What are your favorite novels about contemporary-ish space exploration?
June 14, 2013 10:21 AM   Subscribe

I'm looking for books where characters are exploring the solar system using space ships that are technologically within (or somewhat close to) our capability to build today. Bonus points if those novels are character driven.
posted by Hoenikker to Media & Arts (21 answers total) 23 users marked this as a favorite
Obligatory answer to all sci-fi related threads: The Sparrow has a lot of interesting scientific discussion (that doesn't necessarily read just like an exposition dump) on how we might manage space travel in the near future. And it's very, very character-heavy.
posted by WidgetAlley at 10:28 AM on June 14, 2013 [6 favorites]

Widget beat me to it. But The Sparrow really is great.
posted by AmandaA at 10:30 AM on June 14, 2013

Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars Trilogy uses entirely plausible technology. It may not be quite what you're looking for, though, since there's much more of a colonization focus than a space travel focus. Some of the non-outer-space tech, like rapid longevity improvements, is a little out there, too.

But the characterization is pretty good, and I like how the plot isn't techno-utopian the way so much sci-fi is.
posted by vasi at 10:31 AM on June 14, 2013 [2 favorites]

Adam Roberts' Gradisil is a fairly good bit of near-future SF.
posted by pipeski at 10:51 AM on June 14, 2013

Also Paul J. McAuley's Quiet War novels (which deal with conflict after the solar system has been somewhat colonised). The technology is fairly plausible.
posted by pipeski at 10:55 AM on June 14, 2013

The Firestar series by Michael Flynn.
posted by Confess, Fletch at 11:11 AM on June 14, 2013

Spider Robinson has some, David Brin, and... mind went blank.
posted by Jacen at 11:12 AM on June 14, 2013

The Frozen Sky is a recent shortish novel that talks about the discovery of life on Europa. Exploration and contact is made by a small team of scientists and engineers, primarily using robots. Global politics plays a role, with competing teams from different nations/alliances landing on Europa once the equivalent of cave paintings is discovered. The aliens seem reasonably believable.

It's slightly more advanced than I would expect for the time frame (at least with the depth of the industrial infrastructure) but within reason.
posted by chengjih at 11:15 AM on June 14, 2013

Ben Bova instead of david brin i think
posted by Jacen at 11:20 AM on June 14, 2013

2001: A Space Odyssey and its sequels.
posted by anonymisc at 11:51 AM on June 14, 2013

Brin has already been mentioned, but Heart of the Comet springs to mind. It's been a while, but I don't recall anything particularly outlandish or out of our grasp.
posted by brundlefly at 12:26 PM on June 14, 2013

vasi, I'd say KSR's trilogy uses mostly plausible technology, a few things like their space elevators were way too step 1. x, step 2 ???, step 3 profit! for my taste but overall the series is really good yes.

For a lighter, fun read I picked up Back to the Moon, which the first couple of chapters can be sampled at that link. It's written by a NASA physicist and while I wouldn't class it as exploration per se, it does touch on how manned spaceflight in the near future may go. Overall I liked it.
posted by barc0001 at 12:31 PM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

The Hugo Award-winning The Moon is a Harsh Mistress by Robert Heinlein centers on a Moon colony, which is (relatively) realistic. TANSTAAFL!
posted by firstcity_thirdcoast at 1:31 PM on June 14, 2013

I recommend the Old Masters, like Arthur C. Clarke (The Sand of Mars, perhaps).

space ships that are technologically within ... our capability to build today

The total lack of details about its spaceship technology was a big reason I couldn't get into The Sparrow.
posted by Rash at 1:44 PM on June 14, 2013

Ooo- just finished Alastair Reynolds' Pushing Ice, which is excellent, and should be right up your alley.
posted by TheWhiteSkull at 1:58 PM on June 14, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm really enjoying Leviathan Wakes right now.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 2:09 PM on June 14, 2013

N'th-ing Kim Stanley Robinson (Red Mars, maybe Blue; I disliked Green) and Alastair Reynolds (Pushing Ice).

Classic SF: Heinlein (The Moon is a Harsh Mistress) and Clarke (Rendezvous with Rama) are dated but the latter in particular is excellent. Neither is particularly character driven, though.

The Sparrow is on my "Read Me" shelf ...
posted by RedOrGreen at 2:35 PM on June 14, 2013

Also note The Sparrow is not about exploring the solar system. Instead, its focus is an interstellar expedition.

You might also investigate Larry Niven's World of Ptavvs, set early in his Known Space universe, before humanity acquires starship technology, but after the exploitation of the asteroid belt has begun.
posted by Rash at 3:19 PM on June 14, 2013

barc0001, I sort-of-but-not-entirely agree about the space elevator. We clearly don't have the materials technology to build one on Earth anytime soon. But Mars has lower gravity and less atmosphere, so I could maybe imagine it working in the near-ish future. I doubt it would be reasonable economically, though.

Hoenikker, it looks like there was a similar question a couple of years ago.
posted by vasi at 9:27 PM on June 14, 2013

To get a grip on some of the more mundane, hilarious and contemporary aspects of space exploration, I recommend some light factual work: Packing For Mars, by mary roach, is really great.
posted by lalochezia at 4:24 AM on June 15, 2013 [1 favorite]

John Varley's Red Thunder trilogy isn't exactly what you're looking for technologically, though it is close, but is totally character driven. The tech is just a tool, it is all about the people.
posted by monopas at 2:42 PM on June 15, 2013

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