Setting

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 228

As in later Lucky Starr books, most of the action of David Starr, Space Ranger takes place on a single planet, in this case Mars. Most of this planet serves as an agricultural colony, exporting grain, fruit, and other commodities to the crowded Earth. The planet's three cities are domed, as are the central buildings of the outlying farms. Once outside the domes, humans must wear breathing masks.

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The entire Martian colony depends on agriculture, and human survival on Earth depends on the produce of the isolated Martian farms. Thus, when David Starr opposes a corrupt landowner, the stakes are high. Asimov draws a sharp distinction between the Martian cities, which are much like any city on Earth, and the distant domed farms, which are virtually beyond the reach of law.

Asimov points out in his 1978 preface that the canals that he pictures on Mars are now known not to exist. In addition, scientists have determined that the atmosphere could never have supported intelligent life of the sort David Starr encounters beneath the surface. In spite of these shortcomings, Asimov's depiction of life in a rugged colony, far distant from Earth, retains its interest. The blowing sands, the bare landscape, and the great fissures in the planet's surface provide an appropriate background that reinforces the corruption, brutality, and human weakness that David and his friend Bigman Jones confront.

Literary Qualities

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Asimov writes clearly and fluently, starting the plot on an exciting note—a mysterious death in a restaurant—and proceeding swiftly along the familiar lines of the mystery-quest. The simple and straightforward plotting mirrors the "we-versus-they" outlook of the cold war period in which the book and its five sequels appeared; the optimistic view of technology as a cure-all for the world's problems also marks this as a work of the 1950s.

Though some ideas set forth in David Starr, Space Ranger are dated, the basic themes of good versus evil and of the expanding frontier of human knowledge have just as much relevance today. As in most space operas, the characters are relatively simple, but the nature of the galaxy is not, and Asimov adds interest to the book through descriptions of planetary geography, scientific concepts, and gadgets of the future.

Asimov's wonderfully clear expository style suits his subject perfectly. Description and accounts of action rank high; dialogue, partly because the characters are rather simplistic, is sometimes less satisfactory. For instance, Bigman's constant exclamation, "Sands of Mars!" becomes tiresome through too much repetition. As the series progresses the dialogue becomes more effective, and by the sixth volume, such repeated expressions have almost disappeared.

Social Sensitivity

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The world of David Starr, Space Ranger shows the frontier mentality common to most stories of exploration, whether of the American West or of outer space. Good is good and bad is bad, with little room for subtlety or ethical complexity. Democracy reigns, and totalitarian regimes must be resisted. Within the democratic system of Earth, progress holds a high place; authority comes through a special kind of meritocracy, with the best scientists entering the Council of Science, "not an official government agency, but its members were nearly above the government." In every volume of the series ability wins out over the circumstances of birth or fortune. Even the Council of Science, however, must defer to the elected government, which includes some self-serving politicians. After vanquishing one of them (in Lucky Starr and the Big Sun of Mercury), David observes that the corrupt Senator Swenson "keeps the Council on its toes" and adds that the Council "needs its critics, just as Congress and the government do," lest a scientific dictatorship should develop.

Throughout the series, progress coexists with a general sense of the need to preserve the environment. Humans make up only a part of the galaxy's population, and other sentient and semi-sentient beings have their riches too: the lovable V-frogs of Venus, the heat-seeking "ropes of rock" on Mercury, the orange patches and other marine life of the Venusian oceans. Considering the exploitation of the universe accepted in so much science fiction until very recently, this tolerance deserves notice.

Racism, as well as totalitarianism, becomes an issue after the first volume in the series. In Lucky Starr and the Big Sun of Mercury, Lucky comments, "it is variety in the human race that brings about progress." By the last of the novels, Lucky Starr and the Rings of Saturn, the totalitarian Sirians have developed a Nazi-like system of values, aiming at "a clean human race, composed of the fit." Lucky angrily retorts, "the great men of Earth have come from the tall and the short, from all manner of head shapes, skin colors, and languages."

While Asimov treats race and environment with sensitivity, gender is another matter. Virtually no women appear in the series; a rare exception, Mrs. Turner in Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus, who looks "almost too young to be a housewife," devotes all her time to arranging the Turner apartment---"colorful, frilly, almost fragile." Noting Bigman's surprise at this, she "dimple[s]" and observes (unnecessarily), "I just love little doodads and whatnots. Don't you?" Asimov's ability to create convincing women, as demonstrated in his adult novel The Gods Themselves and his later Norby series for children, is lacking here.

For Further Reference

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 156

Commire, Anne, ed. Something about the Author. Vol. 12. Detroit: Gale, 1982. Provides biographical information and a bibliography for Asimov.

Fiedler, Jean, and Jim Mele. Isaac Asimov. New York: Frederick Ungar, 1982. A chapter on the Lucky Starrseries favors the last two books and comments on the parallel between Sirians and Russians.

Gunn, James. Isaac Asimov. New York: Oxford University Press, 1982. Contains a brief entry on the Lucky Starrbooks that treats them as primarily scientific exposition and compares them unfavorably with Robert Heinlein's young adult works.

Patrouch, Joseph, Jr. The Science Fiction of Isaac Asimov. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1974. The discussion of the Lucky Starr books focuses on development throughout the series, such as how Bigman is toned down and some of the more farfetched aspects of the "space ranger" persona are discarded.

Senick, Gerard, ed. Children's Literature Review. Vol. 2. Detroit: Gale, 1987. The entry on Asimov summarizes accounts in several Gale publications and gives a substantial excerpt from Patrouch.

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