The best science fiction novels about living on another planet

Who am I?

Growing up on a small farm, my brother and I listened to crudely recorded Star Trek episodes. We didn’t have much, but our imaginations gave us infinity. Then life happened. To reclaim childhood wonders after losing myself in a long tech research career at Bell Labs, I transitioned into planetary science. Now I ‘live in space,’ but remotely, through cold machines. What will the future hold for people who actually live on other worlds, touching and smelling alien soil and solving alien challenges in their thoroughly alien lives? When I write, I dream, understand (sometimes), and strive to pass the experience on to new generations of readers and dreamers.


I wrote...

Shadows of Medusa

By Brian Enke,

Book cover of Shadows of Medusa

What is my book about?

Welcome to the Medusae Fossae region on Mars! Mystery and intrigue surround three brave explorers as they plan to visit another world. Nothing on the mission is quite what it appears to be, including themselves. Will minor disagreements escalate into violence or murder? Or can they work together to overcome their greatest challenge, the unforgiving planet? Mars holds many secrets, and their next mistake could be their last. This powerful, hard-hitting science fiction novel teases the hope and promise of feasible space settlement in the near future as seen through the eyes of its author, a veteran planetary scientist and Mars mission planner. Since Mars is humanity’s gateway to the galaxy, sequels will escalate the rewards of success and penalties of failure substantially.

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The books I picked & why

Book cover of The Legacy of Heorot

Brian Enke Why did I love this book?

Realistic space settlement stories balance infinite optimism against terrifying risk. The celebrated authors of this science fiction masterpiece explore this cosmic equation without mercy. The veritable utopia of Camelot, mankind’s first interstellar settlement, is about to go very, very, very wrong. After reading this book, I stopped visiting the river behind my house and I lost sleep for weeks. It taught me that when we audaciously plan our real-world space settlements, the details really do matter. Living on another planet requires the consideration of thousands and thousands of important details… and unfortunately, the doomed settlers of Camelot have overlooked one.

By Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, Steven Barnes

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Legacy of Heorot as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

STRANGERS IN A STRANGE LAND

The two hundred colonists on board the Geographic have spent a century in cold sleep to arrive here: Avalon, a lush, verdant planet light-years from Earth. They hope to establish a permanent colony, and Avalon seems the perfe


Book cover of In the Shadow of Ares

Brian Enke Why did I love this book?

When planetary scientists study Mars, we characterize resources and—distantly and coldly, visualize how those resources might be used someday. Yet you can’t truly understand a place until you have lived there. This book invites us to live on Mars by following the troubles of Amber, a teenager growing up in a remote pressurized trailer with her larger-than-life father. What are her goals and talents? What does she worry about every day? Who does she love, hate, and strive to understand? Since Mars is all she has ever known, she struggles to relate to settlers who carry old-Earth baggage around with them. Mars is new and exciting! Getting inside Amber’s head lets us get inside our own. We can never think like Amber, but we can try.

By Thomas L. James, Carl C. Carlsson,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

"In the Shadow of Ares" is a 2012 Prometheus Award finalist.

The third exploration mission to Mars vanishes in 2029 without a trace. Two decades later, the success of human settlement of Mars and the life of a young girl hinge on the secret of what happened to the Ares III mission...

In 2051, Mars is a growing outpost of humanity, and 14-year-old settler Amber Jacobsen is a minor interplanetary celebrity – 'the First Kid on Mars'. But pioneering is hardly glamorous work,and Amber wishes she were just an ordinary girl living on Earth.

When the Jacobsen homestead is destroyed…


Book cover of Ringworld

Brian Enke Why did I love this book?

Larry Niven sees the universe through a scientific lens, but facts and data merely provide a jumping-off point for his fertile imagination. I admire how he populates totally alien worlds with a consistent and realistic diversity of beings, from tall natives of low-gravity planets to long-lived FlatLanders on Earth (where’s my AutoDoc?!) to ferocious man-cat warriors to mysteriously massive, dumber-than-rocks, genetically engineered beasts of burden. In Ringworld, perhaps Niven’s finest work, many of these bedazzling creatures visit or inhabit an engineered ‘world’ millions of times the surface area of the Earth. The perfect setting of the Ringworld can’t fail to provide endless exciting interactions. It’s an explorer’s paradise where you might discover anything!

By Larry Niven,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

Pierson's puppeteers, strange, three-legged, two-headed aliens, have discovered an immense structure in a hitherto unexplored part of the universe. Frightened of meeting the builders of such a structure, the puppeteers set about assembling a team consisting of two humans, a puppeteer and a kzin, an alien not unlike an eight-foot-tall, red-furred cat, to explore it. The artefact is a vast circular ribbon of matter, some 180 million miles across, with a sun at its centre - the Ringworld. But the expedition goes disastrously wrong when the ship crashlands and its motley crew faces a trek across thousands of miles of…


Book cover of Alien Safari

Brian Enke Why did I love this book?

On future worlds with diverse plant and animal life, how will daily struggles for survival shape the inhabitants? This book highlights some thought-provoking biology concepts such as competitive cooperation. Hesperidia can be a scary world, but one filled with beauty, wonder, and endless imagination. Humans, of course, remain the ultimate predators… or are they? Detective Ferrix Vaughn is about to find out. Good space-settlement books always require deep characters, and this series excels. Stopper, a genetically engineered wonder-dog, has become one of my favorite fictional characters. I almost cried in the sequel when… well, that’s giving too much away.

By Robert Appleton,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Alien Safari as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Warning! Wildlife may be dangerous. Proceed beyond this point at your own risk.

When celebrated Omicron detective Ferrix Vaughn is called in to investigate a deadly breach on Hesperidia, a protected planet full of indigenous wildlife, he doesn't know what to expect. The place used to be a tourist attraction, but the safari tours were discontinued long ago due to rampant poaching. Only a handful of researchers live there now, including Jan Corbija, the young woman who reported the breach.

The deeper Vaughn digs, the more the evidence seems to point to a recent raid on a biotech facility in…


Book cover of The End of Eternity

Brian Enke Why did I love this book?

Why should we settle space? What if we don’t? Could we create thousands of safer utopias right here on Earth instead? Countless science fiction books explore the obvious ‘breadth’ of the endless stars and worlds in our night sky. This rare gem explores the ‘depth’ of settlements and diverse human civilizations separated by centuries of time. It is probably my favorite story by my favorite author. I love twisty plot turns and the gray heroes who endure them. In my own writing, I always try to take my readers somewhere deliciously unexpected. After a stunning ‘Samson-smash’ of Eternity, Asimov deftly twists the whole story back over onto itself, twice. His ending, a violently peaceful explosion of profound wisdom, leaves me breathlessly inspired. Sheer, unforgettable perfection.

By Isaac Asimov,

Why should I read it?

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

What is this book about?

A spellbinding novel set in the universe of Isaac Asimov’s classic Galactic Empire series and Foundation series

Due to circumstances within our control . . . tomorrow will be canceled.

The Eternals, the ruling class of the Future, had the power of life and death not only over every human being but over the very centuries into which they were born. Past, Present, and Future could be created or destroyed at will.

You had to be special to become an Eternal. Andrew Harlan was special. Until he committed the one unforgivable sin—falling in love.

Eternals weren’t supposed to have feelings.…


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The River of Eternity

By Bruce Balfour,

Book cover of The River of Eternity

Bruce Balfour

New book alert!

What is my book about?

1184 BCE. Ramesses III, who will become the last of the great pharaohs, is returning home from battle. He will one day assume the throne of the Egyptian empire, and the plots against him and his children have already started. Even a god can die.

Ray was raised with the teenage children of Ramesses as their friend, but his own mysterious past exposes him to threats inside and outside of the Egyptian court. When a prince is killed, Ray is framed for the murder and must run to protect Bull, the oldest son of Ramesses. So begins Ray’s dangerous journey from the snake pit of royal palace intrigue into a violent world of treachery and enemies that will take years to conquer if he can survive.

The River of Eternity

By Bruce Balfour,

What is this book about?

From the national bestselling author of The Forge of Mars and The Digital Dead, an Ancient Egyptian epic adventure thriller series, based on real events, for fans of Wilbur Smith, Steven Saylor, and Paul Doherty.

This is the first book of a series leading up to the event known as The Harem Conspiracy, the assassination of Pharaoh Ramesses III in New Kingdom Egypt (1184 BCE), which was led by members of his own family. Details were drawn from the first recorded judicial trial transcript ever recovered (Judicial Papyrus of Turin plus other fragments of the original papyrus).


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