I'm trying to find out what the first "big" science fiction novel that dealt with human colonization on other planets was? When I say "big" I mean successful and impactful to future generations (or at least from an author that achieved such a legacy), and with human colonizations I mean Humans (the civilization originating from Earth) going to other planets to live there.

Heinlein's Farmer in the Sky (1953) would be such a novel, but I wonder if there are better/more impactful examples?

  • Farmer in the Sky isn't about "colonization on other planets". It's set on Ganymede, which is not a planet. If you intend to include moons as well as planets, perhaps you could edit the question to say so, and also if you include other astronomical bodies such as asteroids and brown dwarves.
    – Mike Scott
    Aug 25, 2017 at 13:33

5 Answers 5


Just spent some time perusing early sci-fi on Wikipedia and heres some really interesting stories that caught my eye, also I just finished watching Cosmos again so everything will be painted by Carl Sagan influences.

If you want to go way back you could say that the Mahabharatha (400 BCE) was one of the first to see humans (King Ravti) depart the earth to some other far off place, in this case to meet the creator Brahma, then returns to earth to find many ages have passed, this might qualify better for the first time travel story.

Another really interesting example is in the lesser known part of Dante's Divine Comedy, Heaven (1472). Dante travels to the moons of all the (known at that time) planets in our solar system and meets humans who have in a sense, colonized those moons after death. Looking at this from a sc-fi perspective, (personal theorizing) death can be likened to a primitive understanding of the mechanism of travel between the planets, giving way to the dead people essentially colonizing these moons, quite interesting.

The earliest work really dealing with colonization by humans I found would be True History a satire that had aspects of colonization in it. It seems to lack impact though.

Perhaps a more fitting work would be The Martian Chronicles (1951) by Ray Bradbury, which deals with humanity having to colonize Mars in response to the approaching atomic destruction of Earth. This series was adapted into many different forms, movies, tv, and radio.

I would say that Heinlein wrote the most about colonization of other planets (Starman Jones, Red Planet and Farmer in the Sky), but perhaps Starship Troopers (1959) is the most fitting for "impact". This novels backdrop was humanity dealing with colonizing other planets and running into other (militant) races. This particular novel had a huge impact on a lot of modern sci-fi, for instance the first space marines, global government, mechanized warfare etc. In this novel colonization is more of a backdrop to deal with the issues surrounding humanity on a galactic scale, but if your going for impact, this is a good one.

  • 3
    Heinlein did not have the first space marines. Before Heinlein there was this story which may or may not be the first.
    – user14111
    Apr 10, 2014 at 8:56
  • The only known moon in 1472 was Earth's. I think you meant to say Dante traveled to the Moon and the planets; this is what I recall anyway from when I read it 30 years ago.
    – Spencer
    Apr 24, 2018 at 18:45

Olaf Stapledon's Last and First Men was published in 1930 and has various descendant species of humanity hopping around the solar system (to Venus and later Neptune) as conditions change. In best colonial style, the previous inhabitants of Venus are wiped out in the process, although the colonising "Fifth Men" may not quite meet your criteria for "human": they're an artificial species built by the Fourth Men, the Fourth Men being giant brains who were themselves constructed by the Third Men... The book was certainly influential (that page cites evidence of it being a strong influence on Aldiss, Blish, Clarke, CS Lewis and Lovecraft amongst others. Lewis is described as being particularly appalled by the immorality of the genocidal takeover of Venus, and his own "space trilogy" presents an alternative vision of a virtuous race choosing to die on its own worn out planet rather than colonize another).

I'm pretty sure Stapledon's subsequent 1937 book Star Maker mentions multi-planet, even galaxy-spanning civilizations and colonization (in fact searching the text linked below confirms this), but the scale of the book is so vast humans scarcely get a mention (I seem to remember the events of Last and First Men get briefly touched on as a blip, insignificant on the time-scales of the second book).

Both texts available via Project Gutenberg: Last and First Men, Star Maker.


All these 50's refs got me thinking about the movie "When Worlds Collide" (1951). It was based on a book of the same name, published in 1933. That book had a sequel, After Worlds Collide, published in 1934. What with planets changing orbits and communist threats and stuff, things get rather complicated, but there's a fair amount of verbiage about colonizing a new world in there. In their day, and into the 1960's, the two books were by no means obscure.


Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover novel 'Darkover Landfall' always inspired me; and, with Ursula Le Guin's Hainish novels, they examined human colonisation of other worlds.

  • 1
    ..........Year? Apr 10, 2014 at 9:26
  • "Darkover Landfall" was published in 1971, but the first book published in the series was "The Planet Savers", published in 1958
    – Basya
    Jun 17, 2021 at 10:39
  • As for the Hainish cycle, "Rocannon's World" was published in 1966. So while both of these series are well-known contributions to the the sub-genre of colonization of other planets, they are not early enough to compete with most of the other suggestions, or even the example cited in the question.
    – Basya
    Jun 17, 2021 at 10:42

I would advocate for Kim Stanley Robinson's Mars trilogy. It's like a handbook to colonizing Mars with all the political, technological, sociological and psychological details intact. It's hard SF without FTL or ray guns but thoroughly entertaining and not as fanciful as Bradbury.

  • 1
    ..........Year? Apr 10, 2014 at 8:19
  • 2
    Written in the 90's, Robinson's novels certainly don't predate the Heinlein novel mentioned in the question. Remember, this question is not a list of interesting/influential space-colonization novels. Apr 10, 2014 at 9:13

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