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Literature / The Dark Side of the Sun

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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 fifty-two 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.
  • Affluent Ascetic: As Dom puts it, it takes a great amount of wealth to be able to afford to live simply at this point in the future. When he finds himself in a home that is even simpler he realizes they must be even wealthier than his own family.
  • 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. Thanks to his talent for probability mathematics Dom can simply avoid being killed. As a result of this, Ways, who is normally pretty much unstoppable, makes repeated attempts on Dom's life, many of which are severe overkill, and is still unable to succeed.
  • Bizarre Sexual Dimorphism:
    • The phnobes have three sexes (female, alpha male, beta male), and narration explains that most life on their planet is sexually trimorphic.
    • The swamp igs are hermaphrodites.
    • The drosks are born male but become female about 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: 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).
  • Encyclopedia Exposita: Chapter headings feature quotes from in-universe works of non-fiction, mostly the works of Charles Sub-Lunar.
  • Expendable Alternate Universe: After studying probability-math, Dom acquires an ability to sense the Alternate Universes where he dies, and take steps not to be in them.
  • Expospeak Gag: Several involving 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.")
  • Extremophile Lifeforms: The Creapi's homeworld saw them evolve in molten phosphorous sulphides. When they spread into space, they simply redesigned themselves to fit the changing situations they encountered. Half a million years of forced evolution has created the middle-degree Creaps, who are happy at a mere 500 degrees C. The divergent High-Degree Creapii live on the outer surfaces of relatively cool stars. Wherever a star pushes the ambient temperature to beyond the melting point of tin, there you will find Creapii. In fact, they bartered with the human race, who were happy to sign over squatters' rights to the planet Mercury in exchange for Creap technology. To interact with humans they wear "spacesuits" that preserve life at habitable temperatures in what to them is a freezingly sub-zero hostile environment.
  • Fantastic Caste System: The Creapii are divided by caste depending on their living temperature and their size.
  • Fantastic Racism: Referred to as "shape hatred." Most prominent example is a Jerkass human character who calls phnobes "gecky frogs", then enters a buruku (phnobic colony) with a gun, which is strictly forbidden. This results in Death by Racism.
  • 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.
  • Flash Sideways: Travellers in Interspace will get glimpses of alternate universes.
  • 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".
  • Green Aesop: Sadhim's teachings are based on late-seventies-early-eighties environmentalism, although his followers have largely forgotten the significance of this.
  • Grew Beyond Their Programming: Class One robots are the lowest grade of android, which can perform basic tasks but don't have anything approaching human-level intelligence. Except for Charles Sub-Lunar, a Class One who somehow ended up as the galaxy's greatest poet and polymath.
  • Happiness in Slavery: When Dom attempts to release Isaac, the robot explains that humans might strive for freedom, but robots know exactly why they exist and don't need to angst about it.
  • 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. Dom's ship isn't shielded.
  • 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.
  • Mechanical Insects: The planet Laoth is deliberately kept sterile, so its inhabitants created an ecosystem of robotic life, including insects.
  • Million to One Chance: Fairly often, thanks to the incredible luck of some characters. For example, in order to prove his identity, robot assassin Ways 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.)
  • Morph Weapon: The memory sword, which can completely rearrange its atoms based on a field-generator in the hilt. Amongst the forms mentioned are a needle-sword, a Sonic Stunner, and a gun that creates its own bullets by freezing water vapour from the air.
  • Never Bring a Gun to a Knife Fight: Never bring a single-shot stun gun into a place where every alpha male is armed with a two-foot long knife. Your career will be cut short. Along with some other bits of you.
  • Never Mess with Granny: Joan Sabalos, Dom's grandmother, is the family matriarch and a force to be reckoned with.
  • Playing Card Motifs: The novel's themes of probability and chance are echoed in the number of sentient races in the setting: 52 plus the Jokers.
  • Production Foreshadowing:
    • The First Sirian Bank speaks in the same block capitals as Death from the later Discworld series.
    • A lot of concepts in the Sadhimist religion are identical to those of the Disc religions, including worshipping Small Gods or celebrating Soul Cake Tuesday and Hogswatch.
  • Ridiculously Human Robots: Ways, the Class Five assassin robot, is designed to resemble a human in every particular so that he can mingle undetected when he's out on a job.
  • Sdrawkcab Name: A star called 'Rats' with a planet called 'Tenalp' is briefly mentioned - aside from being very strange (and not the sort of thing you mention in mixed company), we don't hear exactly why they're so called. There's a brief mention of them having "negative entropy", which could suggest that natural processes work in reverse, hence the names.
  • Sharpened to a Single Atom: The shamsword, with a blade which is invisible except where the light hits it and "only a few microns thick". Until the blade shatters when used against a villain gifted in luck manipulation.
  • Shipless Faster-Than-Light Travel: The Sundogs are sapient Space Whales who possess a natural ability to travel through Interspace. Some of them will accept payments to carry small spaceships with them.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Dom's robot sidekick is named Isaac and runs on a parody of the Three Laws of Robotics.
    • The entire idea of probability math is reminiscent of psychohistory, only with more individualist applications.
    • 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 
    • After an assassination attempt, Dom has a dream where Isaac tries to explain the situation using what appear to be the plot outlines of several well-known works (all of these are shot down by Dom), including Dune and The Lord of the Rings.
    • The satirical play Dom attends features a chorus of robots with a refrain inspired by the chorus of frogs in Aristophanes's The Frogs.
  • Simple, yet Opulent: Dom's simple coronation breakfast is an insanely expensive simple coronation breakfast. This is generally how Sadhimist ruling families tend to live - Keya, Dom's sister who married the ruler of another planet comments that her new husband flaunts his riches more, despite actually having less than the Sabalos do.
  • Single-Precept Religion: The religion of Arte Sadhim has the One Commandment, which is eventually stated to be "You Will Not Waste".
  • 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.
  • Sssssnaketalk: The reptilian phnobes speak with extended hissing on ssssibilantssss.
  • 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.
  • Stealth Pun: The elite robot assassin's name, Ways. As in, "We have our..."
  • 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.
  • Swiss-Army Gun: The Memory Sword can become a wide variety of weapons, from swords to molecular strippers to projectile guns that make ice bullets by freezing atmospheric moisture.
  • 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: After the Guns in Church incident, Hrssh-hggn comments:
    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. A large number of non-human beings are still considered people, though.