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I don’t know what it is about space travel that just seems like magic.
When I was young, I was a fan of both the original Star Trek series and that first Star Wars trilogy. These works made me daydream about teleportation and Tribbles… about the life that might exist on other planets.
On trips to the Museum of Natural History or the Liberty Science Center, I favored planetarium sessions where I sat in the dark, staring up at the stars, watching planets drift by. Later on, I’d always get astronaut ice cream from the gift shop.
My favorite movie of all time was E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial. I slept with my E.T. doll clutched tight to me every night and, when I was slightly older, read the William Kotzwinkle novel based on the screenplay, followed by its sequel, E.T.: The Book of the Green Planet.
Despite this, sci-fi wasn’t actually my favorite genre. Not by a long shot. But my dad had a few books and franchises he treasured. And so I treasured them, too.
I’ve only recently come back to sci-fi. Horror is my main jam, and has been for quite some time. And while I’ve been getting into narratives about time travel and the multiverse lately, there’s still nothing like a good, solid space travel book to bring you closer to other worlds. Here are some that I recommend.
The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury
This was the first sci-fi book I ever read, and it was plucked from my father’s bookshelves, tucked away in a basement closet. A collection of loosely-connected short stories that were initially not meant for novel form, taken together, they chronicle a Mars that is explored and eventually colonized by those back on Earth who are living under the threat of nuclear war. I’ve read this book many times over the years and I love that every time I come back to it, I take away something new.
Bitch Planet by Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro
And here we have one of the first comics I ever read, which catapulted me into a full-on comics obsession. This series is a no holds barred sci-fi story from a future in which women who are found to be “noncompliant” are shipped off to a prison planet. Noncompliance takes many forms, from “seduction and disappointment” to “disrespect” to being a “bad mother.” A reclamation of the women in prison exploitation films from the ’60s and ’70s, the storyline centers around a group of inmates who agree to compete in “Megaton,” Earth’s most popular sporting event. But winning the game isn’t necessarily their first priority. Could those imprisoned on Bitch Planet possibly escape this carceral world?
Saga by Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples
The Saga series is known for being a gateway comic for people who think they don’t like comics and, in fact, a buddy of mine gave me the first volume around the same time I first read Bitch Planet. This space opera is about two lovers from long-warring extraterrestrial races who are forced to flee the authorities from both sides as they struggle to care for their newborn daughter. In the process, they find themselves seeking shelter on a multitude of planets, but they are sadly unable to ever settle down for very long. This series went on a three-year hiatus following the most upsetting cliffhanger ever and has just recently returned, thank the gods.
The Vanished Birds by Simon Jimenez
This sci-fi epic spans lifetimes, laying out a sprawling tale you can get lost in. The novel covers everything from space travel and colonization to ambition and regret to the importance of found family. At the heart of this story is a mute child who may carry the power to cross light-years in the blink of an eye, enabling space travel to be completely revolutionized. But at what cost?
Sea of Stars by Jason Aaron, Dennis Hallium, Stephen Green, and Rico Renzi
This one is a recent read for me, and I’m eager to read the next volume. In this first volume, a man and his son are transporting cargo across space when a large creature destroys their vessel and they become separated. As the father fights to find his way back to his son, the young boy revels in the newfound powers he’s suddenly picked up, powers that allow him to swim through space safely, among other things. But when a group of people from another planet become aware of the power he carries, things get dicey. Aside from being a fun story on its own, I really enjoy its humor.
Do You Dream of Terra-Two? by Temi Oh
An astronomer discovers an Earth-like planet orbiting a nearby star and predicts that one day, humans will build a new utopia there. This book chronicles a time in which this prediction comes close to becoming a reality. Ten astronauts — four veterans and six teenagers — spend 23 years on the journey to Terra-Two. And, well, 23 years is a hella long time to be living together in such close quarters. Will their mission be successful?
The Binti trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor
In this trilogy, Binti is accepted into prestigious Oomza University thanks to her skill with math and astrolabes. She sets off on an interstellar journey, filled with both nerves and excitement for what the future may hold. But when her ship is attacked, she ends up as the only survivor. There are still five days until she reaches her destination, and she is stuck on a ship with beings who murdered everyone else. Can she survive her voyage and also save the inhabitants of the planet that houses her university?
Lilith’s Brood by Octavia E. Butler
In this chilling and troubling trilogy, the human survivors of a nuclear war awake to find that they’ve been “rescued” by the Oankali. But what at first seems like salvation becomes something darker when they learn that the Oankali intend to bond with them, crossbreeding to form a hybrid species that are more likely to survive. Over the course of the trilogy, humanity is split between rebellion and resignation.
If this list only makes you hungry for more, I suggest checking out this list of must-read space fantasy books, another list of spacefaring comics and graphic novels, and yet 50 more books set in space.