Pluto has been in the spotlight for the last week, and what a great show it’s been!
An icy heart, a moon with an outie, and a host of planetary features informally named after fictional characters (Cthulhu and Balrog, to name two) have kept us Earthlings riveted to our computers, eagerly awaiting New Horizon’s next stunning image of the not-so-plain dwarf planet. Unfortunately, it turns out that the service out by Pluto is abysmal: it’ll take over nine months for all the information to reach the Earth.
What novelties and marvels can we expect to hear from New Horizons in the coming months? NASA scientists aren’t giving away any spoilers. Thankfully, we have several hundred years’ worth of science fiction to fuel our imaginations in the meantime. Here is a list of seven books that will satisfy your need to explore the stars.
2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
The year is 2001, and cosmonauts uncover a mysterious monolith that has been buried on the Moon for at least three million years. To their astonishment, the monolith releases an equally mysterious pulse — a kind of signal — in the direction of Saturn after it is unearthed. Whether alarm or communication, the human race must know what the signal is — and who it was intended for.
The Discovery and its crew, assisted by the highly advanced HAL 9000 computer system, sets out to investigate. But as the crew draws closer to their rendezvous with a mysterious and ancient alien civilization, they realize that the greatest dangers they face come from within the spacecraft itself. HAL proves a dangerous traveling companion, and the crew must outwit him to survive.
Perfect for: Anyone who enjoys a good book-to-TV relationship. This first book in the Space Odyssey series was actually written in tandem with the production of the movie by the same name, though most people prefer the book (no surprises there). The fourth and final book, 3001: The Final Odyssey, is being developed into a TV mini-series in 2017.
The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams
Seconds before the Earth is demolished to make way for a galactic freeway, Arthur Dent is plucked off the planet by his friend Ford Prefect, a researcher for the revised edition of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy who, for the last fifteen years, has been posing as an out-of-work actor.
Together this dynamic pair begin a journey through space aided by quotes from The Hitchhiker’s Guide (“A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have”) and a galaxy-full of fellow travelers: Zaphod Beeblebrox — the two-headed, three-armed ex-hippie and totally out-to-lunch president of the galaxy; Trillian, Zaphod’s girlfriend (formally Tricia McMillan), whom Arthur tried to pick up at a cocktail party once upon a time zone; Marvin, a paranoid, brilliant, and chronically depressed robot; Veet Voojagig, a former graduate student who is obsessed with the disappearance of all the ballpoint pens he bought over the years.
Where are these pens? Why are we born? Why do we die? Why do we spend so much time between wearing digital watches? For all the answers stick your thumb to the stars. And don’t forget to bring a towel!
Perfect for: Readers who enjoy sci-fi with a quirk. Funny and all-out weird, this classic series still manages to be thought-provoking.
The Martian by Andy Weir
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 much more likely to kill him first. But Mark isn’t ready to give up yet. Drawing on his ingenuity, his engineering skills — and a relentless, dogged refusal to quit — he steadfastly confronts one seemingly insurmountable obstacle after the next. Will his resourcefulness be enough to overcome the impossible odds against him?
Perfect for: Everyone. Seriously.
Ender’s Game by Orson Scott Card
In order to develop a secure defense against a hostile alien race’s next attack, government agencies breed child geniuses and train them as soldiers. A brilliant young boy, Andrew “Ender” Wiggin lives with his kind but distant parents, his sadistic brother Peter, and the person he loves more than anyone else, his sister Valentine. Peter and Valentine were candidates for the soldier-training program but didn’t make the cut — young Ender is the Wiggin drafted to the orbiting Battle School for rigorous military training.
Ender’s skills make him a leader in school and respected in the Battle Room, where children play at mock battles in zero gravity. Yet growing up in an artificial community of young soldiers Ender suffers greatly from isolation, rivalry from his peers, pressure from the adult teachers, and an unsettling fear of the alien invaders. His psychological battles include loneliness, fear that he is becoming like the cruel brother he remembers, and fanning the flames of devotion to his beloved sister.
Is Ender the general Earth needs? But Ender is not the only result of the genetic experiments. The war with the Buggers has been raging for a hundred years, and the quest for the perfect general has been underway for almost as long. Ender’s two older siblings are every bit as unusual as he is, but in very different ways. Between the three of them lie the abilities to remake a world. If, that is, the world survives.
Perfect for: Anyone who has ever loved playing the games Stratego, Battleship, or Risk. Don’t be fooled by the youth of the titular character; this book has a depth and intricacy people of all ages can enjoy.
Glow by Amy Kathleen Ryan
What if you were bound for a new world, about to pledge your life to someone you’d been promised to since birth, and one unexpected violent attack made survival — not love — the issue?
Out in the murky nebula lurks an unseen enemy: the New Horizon. On its way to populate a distant planet in the wake of Earth’s collapse, the ship’s crew has been unable to conceive a generation to continue its mission. They need young girls desperately, or their zealous leader’s efforts will fail. Onboard their sister ship, the Empyrean, the unsuspecting families don’t know an attack is being mounted that could claim the most important among them…
Fifteen-year-old Waverly is part of the first generation to be successfully conceived in deep space; she was born on the Empyrean, and the large farming vessel is all she knows. Her concerns are those of any teenager — until Kieran Alden proposes to her. The handsome captain-to-be has everything Waverly could ever want in a husband, and with the pressure to start having children, everyone is sure he’s the best choice. Except for Waverly, who wants more from life than marriage — and is secretly intrigued by the shy, darkly brilliant Seth.
But when the Empyrean faces sudden attack by their assumed allies, they quickly find out that the enemies aren’t all from the outside.
Perfect for: Readers of YA romances who are craving something a little darker (read: more disturbing) than usual.
Starship Troopers by Robert A. Heinlein
In one of Robert Heinlein’s most controversial bestsellers, a recruit of the future goes through the toughest boot camp in the Universe — and into battle with the Terran Mobile Infantry against mankind’s most frightening enemy.
Perfect for: Anyone who enjoys reading about military culture, politics, and philosophical questions. This book is less space voyage, more exploring unknown planets.
The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Moral allegory and spiritual autobiography, The Little Prince is the most translated book in the French language. With a timeless charm it tells the story of a little boy who leaves the safety of his own tiny planet to travel the universe, learning the vagaries of adult behavior through a series of extraordinary encounters. His personal odyssey culminates in a voyage to Earth and further adventures.
Perfect for: Readers who are looking to feel a lot of feels. This strange and beautiful book includes one of the most whimsical and powerful space odysseys ever written.
Which ones have you read? Tell us in the comments!