Lucky Starr and the Big Sun of Mercury

infobox Book |
name = "Lucky Starr and the Big Sun of Mercury"
title_orig =
translator =

image_caption = 1984 edition by Del Rey Books.
author = Isaac Asimov
illustrator =
cover_artist = Darrell K. Sweet
country = USA
language = English
series = Lucky Starr series
genre = science fiction novel
publisher = Doubleday & Company
release_date = March 1956
media_type = Print (hardcover and paperback)
pages = 186
isbn = NA
preceded_by = Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus
followed_by = Lucky Starr and the Moons of Jupiter

"Lucky Starr and the Big Sun of Mercury" is the fourth 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 first published by Doubleday & Company in March 1956. Since 1972, reprints have included a foreword by Asimov explaining that advancing knowledge of conditions on Mercury have rendered some of the novel's descriptions of that world inaccurate.


"Lucky Starr and the Big Sun of Mercury" was written in 1955, when it was believed that Mercury was tidally locked to the Sun. A character notes that there are places on Mercury's sunside where it is hot enough to melt lead and boil sulfur, while the nightside is the only planetary surface in the Solar System that never sees the Sun. Most of the novel's action takes place in and around an astronomical observatory located at the planet's north pole, where libration results in a half-mile movement of the terminator. The observatory was built fifty years before on the site of a mining complex, which has since been abandoned.

Plot summary

It has been a year since the events in "Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus", and in that time a government-funded research project, Project Light, has been set up at the astronomical observatory on Mercury's north pole. The object of Project Light is to conduct research into the newly-discovered science of sub-etheric optics with a view to routing solar energy through hyperspace. The head of Project Light is the leading scientist in sub-etheric optics, Scott Mindes. A series of accidents has plagued Project Light, though, and David "Lucky" Starr and John Bigman Jones have come to investigate. Shortly after meeting Starr and Bigman, Mindes takes them out onto the surface of Mercury and explains that he has seen something on the sunside. He works himself into a frenzy and fires a blaster at Starr, missing. Bigman tackles him, and he is brought unconscious into the observatory dome.

Starr and Bigman meet the main players at the observatory: Mindes' friend Dr. Karl Gardoma, the observatory's physician; Jonathan Urteil, who works for a political opponent of the Council of Science named Senator Swenson; Dr. Lance Peverale, the head of the observatory; and Dr. Hanley Cook, Pevarale's chief assistant, who wants to succeed Peverale. Urteil wants to shut down Project Light, which he insists is a waste of money. He insults Bigman's height, always a bad move, and warns Starr to check his insulation suit for leaks. When Starr and Bigman reach their room, they find that Starr's inso-suit has indeed been tampered with.

The next day, at a banquet put on in Starr's honor, Peverale states his belief that the Sirians are behind the troubles plaguing Project Light. He has been to the Sirius system recently, attending an astronomical conference, and he in convinced that the Sirians are a grave threat to Earth. Urteil won't comment, but Starr points out that if there "are" Sirians on Mercury, their base is most likely to be near the observatory, hidden in the nightside. In fact, the most likely place for a Sirian base would be the abandoned mines located beneath the observatory. Starr proposes that he and Bigman search the mines for the Sirians.

Speaking to Cook after dinner, Starr reveals the sabotaged inso-suits and asks him his opinion of Peverale's concerns about the Sirians. Cook thinks Peverale has become obsessed with the Sirians. Cook also shares old stories with Starr and Bigman about miners who were found frozen to death in the mines. While Bigman prepares for the trip into the mines, Starr goes to his ship and gets two micro-ergometers, devices that can detect atomic power sources from ten miles away.

After they enter the mines, Starr tells Bigman that his story about Sirians in the mines was just a ruse, and that he intends to investigate the sunside while Bigman remains in the mines and maintains the pretense that Starr is still with him. After Starr leaves, Bigman finds Urteil tracking him. Urteil gets the drop on Bigman, and Bigman is about to rush Urteil, when a native mineral life form attacks Urteil. This, Bigman realizes, is the source of the stories Cook told. Bigman grabs Urteil's blaster and sets it to low power, then throws it away. The Mercurian life form, which is attracted to heat, leaves Urteil and follows the blaster. Bigman then calls the Dome for help.

Meanwhile, on the sunside, Starr finds the source of the sabotage: a Sirian robot. Unfortunately for him, months of exposure to Mercury's solar radiation has driven the robot mad, breaking down the Three Laws of Robotics within its positronic brain. Before Starr can learn who ordered it to sabotage Project Light, it attacks him, and he destroys it. The robot collapses on top of him, and he must drag himself and the robot into the shade before the solar radiation kills him.

Back in the Dome, Bigman challenges Urteil to a fight in Mercurian gravity. Dr. Cook reduces the gravity in the Dome's power room to Mercurian levels, and the fight commences between Bigman and Urteil. At one point, though, when Bigman flips Urteil through the air, the gravity suddenly returns to Earth normal, and Urteil dies in the fall.

Mindes sees Starr and the robot, and Starr is rescued and brought back to the Dome. There, he learns of Urteil's death, and asks to be present when Peverale conducts an official inquiry into the matter. At the inquiry, Bigman reveals that it was Cook who brought the gravity back up at the crucial moment, causing Urteil's death. He also points out that Cook was the only one who knew where he and Starr would be in the mines, so Urteil must have gotten the information from him. Cook breaks down and admits that Urteil had been blackmailing him, and he killed him to save his career.

Starr then reveals that the robot had been brought back from Sirius by Peverale, who was hoping to use it to implicate the Sirians in the sabotage of Project Light. Starr has Peverale and Cook placed under arrest, and assumes control of the Dome in the name of the Council of Science.

On the return journey to Earth, Starr admits to Bigman that this round in the fight between Senator Swenson and the Council of Science was a draw. Urteil wasn't able to manufacture any scandal involving Project Light, but the two top men at the Mercury observatory were exposed as felons. Although Swenson is ruthless and dangerous, he's the sort of critic the Council needs to keep it honest.


Although the Sirians were first introduced in "Lucky Starr and the Pirates of the Asteroids" as the main villains of the series, they remained nothing more than a vague external menace. It isn't until "Lucky Starr and the Big Sun of Mercury" that the Sirians are brought into sharp focus. Dr. Peverale describes them this way in chapter 5:

:"The planets of Sirius are thinly populated and they are extremely decentralized. They live in isolated individual family units, each with its own energy source and services. Each has its group of mechanical slaves — there's no other word possible — slaves in the form of positronic robots, which do the labor. The Sirian humans maintain themselves as a fighting aristocracy. Every one of them can handle a space-cruiser. They'll never rest until they can destroy the Earth . . . .

:"They despise us. They consider us scarcely more than animals. The Sirians themselves are very race-conscious. Since Earthmen first colonized Sirius, they have been breeding themselves carefully until they are free of diseases and of various characteristics which they consider undesirable.

:"They are of uniform appearance, while Earthmen are of all shapes, sizes, colors, varieties. The Sirians consider us inferior. That's why they won't let us emigrate to Sirius."

The Sirians, then, are like the Spacers in Asimov's earlier story "Mother Earth" and novel "The Caves of Steel", only more aggressive and more threatening. There are, however, important differences between the Lucky Starr series and the robot series. In the latter, Earth is described as being technologically backward compared to the Spacers. In "Big Sun of Mercury", on the other hand, Starr notes that

:"if the Sirians are race-conscious and are breeding themselves into uniformity, they will defeat themselves in the long run. It is variety in the human race that brings about progress. It is Earth and not Sirius that is in the forefront of scientific research. Earthmen settled Sirius in the first place, and it is we, not our Sirian cousins, who are advancing in new directions every year."

Earth in the robot series is isolated, insulated, shut off from trade with the Outer Worlds, and the people of Earth huddle within their caves of steel, never daring to emerge. In the Lucky Starr series, Earthmen still live in the open air, still travel among the worlds of the Solar System, and still maintain diplomatic and commercial ties with the Outer Worlds.

Also noteworthy is the fact that in "Big Sun of Mercury", with its references to positronic robots and the Three Laws of Robotics, Asimov no longer attempts to disguise his identity as the true author, although for the sake of continuity the novel still appeared under his Paul French pseudonym.

External links

A [ review] of "Lucky Starr and the Big Sun of Mercury" by John H. Jenkins.

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