Why yes, we did pick the number because it’s auspicious for space travel. Bonus: many of these are series running into thousands of pages. Perfect for a long ride in a spaceship (or prison, if your failing society decides you belong in one).
Beyond The Aquila Rift: A former astronomer from the European Space Agency weaves you stories of what living in the stars will be like (grim and gritty, mostly). Alastair Reynolds.
The Chimpanzee Complex: A plotty and profoundly moving graphic novel trilogy begins with a space module crashing into the Indian Ocean in 2035, and ends with the main character waking up 70 years in the future, all alone in a spaceship with dwindling oxygen supply. (Basically, month three of demonetisation.) Richard Marazano, art by Jean-Michel Ponzio.
Cities In Flight: The 1950s “Okie” novel quartet allows entire cities to defect into space from a USA-Soviet Cold War. Can we come with Tokyo? James Blish.
Coming Back To Earth: What, miss us already? Get a seat on Captain Ichabod Drift’s pirate ship, the Keiko. Mike Brooks.
Contact: This classic doesn’t strictly involve leaving Earth, but is premised on the fantasy that the universe is built by intelligence that can’t be explained by religious belief alone. Good luck convincing your WhatsApp family group. Carl Sagan.
The Culture Series: Because why can’t you have utopian socialism in the Milky Way? Iain M Banks.
Dune: We personally find this borderline-gross, but it’s the world’s best-selling science fiction novel and involves violent reprisals for over-ambitious human beings. Frank Herbert.
Downbelow Station: A reminder not to take that one-way ticket into the Great Blue if it’s on the private military carrier of a rapacious Earth corporation. CJ Cherryh.
Why can’t you have utopian socialism in the Milky Way?
Embassytown: Try your hand at the ‘Festivals of Lies’ held by the aliens at this outpost of civilisation, whose language does not allow them to speak anything but literal truth. China Miéville.
Ender’s Game: Also gross, but a Strange Horizons reviewer reminds us you can’t ignore this title if you want violent military expansionism and spaceships in a single setting. Orson Scott Card.
Foundation: But you knew that already, didn’t you? Isaac Asimov. (PS. We re-read ‘The Last Question’ when on lunch break from working on this guide.)
A Fire Upon The Deep and A Deepness In The Sky: So you’ve left for more intelligent realms: but are you sure you won’t wake up a malevolent and all-powerful entity hell-bent on genocide? Watch your step. Vernor Vinge.
Gateway: A lesson in all the bad things that can happen to you if you decide to believe the space colonists and leave Planet Earth for an uncertain future in the sky. Clearly written in a more hopeful time. Frederik Pohl.
The Gap Cycle: Wagnerian space opera about people who went to outer space to set up – of course – a mining corporation. Sure you’re packing that shovel? Stephen Donaldson.
Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy: If you haven’t read it yet, you’re probably too late -- but if you don’t read it now, how will you get all the towel jokes? Douglas Adams.
Imperial Radch: No jokes, this spaceship-turned-human (yes, really) trilogy is such a nerd favourite, read it even if you aren’t planning to go anywhere. Plus, the first novel, Ancillary Justice, won a Golden Tentacle for Best Debut Novel in 2013. Ann Leckie.
In The Company Of Others: A guidebook on how to behave when a mysterious plague strands you on an overcrowded space station. (Not really, but you have to start preparing for apocalypse somewhere.) Julie Czerneda.
The Kefahuchi Tract trilogy: Light, Nova Swing and Empty Space all deal with the unknowable tract that is a “singularity without an event horizon,” where meaning is not what you think it is, spaceships rust, and space colonists are a mess. Probably because of economic anxiety. M John Harrison.
Leviathan Wakes: When you want to be reminded that the stars are magic, and one small spaceship can change the world (provided you find the right snarky detective to help). James S A Corey.
The Little Prince: Because out there, you might meet a fox who’ll say, “Wheat is of no use to me. The wheat fields have nothing to say to me. And that is sad. But you have hair that is the colour of gold. Think how wonderful that will be when you have tamed me! The grain, which is also golden, will bring me back the thought of you. And I shall love to listen to the wind in the wheat…” <3. Antoine de Saint-Exupery.
The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet: Take the first Wayfarers novel along for the quiet poetry of working construction on an interplanetary spacecraft. Becky Chambers.
Mars Evacuees and Space Hostages: For the teenager in your life who’s on a mission to save a world or three. Full of useful advice, including the cardinal rule: “ALWAYS CARRY DUCT TAPE.” Sophia MacDougall.
The Mars Trilogy: This series of novels about humans colonising Mars is so pointed that its author scorns Elon Musk as a “1920s science-fiction cliché.” The red planet is no TED planet! Kim Stanley Robinson.
One series of novels about humans colonising Mars is so pointed that its author scorns Elon Musk as a “1920s science-fiction cliché.” The red planet is no TED planet!
The Martian: The movie’s better-written, but you can’t carry an IMAX screen around in your pocket, even in 2017. Andy Weir.
The Noon Universe: What happens when communism wins and the Russians are sent around outer space to bring freedom to less developed humanoids? Answers served cold with 100-proof vodka. Arkady and Boris Strugatsky.
Nova: For a universe in which humans travel between stars the way you fly Bombay-Delhi, and an author who’s among science fiction’s greatest living geniuses. Samuel R Delany.
Old Man’s War: To help you decide what to pack when you take off to participate in interstellar war. Your memories, or forgetfulness? John Scalzi.
Primary Inversion: Who will fight an alien race that derives pleasure from the pain of others? Obviously, a bombshell called Sauscony Valdoria who romps with a 20 year-old (she’s fifty and looks half her age) and saves a galactic empire from dissolution. Uh, same. Catherine Asaro.
Rendezvous With Rama: The opening novel of the Rama series will disappoint you if you’re looking for shining prose; all you’ll get is the perihelion and alien starships trying to find the unknown. Come, let’s practice that slingshot manoeuvre together. Arthur C Clarke.
Ringworld: In a future where humans might live to be 200, surely everyone should pack up and leave, like Louis Wu, beyond “Known Space”. Larry Niven.
Seveneves: If you think climate change is awful, imagine what it’s going to be like when the moon shatters for no explicable reason. Neal Stephenson.
Sirens Of Titan: Don’t worry about Slaughterhouse Five. This is the Vonnegut book you want if you fear that rich, depraved American men will do anything, even travel to outer space, for a war. (Martians invading earth is maybe the least exciting thing that happens in this novel.) Kurt Vonnegut.
Solaris: Please note: if you stare long enough into an alien planet, the planet gazes back at you. Stanislaw Lem.
The Sparrow: We included this especially for Pope Francis, currently under fire from anti-socials. Your Holiness, please read a brainy novel about Jesuits travelling between worlds to forget your woes in this one. Mary Doria Russell.
Station Eleven: An editor sneaked this apocalyptic novel about contagion and Shakespeare in because of its gorgeous story-within-a-story about a lost space warrior and his dog. Emily St John Mandel.
Sultana’s Dream: We’re not exactly cheating: there is a flying chariot and it does take you to another dimension. It’s just called called ‘Ladyland,’ a 19th century Bengali woman’s fantasy of a world run by girls. Someone send Beyoncé a copy. Rokeya Sekhawat Hossain.
The Stardance Trilogy: Because how will you convince an alien race that you deserve a place in the universe except through the power of – dance? Spider Robinson.
Super Extra Grande: A veterinarian travels across the galaxy, taking care of enormous animals. Cuban science fiction, please adopt us. Yoss.
Titan: Because once a religious fundamentalist seizes power in America, of course you want to fly to Saturn to try and discover the origin of all life. Stephen Baxter.
The Vorkosigan Saga: These smash-hits come recommended by a political journalist, who says they’re goofy and fun and "have very good politics.” Lois McMaster Bujold.
Image credit: NASA. Thanks for recommendations to Ashima Misri, Atul Dev, Gautam Bhatia, Kajori Sen, Laasya Bhagavatula, Padmaparna Ghosh, Prashant Emani, Samhita Arni, Sayak Dasgupta and Shaun Coutinho. (All the gross ones are our own.)
Correction: A previous v of this story credited The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy to Richard Adams, author of 'Watership Down.' #PrinceWithAThousandEnemies
For more recommendations, follow bpbspine on Instagram.
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