David Starr, Space Ranger
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David Starr, Space Ranger is the first novel in the Lucky Starr series, six juvenile science fiction novels by Isaac Asimov that originally appeared under the pseudonym Paul French. The novel was written between 10 June and 29 July 1951 and first published by Doubleday & Company in January 1952. Since 1971, reprints have included an introduction by Asimov explaining that advancing knowledge of conditions on Mars have rendered some of the novel's descriptions of that world inaccurate. The novel was originally intended to serve as the basis for a television series, a science-fictionalized version of The Lone Ranger, but the series was never made, in part because another series called Rocky Jones, Space Ranger was already in the planning stages.
First edition cover
|Cover artist||Richard Powers|
|Series||Lucky Starr series|
|Genre||Science fiction novel|
|Media type||Print (hardback & paperback)|
|Followed by||Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids|
David Starr, Space Ranger introduces the series' setting and the main characters. The novel is set around A.D. 7,000 (five thousand years after the first nuclear bomb, as stated at the beginning), when humanity has spread among the worlds of the Solar System as well as planets orbiting other stars. The most powerful organization in the Solar System is the Council of Science, which suppresses threats to the System's people. Protagonist David Starr is an orphaned biophysicist qualified for membership in the Council of Science, who learns from his guardians Augustus Henree and Hector Conway of some 200 deaths in the last four months, whose victims died while eating produce raised on Mars. Conway and Henree fear that the deaths are part of a conspiracy to frighten the people of Earth; wherefore Starr travels undercover to Mars to discover the deaths' connection to the Martian Farming Syndicates.
On Mars, Starr meets John "Bigman" Jones, a pugnacious 5-foot, 2-inch tall Martian farmboy blacklisted at the Farming Syndicates for seeing something forbidden him. When his former boss Hennes orders Jones out of the Farm Employment Building, Starr intervenes, and gains positions for both himself and Bigman. Hennes subsequently has Starr and Bigman stunned.
Starr wakes in the farm owned by Hennes' boss, Mr. Makian, to whom he gives the alias Williams, and states that he came to Mars explain a younger sister's death of food poisoning; wherefore Makian sends the farm's agronomist Benson to speak with him. According to Benson, the poisoned food came from several Martian farms, but was exported through Wingrad City, one of three domed human settlements on Mars; whereas Makian and several other farm owners have been offered ridiculously small sums of money for their farms, apparently without connection to the poisonings. Benson suggests also that intelligent native Martians living below the planet's surface are poisoning the food in order to drive humanity from Mars, possibly through bacterial infection. Makian offers to let Starr join a survey of the farmlands. Bigman warns him that Hennes will attack him during the survey; but when Starr decides to take part anyway, Bigman joins him.
As he enters Martian gravity, Starr loses control of his sand-car, nearly sending it over a crevasse; whereupon Bigman discovers that Starr's sand-car is missing the weights required for low-gravity operation, and Starr realizes that Griswold deliberately failed to warn him. He then confronts Griswold, who in the struggle falls into the crevasse and dies.
The next day, Benson makes Starr his assistant, to keep him from Hennes. When Bigman receives his references from Hennes and takes his leave, Starr asks him to obtain some book-tapes from the library at Wingrad City. Bigman agrees, then admits that he has recognized the pretended 'Williams' as David Starr of the Council of Science.
When Starr meets Bigman that night outside the dome, he reveals that he believes in Benson's Martians, and that the crevasse into which Griswold fell is an entrance to their caverns. Starr descends into the crevasse and is captured by the Martians — disembodied intelligences curious about the Earthmen on the surface, and who know nothing of the poisoned food – although, according to them, any organic matter of Martian origin is poison for Earthmen. They give Starr the name "Space Ranger", because he travels through space, and give him an immaterial mask that will act as a personal force field and disguise him from other humans.
Starr uses the mask to shield himself from a Martian dust storm as he returns to Makian's farm, where he is questioned how he survived the storm and answers (truthfully) that he was returned by a masked man called the Space Ranger. Benson tells him that while he was gone, all the farm owners received a letter from the poisoner, who claims that unless the farm owners surrender control to him within thirty-six hours, the poisoner will increase the amount of poisoned food a thousandfold.
After Benson leaves, another of Hennes' minions tries to shoot Starr. Later, Hennes accuses Starr of poisoning the food. Bigman enters with Dr. Silvers of the Council of Science, who announces that the government has declared a System Emergency and that the Council will take control of all the farms on Mars. If the mystery is not solved by the time the deadline expires, all Martian food exports to Earth will stop, and food rationing will be instituted.
Starr arranges with Silvers to be publicly removed from the Makian farm, then allowed to secretly return. Disguised by his mask, he confronts Hennes, who blinds himself firing a blaster at him. Starr searches Hennes and, once undisguised, persuades Silvers to meet with Makian, Hennes and Benson the next day.
At the meeting, Starr appears in disguise and reveals that Benson poisoned the food while pretending to take samples of it, and Hennes maintained contact with Benson's henchmen in the Asteroid Belt. Following Benson's confession, Bigman reveals that despite the disguise of the Martian mask, he recognized Starr by his uniquely colorless black-and-white boots.
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As John H. Jenkins has noted, Asimov's novels typically are set either on Earth (Pebble in the Sky, The End of Eternity, The Caves of Steel), or on fictional extrasolar planets (The Currents of Space, The Naked Sun, the Foundation series). The major exceptions to this rule are the Lucky Starr novels, all of which take place among the familiar worlds of the Solar System. David Starr: Space Ranger is the only Asimov novel set on Mars, and the picture of Mars that he draws is accurate, if optimistic, based on what was known about the planet in 1951. The Martian atmosphere is one-fifth as dense as Earth's and is unbreathable by humans due to lack of oxygen. The famous Martian canals are not mentioned as such, though Asimov's Mars does have a network of fissures that might be the inspiration thereof.
David Starr, Space Ranger was unabashedly based on the Western hero the Lone Ranger, and Asimov goes to great lengths to recreate the fictional American West on Mars. The Martian farm boys are tough, rugged individualists like the fictional cowboys. The Space Ranger is a science fictionalized Lone Ranger, including the mask and the habit of disappearing after defeating the villains. In this first book in the series, Starr exposes and defeats a criminal conspiracy, in the classic tradition of the masked crime-fighter. In subsequent books in the series, Starr moves away from being a masked crime-fighter, and becomes a Cold War secret agent, defending the Solar System from external enemies.
In a later novel in the series, Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus, the Council of Science is described this way: "In these days, when science really permeated all human society and culture, scientists could no longer restrict themselves to their laboratories. It was for that reason that the Council of Science had been born. Originally it was intended only as an advisory body to help the government on matters of galactic importance, where only trained scientists could have sufficient information to make intelligent decisions. More and more it had become a crime-fighting agency, a counterespionage system. Into its own hands it was drawing more and more of the threads of government."
The most important scientific development of Asimov's own lifetime was the discovery of nuclear energy. Asimov had seen nuclear power escape the control of the scientists who discovered it and become the plaything of politicians who only dimly understood it, and who seemed blind to the danger it represented. His concerns are evident from individual stories such as "Hell-Fire" and "Silly Asses", as well as from the semi-habitable post-nuclear Earth depicted in Pebble in the Sky and The Stars, Like Dust. The Council of Science can be seen as wish-fulfillment on Asimov's part, as scientists in the future tilt the balance of power toward themselves and away from the scientific illiterates who populate the government.
Writing in The New York Times, Ellen Lewis Buell reported that Asimov "ingeniously combines mystery with science fiction, saying that "his inventiveness and use of picturesque details" were reminiscent of Robert A. Heinlein. Groff Conklin praised the novel as effective juvenile fare: "no romance, parlous little science, but endless imagination, exciting ideas and events." Astounding reviewer P. Schuyler Miller described it as "fast-moving space opera of a type we all know, with no particular regard for scientific plausibility."