Stepping into Space

I’ve created a second list of recommended books at, a book discovery site where authors recommend favorite books based on a particular topic. Space is a topic near and dear to my heart. We’ve put many satellites in orbit. Humans work in orbit. We’ve been to the moon for just a few short years at the end of the 1960s and beginning of the 1970s and we’ve sent robotic probes to planets in the solar system. So, I often find myself asking, what is the next big step into space and these books address different aspects of that question.

You can find the list at:

As a kid, I watched the later moon landings, the Skylab missions, and Apollo-Soyuz even as I discovered shows like Star Trek on television. Voyager flew by Jupiter and Saturn as the Star Wars movies were being released. In my mind, space exploration and science fiction go hand-in-hand. That said, as I’ve progressed in my career as both a scientist and a science fiction writer, it’s become clear that science fiction often makes exploring space look easy. It looks like visiting Mars is as easy as walking next door. In fact, space is very dangerous and even the distances to our closest neighbor planets are vast. We don’t even have technology that would guarantee a robot probe’s safe arrival at the nearest star, much less a human-occupied spacecraft. We have a lot of ideas and people have been working on those ideas, but that’s very different than just being able to pack your bags and go.

Though four of these books delve into the technical challenges of space travel, the set as a whole is less about those challenges and more about why humans are drawn outward toward the stars and what they might learn about themselves there. “It’s not about the destination, it’s about the journey,” is a familiar saying and, in a sense, all of these books address that. I know people who express concerns about exploring space before we fix the problems of our home planet. I sympathize with that because, so far, Earth is the only planet we know we can live on. However, I’ve also believed we as a species can fix the problems we face on Earth while also striving toward the stars. Doing one doesn’t preclude the other.

I also know people who are concerned about humans destroying other worlds and civilizations with our colonial ambitions and corporate greed. Again, this is a legitimate concern and the books on my list don’t tend to shy away from those issues. They also acknowledge there’s a lot of space to traverse and many technical challenges to overcome before we get to that point. Hopefully, as we make those steps, we can learn to do better. It’s also distinctly possible that if we meet another space-faring race, they’ll easily have the upper hand because they’ve been out there longer than us. Hopefully they’ll be wiser than us as well!

Do you have a favorite book about next steps in exploring space? Let me know in the comments. Meanwhile you can learn more about my book about humans taking a next big step into the solar system at:

6 comments on “Stepping into Space

  1. “I know people who express concerns about exploring space before we fix the problems of our home planet.”

    I can also understand that concern–but human history tells a very different story.

    Humans didn’t create carts and wagons and cars and boats and ships and planes and helicopters to stay where they already were. And they didn’t create telegraphs and radios and television and phones and computers and the Internet to talk, see, and hear the people at home.

    Since before recorded history, humans have explored further and further. And history shows that societies that resisted exploration typically stagnated. China is a prime example. Many centuries ago, China was one of the great exploring nations, using a magnetic compass they developed. But by the early 1500s, the nation had largely stopped exploration–and its technology stagnated.

    And if someone doubts the value of space exploration for life on Earth, just wait for the next hurricane warning–that wouldn’t be possible without satellites.

    • Thank you. Great points and the ways space exploration have benefited us on Earth are certainly legion. Taking one tool to fix a problem is rarely a recipe for success. Exploring space just adds tools to our kit.

  2. The maps that read “there’s dragons here” have faded all away
    The dark and unknown places, no longer hold their sway
    Nowhere new left to explore, but we need to anyway
    a new adventure for a brand new day
    –There’s always something new beyond the skyline
    –there’s always something new to see up and out that way

    I really liked Varley’s Red Thunder. I can’t decide if it is intended to be a Heinlein pastiche, or an homage, but it’s clear that John loved the Heinlein Juveniles.

    Other “Stepping into Space” novels. The Big Lifters by Dean Ing. Firestar by Michael Flynn. Very different novels, but both clearly show Jerry Pournelle’s “nickel and dime our way into space” influence. Which reminds me, less add “A Spaceship for the King” to the list.

    • Like you, I don’t know if Varley intended Red Thunder to be pastiche or homage, but I’m guessing homage since it seems to played straight with a lot of updated elements. Laura Givens pointed me to the book after she read The Solar Sea, which was written as an homage to Heinlein.

      Great choices in the other novels. Pournelle’s King David’s Spaceship was certainly a contender for the list. One thing it shares in common with the others in the list is that I treasure it enough to own a hardcover copy! I’ll have to look up Ing and Flynn’s novels. I haven’t read them yet, but sounds like I really should.

  3. Shepherd is a pretty fun book site.

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