My favorite space books

I, for one, know I’m a space nerd. I admit it. I reblog photos of galaxies and Carl Sagan quotes on Tubmlr. I follow NASA, ESA and other space exploration news with earnest. I watch YouTube videos of astronaut Chris Hadfield explaining science on the ISS to kids.

So I wanted to share my favorite stories about space. Here’s to hoping 2015 will bring more space stories and time to read them.


The Martian, Andy Weir

Holy space gods, this book is out of this world! (See what I did there?) If you love space and reading about space, put down everything and read this incredible piece of fiction.

Mark Watney is a part of the Ares manned missions to Mars. Except, he was stranded on the Red Planet when the rest of his crew thought him dead and evacuated during a terrible sandstorm. Now he has to find a way to make his food, water and oxygen last for years until the next Ares mission — or he’ll die in any number of ways.

There’s a lot of math interspersed throughout the book (might be real, I’m not learned in math so I can’t say for sure). But Andy Weir keeps it focused and breaks it down for the reader as Watney solves problems. The math is actually really important to the story. It’s a matter of survival.

While reading, I laughed, I was terrified, I cheered Watney on, I wanted to send in an application to NASA, I wanted to never think of space again. It’s truly impossible to put this book down. There’s drama and action, and it’s all told through Watney’s levelheaded and sarcastic tone, and sometimes an omnipotent narrator when you know things are about to get “pretty much fucked,” as Watney writes in his logs.


R is for Rocket, Ray Bradbury

Nobody does short stories like Ray Bradbury. He fully immerses you in his very believable worlds. Whether it’s a young school boy who dreams of becoming a rocket man and wakes up early every Saturday to watch the rockets take off. The fact that people can’t choose to become astronauts, but instead must be picked. Or a poor husband who buys an old junk rocket to create a fantastical one-time journey for his children. Bradbury writes with such fervor, such honesty in his language that even fantastical elements seem real.

How did he imagine all of these books, stories, characters and times? Bradbury’s truly one of the best writers I’ve ever read. I will always cherish his Fahrenheit 451, but this collection of stories about space is truly magic.


Packing for Mars, Mary Roach

This book is actually a lol-fest. If you like laughing so hard while on public transportation so that people give you weird looks, this book is definitely for you. The full title of the book is “Packing for Mars: The Curious Science of Life in the Void.” Mary Roach really knows that science and humor were made to go together. Let this quote serve as evidence for that:

In orbit, everything gets turned on its head. Shooting stars streak past below you, and the sun rises in the middle of the night … According to more than one astronaut memoir, one of the most beautiful sights in space is that of a sun-illuminated flurry of flash-frozen waste-water droplets.

Roach is a science writer, in the best way. She worked like a reporter to find out how astronauts live and survive in space. She tirelessly interviewed to get the intimate details for this book. And she doesn’t disappoint. You have to read this book to find out exactly how astronauts pee and poop in space, what happens to astronauts when they can’t walk for a year, how astronauts can survive if they vomit in their helmet while on a spacewalk, and how space agencies test the limits of space on Earth. And you’ll be laughing the entire time.


Life on Mars, Tracy K. Smith

David Bowie, space travel, music. These are some of the images and concepts Tracy K. Smith explores in this beautiful collection of poems. The title is a reference to Bowie’s great song “Life on Mars,” but it’s also more than that. Bowie was obsessed with space, too, and Smith draws on his imagination and influence for some of her poems.

Her poems describe the future of space exploration. And her honest story threaded throughout makes it more resonant. Smith grieves in this collection, for our lonely planet, for human existence, for the death of her father, who worked on the Hubble Space Telescope. She uses space as a metaphor for the unknown, for death and for hope.

Perhaps the great error is believing
we’re alone,
That the others have come and gone —
a momentary blip —
When all along, space might be choc-full of traffic,
Bursting at the seams with energy we neither feel
Nor see, flush against us, living, dying, deciding,
Setting solid feet down on planets everywhere,
Bowing to the great stars that command, pitching stones
At whatever are their moons. They live wondering
If they are the only ones, knowing only the wish to know, And the great black distance they — we
— flicker in …


The Martian Chronicles, Ray Bradbury

Yes, yes, I already included a Bradbury book. But come on, a list of amazing space books wouldn’t be complete without The Martian Chronicles.

The book follows Earth’s colonization of Mars, from 2030 to 2057. Bradbury easily shifts from Martian to Earth Man points of views. The chronicles are full of wonder and terror. You’ll get lost in his descriptions of Earth expeditions and Mars discoveries.

There’s a reason why writers obsessed with space craft amazing works of space. They let readers into their obsession. They share the implausibility and craziness that is space, that is the planet we live on, drifting endlessly in an ever-growing, endless blackness of stars.

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