Science Fiction Though the Decades

Friday, December 14, 2012

1968: Farewell, Fantastic Venus (Aldiss, Brian)

History of Venus in fiction and science prior to 1960’s probing (4/5)

Prior to the 1962 Mariner II passing of Venus, only terrestrial observations of Venus were made. These observations were monotonously ruddy, the cloud cover of Venus providing am impenetrable dusty cloak covering its surface. This veil of mystery led to some wild theories as what exactly Venus was concealing: world-spanning oceans, gigantic foliage, murky swamps, and featureless plains. When the Mariner probe read high temperatures on the surface, sullen theorists had to accept the hard news. Later when the Russian Venera 4 probe descended through the atmosphere, high levels of carbon dioxide and low levels of oxygen were recorded, again dashing the hopes of easily finding extraterrestrial life on a solar body. The Venera 4 probe confirmed the extreme temperatures on the surface, but the most brilliant scientists and theorists still held hope for extreme forms of life, where Venusian life “might have to embody substances which are liquid at 280 degrees, build a strange genetic code, possibly with compounds of phosphorous or selenium, and feed on carbon dioxide and dust” (Davy, “Venus Mystery for Scientists”, p.263).

Farewell, Fantastic Venus takes the reader through the fictional and non-fictional history of Venus’s development. Containing more excerpts and essays than complete stories, this book is more of a synopsis than an anthology, more of a reference than a collection. It’s certainly interesting to read all the speculation, from the extreme to the urbane, from the aquatic to the deserted, from the thriving to the uninhabited.


SECTION I: Clouded Judgments
[précis] A Trip to Venus (1897) - John Munro
A review of a predictably camp story of Naysmith Carmichael, inventor of the flying “car”, flies to Venus only to find beautiful bucolic people with a noble Christian disposition. 8 pages

[essay] The Story of the Heavens (1882) - Sir Robert Ball
An astronomer recounts witness Venus’s transit across the sun in 1882 during a snow flurries yet still manages to obtain measurements regarding its diameter. 4 pages

[excerpt] Honeymoon in Space (1968) - George Griffith
Delicious Venus air greets the travelers who remark how lovely everything is. Using music as a “universal language”, the humans and Vesuvius music and wonderment. 15 pages

SECTION II: Never-fading Flowers
[essay] The Destinies of the Stars (1917) - Svante Arrhenius
The astronomer induces that Venus is “dripping wet” without actually measuring the atmosphere, and further induces growths of “luxuriant vegetation”. 3 pages

[excerpt] Last and First Men (1930) - Olaf Stapledon
Once the Fifth Men arrive on Venus, where oxygen is plentiful, billions of years of evolution and genetic manipulation spawn extreme versions of humans and their cultures. 25 pages

[excerpt] Pirates of Venus (1932) - Edgar Rice Burroughs
Wanting for Mars, bur arriving Venus (I hate when that happens), Napier is attacked in the towering foliage but is saved men in loin-cloths armed with knives. 9 pages

[excerpt] Perelandra (1943) - C. S. Lewis
The narrator arrives in the oceanic world on Venus, adrift in the sea amid towering waves, seeking solace upon a great patch of foliage where bears fruit and bubbles. 17 pages

SECTION III: Swamp and Sand
[shortstory] Alchemy (1950) - John & Dorothy de Courcy (4/5)
A blue-skinned Venus native meets the narrator. They traverse the desert-like landscape to share meals and ascend the towers which pictorially represent Venus history. 9 pages

[essay] The Man from Venus (1939) - Frank R. Paul
Inducing a “tropical richness” with watery areas in great abundance, this illustrator envisions scaled Vesuvius, replete with great strength, numerous children, and satisfaction. 2 pages

[shortstory] A City on Venus (1941) - Henry Gade (2/5)
The ubiquitous “perpetual cloud blanket” hides a rocky land with coral reefs, floating islands, fungus-caped dwellings, citizens flying upon tamed pterodactyls. 3 pages

[essay] Unveiling the Mystery Planet (1955) - Willy Ley
Admitting little is known of Venus, a scientist covers the known facts through the history of viewing Venus as a celestial body and reviewing prior misconceptions. 8 pages

SECTION IV: “Venus is Hell!”
[essay] Exploring the Planets (1964) - V. A. Firsoff
Using scientific methods, a scientist covers the facts about Venus’s microwave emissions and hypothesizes three scenarios prior to a “manned satellite mission” in the future. 3 pages

[novella] The Big Rain (1954) - Poul Anderson (4/5)
Hollister arrives on Venus as an earthborn man wanting to make a new life on the authoritarian planet, yet successfully eludes suspicion of actually of being a United Nations Inspectorate spy. His mission is simply to infiltrate the industrial sector and eventually report back his findings on how human life on Venus has been shaped. The UN isn’t happy about Venus being independent, but the Venusians themselves are caught in the romanticism of the strife for self-sufficiency. When Hollister abruptly gets married, due to the fertility laws, and his wife visits him on-location, he becomes suspicious, interrogates his wife, and rallies his workforce for a counter-authoritarian strike against the city of New America. 68 pages

[excerpt] Intelligent Life in the Universe (1966) - Carl Sagan
Reviewing past scientific hypotheses about Venus, Sagan updates the facts with recent discoveries from the 1962 Mariner II pass and posits an “appalling hot” planet. 7 pages

SECTION V: Big Sister
[excerpt] Escape to Venus (1956) - S. Makepeace Lott
In-bound to Venus, a husband and wife listen to the dry cinematic information of the specifics of Venusian politics, the Venus calendar, and the concept of no private property. 4 pages

[novella] Sister Planet (1959) - Poul Anderson (5/5)
An oceanic Venus is colonized by a sole research station. The native aquatic animals (cetoids) seem to trade minerals and gems for the humans’ works of art and musical pieces, but the verdict is still out on whether they’re actually intelligent. When Hawthorne one day receives a luscious gem from his cetoid friend Oscar, he becomes intrigued by the strong possibility of their innate intelligence, which is confirmed when Oscar invites Hawthorne onto his back for a plunge into the deep Venusian ocean where he witness a majestic underwater Taj Mahal. Keeping his secret safe for now, another scientist reveals that he has proven that Venus can be colonized by way of radial terraformation. This very idea haunts Hawthorne. 29 pages

[shortstory] Before Eden (1961) - Arthur C. Clarke (4/5)
At a high elevation on the southern pole with lowering temperatures, the likelihood of liquid water on Venus is increasing for two scientists. The two walk up a slope to a liquid lake where their attention to drawn to a nearby dark shaggy growth creeping their way. Thermophobic, the carpet steers clear of their suits’ exhaust and shrieks away from their white light beams. Inflating a tent, the scientists gather their materials and bury their wastes before heading back to the ship. Now that they’ve left, the shaggy growth’s attention is now drawn. 12 pages

SECTION VI: The Open Question
[essay] Some Mysteries of Venus Resolved (1967) - Sir Bernard Lovell
After the American Mariner II probe passing of Venus in 1962 and the Russian descent through the atmosphere to the surface in 1967, the fantasies of a fantastic Venus have been flattened. 5 pages

[essay] Dream of Distance (1967) - Anonymous
“written… by an anonymous drug addict while under the influence of LSD. In its musings, its style, it belongs unmistakably to our times and outlook” (Aldiss, “The Open Question”, p. 255). 3 pages

[essay] Venus Mystery for Scientists (1967) - John Davy
The absence of nitrogen and argon on Venus stumps scientists, including Dr. Sagan. Whatever life exists on Venus would be very exotic, be it the soil or in the clouds. 3 pages

[essay] Scientist Says Icecaps on Venus Would Make Life Possible (1968) - Evert Clark
As the title says, some possibility remains that pressure and temperature may be stable enough to support life at the poles. Life on Venus isn’t an impossibility. 3 pages

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