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Literature / David Starr, Space Ranger

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First published in February 1952, by Paul French (a Pen Name for Isaac Asimov). This is a Science Fiction action-adventure with Mystery Fiction elements targeted towards a juvenile audience. The first book of the series, we learn how Lucky Starr and Bigman meet; solving a mystery on Mars.

David Starr has recently graduated and joined the Council of Science. While waiting for his parents to join him for a celebration dinner at a fancy restaurant, he witnesses a victim of food poisoning die. Afterwards, he's informed about a dozen deaths that have been attributed to poisoned Martian foods. As a member of the Council of Science, he's assigned to investigate the cause of the poisoning.


Not long after he arrives on Mars, David takes the alias "Williams" to become a Martian farmhand, thinking that checking the farms is the best way to discover how the food has been poisoned. Looking for a job, he meets Bigman, a short man who speaks in a loud voice. They're both hired by Hennes, and they work on the farm for a month. During this time, "Williams" gets into a fight and proves himself the equal to any Martian farmhand. When the month is up, Bigman goes to talk with "Williams", and figures out he's really David Starr, from Earth's Council of Science.

In exchange for keeping his secret, David lets Bigman help him out, passing messages and spotting him as he goes off on an adventure Beneath the Martian surface. David discovers what happened to the ancient Martians, and is given a gift to help him become the famous Space Ranger. He has a primary suspect in the food poisoning now, and the only thing left is to gather the physical evidence!


David Starr, Space Ranger provides examples of:

  • Ascend to a Higher Plane of Existence: When David meets the native Martians, they explain that they’ve ascended into Energy Beings due to a deeper understanding of scientific principles than they have. They readily admit that humanity might be able to join them, and look forward to the idea, but they ascended over a million years ago, and humankind simply isn't ready yet.
  • Batman Gambit: Hector Conway tricks David Starr into going to Mars by arranging for him to inspect the Martian food while it's on the Moon’s customs office. By admitting to David that he also has people inspecting the Martian foods at the Martian customs office, before being shipped to the Moon, he ensures that David tries to outthink him by going to Mars instead.
  • Beneath the Earth: Mr. Benson correctly predicts that the Martians have moved underground where they dug a vast network of underground tunnels to retain liquid water and atmosphere. He also claims that the Martians may have been poisoning the Earthmen's crops to get rid of the invasion.
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  • Big Bad: Benson, the Martian agrarian scientist, is the one behind the poisoning scheme, and the one ordering Hennes to do his dirty work, like killing the nosy "Williams".
  • Billed Above the Title: The first cover, from Doubleday in 1952, used "A Science Fiction Adventure by Paul French" at the top, even putting the author's name in larger font (but not as large as the title of the work).
  • Brick Joke: On a meta level, can be considered one for the Foundation Series. In The Merchant Princes (1944), Mallow talks about the UV-sensitive tattoos used by Periphery state agents being a "naive" way to mark. This book shows how a properly technological organization distinguishes its agents - a tattoo with special chemicals requiring a person to focus on an emotion changing the hormone pattern in his blood to a particular combination.
  • Deflector Shields: David acquires a personal force field generator, later called a "glimmer shield" because of its peculiar optic properties. It is unique because it was made by the ancient Martians who hide themselves beneath the surface of Mars. It is stated to be technology far beyond current human science, but is only used once after this story (in Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids).
  • Domed Hometown: Martian cities and farms are covered in domes to hold the Earth-normal atmosphere in.
  • Escape Pod: As a child, David was put into an escape pod by his parents, to save him from marauding pirates. He was alone for two days in the lifeboat.
  • Excited Show Title!: A few chapters end in exclamation marks:
    • Chapter 6: "Sand Away!"
    • Chapter 14: "I Am the Space Ranger!"
  • A Form You Are Comfortable With: When David, talking to a Martian, finds it uncomfortable speaking to thin air, the Energy Being states taking a fully human shape would be "a poor and undignified imposture.", and instead appears as a vague glowing shape seven feet tall, just so Starr will have something.
  • Language Barrier: Despite the native Martians being able to speak directly to David's mind, certain concepts (as well as personal names) are represented by [...] or [... …]. The Martians explain to him it is because his culture doesn't yet have the scientific background needed to understand the principles (or, in case of things like chemical compounds, Starr himself doesn't have the required knowledge).
  • Laser Blade: The technology for force fields is sufficiently developed that knives and climbing equipment can have these traits incorporated in their design. They're considered highly dangerous, due to being able to generate invisible blades that cut through bone, metal, and even stone easily. Contender for Trope Maker, due to being published in 1952.
  • The Namesake: The 1963 German translation calls this volume "Gift from Mars", which refers to the unusual mask given to David by the native Martians.
  • No Biochemical Barriers: A series of poisonings occurs in people who ate Mars-grown food. A (human) Martian scientist says it could have been caused by the local bacteria. Subverted later; he was the one behind the poisonings, and the protagonist realized he had been telling a deliberate lie.
  • Perp Sweating: David has to use the relatively few bits of physical evidence he has to trick Hennes into confessing the plot he had been working on to prevent Earth's food from being poisoned.
  • Planet of Hats: To create differences between Earth and the colonized Mars, Martian life hangs significantly on a Space Western subculture. Notions of a "fair fight" and a farmhand's responsibility to maintain his equipment and himself are prevalent. Clothing-wise, they all wear thigh-high boots with garish colours and multiple pockets. Messing about with someone else's boots is taboo, to the point of being offensive.
  • Rule of Cool: Sanito tables are made out of force fields. Why? Because they're easy to clean. However, the initial force fields worked too well, and they had to be made to purposely glitter so people would see that their plates and cutlery actually rested on something tangible.
  • Shown Their Work: Isaac Asimov was well-known for meticulously ensuring the science he used was accurate; Bigman explains the operation of the nose/mouth mask used by the Martian colonists while getting some petty revenge against "Williams" for withholding information. Breathing pure oxygen in a facemask pressurized at one-fifth normal atmosphere works out in the Martian landscape, but not in the full pressure of the domes.
  • Space Pirates:
    • A pirate attack on Venus killed David's parents and a hundred other people.
    • Pirates living in the asteroid field are the ones claiming responsibility for Earth's food poisoning. They're handled offscreen as David tries to go after their leaders on Mars.
  • Spotting the Thread: Bigman twice manages to see through David Starr's deceptions. The first was the claim of being "Williams", an Earthie nobody trying to move to Mars. David sends him to a location that he knows to be a Council of Science hidden base, and Bigman cottons onto him being a member of the Council (even calling out David's name). The second time, David claims to be a mysterious Martian calling themselves "Space Ranger". Bigman recognizes the black-and-white boots and waits until after the Perp Sweating to explain how he knew it was David. His intuitive ability to see through David's deceptions is a practical benefit, so he gets taken along when David leaves for Earth.
  • Tagline: "It was David Starr's first mission, and the assassins were hoping it would be his last" — 1984 Del Rey cover.
  • Telepathic Spacemen: The native Martians, having ascended into Energy Beings, are able to communicate directly to David's mind, often (but not always) forgoing the Language Barrier.
  • Tricked-Out Shoes: Martian hip-boots have built-in hidden containers for small useful items.