Transwarp Tuesday! Born of the Sun edited by Mike Ashley

Touring the Solar System…

😀 😀 😀 😀 😀

This collection of ten vintage science fiction stories takes us on a tour of our Solar System. “Ten?” I hear you ask. Yes, there are six of the seven actual planets in the system (excluding Earth). Saturn’s moon Titan is included instead of the planet itself. (Well, obviously one couldn’t live on Saturn, silly!) Pluto is included because it was considered a planet until Neil De Grasse Tyson viciously demoted it to lump of rock or some such. The Asteroid Belt gets its own entry since there have been lots of stories about it. And there’s a mysterious planet, Vulcan – never seen but once postulated to exist by scientists trying to explain the oddness of Mercury’s orbit before Einstein’s theories provided a better explanation; and exercising a considerable magnetic pull on the imaginations of SF writers of the time.

The editor, Mike Ashley (who is wonderful at these anthologies, by the way), has chosen most of the stories from the ‘40s and ‘50s, with just a couple of earlier ones and a couple from the ‘60s. He explains that this is because he wanted to “select stories that took at least some notice of the scientific understanding of the day”. Before each story there is an introduction to the planet, giving its dual history – the advances in scientific understanding of its physical properties over the decades, along with a potted history of how it was viewed and used over time by SF writers. These intros are fantastic – pitched at absolutely the right level for the interested non-scientist and packed full of examples of authors and specific stories to investigate further. (Would make the basis for a great challenge, and I may be unable to resist!) Each story is also prefaced with fabulous pictures of the relevant planetscape, mostly as envisioned by Lucien Rudaux, a French artist and astronomer of the early 20th century. I must say that, much though I enjoyed most of the stories, it was the intros in this one that made it extra special – of all the great anthologies the BL has produced this year, this one is my favourite by miles… or I should probably say, by light-years!

On to the actual stories! Of the ten, I gave six either 4 or 5 stars, and only a couple were duds for me, one which went on too long and another which I simply didn’t understand, so it may work fine for the more science-minded reader. Here’s a flavour of a few of those I most enjoyed:

Foundling on Venus by John and Dorothy De Courcy. A story of the various races and species all living in New Reno, a frontier town on Venus, with all the violence and vice that usually comes with that. The story tells of a child found in the street by a young woman, and we gradually learn how he, and she, came to be there. I used this one for a Transwarp Tuesday! Post.

The Lonely Path by John Ashcroft. Mars! The first manned flight has landed on Mars, sent to examine a strange tower standing hugely high in the desolate landscape. The astronauts gradually discover the purpose of the tower and what happened to its builder. It’s an excellent, novelette-length story, well-told, interesting and thoughtful.

Mars as seen from its moon Deimos
by Lucien Rudaux

Garden in the Void by Poul Anderson. Set in the Asteroid Belt, this tells of two prospectors, hoping to strike it rich so they can return to earth. One day they spot a green asteroid and land to investigate. They find it is covered in vegetation and has its very own gardener – a human who was stranded there many years before and has developed a kind of symbiotic relationship with the plants. I found this quite a creepy story, very well told, with lots of science that mostly went right over my head, but I was still able to follow the story easily.

Wait It Out by Larry Niven. This is “hard” SF – i.e., based on real science, but explained well enough that there’s no need to be an astrophysicist to understand the story! Our narrator is one of the two men aboard the first ship to land on Pluto. But they land on ice, and their nuclear powered engine temporarily melts it. As soon as they switch their engine off, the ice refreezes and their ship is trapped. This is a bleak story but very well told, and I found the ideas in it left me feeling a bit discombobulated.

So some excellent stories in here, enhanced by the fantastic introductions. If you’re interested in science fiction in even the mildest way, then I heartily recommend this anthology to you. Great stuff!

NB This book was provided for review by the publisher, the British Library.

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29 thoughts on “Transwarp Tuesday! Born of the Sun edited by Mike Ashley

  1. I do selectively enjoy science fiction stories, thanks to reading a lot of Ursula Le Guin’s writing in earlier years. This is a book I would read if it was in the library or very cheap on Kindle, but it isn’t unfortunately and it’s not enough of a priority to pursue further. The stories you reviewed do sound enticing!

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s another newish release so it may turn up in your library when things get back to normal over here – if ever! I used to read quite a lot of SF novels in my teens and twenties, but these days I find I prefer short stories – the ideas often seem to suit that format better than the longer one.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, I do find myself reading more short stories in SF now. That’s a good point about that format being a good match to the SF ideas – I agree – it does have a more focused impact to have aspects of new worlds revealed or hinted at without being overdeveloped. There’s a potency in that.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. You soled me with the introductions. My solar knowledge is very basic, and Science Fiction isn’t something I would normally go for, but I’m in the mood for something a bit different, and the intros sound as though they are at the right levil for beginners.

    Liked by 1 person

    • For some reason, I always prefer stories about the planets in the Solar System – as if they’re more possible or something! The intros are great, especially the way he shows how SF writers over time took account of the changes in real scientific knowledge. I felt sorry for wee Vulcan though – suddenly being dismissed as non-existent! Worse than what happened to Pluto… 😉


  3. These do sound tempting, FictionFan. SciFi isn’t my first love, but a good Golden Age scifi story can be fantastic. And I’m glad the collection is curated well, with only a few that you didn’t like as much. It goes to show you how important that role really is. Now, as for Pluto, there are plenty of people, I think, who haven’t quite forgiven Tyson for that! Still, as an aside, I think he’s fantastic. I always respect scientists who can make it all interesting and understandable to the rest of us, without condescending or ‘watering down’ the science.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Mike Ashley’s become the go-to editor for sci-fi in the same way Martin Edwards is for crime, and I’m so pleased the BL have ventured into sci-fi and horror. Quite often when I don’t like a sci-fi story it’s because I don’t really get the science part, which is why I tend to like the earlier more speculative stuff more than modern hard SF. I’ll never forgive Tyson for Pluto! But I felt even sorrier for poor Vulcan – imagine suddenly being declared non-existent! Einstein… bah! What did he know?

      Liked by 1 person

    • I can’t cope with hard science which is why I’m not really into modern SF. The vintage stuff usually tends to fall into the speculative fiction field more often, which my brain can process better! If your husband likes vintage SF then I’m sure he’d enjoy this… 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I have the one about Time Travel and I really liked several of the stories but wasn’t sure I would recommend the collection in general. I’d be willing to give another of these collections a try – possibly this one! Must have been really hard for him to choose only one story about Mars though.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I loved the time travel one too – I think the editor and I must have similar tastes in stories which makes all the difference with anthologies. I believe there was an early collection in the series all about Mars, but I missed it. Must get hold of it though – thanks for the nudge!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. You do this on purpose, don’t you! I’ve just ordered it, despite already having two other anthologies waiting in my TBR pile (Beyond Time and Nature’s Warnings). Have you read Lost Mars or Moonrise yet? They’re both on my wishlist.

    Vulcan? As in Mr. Spock’s planet?? And I don’t care what Tyson says… I’ll always think of Pluto as a planet.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hahaha, yes, I do – it’s part of my evil plan to ensure everyone’s TBR is at least as bad as mine! I loved Beyond Time too, so good choice, and I’m almost certain you’ll enjoy this one. No, both Lost Mars and Moonrise were before the BL started sending me SF ones – I still only get them sporadically – but they’re both on my wishlist. Must get the Mars one, especially…

      It always surprises me when I come across the reason for a Star Trek thing in these anthologies – they clearly were experts in vintage SF! Though I think they must have moved Vulcan – maybe that’s why Einstein couldn’t find it… 😉 I’ll never forgive Tyson for being mean to poor little Pluto…

      Liked by 1 person

      • I finished this last night and agree with you that the introductions in this one were exceptional. Of those you mentioned, two ranked in my favorites, as well. The Mars story about the tower and the garden asteroid. Another I loved was the Jupiter story (Simak!) of man and dog. I think my least favorite was Saturn. I just didn’t get it.

        Liked by 1 person

        • Haha, I just looked back at my notes to remind myself, and I gave the Saturn one 1-star on the grounds that I didn’t have a flippin’ clue what it was supposed to be about! But I did like the Jupiter story even it didn’t make my top slots. I’m glad you enjoyed it – those introductions were great! You could spend years just reading all the books he’s mentioned…

          Liked by 1 person

  6. This is clearly not a book for me, but, at the same time, it’s just as clearly a book my husband might enjoy. So, I will mention the book to him… or maybe I will not say anything and just buy it for him as a gift. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • I always think anthologies make perfect gifts, and if he likes vintage SF I’m sure he’d appreciate this one! And you could sneakily read one or two of the stories and see if they get you addicted… 😉


    • Oh, he was one of the names I hadn’t come across before, but I thought that was a great story despite being quite heavy on the science. I must look to see if any of his stuff is available on Kindle…


  7. I can easily see the interest here-the intros sound amazing too! I had no idea people were even writing about the planets that long ago, so I’d be fascinated to see what their opinions of the solar system are like.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was surprised at how far back people were writing about the planets – way back a couple of hundred years! But the middle of the twentieth century was definitely the Golden Age for sci-fi – so many new discoveries were being made.

      Liked by 1 person

  8. I don’t read many short stories, or sci-fi for that matter, but this sounds fun! I wonder if it would be an appeal that it takes place in the solar system or the opposite? Perhaps, I would pay too much attention to the science, since I’ve read so much about the planets and the satellites in our solar sytem.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I always prefer SF that’s set in our solar system for some reason – perhaps because they feel marginally more possible? I think you might enjoy these though – he’s selected them to kind of show what the science of each planet was considered to be at the time of writing, so it’s fun to see what they got right, or how much our knowledge has changed since the stories were written.

      Liked by 1 person

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