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4 Sci-Fi Books That Are Realistic About Space Why Us Science Fiction Nerds Should Also Read Astronauts' Memoirs

Okay, so. I really REALLY wanted to write this article. But I’ve realized that… Despite loving scifi the way I do, I haven’t read enough to make an extensive list. I mean, I’ve read a lot of scifi, but not a lot of it IS about space, apparently? So instead of making a list like you normally would, I’ll just make it a small list-type discussion with a few books I thought were realistic about space.

Why do I even want to talk about realistic space in books?? Well…  Scifi sometimes tends to be far fetched. Don’t we read to escape this boring world? After all, that’s what the “fi” stands for, right, fiction? It’s all perfectly fine to put some fantasy in scifi that way, but it’s also cool to know what’s real and what’s not. So I’ve decided to talk about books that are a little more realistic about space than, oh I don’t know, the Illuminae Files, as awesome as that series is. So let’s talk about how each of these is realistic about space. (…Not that I’m an authority, really. I’m just trying my best here.)

Obviously, the book that started it all up for me – this wondering about whether books are being realistic about the environments of space or not – was Endurance, the memoir of Scott Kelly. Obviously, there is nothing more realistic about space than the memories of a person who went there, right? This book has made me feel such immense respect for the men and women who toil for their entire lives to broaden the horizons of humanity that I felt like I couldn’t think in the same way anymore. Now, anytime I read a story about kids going out to space with no training, I cringe. Or if I read about how easy it is to get around in zero gravity. Or when I’m supposed to believe gorgeous looking characters gallivanting in open space. These details now give me pause because I have been told at least a little bit of the truth of what space is really like, and I can’t help but lower my head in front of these actual superhumans – our astronauts, kosmonauts, taikonauts or anything else they might be called in another part of the world.

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The first book that I thought might be a candidate for this list was Seveneves by Neal Stephenson. It’s the first book of his that I’ve ever read, and I can say for sure that it’s the one that has made me acquire all of his books I could find right after I finished it (yes. That TBR.) You could call Seveneves a space opera, I guess – which is why it’s relevant to the list. Nearly all of the story happens in space, on a space station. What I liked in particular was that Stephenson looked into all sorts of detail, for example, how hard and uncomfortable it is to cry in space. Have you ever thought of that? Tears don’t just fall. They stick inside your eyes. You can’t see through them. You have to have a napkin of some sort. There are other details such as that one, and I’d say it’s a brutal book in terms of space realities – space debris, extremely confined spaces, pollution, radiation. Which is why I absolutely loved it, because it gave me so much more perspective on how that environment might actually be. For once, it’s not an immaculate, clean and white space station. It’s made by human hand, it has grit, it is real. You have to work to be in space. It’s not a wonderland.

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You might wonder why I’m putting Solaris on the list. It is a very different book, even in terms of scifi. Feelings, consciousness, understanding of self – it’s as much a psychological exploration novel as one about space. Admittedly, there’s not even that much space in this one. It just happens on another planet. So why am I putting it on the list? Because Solaris is incredibly good at depicting the loneliness of space. Space novels, especially space operas, are often teeming with pert, smart and fit young people in nice clothes, with amazing gadgets. But really, have you thought about it? Being in space is essentially being confined in a big metal box, drifting in the middle of nowhere, apart from everyone else in your species. And I felt like Solaris depicts that very well. Not just the isolation, but the feelings of being trapped, alone, and not really knowing much about the outside, much less even what’s going on where you are.

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I feel like the list wouldn’t be complete without The Martian! It’s so very different from the rest of the books on this list, mostly because even though it tells of a very harsh environment, but it does so in a very positive vibe. Mark Watney, the main character, is basically an inextinguishable flame, he just keeps on going and fighting no matter what. But that doesn’t mean that we’re spared the harsh conditions. Or the even rougher ways of thinking (don’t want to give any spoilers, but let’s say Plan B for astronauts who survived in that book was… uhm, strong.) Mark tries to survive and he tells us about how he has to grow food basically out of nothing, take care of his own injuries, build his own home and vehicles, hack the crap out of anything he can find, basically. I’m not an authority to be able to judge, but I felt like it detailed so much about the way things actually work and how much you have to fight for it. Mark is definitely a respectable character and he does real astronauts justice with his bravery and positive thinking.

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Have you read the books on this list? What do you think about realistic space settings in scifi? I’d love to hear your opinion!

I’m Evelina and I try to blog about books that matter, with a bit of fun there too! Disability and equality will be topics you see a lot, but there’s also a lot of scifi, fantasy and… GIFs. I’m also the proud founder of #ARCsAnonymous.

30 thoughts on “4 Sci-Fi Books That Are Realistic About Space Why Us Science Fiction Nerds Should Also Read Astronauts' Memoirs

  1. I am adding all of these to my tbr. The Martian I’ve seen the movie but haven’t read and I really enjoyed the movie. They all sound amazing.

    1. I actually haven’t seen the movie yet! And this is great, I’m glad you liked the list 🙂 have fun reading, and if you do post reviews for one of these, just drop me a link cause I’d love to read your thoughts 🙂

    1. Really? The Martian is one of those books that makes the sciencey stuff pretty approachable, so if it’s still putting you to sleep, then most scifi will 🙂 actually, next week I’ll be posting a discussion post about this very thing – that even though many people could enjoy scifi stories, the sciencey bits are like another language to them and often turns them off. Such a shame, really! Wish there was an easier way to translate these stories so everyone could enjoy them just the same 🙂

  2. I’ve read very few Sci-fi novels, but The Martian has always been on my TBR. I’m loving all your sci-fi posts—keep ’em coming! xD

    1. Thanks! The scifi posts will only be up till the end of November, as that’s when SciFi Month ends 🙂 to be fair, I’m a little tired of writing ONLY about scifi xD time to move on! But I’ve decided to do more discussions on my blog from now on.
      And I feel like you’d love The Martian. It’s got a character with a great sense of humor, and you share that trait too, so I think you’d really like it 🙂

      1. Oh I love characters with a sense of humour! I’ll try to read The Martian soon. xD And more discussions? Yay! I’m sure they’ll be a hit!

    1. I would love to know what you thought about Seveneves 🙂 I read it a while ago, but I’m pretty sure I could still fangirl about it!! It was so awesome, I would love to discuss all those different races at the end of the book… If/when you post your review, throw me a link 🙂 I don’t want to miss it!

  3. I haven’t read Seveneyes and clearly need to do so! Heavy Time by C.J. Cherryh is about a ship that is found tumbling with a sole survivor in it who is completely traumatised… Brilliant, gripping and immersive – this one made me think of the FRAGILITY of folks in space. Thank you for this great post!

    1. Oh, Endurance is definitely worth a read 🙂 maybe you could save time and read it together before bed 😀 (it’s a slow business, but it’s also a great quality time activity, I’ve found).

  4. I haven’t read as many sci-fi books as I might hope but I love this list for the books which demonstrate some of the realities of space. I don’t mind when the realities of space aren’t demonstrated in books, there is a certain joy about the escapism of a good sci-fi book set in space. I adore The Martian, it would definitely be on my list of realistic space books. I hadn’t heard of Seveneves, though. I’m adding that to my TBR now, it sounds really interesting.

    1. Yeah, it’s totally alright to have unrealistic space in books for sure! As long as we all know it’s not realistic 🙂 what I hate is when people actually believe all that stuff (and they do). But that goes to say about any sort of fictional belief about realities, misrepresentation included even 🙂 it’s always best if readers know where reality ends and fiction begins.
      Seveneves was on the Goodreads awards a year or two ago, I think. Didn’t win! (Maybe it’s a little long for that :D) But it’s definitely worth a read, it’s a wonderful book 🙂

  5. Pretty awesome list, Evelina! I haven’t read any of them though. I did watch The Martian, even though I wanted to read the book first… but I took way too long and was too tempted by the movie on Netflix. Seveneves has also been on my TBR for a very long time and I know how much you praise it. 😉 Solaris is however new to me, and definitely went directly onto my TBR. Realistic sci-fi are definitely fun, and super terrifying when done properly. Thanks for the recs, and awesome post!!! 😀
    Lashaan Balasingam recently posted…Into the Drowning Deep by Mira GrantMy Profile

    1. Thank youuuu! You should totally read The Martian, it’s such a fun book 🙂 I haven’t actually seen the movie yet, and while you might be spoiled (come on, we all know he was going to be saved anyway.) you’ll at least appreciate all the wit and the light science in the book 🙂

      Solaris is quite famous, but maybe only in certain countries (certainly in my part of the world). I must warn you that it’s certainly weeeeiiiird, but you do have a turn for the literary – so I think you will appreciate it indeed 🙂

      Also, I should show you my copy. It’s so beautiful! Maybe I should just bookstagram it.

      1. Hahahah you’re too sweet! 😉 Your taste in books is amazing. I don’t know anyone who reads with this much diversity—no, not the diversity that everyone brags about in their YA stories. I always enjoy what you’ve got to say on the books you read, especially when you adore them. I can feel the love. 🙂
        Lashaan Balasingam recently posted…The Way of Kings by Brandon SandersonMy Profile

        1. Awww thanks! For what it’s worth, it’s just how I feel about both of you at Bookidote! Between the two of you, you have like… pretty much my taste, with a few exceptions 😀 so I always know I’ll find something really cool when I visit 🙂

    1. Oh, you totally should 🙂 and I think the science in it won’t bog you down at all – it DOES have sciencey bits, but they’re more like those shows on TV about science where they try to get you interested in it. It’s well and simply explained 🙂 I hope you get to read it.

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