Novels That Blast Off the Shelf

The childhood home of Buzz Aldrin, the second astronaut to walk on the moon, a few blocks from my apartment in Montclair, New Jersey. (Photo by me.)

With today the 53rd anniversary of Apollo 11 returning to Earth after its famous moon mission, I thought of novels that include space travel. Most of those books are of course in the science-fiction category — a genre I haven’t read that widely in even as I was a big fan of the first four Star Trek series during a former time when I watched TV. But I guess I’ve enjoyed enough novels that include space travel to write a short blog post about them. 🙂

The most recent one I’ve read is Andy Weir’s The Martian, about a human stranded on Mars who uses his ingenuity to try to survive. The novel is…ingenious, and often a page-turner.

I also liked H.G. Wells’ The First Men in the Moon (yes, “in” not “on”) — which is rather underrated in the Wells sci-fi canon but quite interesting. How the novel’s characters get to the moon, and what they find there, is memorable.

Arthur C. Clarke’s iconic novel 2001: A Space Odyssey is not as mind-blowing as the movie version, but it’s still a great read. HAL the computer!

Ray Bradbury’s short-stories-as-novel The Martian Chronicles is an evocative work that launched the author into the realm of literary renown.

Isaac Asimov’s Foundation Trilogy is one of the impressive career highlights from an author who wrote, co-wrote, and edited more than 500 books.

A photo I took of Isaac Asimov in 1986, at a press event announcing he would start a syndicated newspaper column.

Douglas Adams’ The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy is very funny at times but overall I can take it or leave it.

Robert A. Heinlein’s Starship Troopers is gripping in spots but too militaristic for my tastes. It did inspire the title of a great song by the progressive-rock band Yes:

Space-travel novels can of course fire the imagination and take readers where they’ve never gone before. And given that few humans have traveled in space and none have visited other planets, books in this genre allow authors a certain latitude in making things up. 🙂 (Hopefully informed by some scientific knowledge and research. 🙂 )

Any space-travel novels you’d like to mention?

The plaque in front of Buzz Aldrin’s childhood home. (Photo by me.)

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the 2003-started/award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com every Thursday. The latest piece — which includes an arts theme — is here.

100 thoughts on “Novels That Blast Off the Shelf

  1. Dave,
    I’ve been thinking about this.
    I know I’ve read a couple of outer space travel books… but sci-fi is an odd one for me.

    Okay not outer space, but sci-fi, The Time Machine – by H.G. Wells is one I’ve read.
    To that point, I’ve read 20,000 Leagues under the sea, by Jules Verne. Considering it was published in 1872, I think it has some merit.
    I really like your photos in this post. Good work Bat Dave!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Resa! 🙂

      There are so many novels to possibly read that many of us don’t read a lot in some genres we might not be as interested in. 🙂

      I enjoyed the Jules Verne and H.G. Wells works I’ve read; Verne especially was amazingly prescient about certain future developments.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. A confession: I have not read Manly Wade Wellman’s science fiction, as I knew him under another of his many writerly hats: local North Carolina historian and proselytizer of the Lost Cause. He wrote “Giant in Gray”, a biography of his ancestor Confederate general and governor of South Carolina Wade Hampton, an account of John Brown’s attack on the arsenal at Harper’s Ferry, “The Confederate Songbook” with his wife Frances and “Rebel Boast”, about five Rebel brothers, two of whom survived to surrender at Appomattox.

    And I knew, as a small boy, that his interests and creations ranged beyond the Civil War, as my family visited his shortly after he had received the Edgar Award for mystery writing– I can still remember the ceramic Poe statuette, in cream and black. He also wrote books for boys by the time I knew him, and once I learned to read, his were among the first books of any real length I attempted. I especially enjoyed his tale of two Brits in a small boat who were blown by storm far from their islands, all the way to the new World, where they taught the peaceful Maya the ways of war, so that they might resist the predations and domination of the bloody Aztecs– a sort of pre-Columbian “Seven Samurai” of a plot, though I don’t think Wellman could have seen the film.

    from wikipedia: “In 1946 Wellman won the Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine Award overWilliam Faulkner for his Native American detective tale “A Star For A Warrior.”(!)

    But Wellman’s posterity today rests on his many dozens of short stories and novels of fantasy and science fiction, which are in a way a kind of testament to the opportunities for fiction writers in the first half of the 20th century– the most prolific of publishers were the ‘pulps’ that put out science fiction, crime stories and adventure tales. And Wellman, a most prolific writer, supplied all who would pay him with material.

    A partial list of his fantastic fiction novels: The “Invading Asteroid”, “The Beyonders”, “Twice In Time”, “The Dark Destroyers”, “Sojarr of Titan”,”Devil’s Planet”, “The Solar Invasion”. His short stories appeared in “Weird Tales”, “Astounding Stories”, “Thrilling Tales”, “Wonder Stories”, “Astounding Stories”, “The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction” and “Thrilling Wonder Stories”, and, no doubt, many other such publications.

    65 years later, I still remember evenings spent in the Wellman home, and around back by a fire, as he told Civil War stories and tales of the doings of Devil Anse Hatfield. He was a great story spinner in conversation, and a most charming personality who made all his guests feel welcome, even a little rebel, such as I was way back when, before reconstruction.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, jhNY! A really interesting look at Manly Wade Wellman, partly from a personal perspective. You can spin quite a tale, too — in this case of the work and life of a notable writer you knew.

      Like

  3. Journey into Space. BBC Charles Chilton. – late 1980′;s, but originally 1950’s. Radio & novels.
    Primary school classmate ‘s family had no TV – I was
    introduced second hand, as she related the latest thrilling episode, including cliffhanger, and begged to hear the broadcasts.

    Liked by 2 people

      • We got a teevee in 1958, but it failed us after a year, and we didn’t get another till 1964, at my mother’s insistence, so that she might watch the party conventions for the presidential elections later in the year. We were never without ever after.

        I did chafe against the lack as a boy, but that left evenings free for books, which I doubt I would have read in the numbers I did, had I had teevee to entertain.

        I also heard various plots second-hand from friends, but the most memorable recounting came from pals who had seen the movie “Blazing Saddles” before I did. Their version was so hilarious, the movie itself proved a let-down.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Reading books rather than watching TV during those years sounds good to me, jhNY, though I can understand feeling chafed. I waited until I was an adult to (voluntarily) have that no-TV situation.

          “Blazing Saddles” was hilarious in itself, though I can see how some kids could embellish it. 🙂

          Like

          • In fairness to my pals, they were in their twenties, as was I, when they recounted scenes from that movie– a rare case of telling being more effective than showing. But if you knew those two, it could not surprise, as they were expertly funny.

            And yep, in retrospect, I am very happy to have been spared teevee as a boy. I’ve more than made up for it since, though I do tend to restrict my topics of viewing to the Yankees, pre-color movies, silents, film noir, Perry Mason, BBC detective series, anything about astrophysics and most things about the natural world, though at this late date I tend to turn away from the lecture portion wherein Attenborough or his moral equivalent tells the viewer how little time we have left to save anything– I know, I know, I know.

            In fact, I know we’re likely to have none.

            Liked by 1 person

  4. Love, love, love Isaac Asimov. Thank you for writing about him. “Nothing has to be true, but everything has to sound true.” Salvor Hardin. It think this describes today’s political culture. Your posts are great.

    Liked by 2 people

  5. I do love a good space movie, but sci-fi books are not something I really got into, with the exception of something like ‘Hitchhiker’s Guide’ – which I loved (but it’s practically a crime to say you didn’t like it over here in old Blighty). Didn’t Margaret Atwood delve into spacey type stuff in one of her books….? Just looked it up and the one I’m thinking of is ‘The Blind Assassin’. I found it quite hard work if truth be told but perhaps now I’d have a better understanding of these things!

    Liked by 2 people

  6. Hi Dave, I must admit that sci-fi is not a favourite genre of mine and I’ve only read Wyndham, Wells, and Verne. Oh, and Teagan’s latest three-things fantasy which includes space travel. It actually creeps into a number of Teagan’s brilliant serials. Other than these, I’ve only embarked on space travel when reading with my son, Michael. He love Astrosaurs which was all about dinosaurs in space and was actually a marvelous series for young boys. My favourite TV show was Battle Star Galactica. I just loved that show as a kid and I used to play it with my friends at school.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you, Robbie! Sounds like you’ve read some sci-fi, even if not a huge amount.

      Dinosaurs in space? I hadn’t heard of “Astrosaurs.” Brilliant concept aimed at a younger audience!

      And yes, much memorable space-travel TV fare — even going back to something like “Lost in Space.” 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • HI Dave, yes, dinosaurs in space. Michael loved those stories and they got him into reading. I enjoyed reading them with him. I used to do tandem reading with him then because of his learning barrier. He read half a page and I read one and a half pages. This prevented frustration and kept the story going while giving him reading practice.

        Liked by 2 people

        • Wonderful, Robbie, that “Astrosaurs” was a gateway into reading for your son! One can’t ask more of youth-targeted book or series than that. 🙂 Sounds like a great approach you took with him to keep the reading going!

          Liked by 1 person

  7. I remember July 20, 1969 as if it were yesterday. I was sitting next to my grandfather who said to me, “When I was young, we traveled with horse and buggy. Then the cars and trucks came. Now I have seen a man walk on the moon. But I digress…

    Every one knows about Tarzan by Edgar Rice Burroughs, but John Carter of Mars is less well-known. I remember reading the John Carter of Mars series when I was in my teens. The titles were unique, to say the least: A Princess of Mars; The Gods of Mars; The Warlord of Mars; Thuvia, Maid of Mars; The Chessmen of Mars – you get the idea. The stories date back to 1911. John Carter is a Virginian soldiers who is transported to Barsoom, a realm of mythological proportions located on Mars. Of course, he becomes a warrior (he is very strong which has something to do with the gravity situation) battling beasts, alien armies and malevolent foes. There was a recent film (which I didn’t see) in 2012 to mark the 100th anniversary of the character’s first appearance.

    Of course, I must add a quote:

    “In one respect at least the Martians are a happy people, they have no lawyers.”
    Edgar Rice Burroughs, A Princess of Mars (Barsoom, #1)

    Liked by 7 people

    • Thank you, Rebecca! Yes, the 1969 moon landing was a memorable day and TV-watching experience. Great recollection of being with your grandfather and what he said! Technology did move incredibly fast in the decades before 1969, and has moved even faster since.

      Excellent mention and description of the “Tarzan” writer’s “John Carter of Mars” series, which I haven’t read any of but have heard a lot about. That Edgar Rice Burroughs quote — ha ha! 😂

      Liked by 1 person

      • I read a Tarzan or two, and at least one John Carter, when I was about thirteen. Around twenty years ago, I happened on a pile of reissues of Burroughs books that came out in the 1970’s– picked them up for maybe a quarter apiece, eager to reacquaint myself with an old friend– but upon a few attempts at a couple of titles, I came away unimpressed– too pulpy and formulaic and wooden. Guess thirteen was a good time to have read Burroughs– though another Burroughs, William, not Edgar R., had claimed my fascinated attention by the time I was ready for college.

        Liked by 3 people

  8. “The Wreck of The River Of Stars” by Michael Flynn is an odd one. The author’s favorite (and the weakest seller) of all his books (ain’t it always?), It has an interesting conceit: What happens when one of each of the Myers-Briggs personality types is thrown together, with only themselves and limited resources to rely on. An old, obsolete and ramshackle ship is damaged in space on the way to Jupiter, with a recently-dead captain and dysfunctional crew that doesn’t like each other much. Competing efforts to fix the problem only make things irreparably worse.
    The ship’s level of tech is the spacegoing equivalent of the transition from sail power to steam on Earth (and that split is one of the sources of friction among the crew).
    At the end, you’re left to wonder whether, in lit’ry terms, you have a reliable or unreliable narrator — or who (or what) the narrator even is.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you, Don! That book sounds fascinating, and a shame it wasn’t a bigger seller. Maybe TOO original. 🙂 😦 I really enjoyed your vivid summary of it, and the narrator confusion is intriguing!

      Liked by 2 people

  9. I enjoy reading science fiction and, in my younger days, I read several of Isaac Asimov’s novels. I’ve read most of the books you’ve mentioned. The only book that comes to mind that I’ve read recently that was scientifically believable and an engaging read is The Martian Patriarch by Robert A. Vella, an American indie author who I met on WordPress.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Rosaliene, for those mentions! Isaac Asimov is certainly a compelling writer (I’ve read a couple of his other novels and a bunch of his short stories) and I’m glad you cited an indie author. I’m sure there’s a lot of self-published science fiction, and I think that was how Andy Weir’s “The Martian” originally came out.

      Liked by 3 people

  10. Thanks for another interesting post, Dave! I’m not a sci-fi aficionado, but loved Dan Simmons’ “Hyperion”. I’ve only read the first book of the series, which are called “cantos”. but now I think I’ll read it again and move to the sequels. It’s quite long, but worth the time. Excellent audio versions are available on Audible (which is how I experienced it), and although you’re not able to appreciate the format that way, I loved it all the same. The compelling story is told from the perspective of multiple narrators – pilgrims – a la the Canterbury Tales, in a galaxy of imagined creatures and planets. Simmons is a master of changing the reader’s perspective and emotions as the story progresses. I highly recommend the read!

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you, Donna! “Hyperion” sounds like an interesting and ambitious work. You described it very well and intriguingly, and I’ll see if my local library has it. Yours and others’ comments will have me reading more sci-fi than I usually do in upcoming months. 🙂

      Liked by 3 people

  11. (Posted as a response but I meant it to be a comment on its own, so here it is again):
    There’s always “Rocket Ship Galileo” by Heinlein. One of his “juveniles,” which is more mature (in that it stresses competence and responsibility) than most of what’s pitched at adults these days.

    Liked by 4 people

  12. My experience in reading space travel books is not vast as the destination, nor as empty– but close. A Weekly Reader book involving anti-gravity paint and Danny Dunn in an inadvertent adventure skyward, and Cyrano de Bergerac’s tale– “A Voyage T the Moon”– of having been compelled to the moon by means of several containers of morning dew, oh, and the Baron Munchausen’s two trips to the silvery orb, the second by means of great uplifting storm, and I’m all out of strictly literary examples.

    But I can think, easily enough, of 2 early motion picture moments of the moon, beginning more or less at the beginning, with Melies’ iconic man in the moon in 1902’s “A Trip to the Moon”, the whole thing his head really, with that close-up of the rocket sticking him square in the eye. The image is famous enough nowadays, as TCM features a variety of wine with the image for a label. The preparation for the voyage, the worldwide excitement generated, and the adventures of the explorers are not so often seen, but are, in the best copies, vigorously hand-tinted, and often, and intentionally, funny.

    Then there’s Fritz Lang’s “Woman on the Moon”, a 1929 silent picture, which, despite its intriguing title, bogs itself down in odd ways, involving ironically, earthly concerns and obsessions (gold and romance) more than the strange new world where the rocket has landed. But there, in the midst of outdated costumes and acting styles and title cards is a bit of a forward-looking anachronism: the rocket itself, which anticipates the V-2, later in actual employment over Great Britain, and at a cost of around 50,000 lives, by a decade and a half!

    The similarity between Lang’s rocket and the V-2 is no accident: Lang consulted a top German rocket scientist to design his fictional one. Not coincidentally, the first V-2 launched during World War Two had the logo from “Woman on the Moon’ painted on its base, so popular was Lang’s old movie with Wernher von Braun’s team at Peenemunde. According to wikipedia, the movie was banned by the Nazis from 1933-45 because of the fictional rockets similarity to the actual, and top secret, V-2.

    Just recalled another scene in a book involving an astronaut, though the scene, as conceived by Hunter S. Thompson in “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, Part Two”, is apocryphal, if not all together hallucination dressed as reality: An astronaut– I forget which one– is dining out, and is approached by a young boy who asks for his autograph. Upon receiving it,the boy tears the autograph into pieces and tells the astronaut: “Not everybody loves you, man.”
    And you thought outer space was cold!

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thank you, jhNY! I read that Danny Dunn outer-space book! 🙂 And you offered some other very interesting examples I haven’t gotten to.

      That “A Trip to the Moon” movie image you mention is definitely iconic! And your “Woman on the Moon” paragraphs were absolutely fascinating.

      Yikes! Hunter S. Thompson certainly could startle the reader…

      Liked by 2 people

  13. Oh fun! I enjoyed Philip K. Dick’s films and read his VALIS trilogy. But my favorite by far is C.S. Lewis’ Space Trilogy. Heavy on philosophical, mythological & religious themes, with his central character “Ransom” partially based on his buddy J.R.R. Tolkien.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Mary Jo!

      I’ve read only one Philip K. Dick novel (“Dr. Bloodmoney”), but it was more apocalyptic than space-oriented.

      That C.S. Lewis trilogy is definitely on my list (it was also recommended by another commenter a few weeks ago). I thought your one-sentence thumbnail of it was excellent!

      Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, nananoyz! Nice that you’re a sci-fi fan!

      I will give the Lady Astronaut series a try if my local library has it. 🙂 One issue I’ve had with sci-fi over the years is that the vast majority of authors in that genre are male. With some notable exceptions, of course; I love the work of Octavia E. Butler, among others.

      Liked by 1 person

  14. Space by James Michener is partly fact, but mostly fiction. It is a fascinating read done in typical “James Michener” style. Of course, the line that caught my attention was “And so the future of the space program was entrusted to a bunch of cotton pickers from Alabama”. That struck a nerve since I was one of those cotton pickers.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you, lulabelle! “…typical James Michener style” is a great style. 🙂 I’ve certainly enjoyed the three Michener novels I’ve read, while realizing I’ve barely scratched the surface of his work. Loved your Alabama reference! (It could not have been an easy job picking cotton.)

      Liked by 1 person

      • One of the most fantastic memories out of my vanished youth involves a cotton plant. We lived, when I was four, in an upstairs apartment heated by a potbelly stove that burned coal. One day my father handed me the bucket and what I remember we called the coal scuttle, and told me to fetch coal from under the stairs outside. I had never been tasked with this chore previously, and I was a bit unsure of how I might manage it. When I opened the shed door, a sight of wonder spread its branches out before me: a cotton plant, whole, the cotton itself a glowing bright white, plucked from a field by one of my father’s students, who thought I might like to see it. I certainly did– the sudden light falling on something so unexpected and beautiful. It must have been in my father’s artistic nature to have thought to stick the thing upright in a glittering pile of blackest coal– the contrast was arresting, magic, and I’ve never forgotten.

        The plant being mine, I eventually set about trying to pluck a cotton ball off, and it was prickly work, as the were struck tight, but worse, once I had taken a ball from its place, was trying to extract the cotton seed from the fibrous surroundings. I couldn’t manage it.

        That’s what made the cotton gin such a revolutionary device– it made the business of extracting the seed possible with far fewer laborers, with the result that many owners of older plantations sold off the slaves they no longer needed. And it was those extra enslaved hands who were ‘sold down the river’ to newer, unestablished farms, where the work of land-clearing broke the bodies of many– in the last decades before the Civil War.

        And it was the prospect of being sold to work in some such raw place that compelled Jim in “Huckleberry Finn” to attempt freedom. Many of the most flamboyant of mansions along the Mississippi were built during that expansive period, only to be abandoned or ruined but a few years after.

        Liked by 4 people

        • That’s compelling and sobering history, jhNY — personal, universal, and literary. Unfortunate that certain inventions can be useful for the owner class while devastating for workers (whether slaves or salaried). So much comes down to what’s good for the owner class. 😦

          Liked by 1 person

          • I’d like to think that Eli Whitney would have categorized the sale of slaves ‘down the river’ as a most unintended consequence of his invention.

            Conversely, I am reminded of an NAACP notice in the back of one of its periodicals in the late ’40’s or early ’50s, decrying the purchase of tractors by southern landowners, because each tractor replaced ten men (nearly always Black) and their teams of mules.

            Progress is complicated.

            Liked by 2 people

  15. We thought we’d catch up again on the Hitchhiker films… we caught the radio series when it was first aired. The films are terrible. The radio series – memory’s rose-coloured filter? – was great. The English humour palls.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you, Michael! The “Hitchhiker” franchise was definitely multimedia!

      When it comes to English humor, my favorite might be the sketches and films of Monty Python. They’ve aged very well after several decades.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I did not like the later cinematic version, but such as I can recall the made for teevee British production in the 1980’s (I think), I found it clever and generally enjoyable. It was, as is also the case with old Dr. Who episodes, fun to see what the prop department could do with just a little money and a lot of imagination.

        Liked by 2 people

  16. Now you’re asking!!!! All I can think of here is when Captain W W Johns didn’t have Biggles doing everything from defenning the desert to picking his nose in all probability, he wrote a very good science fiction set of books aimed at the teenage market about this group of people who had all kinds of adventures in space. But I know there must be tons of books out there that way.

    Liked by 5 people

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