May 30 marks the 50th anniversary of the launch of Mariner 9’s mission to Mars, when the spacecraft became the first to orbit another planet. Entering the gravity field of Mars nearly six months later, in November of 1971, Mariner 9 orbited the Red Planet for almost a year. During its 349 days in orbit, the spacecraft collected valuable information about Mars’ surface and atmosphere, giving the first images of the planet’ surface, the solar system’s largest volcano, a canyon system that dwarfs the Grand Canyon, and the Martian moons Phobos and Deimos.
Do you ever find yourself dreaming about venturing out into the Milky Way? Since we can’t travel to Mars ourselves to celebrate this historic anniversary, here are a few space-set science fiction novels — and one nonfiction book — to fill your interstellar void.
“The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy: The Illustrated Edition” by Douglas Adams, illustrated by Chris Riddell (Del Rey). DON’T PANIC if you’ve never indulged in the hysterical science fiction classic, “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.” Now may be the optimal time, as the radio show that has been turned into a book series, a TV series, a video game, and a movie has another revival in the works (more below). On May 4, to celebrate the 42nd anniversary of the original publication (“Hitchhiker’s” fans will get the reference), Del Rey Books released a new edition illustrated by award-winning artist Chris Riddell. Hulu has already announced that it will be bringing the story of Arthur Dent — who suddenly finds himself trying to navigate space with a group of unruly aliens — to home screens in the near future. There is no set release date as of now, but in the meantime, there is plenty of other Hitchhiker’s content to binge on, starting with the new illustrated book.
“The Space Between Worlds” by Micaiah Johnson (Crown). What do you think about the concept of cross-dimensional travel, alternate timelines and parallel lives? That’s what’s at the forefront of this blustery adventure from Micaiah Johnson, new in paperback June 1. “The Space Between Worlds” follows Cara, who works as a data miner across the multiverse for the Eldridge Institute. The company funds cross-dimensional travel, and though multiverse travel is finally possible, it is only possible to visit a world where one’s counterpart is dead. That makes Cara an asset and an ideal employee: Out of 380 alternate worlds, she is only alive on eight. Cara’s life is turned upside down, however, when one of her eight remaining alternate selves dies under especially sketchy circumstances. Of the novel, a starred Library Journal review said, “This exciting debut is intelligently built, with clever characters, surprise twists, plenty of action, subtly detailed worlds, and a plot that highlights social and racial inequities in astute prose.”
“Hidden Figures” by Margot Lee Shetterly (William Morrow). It’s impossible to talk about NASA and Neil Armstrong without mentioning the Black women mathematicians who played a crucial role in America’s space program — just kidding! Before man ever walked on the moon, NASA professionals dubbed “Human Computers” worked on calculating the flight paths that would enable the zero-gravity visit. In the group were five Black women who, segregated from their white counterparts, used pencil and paper to write the equations that would eventually launch rockets and astronauts into space. However, their involvement in the process was widely erased from history until “Hidden Figures” became a No. 1 New York Times bestseller and, soon after, a hit feature film. Hopefully these Black women’s stories will continue to reframe the conversation about the legacy of American space exploration.
“Project Hail Mary” by Andy Weir (Ballantine Books). The author of the hit novel, “The Martian” (later turned into a Matt Damon feature film directed by Ridley Scott), is back with another interstellar survival story. In the vein of “The Martian,” where readers find a lone astronaut stranded on Mars, “Project Hail Mary” is about astronaut Ryland Grace, the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission to save the Earth. But first, he needs to remember his name — before he can even begin to understand the assignment he’s on, and most importantly, how to complete it. “Weir spins a space yarn in a way only he can,” said a Newsweek article. “Fans of his earlier works won’t be disappointed.” Since we are celebrating Mariner’s 9 voyage, Weir’s breakout novel would also make a fine place to launch your Mars reading list.