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Literature / Lucky Starr and the Rings of Saturn

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First published in 1958, 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 sixth book of the series, Lucky Starr and Bigman find a needle in the haystack of Saturn's rings; a personal capsule whose contents would cause devastation in the wrong hands.

Lucky Starr and Bigman join Wessilewsky (Wess) in his pursuit of Agent X, the spy from Sirius who has been coordinating all of their espionage activities in the solar system. They lend Wess the use of their personal spaceship, the Shooting Starr. They nearly capture Agent X, but his ship, The Net of Space, explodes in Saturn's rings. Then a Sirian battleship announces that Lucky has invaded a Sirian system and he must leave.

The people of the Sirius system have built a military base on Titan, the largest of Saturn's moons, and are claiming the right to colonize the Saturnian system. Lucky and his crew in the Shooting Starr retreat back to the rest of the fleet that had followed them, halfway between the orbits of Saturn and Jupiter. Lucky has already cooked up a plan, and sends Captain Bernold back to Earth with a message for Da Chief. Once they've done this, the Shooting Star, with Lucky, Bigman, and Wess, sneak back to Saturn.

They approach from below the ecliptic plane of planetary orbit, reaching Saturn's southern pole, but Sirian ships quickly notice their re-appearance. It becomes a quick flight where the Shooting Starr is chased by several robotically piloted Sirian ships. It seems their capture is certain, until Lucky plays a variation on the Wronski Feint where he uses a fusion beam to vaporize the surface of Mimas, the moon nearest (it was) to Saturn, beneath them. It allows for a safe landing under the frozen ammonia.

They set Wess up with supplies to last him several months on the small moon, and head back to open space, where dozens of ships await the arrival of the Shooting Starr. Lucky and Bigman turn themselves in and are towed to Titan, Saturn's largest moon. The Sirians take them to their large domed base, and they meet Sten Devoure, the Sirian in charge. He attempts to coerce Lucky to turn traitor. Lucky resists, Devoure figures out a way to order the robots to believe Bigman isn't human. Lucky must agree to provide evidence against Earth, or Bigman will die!

Lucky Starr and the Rings of Saturn provides examples of:

  • 2-D Space: Lucky tries to sneak the Shooting Starr back to Saturn without the Sirians knowing, so he goes "below" the normal elliptical orbits of the planets, where they wouldn't normally be watching. That's also where he picks up the message capsule that Agent X left in orbit around Saturn.
  • Billed Above the Title:
  • Capital Letters Are Magic: The specialness of a "Jump" is indicated by its capitalization. A jump just means to leap in the air, whereas a Jump means the movement into and out of hyperspace.
  • Exact Words: Agent X ejected a personal capsule in "normal orbit" around Saturn. Both the Sirians and the Terrestrial government are rushing to find it first. The capsule cannot be found until it is realised that "normal" was actually used in the geometric sense — "perpendicular", a polar orbit.
  • Fake Defector: Lucky Starr allows himself to be captured by Earth's enemies, the Sirians, and then gives away one of his fellow Councilmen of Science to the Sirians and testifies about his betrayal for Sirius at an interstellar conference. Of course, it's all an elaborate ploy to get on the stand and present testimony that is devastating to Sirius. The act is especially hard on Lucky's sidekick and best friend Bigman, who believes Lucky is turning traitor in exchange for his, Bigman's, life.
    " [You] gave me the opportunity to make it look as though I were sincerely swapping Wess's freedom for your life. It took less acting to do that than to give Wess away under any conditions I could have dreamed up in your absence. In fact, as it was, I didn't have to act at all. It was a good swap."Lucky Starr
  • Flying Car: While on Titan, Lucky is impressed by the diagravitic hovercars built by the Sirians. They're driven by robots, of course.
  • Inertial Dampening: This story says that the Shooting Starr, Lucky's personal spaceship, is equipped with an ion drive that negates apparent effects of acceleration by making sure that the ships's motion is applied evenly to all atoms aboard ship (rather than the uneven pressure caused by normal rocket science).
  • "It" Is Dehumanizing: Sten Devoure is a racist Sirian who believes his eugenically-enhanced heritage makes him better than average humans, and it is especially apparent with Bigman. Devoure refuses to use "he" as the pronoun to describe Bigman, instead saying "that thing" and "it." The insult becomes dangerous when he tells a group of robots that Bigman is not human, and orders them to "break it." He makes his feelings clear in the following quote (ironically using 'him' in the process):
    "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… "Sten Devoure
  • Politically Incorrect Villain: Sten Devoure is unabashedly racist and has a very narrow view of what constitutes a human being. The product of superior Sirian genetics, he refers to Bigman as "that thing" and "it". The insult becomes dangerous when he tells a group of robots that Bigman is not human, and orders them to "break it."
  • Ray Gun: The Shooting Starr has a fusion beam that works in conjunction with a deuterium jet to create a "heat ray" that is only effective at near distances. Lucky uses it to melt a cavern within Mimas to help land without a crash.
  • Sick Captive Scam: Bigman, when escorted as a prisoner by two robots, pretends they broke his arm. Since they are Three Laws-Compliant, this confuses them long enough for him to pull a blaster out of his Martian boots.
  • Silent Whisper: 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 narration never tells us what Lucky says, but it becomes clear it has to do with the elaborate deception that Lucky pulls on everyone (including Bigman) later in the book.
  • Stop, or I Shoot Myself!: Bigman Jones holds a needle-gun to his own head and threatens suicide to manipulate a group of Three Laws-Compliant robots—they are forced to do what he says, because they can't allow a human being to come to harm. Bigman tells them to deliver him to the base commander, Sten Devoure.
  • Straw Hypocrite: Sirius makes a colony on Titan, claiming it is completely within their rights, despite the fact Earth is within the same system (there is no clear precedent). Unfortunately for them, they had trouble explaining by what right they removed an Earth colonist from another moon of Saturn, so an interstellar conference ordered them to get out.
  • Subspace or Hyperspace: In this story, hyperspatial ships (as opposed to interplanetary ships) are equipped with technology that allows the spaceship to "Jump" into hyperspace and return to regular space in a distant location.
  • Tagline: "The sixth Space Ranger novel" — 1984 New English Library
  • Three Laws-Compliant: Sten Devoure is able to convince the three-law robots under his command that the hero's sidekick "Bigman" Jones is not really human, because the Sirius system does not contain such "imperfect" specimens. He then orders them to "break it."
  • Unspoken Plan Guarantee: Lucky has a plan to force the Sirians to become arrogant and overplay their hand at an interstellar conference, but doesn’t tell Bigman because he might accidentally give the game away. Lucky's plan involves apparently turning traitor against the Council of Science.
  • We Would Have Told You, But...: often dramatically accusing the wrong suspect on purpose and using people's reactions to gain proof against the real culprit. The worst instance is in Lucky Starr and the Rings of Saturn, in which Lucky allows everyone to believe he is going to betray Earth—including his best friend, who thinks Lucky is turning traitor in exchange for the friend's life.
  • 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.
  • Writers Cannot Do Math: When Lucky fires a missile at The Net of Space, the narration says the pellet would travel at five hundred miles per second, but it already implied that the chase from Earth to Saturn was done in less than a day. The Shooting Star would already be travelling at over eight thousand miles per second. A Stern Chase over multiple days would probably resolve this problem, given that the 500 miles/second speed was still predicted to take two hours to hit its target.
  • Wronski Feint: Lucky tries to evade pursuit first by hiding behind Saturn's rings, but the Sirian ships are still able to detect the Shooting Star, so he flies directly at Mimas, the (second/third) nearest moon of Saturn. He dives down so steeply, it looks like he's going to crash, until he activates the fusion beam, a close-range "heat ray". The weapon vaporizes the icy substance of the moon ahead of him, giving him sufficient room to come to a stop beneath the moon's surface.