The best space colonization books

9 authors have picked their favorite books about space colonization and why they recommend each book.

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Book cover of The City in the Middle of the Night

The City in the Middle of the Night

By Charlie Jane Anders,

Why this book?

Readers have been exploring human colonies on tidally locked planets for about as long as science fiction has existed, so it’s fantastic how well this adventure novel can give the reader a brand-new perspective on what, exactly, an improved version of our world might look like. You’ll have a difficult time predicting the end of this story from its beginnings. Events force the protagonist to learn new and sometimes horrifying things about her world and the people close to her, and like her, we can’t hold onto unproven assumptions if we really want to make the world a better place.…

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Book cover of Lord of Light

Lord of Light

By Roger Zelazny,

Why this book?

Like Dune, this book revolves to a degree around a holy war. But instead of an Islamic-based culture carried to another world, this one is Hindi and Buddhist. I love a book with great world-building, and this one certainly qualifies. It not only invoked my sense of wonder, but was, at times, spiced with both humor and wisdom. It's full of complex characters, but ones you immediately empathize with.

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Book cover of Spacefarers: How Humans Will Settle the Moon, Mars, and Beyond

Spacefarers: How Humans Will Settle the Moon, Mars, and Beyond

By Christopher Wanjek,

Why this book?

I don’t know who will reach Mars first, Elon Musk, NASA astronauts, or Chinese Taikonauts. Whoever does must deal with serious problems of long-duration space flight, including lethal radiation and life support, plus issues of living, breathing, and raising food on Mars or other objects, such as Callisto, Jupiter’s second-largest moon. No natural object in the solar system other than Earth is inhabitable. Chris Wanjek, a science writer with NASA experience and solid knowledge of medical matters and nutrition, writes with humor; he was a contributing joke writer to the Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Wanjek advocates terraforming Mars…

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Book cover of Aurora


By Kim Stanley Robinson,

Why 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…

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The best books about botched space colonization efforts

Book cover of Foreigner


By C.J. Cherryh,

Why this book?

In my own life, I’ve tried several times to learn other languages, including Japanese, Mandarin Chinese, and Scottish Gaelic. It’s hard to adjust to a new language and the cultural knowledge behind it. Cherryh’s hero, Bren Cameron, is a translator and mediator between humanity and the Atevi, the race of aliens who inhabit the world Cameron’s ancestors were marooned on (I’m simplifying here; go with me!). He has to not only translate the language, but the very concepts, of two species with very different points of view. And he has to do all this while surviving multiple attempts on his…

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Book cover of Dreaming the Biosphere

Dreaming the Biosphere

By Rebecca Reider,

Why 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…

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The best books about botched space colonization efforts

Book cover of Chasm City

Chasm City

By Alastair Reynolds,

Why this book?

Chasm City is part of Reynold's Revelation Space series, but this future-noir mystery is perfectly readable as a standalone. It follows a man on a mission of revenge, one that takes him into the crumbling, plague-ridden remains of a once-great civilization that has descended into chaos and squalor. The world-building is top-notch—this is a dying, decaying city that you can feel in your bones—and full mysteries that explore ideas of identity, memory, and redemption in a twisty mystery that ties together past, present, and future.

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Book cover of The Dragonriders of Pern: Dragonflight Dragonquest the White Dragon

The Dragonriders of Pern: Dragonflight Dragonquest the White Dragon

By Anne McCaffrey,

Why this book?

Dragon-riding was written about well before Eragon. In fact, the first book, Dragonflight, was published in 1967. McCaffrey's world is well-built for fantasy where creatures and characters must interact together for survival. It's fantasy at its best with the wind in your hair and danger falling from the sky with seemingly every flight taken. There's no loss of story throughout the series so it's a fantastic read (or re-read).

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Book cover of The Stars My Destination

The Stars My Destination

By Alfred Bester,

Why this book?

The Stars My Destination is, in my humble opinion, the absolute best stand-alone science fiction novel. Originally published as Tiger! Tiger! in 1956, this book – I don’t know why it has never been made into a movie?  is about the brute of a simple spaceman, Gully Foyle, who is completely transformed by the end of the book. You will follow Foyle and his lust for revenge from nobody to cunning calculating anti-hero wanted by everyone who is anyone, until his end revenge. Alfred Bester was another grandfather of sci-fi who writes in a traveling style catered to the…

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Book cover of Semiosis


By Sue Burke,

Why this book?

If you like Ursula K. Le Guin’s short story about a forest planet, “Vaster Than Empires and More Slow,” you might love my fellow Wisconsin-native Sue Burke’s novel Semiosis. (Haven’t read Le Guin’s story? Add it to your list! It’s a gem.) At the heart of Semiosis is the question: ‘what if humans colonized a world that was already inhabited by intelligent life – and that lifeform was vegetal?’ The word “semiosis” refers to the production of meaning, so it’s fitting that in this generational starship novel, Burke digs into biology and chemistry to speculate on how humans might…

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