Project Jupiter or The Lights in the Sky are Stars by Fredric Brown

Fredric Brown omnibus containing What Mad Universe, Project Jupiter or The Lights in the Sky are Stars, Rogue in Space and The Mind Thing (Italian edition)
Fredric Brown omnibus containing What Mad Universe, Project Jupiter or The Lights in the Sky are Stars, Rogue in Space and The Mind Thing (Italian edition)

The novel “Project Jupiter”, also known as “The Lights in the Sky are Stars”, by Fredric Brown was published for the first time in 1953.

Max Andrews has a past as an astronaut past but had to fall back on a rocket mechanics years earlier after losing a leg in an accident. Space remains his passion but there are doubts about the continuation of the American space program. In spite of this, Ellen Gallagher is running for a seat in the Senate supporting a mission to Jupiter.

When he discovers Ellen Gallagher’s program, Max Andrews decides to contact her to offer his help in exchange for a place in the mission to Jupiter’s organization. He understands little about politics but is very competent in rocket science and is ready to adapt to the new situation to get a place in the Project Jupiter at all costs.

“Project Jupiter” is set between the end of the 20th century and the beginning of the 21st century. When it was written it was a period a few decades away but now we must consider it an alternative history because space technologies have developed much more than in our history.

Fredric Brown imagined that the USA could develop nuclear propelled rockets and as a result there were manned missions to Mars and Venus. In some ways, the history imagined by the author is similar to ours, with a phase of the American space program running out of steam following the fall of communism.

At the end of the 20th century, many people are wondering about the usefulness of space travel and perhaps the first to do so are those who use every day technologies that are developed thanks to them. Max Andrews was an astronaut but after losing a leg in an accident he could work as a rocket mechanics only.

When Ellen Gallagher runs for the Senate backing a manned space mission to Jupiter, Max Andrews understands that this is his last chance to participate in an important mission. He offers his help in exchange for a management role in the mission even though his real purpose is to take part in the journey.

Max Andrews represents the values ​​of space programs and defends the progress they bring. He’s a man who has always been passionate about space travel and even after the accident he kept on working in that field. The pain of having to give up being an astronaut mixes with his sorrow for the growing public disinterest about the space program.

“Project Jupiter” offers a positive view of space programs but there’s not a spotless hero defending them but a human being with his merits and his flaws. Max Andrews has an obsessive passion for rockets and would do anything to get involved in another mission. He’s basically a good person and in many ways it’s easy to sympathize with him but in the novel his dark sides are revealed as well, with problems that sometimes seem pathologic.

For Max Andrews giving up being an astronaut has been traumatic and the physical consequences are not the only ones that didn’t heal completely. The personal relationship that starts with Ellen Gallagher is an unexpected consequence of his attempt to return to space, which remains his true goal.

The relationship between Max Andrews and Ellen Gallagher is quite melodramatic. It’s the element of the novel that left me cold the most but it’s my subjective reaction to this type of plot. Although it contains a certain optimism for the future, “Project Jupiter” is in many ways a story with dark tones.

The novel is centered around Max Andrews’s story, so much that it’s told in the first person from his point of view. Nevertheless, through the progragonist, Fredric Brown manages to develop some other characters such as Max’s brother and his family, his friend M’bassi and Ellen Gallagher. The story goes through a few years but the important events are told for a novel that’s short for today’s standards so its pace tends to be quite fast.

Max Andrews represents the desire to keep on developing space programs and from this point of view the novel also contains a lot of pragmatism, particularly in the development of the plot’s political side. The Jupiter Project is controversial and Ellen Gallagher has to resort to political deals to get it approved. This impressed me a lot the first time I read this novel and I always think about it when I read some news about the American Congress discussing NASA’s new projects proposals.

In my opinion, “Project Jupiter” is far from perfect but I think that its merits are far superior to its flaws. In many ways the story told by Fredric Brown is important even today and for these reasons I recommend reading it.

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