Ask 5 Friends: You & the Horse You Rode In On! Packing for a New World

Welcome to ‘Ask 5 Friends’. With the diversity of people in the Science Fiction arena, a writer has only to reach out to a fellow author to talk us through a tough spot.

At DarkCon 2014, I sat in on a ‘Doctor. Who vs. Serenity’ panel. Gini Koch stood up for Serenity and the other panelist asked “what was with all the horses” on Serenity’s colony worlds. Needless to say most of us got it, but for the sake of argument, let’s explore scenarios…

We have the proposed Mars One mission in 2023. Clearly horses aren’t going to be running the ranges of Mars any time soon, but exploration is written into our DNA. Eventually we’ll reach out to a near-earth planet more immediately habitable, maybe Kepler-62e. Where ever it is, it will be a one-way ticket, either in hibernation or on a generational ship.

Like those pioneers who crossed continents or oceans for a new world, these ships will be packed with the people and tools necessary to be self-sufficient. Besides necessities, people will take things to comfort their exile. Some of the objects will make sense, some will really be out there, but to each their own. Some things we take for granted, but won’t be able to live without them, on the way there or in the generations to come.

Today, let’s Ask 5 Friends this question: What or who would you pack for a new colony, Mars or further out?

We’ll start with the charming and prolific author, Ben Bova. Somewhat apropos, he just released New Earth, a story of ten men and women sent on a one-way mission to an Earthlike planet. I won’t give any spoilers, other than — loved it. He’s hitching a ride with our ragtag crew, but we’ll be dropping him off to join the Mars Mission. So, let’s take a look at what the King of the Cosmos packed in his duffle bag.

From Ben Bova:

Heading for Mars, here are a few things I’d pack for the trip:

  • As big a bag of Oreo cookies as the mission rules will allow. The vital question is, of course, will I share them with the other members of the flight? An extraterrestrial moral dilemma.
  • A digital reader packed with the novels that I’ve always meant to read but never got around to, for one reason or another. Plenty of time to read ‘em while in transit.
  • One of Percival Lowell’s maps of the canals he thought he saw crisscrossing the face of Mars. I know they don’t exist, but it might be fun to try to trace what is actually there.
  • Thermal underwear. It gets cold on Mars, especially at night.
  • A damned good digital camera.
  • A DVD player. A copy of my novel Mars is on a DVD attached to the Phoenix lander, thanks to the Planetary Society. It would be a thrill to take a peek at it in situ.

Ben Bova is the author of more than 130 books of fiction and nonfiction. The former editor of Analog Science Fiction and Omni magazines, he has served as president of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, as well as the National Space Society. He has won six Hugo Awards and received numerous other honors. Check out his website for latest and future releases,

A few bunks down will be the Queen of Interstellar Comedy, Author Gini Koch. She can deliver the laughs, in her books and in real life. Her marketing background makes her ideal for handling singular concepts to major catastrophes, just what every ship needs… someone to boost morale when life in a tin can, or isolated exile, starts taking its toll. She’s less worried about what personal stuff to take on this journey. Let’s find out what she thinks.

From Gini Koch:

First you have to get there, right?

You have to take enough people from a broad enough genetic spectrum. And they cannot all be young because I’m a mother and trust me, you don’t want to put a generational ship in the hands of a preteen or teenager, regardless of what all the YA novels and movies want to tell us. You need the most experienced crew of scientists, technicians, warriors, etc. And you want to have them with at least one person, preferably two, in backup to each key position, or else, should your main engineer die en route, you’re going to be in big trouble. And every one of these people, young and old, had better have some kind of pioneering spirit.

As for the “take a lot of sperms and eggs and whatnot”, that’s great, especially in terms of livestock and plant life, but do you really want to get to Planet Bob (inside joke for all of the other 50 people out there who saw and loved Titan A.E.) and discover your sperm aren’t swimming anymore or your eggs were switched out and they’re all from the Kardashians? No, you need to have actual living, reproducing human beings along to ensure you keep ON having actual living, reproducing human beings around.

You also need livestock, so those living, reproducing human beings have food to eat both on the way and once they arrive. The replicator idea is fab, and I’d love to believe that it won’t break down on the 15 year journey, and be repaired right away if it did have a malfunction, but I’m a realist. It’s gonna break, just as soon as you’re far enough away that you’ll all starve before you can make it back to Earth or to Planet Bob. We really want to avoid The Donner Party: 2258.

But to get there as a cohesive society, you need to take psychologists and lawyers into space. Because you need mediators and people who can help settle disputes. Without the law we have anarchy. Anarchists aren’t notoriously great at that whole pioneering thing. And without effective counseling you’re going to have Arkham Asylum in Space.

You have to get there, intact and not insane, cohesive and not under the sway of a mad dictator. So, to paraphrase the Bard… first, take all the shrinks, the lawyers, and put them on a space ship…

Gini Koch writes the fast, fresh and funny Alien/Katherine “Kitty” Katt series, as well as lots of others. She’s made the most of multiple personality disorder by writing under a variety of pen names, including G.J. Koch, Anita Ensal, Jemma Chase, A.E. Stanton and J.C. Koch. Buy her books – her meds don’t come free, you know. Gini can be reached through her website

Then there’s our Jack-of-all-trades, L.E. Modesitt Jr.. Looking at his impressive resume, Leland’s got the experience to fit right into our colony crew. A real multi-tasker, he can handle whatever the journey throws at us. If we can’t have two or three people from every needed specialty, we should have people with two or three specialties. Leland definitely knows everything from shoveling the icky muck, to dealing with the total schmucks, which probably makes him the ship’s captain. Here’s his thoughts on what is needed for survival.

From L.E. Modesitt Jr.:

In packing for a whole new world, assuming you can breathe there without special gear, since, if you can’t, you’re not going to be able to carry enough stuff to survive, the first thing to bring along is your skepticism. No matter what the survey reports or emigrant guidelines say, lots of things are going to be different, particularly local customs, because customs/habits evolve based on surroundings, and all the things you took for granted in your previous life just might not work on a new world.

The second necessary thing is the willingness to do what is necessary to survive, including that yucky stuff consumed by the locals, at least those locals with the same metabolism as yours.

After that, bring a few durable personal items, such as nail-clippers, scissors, a small sharp knife, and sturdy boots. Oh… and as for the clothing to put in your backpack or suitcase, bring whatever you want, because the odds are that it won’t last anyway, and you’ll end up wearing what you can make or obtain locally.

The last thing to bring is a sense of humor to accompany that hard-edged practicality that you’ll also need.

L.E. Modesitt, Jr. is the bestselling author of over sixty novels encompassing two science fiction series and four fantasy series, as well as several other novels in the science fiction genre. Most recent releases are Cyador’s Heirs (2014), Rex Regis (2014) and The One-Eyed Man: A Fugue, With Winds and Accompaniment (2013). Check out his website at

Weston Ochse is our real live military expert and author. Every mission needs security and he’s the man to provide it. He brings tough and sensitive together in a package that would get us to the new world, and protect us from each other and hostiles. Don’t believe me, here’s his thoughts and the things he packed in his duffle bag.

From Weston Ochse:

It’s an odd thing deciding what to do with everything you leave behind. I could have sold it. I could have given it to charity. But instead I gave it to an old friend who’d been through three bankruptcies, six divorces, and three visits to rehab. At worst he’d lose it all. What would I care? I wouldn’t even know. The best would be that he’d inhabit my discarded life, driving my cars, wearing my clothes, ordering the same pizza. That was comforting somehow. After all, for there to be no me on planet Earth felt very odd indeed.

People would laugh at what I finally decided to take. Like the collapsible fishing rod and reel. It was more than a tool for survival, to me it reminded me of my mother who taught me how to fish, my grandfather who took me out on the lake every summer of my youth, and my father who schooled me in the natural world.

They’d also laugh at my volume of Robert Frost poetry. Although available digitally, there was a problem with digits. You couldn’t hold them. You couldn’t smell them. You couldn’t close them and lay them against your chest as you recited To Earthward and longed for weight and strength to feel the phantom earth once more.

They wouldn’t laugh at my .357 and two Sig Saur P229s and the two boxes of ammo I had for each, but then they also wouldn’t understand why I was bringing them. And why should they? They’d never been to war. The practice of violence is my responsibility and there was miles to go before I could sleep, knowing we were safe.

The last thing I brought was a fifth of 12 year old Macallan Scotch. It wasn’t the most expensive and it wasn’t the most aged, but it was a drink that when drunk reminded me of everything terrific about earth. Not the pollution or crime or politicians or religious intolerance, but instead the ability of someone to take from the earth and craft something so perfect for no other reason than they could.

At first I’d declined the trip, but then I remembered Old Frost and his words which had ruled my life. Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—I took the one less traveled by… and the longest of them all.

Weston Ochse is the author of twenty books, most recently SEAL Team 666 and its sequel Age of Blood, which the New York Post called ‘required reading’ and USA Today placed on their ‘New and Notable Lists.’ He is a military veteran with 29 years of military service and currently returned from a deployment to Afghanistan. To find out more, go to

Since no civilization survives without doctors, Bruce Davis, author/trauma surgeon joins us on this one-way mission. We’ll need someone to pick up the pieces when Gini can’t talk the crazies down and Weston pulls out his .357 to end the standoff. We need someone to keep the new colony and future generations healthy and productive.

From Dr. Bruce Davis:

Forget the doctor, bring a surgeon. There’s an old saying -– a physician know everything but can do nothing; a surgeon knows nothing but can do anything. When settling a primitive world, you need doers, not thinkers. A good surgeon is actually a passable internist. Surgery is a learned motor skill that takes years to master. Medicine is an intellectual pursuit that involves knowing where to look stuff up.

Medicine will also be a major issue. You can only bring so much, like antibiotics. This means an eventual return to pre-antibiotic care. There are a few an organic chemist can make with hydrocarbons and proteins, but they aren’t the safest or most effective drugs. It’s also unlikely that an alien microbe would be sensitive to terrestrial antibiotics. However, most terrestrial diseases the colonists might bring with them would be eliminated through pre-departure screening and quarantines.

Accidents will happen and anesthetics will be another issue, so bring on the poppy seeds. Ether and Chloroform are easy to make, but have some bad side effects. The opium poppy isn’t hard to cultivate and makes an effective pain reliever. Heroin and morphine are not difficult to make from the raw opium and can, in large doses, be effective anesthetics as well.

Also remember that your settlers, however skilled, will be completely on their own. Whatever they don’t bring will have to be manufactured on site. Complex electronics will eventually break down. If you’re totally dependent on them, you’re screwed. Mechanical systems that a good craftsman can fabricate or repair are better.

So, an all-around mid-19th century level of technology is the best prescription for survival.

In his day job Dr. Bruce Davis is a general and trauma surgeon with thirty years of experience in trauma and critical care. When not treating blunt traumas, Bruce is a science fiction novelist and medical essayist. His current books include Blanktown, That Which is Human, and the Profit series: Initial Profit, Glowgems For Profit, and Thieves Profit. All are available as e-books from Amazon or through

So, back to that first argument of ‘why all the horses’?

Let’s face it, my 5 Friends agree colony life on an alien planet is going to be tough. It will take both a pioneering spirit and heroic effort not to die in the first five years. Our electronics will be dead, our mechanical equipment struggling as parts start to break down and most of the supplies we brought with us are gone.

We better have been good at finding or making substitutes, because there is no return. The ship orbiting above will most likely have been designed for cannibalization at the end of the journey, interior materials moved to the surface to create our new homes and structures.

There’s also the chance that data retrieved by our “Kepler Lander Mission” might have been unable to detect elements beyond our scientific knowledge. There might be subtle enough environmental differences that at least one crop fails or certain embryos die. This will impact already dwindling food supplies for humans and animals alike. As tasty as our four-legged friends might look after two decades of dehydrated food, we need to protect those animals for the future.

We need them to raise the roofs of our new homes, fertilize and plow our fields, then harvest them. Carry our burdens and our exploration teams as we search our new planet for compatible natural resources. Besides the chickens, goats, cows, oxen, and maybe even horses that our rancher/biologists hatch from the frozen embryos, there’ll be some dogs and cats as well.

We’ll want them to play with our children, to hunt the vermin, to warn and protect us at night, and to cuddle up next to us as we search the lonely stars for our long lost home, wondering what compelled us to give up everything for this. Will those who someday follow us find a thriving colony, or our bones?


  1. says

    Nicely put. I would venture to say almost every good story about a landing on a new world has parts of described packing list. Some even go as far as meeting the new world ready to tame it with technology. Whoops, Murphy is the universal variable constant. Anyone disagree?

    For the sake of argument:
    Anne McCaffrey : Pern

    Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, Steven Barns : Heorot

    Jerry Pournelle :
    (future history) Forced colonization

    The lucky colony award goes to Manticore in David Weber’s “Honorverse” ( The Manticore Colony is so successful it has an immigration policy : “Don’t wander off & get eaten”

    Those are some of my favorite stories.

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