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 added 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
  • Air-Vent Passageway: Bigman has to admit he's small enough to fit in one to be able 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 McCoolname
  • Character Name 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 realizes 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
  • Everybody Smokes: except Lucky and Bigman.
  • Exact Words: In one book, an important plot point is that a spaceship in orbit around a planet is said, by an incomplete transmission received from it, to be in a "normal" orbit — which is taken to mean "standard", around the planet's equator. The ship cannot be found until it is realised that "normal" was actually used in the geometric sense — "perpendicular", a polar orbit.
  • Excited Chapter Title!
  • Fiery Redhead: Bigman.
  • Future Food Is Artificial
  • Future Slang: Sands of Mars! Great Galaxy! Space!
  • Laser Blade: Trope Maker, surprisingly enough.
  • Gagging on Your Words
  • Go-to Alias: Lucky uses "William Williams". Or "Dick Williams".
  • Government Agency of Fiction: The Council of Science
  • Has Two Dads
  • Heterosexual Life-Partners: Hector Conway and Augustus Henree.
    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.
  • Ironic Middle Name: John Bigman Jones (5 foot 2, counting the hair he keeps combed straight up).
  • "It" Is Dehumanizing
    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… "
  • Look Behind You
  • 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
  • Pintsized Powerhouse: Bigman.
  • Reckless Sidekick: Bigman again.
  • Rule of Cool: In David Starr, Space Ranger, there is a fancy restaurant with tables made out of force fields. Why? Because they're so easy to clean, of course... yeah, right.
  • 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.
  • 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
  • SpaceX: The V-frogs.
  • Stellar Name: "Starr".
  • 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 Martian hip-boots.
  • Underwater City: Featured in Oceans of Venus.
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee
  • Unusual Euphemism: "To Sun-center with the Sirian cobbers!"
  • 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.