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«Lucky Starr And The Big Sun Of Mercury», Isaac Asimov

To Robyn Joan, who did her best to interfere.

 

Preface

Back in the 1950s, I wrote a series of six derring-do novels about David "Lucky" Starr and his battles against malefactors within the Solar System. Each of the six took place in a different region of the system, and in each case I made use of the astronomical facts – as they were then known.

Now, a quarter-century later, Fawcett is bringing out the novels in new editions; but what a quarter-century it has been! More has been learned about the worlds of our Solar System in this last quarter-century than in all the thousands of years that went before.

LUCKY STARR AND THE BIG SUN OF MERCURY was written in 1955 and at that time, astronomers were convinced that Mercury presented only one face to the Sun, and that it rotated on its axis in 88 days, which was exactly the length of the year. I made that conviction a central part of the plot of the book.

In 1965, however, astronomers studied radar-beam reflections from the surface of Mercury and found, to their surprise, that this was not so. Mercury rotates on its axis in 59 days, so that there is no perpetual day-side or night-side.

Every part of the planet gets both day and night, and the Sun moves in a rather complicated path in Mercury's sky, growing larger and smaller, and backtracking on some occasions. If I were writing this book today, I would take all this into account, I hope my Gentle Readers enjoy this book anyway, as an adventure story, but please don't forget that the advance of science can outdate even the most conscientious science-fiction writer and that my astronomical descriptions are no longer accurate in all respects.

 

Isaac Asimov

1. The Ghosts of the Sun

Lucky thought: At least things are breaking fast.

He had been on Mercury only an hour. He had had scarcely time to do more than see his ship, the Shooting Starr, safely stowed in the underground hangar. He had met only the technicians who had handled the landing red tape and seen to his ship.

Those technicians, that is, and Scott Mindes, engineer in charge of Project Light. It had been almost as though the young man had been lying in wait. Almost at once he had suggested a trip to the surface.

To see some of the sights, he had explained.

Lucky did not believe that, of course. The engineer's small-chinned face had been haunted with trouble, and his mouth twitched as he spoke. His eyes slid away from L'ucky's cool, level glance.

Yet Lucky agreed to visit the surface. As yet, all he knew of the troubles on Mercury was that they posed a ticklish problem for the Council of Science. He was willing to go along with Mindes and see where that led him.

As for Bigman Jones, he was always glad to follow Lucky anywhere and any time, for any reason and no reason.

But it was Bigman whose eyebrows lifted as all three were getting into their suits. He nodded almost unno-ticeably toward the holster attachment on Mindes's suit.

Lucky nodded calmly in return. He, too, had noticed that protruding from the holster was the butt of a heavy-caliber blaster.

The young engineer stepped out onto the surface of the planet first. Lucky Starr followed and Bigraan came last.

For the moment, they lost contact with one another in the nearly total darkness. Only the stars were visible, bright and hard in the cold airlessness.

Bigman recovered first. The gravity here on Mercury was almost exactly equal to that on his native Mars. The Martian nights were almost as dark. The stars in its night sky were almost as brilliant.

His treble voice sounded brightly in the receivers of the others. "Hey, I'm beginning to make things out."

So was Lucky, and the fact puzzled him. Surely starlight could not be that bright. There was a faint, luminous haze that lay over the fumbled landscape and touched its sharp crags with a pale milkiness.


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