Literature / Lucky Starr

Series of juvenile science-fiction novels by Isaac Asimov, written in the 1950s under the pseudonym Paul French. The series relates the adventures of David "Lucky" Starr, Councilman of Earth's Council of Science, and his battles against crime and corruption in different regions of the Solar System. He is accompanied by loyal sidekick John Bigman Jones, whose short height and shorter temper contrast him with the tall, cool-headed hero.

The series comprises six volumes:

  • David Starr, Space Ranger
  • Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids
  • Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus
  • Lucky Starr and the Big Sun of Mercury
  • Lucky Starr and the Moons of Jupiter
  • Lucky Starr and the Rings of Saturn

In his adventures, Lucky faces off against unusual alien organisms and hostile space environments as well as ordinary human sabotage. The predominating threat throughout comes from Earth's rivals in the system of Sirius, who, although descended from Earthmen, think themselves superior and show signs of wanting to take over Earth's Solar System. The stories usually have an element of mystery as well as adventure, with Lucky having to find a criminal hidden in plain sight, and, in true Asimov fashion, the solution can hang on the tiniest point.

The Lucky Starr series was written explicitly with the purpose of teaching young people facts about the solar system, which means that it suffers from Science Marches On perhaps more than the rest of Asimov's work—the title Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus should be a clue as to how inaccurate it sometimes gets. Nevertheless, the books are still very enjoyable as science-fiction adventures.

Not to be confused with the anime Lucky Star.

The first books were also marketed to Hollywood, as the basis for a TV series, which is why Asimov went with the pseudonym. He had seen how Hollywood tended to butcher the works of other SF writers, and wanted to be able to disassociate himself from any resulting series, if he had to. After the TV idea fell through, he started adding elements to the later books that clearly labelled him as the author (such as three-laws robots with positronic brains.)

This series provides examples of:

  • Affectionate Gesture to the Head: Shows up from time to time in the books, usually with Lucky ruffling Bigman's hair.
  • Air-Vent Passageway: Bigman uses one to access a critical relay which, once disconnected, will keep an airlock from opening.
  • Artificial Gravity: "Pseudo-grav" is a common Asimovian term used in the series, and in Big Sun of Mercury, it becomes an important part of the plot due to Bigman realizing that one character was able to anticipate a sudden gravity change, thus proving that he deliberately changed the field strength.
  • "Awesome McCool" Name: John Bigman Jones; he answers predominantly to "Bigman", though he is all of five feet two inches in height.
  • Character Name and the Noun Phrase: Five of the six books in the series have titles of the form "Lucky Starr and The X of Y".
  • Chromosome Casting: A male example. All the more impressive considering it encompasses six books.
  • Deflector Shields: The Shooting Starr (as well as other ships) use them.
  • Delicious Distraction: In Oceans of Venus, Lucky notices that the V-frogs seem particularly attracted to petroleum-derived products due to their relative oxygen deficiency. It is this which allows him to break their mental hold at two key points in the story.
  • Early Installment Weirdness: In the first book, Starr encounters an ancient race of Martians who give him a personal force field and dub him "Space Ranger". It was obviously intended as a hero origin story, but all the later books became more of a series of detective novels IN SPACE. He's never called "Space Ranger" again and hardly ever uses the force field.
  • Escape Pod: When he was a child, Lucky was placed in one in Space Ranger to save him from marauding pirates.
  • Everybody Smokes: Quite a few characters do, but not Lucky and Bigman.
  • Exact Words: In one book, an important plot point is that a capsule with valuable intel data in orbit around a planet is said, by an incomplete transmission received from the ship that launched it, to be in a "normal" orbit — which is taken to mean "standard", around the planet's equator. The capsule cannot be found until it is realised that "normal" was actually used in the geometric sense — "perpendicular", a polar orbit.
  • Fiery Redhead: Bigman. He is quite unafraid of going toe to toe with people much taller than him, especially if he's been insulted by being called terms like "shorty", et cetera.
  • Future Food Is Artificial: The yeast-farms of Venus are the source of many foods that are served on that planet, as well as long-term compact space rations. Said food is apparently indistinguishable from the real thing.
  • Future Slang: Sands of Mars! Great Galaxy! Space!
  • Laser Blade: Trope Maker, surprisingly enough. They are first featured in David Starr: Space Ranger.
  • Gagging on Your Words: Happens a few times in the books. As one example, Bigman, with great reluctance, admits he isn't very tall in Oceans of Venus.
  • Go-to Alias: Lucky uses "William Williams", or "Dick Williams".
  • Government Agency of Fiction: The Council of Science.
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners:
    • Hector Conway and Augustus Henree were part of a Power Trio with Lawrence Starr. All three fell in love with the same woman. Hector and Augustus gracefully accepted it when she married Lawrence, and fostered their son after the couple died.
    Neither Henree nor [Conway] had ever married, and for neither were there any girls to compete with Barbara in memory.
    • Possibly also Lucky Starr and John Bigman Jones.
    His years with Lucky had been happy, exciting ones. He had lived a full lifetime in them and had faced death without fear. He could face death now, also without fear.
  • His Name Is...: In the fourth book, a robot about to shut down says that it received its orders from - well, only one syllable is heard, but its enough to figure out he meant "Earthman" - a project director who once visited its homeworld and stole the servant assigned to him.
  • Honorary Uncle: Councilmen Conway and Henree, to Lucky.
  • Hopping Machine: "Hoppers" are used by Lucky at one point in his stay on Venus to get out of a large crowd of people without needing to shoulder his way through.
  • The Hypnotoad: The V-frogs on Venus have empathic and telepathic abilities. Without human influence to concentrate this ability, it is primarily instinctively used by V-frogs to activate emotions of trust and kindness towards them. With human aid, however, it is possible to read and influence minds.
  • Interservice Rivalry: The Council is strongly opposed by a number of other government branches.
  • Ironic Nickname: John Bigman Jones (5 foot 2, counting the hair he keeps combed straight up).
  • "It" Is Dehumanizing: A racist Sirian, as a rule, refuses to use "he" as the pronoun to describe Bigman. He makes his feelings clear in the following quote (ironically using 'him' in the process):
    Devoure broke in, "We had an example here a while ago, the Councilman's companion. It infuriated and nauseated me merely to be in the same room with him; a monkey, a five-foot travesty of a human being, a lump of deformity… "
  • The Napoleon: Bigman's forceful personality is well-established in the series.
  • Nice Shoes: On Mars, men (and presumably, women) wear hip-boots of the most riotous possible color combinations. In an aversion, Lucky wears relatively plain ones and gets a ribbing for it from Bigman.
    Bigman: And you're the only farmboy I ever heard of that was willing to wear simple black and white.
  • No Gravity for You: Inverted in one story, where a character is killed because Earth-like gravity was activated at exactly the wrong moment.
  • Outdated Future: The Zeerust is pretty obvious when it comes to the computers that are available in the series. A specialized computer man has to prepare input in the form of paper tape in Moons of Jupiter. In Oceans of Venus, a technical officer in charge of the maintenance of the dome (of the city of Aphrodite) as a whole has a portable computer that weighs about 25 pounds. Even allowing for the specialized apparatus hidden in it to control the V-frogs, modern miniaturization would almost certainly have cut that weight down to a more manageable amount, plus made the computer itself less bulky.
  • Punny Name: Lucky, of course, but also his spaceship, the Shooting Starr.
  • Planet of Hats: Almost literally—Martian farm boys all wear garish hip boots, while Venusian men all have moustaches.
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Most notably, Sten Devoure from Rings of Saturn. He's unabashedly racist and has a very narrow view of what constitutes a human being.
  • Pintsized Powerhouse: Bigman. When he gets into fights, he usually manages to win.
  • Reckless Sidekick: Bigman; Lucky occasionally has to remind him he can't go haring off based on suspicion alone with only the flimiest of plans. A case where this tendency almost backfires on Bigman is when he proposes single combat with an antagonist who is considerably taller and doesn't play fair.
  • Rule of Cool: In David Starr, Space Ranger, there is a fancy restaurant with tables made out of force fields. Why? Because they're allegedly easy to clean. However, the book goes on to say that the force fields worked too well, and the fields had to be made to purposely glitter so people would see that their plates and cutlery actually rested on something tangible.
  • Science Marches On: To such an extent that the 1970s reprintings included new introductions by Asimov enumerating all the newly-discovered astronomical facts that contradict the books' descriptions.
  • Shown Their Work: It is by Isaac Asimov, after all. He was well-known for meticulously ensuring the science he used was accurate; as one example it is actually perfectly safe to breathe pure oxygen in a pressurized suit at one-fifth normal atmospheric pressure.
  • Silent Whisper: In Lucky Starr and the Rings of Saturn, Lucky and Wess take a moment to speak privately to one another by using ordinary sound waves, conducted through their spacesuits, so there is no risk of being spied upon. The narrator never tells us what Lucky says, but it becomes clear it has to do with the elaborate deception that Lucky pulls on everyone except Wess later in the book.
  • Society Marches On: Women are barely featured in the series (four of the books have no women at all) and certainly none in positions of power.
  • Space Pirates: Featured in Pirates of the Asteroids, and they also get a mention in Space Ranger.
  • SpaceX: The V-frogs, so named because they are a native species to Venus and appear somewhat froglike (albeit they have six legs).
  • Stellar Name: "Starr", which is pretty self-explanatory.
  • Stop, or I Shoot Myself!: Bigman invokes this to force robots on a Sirian base to deliver him to the base commander, Sten Devoure.
  • Technology Marches On: We will all use microfilm in the future.
  • Three-Laws Compliant: Asimovian robots appear in Big Sun of Mercury, Moons of Jupiter, and Rings of Saturn.
  • Tricked-Out Shoes: See elsewhere in this page for mention of the garishly-colored Martian hip-boots.
  • Underwater City: Featured in Oceans of Venus, as it is essentially a planetary ocean.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Invoked in Rings of Saturn; Lucky has a plan to force the Sirians to become arrogant and overplay their hand at an interstellar conference.
  • Unusual Euphemism: "To Sun-center with the Sirian cobbers!" as one example.
  • Venus Is Wet: Oceans of Venus depicts Venus as an ocean planet with seas and kelp (and domed underwater cities).
  • We Would Have Told You, But...: Most commonly used with Bigman, because he doesn't always control his temper and could blab.
  • What Measure Is a Non-Human?: One Sirian villain tries to get a three-laws-compliant robot to kill Bigman by persuading the robot that Bigman isn't a human: after all, he's noticeably smaller than any Sirian! The robot never before saw an Earth human, so it almost works.
  • What We Now Know to Be True: Asimov wrote forewords to his novels, which are now themselves somewhat out of date. But at least he recognized that Science Marches On and wanted to avoid having the readers of his novels get confused.
  • You Remind Me of X: Very sparingly referred to ordinarily as to his descent from his father and mother, but it becomes a crucial revelation of the true nature of a character in Pirates of the Asteroids due to Lucky catching on to a peculiar aspect of the remembrance - the person in question notices the resemblance when Lucky gets angry, and Lucky knows his father rarely if ever showed it, except most memorably when he was ready to shoot any incoming pirates on the ship the Starrs were travelling on.