Out of This World: Books About Interplanetary Travel

By Gwen Glazer, Librarian
July 29, 2015
67th Street Library

The Martian is a runaway hit of the summer and today is the anniversary of the date NASA was established... two great excuses to ask our expert NYPL librarians to recommend their favorite books about interplanetary travel! (And we gave bonus points for stories specifically about Mars.)


The Martian Chronicles by Ray Bradbury is not only my favorite book about Mars, but one of my favorite science-fiction books of all time! It’s always at the top of my list when recommending science-fiction books for teens or adults who aren’t sure if they like the genre, because it doesn’t require you to have a science background to understand it.  This book is a collection of stories that are plot-driven but woven together with emotions and psychology, of both human and Martian characters.  It’s an awesome, powerful book, and the stories will remain with you long after you’ve read it. —Andrea Lipinski, Kingsbridge

Has to be said: Red Mars, Green Mars, Blue Mars by Kim Stanley Robinson. There’s a lot of science in the science fiction, and it feels like a very plausible presentation of how the actual colonization of Mars could go. KSR is fantastic. —Kay Menick, Schomburg Center

I loved Mary Roach’s Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void, in which she examines the gross and uncomfortable aspects of astronauts in flight.  Doesn’t everyone want to know about barfing in space?  —Rebecca Dash Donsky, 67th Street






Interstellar Travel

Is it too obvious to say The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy? Laugh out loud funny and infinitely quotable. Find out the Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything, but don’t be surprised when you don’t understand it. Rebecca Dash Donsky, 67th Street

“The Cold Equations” by Tom Godwin from The Science Fiction Hall of Fame 1929-1964 (which also contains other fabulous stories). I used to be a huge sci-fi short story buff and would tear through anthologies. This is one of the few stories from those days that has stuck with me to the point that I still think about it 20 years later. Taking place completely on an interstellar journey, this story is not heavy on speculative science; it’s more about the bigger picture of our world as it is, bringing the reader in with a relatable premise and letting the rest unfold slowly, toward the inevitable, gutting resolution. —Jill Rothstein, Andrew Heiskell Library

Since Jill mentions Tom Godwin, I would like to put in a plug for his The Survivors (also known as Space Prison). If you think the moon is a harsh mistress, imagine being cast away on a planet hundreds of light years from earth, with high gravity, thin air, extremes of climate, ferocious and voracious native fauna and a plethora of other constantly lurking lethal conditions. You're part of a group of "Rejects," a thousand men, women and children abandoned on the nightmare planet Ragnarok by a gang of cruel would-be overlords of the galaxy, with next to nothing in the way of supplies or equipment except an indomitable will to live, and eventually, though it takes generations of Darwinian survival of the fittest, to meet the return of the Gerns with a force that will shake their empire to its core. —Kathie Coblentz, Rare Materials

I really enjoyed The Sparrow  by Mary Doria Russell. It’s an intense combination of topics I did NOT think I would enjoy: a sci-fi book whose central character is a Jesuit priest. He, along with several others, is sent to explore the Alpha Centuri world of Rakhat, from which ethereal music is reaching Earth. Many incredible encounters and disasters ensue, including a major crisis of faith. —Jennifer Craft, Mulberry Street

Elizabeth Moon’s Vatta’s War series, starting with Trading in Danger, not only shows interplanetary travel but also interplanetary merchant and military alliances. —Jenny Baum, Jefferson Market

My favorite books that depict interstellar travel have to be C.J. Cherryh’s “Company Wars” series. They feature interstellar commerce, colonization, encounters with alien life-forms, and the terrifying and mundane aspects of life in space, all wrapped up with interpersonal relationships, family ties, and the competition for respect and glory. —Virginia Bartow, Rare Materials

Blindsight by Peter Watts is another odd science-fiction novel about a strange crew selected to venture to the edges of the solar system. Among the crew is a vampire and a linguist with a multiple personality disorder. It is another alien future. —Judd Karlman, City Island






Graphic Novels

A Princess of Mars by Ian Edginton. This graphic novel adaptation of an enduring, century-old classic re-imagines the cosmic tale of a man transported to Mars where war, romance and a call to heroism await. Not to be missed! —Daniel Norton, Mid-Manhattan 

I’ve recently been recommending the graphic novel series Concrete Park to anyone and everyone. The story revolves around outcasts from Earth who are sent to a prison planet to do slave labor. The prison planet, Scare City, becomes a hub of gang violence and action. Many of the excellent cast of characters are just trying to survive the gritty scene, but some of them are looking for redemption in this hellish place. I’m very excited to see where this series is going next. —Katrina Ortega, Hamilton Grange

I’ll choose a recent children’s graphic novel: Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke.  What do you do if your best friend is pulled through a hole in space?  You go on a quest to rescue him, of course! —Sue Yee, Children’s Center






Since Mars is the name of the game, we’re going to have to go with Mars Evacuees by Sophia McDougall. Hilarity, adventure, and giant robotic goldfish all play a part as Alice Dare and her friends have to figure a way out of their predicament on Mars, and possibly save Earth in the bargain! —Stephanie Whelan, Seward Park

I’ve loved The Green Book by Jill Paton Walsh ever since my 5th-grade teacher read it aloud to us part by part. We never wanted her to stop and wait a day for the next chapter! Pattie and her family travel four years on an old spaceship to an unknown, hopefully habitable planet, after natural disaster forces migration from Earth. The group soon learns that they aren’t alone and survival is far from certain. —Charlie Radin, Inwood

You can’t leave Earth to explore space without understanding what’s holding us down! Author and illustrator Jason Chin takes on the task in his beautifully illustrated picture book, Gravity. Along with the help of a super-cute space bear, Chin explains what Kepler and Newton had in mind. —Karen Ginman, Selection Team

Cosmic by Frank Cottrell Boyce. Think Space Camp meets Roald Dahl.  Boyce is very British, very wacky, and tons of fun.  It’s definitely a page-turner and, as the reader, you’re routing for those kids to make it back to Earth again until the very end. —Jennifer Craft, Mulberry Street

The Space Taxi series by Wendy Mass. What could be cooler than having a father that drives a taxi cab?  Perhaps having a father that drives an intergalactic taxi cab and suddenly becoming his navigator ... —Jennifer Craft, Mulberry Street

A Wrinkle in Time by Madeleine L’Engle was one of my first introductions to science fiction and it completely blew my mind as a young reader.  First published in 1963, we follow a young female protagonist named Meg on a journey through space and time while she tries to find out what’s happened to her missing scientist father and the mysterious object called the “tesseract.” —Leslie Bernstein, Mott Haven




Young Adult

My recent favorite is Stitching Snow by R.C. Lewis, a Snow White retelling in which Snow White is a computer hacker/cage fighter from a mining planet who finds herself entwined in an interplanetary mission around her solar system. —Lauren Bradley, George Bruce

I would also add Orson Scott Card’s award-winning Ender’s Game, which won the Nebula Award and the Hugo Award. —Dawn Collins Zimmerer, Wakefield

In Across the Universe by Beth Revis, Amy and her family escaped a failing Earth in the starship Godspeed and have been in cryogenic suspension and hurtling through space, traveling to colonize a new planet, for 250 years. Now someone on that ship has unsuspended Amy 50 years too early. The starship, staffed by succeeding generations of crew members, has suffered a plague and insurrections over the years, leaving essential information and functions either lost or disabled. Amy must team up with Elder, the ship’s tyrannical, old captain and his younger, future successor to figure out what is happening and how she can possibly save herself and the others on the ship. Told in alternating narratives, you get Amy’s story and the younger Elder’s as they come to grips with their new space traveling realities. The story is filled with sustained tension that keeps you guessing and has enough drama and romance to interest even the most casual sci-fi fan. —Anne Rouyer, Mulberry Street

Space Stories

I know it’s not exactly a planet, but Robert Heinlein’s 1966 Nebula award-winning The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress has been a favorite of mine for the last decade. It’s a sci-fi for people who don’t usually read sci-fi; I’m a big fan of cross-genre love, so I give this as a regular recommendation when people are looking for something a bit different. I’m sure we’d all enjoy a self-aware, all-knowing computer BFF to chat up and strategize with. Plus, a lunar society full of criminals sparking a revolt against authoritarian Earth and heading off a food shortage, and an electromagnetic catapult. Heinlein, you’re a master. Also, the movie was just announced so read it before the hold list explodes. —Jaqueline Woolcott, Ask NYPL

Surface Detail by Iain M. Banks is filled with sentient starships and virtual hells. Like all of his Culture novels, it is larger than life space opera with beautiful ideas that are so big they can fill the void of space. —Judd Karlman, City Island

Have to go back to Octavia Butler with this one, but then I am a fan. Love Lilith’s Brood! At the end of human civilization on earth, the Onkala, interplanetary DNA “borrowers,” save Lilith and a few other humans to create a new species, part human, part Onkala, part many other species found around the galaxies. Are the offspring human, better than, or less than? What has been saved and what has been lost? —Danita Nichols, Inwood

Hyperion (and its sequels) by Dan Simmons. Speculative fiction set in a far flung future in which humanity has colonized space, creating a galactic hegemony; Earth is missing and presumed dead as a result of the “Big Mistake”; debate rages over the Ousters, fringe human settlements with extreme physical modifications (wings, fur, prehensile feet) living in low gravity deep space independent of centralized authority; and then there is the Shrike, an enigmatic and inexplicable avenging angel/executioner traveling through time like a meaner version of Q from Star Trek, guided by unknown sentient forces. A philosophical, award-winning space opera currently being adapted for TV—Amie Wright, MyLibraryNYC


Staff picks are chosen by NYPL staff members and are not intended to be comprehensive lists. We'd love to hear your picks! Leave a comment and tell us what you’d recommend.