And Then I Read: DAVID STARR, SPACE RANGER

© estate of Isaac Asimov.

When I was a boy, I liked any stories with even a hint of science fiction or fantasy. Fantasy was not hard to find on the shelves of our school library, but once you got beyond Jules Verne and H.G. Wells, there was precious little science fiction. By far the best were the so-called “Heinlein juveniles,” a series a great books for kids by the master, Robert Heinlein. Then there was the Winston SF series for kids, which had some fine entries, and some duds. I also devoured the Tom Swift series, but they were not in our library, considered too low-brow I guess. Those I had to buy or get as presents. Same for Burroughs’ “Mars” books. A few of the “Lucky Starr” series did get into our library, and I read and enjoyed them, though not as much as the Heinlein ones. This book, which I picked up recently, is the first. I don’t think I ever found it as a kid.

I’m not sure when I discovered these books were written by Isaac Asimov. Probably some time in the 1970s, after I was no longer a child. I loved Asimov’s “Foundation Trilogy,” and others like “The Caves of Steel,” plus I read his monthly science column in “The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.” The Lucky Starr books are not really as good as any of those efforts, and pale in comparison to the Heinlein books. This one takes place mostly on Mars, and Asimov’s Mars is at first much like a Saturday afternoon western movie more than anything. And the economics of the set-up—growing food crops on Mars to export to Earth—is laughably impractical. Later, when young David gets outside the domed city and farm he’s working on, actual Mars physics does take effect, and while trying to solve a murder mystery which is at the center of the plot, David does actually meet some Martians briefly. But unlike Heinlein’s “Red Planet,” published two years earlier, this book does not offer much real science or any new ideas. It’s good fun in its way, but is more of a combined western, mystery and police story with a sprinkling of science on top. I remember liking the ones I did read more than this, so I’m going to try a few more, but I can’t really recommend this one.

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