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Stars in fiction

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Stars outside of the Solar System have been featured as settings in works of fiction since at least the 1600s.

Early depictions[edit]

Among the earliest depictions of stars as locations that can be visited is Bernard Le Bovier de Fontenelle's 1686 work Entretiens sur la pluralité des mondes (Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds).[1] The centuries that followed saw further such portrayals in Emanuel Swedenborg's 1758 work De Telluribus in Mundo Nostro Solari (Concerning the Earths in Our Solar System), C. I. Defontenay's 1854 novel Star ou Psi de Cassiopée (Star: Psi Cassiopeia), and Camille Flammarion's 1887 novel Lumen, but they remained rare throughout this time period.[1][2] The early 1900s saw a few further interstellar voyages with Robert William Cole's 1900 novel The Struggle for Empire: A Story of the Year 2236, Jean Delaire [Wikidata]'s 1904 novel Around a Distant Star, and William Shuler Harris [Wikidata]'s 1905 novel Life in a Thousand Worlds before the concept became popular in the pulp era of science fiction.[1][2]

As objects in the sky[edit]

Stars, and their positions in the night sky as seen from Earth, have long been regarded as holding a particular significance to humans. Constellations have been integrated into various mythologies, and the pseudoscience of astrology posits that the positions of the stars can be used to predict the future.[1][2][3] Astrology very rarely features in science fiction (other than as a subject of satire), Piers Anthony's 1969 novel Macroscope being one of the few exceptions.[3][4] Observations of stars as literal objects, points of light in the sky, nevertheless play important roles in several stories.[3] In Isaac Asimov's 1941 short story "Nightfall", the first sight of a star-filled night sky, from a planet that is otherwise in daylight from at least one of its many suns for millennia at a time, drives people to madness.[1][3][5][6] The opposite occurrence, of the stars disappearing from view, appears in Arthur C. Clarke's 1953 short story "The Nine Billion Names of God" and heralds the end of the universe.[3][5]

Properties[edit]

Stars, although there is a certain poetical reference to them in much science fiction, do not actually feature in much depth in most SF stories. There are a couple of notable exceptions. [...] However, in the main, the stars themselves remain relatively untouched in the pages of SF, and exist simply as a means of providing light and warmth to planets they we may wish to visit or colonize.

George Mann, The Mammoth Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, "Stars" entry[6]

For the most part, stars in fiction vary only in size and colour. Exceptions to this are rare and appear comparatively lately in the history of science fiction.[2] A toroidal star is featured in Donald Malcolm's 1964 short story "Beyond the Reach of Storms".[1][2] Sentient stars are depicted in Olaf Stapledon's 1937 novel Star Maker among others.[2][3][7] Some stories including Bob Shaw's 1975 novel Orbitsville depict stars being enclosed by Dyson spheres.[3]

Supernovae[edit]

refer to caption
Artist's impression of a supernova

Supernovae, extremely powerful stellar explosions, appear in multiple works.[5][8][9] The notion that the Sun might explode in this manner serves as the basis for numerous disaster stories,[5][8][10][11] though it is now recognized that this cannot actually happen as the necessary stellar conditions are not met.[8][12] Earth is nevertheless threatened by the radiation from more distant supernovae in several works; for instance, Roger MacBride Allen and Eric Kotani's 1991 novel Supernova revolves around the calamitous impact of a supernova in the Sirius system on Earth, while Charles Sheffield's 1998 novel Aftermath portrays a supernova in the Alpha Centauri system disrupting modern electronics on Earth through its electromagnetic pulse.[5][8][13] Besides humans, alien civilizations are also subject to the dangers of supernovae in some stories.[5][8] In Arthur C. Clarke's 1955 short story "The Star", an alien species is found to have gone extinct some two millennia ago when their star exploded, creating the biblical Star of Bethlehem.[5] In Poul Anderson's 1967 short story "Day of Burning" (a.k.a. "Supernova"), humans try to evacuate a planet inhabited by a pre-spacefaring society threatened by a supernova.[5][10][13]

Neutron stars[edit]

Neutron stars, extremely dense remnants of stars that have undergone supernova events, appear in several works of fiction.[2][5][14] These objects are characterized by very strong gravitational fields yet comparatively small sizes on the order of a few kilometers or miles, resulting in extreme tidal forces in their proximity.[5][9][14][15] In Larry Niven's 1966 short story "Neutron Star", a spacefarer is thus imperiled when the spacecraft approaches such a star too closely and the difference in gravitational pull between the near and far end threatens to rip it apart.[9][14][15] In Gregory Benford's 1978 novel The Stars in Shroud, a neutron star is used for gravity assist maneuvers.[9][14] Neutron stars are depicted as harbouring life on the surface and interior, respectively, in Robert L. Forward's 1980 novel Dragon's Egg and Stephen Baxter's 1993 novel Flux.[3][5] Neutron star mergers release enormous amounts of radiation that could cause extinction events at interstellar distances; such an event devastates Earth in Greg Egan's 1997 novel Diaspora, and the anticipation thereof is portrayed in Baxter's 2000 novel Manifold: Space and the 2005–2006 television series Threshold.[14]

Real stars[edit]

Real stars make occasional appearances in science fiction, sometimes with planetary systems.[3][16] A 2024 article in the Journal of Science Communication analysed a sample of 142 fictional exoplanets, nearly a third of which described as orbiting real stars, and found "an absence of influence of whether or not the planet setting is in a real star system on other worldbuilding characteristics".[17]

The Alpha Centauri system is the closest star system to Earth—with Proxima Centauri being the closest of the system's stars—which has given it a special position in science fiction literature. Several stories of the first interstellar journeys have featured it as the intended destination. Among the earliest examples are the 1931 short story "Across the Void" by Leslie F. Stone and the 1935 short story "Proxima Centauri" by Murray Leinster.[2][3] The spacecraft in the latter reaches its destination in less than a decade but has the capacity to function as a generation starship if needed; the use of an actual generation starship headed for the system was later depicted in the 1944 novel Far Centaurus by A. E. van Vogt,[18][19] and the 1997 novel Alpha Centauri by William Barton and Michael Capobianco portrays such a mission being endangered by terrorists.[2][20] Conversely, Liu Cixin's 2006 novel The Three-Body Problem depicts aliens from Alpha Centauri coming to Earth.[3]

The Tau Ceti system is also a common setting in science fiction.[21][22] James Nicoll, writing for Tor.com, attributes this to a confluence of factors that make it the nearest star (at a distance of approximately 12 light-years) that could plausibly harbour habitable planets, including having a favourable brightness and being a solitary rather than multiple star.[22] In 2015, Andrew Liptak [Wikidata] interviewed several authors about why they used Tau Ceti for their stories; in addition to the star's relative proximity to Earth, Ursula K. Le Guin (who wrote The Dispossessed, 1974) and Larry Niven (The Legacy of Heorot, 1987, with Jerry Pournelle and Steven Barnes) cited the star's similarity to the Sun, while Kim Stanley Robinson (Aurora, 2015) pointed to the recent discovery of several exoplanets around Tau Ceti.[21]

See also[edit]

A photomontage of the eight planets and the MoonNeptune in fictionUranus in fictionSaturn in fictionJupiter in fictionMars in fictionEarth in science fictionMoon in science fictionVenus in fictionMercury in fiction
Clicking on a planet leads to the article about its depiction in fiction.

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b c d e f Stableford, Brian; Langford, David (2021). "Stars". In Clute, John; Langford, David; Sleight, Graham (eds.). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (4th ed.). Retrieved 2021-11-22.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Stableford, Brian (2006). "Star". Science Fact and Science Fiction: An Encyclopedia. Taylor & Francis. pp. 500–502. ISBN 978-0-415-97460-8.
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Westfahl, Gary (2021). "Stars". Science Fiction Literature through History: An Encyclopedia. ABC-CLIO. pp. 602–604. ISBN 978-1-4408-6617-3.
  4. ^ Stableford, Brian (2015). "Astronomy". In Clute, John; Langford, David; Sleight, Graham (eds.). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (4th ed.). Retrieved 2024-04-30.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k McKinney, Richard L. (2005). "Stars". In Westfahl, Gary (ed.). The Greenwood Encyclopedia of Science Fiction and Fantasy: Themes, Works, and Wonders. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 751–753. ISBN 978-0-313-32952-4.
  6. ^ a b Mann, George (2001). "Stars". The Mammoth Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. Carroll & Graf Publishers. pp. 512–513. ISBN 978-0-7867-0887-1.
  7. ^ Stableford, Brian; Langford, David (2022). "Living Worlds". In Clute, John; Langford, David; Sleight, Graham (eds.). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (4th ed.). Retrieved 2024-04-14.
  8. ^ a b c d e Stanway, Elizabeth (2022-06-12). "Going Out with a Bang". Warwick University. Cosmic Stories Blog. Archived from the original on 2023-03-22. Retrieved 2024-06-12.
  9. ^ a b c d Langford, David (1983). "Stars, neutron stars and black holes". In Nicholls, Peter (ed.). The Science in Science Fiction. New York: Knopf. pp. 82–85. ISBN 0-394-53010-1. OCLC 8689657.
  10. ^ a b Stableford, Brian (2006). "Nova". Science Fact and Science Fiction: An Encyclopedia. Taylor & Francis. pp. 334–335. ISBN 978-0-415-97460-8.
  11. ^ Stableford, Brian; Langford, David (2021). "Sun". In Clute, John; Langford, David; Sleight, Graham (eds.). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (4th ed.). Retrieved 2024-06-12.
  12. ^ Bloom, Steven D. (2016). "Stellar Evolution: Supernovas, Pulsars, and Black Holes". The Physics and Astronomy of Science Fiction: Understanding Interstellar Travel, Teleportation, Time Travel, Alien Life and Other Genre Fixtures. McFarland. pp. 38–43. ISBN 978-0-7864-7053-2.
  13. ^ a b Fraknoi, Andrew (January 2024). "Science Fiction Stories with Good Astronomy & Physics: A Topical Index" (PDF). Astronomical Society of the Pacific (7.3 ed.). pp. 13, 19–21. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2024-02-10. Retrieved 2024-06-12.
  14. ^ a b c d e Peter, Nicholls; Langford, David (2014). "Neutron Stars". In Clute, John; Langford, David; Sleight, Graham (eds.). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (4th ed.). Retrieved 2024-05-01.
  15. ^ a b May, Andrew (2023). "Tidal Forces". How Space Physics Really Works: Lessons from Well-Constructed Science Fiction. Science and Fiction. Springer. pp. 48–52. doi:10.1007/978-3-031-33950-9_2. ISBN 978-3-031-33950-9.
  16. ^ Miller, Ron (2011-11-18). "Imaginary Exoplanets". Reactor. Archived from the original on 2024-04-23. Retrieved 2024-04-23.
  17. ^ Puranen, Emma Johanna; Finer, Emily; Helling, Christiane; Smith, V. Anne (2024-03-04). "Science fiction media representations of exoplanets: portrayals of changing astronomical discoveries". Journal of Science Communication. 23 (1): A04. arXiv:2405.00684. doi:10.22323/2.23010204. ISSN 1824-2049.
  18. ^ Peter, Nicholls; Langford, David (2019). "Generation Starships". In Clute, John; Langford, David; Sleight, Graham (eds.). The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (4th ed.). Retrieved 2021-12-02.
  19. ^ Schaaf, Fred (2008). "Alpha Centauri". The Brightest Stars: Discovering the Universe through the Sky's Most Brilliant Stars. Wiley. pp. 122–123. ISBN 978-0-471-70410-2. The first great science-fiction story in which Alpha Centauri played a major role may have been a 1944 tale by A. E. van Vogt. I read it in a much later anthology when I was a kid. The title of the tale—including the sound of that title—was what really filled me with admiration and has stuck with me ever since: "Far Centaurus." Although the name Proxima Centauri basically means "near Centaurus," the title of the story is appropriate because the tale tells of a first spaceship journey that would take many generations to complete—"'Tis for far Centaurus we sail!"
  20. ^ Stableford, Brian (2004). "Barton, William R.". Historical Dictionary of Science Fiction Literature. Scarecrow Press. p. 23. ISBN 978-0-8108-4938-9. Alpha Centauri (1997), in which terrorists plague the colony ship which is humankind's last hope
  21. ^ a b Liptak, Andrew (2015-07-20). "Visiting Tau Ceti with 4 Science Fiction Authors". B&N Reads. Archived from the original on 2024-04-14. Retrieved 2024-04-15.
  22. ^ a b Nicoll, James Davis (2023-09-20). "Star Power: Five Classic SF Works Featuring Tau Ceti". Reactor. Archived from the original on 2024-04-14. Retrieved 2024-04-15.

Further reading[edit]