The exploration of other worlds is one of the most enduring themes of science fiction.
During the first decades of science fiction, Mars was the most common planet and the most romanticized of our solar system whose surface conditions seemed closest to being amenable to life. Percival Lowell's idea about canals of Mars was taken at face value then. Currently Mars is depicted mainly as a target of terraforming.
See Mars in fiction for more details on the red planet's numerous roles.
During the early-to-mid 20th century, Venus was also a popular subject. Venus is very similar to Earth in its size and surface gravity, and its surface is hidden by a thick cloud layer. Venus was usually depicted as a warm, wet, jungle- and marsh-covered world where life was plentiful, with often thinly-veiled allegories of the European colonization of Africa. Venus is in fact an inhospitable world — the clouds are sulfuric acid, the atmosphere is hundreds of times thicker than Earth's, and the surface temperature could melt lead.
See Venus in fiction for more details and particular works.
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Authors have created thousands of fictional planets.
Most of them are nearly indistinguishable from Earth, which is why Brian M. Stableford calls them "Earth-Clones".
In these, differences with Earth life are mostly social (like Barrayar in the science fiction of Lois McMaster Bujold).
More physically unusual planets have been in the hard science fiction books.
- Anarres — Ursula K. Le Guin's Dispossessed (anarchist)
- Barrayar — Lois McMaster Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan series (feudal military culture)
- Brontitall — The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy; planet of bird people who live in the ear of a statue after shoe shop disaster.
- Cetaganda — Bujold's Vorkosigan series (genetically engineered culture)
- Chthon — Piers Anthony's Chthon (prison planet)
- Dorsai — Gordon R. Dickson's Dorsai series (soldier culture)
- Gethen/Winter — Ursula K. Le Guin's The Left Hand of Darkness (hermaphrodites)
- Gor — John Norman's Gor series (men are warriors; women are sex-slaves; all are happy in their appointed roles)
- Magrathea — The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy; planet of wealthy customised planet builders.
- Orthe — Mary Gentle's Golden Witchbreed (post-holocaust/medieval aliens)
- Pern — Anne McCaffrey's Dragonriders of Pern series (people ride genetically-engineered dragons)
- Riverworld — Philip Jose Farmer's Riverworld series (all humans of history)
- Rubanis — Valerian series (ultra-capitalist)
- Sangre — Norman Spinrad's Men in the Jungle (cannibalism)
- Shora — Joan Slonczewski's A Door into Ocean (waterbound culture)
- Solaria - Isaac Asimov's Robot series. People grow up isolated, and eventually lead totally solitary lives, doing all their interactive via telepresence.
- Tiamat — Joan D. Vinge's The Snow Queen (matriarchy/monarchy)
Unusual Physical environment
Typical examples are one-climate planets — deserts, waterworlds, arctic conditions and especially jungles.