Humanity has accomplished a great many things since we started mastering technologies like writing and agriculture. But we still remain confined to this one tiny planet, without even a permanent presence on our own moon, and the dream of interplanetary colonization remains just that. So it’s a good thing we have a lot of great books in which humans go to live on other worlds.
When I was working on my novel, The City in the Middle of the Night, I was inspired by a bunch of great books featuring humans colonizing other planets. Here are five recent colonization books that are especially fantastic.
The Book of Strange New Things by Michel Faber
A missionary named Peter goes to an alien planet where humans have just begun to colonize, leaving behind an Earth that is going through huge, potentially civilization-ending problems. And what Peter finds on the planet Oasis is most unexpected: the indigenous life forms are already converted to Christianity, and in fact are obsessed with the Bible. But it’s not clear if their understanding of religion is the same as ours. Faber does a great job depicting the weirdness of living on another planet, and the homesickness of someone who’s just come from Earth. This book was made into a TV pilot that was available on Amazon.com, but never became a series.
Planetfall by Emma Newman
This book blew my mind when I read it back in 2015. Newman follows a group of colonists who are living on another planet at the base of a mysterious living structure called God’s City. She creates a wonderfully vivid portrayal of living on another planet, and all of the politics and complications that ensue. Newman’s colonists use an advanced 3D printer to create everything they need, and her protagonist Ren is in charge of operating it. But Ren has a hoarding problem, and her issues run much deeper than we first suspect—leading to an amazing psychological thriller.
The Stars Change by Mary Anne Mohanraj
Mohanraj’s novel-in-stories follows a group of people living on Pyroxina Major, a “university planet” settled by South Asians, as a war is breaking out between “pure” humans on the one side and modified humans and aliens on the other. In a series of vignettes focused on sexual encounters, Mohanraj shows how people’s complex relationships and pasts are affected by this conflict. We’re also immersed in the day-to-day strangeness of living on another world, facing questions about diversity and inclusion that are even more fractious than ones faced on Earth.
Windswept by Adam Rakunas
Like Planetfall, this is the first book of a series, but it can easily be read on its own. And like a lot of the other books on this list, Windswept is all about complicated politics on an extrasolar colony world. Padma Mehta is a labor organizer who needs to recruit enough people to join her Union in order to buy her own freedom, but she keeps running into snags. And then she discovers a conspiracy that could threaten the livelihood of everyone on her planet. Rakunas includes tons of great touches that illuminate the complex, noir-ish politics of his world, which is entirely devoted to growing sugarcane for industrial uses…and for rum.
The Expanse Series by James S.A. Corey
Even before it became a beloved TV show, this series set in a future where humans are living all over the solar system had become iconic for its portrayal of the complex webs of exploitation and prejudice that govern the lives of “Inners” and “Belters.” Corey (a pseudonym for Daniel Abraham and Ty Franck) comes up with a vision of human colonization that’s both plausibly uncomfortable and politically volatile—the way real-life settlement of our solar system, and beyond, would almost certainly be.
Originally published in February 2019.
Charlie Jane Anders’ latest novel is The City in the Middle of the Night. She’s also the author of All the Birds in the Sky, which won the Nebula, Crawford and Locus awards, and Choir Boy, which won a Lambda Literary Award. Plus a novella called Rock Manning Goes For Broke and a short story collection called Six Months, Three Days, Five Others. Her short fiction has appeared in Tor.com, Boston Review, Tin House, Conjunctions, The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, Wired magazine, Slate, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Lightspeed,ZYZZYVA, Catamaran Literary Review, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and tons of anthologies. Her story “Six Months, Three Days” won a Hugo Award, and her story “Don’t Press Charges And I Won’t Sue” won a Theodore Sturgeon Award. Charlie Jane also organizes the monthly Writers With Drinks reading series, and co-hosts the podcast Our Opinions Are Correct with Annalee Newitz.