[GUEST POST] Stephen Gaskell on Riding the Light Fantastic: Ten Sun-Inspired Science Fiction Stories


Stephen Gaskell writes fiction, teaches physics, and plays video games—usually in that order on any given day. Strata is his latest fiction offering co-written with Bradley P. Beaulieu — a 2006 Clarion classmate — and features giant solar mining platforms, skimmer racing through tunnels of fire over the surface of the sun, and a dangerous rebellion.

Riding the Light Fantastic: Ten Sun-Inspired Science Fiction Stories

The sun. An eternal flame. The ultimate provider of all life on Earth. A companion through all our days. Yawn, yawn, yawn.

It’s a bit like Walmart. Steady, dependable—and obliterating any smaller fry in its wake. You’d notice it if it went away, but you’re not going to give it too much attention while it’s stolidly there.

No wonder our local star rarely gets a look in when it comes to science fiction. Compared to black holes, supernovae, neutron stars and the rest, the sun is about as interesting as an accountancy firm’s Annual General Meeting. Well, if you think that think again. The sun is cool. It has sunspots. And zones. And solar winds that give rise to light shows that can warm the cockles of the most cold-hearted (and limbed!) Siberian. And anything that can turn hydrogen into helium has my respect.

Therefore, in celebration of the recent release of our joint novella, Strata, a dystopian SF thriller set in the sun’s chromosphere, myself and Bradley P. Beaulieu would like to draw your attention to ten classic SF tales that have been inspired by—or feature—the sun in all its crazy myriad ways.



1. Sundiver – David Brin

Alien benefactors. Sentient lifeforms in the sun’s corona. Uplifted chimps. What more could you want?


2. Probability Sun – Nancy Kress

The sun doesn’t directly star in Nancy Kress’ hard SF mash up of quantum mechanics, FTL warp gates, and an alien artifact that seems to alter the laws of probability, but it’s in the title so it counts. Obviously.


3. A Walk in the Sun – Geoffrey A Landis

A brilliant short story that explores the fragility of life and its dependence on the sun in the most visceral way imaginable, as a crash victim must avoid nightfall on the surface of the moon.


4. Ring – Stephen Baxter

In one strand of this mind-blowing novel, an AI explores the interior of the sun, discovering much more than plain old nucleosynthesis.


5. If the Stars Are Gods – Gregory Benford & Gordon Eklund

A solar expert meets with two aliens who believe that stars are god-like entities with individual personalities. Woah! Can you imagine the brainstorming session for this Nebula-Award winning story?


6. The Wind from the Sun – Arthur C. Clarke

Originally published as Sunjammer, this story follows the dreams of a spaceship designer who develops the sport of sun-yacht racing, a method of propulsion powered by the solar winds.

7. The Joshua Factor – Donald D. Clayton

Written by a real-life physics professor, this novel takes one of the sun’s most mysterious emissions—solar neutrinos—and builds a compelling tale of espionage and scientific drama.


8. “Proof” – Hal Clement

Originally published in 1942 by Astounding Science Fiction, this short story examines the worldview of organisms that have evolved in the heart of the sun. Heady—and hot—stuff!


9. The Faded Sun trilogy – C.J. Cherryh

Another work only loosely connected on the quirks of the sun, these novels, set in the aftermath of a galaxy-spanning war, explore the question of whether an outsider can ever truly understand another culture.


10. Inconstant Moon – Larry Niven

When the moon in the night sky suddenly glows much brighter, people stop and stare and praise its new beauty. One man can’t share their joy because for him it can only mean one thing: the sun has gone nova and they only have till dawn to live.

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