Steve Cole is best known as the ever-scribbling, slightly crazy author of the Astrosaurs book series – featuring dinosaurs in space – as well as Cows in Action and The Slime Squad. The 19th Astrosaurs book, The Forest of Evil, is out now and a special 20th title will be published later this year.
Astrosaurs: The Forest of Evil
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“I was born in the midst of the Apollo space programme, where billions of dollars were spent hurling spacemen between the Earth and the moon. As I grew up, science fiction seemed to be becoming science fact, and the anticipation of what might be discovered led me to devour every book about space I could get my hands on. It was all so exciting.
And yet, slowly with the years, stuffy reality has turned up its nose at science fiction’s monstrous imaginings. We know now that there are no jungles on the moon, no little green men on Mars (the best we can hope for are little green bacteria). But space is infinite, and there will always be so many exquisite mysteries still remaining – so hurrah for all those fabulous space books on the shelves, full of fun and wonder, helping us to imagine and dream and inspiring us to discover the truth.
Here’s my top 10 of space books past and present for open minds of all ages, guaranteed to grab the imagination and squeeze it in all sorts of exciting places. In no particular order…”
A book that will turn many of its readers into aspiring physicists, GSKTTU (as it is not known by anyone) combines a fast-paced scientific adventure with some (slower paced) adventurous science. An escaping pig leads young George into the world of his unusual neighbours – Penny, her father Eric the absent-minded professor, and a supercomputer named Cosmos. Cosmos has generated a portal into space, allowing for a rambunctious exploration of the universe and cool black hole action. The book is enhanced by Garry Parsons’s illustrations and reams of stunning space images. Astronomical!
A key inspiration to the writers of the modern TV take on the Time Lord, the first ever Doctor Who book from 1964 has just been reprinted with a new introduction by acclaimed fantasy writer Neil Gaiman. Based on the series’ second adventure (and the first to feature the Daleks), it throws the mysterious Doctor and his unwilling companions into an epic struggle for survival on the planet Skaro.
A year before Doctor Who first aired on our screens this lively and satisfying fantasy gave us Mrs Who, the original mysterious alien to travel the universe with unlikely companions. She’s one of three immortal entities (together with Mrs Which and Mrs Whatsit) embroiled in a long struggle against the evil Black Thing, a cosmic cloud of darkness. Three human children are recruited to join the battle, traversing the universe via wrinkles in space-time. Evoking awe and wonder throughout, A Wrinkle in Time is a compelling modern classic.
You’d never guess from the title, but this book presents the complete history of space in comic strip form, covering a vast array of subjects and concepts with clarity and laugh out loud humour. Education and entertainment rarely come so perfectly pitched.
5. Kings of Space by Capt WE Johns
The creator of Biggles quotes Jules Verne at the start of this colourful space adventure – “what one man is able to imagine, other men will be able to do”. Sadly, no one has yet been able to discover dinosaurs under the clouds of Venus, or tackle killer mosquito infections in the canals of Mars… but I hope to do so one day! Full of scientific lunacy and wild action, this book spawned a slew of sequels chronicling the exploits of group Capt Timothy “Tiger” Clinton RAF (retired), his son Rex, Prof Lucias Brane and his butler Judkins in the good ship Spacemaster (which handily runs on the cosmic rays all around us – which certainly saves on fuel bills). Rip-roaring, space-conqueringly good fun.
Accessibly written in a conversational style – literally, as the entire book is a dialogue between author and an irreverent imaginary interrogator – this is a popular science book that includes puzzles quizzes and experiments too. A fantastic spur to the imagination, with no boring bits.
An imaginative tour de force, this rousing tale of dauntless pluck in the farthest reaches of space presents an alternative reality where Sir Isaac Newton’s great discoveries have made the conquest of space possible. By the Victorian era, Art and Myrtle Mumby live in Larklight, a ramshackle old house that orbits in the deeps beyond the Moon, with British Standard Gravity to keep their feet on the ground. One morning a mysterious visitor calls… triggering a flight through space and an adventure that gleefully marries pulp sci-fi concepts to a 19th-century writing style.
The superbly silly pan-galactic adventures of Arthur Dent began over 30 years ago but are still just as fresh and funny today. To quote Russell T Davies from the foreword of the latest edition, “I don’t think Douglas Adams is ever included in the list of great children’s writers… But while the Great Man wrote with magnificent intellect and dazzling philosophy… there’s surely the heart of a Great Big Kid inside these pages.”
Best-known for his Narnia books, Lewis also turned his hand to science fiction. In this, the first of his so-called Cosmic Trilogy, a man called Ransom is taken to the planet Malacandra (that’s Mars to you and me) where he meets intelligent space otters, tall, feathered humanoids, workaholic frog-tapirs and angelic spirits of the ether. But the real menace on Mars is human greed… Space adventure underpinned with thoughtful philosophy.
A bedtime story to finish on! “Aliens love underpants of every shape and size, but there are no underpants in space so here’s a big surprise…” Yes, forget alien invasions – all those pesky extraterrestrials really want to do is to steal our pants! Ben Cort‘s witty and vibrant illustrations are the perfect match for Claire Freedman‘s rollicking text.