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

Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, has been claimed by invaders from the planet Sirius, the first of many extrasolar Earth colonies. Over several generations, the Sirians and their allies on many of the outer worlds turned against their planet of origin, citing social, scientific, and military superiority after generations of ethnic cleansing. Despite an intergalactic law stating that any planet in an inhabited solar system belongs to the people of that system, the Sirians have constructed a military base on Titan as their first step to attacking Earth. The Council of Science, an organization sworn to protect Earth and its neighboring planets with minimal violence, fears that the Sirians have become too powerful to defeat.

After a Sirian spy named Dorrance escapes Earth custody, Councilmen David “Lucky” Starr and and his tiny-but-mighty companion John Bigman Jones set off after him in their ship, the Shooting Starr along with several vessels from the Terrestial fleet. They pursue Dorrance into Saturn’s rings, where his vessel is destroyed. However, a Sirian vessel contacts the Shooting Starr and orders it away from Saturn, informing him that the Sirians now occupy Titan and any aggression from Earth will be considered an act of war. Starr retreats and orders the Terrestial fleet to do the same.

Later, Starr, Bigman, and fellow councilman Ben Wessilewsky return to Saturn in an unauthorized expedition aboard the Shooting Starr to find a information capsule that Dorrance had stolen from Earth. When Sirian ships again detect their ship and pursue, Starr “crashes” the Shooting Starr on Mimas, Saturn’s closest moon. There, he leaves Wessilewsky behind and takes off again with Bigman–only to be captured by Sirian forces. The leader of the Sirian base on Titan, an irascible tyrant named Devoure, attempts to coerce Starr into confessing to espionage and to testify against Earth at an upcoming peace conference on the asteroid Vesta. Devoure offers to spare Bigman’s life in exchange for Starr’s compliance.

Will Lucky Starr betray Earth at the conference and join the Sirians? What of Councilman Wessilewsky on Mimas? Will the other planets vote against Earth and allow the Sirians to occupy Titan as a prelude to war?

Lucky Starr and the Rings of Saturn is the final volume in a series of six. Much like its predecessor, Moons of Jupiter (reviewed here), Rings of Saturn takes on a noticeably darker tone than the first four books.

I was forced to wonder if perhaps Asimov started off with the intention of creating a light-hearted space adventure, but later allowed real world tensions of the time, such those between USA and the USSR, to inform his fiction. The tension and stakes in Rings of Saturn are higher than they’d been in the previous books, but it could also be construed that each story builds upon the last to culminate in this final confrontation between Earth and Sirius. Though it’s easy to see the potential for future adventures in this universe.

 

 

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

On Jupiter’s most remote moon Adrastea, or Jupiter Nine, a revolutionary anti-gravity project, known as Agrav, is under investigation—again. This time, the Council of Science has sent their most resourceful troubleshooter, David “Lucky” Starr, and his diminutive sidekick, John Bigman Jones. Though what Bigman lacks in stature, he compensates for in bravery and bravado—a combustible mix that often ignites trouble for the pair.

Upon arrival on Jupiter Nine, Starr and Jones are immediately met with hostility from workers who have been repeatedly questioned and interrogated by government authorities in search of a possible spy from Sirius, an Earth colony settled generations ago that had turned against its planet of origin.

In an attempt to gain an advantage in their search for a possible Sirian infiltrator, Starr brings with him a V-Frog, a small amphibious creature from Venus that possesses remarkable empathic ability. Through this creature, Starr and Bigman hope to determine if the spy is human or automaton.

Unfortunately, an intruder kills the V-Frog in their quarters shortly after their arrival, leaving Starr bereft of his main tool for detection. However, the event raises suspicion that the perpetrator was most likely a robot, for any human that approaches a V-Frog is instantly affected by the animal’s empathic projections of affection and benevolence.

Meanwhile, the Agrav vessel Jovian Moon is ready for test flight to Io, Jupiter’s innermost moon. Against the wishes of Mission Commander Donahue, Starr and Bigman join the expedition, as Starr is confident that the Sirian robot will also be on board—and quite possibly a human saboteur as well!

The question is, will the Jovian Moon successfully complete its round-trip voyage or will all hands meet their doom when the vessel plunges into the heart of Jupiter?

Lucky Starr and Moons of Jupiter conveyed a more sinister tone than its four predecessors. This was the first time in the series that David Starr did not always have the upper hand in every predicament and was, in fact, foiled on multiple occasions both by his own incorrect assumptions—or inexperience—and by the ingenuity of the Sirians. Of course, Bigman’s typical immature and rash antics did little to help the situation, except for a tense anti-gravity brawl at the beginning of the book.

At the time of publication in 1954, the Jovian moon now known as Ananke was called Adrastea (aka Jupiter Nine). In 1975, some of the minor satellites of Jupiter were renamed and Adrastea was assigned to Jupiter XV.

Onto the final volume, Lucky Starr and the Rings of Saturn

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

 

 

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

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

One year after David Starr’s adventure on Mars—where he encountered a benevolent race of energy beings living in isolation below the planet’s surface while investigating a food poisoning scare—Starr sets off to eliminate a growing pirate threat originating from our solar system’s asteroid belt.

David “Lucky” Starr, a junior member of the Council of Science, proposes that an expendable, unmanned vessel, the Atlas, be sent to the asteroid belt with the intention of allowing the pirates to capture it and tow it back to their base—where explosives rigged in certain sections of the ship would detonate.

Starr’s mentors, Doctors Conway and Henree, endorse the plan but are shocked when they learn from Starr’s sidekick, the diminutive but capable Bigman, that Starr had decided to board the Atlas in order to infiltrate the pirates.

As planned, the ship is captured by a pirate vessel, commanded by one Captain Anton, who suspects that Starr, traveling under the alias Bill Williams, is a government man. After narrowly winning a duel to the death with Anton’s first officer, a surly and stout pirate named Dingo, Starr is dropped off on a large asteroid, where he encounters a hermit named Hansen, who claims to help the pirates on occasion in exchange for his safety—as long as he remains on the asteroid.

However, Hansen recognizes David Starr as the son of the late scientist Larry Starr. Further, Hansen has a small vessel that can take them off the asteroid and he pleads with Starr to help put him contact with the Council of Science base on Ceres.

Once there, Hansen is not at all forthcoming with information about the pirates and he claims to have forgotten the coordinates of the asteroid he calls home.  However, Starr had taken notes on the way from Hansen’s asteroid and decides to return in his own vessel, the Shooting Star along with Bigman. Eventually, they locate the asteroid, but Starr quickly finds himself ensnared in a trap set by the pirates led by Dingo. They capture him and take him below the surface, where Starr observes a manufacturing plant and main base of pirate activity.

Will Lucky Starr escape the asteroid alive and make it back to the Shooting Star? Even if he does, will he and the Council of Science be able to stop a raid on Ceres by a fleet of pirate ships bent on recapturing Hansen? What’s more, how will the Council of Science eliminate the pirate threat from the asteroid belt once and for all?

Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids

Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids is the second volume in a six-book series. As with David Starr, Space Ranger, which I reviewed here, the story is an easy, fast-paced read. This time around, the plot twist was predictable, but that did not diminish the enjoyment of a vigorous, rip-roaring adventure. Onto the next!

 

Book Review: David Starr, Space Ranger by Isaac Asimov (writing as Paul French)

David Starr, a promising young member of Earth’s Council of Science, is recruited to investigate a series of fatal poisonings that are all traced back to food imported from the Martian colonies.

Once on Mars, Starr adopts the alias of Dick Williams and, along with a short, unruly farmhand named Bigman, ends up working on the Makian farm, the largest on the planet. After several altercations with two of Makian’s irascible foremen, Starr ends up working for the farm’s resident agronomist, Benson. The benevolent researcher has been frustrated in his attempts to locate the source of the poison, but theorizes that perhaps there could be Martians living in caverns beneath the planet’s surface.

Starr enlists Bigman’s help to explore the caverns and indeed encounters a highly evolved race of beings of pure energy who bestow upon Starr a device that generates a personal force field that also shrouds his external appearance. One of the energy beings designates Starr as a “Space Ranger,” an identity that Starr adopts as he tracks down the true perpetrators of the food poisoning.

David Starr, Space Ranger is the first of six books known as the Lucky Starr series written by Isaac Asimov under the pen name of Paul French. The first volume is a fun, lighthearted adventure with no slow moments. I look forward to reading the next!

David Starr Space Ranger Cover