Genre Vacation: Visit the Pulp Science Fiction Shared Solar System

In early April, Shaun Duke started the Blog Challenge Project to encourage participants to blog more and create some conversation across blogs. Shaun describes the project as follows:

What is the Blog Challenge Project? In short, the project aims to create a community of bloggers and booktubers who will encourage one another to create content, support one another in their blogging ventures, and provide a giant list of prompts and ideas for posts that folks can complete on their own time or challenge one another to explore. The idea is to provide some positivity and community in a time of immense stress. You can click the link to read the full info page and see our current list of prompts!

I joined as soon as I heard about the project, because more topics to blog about are always a good thing. But then, stuff happened and so I didn’t get around to writing my first post related to the project until now.

One of the prompts was “genre vacation”, i.e. write a travel guide of sorts to a place from an SFF books or film. The prompt sparked an idea, because during my extended jaunt to the Golden Age for the Retro Science Fiction Reviews project (soon to be resumed to cover the remaining Retro Hugo finalists), I noticed that a lot of Golden Age science fiction, particularly on the pulpier end of the spectrum such as Planet Stories, Startling Stories or Thrilling Wonder Stories, is set in the same version of our solar system, a place I’ve since called the pulp science fiction shared solar system.

Conceived in the 1930s and 1940s long before space probes showed us what the rest of the solar system really looks like, the pulp science fiction shared solar system is a place, where space travel is common and the solar system is teeming with life, both human and non-human. It’s a place of adventure, romance, great riches and even greater friendships, but also a place of danger, where space pirates lurk in every corner, criminals will slit your throat, nonhuman people may worship you or try to kill you, where evil capitalists will frame you and have you thrown in prison or enslave you to work in their mines, where governments are rarely democratic and downtrodden people keep rebelling against them.

Still, it’s the trip of a lifetime – provided you have a fast ship, a good blaster and take a few sensible precautions. So…

Visit the Pulp Science Fiction Shared Solar System

as seen in Planet Stories, Startling Stories, Thrilling Wonder Stories and others

What the grand tour of Europe was to the 18th and 19th century, the grand tour of the solar system is for today’s travellers – a must for the educated inhabitant of the Tri-Planet Terran Empire.

Of course, you have all heard the horror stories. You’ve heard about spaceships vanishing without a trace or found drifting in deep space with all aboard dead or missing. You’ve heard about space pirates, space vampires and space sirens, about hostile natives and planetary revolutions, about ancient cults and murderous criminals.

But have no fear. For the solar system is no longer as wild and dangerous as it once was, now that the heroic men (and they are all men, sorry) of the Tri-Planet space patrol have cleaned up the spaceways and brought the justice of the Tri-Planet government to the furthest corners of space.

But just in case you’re still worried, this travel guide will help you to enjoy your grand tour of the solar system, while staying alive, in excellent health and in possession of all your valuables.

We’ll travel from the sun outwards, starting with:

Mercury

In the pulp science fiction shared solar system, Mercury is tidally locked, divided into a blistering hot light side and a frozen dark side with a thin, habitable twilight belt inbetween. The vistas of rocky Mercury are stunning, as long as you take care to never venture beyond the twilight belt.

Even in the twilight belt, Mercury is mostly rocks. However, some of those rocks contain valuable ore, so there are human mining colonies in Mercury.  There also are natives, furry critters mostly. The natives and the human miners often don’t get along. This usually ends badly for the furry critters. Just ask the infamous outlaw Eric John Stark.

Humans from Mercury are inevitably dark-skinned because of the intense solar radiation. This is also a convenient way for science fiction writers to sneak characters of colour past racist editors. Again, ask Eric John Stark or Jaffa Storm.

As in all rocky places in the pulp science fiction shared universe, there is a prison on the dark side of Mercury. With all the criminals and outlaws the Tri-Planet space patrol has arrested of late, we need to put them somewhere after all.  And convict labour is convenient, considering how hard it is to persuade human miners to willingly move to Mercury.

Planet Stories Spring 1949

Artist’s impression of a prison break on the night side of Mercury.

With Mercury out of the way, we hop back aboard our trusty space rocket and travel onwards to…

Venus

Do you want a tropical vacation, but the beaches and jungles of Earth are too boring for you? Do you want a real adventure? Then Venus is the planet for you. Just forget about getting a tan, because Venus is perpetually shrouded in clouds and fog.

First of the three core planets of the solar system, Venus is a worlds of tropical jungles and treacherous swamps, of glowing mists and mysterious oceans. Some of those oceans are water, some are red glowing mist. All of them harbour carnivorous plant life and mysterious ruins. There also are underwater cities, where humans can enjoy all the luxuries of a modern existence. The cocktail bars are particularly famous.

Astounding Science Fiction March 1943

Artist’s impression of Venusian underwater cities.

Planet Stories Summer 1944

Artist’s impression of hostile lifeforms on the Venusian ocean floor.

The swamps and jungles of Venus have their share of deadly creatures as well. Many an unwary human tourist has been eaten by a Venusian swamp monster, so never venture into the swamps without a guide. But beware, for while the non-human Venusian natives like the Kraylen or the telepathic kelp people who live in the Venusian ocean are generally friendly folk, the humanoid Venusians are known to be particularly treacherous. Many an unwary visitor has found themselves kidnapped, enslaved, drafted into the warfare between Venusian city states or just vanished without a trace, so never trust a Venusian human. You will recognise them by their pale skin (no sunlight) and equally pale hair.

Planet Stories Fall 1949

Artist’s impression of a beautiful but treacherous Venusian woman and her deadly pet.

Planet Stories Summer 1946

Artist’s impression of an unfortunate Earthman drafted into a war between Venusian city states.

Planet Stories

Artist’s impression of Venusian war maidens.

If you’re looking for souvenirs, Venus is the home of the famous Venusian spidersilk, a popular material for shirts, gowns and underwear. Of late, oil and coal have also been found in the Venusian swamps and so the Terran-Venusian Mining Corporation (voted second most hated company in the solar system after the Terran Exploitations Company) has moved in.

Once you’ve had your fill of beautiful, fantastic Venus, let’s put in a pit stop at home and visit…

Earth

Headquarters of the Tri-Planet government and clearly the most civilised and most highly developed planet in the entire solar system, Earth does not feature very often in the sort of stories set in the pulp science fiction shared solar system.

A lot of people come from Earth and they sometimes go back there, but very little of the action actually takes place here. Whenever we do visit Earth, it looks remarkably like a 1950s American suburb, only with robots and personal planes/helicopters. Unless, it has huge domed cities, where the agoraphobic population huddles together for protection. Because for reasons unknown, Earthpeople tend to be agoraphobic.

Galaxy October 1953

Artist’s impression of the interior of a domend city on Earth.

So let’s leave Earth behind and venture outwards into the solar system, first making a pit stop on…

The Moon/Luna

Earth’s moon is of little interest to the interplanetary tourist and indeed, hardly anybody goes there voluntarily, because the Moon is a prison, housing the worst criminals in the solar system. Located deep inside the surface of the Moon, escape from the lunar cell blocks is supposed to be impossible. Nonetheless, prison breaks happen with remarkable frequency. But don’t let that worry you, for the heroic officers of the Tri-Planet space patrol will recapture all of those escapees ASAP. (The Tri-Planet police was not available for comment upon the escape of one Steve Nolan, convicted traitor and murderer, who was presumed dead and later reappeared on Pluto, very much alive and also innocent.)

Worlds of IF, December 1965

Artist’s impression of a prison revolt on the Moon. But rest assured that such revolts are quickly squashed.

The Moon is also the home of Curtis Newton, known to the solar system at large as Captain Future, the Man of Tomorrow. Curtis Newton lives in a laboratory complex together with the robot Grag, android Otho and Professor Simon Wright or rather his brain in a box. The Futuremen, as the members of this all-male lunar flatshare call themselves, are remarkably unbothered by sharing the Moon with a bunch of convicts.

Captain Future Winter 1940

Artist’s impression of Curtis Newton a.k.a. Captain Future and his robotic companions Grag and Otho.

We leave the Moon behind and set course for…

Mars/Barsoom

The third of the three core planets of the solar system, Mars is an ancient world, home to a once great civilisation that rose and fell long before humans ever left Earth.

Legend has it that once upon a time, Mars was as lush as Earth, a world of green hills and deep red oceans. But that time is long gone and nowadays, Mars is a parched and dying desert world, divided into city states and ruled by warlords. Mars has both human and not-so human inhabitants. The human inhabitants are proud warriors, who don’t much care for clothing and are often brown or red-skinned. Women are gorgeous redheads and brunettes who consider clothing strictly optional. Non-human inhabitants include the six-limbed and tusked green martians, the winged people or the ape-like anthropoids.

Planet Stories March 1951

Artist’s impression of a Martian warlord in action.

A Princess of Mars by Edgar Rice Burroughs

Artist’s impression of a human fighting a green martian to protect a Martian human damsel.

Thrilling Wonder Stories, June 1949

Artist’s impression of a heroic human fighting Martian snake-people side by side with a Martian damsel not in distress.

The best way to get around Mars is by flyer, but if you should not have one handy, you can also ride the dragon-like Martian beasts which are a lot friendlier than they look. Just make sure to take enough water and beware of the vicious Martian sandstorms.

Planet Stories, summer 1949

Artist’s impression of Martian riding animal with rider.

Tourists will be tempted to visit Valkis and Jekkara and the other famous towns dotted along the Martian canals, where the last water on Mars can be found. And indeed, the temptations of those ancient cities are many, but nonetheless visitors are strongly advised to be careful. Far too many unwary tourists and spaceship crewmembers on leave have lost all their belongings in the gambling halls, drug dens or brothels of the low canal towns or have been found in a gutter with their throat slit, quite dead.

There are also rumours of human visitors being abducted on Mars to be employed as slave labour in the mines of the Terran Exploitations Company (voted most hated company in the solar system three years in a row), but Jaffa Storm, spokesperson of the Terran Exploitations Company, assures us that is just a malicious rumour without a kernel of truth. The Terran Exploitations Company employs only voluntary labour and knows nothing whatsoever of any disappearances.

Starling Stories, Fall 1944

Artist’s impression of enslaved humans forced to work for the Terran Exploitations Company that has no relation whatsoever to reality. Spokesman Jaffa Storm assues us that his security guards are doing their utmost to locate that libelous artist and make sure he gets sent to the mines – only legal prison mines, of course.

Mars is dotted with ancient ruins full of fantastic artefacts. Tourists, however, are warned not to touch anything, for there have been cases of visitors finding themselves possessed by the spirits of ancient Martians, thrown back in time or suddenly finding themselves proclaimed liberator of Mars. Occasionally, such unwary visitors have also wound up marrying beautiful Martian princesses, but such outcomes are rare.

A particular attraction are the polar cities, domed cities located underneath the polar ice caps of Mars. Visitors are advised to be very careful when visiting the polar cities, because anybody who dares venture there either vanishes, goes mad or is eventually found as a frozen corpse.

Visitors interested in Mars should also look into Mythopoeic’s “Every* Mars” cruise! as described by our colleagues Camestros Felapton and Timothy T. Cat.

Mars has two moons, Phobos and Deimos, but they are tiny and used as prisons, because prisons are the only thing moons are good for.

Once we’ve enjoyed our visit to ancient Mars, let’s head onwards through…

The Asteroid Belt

This is where the wild frontier of the solar system truly begins. In the asteroid belt, you’ll find mining outposts, which occasionally double as testing sites for the United States Robots and Mechanical Men Corporation (which does not appear on the list of the most hated companies in the solar system to everybody’s surprise).

Spaceships crash here and space pirates hide out on isolated asteroids and hold off visitors and members of the Tri-Planet space patrol with fake monsters. There are even rumours of space vampires snatching ships to suck the passengers and crew dry, both those are just rumours, we assure you.

A special attraction in the asteroid belt is Hector, which has been encased in a glassite bubble and was turned into a casino and ressort. The entertainment on offer on the glassite floors of Hector is truly stellar, but tourists are advised to avoid the gambling tables, where many a fortune has been lost and few have been won.

Amazing Stories, May 1944

Artist’s impression of the asteroid belt.

Once you’ve made it safely through the asteroid belt, it’s time to visit…

Jupiter

Jupiter’s moons have humanoid inhabitants such as the cat people of Callisto and the harpists, also of Callisto, who can send you to sleep with their telepathic harps. Next door, on Ganymede, you will find beautiful dancing girls and scantily clad natives. But by all that’s holy, never wear any piece of jewellery you may be given on Ganymede. We had enoug trouble squashing that particular invasion the last time around. Human pioneers have also set out to settle on Io, Canymede, Callisto and Europa, the four major Jovian moons.

Amazing Stories, November 1928

Artist’s impression of Jupiter viewed from one of its moons.

As a gas giant, Jupiter’s atmosphere is too dense for humans to survive, though robots can. If you must visit the Jovian surface, you can expect stunning vistas of ammonia waterfalls over cliffs of frozen oxygen. But beware, for in order to survive in the toxic atmosphere you have to transfer your mind into a native lifeform called a loper. And so far, no one who has undergone that process has ever returned.

Planet Stories summer 1941

Artist’s impression of Jovian lifeforms harrassing humans who unwisely ventured out without a spacesuit.

Super Science Stories, August 1942

Artist’s impression of a spaceship crash on Jupiter. However, these things do not happen in reality.

But even though Jupiter is big and impressive, there is not all that much to see here, so let’s head onwards to…

Saturn

It has rings. It has moons. It looks stunning, when viewed from the porthole of a spaceship.

But otherwise, the pulp science fiction shared solar system has little use for Saturn. One of its moons, Titan, has icy cliffs and snowy caves and is home to a race of furry telepathic critters. They did not react well, when the Terran Exploitations Company (still the most hated company in the solar system) built a prison mine there, so they had to be resettled. Titan is also home to mindcontrolling slugs, so be very careful what you touch there.

Amazing Stories April 1926

Artist’s impression of Saturn

Since there’s little to see here, let’s head onwards to…

Neptune and Uranus

Neptune and Uranus exist. They are gas giants. They have moons. But hardly anybody ever visits them and when they do, they inevitably find themselves accosted by hostile lifeforms, particularly if they are young and attractive women. Uranus supposedly has some precious minerals and lost cities as well. But the moons are so uninteresting that they haven’t even built any prisons here yet, though the Terran Exploitations Company (yup, them again) is looking into it.

Planet Stories, winter 1945

Artist’s impression of a Neptunian fishman accosting a young Earthwoman

Lost City of Uranus

Artist’s impression of a family exploring a lost city on Uranus.

Since there’s not much to see here, let’s fly onward to…

Pluto

In the pulp science fiction shared solar system, Pluto is still a planet and don’t let anybody tell you otherwise.

Pluto is where you go, when you have nowhere else in the solar system left to run, which is why Pluto is full of outlaws. Pluto is cold and rocky and has no breathable atmosphere, so its human inhabitants live in domed cities.

Tourists are warned to beware of the local wildlife such as giant crabs, which live in the craters of Pluto.

There are also persistent rumours that because Pluto is so remote, various terrorist groups and revolutionaries are using it as a hideout. However, the Tri-Planet space patrol wishes to assure everybody that they are on the case.

Fantastic Adventures July 1949

Artist’s impression of Pluto, as seen from outer space. Giant floating robot heads are not a common sight here at all.

Pluto City Frank R. Paul

Artist’s impression of a city on Pluto.

Since there’s not much to see here either, let’s travel…

Beyond Pluto

Is there life beyond Pluto? Why not? After all, there’s life everywhere else. And should you decide to venture beyond the orbit of Pluto you might discover Yuggoth, home of the infamous Mi-Go or the rogue planet Mongo whose impending collision with Earth was thwarted by the heroic efforts of Dr. Hans Zarkov, Flash Gordon and Dale Arden or maybe the unnamed hollow planet inhabited by Bas, the ever youthful sleeping immortal, and the Earthpeople he abducted there. If our solar system is too boring for you, you can also go on a five hundred year trip to Alpha Centauri. But beware, for you may not like what you find there.

You can also accompany our good friend Dr. Shaun Duke on his exploration of the forest moon of Endor, which is located neither in this solar system nor does it house a prison.

ETA: If you’re looking to further your education or are looking for a suitable place of learning for your kid, Steve J. Wright offers a tour of the great educational and academic institutions of SFF.

ETA II: If you prefer the sea to outer space, Adri Joy takes you on a cruise around the Hundred Isles from R.J. Barker’s The Bone Ships.

But wherever you choose to go, excitement and wonder await you.

So what are you waiting for? Book your grand tour of the pulp science fiction shared solar system today!

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5 Responses to Genre Vacation: Visit the Pulp Science Fiction Shared Solar System

  1. Kip Williams says:

    I used to know the guy who did this website:
    http://interplanetours.blogspot.com/

    Also, I did this in 1990 for one of my commercial art classes:
    https://flic.kr/p/2iT7Xgg

    Plug: Visit my fine blog for more entertainment. I’m posting a lot more nowadays, and there’s years worth of old stuff too. And a link to my flickr page. And a pony. [Your pony may already be gone when you get there.]

    • Cora says:

      The Interplanet Tours site is neat. I recall seeing someone doing travel posters for the solar system years ago, though I’m not sure if it was that site.

      If you’re blogging more are looking for inspiration (or just want to hang out), why don’t you join the Blog Challenge Project? If you click on the link in Shaun’s post, which I quoted, it takes you to a Google Doc with a list of prompts, list of participating blogs, etc…

  2. Lurkertype says:

    GRRM and Dozois edited two very fine books called “Old Mars” and “Old Venus”, collections of stories by today’s authors writing in this universe. IMHO “Venus” is the better one.

    I enjoyed them a lot — all the delightful tropes but with current sensibilities.

    Also the “Arabella” trilogy by David D. Levine, which is technically YA (although only insofar as the heroine is under 18 at the start and there’s no cussing or sex), and thoroughly delightful.

    Not only are there this Mars and Venus, but travel is by Space Cutters, so you get Hornblower-esque scenes (only with changing gravity), Kipling-esque adventure and such (only with a girl protagonist) PoC who are heroic, &c. Mars has been settled by the Brits, while Venus is French and thus under the rule of Napoleon (voted most hated dictator of the early 19th century). And the story wraps up in 3 reasonably-sized books.

    • Cora says:

      I love the Arabella books, which are definitely set in a solar system adjacent to the pulp science fiction shared solar system, though we’d need Cam’s dimension hopping cruise to visit. And unlike a certain Hugo finalist whose “airships” turned out to be tall ships sailing through the clouds, Levine actually understands how ships work. I come from a long line of shipbuilders and sea captains, so mistakes in that area annoy me.

      I have heard of the Old Mars and Old Venus anthologies, but I haven’t read them. Time to remedy that, I think.

  3. Pingback: Retro Review: “The Martian and the Milkmaid” by Frances M. Deegan | Cora Buhlert

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