You who stand before us We have held the stars in the hollow Of our hands, and the stars Burn. Pray be careful now As to how you handle them. We have gone to wait on our new world There is but one It lies at the dark side of the sun.
One of Terry Pratchett's earliest novels, The Dark Side of the Sun explores a science fiction setting, although astute readers will note the appearance of several concepts later to appear in Discworld.Dom Sabalos is the heir to the throne of the planet Widdershins, a human colony in a galaxy where there are 52 intelligent races - but oddly all of them inside a sphere 200 light-years in diameter, centred on Wolf 429. Besides this, there are also bizarre stellar phenomena and mysterious towers strewn across the region that speak of Precursors, known as the Jokers. The mystery underlying the setting is where the Jokers went, the only clue being the poem shown above, which was found on one of the towers.A secret arm of the human government, using 'probability math' to predict the future, tries repeatedly to assassinate Dom but the universe always conspires to save him for some purpose: which, of course, is to find the truth behind the Jokers' disappearance...
Contains examples of:
Actually That's My Assistant: Early in the novel, Dom has two people (a man and a battered antique Class One robot) pointed out to him as Charles Sub-Lunar, the greatest genius of the age, and his manservant. It's not until much later that he finds out that Charles Sub-Lunar was the robot.
Anthropomorphic Personification: Interesting variation—the Creapii are many-tentacled and "galaxy-shaped", and so their mythology viewed the galaxy as being a giant Creap.
Assassin Outclassin': An important element of the plot. Due to probability mathematics (see the Expendable Alternate Universe example below) Dom can do this. His meetings with Ways are often borderline CMOFs as a result of this, as Ways is pretty much unstoppable, but can't quite kill him
Bizarre Sexual Dimorphism: Sort of. The phnobes have three sexes, so they're presumably sexually trimorphic — this is mentioned but not explored further. The swamp igs are hermaphrodites, while the drosks are born male but become female 1/3 of the way into their life.
Born Lucky: Not exactly; here it is a learned ability. Extreme luck is a side effect of learning probability mathematics. More straight example is the robot assassin Ways: he was made with built-in knowledge of probability math, or, in other words, "Ways had been designed to be lucky".
Chekhov's Gunman: subverted. Charles Sub-Lunar and his assistant are lurking in the background of a number of scenes, but do very little.
Comically Missing the Point: Dom's coronation breakfast is supposed to be the same as the simple, austere one that the puritan, anti-waste religious figure Arte Sadhim ate before he became Lord of Earth.menu A quarter-loaf of brown bread, a strip of salted fish, an apple and a glass of water. However, inevitably each simple item is acquired by some enormously expensive means as he's royal (for example, the glass of water was melted off a comet).
Expospeak Gag: Several involving the robots. Particularly neat is the scene where Isaac defeats a gang of other robots, which outnumber him but have less sophisticated electronic brains, by informing them that they're not robots, they're "recumbent waterfowl of the genus Anatidae", and then knocking them out while they're trying to work out what he just said. ("I repeat, you are all sitting ducks.")
Referred to as "shape hatred." Despite being a Superior Species, the Creapii are divided by caste depending on their living temperature and their size.
Some humans refer to phnobes as "gecky frogs". This is not a good thing to say.
Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The Whole Erse are rather negative Irish sterotypes. 'Erse' itself is an old fashioned term for Irish Gaelige, a fight is compared to "Whole Erse on Slain Patrick's Eve", they apparently are constantly at war with each other and are backwards rurals who are noted for their dancers and potatoes.
From a Single Cell: The Widdershins googoo (the name is a reference to googols) can regenerate someone's entire body working from just a fragment of brain, which is what happens to Dom after an assassination attempt with a black hole.
Genius Loci: The First Sirian Bank is a sentient planet, Chatogaster is a sentient sea, and there's a brief mention of a sentient sun having been found elsewhere. "We are now looking for an intelligent gas cloud to complete the elemental quartet".
Humans Are Special: Dom's grandmother is convinced the Jokers' World was Earth and they bred with humans to uplift them. Others pointedly mention that identical theories are believed by just about every other race about their own homeworld.
Hyperspace Is a Scary Place: Interspace contains infinite possibilities, meaning unless your ship is shielded you get constant glimpses of distant universes and timelines.
I'm a Humanitarian: Cannibalism is common practice among the Drosks; the other races tend to avert their eyes when seated at the same table with them.
Incredibly Lame Pun: Noted in-universe. The planet Band is so-called not only because it consists of horizontal bands of different kinds of terrain, but also because landing there is banned.
Made of Indestructium: The Joker towers are completely unmarked by any weapon, even Creapii superweapons which take out several nearby star systems.
Million-to-One Chance: Sometimes happens due to extreme luck of some characters. For example, robot assassin Ways in order to prove his identity has to throw three six-sided dice and get three sixes - twice in a row. (That's only a 1 to 46656 chance, of course, but the principle stands.)
There are several references to Larry Niven's work, though more subtle than in Strata. For example, a brief description of drosk society sounds like a comically exaggerated version of the Moties from The Mote in God's Eye.note The drosks are born male and later become female as part of their life cycle, which the Moties do the other way around; the Moties' rapid population growth means their civilisation moves in cycles of growth and collapse back to the stone age, which they prepare for, while the drosks are said to 'periodically build up an advanced civilisation, and then for reasons known only to themselves, carefully dismantle it and revert to barbarism'.
Space Whale: The Sundogs, huge intelligent life-forms native to space who can travel naturally through Interspace and will carry non-matrix engine-equipped ships with them for a fee. They lay their eggs on the planet Band and their young grow up on the surface, being only man-sized when born.
Starfish Aliens: Dom says most of the alien races are incomprehensible to humans, mentioning the Jovians and the Spooners specifically. The Creapii are comprehensible but are a more literal example, being many-tentacled in their native form.
Superior Species: The Creapii are said to be 'Superhuman', which humans (a term which now includes two other sentient species with similar cultures, and some particularly advanced robots) do not appear to object to.
Three Laws Compliant: Parodied. Mention is made of the "Eleventh Law of Robotics, Clause C, As Amended", which states that a robot may use necessary force if explicitly instructed to do so by its authorised user.
Too Dumb to Live: "Intelligence is humanity's prime survival trait. Therefore it is well that those who do not possess it do not procreate."
What Happened to the Mouse?: The robot assassin Ways, who was an antagonist for almost all the book, is forgotten near the end, and his fate is unknown.
What Measure Is a Non-Human?: Invoked when it's mentioned that "Human" is a legally defined term for a limited subset of intelligent species, including some robots and a planet-sized computer known as the First Sirian Bank. Essentially it's a clear measure of what a Non-Human is.