Sci-fi tour of our solar system

by marissa on February 27, 2012

We spoke with science fiction writer Robert J. Sawyer in this week’s episode “Rife With Life,” as we toured promising locations for extraterrestrial life. Rob gave us a taste of sci-fi’s speculations about new ecosystems in our solar system.

Dive into these books that explore otherworldly locales for life:


NASA's Hubble Space Telescope snapped this picture of Mars on October 28 2005. Credit: NASA



War of the Worlds, 1898 by H.G. Wells

Driven from their cold and dying world, Martians invade earth. The Martians are bear-size, tentacled beings with  “intellects vast and cool and unsympathetic.” A nameless narrator near London tells the tale of the invaders stalking the countryside in three-legged fighting machines that fire heat-rays and deadly black smoke.


A Princess of Mars, 1917 by Edgar Rice Burroughs

The first of Burroughs’s Barsoom series follows John Carter, a Confederate veteran mysteriously transported to the Red Planet. Carter ends up in the middle of a conflict between the Green Martians and the Red Martians, and in the process of saving the planet falls in love with Dejah Thoris, a Red Martian princess of Helium.


A Martian Odyssey, 1934 by Stanley G. Weinbaum

Dick Jarvais, part of a four-man crew to Mars, crash lands away from the crew’s base and decides to walk back across the Martian landscape. He encounters an intelligent, bird-like Martian, strange silica-based life, threatening dream-beasts and creatures mining a mysterious crystal.


Stranger in a Strange Land, 1961 by Robert A. Heinlein

Valentine Michael Smith is a human raised by Martians on Mars. As a young man he travels to Earth, where his alien sensibilities and psychic abilities (taught to him by Martians) make him a celebrity and even the focus of a new religion.


Red Mars, 1992, Green Mars, 1993, and Blue Mars, 1996 by Kim Stanley Robinson

The first hundred Martian colonists reach the Red Planet and build a settlement. The trilogy follows those colonists and their descendents though the terraforming of Mars as Earth succumbs to overpopulation and catastrophe. The characters travel the changing Martian landscape and struggle against huge transnational corporations from Earth.



Meeting with the Medusa, 1971 by Arthur C. Clarke Howard Falcon travels to the atmosphere of Jupiter where he encounters mile-wide Jovian jellyfish and manta ray-like aliens that prey on the Medusas.


The approximate natural color appearance of Europa, one of Jupiter's moons. Credit: NASA/JPL


2010: Odyssey Two, 1982 by Arthur C. Clarke

A Soviet-American crew sets out to investigate the failure of the “Discovery One” mission to Jupiter (from 2001: A Space Odyssey). They discover aquatic life on Europa, protected by elusive aliens who build mysterious monoliths.


Saturn's largest moon, Titan, in ultraviolet and infrared wavelengths. Photo taken by Cassini's imaging science subsystem on Oct. 26, 2004. Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute


Trouble on Titan, 1954 by Alan Nourse

Two human teens overcome their differences and build a friendship—one hails from Earth and the other from the mining colony on Titan responsible for Earth’s wealth. Highlights include jet packs powered by the world’s methane-rich atmosphere.


The Puppet Masters, 1951 by Robert A. Heinlein

Slug-like aliens from Titan invade earth. Special agents Sam and Mary pit themselves against the slugs, which attach themselves to people’s backs and control their hosts’ minds.


This color Voyager 2 image mosaic shows the water-ice-covered surface of Enceladus, one of Saturn's moons. NASA/JPL/USGS


Few science fiction writers have ventured to Enceledus, Saturn’s icy moon. But geysers hint at liquid water beneath the world’s chilly crust.

A false-color image of the Sun in extreme UV by the Atmospheric Imaging Assembly of NASA's Solar Dynamics Observatory. Credit: NASA/SDO


Sundiver, 1980 by David Brin

Jacob Demwa travels on a mission to investigate strange ‘ghosts’ living in the Sun. They discover cattle-like creatures that live off the magenetic fields of the chromosphere, fluid-like beings and threatening human-like figures.


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