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Literature / Journey to the Morning Star

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Journey to the Morning Star (Путешествие на Утреннюю звезду, Puteshestviye na Utrenniuyu zvezdu) is a 1961 Russian children's novel by Vitaliy Gubarev. While the novel is mainly written as science fiction, it does feature a number of A Wizard Did It moments thanks to one of the main characters being an actual wizard.

A teenage Power Trio (Ilya, Nikita, Aleksey), whose names mysteriously match three famous bogatyrs, meet a girl named Zabava, who mentions that her grandfather is a Wizard. After they boys sneak into her yard, the Wizard invites them in and reveals that he has invented a new mode of transportation called a "thoughtplane", which is, basically, a starship capable of moving "at the speed of thought" (i.e. instantaneously) to any point in the universe. He offers the boys to join him and his granddaughter on a trip to a planet in the Coma Berenices constellation. After pressing the Big Red Button, they exit the craft to find themselves on an Earth-like alien world. They explore for a bit, but two of them are nearly killed by carnivorous walking flowers emitting knockout gases, and they discover dinosaurs on this world. They witness a dinocephalus attacking and killing a brontosaurus, before the predator turns on them, only to be shot out in mid-leap by an unseen weapon. They meet a group of Human Aliens. After the Wizard brings out his magical translation box, they find out that the aliens are a scout group from another planet in the same system called Etheri Tau ("Cold Star" in their language). Etheri Tau is a dying world, whose people have long ago moved underground but now are attempting to move their population to the virgin world of Aeo Tau ("Morning Star"), where our heroes are currently located. The Etherians originally mistook the humans for the denizens of Sino Tau ("Thunder Star"), a warlike race of Human Aliens from the second planet in the Lado system. The Sinots are split into two constantly-warring factions, whom the Etherians call the Circulars and the Angulars based on their symbols. The militant Sinots are opposed to the Etherians relocating to Aeo Tau, claiming that the young planet belongs to them, invoking The Right of a Superior Species and killing the original 40,000 Etherian settlers as well as the diplomatic mission sent to Sino Tau. They have ships capable of traveling at the speed of light, but they refuse to share the secret.

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In the middle of the history lesson, Etherian sensors detect two Sinot ships approaching the planet, one from each faction. Zabava spots the Circular rocket and joins the Wizard and Fler (a female Etherian scientist) on a scouting flight over the landing area. However, the Sinot ship emits an EM field that knocks out electronics nearby (with the exception of the Wizard's magical box), and the three are captured by a Sinot named Scorpinomo and his robot Goreno (all crewmembers aboard the rocket except for the captain are robots, as the Sinot higher-ups don't trust anyone). The Angular rocket arrives shortly after that and destroys the Circular rocket on a strafing run. As the Angular rocket is landing, Scorpinomo sends Goreno to infiltrate the rival ship and kill its commander, so that Scorpinomo can claim it for himself. Fler then reveals that, after the destruction of the Circular ship, she was able to contact the Etherian base, and her people are ready to pull a Superweapon Surprise on the Sinots in the form of a directed planetquake that will destroy anything in the localized area (naturally, one of the humans previously pointed out the alternate application of this technology). The Wizard, Zabava, Fler, and Scorpinomo are able to escape in Fler's flyer, but they are forced down by an erupting volcano. Angry, Scorpinomo is about to execute his prisoners only to be disarmed by the boys, who sneak up on him. Meanwhile, the Etherians stop the planetquake and the eruption. Klad, the leader of the Etherian expedition and Fler's father, arrives in a flyer along with Goreno, who has survived the quake. Goreno informs Scorpinomo that he has received new instructions from Sino Tau to arrest Scorpinomo and deliver him back for trial. The people of Sino Tau have risen up against their oppressors, sick and tired of constant warfare, and are offering the Etherians peace and friendship. That same day, the first Etherian settlers arrive on Aeo Tau. The humans return to Earth, and the boys head home.

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Journey to the Morning Star provides examples of the following tropes:

  • All Planets Are Earthlike: The Lado system in the Coma Berenices constellation has three planets, and all of them are capable of supporting life. In fact, two of them have developed intelligent life, while one is a young world with dinosaurs. While Etheri Tau, the third and oldest planet, is no longer habitable on the surface, it still counts.
  • Cape Wings: The Sinots have these. Why walk down all those stairs on your huge rocket when you can glide down? Just don't forget to wear your cape before you jump.
  • Clarke's Third Law: The Wizard tries to convince the boys that many of the magical things in fairy tales actually fit this trope and points out that technology has since been able to replicate some of them (in one way or another). Examples include a TV (a magical apple that rolls around on a platter, showing far off places), an airplane (a magic carpet), and a space rocket (a magical horse on which the hero rides to the Moon).
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  • Cool Starship: The "thoughtplane" is capable of instantaneously traveling to any planet in the universe with the press of a Big Red Button and barely a shake. It doesn't even need to go into space.
  • Cosmetically Different Sides: There doesn't appear to be much difference between the Circular and Angular Sinot factions beyond the symbols (a circle and a triangle, respectively). Their rockets look identical, as do their robots and uniforms. In fact, Scorpinomo orders Goreno to infiltrate the Angular ship as one of their robots, implying that both factions are, for some reason, building identical robots and giving them identical uniforms. It's almost as if their main point of contention is which symbol to use.
  • Damsel in Distress: At least twice in the novel, Zabava has to be rescued by the boys. Slightly mitigated the second time, since two other characters are similarly in need of rescue (another woman and an old man).
  • Does This Remind You of Anything?: The description of the Etherian civilization feels like a Communist paradise. Meanwhile, the imperialist Sinots are treated as backwards and elitist, whose population then rises up and takes over their governments, offering peace and friendship to their Etherian brothers and sisters. Given that the novel was written in 1961 Soviet Russia, this makes sense.
    • For an added bonus, Fler mentions ancient Etherian history when their own society was just as divided and warlike as that of the Sinots. The warring rulers were called Tories. In Real Life, Tories were British traditionalists, yet another jab at the West.
  • Enemy Civil War: The Sinots are constantly warring among themselves. Currently, there are two major factions: the Circulars and the Angulars.
  • Everyone Calls Him "Barkeep": The Wizard is only ever referred to as "Wizard" and "Grandfather" (by Zabava, of course).
  • Food Pills: Having been forced to ration everything for thousands of years, the Etherians have developed high-tech means of getting food and drink. While not pills, their small jars of some pumpkin-like paste can fully satisfy several people. Additionally, they literally make water out of thin air by sprinkling some powder in a glass. The chemical reaction then condenses water vapors in the atmosphere into cool, crystal-clear water. It helps that the atmosphere of Aeo Tau has a high concentration of water vapors.
  • Forgot About His Powers: Beyond showing off his inventions, the Wizard doesn't do much. While we're not specifically told which powers he has, he has twice shown to be able to teleport. Naturally, he never does this when it's critical.
  • Frickin' Laser Beams: The weapon used by the Angulars to destroy the Circular ship is described as an energy beam of some kind.
  • Hot Scientist: The illustrations show that Fler is very attractive, especially in her Future Spandex.
  • Human Aliens: Both the Etherians and the Sinots look almost exactly like humans. The Etherians have no facial hair, except for bushy eyebrows (their homeworld is dusty), while the Sinots pride themselves on their beards, mustaches, and sideburns. However, Fler mentions that the Sinots have been to other star systems and claim to have seen non-humanoid races.
  • Improvised Weapon: Etherians have no weapons, as they have been at peace for thousands of years. When faced with the warlike Sinots, they are forced to adapt their existing tools for defense. The most obvious example is the flan, a short silver tube that emits directed ultrasonic waves, capable of destroying any cells in their path. While obviously a weapon, it's original use is strictly against natural predators. Later, the humans help the Etherians realize that they have a powerful weapon against the Sinots in the form of ultrasonic devices capable of starting and stopping localized planetquakes anywhere on Aeo Tau.
  • Man-Eating Plant: Zabava and one of the boys are poisoned and nearly eaten by some sort of walking flowers, called Tiberi Kato. The Etherians have an antidote to the poison, but it must be administered within 2 days through the spine (the needle is painless, though).
  • Microts: The Etherians measure time in tils, tiltils, soltans, and ladoses. A til is a hair longer than a second. A tiltil is a hundred tils. A soltan is a hundred tiltils. A lados (Etherian day) is eighteen soltans. It's not specified what they call a year, although they also measure orbital cycles, and one full orbit of Etheri Tau around Lado is equal to 422 ladoses.
  • Named After Their Planet: Etherians come from Etheri Tau. An unclear case with the Sinots, who are named thus by the Etherians after their name for the Sinot homeworld (Sino Tau). It's never revealed what the Sinots call themselves or their homeworld. The humans also introduce themselves as "earthlings" or "earthers" (although the Russian term "zemlyaki" is more correctly translated as "countrymen"), presumably because of the idea that "human" would sound too racist, as both the Etherians and the Sinots look identical to humans, and the Russian word for "humans" can also mean "people".
  • Photographic Memory: All Etherians are taught from a very young age how to train their memory to remember everything perfectly. They can force themselves to forget unnecessary information but are able to restore it if the need arises.
  • Power Trio: The three boys are named Ilya, Nikita, and Aleksey (Alyosha). The Wizard notes that their names match the three famous bogatyrs (larger-than-life heroes, each one being a One-Man Army): Ilya Muromets, Dobrynya Nikitich (slightly inverted since Nikita's full name is Nikita Dobrynin), and Alyosha Popovich. In the end, they end up saving the Wizard, Zabava, and Fler from Scorpinomo, who is about to shoot them for ruining his plans.
  • Really 700 Years Old: Thanks to incredibly medical advances, Etherians age extremely slowly. Fler reveals that she is 192 Etherian years old. After the Wizard establishes the time difference, he is surprised to learn that she is actually about twice as old in human years. Her father Klad is the head of the expedition, and he doesn't appear much older than a middle-aged human. Fler also has a son who would pass for a 20-30 year-old human and is already an accomplished scientist.
  • Reed Richards Is Useless: The Wizard's latest invention is a starship capable of traveling anywhere in the universe instantaneously with the press of a button. He uses it for a sightseeing tour. He also has a box that can translate any language to any other. Obviously, he doesn't even consider giving (or even selling) these inventions to humanity.
  • Retro Rocket: As typical of 60's science fiction, the spaceships used by the Sinots are rockets that take off and land vertically.
  • The Right of a Superior Species: The Sinots destroy the original Etherian settlement (about 40,000 colonists) on Aeo Tau and then notify the Etherians that they have claimed the uninhabited planet for themselves, despite the fact that their own Sino Tau is a lush paradise with only 1.5 billion people on it. They state that they will kill any Etherian who sets foot outside their homeworld, which they do when the Etherians send a diplomatic mission to Sino Tau (Fler's husband was one of the diplomats).
  • Robot: The paranoia of the Sinot ruling caste has grown to such an extent that they no longer trust their own underlings. As such, besides commanders, the only crew members of Sinot rockets are robots. They appear humanoid but have earth-colored skin and glassy eyes. They follow all orders of their masters (unless countermanded by orders from the Technical Centers back on Sino Tau). A single robot is stated to be able to emit deadly radiation, capable of killing hundreds of thousands of people.
  • Scifi Writers Have No Sense Of Scale: Surprisingly, averted. During the discussion at the start of the novel, the Wizard explains that even the speed of light is a snail's pace compared to the sheer size of the galaxy, which is why he has created something that can travel much faster than light.
  • Stock Dinosaurs: Despite the events taking place on an alien planet, the humans encounter two dinosaurs straight out of Earth's past. One of these, a brontosaurus, is well-known to most readers, while the predatory dinocephalus is significantly less so. Also, on Earth, the two species lived during completely different geological periods with over 100 million years between them.
  • Superweapon Surprise: The Etherians have a device that can cause or stop localized planetquakes. They use it for terraforming purposes. It takes a human to point out that it could be easily used as a weapon against the warlike Sinots. And it is, destroying the second Sinot ship moments after it lands.
  • Translator Microbes: The Wizard wears a translation box with some unmarked dials and switches that translates alien speech. Unlike the typical examples of this trope, the sound clearly comes out of the box a split second after the original words are spoken.
  • Underground City: After the surface of Etheri Tau was rendered uninhabitable due to the cooling of the planet, the depletion of natural resource, and a meteor captured by the planet periodically stripping away the atmosphere, the Etherian civilization moved underground and has lived there for thousands of years. However, the ancient water and air supplies are dwindling, despite the rationing and recycling, and the only way for their civilization to survive is to move to another world. Most of the Etherians have never even seen Lado (their sun).
  • A Wizard Did It: The "thoughtplane" and the translation box, although the Wizard suggests that Clarke's Third Law may be in effect.
  • Zeerust: Being written in the 60s, the story naturally has this feel with "rocket" being frequently used to describe a spaceship. Additionally, the Sinots really do fly around in rockets that land vertically. Specifically, they're referred to as "photonic" rockets, as they're capable of traveling at the speed of light.
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