Venus

Tagged: Theme

Because Earth's inner neighbour presented a bright and featureless face to early astronomers, it became something of a mystery planet. Nineteenth-century astronomers and early-twentieth-century sf writers generally imagined that, as the featureless face was a permanent cloud layer, the surface beneath must be warm and wet; the Venus of the imagination became a planet of vast oceans (perhaps with no land at all) or sweltering jungles. In the 1960s, however, probes revealed that Venus has no liquid water at its surface, and that its clouds – mostly composed of carbon dioxide – create a greenhouse effect in the lower atmosphere which generates temperatures of several hundred degrees Celsius.

Early planetary tours to take in Venus – including Athanasius Kircher's Itinerarium Exstaticum (1656), Emanuel Swedenborg's The Earths in our Solar System (1758) and George Griffith's A Honeymoon in Space (January-July 1900 Pearson's as "Stories of Other Worlds"; exp 1901) – were influenced by the planet's longtime association with the goddess of love: its inhabitants were frequently characterized as gentle and ethereal, after the fashion of Bernard le Bovyer de Fontenelle's Entretiens sur la pluralité des mondes habités (1686; trans J Glanvill as A Plurality of Worlds 1929). The first novel concerned specifically with Venus was Achille Eyraud's Voyage à Venus ["Voyage to Venus"] (1865). A winged Venusian arrived on Earth in W Lach-Szyrma's A Voice from Another World (1874), and was later the protagonist of an interplanetary tour in the form of a series of nine "Letters from the Planets" (1887-1893); another visitor was the title character of Loma, a Citizen of Venus (1897) by William Windsor. A detailed description of a Venusian civilization is featured in History of a Race of Immortals Without a God (1891 as by Antares Skorpios; vt The Immortals' Great Quest as by James W Barlow). Early Scientific Romances set on Venus include Gustavus W Pope's Romances of the Planets, No. 2: Journey to Venus (1895) and John Munro's A Trip to Venus (1897). Fred T Jane's early Satire on the interplanetary romance was To Venus in Five Seconds (1897), and Venus was also the world visited by Garrett P Serviss's A Columbus of Space (January-June 1909 All-Story; rev 1911). A brief vision is featured in "Venus" (in Orpheus in Mayfair, coll 1909) by Maurice Baring. Edgar Rice Burroughs's chief imitator, Otis Adelbert Kline, set his principal series of exotic romances on Venus – a trilogy comprising The Planet of Peril (20 July-24 August 1929 Argosy; 1929), The Prince of Peril (2 August-6 September 1930 Argosy; 1930) and The Port of Peril (November 1932-April 1933 Weird Tales as "Buccaneers of Venus"; 1949). Burroughs's own Venusian series, begun with Pirates of Venus (17 September-22 October 1932 Argosy; 1934), is weak self-pastiche. Other Pulp-magazine romances set on Venus include Homer Eon Flint's "The Queen of Life" (16 August 1919 All-Story Weekly; in The Lord of Death and the Queen of Life, coll of linked stories 1966), Garrett Smith's Between Worlds (11 October-8 November 1919 Argosy Weekly; 1929) and Ralph Milne Farley's series begun with The Radio Man (28 June-19 July 1924 Argosy All-Story Weekly; 1948; vt An Earthman on Venus). The early sf pulps made abundant use of Venusian scenarios. Notable examples include John W Campbell Jr's "Solarite" (November 1930 Amazing), Clark Ashton Smith's "The Immeasurable Horror" (September 1931 Weird Tales; vt "World of Horror" Fall 1939 Tales of Wonder) and John Wyndham's story of Colonization, "The Venus Adventure" (May 1932 Wonder Stories as by John Beynon Harris). Stanton A Coblentz used Venus as the setting for his satire The Blue Barbarians (Summer 1931 Amazing Stories Quarterly; 1958) and for the more sober The Planet of Youth (October 1932 Wonder Stories; 1952). Some of Stanley G Weinbaum's best stories of Life on Other Worlds are set on Venus, including "The Lotus Eaters" (April 1935 Astounding) and "Parasite Planet" (February 1935 Astounding). Clifford D Simak used Venusian milieux imaginatively in "Hunger Death" (October 1938 Astounding) and "Tools" (July 1942 Astounding), as did Lester del Rey in "The Luck of Ignatz" (August 1939 Astounding) and Robert A Heinlein in "Logic of Empire" (March 1941 Astounding).

The image of Venus as an oceanic world was extensively developed in the 1940s, most memorably by C S Lewis in Perelandra (1943; vt Voyage to Venus 1953), in which Islands of floating vegetation serve as a new Garden of Eden for a replay of the myth of Adam and Eve. The most enduring pulp image of the same species was that provided by Lawrence O'Donnell (Henry Kuttner and C L Moore) in "Clash by Night" (March 1943 Astounding) and its sequel Fury (May-July 1947 Astounding as Lawrence O'Donnell; 1950; vt Destination Infinity 1956). Here mankind lives in the submarine "keeps" of Venus after Earth has died, and is faced with the terrible task of colonizing the inordinately hostile land-surface; a more recent sequel to "Clash by Night", incorporating the earlier story, is The Jungle (1991) by David A Drake. The notion that Venus might be an appropriate home for mankind after Earth becomes uninhabitable had earlier been advanced in J B S Haldane's visionary essay "The Last Judgment" (in Possible Worlds, coll 1927), and was taken up from there by Olaf Stapledon in Last and First Men (1930), where humanity spends an ecstatic period of its future history as a winged creature on the Venusian floating islands. Other stories deploying the watery image include Isaac Asimov's Lucky Starr and the Oceans of Venus (1954 as by Paul French; vt The Oceans of Venus) and Poul Anderson's "Sister Planet" (May 1959 Satellite). The alternative image of Venus the jungle planet, perpetually beset by fierce wet weather, is featured in Ray Bradbury's "Death-by-Rain" (Summer 1950 Planet Stories; vt "The Long Rain" in The Illustrated Man, coll 1951). Robert A Heinlein saw Venus as a world of unhealthy fecundity whose swamps were rife with fungal disease, in "The Green Hills of Earth" (8 February 1947 Saturday Evening Post) – whose title song opens "We rot in the molds of Venus . . ." – and in Space Cadet (1948).

Although Mars was much more popular as a setting for exotic romances, Venus had the advantage of being rather more versatile: the clouds of Venus could hide exotic wonders. For this reason, some of the gaudiest romances of Genre SF are set on Venus: C L Moore's "Black Thirst" (April 1934 Weird Tales), Leigh Brackett's and Ray Bradbury's "Lorelei of the Red Mist" (Summer 1946 Planet Stories), Brackett's "The Moon that Vanished" (October 1948 Thrilling Wonder; vt "The Moonfire Gods" 1954 Popular Science Fiction #4) and "Enchantress of Venus" (Fall 1949 Planet Stories; vt "City of the Lost Ones" in Race to the Stars, anth 1958, ed Leo Margulies & Oscar J Friend) and Keith Bennett's "The Rocketeers Have Shaggy Ears" (Spring 1950 Planet Stories). The other side of the coin was that there never grew up a consistent "Venusian mythology" comparable in power to the Mythology of Mars.

As with Mars, during the 1950s there was a change in the main concern of stories about Venus, so that it was more often seen as a tough challenge to would-be colonists. In The Space Merchants (July-August 1952 Galaxy as "Gravy Planet"; 1953) by Frederik Pohl and C M Kornbluth it is the "Gravy Planet" which has to be "sold" to the public by high-pressure Advertising; Pohl continued the story in The Merchants' War (1984), having earlier presented a somewhat different image in "The Merchants of Venus" (July/August 1972 If). Other stories of colonization from the 1950s are Heinlein's juvenile Between Planets (1951), Chad Oliver's "Field Expedient" (January 1955 Astounding) and a trilogy by Rolf Garner (Bryan Berry): Resurgent Dust (1953), The Immortals (1953) and The Indestructible (1954). Philip Latham's Five Against Venus (1952) is a Venusian Robinsonade.

Cinematic journeys to Venus are relatively rare, the Moon and Mars being much preferred as destinations. In both Abbott and Costello Go to Mars (1953; vt On to Mars) and Queen of Outer Space (1958), travellers from Earth to Venus find the planet implausibly populated by beautiful women. Invasion of Earth from Venus features in Target Earth! (1954), while a Venusian visitor in Stranger from Venus (1954; vt Immediate Disaster; vt The Venusian US) replays the scenario of The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951). A more ambitious film about a Venus mission is First Spaceship on Venus (1960 East Germany as Der schweigende Stern; 1962 US; vt Planet of the Dead; vt The Silent Star, 2004; vt Spaceship Venus Does Not Reply), based on Stanisław Lem's early novel Astronauci ["The Astronauts"] (1951).

Since the discovery of the true nature of the Venusian surface the interest of sf writers in the planet has waned considerably. The new Venus shows its intimidating face in Larry Niven's "Becalmed in Hell" (July 1965 F&SF), contrasting poignantly with Roger Zelazny's florid farewell to the world of the great ocean, "The Doors of His Face, the Lamps of His Mouth" (March 1965 F&SF) and with Thomas M Disch's brief jeremiad "Come to Venus Melancholy" (November 1965 F&SF). The idea that Venus might be terraformed (> Terraforming) has, however, renewed interest in the notion of colonization, and such a project is celebrated on an appropriately massive scale in a series of novels by Pamela Sargent begun with Venus of Dreams (1986) and continued in Venus of Shadows (1988). Ben Bova pays the inevitable visit in his scientifically realistic Tales of the Grand Tour sequence, with Venus (2000).

Two theme anthologies are The Hidden Planet (anth 1959) edited by Donald A Wollheim and Farewell, Fantastic Venus! (anth 1968; cut vt All About Venus) edited by Brian W Aldiss and Harry Harrison. [BS/DRL]

see also: Under the Sea.

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