The best books on spaceflight

2 authors have picked their favorite books about spaceflight and why they recommend each book.

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Cosmic

By Frank Cottrell Boyce,

Book cover of Cosmic

I love all of Frank Cottrell-Boyce’s books. They are funny and clever and the stories are full of twists and loveable characters. This book hooks you from the start and takes you on an adventure you would never have expected. It will make you laugh out loud and bite your nails with worry and you won’t want to stop reading till the end! The story follows the life of Liam, an extraordinarily tall boy, who with one small lie, ends up being launched into space in an ice cream van.

Who am I?

My sons were both reluctant readers and that made me want to write books that they wouldn’t be able to resist reading! Reading should be a pleasure and this list is packed with books that are impossible to put down. They are perfect for young, reluctant readers, as they are not trying to be too serious or worthy or overwhelming with too much text. They pull you in and hook you from the start and you can’t help being moved by the characters as they grow and develop, fostering a love of books and fiction. I love comedy in books, but funny books also have to have heart, believable characters, and a great plot that keeps you reading till the very end.


I wrote...

Fergus the Furball

By Emily Snape,

Book cover of Fergus the Furball

What is my book about?

When Daniel is rudely awakened on the morning of his birthday by his Aunt Tink and his brother and sister, with a cake bearing just 9 candles, a dusty old magic set, and a cactus, instead of the pet he’s long wished for, he is understandably more than a little disappointed. Things are made worse by his irritating little brother Fergus, being as irritating as normal, so feeling rather sorry for himself you can hardly blame Daniel for wishing he had a guinea pig instead of a brother. Imagine his surprise when before his very eyes that’s exactly what happens. Fergus turns into a guinea pig!

Now it’s up to Daniel to somehow find the magic to reverse the spell and turn Fergus back to normal. This is a highly amusing tale that young readers will love, an ideal first-chapter book.

Voyage of the Dogs

By Greg Van Eekhout,

Book cover of Voyage of the Dogs

Lopside the Barkonaut is sure to make you smile. Humanity needs to find a new planet to live on, and the Barkonauts go along to ensure the best qualities of both humans and dogs survive.

Voyage of the Dogs is a middle-grade book (ages 10+) but completely enjoyable for dog lovers of all ages. Disaster strikes when the human astronauts disappear – are they dead? – and the Barkonauts have to figure out stuff for themselves. 

I love that all of these space-faring dogs have flaws and a past history that they have to carry around. Lopside discovers that some of his fellow Barkonauts are nothing like what they seem. Despite all the obstacles, eventually, there is a wonderful outcome that will bring you joy for a long time after you finish reading. Read it for yourself – or even better, read it to a kid who needs strength and…


Who am I?

The first book I read on my own was the Little Golden Book of Puppies and Kittens. I decided then, aged three, that the best books have animals in them…and I haven’t changed my mind. While fantasy novels with animals are among my all-time favorites, I’ve developed a deep love for dystopian novels which leave room for hope. I especially love the stories that show more than just humans living on Planet Earth. What better species to represent all that’s good on Earth but dogs? I can’t imagine ever writing a story without a dog in it. 


I wrote...

The Pale

By Clare Rhoden,

Book cover of The Pale

What is my book about?

Mashtuk and his partner Zélie are canini: genetically modified wolf-dogs with language and compassion. In a world destroyed by the Great Cataclysm, bionic humachines live safely inside the Pale, while other creatures struggle to stay alive in the Outside.

The rest of humanity also lives Outside. Another aftershock throws the whole land into chaos, and Hector – a human boy – is adopted by one of the humachines. All the careful systems inside the Pale begin to collapse, and its technological domination teeters in the face of real mortals with heart and soul.

First Landing

By Robert Zubrin,

Book cover of First Landing

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.

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.

Aurora Rising

By Amie Kaufman, Jay Kristoff,

Book cover of Aurora Rising

I’m channeling my inner Stefon from SNL when I say that This. Book. Has. Everything. Reckless space battles, interplanetary heists, juicy found-family drama, snarky banter, diverse characters, aliens who could desperately use a hug… and a partridge in a pear tree. (Just kidding on that last one.) Without giving too much away, I’ll just say that a squad of losers, sociopaths, and smart alecks are the galaxy’s only hope for stopping a war that’s been millions of years in the making. What could possibly go wrong? 


Who am I?

I’m the author of the humorous YA novels The Supervillain and Me and The Good for Nothings. I’ve been telling stories since I could talk, including the night I recited an entire Mickey Mouse scratch and sniff book to my mother at bedtime (she’s so proud), and the numerous evenings I subjected my friends and family to another one of my home “movies” set in front of a poorly painted bedsheet backdrop in my basement. I owe my writing career to Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield’s version), who inspired my first book. I spent countless college classes thinking about him instead of paying attention, but it all worked out in the end.


I wrote...

The Good for Nothings

By Danielle Banas,

Book cover of The Good for Nothings

What is my book about?

Cora Saros is determined to join the family business—theft and intergalactic smuggling—but she's a total disaster. After landing in prison following a heist gone wrong, she strikes a bargain with the warden: He'll expunge her record if she brings back an ancient treasure rumored to grant immortality. 

Skeptical but out of options, Cora assembles a crew from her collection of misfit cellmates—a disgraced alien warrior; a cocky pirate without a ship; and a glitching culinary robot—and takes off after the fabled prize. But the ragtag group soon discovers that not only is the mysterious treasure very real, but they're also not the only crew on the hunt for it. And it's definitely a prize worth killing for.

Animals in Space

By Chris Dubbs, Colin Burgess,

Book cover of Animals in Space: From Research Rockets to the Space Shuttle

This book came out right after I completed Laika, but I wish I’d been able to use it in my research (although Dubbs’ earlier book, Space Dogs: Pioneers in Space Travel was extremely useful).

If Siddiqi’s book focuses more on the human journey behind the Soviet space program, this is a parallel account of some other unwitting (and undersung) pioneers: the experimental animals who were sent ahead of humankind. We share this world with animals and they were dispatched on our behalf to test the deep waters of the heavens also. It was thought - correctly - that if they could survive, so could we. Laika may very well be the most famous of these pathfinders (at least beyond Russia), but there were many more. This book is a history of all those other animal astronauts launched into space both prior to Laika and aboard more recent missions.


Who am I?

I wrote and drew a book about the Russian dog called Laika, the first living being to go into orbit around the planet Earth. Part of the conception of this book was that I wanted to create a graphic novel that almost anyone could read - a comic for people who might not usually read comics. It had to be accessible - you didn’t have to be steeped in comics lore, geek culture or space history to find your way into it. I've been creating books, magazines, comics, and stories for both adults and children for more than thirty-five years, with work published all over the world. 

I wrote...

Laika

By Nick Abadzis,

Book cover of Laika

What is my book about?

Laika was the Moscow street dog destined to become Earth's first space traveler. This graphic novel follows her journey. Nick Abadzis masterfully blends fact and fiction in the intertwined stories of three compelling lives. Along with Laika, there is Sergei Korolev, once a political prisoner, now a driven engineer at the top of the Soviet Union's space program, and Yelena Dubrovsky, the lab technician responsible for Laika's health and wellbeing. Abadzis gives life to a pivotal event in modern times, illuminating the hidden moments, both human and canine, that lie behind the written word of history.

All Systems Red

By Martha Wells,

Book cover of All Systems Red

Who doesn’t like bad boys? None are worse than the SecUnit with a violent past who calls himself Murderbot. He is addicted to consuming digital entertainment, including Space Operas he knows from experience are bogus and he is our sly commentator on human foibles and absurdities. When he gets himself into a “Protection Racket” job for a science group on one of the Company’s colonies, he grasps what is going down faster and more realistically than all of them and goes into action. An almost indestructible conjoining of human and machine, he exhibits the worst attributes of each—to this reader’s utter delight. Wells followed up this short novel with four more, all starring Murderbot.  


Who am I?

I was an artist as a child but graduated as a Comparative Literature Major. The aunt and uncle I stayed with in Providence summers when I was 10-12 years old lived three houses away from that of H.P. Lovecraft. My aunt would have tea with women who remembered “Poor Howard.” So my first real reading was H.P. and a host of other SF authors. I also always read foreign authors: classics and newer books. The books by the women are small but virtually perfect with unusual narrators—a disgraced, planet-colony Security Robot and a dark-skinned, young Tribal woman who finds herself facing her people’s worst enemy. Both novellas have spawned entire series by their authors.


I wrote...

The Betrothal at Usk

By Felice Picano,

Book cover of The Betrothal at Usk

What is my book about?

The second volume of my SF trilogy takes place, a generation after the galaxy-wide transforming events of Dryland’s End. With the end of the Galactic Matriarchy, Vir’ism has risen, centered on Hesperia, the City on a Star. One leader, Mart Kell, is out of power, plotting his return. While another leader, the Great Father, is quietly retired. On a small resort planet with a rainbow of rings, a 16 year-old-boy air skates across the sands dreaming of escape to the famed City on a Star. When the rulers of the galaxy-wide republic and their glamorous entourages arrive on Usk to celebrate a great betrothal, young Ay’r finds himself thrust into their midst but even deeper into their dynastic schemes and power manipulations...

Claiming T-Mo

By Eugen Bacon,

Book cover of Claiming T-Mo

In Claiming T-Mo, Australian-African writer Eugen Bacon re-invents and shatters all the familiar codes of the magical sci-fi genre. A novel about women, magic, fate, and freedom, Claiming T-Mo is also a deep reflection on motherhood, love, masculinity, and identities. As the different female narrators share their views and feelings about T-Mo, the elusive central character, more questions about filiation and heritage unroll, making the reader a part of the quest. I love Eugen Bacon because she is an incredibly versatile talent, who turns everything she writes about into pure gold. 


Who am I?

As a writer of dystopian novels, I have always been interested in narratives that challenge the reader. Why? Because I firmly believe that if literature is, as they say, "a window on the world," then mind-bending texts create their own windows, and hence allow the readers to free themselves from all sorts of conventions. What's more, many of my novels deal with a drug, "Synth," that allows the users to change their surroundings at will. So I do write some “mind-bending” stuff myself, with precisely the purpose I mentioned above. To challenge yourself through fiction is to challenge a reality you have not chosen to live in. It is not only an act of defiance, but also, very often, an act of courage. 


I wrote...

The Song of Synth

By Seb Doubinsky,

Book cover of The Song of Synth

What is my book about?

I have chosen The Song Of Synth because it is, in my eyes, the best introduction to my speculative fiction universe, also known as “the City-States Cycle.” Taking place in the imaginary metropolis Viborg City, it focuses on Marcus, an ex-hacker trapped into working for the government. Addicted to a drug called “Synth,” he comes across some information that will make him face his past and turn him into a fugitive. Dealing with issues such as control technologies, mental manipulations, the political implication of drugs, and the question of identity, I feel that The Song Of Synth is a book that could appeal to a lot of readers who are sensitive to contemporary issues.

We Are Legion (We Are Bob)

By Dennis E. Taylor,

Book cover of We Are Legion (We Are Bob)

Love to chuckle-snort while reading a good science fiction book? Then I highly recommend the Bobiverse series. While we’re all pretty familiar with sentient starships (i.e. Ancillary Justice and, of course, there’s Farscape), how about a software geek turned corpsicle turned reluctant, self-replicating starship as part of future Earth’s desperate race to control the universe? I absolutely adored the humor-wrapped science fiction of this captivating novel.


Who am I?

My love of unusual narration probably stems from my rabid consumption of “Choose Your Own Adventure” books in my youth. Why read a book about someone else when the story could be yours? While I’m glad to say that my library has since expanded, I still appreciate the unusual and bizarre viewpoint when I read. Perhaps a self-portrait? In any case, I’ve also used some unique narrative tools in my own writing through the point of view of my fictional WHISPs and also through cryptic journal entries. If you’re looking for something different by way of narration, I’m confident you’ll enjoy these five best books.


I wrote...

Whispers of a Killer

By Jen Haeger,

Book cover of Whispers of a Killer

What is my book about?

“We the jury find the defendant, Rachel Iris Chester, guilty.” And just like that, Sylvia Harbinger’s life as an NYPD detective is over. Sylvia is done with serial killers, done with therapy, and done with a New York City now rife with WHISPs—the creepy, grey shadows of her nightmares. She and husband Ben have a deal, a last-ditch effort to save their marriage. Sylvia retires and they move to Montana to escape the WHISP phenomenon.

Then the phone rings. There’s been a copycat murder, and Sylvia can’t let the case go. If she missed something the first time, this new blood is on her hands. Ben gives her a month to work the case, but can their marriage and her sanity survive that long?

The Disasters

By M. K. England,

Book cover of The Disasters

I’m a sucker for characters with poorly executed good intentions, which is why I loved M.K. England’s The Disasters. After getting booted out of an elite space academy, four washouts are the sole witnesses to the biggest crime in the history of space colonization and are turned into the perfect scapegoats. On the run and desperate to clear their names, the group orchestrates a dangerous heist to expose the truth of what really happened that night at the Academy. Diverse characters and non-stop laughs make this book a must-read for sci-fi fans of all ages.


Who am I?

I’m the author of the humorous YA novels The Supervillain and Me and The Good for Nothings. I’ve been telling stories since I could talk, including the night I recited an entire Mickey Mouse scratch and sniff book to my mother at bedtime (she’s so proud), and the numerous evenings I subjected my friends and family to another one of my home “movies” set in front of a poorly painted bedsheet backdrop in my basement. I owe my writing career to Spider-Man (Andrew Garfield’s version), who inspired my first book. I spent countless college classes thinking about him instead of paying attention, but it all worked out in the end.


I wrote...

The Good for Nothings

By Danielle Banas,

Book cover of The Good for Nothings

What is my book about?

Cora Saros is determined to join the family business—theft and intergalactic smuggling—but she's a total disaster. After landing in prison following a heist gone wrong, she strikes a bargain with the warden: He'll expunge her record if she brings back an ancient treasure rumored to grant immortality. 

Skeptical but out of options, Cora assembles a crew from her collection of misfit cellmates—a disgraced alien warrior; a cocky pirate without a ship; and a glitching culinary robot—and takes off after the fabled prize. But the ragtag group soon discovers that not only is the mysterious treasure very real, but they're also not the only crew on the hunt for it. And it's definitely a prize worth killing for.

The Way Back Home

By Oliver Jeffers,

Book cover of The Way Back Home

Oliver Jeffers has such a simple way with words (almost as if he is writing as his child self, still) but which always brings a wry, knowing adult smile to my mouth when reading aloud. I love this book too, for being able to make my children smile and feel empathy for the characters.

I love the graphic, simple yet sophisticated illustrations, helping to explain the story along the way. It’s a fantastic blend of the reality of children’s play, along with an imaginative introduction to science fiction. Fabulous!


Who am I?

I usually enjoy painting pictures for storybooks about nature I know, so it was a treat to depict an imaginary place that I’ve never actually seen! I was so inspired to illustrate Mary’s story about the moon, as I could focus on creating an other-worldly atmosphere, adding to the drama that could have happened anywhere. The story focuses on Molly and her family moving to the moon and includes scientific facts about how gravity would impact their everyday life. I used Mary’s knowledge as reference to underpin the imaginative side of my process. Painting the inside of a moon module enabled me to use textures, colours, and lighting in such a fun, expressive way!


I illustrated...

Molly on the Moon

By Mary Robinette Kowal, Diana Mayo (illustrator),

Book cover of Molly on the Moon

What is my book about?

Award-winning science fiction author Mary Robinette Kowal consulted with a NASA astronaut to craft her first picture book story, accurately describing how living on the moon differs from life on Earth. Beautifully illustrated by Diana Mayo, Molly on the Moon is the tale of two siblings adjusting to their new home. Inspiring and imaginative, Molly on the Moon also includes fascinating facts about the moon’s environment, revealing how the differences in gravity, temperature, and time would affect our lives.

Illustrator Diana Mayo’s art is an intriguing study in contrasts. She envisions the moon as a world that seems both strange and familiar, vast but confined, cozy yet intensely isolated. The deep blue colour palette of her mixed media images feels appropriately lunar and a little mysterious.” – Bookpage.com

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