New homes among the stars

Over at, this post by Adrian Tchaikovsky: Five Books That Find New Homes Among the Stars

When I was a kid you couldn’t move for stories where the alien-ness of the new world was the point. Certainly the ’70s equivalent of YA fiction was full of bold human explorers meeting weird planets and weirder inhabitants, even if a lot of those denizens turned out to be really very human indeed, except that some other apparent monster was their larval stage, say, or they had a symbiotic relationship with something interesting. And if you looked hard enough you could find, say, Lem’s Solaris, which is probably still the benchmark for the truly alien in fiction.

Either the alien planet trend went out of fashion, or those books just didn’t get written as much for adults, or else I just missed out a lot, but until relatively recently I just didn’t run into books about people encountering the alien on the alien’s home turf. In the last few years, though, there has been a distinct flowering (a particularly apt phrase in one case) of books about colonising the alien world, and the compromises we might have to make to do so….

Yes, I like this subgenre too. Let’s see what Tchaikovsky picks out:

1. Planetfall by Emma Newman

2. Dark Eden by Chris Beckett

3. Hidden Sun by Jaine Fenn

4. Semiosis by Sue Burke

5. Glorious Angels by Justina Robson

Yep, haven’t heard of any of them except Planetfall. No surprise: the number of recent-ish titles that I haven’t heard of is nigh unto infinite.

I rather like the sound of Hidden Sun:

Fenn’s upcoming release tells the story of a world some ways on from the starter colony of Planetfall. Here, humans have diverged into two definite populations: the more familiar Shadowkin are much like us, but cannot tolerate the direct sunlight of the world they’ve made their home. Out in the open live the Skykin, though, who have formed a symbiotic relationship with a native life form that alters them to better fit their harsh home. Hidden Sun is a cracking read, the first of an anticipated new series which obviously has a lot of secrets still to reveal.

Sounds pretty neat.

Now, there are endless older examples of this subgenre. Here are the five I thought of first:

1. Survivor by Octavia Butler. Certain problematic themes, but I like the book quite a bit and I’m glad I have a copy. Butler never approved a re-issue and physical copies are now very, very hard to come by. If you’ve never read it and you’d like to, you can find pdf copies online.

2. The Integral Trees by Larry Nivan

3. Dune by Frank Herbert

4. 40,000 in Gehenna by CJC.

5. Foreigner by CJC. I’m not sure why I didn’t think of that first. Maybe because the struggle to colonize the world is long over by the time the story opens. But this may be the only colonization story where humans don’t wind up the dominant species on the planet. Any other examples? Actually, Gehenna, above, might arguably be a second example of humans not being dominant, but it’s totally different.

I feel like there are lots more. Oh, here’s another humans-colonize-a-new-world story:

6. Courtship Rite by Donald Kingsbury. I liked it a lot, but I’ve only read it once.

And another:

7. The Word for World is Forest by Ursula LeGuin

Now that I’ve hit seven, I feel I should try to get to ten. So … let me see … okay:

8. Mother of Demons by Eric Flint. I liked this one a lot.

9. Red Mars, Blue Mars, Green Mars by KSR. Conquering a new world through technology, no need to deal with aliens.

10. Freedom’s Landing by Anne McCaffery. Never actually read this one, but I know it starts with humans being picked up by aliens and dumped on a new world. Anybody read this? What did you think?

Any examples of this subgenre you’d like to contribute to the list? Drop ’em in the comments!

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4 thoughts on “New homes among the stars”

  1. Freedom’s Landing suffers from the general pacing problem in McCaffrey books where at some point she gets impatient and speeds up the rate of industrialization dramatically.

    Sparrow seems like a good fit for the original list- not colonizing, but first contact on an alien planet.

  2. Amazon has an entire “Colonization” subcategory for SF, though it looks pretty poorly-defined if the first page of their best-sellers is any indication. But it does sound like it must be a reasonably popular subgenre.

    Let’s see: _The Uplift War_ is the one of Brin’s series that’s most about colonizing a world, for which the overarching space war is more of a backdrop than foreground. A couple of Heinlein’s juvies count, _Farmer in the Sky_ most obviously. Poul Anderson had a pair of fixups, _Orbit Unlimited_ and _New America_ — and it’s hard to believe there aren’t others of his I’m just not thinking of at the moment.

  3. You might well enjoy Semiosis for the botanical aspects of the world building…Unless of course you think the author has gotten the botany wrong….

  4. I’ll try a sample of Semiosis! It’s just … my tbr pile is so large … but still, it sounds so intriguing. Also, I am probably less picky about botanical details than zoological ones.

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