17 Best Colonization Science Fiction Books

Starting in the fifties, there were tons of books about the colonization of space. Humans went everywhere, and no amount of alien weirdness stopped us.

There are a few recent colonization stories, but the majority of modern science fiction focuses on dystopian societies and post-apocalyptic wastelands.

Maybe this is a coincidence, or maybe as a species, we’re a lot less optimistic than we used to be.

by J. Brian Clarke – 2006

After nearly fifty years in suspended animation, a crew of human space explorers returns to Earth, only to discover a medical side effect that prevents them remaining on their home planet. Now, in a desperate bid for survival, they must return to space and attempt to colonize an alien world under an alien sun.

“Clarke… is a very amiable writer, with a nice ear for conversational speech, which makes his characters, whom we don’t really know, seem quite real.”
— New York Review of Science Fiction

The Knife of Never Letting Go
by Patrick Ness – 2008

Todd Hewitt is the only boy in a town of men. Ever since the settlers were infected with the Noise germ, Todd can hear everything the men think, and they hear everything he thinks. Todd is just a month away from becoming a man, but in the midst of the cacophony, he knows that the town is hiding something from him—something so awful Todd is forced to flee with only his dog, whose simple, loyal voice he hears, too. With hostile men from the town in pursuit, the two stumble upon a strange and eerily silent creature: a girl. Who is she? Why wasn’t she killed by the germ like all the females? Propelled by Todd’s gritty narration, readers are in for a white-knuckle journey in which a boy on the cusp of manhood must unlearn everything he knows in order to figure out who he truly is.

“Narrated with crack dramatic and comic timing… The cliffhanger ending is as effective as a shot to the gut.”
— Booklist (starred review)

Dark Eden
by Chris Beckett – 2012

On the alien, sunless planet called Eden, the 532 members of the Family take shelter beneath the light and warmth of the Forest’s lantern trees. Beyond the Forest lie the mountains of the Snowy Dark and a cold so bitter and a night so profound that no man has ever crossed it.

The Oldest among the Family recount legends of a world where light came from the sky, where men and women made boats that could cross the stars. These ships brought us here, the Oldest say—and the Family must only wait for the travelers to return.

But young John Redlantern will break the laws of Eden, shatter the Family and change history. He will abandon the old ways, venture into the Dark…and discover the truth about their world.

“[A] suspenseful, page-turning plot… [T]he book is a superb entertainment, a happy combination of speculative and literary fiction. And it is not to be missed.”
— Booklist (starred review)

Desolation Road
by Ian McDonald – 1988

It all began thirty years ago on Mars, with a greenperson. But by the time it all finished, the town of Desolation Road had experienced every conceivable abnormality from Adam Black’s Wonderful Travelling Chautauqua and Educational ’Stravaganza (complete with its very own captive angel) to the Astounding Tatterdemalion Air Bazaar. Its inhabitants ranged from Dr. Alimantando, the town’s founder and resident genius, to the Babooshka, a barren grandmother who just wants her own child—grown in a fruit jar; from Rajendra Das, mechanical hobo who has a mystical way with machines to the Gallacelli brothers, identical triplets who fell in love with—and married—the same woman.

“Flavoured with a voice that blends the delightful prose of Jack Vance with the idiosyncratic stylings of Cordwainer Smith”
— SFSite

by Nancy Kress – 2003

A human colony settles on a distant planet, a colony formed by Jake Holman, a man trying to escape a dark past. But as this diverse group of thousands comes to terms with their new lives on a new world, they make a startling discovery: primitive humanoid aliens. There are only a few isolated villages, and the evidence seems to indicate they aren’t native to the planet—despite the aliens living in thatched huts and using primitive tools.

“Life-sized characters with personal and cosmic preoccupations, tense and knotty plotting, and Kress’s usual abundance of ideas: gripping, challenging work, a reassuring return to top form.”
— Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Tunnel in the Sky
by Robert A. Heinlein – 1955

When Rod Walker decides to take the final test for Deacon Matson’s interplanetary survival course, he knows he will be facing life-or-death situations on an unsettled planet. What he doesn’t expect is that something will go wrong with the “Tunnel in the Sky” and he and his fellow students will not be able to return to Terra.

Stranded on a hostile planet, Rod and his friends are faced with the challenge of carving a civilization out of the wilderness. They must deal with hunger, deprivation, and strange beasts. But the bigger question is, can they survive each other?

This science fiction classic pits a savage world against the most untamable beast of all: the human animal. Chock full of high adventure, futuristic speculation, witty repartee, and profound philosophy, Tunnel in the Sky represents one of the greatest SF writers of all time at his peak.

“[F]ascinating… ingenious… this is a book in the grand tradition of high literature!”
— The New York Times

The Empress of Mars
by Kage Baker – 2003

In this tale of nonconformist survival, Mary Griffith, a widow with three daughters, runs the only place to buy a beer on the Tharsis Bulge on Mars. She and her eccentric customers—terraformers, con men, and cowboys—battle the British Arean Company, whose badly-run bureaucracy dominates the whole planet.

The Empress of Mars was nominated for the 2004 Hugo Award for Best Novella as well as the 2004 Nebula Award for Best Novella.

“Baker’s tale of individualists battling enforced conformity is a worthy evolution of her novella and will especially appeal to longtime science fiction fans.”
— Publishers Weekly

Remnant Population
by Elizabeth Moon – 1996

The people of Colony 3245.12, are forced from their home, placed in cryo-sleep, and sent to a planet not of their choosing.

But not Ofelia, who refuses to go with the rest of the colonists and ends up in blissful solitude on a planet populated only by her.

With everything she needs to sustain her, and her independent spirit to buoy her, Ofelia starts life over on her own terms: free of the demands, the judgments, and the petty tyrannies of others. But when a reconnaissance ship arrives at her idyllic domain, and its crew is mysteriously slaughtered, Ofelia realizes she is not the sole inhabitant of her paradise after all. And, when the inevitable time of first contact finally arrives, she will find her life changed yet again—in ways she could never have imagined…

“Ofelia—tough, kind, wise and unwise, fond of food, tired of foolish people—is one of the most probable heroines science fiction has ever known.”
— Ursula K. Le Guin

Forty Thousand In Gehenna
by C. J. Cherryh – 1983

A group of 42,363 Union humans and aliens called azi are dispatched to set up a base on a very rare habitable planet named Gehenna II. Unknown to the settlers, their mission is designed to fail; they are deliberately abandoned in order to create long-term problems for the rival Alliance.

Author Cherryh wrote a number of books in the same universe, called either Alliance-Union or Alliance Space.

“Once again, Cherryh proves herself a consistently thoughtful and entertaining writer.”
— Publishers Weekly

Freedom's Landing
by Anne McCaffrey – 1995

Kristin Bjornsen lived a normal life, right up until the day the spaceships floated into view above Denver. As human slaves were herded into the maw of a massive vessel, Kristin realized her normal life was over and her fight for freedom was just beginning…

The alien Catteni value strength and intelligence in their slaves—and Kristin has managed to survive her enslavement while hundreds of other humans have not. But her trial has just begun, for now she finds herself part of a massive experiment. The aliens have discovered a new world, and they have a simple way of finding out if it’s habitable: drop hundreds of slaves on the surface and see what happens.

If they survive, colonization can begin. If not, there are always more slaves.

The Last Colony
by John Scalzi – 2007

Retired from his fighting days, John Perry is now village ombudsman for a human colony on distant Huckleberry. With his wife, former Special Forces warrior Jane Sagan, he farms several acres, adjudicates local disputes, and enjoys watching his adopted daughter grow up.

That is, until his and Jane’s past reaches out to bring them back into the game―into the thick of interstellar politics, betrayal, and war.

The Last Colony is the third book in the Old Man’s War series, so you might want to check out the first two books, Old Man’s War and The Ghost Brigades.

“Scalzi’s captivating blend of off-world adventure and political intrigue remains consistently engaging.”
― Booklist

The Legacy of Heorot
by Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Steven Barnes – 1987

Light years from Earth, on Tau Ceti Four, two hundred colonists, unexpectedly damaged from the effects of suspended animation, have created a thriving community. Unfortunately, they upset a delicate ecological balance and native creatures savagely attack. It will take every bit of intelligence, courage, and military-style discipline to survive.

by Allen Steele – 2002

The crime of the century begins without a hitch. On July 5th, 2070, as it’s about to be launched, the starship Alabama is hijacked—by her captain and crew. In defiance of the repressive government of The United Republic of Earth, they replace her handpicked passengers with political dissidents and their families. These become Earth’s first pioneers in the exploration of space.

After almost two-and-a-half centuries in cold sleep, they will awaken above their destination: a habitable world named Coyote. A planet that will test their strength, their beliefs, and their very humanity…

“Full of pleasant surprises.”
— The New York Times Book Review

Last and First Men
by Olaf Stapledon – 1930

First published nearly 90 years ago, this masterpiece is regarded as one of the most influential science fiction novels of the 20th century. Olaf Stapledon creates a history of the evolution of humankind over the next two billion years, and actually got some of it right.

“No book before or since has ever had such an impact upon my imagination.”
— Arthur C. Clarke

The Word for World is Forest
by Ursula K Le Guin – 1972

The Word for World Is Forest is the Humans As Invader flavor of alien invasion stories. Earthlings land on an Eden-like forest planet and immediately begin chopping down what they can and enslaving everything else.

The narrative can be a little heavy-handed, but it’s more about the forced loss of innocence than simply beating the drum for conservation.

Red Mars
by Kim Stanley Robinson – 1992

Red Mars is a great hard-SF read, with enough astrophysics to satisfy a large conference room at a ComicCon. You can tell author Robinson did a huge amount of research, and it pays off.

Red Mars is followed by Green Mars and Blue Mars, but the first is the best of the three.

“[A]n action-packed and thoughtful tale of the exploration and settlement of Mars—driven by both personal and ideological conflicts—in the early 21st century.”
— Publishers Weekly

The Martian Chronicles
by Ray Bradbury – 1950

When I think back to being blown away by books as a kid, The Martian Chronicles always comes to mind.

Bradbury imagines a place of hope, dreams, and metaphor—of crystal pillars and fossil seas—where a fine dust settles on the great empty cities of a vanished, devastated civilization. Earthmen conquer Mars and then are conquered by it, lulled by dangerous lies of comfort and familiarity, and enchanted by the lingering glamour of an ancient, mysterious native race.

In this classic work of fiction, Bradbury exposes our ambitions, weaknesses, and ignorance in a strange and breathtaking world where man does not belong.

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