Mars for the sheer technical brilliance Robinson brings to bear. The story meanders a bit for my taste, but Robinson does an amazing job explaining the varieties of technology that would—and maybe one day will?—be necessary to make Mars livable. Everything about it rings true, and the enormous scale of the undertaking is obvious and breathtaking. 

Robinson's Mars trilogy also inspired the board game Terraforming Mars, which is possibly my favorite game—so it deserves to be on this list for that reason, too!

By Kim Stanley Robinson,

Why should I read it?

9 authors picked Red Mars as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The first novel in Kim Stanley Robinson's massively successful and lavishly praised Mars trilogy. 'The ultimate in future history' Daily Mail

Mars - the barren, forbidding planet that epitomises mankind's dreams of space conquest.

From the first pioneers who looked back at Earth and saw a small blue star, to the first colonists - hand-picked scientists with the skills necessary to create life from cold desert - Red Mars is the story of a new genesis.

It is also the story of how Man must struggle against his own self-destructive mechanisms to achieve his dreams: before he even sets foot…

Book cover of Inherit the Stars

Gray Rinehart Why did I love this book?

Another book I read when I was young and never forgot, James P. Hogan's debut novel takes us once again to the Moon. Inspired by Clarke's 2001, it tells a much different story in which Earth's Moon originally orbited another planet entirely. When its first planet was destroyed, the debris became the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, and the Moon was captured by Earth's gravity. And how did we figure this out? Because our own astronauts exploring the Moon find a long-dead, spacesuited astronaut who is very human but has technology beyond ours. Reverse-engineering that technology puts us closer to exploring beyond our solar system, and it turns out the captured Moon also had an impact on our ancient history. I love this book for its grand, compelling ideas.

By James P. Hogan,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Inherit the Stars as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

The man on the moon was dead. They called him Charlie. He had big eyes, abundant body hair, and fairly long nostrils. His skeletal body was found clad in a bright red spacesuit, hidden in a rocky grave. They didn’t know who he was, how he got there, or what had killed him. All they knew was that his corpse was 50 thousand years old - and that meant this man had somehow lived long before he ever could have existed.

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Death on a Shetland Longship: The Shetland Sailing Mysteries

By Marsali Taylor,

Book cover of Death on a Shetland Longship: The Shetland Sailing Mysteries

Marsali Taylor Author Of Death on a Shetland Longship: The Shetland Sailing Mysteries

New book alert!

Why am I passionate about this?

Author Sailor Women’s historian Cat-lover Temporarily limping But determinedly recovering

Marsali's 3 favorite reads in 2023

What is my book about?

Liveaboard sailor Cass Lynch thinks her big break has finally arrived when she blags her way into skippering a Viking longship for a Hollywood film. However, this means returning to the Shetland Islands, the place she fled as a teenager. When a corpse unexpectedly appears onboard the longship, she can run from the past no longer: Cass and her family come under intense scrutiny from the disturbingly shrewd Detective Inspector Gavin Macrae.

Even if Cass’s local knowledge and sailing wisdom help to clear the Lynch family of suspicion, they may not be enough to stay ahead of the murderer’s game... and avoid becoming the next victim.

Death on a Shetland Longship: The Shetland Sailing Mysteries

By Marsali Taylor,

What is this book about?

When she wangles the job of skippering a Viking longship for a film, Cass Lynch thinks her big break has finally arrived - even though it means returning home to the Shetland Islands, which she ran away from as a teenager. Then the `accidents' begin - and when a dead woman turns up on the boat's deck, Cass realises that she, her family and her past are under suspicion from the disturbingly shrewd Detective Inspector Macrae. Cass must call on all her local knowledge, the wisdom she didn't realise she'd gained from sailing and her glamorous, French opera singer mother…

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