The best books about life on Mars

1 authors have picked their favorite books about life on Mars and why they recommend each book.

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The Alternate Martians

By A. Bertram Chandler,

Book cover of The Alternate Martians

There are so many science fiction books about Mars, so I wanted to choose at least one of the more obscure ones. This one is particularly interesting because it explores the idea of a universe in which the many famous Martian tales that came before it, like John Carter of Mars, were based on actual beings and events—the details were just embellished and perhaps misremembered a bit by the authors.

Who am I?

My passion for Mars began when I stumbled upon an old newspaper article from 1926 about a lawyer who was in telepathic communication with a Martian woman named Oomaruru. How could I not be intrigued? As I dug into the story, I learned about his attempts to send telegrams to Mars, his disappointment at our scientists for not being smart enough to receive their responses, and the many other interesting beliefs about intelligent Martians that were prevalent at the time. The more I learned about this early history of Martians, the more fascinated I became. It all led me on the path to what became The Big Book of Mars

I wrote...

The Big Book of Mars: From Ancient Egypt to The Martian, a Deep-Space Dive Into Our Obsession with the Red Planet

By Marc Hartzman,

Book cover of The Big Book of Mars: From Ancient Egypt to The Martian, a Deep-Space Dive Into Our Obsession with the Red Planet

What is my book about?

Mars has been a source of fascination and speculation ever since ancient civilizations observed its blood-red hue and named it for their god of war. But it wasn't until 1877, when "canals" were observed on the surface of the Red Planet, that scientists, novelists, filmmakers, and entrepreneurs became obsessed with the question of whether there's life on Mars. In The War of the Worlds, H.G. Wells suggested that we wouldn't need to make contact with Martians—they'd come for us—while a year later Nikola Tesla claimed that he did make contact.

Filled with entertaining history, archival images, pop culture ephemera, and interviews with NASA scientists, The Big Book of Mars is the most comprehensive look at our relationship with Mars—yesterday, today, and tomorrow.

The Rock from Mars

By Kathy Sawyer,

Book cover of The Rock from Mars: A Detective Story on Two Planets

Politics, ambition, and science collided when NASA announced that a small rock that fell on Antarctica contained tiny fossils of ancient life on Mars. Advance plans for the public report were kept secret while coordinated all the way up through President Bill Clinton. Aides wondered if the great discovery would help his re-election. But after a televised press conference and the subsequent media circus, many qualified scientists disputed the claimed fossils. NASA is still searching for past or present life on Mars.  They will surely take greater care in reaching future conclusions, won’t they? And if you may wonder why an alleged DC sex worker had prior knowledge of the “breakthrough,” read ace Washington Post reporter (now retired) Kathy Sawyer’s brilliant and thorough account.

Who am I?

I’ve studied space for 60+ years, including spotting Sputnik from atop 30 Rock for Operation Moonwatch; monitoring an exploding star for a PhD at University of Michigan, leading the Remotely Controlled Telescope project at Kitt Peak National Observatory, hunting pulsars from Arizona and Chile, and helping develop scientific instruments for the Hubble Space Telescope. I worked for 5 years at Kitt Peak and 35 years for NASA. As Press Officer (now retired) of the American Astronomical Society, I organized press conferences on many notable cosmic discoveries. Minor Planet 9768 was named Stephenmaran for me, but I haven’t seen it yet. What I have spotted are five exceptional books on space.  Enjoy!

I wrote...

Astronomy for Dummies

By Stephen P. Maran,

Book cover of Astronomy for Dummies

What is my book about?

Do you know the difference between a red giant and a white dwarf? From asteroids to black holes, this easy-to-understand guide takes you on a grand tour of the universe. Featuring updated star maps, charts, and an insert with gorgeous full-color photographs, Astronomy For Dummies provides an easy-to-follow introduction to the night sky. Plus, this new edition also gives you the latest theories, explanations, and insights into the basic workings of the universe.

The Sirens of Mars

By Sarah Stewart Johnson,

Book cover of The Sirens of Mars: Searching for Life on Another World

As Perseverance made its way toward Mars, I found myself looking for ways to design some of my own future characters: What sorts of people are consumed by the search for extraterrestrial life? What do they hope to find, and how will they interpret what they find? Traversing the boundaries between nonfiction and autobiography, this lovely book chronicles not only the history of humans’ fascination with the red planet, but also a personal journey for its author. Through her lens, it offers an in-depth comparison of our own precious Earth to the now-dead planet with which we are endlessly obsessed—a place where we hope to find clues not only to the origins of our own life, but to “life as we don’t know it.” 

Who am I?

As a science fiction author, reading excellent science nonfiction is like taking my mind on a trip to an unknown land, there to wander, sightsee, and reimagine my own fictional plots. During the past few years of COVID-restricted isolation, these books have replaced travel as a source of mind-expanding inspiration, affording me a refuge from the tempest of current events and leaving my brain churning with visions of future worlds. The choices below reflect a common thread: each is written or edited by an expert in the field, and the authors possess that rare combination of deep knowledge and the ability to communicate it in an engaging way.

I wrote...

The Mother Code

By Carole Stivers,

Book cover of The Mother Code

What is my book about?

In the year 2054, a boy named Kai is born alone in America’s desert Southwest, his only companion his mother—a super-soldier robot. The Mother Code is the story of how Kai and his Mother grow to better understand both themselves and the world that made them. It ends with a decision: Will Kai break his bond with his Mother, or fight to save the only parent he has ever known?

Life on Mars

By Jon Agee,

Book cover of Life on Mars

A hapless astronaut is on a mission to find Life on Mars and explores a seemingly barren landscape. The astronaut is unaware of what is going on -- if only he would turn around! This becomes a source of great entertainment and an early lesson on irony. I enjoyed this book not only for the illustrations, which are well suited to this story, but more importantly for the way that the words do not match what is going on in the illustrations.

Who am I?

I was born where the sun rose in the prairies and set behind the Rockies. Now I live on the West Coast of Canada. I am a picture bookmaker, and from my recommendations, you might think that I also have a thing for thieves: cupcake thieves, underwear thieves, hat thieves, chicken thieves, pie thieves. But I’m really here for the element of surprise and well-earned laughs in children’s picture books. They say comedy is hard, but comedy in picture books is even harder. These five picks are a great place to start if you like smartly silly picture books with a bit of off-kilter humor and a sense of irony. Bonus points for puns.

I wrote...


By Nancy Vo,

Book cover of Boobies

What is my book about?

A cheeky celebration of boobies!

Meet the Blue-footed Booby, who does not have boobies at all, since only mammals have boobies. We learn that mammals have boobies to feed babies -- even though milk can also come from plants. And did you know that boobies, or breasts, vary from person to person, that boobies change over time, and that different animals have different numbers of boobies? Witty and wide-ranging, this eye-opening picture book goes on to explore connections between boobies and mountains, boobies and ancient art, and, of course, boobies and you!

The Lady Astronaut of Mars

By Mary Robinette Kowal,

Book cover of The Lady Astronaut of Mars

The Lady Astronaut of Mars takes place in a science fictional world, but like all the best sci-fi, it knows to keep its focus on its characters. There are no hour-long passages about future technologies or scientific theory. Instead it uses its setting to tell a human story about the missed opportunities in life and about growing old. Second chances are rare, and sometimes the decision about what to do isn’t so clear, but The Lady Astronaut of Mars reminded me that more often than not, experiences are worth having.

Who am I?

Life is a complex matter, and so sometimes you need a few aliens, werewolves, and dragons in order to make sense of it. From struggling with one’s career, to finding your identity, to finding forgiveness in myself, I’ve struggled with a lot in life, and these are all things that I tackle in my stories, because in addition to being entertaining, I also believe that what we read should also be insightful.

I wrote...

Cages of the Soul

By Daniel Robledo,

Book cover of Cages of the Soul

What is my book about?

A genre-bending collection of literary fantasy and horror, Cages of the Soul features 5 different stories, each centered around characters that are trapped. Some by social, some by physical, and some by psychological circumstances.

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