Six Great Moon Novels

From the Earth to the Moon (1865)
by Jules Verne

Is Jules Verne the father of
science fiction? Too bad they
don’t have a DNA test to
settle this paternity case.
With an offspring so success-
ful, there is no shortage of
candidates seeking custody

Read more

Around the Moon (1870)
by Jules Verne

No one actually says:
“Houston, we have a problem,”
but otherwise this story is
ready for Tom Hanks treat-
ment on the big screen.

Read more here

The First Men in the Moon (1901)
by H.G. Wells

Jules Verne ridiculed this
novel for its flippant disregard
of Newton's laws. The propulsion
device H.G. Wells uses to get to
the moon is reminiscent of
"Flubber" from Walt Disney's
The Absent-Minded Professor.

Read more here

A Fall of Moondust (1961)
byArthur C. Clarke

I remember a college professor
dismissing plot as a relatively
unimportant aspect of fiction. I
can only imagine what the
good professor would think of
masterful plot constructors such
as Arthur C. Clarke, P.G.
Wodehouse and Agatha Christie...

Read more here

The Trouble with Tycho (1961)
by Clifford Simak

Seven years before 2001: A
Space Odyssey, Clifford Simak
set his "contact" novel in the
same lunar crater, Tycho, where
Arthur C. Clarke would later set
up his famous black slab from
deep space.

Read more here

The Moon is a Harsh MIstress (1966)
by Robert Heinlein

No matter how hard you try—and
some folks have tried awfully
hard—you can’t attach a simple
label to Robert Heinlein’s
sociopolitical views. Remember
that this author won medals for
fencing as a young man. You
don't get those by staying in the
same place for very long.

Read more here
Fifty years ago this week, science fiction writers were
media celebrities—at least for a few hours. When Neil
Armstrong stepped on to the surface of the moon on July
21, 1969, his “giant leap for mankind” was not just a
fulfillment of President Kennedy’s promise of a lunar
expedition before decade’s end. It also validated the starry-
eyed dreams of a legion of pulp fiction writers.  

Long before NASA was founded, the ABCs of sci-fi

(Asimov, Bradbury, Clarke) and others of their profession
had been chronicling the exploration of the universe in
works of imaginative fiction. The moon landing was their
shining moment, and the public recognized it as much as
did the writers themselves. When the TV networks sought
out talking heads for their coverage, science fiction writers
were on the top of their list.

At the moment that Eagle landed, Arthur C. Clarke was

sitting next to Walter Cronkite. Earlier that day, the writer
told millions of viewers, during an interview with Harry
Reasoner, that the space mission was a “down payment on
the future of mankind.” After the moonwalk, Cronkite
engaged Clarke and Robert Heinlein in their favorite
activity—speculation about the future. The sci-fi veterans
could hardly have been more optimistic. Heinlein refused
to put limits on where space travel might lead.  “We’re
going out indefinitely,” he proclaimed.

ABC countered with Isaac Asimov and Frederik Pohl, pulp

fiction veterans, interviewed by Rod Serling.  Ray Bradbury,
for his part, had always been more partial to Mars than the
moon in his writings, and he proved to be the spoilsport of
the day.  Bradbury walked out on David Frost’s Moon
Party, a peculiar British TV concoction which countered the
news coverage of the historic events with strange
entertainment, featuring everything from Englebert
Humperdink to a discussion on the ethics of the lunar
landing involving A. J. P. Taylor and Sammy Davis, Jr.  
Bradbury was so moved by the Apollo landing that he was
in tears. The irreverence of Frost’s coverage was more
than he could bear.  

Of course, on this night Mr. Bradbury had no shortage of

invitations.  After leaving Frost’s “party,” he took a taxi to
CBS’s studio, where the author was interviewed by Mike
Wallace.  “This is an effort to become immortal,” Bradbury
proclaimed.  How?  “We’re going to take our seed out into
space and we’re going to plant it on other worlds and then
we won’t have to ask ourselves the question of death ever

The grand predictions made that day proved premature, to

say the least. Sure, the Apollo program was a success—
even dodging a bullet with the aborted Apollo 13 trip to the
moon, which unexpectedly turned into the most heroic
chapter in the space race saga. But Apollo proved to be
the end of manned lunar expeditions, and not the beginning
of the age of space exploration. Who would have guessed
that, after Apollo 17 in 1972, no more astronauts would
travel to the moon. Here is one measure of how quickly
things changed:  a decade later, when people spoke of the
moonwalk, they were usually talking about Michael
Jackson’s dance steps.  

Few people suffered from this turn of events more than

science fiction writers. The whole sci-fi community should
have been crying along with Ray Bradbury on July 21,
1969. As space exploration disappeared from the front
pages, sci-fi lost much of its glamour and most of its
readers. I would guess that half of the stories in this genre
during the period leading up to the Apollo landing dealt with
outer space.   How could these same writers adapt to a
world where rockets and astronauts had lost their luster?  
The authors, for the most part, stuck to their favorite plots of
space exploration, but the stories rarely had the same
pizzazz as before.  

With the benefit of hindsight, we should probably admit that

the landing of Apollo 11 was the end of the glory days of sci-
fi. With the conclusion of the Apollo program, NASA
became just another government agency, more
bureaucratic than heroic. It is all too telling that the
Challenger disaster of 1986 was the next time that rocket
ships captured the attention of the general public.  And the
last time I encountered a space explorer on the front page,
the “celebrity” in question was Lisa Nowak, the NASA
astronaut who allegedly drove 900 miles wearing a diaper
as part of a plot to attack a romantic rival with a BB gun.   
The case has not gone to trial, and Nowak has vehemently
denied the news reports about the diaper. Tawdry, yes . . .
but not quite up to the level of Dune or The Foundation

In the interim between the astronauts with
The Right Stuff
and the tabloid-ish story of Lisa Nowak, readers turned to
other kinds of fiction. Amazing Stories, which enjoyed
circulation of 50,000 during the mid-1960s, had seen it
drop to 12,000 by the time of the Challenger disaster. The
magazine folded in 1995, and subsequent revivals have
been unsuccessful.  Galaxy, which achieved circulation
approaching 100,000 under Pohl’s editorship in the early
1960s, shut down in 1980. A revival in the mid-1990s
lasted only eight issues. Many other sci-fi magazines and
publishers fell by the wayside during this same period.  

Let’s be honest, science fiction writers are much like stock

market forecasters. When their predictions come true,
everyone listens. Yet when the prognostications fall flat,
their audience disappears. The space race was that rare
moment when these writers seemed to be on the mark.  So
many of their other stories—about time travel, telepathy,
alien invasion, nuclear holocausts and the like—never
came true (thank goodness!), but for a brief period the
rocket ship tales seemed plausible. The two most powerful
nations on the planet were focused on getting off the
planet.  The scribblers who had been dreaming about just
this state of affairs looked like sages.

Successful predictions about the moon date back at least

to Jules Verne and his 1865 novel From the Earth to the
Moon.  Here Verne correctly anticipated that the United
States would be the country to launch the first lunar mission,
and also pinpointed that Florida would make the best
launch site. He guessed the right crew size—three
astronauts—and also came very close to the truth in his
descriptions of the dimensions of the space capsule and
the duration of the voyage to the moon.  Few science fiction
works have been more prescient in their anticipation of
later history.  

After Verne, almost every major science fiction writer

tackled a moon story at some point. Lunar classics
include H.G.. Wells The First Men in the Moon, Robert
Heinlein’s The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, and Arthur C.
Clarke’s A Fall of Moondust. Clarke’s most famous work,
2001: A Space Odyssey, also relies on the moon for a key
plot twist—a large black slab found near Tycho is the first
evidence of intelligent extraterrestrial life, and its discovery
sets in motion the rest of the story. Yet it's worth noting
that, seven years before Clarke’s book, Clifford Simak
developed a comparable theme and set it in the exact
same crater in his whimsical The Trouble with Tycho.

When the moon became just another piece of abandoned

real estate, like much of Flordia after the subprime
meltdown, the psychological impact on sci-fi was
devastating. Many grand predictions had been made
about the future of space exploration by these visionary
authors. But not one of them would have dared to make
this prediction—namely, that a half-century after the
Apollo program, no trip would have been made to any of
the other planets in the solar system, and no one would
have the gumption to send an astronaut—or even a dog
or chimpanzee—back to the moon.  

Science fiction is experiencing a bit of a comeback these

days, but the moon plays a low profile in the renewal
efforts. Social issues loom large in the current sci-fi
literature, and they don't require lunar settings. And th
literary establishment has discovered Philip K. Dick, but
he didn't have much interest in the space race
. His novels
are now included in The Library of  America, and he
represents a striking case study in how a once scorned
author can be rehabilitated. Yet it is revealing that Dick
rarely needed rocket ships to work his magic. While his
peers were imagining trips to the moon during the 1960s,
Dick had figured out there were other ways of taking a
trip—ones that came packaged in small bottles or
envelopes. His “alternative reality” concepts have held up
well long after space exploration became passé.

Even so, it’s hard for science fiction fans to look at the full

moon every month, and write it off as a failed cause.   It’s
been downhill for fifty years, but it wouldn't take much to
turn things around. I think it’s safe to say that, if we ever
sent a team of astronauts to Mars or beyond, NASA and
their suppliers won’t be the only sector of the economy to
get a boost. A few dreamers toiling away at their word
processors might get a few more minutes of fame.  

Ted Gioia’s next book, Music: A Subversive History will be
coming out in O
ctober from Basic Books.

Update version published: July 17, 2019
conceptual fiction
Curse You, Neil Armstrong!

Did the Apollo Moon Landing Put a Dagger
in the Heart of Science Fiction?

by Ted Gioia
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Conceptual Fiction:
A Reading List
(with links to essays on each work)

Home Page

Abbott, Edwin A.

Adams, Douglas
The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Aldiss, Brian
Barefoot in the Head

Aldiss, Brian

Aldiss, Brian
Report on Probability A

Allende, Isabel
The House of the Spirits

Amado, Jorge
Dona Flor and Her Two Husbands

Amis, Martin
Time's Arrow

The Golden Ass

Asimov, Isaac
The Foundation Trilogy

Asimov, Isaac
I, Robot

Atwood, Margaret
The Blind Assassin

Atwood, Margaret
The Handmaid's Tale

Auster, Paul

Bacigalupi, Paolo
The Windup Girl

Banks, Iain M.
The State of the Art

Ballard, J.G.
The Atrocity Exhibition

Ballard, J.G.

Ballard, J.G.
The Crystal World

Ballard, J.G.
The Drowned World

Barker, Clive
Books of Blood, Vols. 1-3

Barth, John
Giles Goat-Boy

Bester, Alfred
The Demolished Man

Bierce, Ambrose
The Complete Short Stories

Blackwood, Algernon
The Complete John Silence Stories

Blish, James
A Case of Conscience

Borges, Jorge Luis

Bradbury, Ray
Dandelion Wine

Bradbury, Ray
Fahrenheit 451

Bradbury, Ray
The Illustrated Man

Bradbury, Ray
The Martian Chronicles

Bradbury, Ray
Something Wicked This Way Comes

Brockmeier, Kevin
The View from the Seventh Layer

Brooks, Max
World War Z

Bulgakov, Mikhail
The Master and Margarita

Bunch, David R.

Burgess, Anthony
A Clockwork Orange

Butler, Octavia E.
Bloodchild and Other Stories

Butler, Octavia E.

Campbell, Ramsey
Demons by Daylight

Campbell, Ramsey
The Nameless

Card, Orson Scott
Ender's Game

Carpentier, Alejo
The Kingdom of This World

Carroll, Lewis
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland

Chabon, Michael
The Yiddish Policemen's Union

Chambers, Robert W.
The King in Yellow

Chiang, Ted
Stories of Your Life and Others

Clarke, Arthur C.
Childhood's End

Clarke, Arthur C.
A Fall of Moondust

Clarke, Arthur C.
2001: A Space Odyssey

Clarke, Susanna
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell

Cline, Ernest
Ready Player One

Crichton, Michael
Jurassic Park

Crowley, John
Little, Big

Danielewski, Mark Z.
The Fifty Year Sword

Danielewski, Mark Z.
House of Leaves

Davies, Robertson
Fifth Business

Delany, Samuel R.

Delany, Samuel R.

Delany, Samuel R.
The Einstein Intersection

Delany, Samuel R.

Dick, Philip K.
Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?

Dick, Philip K.
Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said

Dick, Philip K.
The Man in the High Castle

Dick, Philip K.

Dick, Philip K.

Dickens, Charles
A Christmas Carol

Disch, Thomas M.
Camp Concentration

Disch, Thomas M.
The Genocides

Doctorow, Cory
Down and Out in the Magic Kingdom

Donoso, José
The Obscene Bird of Night

Egan, Jennifer
A Visit from the Goon Squad

Ellison, Harlan (editor)
Dangerous Visions

Ellison, Harlan
I Have No Mouth & I Must Scream

Esquivel, Laura
Like Water for Chocolate

Evenson, Brian
A Collapse of Horses

Farmer, Philip José
To Your Scattered Bodies Go

Fowles, John
A Maggot

Fuentes, Carlos

Gaiman, Neil
American Gods

Gaiman, Neil

Gardner, John

Gibson, William
Burning Chrome

Gibson, William

Gibson, William
The Peripheral

Grass, Günter
The Tin Drum

Greene, Graham
The End of the Affair

Grossman, Lev
The Magicians

Haig, Matt
The Humans

Haldeman, Joe
The Forever War

Hall, Steven
The Raw Shark Texts

Harrison, M. John
The Centauri Device

Harrison, M. John

Heinlein, Robert
The Moon is a Harsh Mistress

Heinlein, Robert:
Stranger in a Strange Land

Heinlein, Robert
Time Enough for Love

Helprin, Mark
Winter's Tale

Hendrix, Grady

Herbert, Frank

Hill, Joe
Heart-Shaped Box

Hill, Susan
The Woman in Black

Hoffman, Alice
Practical Magic

Houellebecq, Michel

Huxley, Aldous
Brave New World

Ishiguro, Kazuo
Never Let Me Go

Jackson, Shirley
The Haunting of Hill House

James, Henry
The Turn of the Screw

James, M.R.
Ghost Stories of an Antiquary

Keret, Etgar
Suddenly, A Knock at the Door

Ketchum, Jack
Off Season

Keyes, Daniel
Flowers for Algernon

King, Stephen

King, Stephen
Pet Sematary

Koja, Kathe
The Cipher

Krilanovich, Grace
The Orange Eats Creeps

Kundera, Milan
The Book of Laughter and Forgetting

Kunzru, Hari
Gods Without Men

Lafferty, R.A.
Nine Hundred Grandmothers

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Dispossessed

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Lathe of Heaven

Le Guin, Ursula K.

Le Guin, Ursula K.
The Left Hand of Darkness

Leckie, Ann
Ancillary Justice

Leiber, Fritz
The Big Time

Leiber, Fritz
Conjure Wife

Leiber, Fritz
Our Lady of Darkness

Leiber, Fritz
Swords & Deviltry

Leiber, Fritz
The Wanderer

Lem, Stanislaw
His Master's Voice

Lem, Stanislaw

Lethem, Jonathan
The Fortress of Solitude

Levin, Ira
Rosemary's Baby

Lewis, C. S.
The Chronicles of Narnia

Lindqvist, John Ajvide
Let the Right One In

Link, Kelly
Magic for Beginners

Liu, Cixin
The Three-Body Problem

Lovecraft, H.P.

Machen, Arthur
The Great God Pan

Malzberg, Barry N.
Herovit's World

Mandel, Emily St. John
Station Eleven

Mann, Thomas
Doctor Faustus

Márquez, Gabriel García
100 Years of Solitude

Markson, David
Wittgenstein's Mistress

Matheson, Richard
Hell House

Matheson, Richard
I Am Legend

Matheson, Richard
What Dreams May Come

McCarthy, Cormac
The Road

McDonald, Ian

Miéville, China

Miéville, China
Perdido Street Station

Miller, Jr., Walter M.
A Canticle for Leibowitz

Millhauser, Steven
Dangerous Laughter

Mitchell, David
Cloud Atlas

Moorcock, Michael
Behold the Man

Moorcock, Michael
The Final Programme

Morris, Jan

Morrison, Toni

Murakami, Haruki

Murakami, Haruki
Hard-Boiled Wonderland and the
End of the World

Nabokov, Vladimir
Ada, or Ardor

Ngũgĩ wa Thiong'o
Wizard of the Crow

Niffenegger, Audrey
The Time Traveler's Wife

Niven, Larry

Noon, Jeff

North, Claire
The First 15 Lives of Harry August

Obreht, Téa
The Tiger's Wife

O'Brien, Flann
At Swim-Two-Birds

Okri, Ben
The Famished Road

Oyeyemi, Helen
White is for Witching

Percy, Walker
Love in the Ruins

Poe, Edgar Allan
Tales of Mystery & Imagination

Pohl, Frederik

Pratchett, Terry
The Color of Magic

Pynchon, Thomas
Gravity's Rainbow

Rabelais, François
Gargantua and Pantagruel

Rice, Anne
Interview with the Vampire

Robinson, Kim Stanley
Red Mars

Roth, Philip
The Plot Against America

Rowling, J.K.
Harry Potter & the Sorcerer's Stone

Rushdie, Salman
Midnight's Children

Russ, Joanna
The Female Man

Russell, Karen

Saramago, José

Saumders, George
Lincoln in the Bardo

Scalzi, John
Old Man's War

Sheckley, Robert
Dimension of Miracles

Sheckley, Robert

Sheckley, Robert
Store of the Worlds

Shelley, Mary

Shteyngart, Gary
Super Sad True Love Story

Silverberg, Robert
Dying  Inside

Silverberg, Robert

Silverberg, Robert
The World Inside

Simak, Clifford

Simak, Clifford
The Trouble with Tycho

Smith, Clark Ashton
The Dark Eidolon

Smith, Cordwainer

Smith, Cordwainer
The Rediscovery of Man

Stephenson, Neal
Snow Crash

Straub, Peter
Ghost Story

Spinrad, Norman
Bug Jack Barron

Stevenson, Robert Louis
Strange Case of Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde

Stoker, Bram

Stross, Charles

Sturgeon, Theodore
More Than Human

Sturgeon, Theodore
Some of Your Blood

Swift, Jonathan
Gulliver's Travels

Thomas, D.M.
The White Hotel

Tiptree, Jr., James
Warm Worlds and Otherwise

Tolkien, J.R.R.
The Hobbit

Tryon, Thomas
The Other

Updike, John
The Witches of Eastwick

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Mixed Men

Van Vogt, A.E.

Van Vogt, A.E.
The Voyage of the Space Beagle

Van Vogt, A.E.
The World of Null A

Vance, Jack
The Dragon Masters

Vance, Jack

Vance, Jack
The Languages of Pao

Verne, Jules
Around the Moon

Verne, Jules
From the Earth to the Moon

Verne, Jules:
Journey to the Center of the Earth

Vollmann, William T
Last Stories and Other Stories

Vonnegut, Kurt
Cat's Cradle

Vonnegut, Kurt
The Sirens of Titan

Vonnegut, Kurt

Wallace, David Foster
Infinite Jest

Wallace, Edgar
King Kong

Walpole, Horace
The Castle of Otranto

Walpole, Horace
Hieroglyphic Tales

Weir, Andy
The Martian

Wells, H.G.
The First Men in the Moon

Wells, H.G.
The Island of Dr. Moreau

Wells, H.G.
The Time Machine

Whitehead, Colson
The Underground Railroad

Wilson, Robert Anton & Robert Shea
The Illuminatus! Trilogy

Winton, Tim

Wolfe, Gene
The Book of the New Sun

Wong, David
John Dies at the End

Woolf, Virginia

Yamada, Taichi

Yu, Charles
How to Live Safely in a Science
Fictional Universe

Zabor, Rafi
The Bear Comes Home

Zelazny, Roger
Lord of Light

Zelazny, Roger
This Immortal

Special Features

Notes on Conceptual Fiction
My Year of Horrible Reading
When Science Fiction Grew Up
Ray Bradbury: A Tribute
The Year of Magical Reading
Remembering Fritz Leiber
A Tribute to Richard Matheson
Samuel Delany's 70th birthday
The Sci-Fi of Kurt Vonnegut
The Most Secretive Sci-Fi Author
Curse You, Neil Armstrong!
Robert Heinlein at 100
A.E, van Vogt Tribute
The Puzzling Case of Robert Sheckley
The Avant-Garde Sci-Fi of Brian Aldiss
Science Fiction 1958-1975: A Reading List

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