DAVID STARR - SPACE RANGERA novel by Isaac Asimov
(2001, Science Fiction Book Club)
[original copyright: 1952, Doubleday]
The Adventures of Lucky Starr, book 1
A young man travels to Mars to secretly investigate food poisoning, finding himself a guest of ancient Martians who give him a gift.
-- First reading (multibook hardcover)
Short review.Spoiler review: Even considering this was the first book in a series that Asimov didn't want to write, I found this novel to be less than impressive. Written to be a TV show, the book is short, and I'm thankful for that, because I'm not sure I could take too much more of the hero's antagonistic view.
Of course, being a take on the Lone Ranger, David Starr has to be a wonderful person, and so well-rounded that nobody could ever match up with him. And that was, I believe, TV of the 1950s. These days we expect our heroes to have more faults. David gets surprised several times in this book, but not because of faults.Spoiler review:
It is obvious from the first page that this is an Isaac Asimov book, no matter the quality. The style is unmistakable. The writing is dense, so that a lot is said in only a few sentences. However, most of the book is told through talking. Characters discuss various things ad-nauseum, almost as bad as in Asimov's later books, which were so wordy they took up three times the space.
Also typical of Asimov, the characters are all male. Apparently women don't belong in outer space. The only woman mentioned is David's mother. While the men are described in terms of their intellectual prowess, David's mother is characterized by her incredible beauty. This kind of duality permeates almost all of Asimov's books, even up to the last ones he wrote.
Is there a story to this book? Certainly, and once it starts it never lets up. Something important happens in all the chapters. The mystery is that several dozen people have been poisoned by food that came from Mars, and the Council of Science, which has more power than the government, is ready to ban all Martian foodstuffs. David Starr has just been admitted as the youngest member of the Council ever, taking a job his father held before he and his wife were killed in a pirate attack.
David makes his way to Mars, and belligerently pushes himself into a job at a Martian farm, headed by Makian, with a union of sorts led by Hennes and his henchmen. He makes a friend of a little man named Bigman. Mars is like the Wild West, with its own set of rules and customs. A fair fight in the open air of Mars is one of them. So when David is ambushed by one of the henchmen, he gets a fair fight because of all the witnesses, even though the other man tries to cheat. The other man ends up at the bottom of a fissure.
David is antagonistic all throughout, which works well for him, because that is the kind of outlaw society he is living in -like the Lone Ranger. Throughout the book, it is more about the conflict between David and the others than the mystery, which doesn't really unravel itself very well. One scientist, Benson, suggests that ancient Martians are at the root of the poisonings. David travels outside the dome to climb down a fissure to find them. Actually, they find him, and study him. They are beings of pure mental energy, and after several discussions they let him go, back to the surface, with a special mask and forcefield that will undoubtedly become his trademark as he is transformed into the Space Ranger.
David survives a dust storm because of his mask and forcefield, and all are amazed to see him alive. Once back in the dome, the Space Ranger takes over. From his discussions with the Martians, he discovers that Benson lied to him about Martian microbes, which could not possibly interact with carbon-based humans and their food. He breaks into a storage locker and appropriates Benson's sampling rod, discovering the small poison-delivering probe.
Then he sets the stage for a Council of Science "discussion" where he puts all the facts on the table, and forces Hennes to confess that he was the go-between, and that Benson was the true leader. There is no motive given, beyond the idea that Benson had an inferiority complex.
What the story lacked in interesting character moments, it made up for, strangely enough, with good action sequences, which would have undoubtedly translated well to the TV screen. As I understand it, the really good books in the series are the last three, so I look forward to continuing this series, regardless of the slow start.
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