Lodestar (Anderson)

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"Lodestar" is a short story by American writer Poul Anderson. The idea was proposed to the author in a letter from editor John W. Campbell in 1970, but not developed into a story until the publication of Astounding: The John W Campbell Memorial Anthology. The story is one in the Polesotechnic League series featuring the bombastic space adventurer Nicholas van Rijn.

Plot summary[edit]

In a prelude to the main story, a trade expedition of van Rijn's employees barely escapes from a planet after an attack by the 'primitive' natives, who have been poorly treated by other traders only out to make money.

In the story proper, chemists of the Polesotechnic League are working to produce elements that theoretically exist on the 'island of stability' of the periodic table; stable elements that are surrounded by short-lived unstable ones. Progress is nil, when an organization appears, offering commercial quantities of 'supermetals' for sale. The prices are high but economic and the source of supply is not revealed. The metals bring about a revolution in engineering, but attempts to duplicate the metals or find the source of the metals are fruitless.

Although rich enough to retire and reluctant to leave his home comforts for the rigors of space travel, Nicholas van Rijn takes up the challenge and charters Dewfall, a specially and expensively equipped space ship from, and crewed by, Ythrians, an intelligent sky-dwelling species. He takes with him his favorite granddaughter, Coya Conyon, an astrophysicist.

The expedition locates the source of the supermetals, an uncharted planet which Coya terms 'Eka-world'. They are intercepted by a fleet of ships guarding it and invited to surrender on peaceable terms. But van Rijn does not take kindly to the idea of an extended exile away from his home luxuries, and the crew plan a risky escape manoeuvre using data pre-calculated by Coya. They barely succeed in their escape.

Dewfall makes a rendezvous with van Rijn's spaceship Muddlin' Through, and transfers to it. van Rijn proposes to demand a cut of 10% of the income from the Supermetals consortium in recompense for their trying to capture him, David Falkayn and Coya persuade him to both keep the location a secret and stay out of the affairs of Supermetals. They remind van Rijn that he does not need the money, which is greatly needed by several races whose development they are helping. Very reluctantly, van Rijn agrees.

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