With all the “very hot” warnings and summer rain, sometimes you just want to stay inside and curl up with a good book. In honour of the 50th anniversary of the moon landing, grab one of these fantastic fiction novels about space travel and allow yourself to get lost in a sensational story.
Binti: The Complete Trilogy by Nnedi Okorafor
When Binti becomes the first of the Himba people to join the ranks of students at the prestigious Oomza University in space, she leaves Earth behind and finds herself thrown into the centre of a generations-long war between the university and an alien race known as the Meduse. This three-book series follows Binti and her unlikely allies as she balances the culture she came from and the future she represents.
The Calculating Stars by Mary Robinette Kowal
An alternate-history novel set in the early 50s. The premise? A giant meteorite smashes into Washington in 1952 and accelerates the need for humans to find another planet to live on. Dr Elma York is a World War II veteran who flew planes as a WASP, or Women Airforce Service Pilots. She also happens to be a math genius and one of NASA’s human computers, and she decides she wants to be an astronaut. The novel explores what might have happened if women were allowed in the astronaut corps early in the space race, and it also touches on the civil-rights movement and struggles faced by African Americans in that time period.
The Fated Sky by Mary Robinette Kowal
In this sequel to The Calculating Stars, mankind has managed to reach the moon and has now set its sights on establishing a human colony on Mars - in 1961. Dr Elma York - otherwise known as “The Lady Astronaut” - is hoping to get chosen for the Mars mission, but is torn between her professional ambitions and her personal life. Once again, Kowal does not fail to pull in the social environment of the early 60s, and the tensions resulting from the civil-rights movement and South Africa’s apartheid are woven into the narrative.
The Wanderers by Meg Howrey
This is character-driven literary science fiction at its finest and it examines how humans will deal with the challenges of long missions of space exploration. The Wanderers follows three astronauts through a 17-month training simulation for a Mars mission and through them gets at the question of what drives humanity’s need to explore. The narrative also pulls in the families of the astronauts and we see the strain that the long separation puts on them.
Seveneves by Neal Stephenson
What would we do if we knew the world was about to be destroyed by “hard rain” that will fall for 5,000 years? That’s the premise of this science-fiction saga by Seattle novelist Neal Stephenson, who’s one of the masters of the genre. As Seattle Times reviewer Nisi Shawl wrote in 2015, “Stephenson’s storytelling style combines the conversational and the panoramic, allowing him to turn his piercing gaze on the familiar aspects of a strange future, encompassing the barely conceivable detail by detail, striking vista by sweat-covered heroic gambit, and telling us how it might be possible to regain what we could so easily lose in so many heartbreaking ways.”
Former President Barack Obama called it “just wildly imaginative, really interesting.” Amazon reportedly may spend up to US$1 billion (HKD$7.8 billion) to acquire the rights to produce a three-season TV show based on the Hugo Award-winning series. There’s a reason the first instalment in this trilogy was the first Asian novel ever to win a Hugo Award. The series, based in China, chronicles the existential crisis that grips all of humanity when it encounters an extraterrestrial civilisation bent on taking over Earth. But the alien armada won’t arrive for another 400 years, leaving humans plenty of time to bicker over how best to prepare for the eventual space battle.
The Expanse series by James S.A. Corey
This eight-novel series also inspired a TV series. The first novel is Leviathan Wakes, and the TV shows and books both have realistic depictions of working and travelling in space. The summary: In a world in which humanity has colonised most of the solar system, tensions build between Earth, Mars and the outer planets, and then alien tech comes into the picture.
Stories of Your Life was adapted to the big screen as the movie Arrival, featuring a fearless Amy Adams as Dr Louise Banks, a linguist charged with finding a way to communicate with Earth’s new alien arrivals. But this isn’t your everyday alien encounter story. It incorporates sophisticated concepts of physics, language and time, and wrestles with the idea of free will.