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An Emerging Interstellar Bibliography

Today begins Heath Rezabek’s survey as we look at the curation of a booklist on interstellar flight, using as basis a list of books I’ve gradually accumulated over the years. Before Heath introduces the survey, a few words about my methods: Many of the books listed below are ones that I used in preparing my 2005 book Centauri Dreams: Imagining and Planning Interstellar Exploration. But in the time since, I’ve added a number of more recent titles. I’m hoping this curation project will reveal other books that may be useful as we flesh out the list. Please glance over the entire list and be thinking of additional possibilities as you engage with Heath’s survey.

As to the choices made, these are non-fiction science books, although several recent titles contain a mix of non-fiction and science fiction stories. Feel free to suggest SF titles that specifically broaden our thinking about interstellar flight — we can either integrate them into the main list or develop a second list focused on fiction. The latter may be more practicable. Also, books on SETI and exoplanetology are under-represented in favor of books on spaceflight and propulsion. Given how often we discuss these matters on Centauri Dreams. I’d like to see recommendations for more titles in both these areas.

I also restricted the selection to books that have been through serious peer review from the publisher itself or qualified people chosen by its editors. Books that largely compile previously published papers that have been through rigorous peer review also make the list. While self-publishing is a growing phenomenon, if no peer review is evident, I cannot add such titles to the short list. With that in mind, let’s see what happens as Heath’s work develops.

by Heath Rezabek


In yesterday’s entry, I summarize my work to this point as an Intern with the Long Now Foundation, assisting and advising on the community curation of the Manual for Civilization collection.

In today’s entry, we’ll undertake our own experiment in community curation, by asking the readers of Centauri Dreams to compare the books in Paul Gilster’s Centauri Dreams shortlist, and most importantly, to recommend titles which you don’t see represented but which you feel are integral to the themes explored here over time. We’ll end up with two resources which Paul can use in the future: The list itself, and the relative rankings based on community comparison of titles’ relative importance to a core Centauri Dreams community collection.

In the Centauri Dreams Vessel Survey (link immediately below), participants are encouraged to add as many titles as they wish — particularly newer or older titles not yet reflected — and sort between titles as often as they like. Over time, we’ll end up with our own wish list for a core collection reflecting the Centauri Dreams readership community.

This survey tool works a bit differently from other surveys you might have taken, but may be familiar if you’ve run across our use of it here before. At the link below, your task to complete as many times as you wish to weigh in is simply to pick between two titles from the list in any given round.

Once you’ve picked one as more integral than the other, another pairing will come up. You are encouraged to sort between titles as many times as you can, as the more data such a survey has, the more useful its results. You may stop when you’re weary, and return later if you wish.

You are also greatly encouraged to add related titles, items which have informed your thinking on these themes as a member of the Centauri Dreams community of readers. Duplicates are not much of a problem, as they cluster over time and we can deactivate them once they do. Again, the more data, the better the results. Click on the image or the link below it to participate in the survey.


Centauri Dreams Vessel Survey: Community Curation

We will revisit this survey as time passes, as votes accrue, and as titles are added.

Thank you, Paul, for giving the nod to try community curation on Centauri Dreams; thank you, readers of Centauri Dreams, for lending your voice as community members.

Paul’s original list is below, though because of character limits in the surveys, annotations and publisher details are not always included in the survey version.

[PG note: The breakdown of my list into General Audience, College, Graduate and Professional was an attempt at sorting that I’ve grown uncomfortable with — many of these titles could go in more than one such category. So don’t let the categories concern you at this point].

General Audience

Adler, Charles (2014) Wizards, Aliens and Starships. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Caleb Scharf calls this “…a delightful, funny, and immensely interesting romp through science and fiction,” which precisely nails the spirit of the book. Adler looks at the wonders of science fiction from alien civilizations to teleportation and warp drive, framing the discussion against judiciously explained physics. It’s hugely entertaining and scientifically sound.

Berry, Adrian (2000) The Giant Leap: Mankind Heads for the Stars. New Yorks: Tor Books.

A look at the technologies that might one day lead to the nearest stars and beyond. Discusses the options for making such journeys, along with the political and philosophical imperatives that might drive such a mission. Interesting chapters on interstellar navigation and suspended animation.

Boyce, Christopher (1979) Extraterrestrial Encounter: A Personal Perspective. Secaucus, NJ: Chartwell Books.

Speculations on the nature of alien intelligence and the possibilities for understanding and communicating with it. The odds on SETI and the possible use of Bracewell or von Neumann robotic probes for studying other planets play a role in this lively discussion.

Burrows, William E. Exploring Space: Voyages in the Solar System and Beyond. New York: Random House, 1990.

One of the best histories of the space program ever written, this book gives full weight to automated probes rather than manned flight, and speculates on the technologies that will take us outside the Solar System. Burrows’ look at the politics behind programs like the Space Shuttle resonates today.

Calder, Nigel (1978) Spaceships of the Mind. New York: Viking Press.

Speculations on space technologies including many interstellar concepts. Numerous useful though dated illustrations. The driving factors pushing space colonization are carefully examined.

Forward, Robert L (1995) Indistinguishable from Magic. New York: Baen Books.

Perhaps the greatest interstellar theorist of them all, Robert Forward offered mission concepts galore in the course of his career, many of them entertainingly discussed in this collection of essays. The author’s wry humor often shows through in discussions that range from wormholes to antimatter engines.

Friedman, Louis (1988) Starsailing: Solar Sails and Interstellar Travel. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Friedman’s background working at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory on a once-considered solar sail mission to Halley’s Comet allows him to tap deep resources in explaining how solar sails will one day open up the Solar System, with potential for interstellar flight via particle or laser beam.

Kaku, Michio (2008) Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel. New York: Doubleday.

Kaku discusses three levels of ‘impossibility,’ ranging from things we may one day puzzle out to technologies that would strike us as indistinguishable from magic, to use Arthur Clarke’s fine phrase. This wide-ranging study includes a look at interstellar technologies now under active study.

Krauss, Lawrence (1995) The Physics of Star Trek. New York: Basic Books.

A theoretical physicist offers thoughts on the scientific wonders of the popular TV series, discussing such issues as teleportation, time travel, warp drive and black holes. Excellent at untangling the futuristic but possible from the hugely improbable, based on known physics.

Macvey, John W. (1977, 1991) Interstellar Travel: Past, Present and Future. New York: Stein and Day.

Revised in 1991, this book examines interstellar travel technologies ranging from space arks to wormholes, with a long discussion of the nature of extraterrestrial life and how it might communicate with humans. Wide-ranging and easy to read, this is a good choice for young readers.

Myrabo, Leik and Dean Ing (1985) The Future of Flight. New York: Baen Books.

Starship drives are only one of the topics covered by this survey of future flight technologies, but the interstellar chapter is strong, surveying concepts from the Bussard ramjet to the laser-driven lightsail and antimatter engines. A good though now backgrounder for those wanting a quick survey of these ideas.

Nicholson, Iain (1978) The Road to the Stars. New York: William Morrow & Co.

A well-illustrated and lively survey of future space technologies, with a useful discussion of SETI and the possibilities of communicating with extraterrestrial intelligence. The major ideas for upgrading today’s engines are presented, beginning with ion drives and carrying forward to the Bussard ramjet.

Sagan, Carl (1980) Cosmos. New York: Random House.

Carl Sagan’s classic offers some of the most captivating illustrations ever made available in a space book. While the book, like the TV series it parallels, offers perspective on the entire human experience of the heavens, it places the possibilities of interstellar flight in a readable, powerful context.

Wright, Jerome L. (1992) Space Sailing. New York: Taylor & Francis.

A history of the solar sail concept, one that uses momentum from the Sun’s own light to drive a space vehicle, without the need to carry heavy fuel. Well illustrated, this book examines all the ways solar sails may change our future in space, both in the near term and the far.

College Level

Adelman, Saul J. and Benjamin Adelman (1981). Bound for the Stars: Space Travel in our Solar System and Beyond. Inglewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

The exploration of space from travel in the nearby Solar System to interstellar missions. The latter chapters discuss interstellar propulsion, navigation, the search for extrasolar planets and the first starship. Useful discussions as well about a plausible program for long-term interstellar planning.

Andreadis, Athena (1999) To Seek Out New Life: The Biology of Star Trek. New York: Three Rivers Press. A professional biologist goes to work on life sciences as depicted in Star Trek, with thoughts on everything from telepathy and the genetic code to the cultural sameness of the societies the Enterprise’s crew encounters. Entertaining and instructive.

Benford, Gregory and James (2013) Starship Century. Lucky Bat Books.

Starship Century is an anthology by authors from both science and fiction writing backgrounds, illustrating some of the tech and ideology behind the illustrious goal of traveling to another star within the next century. Edited by Gregory Benford, New York Times bestselling science fiction author, and James Benford, leading expert on space propulsion, Starship Century includes science fiction by Neal Stephenson, David Brin, Joe Haldeman, Nancy Kress, Stephen Baxter, Gregory Benford, John Cramer, Richard A. Lovett, and Allen Steele, as well as scientific articles by Stephen Hawking, Freeman Dyson, Robert Zubrin, Peter Schwartz, Martin Rees, Ian Crawford, James Benford, Geoffrey Landis, Paul Davies and Adam Crowl.

Billings, Lee (2013) Five Billion Years of Solitude. New York: Current.

The exoplanet hunt as seen through Lee Billings’ eyes as he interviews the major players in the field, from Frank Drake to Jim Kasting, Sara Seager, Greg Laughlin, Geoff Marcy and more. Within their individual stories Billings weaves in the technological and science breakthroughs that have made current work possible, and points eloquently toward the next stages in the journey as we look for a genuine Earth. 2.0. There is no better examination of the basic techniques and issues surrounding exoplanet detection and the human impact of this work.

Clarke, Arthur C. and David Brin, ed. (1990) Project Solar Sail. New York: Roc.

Useful essays from leading theorists examine the role of solar sails in future space missions, with attention to missions in the Solar System and beyond. The essays are interleaved with short fiction and even poetry that explores plausible scenarios for putting sails to work.

Dole, Stephen H. and Isaac Asimov (1964) Planets for Man. New York: Random House.

This is the popular version of a RAND Corporation study originally performed by Dole. The later version includes the thoughts of Isaac Asimov, and examines the factors necessary for planets to be habitable for humans, and our chances of finding them. Although dated, this book still offers useful information about the concept of a habitable zone and the factors that will one day make particular planets useful destinations for our probes.

Dyson, George (2002) Project Orion: The True Story of the Atomic Spaceship. New York: Henry Holt and Co.

Freeman Dyson’s son tackles the great attempt to wed nuclear technology to deep space missions, Project Orion. Told with flair and access not only to key documents but the recollections of the major players, this history shows how one team of experts viewed journeys to the outer Solar System and beyond before the realities of the Test Ban Treaty put the concept beyond reach.

Forward, Robert L. and Joel Davis (1988) Mirror Matter: Pioneering Antimatter Physics. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Interstellar theorist Robert Forward offers a thorough background to the history of antimatter research. Propulsion concepts that could drive our first starships are examined, while the methods for creating and storing antimatter and using it here on Earth receive solid scrutiny. The chapter on antimatter in science fiction is particularly energetic.

Genta, Giancarlo (2007) Lonely Minds in the Universe. Berlin: Springer.

A valuable study of astrobiology and the search for extraterrestrial intelligence, unique in the extent to which it explores the philosophical and religious background of humanity’s awakening interest in the cosmos. The discussion of biology both on Earth and elsewhere offers insights into the possibilities of living organisms around other stars, while the author’s speculations about consciousness and intelligence remind us just how unique each alien ecosystem and its inhabitants may be. How we may interact with any intelligence we discover forms an insightful part of the narrative.

Gilster, Paul (2004) Centauri Dreams: Imagining and Planning Interstellar Exploration. New York: Copernicus Books.

Surveys methods for moving an interstellar probe to speeds that could reach nearby stars in a single human lifetime. These range from fusion to antimatter, beamed lightsails, magnetic sails, Bussard ramjets and other concepts. Also covers interstellar navigation and exoplanet detection.

Grinspoon, David (2003) Lonely Planets. New York: Ecco.

I found this a useful and deeply entertaining overview of current and historical thinking on extraterrestrial life, with interesting arguments against the hypothesis that the Earth is in any way unique when it comes to the ability to produce living organisms. What intelligent life might become both on Earth and elsewhere is considered with a leavening of personal anecdotes and humor, and a plea that we move beyond definitions of life too firmly attached to our own planet.

Impey, Chris and Holly Henry (2014) Dreams of Other Worlds. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Read Impey and Henry for an overview of where we’re coming from in unmanned space exploration and robotics. The book lays out our explorations from Viking on Mars to Cassini, WMAP and Spitzer, chronicling the interplay of new technologies and emerging science. Manned missions invariably get more buzz, but until we ramp up our methods, the outer system belongs to increasingly sophisticated machines. This is where they come from.

Johnson, Les and Jack McDevitt, eds. (2012) Going Interstellar. New York: Baen.

A collection of tales by an all-star assortment of award winning authors including Ben Bova, Mike Resnick, Jack McDevitt, Michael Bishop, Sarah Hoyt and more together with essays on high technology by space scientists and engineers – all taking on new methods of star travel. The essays include reports on propulsion technologies including antimatter, solar sails and fusion. The science fiction speculations tackle the human consequences of travel to another star and how our descendants will master issues from species survival to alien contact.

Kaku, Michio (1995) Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universes, Time Warps and the Tenth Dimension. Oxford University Press.

Understanding the possibilities of interstellar flight demands a look at the things that may warp space and time, including wormholes that could offer fast transit without exceeding the speed of light. Michio Kaku explains the options with a minimum of jargon and clear, readable prose.

Mallove, Eugene F., and Gregory L. Matloff (1989) The Starflight Handbook: A Pioneer’s Guide to Interstellar Travel. New York: John Wiley.& Sons.

A classic of interstellar studies, Matloff and Mallove’s book provides the necessary theory to understand the various propulsion methods proposed to reach the stars. All major concepts are considered by two authors who have been involved in interstellar concepts for decades.

Matloff, Gregory, Les Johnson and C. Bangs (2007) Living Off the Land in Space: Green Roads to the Cosmos. New York: John Wiley & Sons.

Space travel as we do it today requires large amounts of fuel that take up a major part of the rockets we launch. How we can learn to use resources in space itself may determine how soon we push into the outer Solar System and beyond. The science behind space tethers, solar sails and other techniques for in-System voyaging are here explored, along with speculations about even more audacious concepts that could take us to the stars.

Matloff, Gregory, Les Johnson and Giovanni Vulpetti (2010) Solar Sails: A Novel Approach to Interplanetary Travel. Berlin: Springer. A comprehensive survey of solar sail concepts ranging from near-term designs like the Solar Polar Imager to interstellar possibilities enabled by laser-driven lightsails, this book summarizes our sail knowledge at the beginning of the solar sail era, with numerous thoughts on sail design, construction, deployment and trajectories.

Michaud, Michael (2006) Contact with Alien Civilizations: Our Hopes and Fears about Encountering Extraterrestrials. New York: Copernicus.

A thorough discussion of the consequences of our encounters with extraterrestrial civilizations, with background studies of the history of human speculation about extraterrestrial intelligence, our searches for life and for the signals of other cultures, and the various ways contact might play out. In an era when some are trying to extend the SETI (listening) paradigm to METI (broadcasting), this book offers sober analysis of how humanity should weigh these options, and opts for multidisciplinary negotiation and consensus before acting in ways that could impact the entire species.

Savage, Marshall T. (1994) The Millennial Project: Colonizing the Galaxy in Eight Easy Steps. New York: Little, Brown & Co.

An optimistic look at how mankind can spread into the cosmos, offering a program to transfer a large proportion of the world’s population into venues off-planet. Step by step improvements lead to terraforming Mars, using the resources of the outer system, and moving to the nearby stars.

Strong, James (1965) Flight to the Stars. New York: Hart Publishing Company.

An early classic of interstellar studies, Strong’s book offers a rationale for the human expansion to the stars, while considering a variety of propulsion concepts to get the job done. While dated in specifics, the scenarios considered here paint possible futures for a star-faring race with vigor and enthusiasm.

Thorne, Kip S. (1994) Black Holes and Time Warps: Einstein’s Outrageous Legacy. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.

Thorne is a major player in the theory of wormholes, and thus the kind of distortions of spacetime that may one day make it possible to travel vast distances quickly without ever exceeding the speed of light. This book places his theories into the Einsteinian context in readable if challenging fashion.

Zubrin, Robert (1999) Entering Space: Creating a Spacefaring Civilization. New York: Tarcher/Putnam, 1999.

The case for becoming a spacefaring civilization is made with enthusiasm and panache. The action ranges from terraforming nearby Mars to exploiting the resources of the outer planets, with solid chapters on interstellar propulsion and contact with extraterrestrial civilizations.

Graduate/Professional Level

Carroll, Michael (2011) Drifting on Alien Winds: Exploring the Skies and Weather of Other Worlds. New York: Springer.

From the Soviet Venus balloons to the advanced studies of blimps and airplanes for the atmospheres of Mars and Titan, Drifting on Alien Winds surveys the many creative and often wacky ideas for exploring alien skies. Through historical photographs and stunning original paintings by the author, readers also explore the weather on planets and moons, from the simmering acid-laden winds of Venus to liquid methane-soaked skies of Titan.

Czysz, Paul and Claudio Bruno (2009) Future Spacecraft Propulsion Systems: Enabling Technologies for Space Exploration. Berlin: Springer.

Space propulsion systems from near-Earth to the outer Solar System and beyond. Focus on applied engineering working within the known principles of physics, with emphasis on fusion rocket designs and the extension of today’s technologies to missions into deep space.

Doody, Dave (2009) Deep Space Craft: An Overview of Interplanetary Flight. Berlin: Springer.

Descriptions of interplanetary spacecraft with detailed looks at their instrumentation and the Earth-based operations needed to acquire and process their incoming data. Flight operations and the interactions between a mission’s science team and the light team are examined, with detailed appendices on the range of instruments that have so far flown, and those likely to be aboard spacecraft in the future.

Finney, Ben R. and Eric M. Jones (1985) Interstellar Migration and the Human Experience. Berkeley: University of California Press.

This is a compilation of papers from the Conference on Interstellar Migration held at Los Alamos in May of 1983, which examined not only the scientific possibilities, but also the social, ethical and even legal ramifications of our move into the cosmos. Its look at how humanity has coped with past challenges, such as the settlement of the Pacific islands, places interstellar migration in context.

Kondo,Yoji, ed. (2003) Interstellar Travel and Multi-Generational Space Ships. Apogee Books Space Series 34. Collector’s Guide Publishing Inc (June 1, 2003).

Papers from a symposium of the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2002, exploring propulsion concepts and the solutions needed for flight to the stars. The book also addresses the cultural and psychological issues related to long-term voyaging and ponders ‘generation ships,’ in which crew members spend their entire lives on voyages several centuries in duration.

Long, Kelvin (2011) Deep Space Propulsion. New York: Springer.

The technology of the next few decades could possibly allow us to explore with robotic probes the closest stars outside our Solar System, and maybe even observe some of the recently discovered planets circling these stars. This book looks at the reasons for exploring our stellar neighbors and at the technologies we are developing to build space probes that can traverse the enormous distances between the stars. All the propulsion concepts seriously considered for interstellar flight are examined here.

Maccone, Claudio (2009) Deep Space Flight and Communications: Exploiting the Sun as a Gravitational Lens. Berlin: Springer.

Maccone has long been the champion of a mission to the Sun’s gravitational lens at 550 AU and beyond. Here he lays out the results of his two decades of study of the concept, discussing possible probe designs, the best targets for investigation, and the underlying principles of lensing. Section 2 examines the challenge of communicating between an interstellar spacecraft and the Earth, focusing on the opportunities found in the Karhunen-Loève Transform (KLT) for optimal telecommunications.

Matloff, Gregory L. (2005) Deep Space Probes: To the Outer Solar System and Beyond. Berlin: Springer/Praxis Books.

Recently revised, Matloff’s look at deep space technologies offers abundant references in its examination of current theories of interstellar propulsion, including nanotechnology and ramscoops that draw their fuel from hydrogen between the stars. Also included are speculations on astrobiology and the development of self-reproducing von Neumann probes that could saturate the galaxy.

Mauldin, John H. (1992) Prospects for Interstellar Travel. American Astronautical Society Science and Technology Series, Vol. 80. San Diego, CA: Univelt.

A thorough study of interstellar flight possibilities that covers, in addition to the relevant propulsion concepts, every aspect of starship design, including the navigation problem and the difficulties posed by lengthy voyages with human crews. The overall engineering of space probes designed for such missions is discussed at length, with abundant references for follow-up reading.

McInnes, Colin R. (1999) Solar Sailing: Technology, Dynamics and Mission Applications. Chichester, UK: Praxis Publishing.

The most exhaustive study of solar sail technology available, offering a rich list of references for specialists. Applications for near-term missions are considered in detail, with the relevant equations for understanding the forces at work. A thorough examination of sail materials and design explains where we are now and how solar sails may change the economics of propulsion. Beamed lightsails for interstellar missions.

Millis, Marc and Eric Davis, eds. (2009). Frontiers of Propulsion Science. Reston, VA: AIAA.

A compilation of essays from specialists about the prospects for breakthroughs that could revolutionize spaceflight and enable interstellar flight. Five major sections are included in the book: Understanding the Problem lays the groundwork for the technical details to follow; Propulsion Without Rockets discusses space drives and gravity control, both in general terms and with specific examples; Faster-Than-Light Travel starts with a review of the known relativistic limits, followed by the faster-than-light implications from both general relativity and quantum physics; Energy Considerations deals with spacecraft power systems and summarizes the limits of technology based on accrued science; and, From This Point Forward offers suggestions for how to manage and conduct research on such visionary topics.

Seedhouse, Erik (2012) Interplanetary Outpost: The Human and Technological Challenges of Exploring the Outer Planets. New York: Springer/Praxis.

Interplanetary Outpost follows the mission architecture template of NASA’s plan for Human Outer Planet Exploration (HOPE), which envisions sending a crew to the moon Callisto to conduct exploration and sample return activities. To realize such a mission, the spacecraft will be the most complex interplanetary vehicle ever built, representing the best technical efforts of several nations. A wealth of new technologies will need to be developed, including new propulsion systems, hibernation strategies, and revolutionary radiation shielding materials. Step by step, the book will describe how the mission architecture will evolve, how crews will be selected and trained, and what the mission will entail from launch to landing.

Smith, Cameron (2012) Emigrating Beyond Earth: Human Adaptation and Space Colonization. New York: Springer.

Based on the most current understanding of our universe, human adaptation and evolution, the authors explain why space colonization must be planned as an adaptation to, rather than the conquest of, space. Emigrating Beyond Earth argues that space colonization is an insurance policy for our species, and that it isn’t about rockets and robots, it’s about humans doing what we’ve been doing for four million years: finding new places and new ways to live. Applying a unique anthropological approach, the authors outline a framework for continued human space exploration and offer a glimpse of a possible human future involving interstellar travel and settlement of worlds beyond our own.

Vakoch, Douglas and Albert Harrison, eds. (2013) Civilizations Beyond Earth: Extraterrestrial Life and Society. Berghahn Books.

This collection of essays takes in the search for extraterrestrial intelligence and offers a sociological and philosophical entry into a field that is often dominated by the hard sciences. Vakoch, a sociologist, brings a useful new dimension to the question of how humanity would react to extraterrestrial contact, and the essays chosen for this volume form a discussion that meshes well with Michael Michaud’s work in Contact with Alien Civilizations. Harrison, a psychologist from the University of California, helps to ensure that SETI analysis will continue to deepen its multidisciplinary links as the field evolves.

Woodward, James (2012) Making Starships and Stargates: The Science of Interstellar Transport and Absurdly Benign Wormholes. New York: Springer/Praxis.

A study in three parts: The first deals with information about the theories of relativity needed to understand the predictions of the effects that make possible the “propulsion” techniques, and an explanation of those techniques. The second deals with experimental investigations into the feasibility of the predicted effects; that is, do the effects exist and can they be applied to propulsion? The third part of the book – the most speculative – examine the questions: what physics is needed if we are to make wormholes and warp drives? Is such physics plausible?


Comments on this entry are closed.

  • James D. Stilwell May 9, 2014, 11:14

    Genta, Giancarlo (2007) Lonely Minds in the Universe. Berlin: Springer.

    Where else would I have found this one but right here…Thanks…

  • Michael May 9, 2014, 14:18

    One of the most powerful effects on my mind as a youngster was not a particular book but depictions by Steward Cowley.


    Perhaps the creation of an online e-library of everything interstellar, books etc. could be formed from a link from the Tau Zero Foundation.

    mmm call it Tau Astro libris (latin for books).
    The way I see it is that Tau Zero is the foundation, a dream, and the all others steps towards that dream are Tau’s. Then we just need one for moon bases and…..one thousand later we are there.

  • Heath Rezabek May 9, 2014, 15:07

    A quick admin note that initially, we had to reset the correct URL for the survey. So if you were one of those who voted very early today, give it another spin as we may have lost a few votes.

  • ProjectStudio May 10, 2014, 3:40

    First off I do very much appreciate this bibliography as a recommended reading list to anyone now or in the future who would wish to create in themselves a good background for reflection and contribution on the topic of interstellar travel. I can’t really respond to the survey as I have not read these books and could not case an informed vote on any of them. As my reading on this topic is limited to online available materials, much of which has been linked in from Centauri Dreams site, I favour the intent to create a publicly available archive of information freely available to all.

    In regard to an archive – on the internet or within a Vessel structure – there are some difficulties presented in the current legal international climate as it regards copyright protection. Recent court decisions have decided that the act of making a digital copy of a work for purposed of archival (clearly *not* a publishing activity) is a a violation of copyright and not fair use. These decisions are most unfortunate as they are not in line with the original intent of copyright law – that is – to encourage both creativity and the distribution of materials for the public benefit. Nowadays, the copyright protection is seen as a way to protect the interests of publishers and to prevent individuals from making an archival copy of a work or to be able to view a work they have purchased in multiple formats (in print, on a laptop, on a tablet, etc.). A side effect has been the prohibition of archival societies in digitally archiving copyrighted material for historical purposes. This may hamper efforts by archival societies from accomplishing their goals without excessive cost unless some agreements can be reached with publishers.

    Personally, I would like to encourage discussion of this change in interpretation of copyright so that our society can return to the original notions of copyright as encouraging creativity, distribution and liberal fair use of literary material. Creativity, innovation and societal benefit is the original intent, not protectionism.

  • Heath Rezabek May 10, 2014, 18:38

    Hi ProjectStudio.

    Good point. The Long Now collection is to be mirrored at the Internet Archive, which has apparently figured out a proper way to provide limited access to digital copies of items it physically posesses — but I myself don’t know enough about the details of this plan to explain further.

    An effort to solve this problem to some degree, though, is the LOCKSS initiative at Stanford. LOCKSS = Lots Of Copies Keeps Stuff Safe.


    Aimed at academic libraries, it creates alliances where member libraries mirror digital copies of all member holdings at all sites, but only allow access to them when proper licenses are in place. This is to guard against situations of eventual lapse or collapse of publishers which render the items inaccessible. As licenses are purchased, copies are made available to allied libraries.

    I’m likely not explaining it well, but it’s quite interesting. I, too, am a proponent of open access, and agree it will be increasingly important as we deal with mission critical distributed archives of all kinds.

  • NS May 10, 2014, 18:51

    My understanding is that under basic property law the owner of a book/object was allowed to do what he/she wanted to with it, including copying it. Copyrights and patents were originally seen has temporary abridgements of this basic law that would encourage further creativity by allowing authors/inventors time to make some money from their creations. Copyrights/patents were not based on the concept that authors or inventors retained some ownership rights to the text or ideas embodied in the object. This concept of “intellectual property” arose later and has become mixed up with copyright and patent questions, but the original basis of them was quite different.

  • Christopher Phoenix May 11, 2014, 8:50

    It is rather exciting to see Paul Glister’s short bibliography… and of course the Vessel survey. Some I have already read, but many I have not as yet. I shall surely be adding some of the books to my reading list soon. Thanks to both Paul and Heath for their joint efforts on this post and survey!!

    On a somewhat less-related angle, I would like to ask Paul Glister and the other readers of this blog for some help investigating a certain topic. Does anyone happen to know when the very first references to people traveling across interstellar space by sending only their brain, having had it removed from the body and placed into a container or mechanical body of some sort, first appeared in science fiction?

    Obviously such a process is utterly beyond our ability today, and the complexities involved can hardly be guessed at… nearly every step of the process would require almost miraculous precision, if indeed it is possible at all. But the the idea is still intriguing.

    The earliest references I have found to this idea are in two very different stories that were published only a month apart in 1931- Neil R. Jones’ “The Jameson Satellite”, published in the July 1931 issue of Amazing Stories; and H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Whisperer in Darkness”, published in the August 1931 issue of Weird Tales. As far as I can tell both authors wrote independently of the other. (Warning: Spoilers for both stories are ahead, for those who have not read them!!)

    In the The Jameson Satellite a professor obsessed with preserving his body after death is frozen and shot into space in a rocket capsule, orbiting the Earth for 40,000,000 years until a spaceship crewed by a race of alien cyborgs finds his capsule and saves his brain to place in a machine body like their own. He then goes on to have various adventures across the galaxy in true pulp magazine fashion.

    The Whisper in Darkness is completely different in style and content (and a much better story, to be quite honest!). This story would be best called a science-horror story. The narrator, Professor Wilmarth, is an anthropologist who is initially skeptical of stories of strange creatures who “came from the stars” until he exchanges letters with an educated farmer named Henry Akeley who claims to have concrete proof of their existence. When he eventually visits Akeley at his house, his strangely immobile host offers Wilmarth a tour of the cosmos by means the professor is horrified to even think about.

    …he spoke very gently of how human beings might accomplish- and several times had accomplished- the seemingly impossible flight across the interstellar void. It seemed the complete human bodies did not indeed make the trip, but that the prodigious surgical, biological, chemical, and mechanical skill of the Outer Ones had found a way to convey human brains without their concomitant physical structure.

    There was a harmless way to extract a brain, and a way to keep the organic residue alive during its absence. The bare, compact cerebral matter was then immersed in an occasionally replenished fluid within an ether-tight cylinder of a metal mined on Yuggoth, certain electrodes reaching through elaborate instruments capable of duplicating the three vital faculties of sight, hearing and speech. For the winged fungus-beings intact through space was an easy matter… ….it was as simple as carrying a phonograph record around and playing it wherever a phonograph of corresponding make exists.

    In the end, Wilmarth discovers that his host has already made the transition to one of the brain-cylinders he was shown and that Akeley’s body is a mechanically activated puppet incorporating his body’s face and hands. Shaken by his experiences, Wilmarth flees into the night without further considering the Outer Ones’ frightening offers.

    It seems H.P. Lovecraft must have spent some of his time speculating on ways to send humans to other planets and stars, and concluded that the conditions in space and on other planets would be so different that it might be best not to send the travelers’ bodies along at all. It is funny to find such carefully thought out concepts in what is commonly labeled horror-fiction!!

    Of course, Lovecraft read the science fiction and horror magazines of the time, so I wouldn’t be surprised if he and Neil R. Jones were influenced by earlier explorations of these ideas.

    If anyone else has anything to add, or knows of any earlier stories featuring “brains in a can” traveling between the stars, please don’t be shy to share your thoughts.

  • Peter May 11, 2014, 14:09

    I would include “The Nuclear Rocket” by Jim Dewar in the college level category. It had its critics, but has merit.

  • Heath Rezabek May 11, 2014, 17:37

    While I don’t know his work well enough to pin down titles, I’d expect that Olaf Stapledon might have some work in there. Star Maker is certainly in this genre, though it was published in 1937. I’d be very surprised if he hadn’t explored this sooner.

    Of course, I’d also be very surprised if Wells and Verne hadn’t gone there long before, but again I don’t know their work well enough to say. An anthology of this theme would be interesting.

    You mention that Lovecraft seems to’ve put thought into this kind of travel. I’d agree, though I’d also point to the potent role of dreams in Lovecraft’s work, and the parallel Dream Cycle of Lovecraft (parallel in that it minimally intersects with his more well known mythos). The Silver Key and Through the Gates of the Silver Key tread this ground heavily. (I’m not much of a fan of Lovecraft’s existential horror, but I do have an appreciation for the Dream Cycle.) I believe that, even though the connection to dream may seem like a dodge if viewed narrowly, the theme is very much connected to the work and genre you describe.

    It is this tradition that I tap, deliberately, in Woven Light (the speculative fiction series I’m undertaking here), and that’s particularly overt in the episode: Augmented Dreamstate. https://centauri-dreams.org/?p=30128

    There are a few other prominent influences going into Woven Light, but to name them outright would actually amount to a kind of spoiler for the series.

  • Paul Gilster May 11, 2014, 19:51

    Christopher Phoenix writes:

    Does anyone happen to know when the very first references to people traveling across interstellar space by sending only their brain, having had it removed from the body and placed into a container or mechanical body of some sort, first appeared in science fiction?

    Great question, and I don’t know the answer off the top of my head. The best place to look — and I’ll do so — is in Bleiler’s books, particularly Science Fiction: The Gernsback Years and Science Fiction: The Early Years. Am limited in research time for the next few days but I’ll see if I can find anything out for a possible future post here.

  • ljk May 12, 2014, 8:39

    I have always had an issue with Savage’s The Millennial Project. Primarily he not only assumes but insists that humanity is the only high intelligence in the galaxy and that the Milky Way is ours for the taking and spreading life throughout.

    Imagine if ETIs out there feel exactly the same way. Suppose they find Earth and it does not fit into their plans of Manifest Destiny. What happens then? A United Federation of Planets? Or call in the exterminators?

    My other issue used to be that his group seemed to not only be creating goals that were well out of their reach, but that it took on cult like behaviors. Now I see that it will probably take something like a cult to get us to the stars. Sort of like the Puritans being driven from England to the New World due to religious persecution.

    The other reasons the Americas were colonized were of course land and resources. All of this will apply to why humans will get into space permanently. Pure curiosity and science will have to ride in the back seat in order to join in, just as they pretty much have been since the beginning. Just do not let the propaganda fool you. Simply remind yourself how the first satellites got into space and why. IGY was just a cover for the real reasons.

    What the Millennial group is doing now:


  • Alex Tolley May 13, 2014, 9:17

    I had no idea that TMP was still going. The wiki site is full of ideas and pretty pics (including this image that cribs straight from Dan Dare’s Space Fleet!), but I don’t see any actual demonstration technology or real progress since the book was written. For example, I recall that “seacrete” was a key technology to build the ocean cities. It would have cost very little to demonstrate that this works at small scale and to provide some data on large scale use.

  • A. A. Jackson May 13, 2014, 20:14

    I always like to point out that the first book to cover the technical aspects of interstellar flight was L’Astronautique by Robert Esnault-Pelterie.
    Even if it was the last chapter of the book he does mention interstellar flight.

    Esnault-Pelterie, Robert.
    L’ASTRONAUTIQUE [and] L’ASTRONAUTIQUE COMPLÉMENT. Paris: Imprimerie A. Lahure [and Imprimerie Chaix], 1930.

    An important book.

    Konstantin Tsiolkovsky and Robert Goddard both mentioned , in some manner, interstellar flight, but , as far as I know Esnault-Pelterie was the first to give a mathematical physics treatment.

    A Note:
    As I have written before, Esnault-Pelterie derived the relativistic rocket ‘Ackeret equation’ in 1928, maybe earlier:
    Esnault-Pelterie, R.: Astronautik und Relativitatstheorie, “Die Rakete,” vol. 2, pp. 114-117, 130-134, 146-148, Breslau, 1928 (see eq. 65) .
    Beating Ackeret by 18 years.

  • A. A. Jackson May 13, 2014, 20:21

    Here is an important non-technical book about interstellar flight.
    Beyond the Solar System Hardcover – January 1, 1968
    by Ley Willy (Author), Chesley Bonestell (Illustrator)

    The introduction by Wernher_von_Braun may be the only time he wrote about interstellar flight, that I know of.

  • Michael May 14, 2014, 13:16

    @ljk May 12, 2014 at 8:39

    Thanks for the link to ‘The Millennial Project 2.0’, loads of interesting stuff on there. I don’t see Tau Zero/AC Dreams on the ‘Space Advocacy Organizations’ page though, would anyone mind?

    I could be busy reading for awhile.

  • Alex Tolley May 14, 2014, 14:21

    @AA Jackson – One of my favorite illustrated books. The Bonestell paintings are superb. I read this book as a child from my local library. It took me until the internet age to track down a copy for my collection. (The original copyright is 1964). A quick check of Amazon suggests that used copies have become rather pricey, even relatively poor condition ones.

    In “Space Frontier” By Von Braun (1963), the last chapter has a section: “Can we ever go to the stars?” in which he briefly talks about the issue of star flight.

  • Heath Rezabek May 14, 2014, 18:55

    A.A.J; – Great: Please add them to the Survey using the form below each set of options! :) Thank you kindly…!

  • Alex Tolley May 21, 2014, 17:39

    Tangential, but interesting. Religious tracts to be put on the moon for archiving.

  • ljk May 22, 2014, 14:34

    Thank you for sharing that news, Alex Tolley.

    Not a new idea, to be certain, but it is nice to see that others are finally starting to think outside the box when it comes to preserving the works of our species.

    In Arthur C. Clarke’s science fiction novel 3001, deadly viruses – both computer and organic – and other items considered much too dangerous to leave on Earth but possibly useful some day in the future as a form of protection were buried in a cave on Luna.

    I would rather see “good” and informative items preserved, but it is also a real possibility in case something like a nasty ETI came calling. In the novel the Monolith apparently decided that humans were a threat to the galaxy and were given orders to destroy us, so we planted a nasty computer virus inside it to counter its planned attack.

    About that Bible on the Apollo 15 Lunar Rover: I presume it is a “regular” book in terms of materials, so how long would a paper book last on the lunar surface exposed so openly on the rover? Barring a miraculous preservation, of course. :^)

  • ljk May 22, 2014, 15:13

    Here is some information about getting the Bible to the lunar surface during the Apollo program:


    Oddly there is no mention of the Apollo 15 Bible placed on the rover in the article above, unless I somehow really missed it?

    The Apollo 15 Bible was not the first one on Luna: That honor went to Apollo 14 in microfilm form. They had tried on Apollo 12 but left it in the Command Module, and we all know why the microfilm Bible on Apollo 13 never made it to the lunar surface.

    Though they did not leave any of the microfilm Bibles on the Moon, apparently:




    Though presumably somewhere on the Apollo 12 Lunar Module descent stage, perhaps in one of the legs, is the first art exhibit on the Moon….


    Who knows what else was secretly left on the Moon by the astronauts? We will probably know some day when space archaeologists and historians get to visit those famous sites in person.

  • Christopher Winter May 24, 2014, 15:54

    This is an interesting and very useful bibliography project. However, I am very surprised to find Adrian Berry’s The Giant Leap on this list. I wonder if Paul Gilster read the same book I did. To be frank, I hated it. Its technical and practical flaws are many and glaring. To give just one example:

    Sunlight propulsion (page 143)

    “It has been calculated that a mirror of this size, if polished as smoothly as possible, would generate a beam of light that would become no wider than 200 kilometres out to a distance of one light year. This would provide more than enough power to accelerate a starship, with a suitably large magnetic field, to relativistic speeds.”

    Presumably the magnetic field is necessary to capture the photons, which Berry seems to think are charged particles.

    In addition, Berry writes that crewed ships heading out to explore other planets will have no need for cars and trucks (page 18) and claims that computers “barely existed” in 1965 (page 25). I think the CEOs of IBM, Control Data Corporation, Sperry Univac, Burroughs, and other computer companies during that year would take exception to that last statement.

    I could go on, but I’ll stop there.

    I would ask that this title be reviewed.