Terraforming Mars is getting absolutely rave reviews from pretty much everyone right now. The combination of a science fiction theme (that might not seem so far-fetched after Elon Musk’s latest presentation), a wide variety of projects to complete, interesting resource generation, and really fun gameplay have made Jacob Fryxelius’s game an absolute smash hit.
(If you haven’t played it yet, pick up a copy from Amazon. You will not regret it.)
Regardless of whether you’ve played it or not, there’s a good chance you’re getting caught up in the Mars fever. So check out these ten awesome books about Mars, terraforming, and solar business to keep the fun going.
Red Mars (Kim Stanley Robinson)
In the pantheon of books about Mars, Kim Stanley Robinson’s trilogy of Red Mars, Green Mars, and Blue Mars is firmly ensconced near the top. The entire trilogy covers over a century of time during which the human race reaches, colonizes, terraforms, and turns Mars into its own.
Even though Red Mars was published almost 25 years ago, the scientific, political, and corporate issues present are still very applicable. And despite having somewhat advanced our ideas on terraforming, the methods laid out these books—regardless of how scientifically feasible they are—are highly believable.
These are the best Mars-related books out there, so if you only grab one book from this list, make it Red Mars (or just dive in and buy the whole trilogy). Start reading as soon as you can. You won’t regret it.
2312 (Kim Stanley Robinson)
Robinson is the king of terraform fiction, and 2312 expands the scope of the Mars trilogy by imagining a human race that has spread across the solar system to other planets, moons, and asteroids. Like his other works, there are elements of mystery, ecological warning, political and corporate intrigue, and just about everything else you could ask for from great science fiction.
2312 also includes some speculation on the future of sexuality, which is something you don’t see all that often in this type of sci-fi. The wide variety of sexual orientations, statuses, and terms is fascinating in its own right!
The Case for Mars (Robert Zubrin)
The first non-fiction book on this list is also probably the only one you need to read to convince you that the human race should be heading to Mars (if you weren’t convinced by Elon Musk, that is). Zubrin lays out the reasons why we need to go to the Red Planet, how we could get there, and what would make life sustainable.
Zubrin’s Mars Direct plan was developed through many years of research, and it certainly does seem like a viable one. An updated version of the book was re-released in 2011, but a great deal has changed even in the last five years, so this might feel a little dated.
If you’re feeling more ambitious, check out The Millennial Project: Colonizing the Galaxy in Eight Easy Steps by Marshall T. Savage. Why just aim for Mars when we can colonize the entire galaxy?
The Long Mars (Steven Baxter, Terry Pratchett)
Although this is the third book in a series, it presents an absolutely fascinating vision of what Mars would be like across innumerable universes. If you think that sounds like a mind trip, you’re not far off. The previous books in Baxter and Pratchett’s universe detail the discovery of these parallel universes and the popularization of the Stepper, a device that lets humans move between them.
While the first two books focus on Earth, The Long Mars takes readers to the Red Planet for a look into what might have been if things were just a little bit different in the universe. As you might expect from Baxter and Pratchett, you’ll get imaginative, wonder-inducing things that often defy expectations.
The Sands of Mars (Arthur C. Clarke)
Not one of Clarke’s most famous books, The Sands of Mars was actually his first published novel. If you want to know what people thought about colonizing Mars before we had actually achieved space flight, this is an interesting read, especially if you like the idea of terraforming.
The whole thing is quite dated (it was released in 1951, after all), but it’s been praised as a great piece of science fiction, and when it was written, it was definitely considered a realistic exploration of what a colony on Mars might be like.
Avalon (Jonathan Medici, David Ward)
In this free online graphic novel, humanity has taken some drastic steps to terraform the solar system when it becomes clear that going to another one just isn’t feasible. The orbits of Mercury and Venus are sped up, and the orbit of Mars is slowed, to move them to the proper distance away from the sun so they can support life. Venus has been successfully terraformed and claimed as humanity’s new home.
Medici’s portrayal of humans on Venus is a really cool one, and the amount of thought he put into this creative and sometimes frightening future is evident in the description of the terraforming process. It’s simple, but somehow very satisfying. David Ward’s art complements the story perfectly with minimalistic and colorful illustrations of alien planets and our system at large.
The story’s in the process of being written—if you like what Medici has created, donate and help him keep writing!
The Martian Chronicles (Ray Bradbury)
Bradbury’s Martian vision doesn’t include much terraforming, but it will get you thinking about what daily life would be like on Mars. And although we aren’t likely to encounter any native peoples on the Red Planet, Bradbury examines what our relations with them might be if we did.
This is a collection of short stories that are only loosely related, so if you prefer shorter reads, this is a good bet. This was the first Bradbury that I read, and it’s definitely a unique experience. I’m still not sure quite how I feel about it (except that The Earth Men, story #4, is super weird and affecting in a strangely similar way to Catch-22).
Isle of the Dead (Roger Zelazny)
Okay, this one is admittedly a stretch. But after reading about all the really difficult things that people are trying to do to terraform planets into habitable living spaces, Zelazny’s book about a man who becomes—basically—a terraforming god is an interesting change of pace.
That’s really just background information in this imaginative story of cosmic conflict in which two alien deities face off . . . but it’s fun to think about how you’d terraform Mars if all you had to do was imagine what you wanted!
Packing for Mars (Mary Roach)
If you’ve never read a Mary Roach book, you need to remedy the situation immediately, and Packing for Mars is a great book to do that with. If we’re going to terraform Mars, we’re going to need to get there first, which means we’ll be spending a lot of time in space. And that’s a bigger deal than you might realize
Roach’s insatiable curiosity, combined with her stellar sense of wit, make this book like all of her others—insightful, fascinating, and hilarious. Filled with great facts, interviews, and scientific exploration, it may convince you to sign up for a Mars colonization program . . . or to stay on earth.
The Martian (Andy Weir)
You had to know this was going to make the list. In fact, you’ve probably already read it (if you’ve only seen the movie, that doesn’t count). For receiving as much hype as it did, this book is surprisingly awesome. Weir’s scientific research is evident in the vast amount of detail presented, and the story of one astronaut’s survival alone on Mars is ridiculously gripping. You’ll stay up way too late reading this one.
There’s no terraforming, and not even colonization, but it’s amazing. Read it.
Your Favorite Mars Books
If you’re hooked on Terraforming Mars, these books will help you get your Martian fix even when you don’t have enough people or time to get a game going. And even if you’re not, it’s always good to learn more about the universe we live in (even if you’re learning about what people living decades ago thought Mars would be like). Grab a few of these books and get started—it’s a hell of a fun journey.
(And grab Terraforming Mars, too, so you can do a bit of your own colonization!)
If you have any other recommendations for good books about Mars, please share them! Leave them in the comments below or get in touch on Twitter.