Sun

Tagged: Theme

The Sun, as the energy-source which permits life to exist on Earth, was widely worshipped in the ancient world. After the Copernican Revolution it became the hub of the Universe, but with the advent of a broader view of the cosmos it lost some of its prestige. Scientists, philosophers and Proto SF authors such as Athanasius Kircher thought it likely to be inhabited, a view which persisted until as late as 1795. Even in the nineteenth century some speculative writers considered it a world like any other and included it in cosmic tours; examples are the anonymous Journeys into the Moon, Several Planets and the Sun (1837) and Joel R Peabody's A World of Wonders (1838). Several early sf stories, assuming the Sun to be sustained by combustion, anticipated the day when it would burn out; examples are Camille Flammarion's Omega (1893-1894), H G Wells's The Time Machine (1895), George C Wallis's "The Last Days of Earth" (July 1901 Harmsworth Magazine) and William Hope Hodgson's The House on the Borderland (1908) (see End of the World). A final catastrophe to the Sun is forever imminent in Jack Vance's tales of the Dying Earth. Clark Ashton Smith recalls the imagery of Hodgson's novel in "Phoenix" (in Time to Come, anth 1954, ed August Derleth), a poignant but anachronistic story about the reignition of the dying Sun (by the time the story was written – in the 1930s – it had long been known that the Sun produced heat by nuclear fusion), an idea ingeniously recapitulated in Gene Wolfe's The Book of the New Sun (1980-1983 4vols). Although the Sun's surface temperature had been established spectroscopically in the 1890s, John Mastin was still able to imagine, in Through the Sun in an Airship (1909), exactly such a voyage, and H Kaner set The Sun Queen (1946) on a sunspot.

J B S Haldane's "The Last Judgment" (in Possible Worlds, coll 1927) and Olaf Stapledon's Last and First Men (1930) imagine changes in the Sun's brilliance as crucial factors in Man's future Evolution. In "Ark of Fire" (3 April 1938 American Weekly) by John Hawkins the Earth is moved nearer to the Sun, with predictable consequences for surface life. In numerous Disaster stories the Sun goes nova, although some humans usually manage to escape, as in J T McIntosh's One in Three Hundred (February 1953 F&SF; exp 1954). In Edmond Hamilton's "Thundering Worlds" (March 1934 Weird Tales) the nine planets themselves become interstellar wanderers, accelerating towards a new Star. In Arthur C Clarke's "Rescue Party" (May 1946 Astounding) Aliens arrive to save mankind but find that their aid is unnecessary, and in Norman Spinrad's The Solarians (1966) the nova is induced to destroy an alien spacefleet, while the human race makes its escape. In Edward Wellen's Hijack (1971) disinformation about such a nova is used in order to trick the Mafia into hijacking a spacefleet and blasting off for the stars. Stories which make a detailed study of reactions to the news that the Sun may go nova include Hugh Kingsmill's "The End of the World" (in The Dawn's Delay, coll 1924), Larry Niven's "Inconstant Moon" (in All the Myriad Ways, coll 1971), in which the disaster proves to be a brief and just barely survivable (for America if not Europe) solar flare, and David Langford's sardonic comedy "Heatwave" (in New Writings in SF 27, anth 1975, ed Kenneth Bulmer). Eric C Williams's "Sunout" (in New Writings in SF 5, anth 1965, ed John Carnell) deals similarly with the futility of any human response to the scientific prediction that the sun may soon go out, which at the story's close it does. The hero of George O Smith's Troubled Star (1953) discovers that Aliens want to make the Sun into a variable star so that it may serve as an interstellar lighthouse. Other unscrupulous aliens plan to detonate the Sun to assist the next leg of their interstellar voyaging in Larry Niven's "The Fourth Profession" (in QUARK/4, anth 1971, ed Samuel R Delany and Marilyn Hacker) and in Stephen Baxter's Space: Manifold 2 (2000; vt Manifold: Space 2000). The film Sunshine (2007) features an implausible space mission to restart the ailing Sun and save the world from permanent winter.

The notion that the Sun might be the abode of life is developed in Olaf Stapledon's The Flames (1947), Arthur C Clarke's "Out of the Sun" (February 1958 If), Edmond Hamilton's "Sunfire!" (September 1962 Amazing) and David Brin's Sundiver (1980). Sun-consuming lifeforms hatch out of the planets in Jack Williamson's improbable "Born of the Sun" (March 1934 Astounding). The idea that Stars might be living beings has been developed on several occasions (see Living Worlds), but not often applied to our own Sun; one exception is Dogsbody (1975) by Diana Wynne Jones, while Gregory Benford's and Gordon Eklund's "If the Stars are Gods" (in Universe 4, anth 1974, ed Terry Carr; incorporated into If the Stars are Gods, fixup 1977) is ambiguous in this respect. The Sun's significance as a religious symbol is further exploited in The Day the Sun Stood Still (anth 1972) edited by Robert Silverberg, which comprises three novellas based on the premise that the miracle granted to Joshua so that he could win a vital battle might be repeated tomorrow to persuade mankind of the reality of divine power.

The Sun often figures in Genre SF as a potential disaster area ready to consume Spaceships which stray too close; examples are Willy Ley's "At the Perihelion" (February 1937 Astounding as by Robert Willey; vt "A Martian Adventure" in Great Science Fiction By Scientists, anth 1962, ed Groff Conklin), Eric Frank Russell's "Jay Score" (May 1941 Astounding), Ray Bradbury's "The Golden Apples of the Sun" (November 1953 Planet Stories), Hal Clement's "Sunspot" (November 1960 Analog), Poul Anderson's "What'll You Give?" (April 1963 Analog as by Winston P Sanders; vt "Que Donn'rez Vous?" in Tales of the Flying Mountains, fixup 1970) and George Collyn's "In Passage of the Sun" (July 1966 New Worlds). The weather technicians of Theodore L Thomas's "The Weather Man" (June 1962 Analog), however, skim across the surface of the Sun in "sessile boats" in order to control its radiation output (see Weather Control). A spate of dangerous radiation from the Sun plays a key role in Philip E High's The Prodigal Sun (1964), which was presumably written around its awful titular pun; the Earth is saved through the creation of an artificial shielding layer of gas in the upper atmosphere (see also Arrested Development). A spectacular close encounter by a solar Space Station takes place in Charles L Harness's Flight into Yesterday (May 1949 Startling; exp 1953; vt The Paradox Men 1955 dos; rev 1984) – climaxing with a fatal descent into a sunspot – and an even more spectacular one in David Brin's Sundiver (1980). For many years Brin's was the sf novel which dealt most extensively and most scrupulously with modern scientific knowledge about the Sun. Also intensively researched is Sunstorm (2005) by Arthur C Clarke and Stephen Baxter, in which Earth's biosphere is threatened with extinction by a vast 2037 solar flare – the culmination of disturbances initiated by a Jupiter-sized planet steered into the Sun by Aliens two millennia previously. By way of defence an artificial shield is constructed in space at the L1 Lagrange Point.

One curious aspect of the Sun's behaviour, the 11-year sunspot cycle discovered by Heinrich Schwabe (1789-1875) in 1851, is hypothetically correlated with Earthly events in Clifford D Simak's "Sunspot Purge" (November 1940 Astounding) and Philip Latham's "Disturbing Sun" (May 1959 Astounding); a sunspot heralds the grim conclusion of Robert A Heinlein's story of cycles run amok, "The Year of the Jackpot" (March 1952 Galaxy).

The Solar Wind (which see) is featured in a number of sf stories. [BS/DRL]

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