Book Review: Lucky Starr and the Big Sun of Mercury by Isaac Asimov (writing as Paul French)

There’s no time to waste as young Council of Science member and troubleshooter David “Lucky” Starr arrives on Mercury with his tiny-but-mighty companion John Bigman Jones. No sooner do they land their ship inside the Dome city than lead engineer Scott Mindes escorts them outside onto the surface of the planet where he speaks of giant men in metal suits who can remain on the surface for hours despite the intense heat and deadly radiation from the sun. Yet each time Mindes attempts to approach them, the apparitions vanish into the shadows.

The engineer seems to be growing increasingly irritable during their discussion, until he finally pulls a blaster from his holster and fires at Lucky. Fast reflexes and low gravity save Starr’s life as Bigman tackles Mindes to the ground.

Later, Starr and Bigman are informed by Chief Medical Officer Doctor Gardoma that Mindes, a genuinely cordial young man, has been under enormous strain due to repeated acts of sabotage against Project Light, an experiment intended to produce planet-wide cooling and even disbursement of heat via orbiting space stations. Worse, Earth politician Senator Swenson has accused the Council of Science of extravagantly “wasting” taxpayers’ money by supporting Project Light. To that end, Swenson sent a ham-fisted investigator of his own named Urteil, who has managed to bully and intimidate almost everyone working on the project, especially Mindes.

Even the elderly Lance Peverale, senior astronomer of the observatory, distrusts Urteil so much that he refuses to speak of him when Starr broaches the topic.

At a banquet the following evening, tensions rise as Urteil harasses Starr and maligns the Council of Science. While Starr takes the comments in stride, the short-fused Bigman characteristically lashes out at Urteil in a violent rebuttal that begins a savage feud between them.

By way of distraction, Peverale launches into a polemic against the people of the planet Sirius, accusing them of sending saboteurs to Mercury in an attempt to thwart Project Light. Although Peverale has no tangible evidence to support his claim, the Sirians have a well-earned reputation as pirates and terrorists.

If not the Sirians, then perhaps the perpetrator is Swenson’s lackey Urteil, or someone else inside the Dome, or even the strange men in metal suits witnessed by Mindes. With as many theories as there are suspects, Starr and Bigman take to the gelid underground mines and the scorching surface of Mercury to unlock the mystery.

This is the fourth book in the Lucky Starr series and just as enjoyable as the previous three as long as you take them for what they are—fantastic, light-hearted adventures of space opera, cleverly written, but with occasional phrasing that would be considered dated and clumsy in the eyes of today’s readers. These stories are a departure from Asimov’s usual “hard SF” novels and sagas such as I, Robot, The Gods Themselves, and The Foundation Series, to name but a few.

Much like the previous volumes, the 1972 Signet edition of Lucky Starr and the Big Sun of Mercury includes a disclaimer by Asimov regarding his inaccurate description of the story’s main planet, which was based on the best astronomical data available in 1956 when the series was first published.

 

Lucky Starr and the Big Sun of Mercury

 

 

Local Author Day at the Sands Outlets in Bethlehem, PA

Just a reminder that if you’re in the Lehigh Valley area on Saturday, August 5, there will be approximately 25 local authors, myself included, selling and signing copies of their books at The Sands Outlets in Bethlehem, PA from 10AM to 4PM.  
 
Come out to The Sands Outlets and find your new favorite author! Much gratitude to fellow scribe Larry Deibert for organizing this marvelous event.
Sands Outlet Local Author Event

Too Many Damn “-uptions”!

With the constant disruptions, eruptions, interruptions, and other “uptions” in my writing schedule over the past seven months (honestly, over the past 19 months, but we won’t go there)—and with the piecemeal progress on my SF novel—I decided that the most effective way to regain traction and reignite my enthusiasm would be to review what I’ve written thus far from the beginning.

To that end, I finally sat down and edited the first four chapters late last night, which effectively rekindled my energy for these characters and the story! I hope to read the next three chapters later today, take a deep breath, and press onward with an eye toward completing the first draft by the end of the year.

Time or Distance

I’ve never taken this much time to finish a draft of anything so this has been frustrating to say the least. Once I start a project, I normally write every day or at least every other day.  Time away from a project can provide fresh perspective—and it has in this case—but an extended absence can also cause loss of interest and momentum. So time to get back on it!

With the home renovation finished and the situation at my job hopefully stabilizing soon (more details here), I hope to resume a normal routine in the coming weeks… or at least until the next “uption”!

I’m sure I’m not the only one who has experienced extended delays in their writing schedule. Feel free to vent and share your pain in the comments. I could use some schadenfreude!

Book Review: Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus by Isaac Asimov (writing as Paul French)

Along with his diminutive but dauntless sidekick, Bigman Jones, David “Lucky” Starr travels from Earth to Venus when fellow Council of Science member and longtime friend, Lou Evans, is charged with corruption and theft of an experimental yeast formula.

During their flight to Venus, a message from Evans warns Starr to stay away from the planet. This of course only entices Starr to press onward. As they approach Venus, Starr and Bigman discover that their pilot and navigator have succumbed to mind control and turned against them, sending the vessel crashing into the ocean.

After a brief scuffle, the pilot and navigator regain control of themselves, but recall nothing of the incident. Starr and Bigman repair the vessel and dock in the underwater dome city of Aphrodite. There, Starr and Bigman meet with senior council member, Doctor Mel Morriss, only to learn that previous incidents of mental aberrations have occurred in the recent past—and Lou Evans might himself be a victim.

Starr requests an interview with Evans, but his fellow councilman is reluctant to explain his actions. Their conversation is then interrupted by an emergency—a junior engineer has fallen victim to mind control and is threatening to open one of the airlocks and flood the entire city! Worse, Lou Evans takes advantage of the distraction to escape in a personal submarine into the oceans of Venus.

Can Lucky Starr save the underwater town of Aphrodite from destruction, recapture his fellow councilman, and solve the mystery behind the mind control before the next incident destroys every living human on Venus?

Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus is the third book in the series and is just as entertaining as the previous entries. Asimov creates a clever and plausible mechanism by which the mind control is executed.

The feisty Bigman is noticeably more subdued than in the first two volumes. His most heroic moment is hustling through the city’s ventilation shafts in an effort to cut off power to the airlock before the engineer can flood the city. After that, Bigman is reduced to steering a ship and asking Lucky for clarification about certain scientific concepts during their adventures.

Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus Cover

In the 1972 Signet editions of the series that I’m reading, Asimov added a disclaimer regarding the inaccurate descriptions of the planets when this series was originally published in 1954. Such details as the existence of an ocean on Venus, for example, were merely speculation prior to the images sent by the Mariner II probe launched in 1962 that debunked the theory.

Onto Lucky Starr and the Big Sun of Mercury

Delaware – The Coastest with the Mostest!

My wife and I spent another fantastic vacation in Rehoboth Beach, DE with several wonderful friends. The latter half of the week delivered sweltering temperatures ranging from 96F to 100F, but that didn’t stop up from having a marvelous time!

It was a busy and fast seven days I could absolutely use another week at the beach just to finish the book I’m reading and get some writing in, but I’ll jump back into writing once I’m home. It was quite a tempest of activity including daily morning walks along the beach and boardwalk, catching SpiderMan: Homecoming at the Midway Theatre, parasailing in Dewey Beach with my friend Renee, shopping and lunch in Bethany Beach and Fenwick Island, a trip to Cape Henlopen State Park, shopping at Heritage Antiques in Route 1 and in historic downtown Lewes, and of course, ice cream from various shops including the Royal Treat and King’s Homemade Ice Cream.

Finally, no trip to Rehoboth/Bethany would be complete without visiting our favorite toy shop, Yesterday’s Fun—both in Rehoboth and in Bethany.

Henlopen Lighthouses

Cape Henlopen Beach Cape Henlopen Dunes Cape Henlopen Dunes Cape Henlopen State Park

Fort Miles 8in Gun Fort Miles 16in Gun Fort Miles and Tower 7

Henlopen Lighthouse & Cape May Ferry

Parasailing with Renee Parasailing with ReneeParasailing with Renee Parasailing with Renee

Parasailing with Renee

Imperial Guard action figure Starfish decorationResin Shark and Sailfish Star Wars Bamboo Cups

Deka Return of the Jedi Pitcher Deka Return of the Jedi Pitcher

I also held a book signing at Browseabout Books on Thursday. I only sold one book, but I enjoyed chatting with people, including my friend Mary Ann who was in town on vacation for the week.

Browseabout Author Signing Ad Browseabout Signing-WhiteboardBrowseabout Book Signing Maryann & Phil at Browseabout