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Image of Mercury as seen by MESSENGER spacecraft in 2008

The planet Mercury has often been used as a setting in science fiction. Recurring themes include the dangers of being exposed to solar radiation and the possibility of escaping excessive radiation by staying within the planet's slow-moving terminator (the boundary between day and night). Another recurring theme is autocratic governments, perhaps because of an association of Mercury with hot-temperedness.

Mercury was believed at first to be tidally locked to the Sun, orbiting with one face permanently turned toward it and another face turned away, allowing for extremes of heat and cold on the same planet and possibly a narrow belt of habitable land between the two. This concept of Mercury was disproven in 1965, when radio astronomers discovered that Mercury rotates three times for every two revolutions, exposing all of its surface to the Sun.

Fictional works about Mercury can thus be divided into two groups; those, mostly written before 1965, featuring the "Old" Mercury with its light and dark sides, and those which reflect more recent scientific knowledge of the planet.

Contents

Literature

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"Old Mercury"

  • In Eric Rücker Eddison's The Worm Ouroboros (1922), the action takes place in a fantasy world that is ostensibly part of the planet Mercury. However, the name is used purely for its exotic value, and there is no attempt to make the characteristics of the world correspond to any facts known or believed about Mercury in the 1920s. Eddison's Mercury resembles Earth in all respects except in details of geography: it has a normal day-cycle, a moon, and a calendar identical to Earth's; in fact .
  • Tama of the Light Country (1930) and Tama, Princess of Mercury (1931) by Ray Cummings: Burroughsian adventure on a tidally-locked Mercury.
  • The planet is briefly mentioned in H. P. Lovecraft's "The Shadow Out of Time" (1936):
Later, as the Earth's span closed, the transferred minds (of the Great Race of Yith) would again migrate through time and space – to another stopping place in the bodies of the bulbous vegetable entities of Mercury.
  • In Leigh Brackett's short stories (especially "The Demons of Darkside" (1941), "A World Is Born" (1941), "Cube from Space" (1942), and "Shannach – the Last" (1952)), a tidally locked Mercury features a 'Twilight Belt' exposed to dangerous variations in heat and cold and havoc-wreaking solar storms. Some of Brackett's most colorful characters, like Jaffa Storm ("Shadow Over Mars") and Eric John Stark were Mercury-born.
  • Mercury is a setting in several of Isaac Asimov's stories, all written before astronomers knew that the planet was not tidally locked; in each story, Mercury has a permanent day-side and night-side.
  • In C. S. Lewis's novel That Hideous Strength (1945), Mercury, or Viritrilbia, is described as being the birthplace of language in the universe. It is by the power of the Oyarsa of Viritrilbia that Merlinus Ambrosius is enabled to "unmake language" at the N.I.C.E. banquet in the penultimate chapter.
  • In Arthur C. Clarke's Islands in the Sky (1952), there is a description of a strange creature that lives on what was then believed to be the permanently dark nightside with only occasional visits to the twilight zone.
  • In Hal Clement's Iceworld (1953), the silicon-based aliens establish a base on the hot side of the planet. This is not hot enough for them, so they put the base in the middle of a crater with mirrors on the bank to concentrate sunlight to get the necessary temperature.
  • Erik Van Lhin's Battle on Mercury (1953) - Erik van Lhin was one of the pen names of Lester del Rey.
  • Alan E. Nourse's short story "Brightside Crossing" (Galaxy, 1956) is narrated by the only survivor of a failed four-man attempt to cross Mercury's sun-facing hemisphere at perihelion (when Mercury is at its nearest approach to the sun), which has become the ultimate sporting feat. No expedition has yet attempted the much easier feat of crossing the sun-facing hemisphere at aphelion (when Mercury is at its farthest point from the sun, and therefore cooler), because the knowledge and cartography acquired by such an attempt would make things easier for the eventual perihelion expedition – and the members of that successful perihelion crossing would then receive all the glory. The story ends with the survivor volunteering to lead the next attempt, this one to be equipped with better refrigerants against the sun's merciless heat.
  • In Kurt Vonnegut's The Sirens of Titan (1959), mindless creatures called harmoniums inhabit the caves of Mercury.
  • In Gordon R. Dickson's Necromancer (1962), a base was located on Mercury, used by the Chantry Guild for training beginners into the group.
  • In Larry Niven's "The Coldest Place" (1964), an early short story, Niven teases the reader, who is told that the scene is "the coldest place in the Solar System" and assumes it to be Pluto - only to discover in the end that the actual location is the dark side of Mercury. The story was written when the theory of Mercury being tidally locked with the Sun still prevailed, but was published just after the planet was found to actually rotate in a 2:3 resonance.
  • Hugh Walters' Mission to Mercury (1965) also assumes Mercury to have a 'dark' side at near absolute zero from which the protagonists must be rescued before they freeze to death.

"New Mercury"

  • In Arthur C. Clarke's Rendezvous with Rama (1973), Mercury is ruled by a hot-tempered government of metal miners that threatens to destroy the alien spacecraft Rama. The novel shares its background of a colonized Solar System with several others, especially Imperial Earth.
  • In Kim Stanley Robinson's novels and short stories, especially "Mercurial" (in The Planet on the Table, 1986) and Blue Mars (1996), Mercury is the home of a vast city called Terminator. To avoid the dangerous solar radiation, the city rolls around the planet's equator on tracks, keeping pace with the planet's rotation so that the Sun never rises fully above the horizon. The motive power comes from solar heat expanding the rails on the day side. The city is ruled by an autocratic dictator called the Lion of Mercury.
  • Ben Bova's Mercury (2005; part of his Grand Tour series) is about the human drama of the exploration of Mercury: why people might be interested in going there (for instance, to harness the intense solar energy that close to the sun), and what challenges there would be.

Film and television

The planet has also been a setting for several television series:

  • In Space Patrol - episode "The Fires of Mercury" - Professor Heggarty's device for translating the language of ants also converts heat waves into radio waves. Maria realizes that this might provide a way of transmitting warmth from Mercury to the Colony on Pluto, where freezing conditions worsen as the dwarf planet nears the point in its orbit farthest from the Sun.
  • In a Star Trek: Voyager show-within-a-show, The Adventures of Captain Proton (first appearing in "Night" in 1998), Dr. Chaotica was a villain who wanted to conquer the people of Earth and force them to work in the mines of Mercury.
  • An episode of Futurama had Mercury's circumference faithfully represented by a "road sign" giving distance to the only vehicle service station on the planet, where Fry and Amy are stuck when her vehicle runs out of fuel.
  • In the television show Invader Zim (2001), Mercury is turned into a prototype giant spaceship by the extinct Martians.
  • In the 2007 film Sunshine the Icarus II spacecraft orbits Mercury and performs a celestial slingshot towards the Sun and Icarus I.
  • The short lived British TV sitcom Kinvig featured a female, human-like alien from Mercury who was living in a fictional town in England.

Games and comics

  • Levels 6 and 7 of the computer game Descent take place in installations on Mercury.
  • In Descent³, the player has to escort a covert cargo ship into and out of a spacecraft factory in Mercury while it steals core components for the construction of a new ship. The player risks solar radiation damage to his own ship (which is not as shielded as the cargo ship) if he flies out in the open atmosphere.
  • In the Mutant Chronicles role-playing game, Mercury is the home to the mighty Mishima corporation.
  • The game Starsiege includes Mercury as the setting for several of its missions.
  • In the 1992 PC game Star Control II, Mercury is one of the sources of radioactive metals needed for the first mission of the game.
  • In Charlton Comics's title Space Adventures, a super-hero from Mercury, appropriately named "Mercury Man", was seen in two 1962 issues.
  • In Starsiege, humans have colonized Mercury. The outposts there were the first to be destroyed when the Cybrids attacked again.

Other

  • Bill Watterson's comic strip Calvin and Hobbes included a story extended across several daily strips, in which Calvin and his classmate Susie must give a presentation about Mercury to their class. Calvin's contribution, typically, is replete with "creative liberties":
The planet Mercury was named after a Roman god with winged feet. Mercury was the god of flowers and bouquets, which is why today he is a registered trademark of FTD florists. Why they named a planet after this guy, I can't imagine.

See also


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