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Here Comes the Sun: On Multi-Stellar Systems in Fiction


The one who never marveled at the sunset, never truly had a soul.


Astronomy is perhaps the oldest of the sciences, and the Sun, the oldest of the gods. So it is no surprise that these elements are widely present in science fiction. The possibilities to explore a star in fiction are nearly endless. Stars are energy sources, lighthouses of the cosmos, symbols of hope. A Sun in the sky can improve any narrative, even when taken for granted.


And, if one is good, imagine two!


There’s something alluring about a second or third Sun in the sky. When it comes to setting, adding another bright star is a dead giveaway that we are on another planet. If we’re talking about aesthetics, a multi-stellar system can bring a lot to the table by detailing the varying brightness, colors, and warmth, playing with our senses. A second Sun says plenty about the world presented to us without relying on info-dumping.


But for me, the best is when the story explores multi-solar systems in the narrative beyond aesthetics and worldbuilding. The physics of double or triple systems is quite intricate, and it is not easy to make it integral to the plot. That’s why today we’ll analyze stories with multi-solar systems, and examine how this element contributes to the narrative.


I chose four stories, with varying degrees of “hardness” in their scientific approach to multiple Suns in the sky. Can you guess which they are? Go ahead. Guess it. I’ll give you a minute.


Let me know in the comments if you figure it out.


This is the science of fiction.


Planet Tatooine from Star Wars.
Tatooine, homeworld of the Skywalkers.

Three-Body Problem


Don’t worry, I’ll keep it spoiler-free.


The first book in Cixin Liu’s Remembrance of Earth’s Past is set on Earth alright, and there’s no other Sun around. However, in the story, a virtual-reality game transports us to Trisolaris, a planet part of an unstable system with three Suns. The goal of the game is to figure out the math to predict the stars’ trajectories, i.e., to solve the three-body problem, a well-known problem in physics to which there is no general solution.


In this game, the characters play as Trisolarians, intelligent beings residents of Trisolaris who need to predict when the planet will remain in a Stable Era, in which climate conditions are favorable to life, and when it will fall into a Chaotic Era, a period when mass extinction happens. It perfectly sets the story’s conflict and is a clever way to take full advantage of a multi-solar system!


Cixin Liu builds upon this problem to create an amazing tale of hard sci-fi with plenty of twists and turns. Three-Body Problem is one of my favorites, and it also has a killer of an opening! I highly recommend it.


Speaking of favorites…



Solaris


Stanislaw Lem’s classic Solaris is fantastic! It is also my number-one science-fiction novel. I’m usually intimidated by the classics (and, to be honest, more often than not I don’t have a great time with them), but Solaris blew my mind.


What makes Solaris so great, in my opinion, is that it is an exploration of humans’ inner angsts in a scientific background. The scientific bits are never at the forefront, but they allow us to explore the characters’ most personal thoughts and fears.


Nevertheless, you can see Lem put a lot of thought into the science of this novel (something that was not captured in any of the adaptations). Solaris is a planet covered by an ocean in a binary solar system, with a stable orbit around its two Suns. As we established earlier, this three-body configuration is highly unstable, so the uniform orbit of Solaris was a mystery.


The answer to this mystery was that Solaris’ ocean moved in a way to change the planet’s center of mass. These incremental changes corrected the planet’s trajectory and kept it in a stable orbit. A sign that the ocean was alive and was intelligent. Brilliant!


Not letting any chance escape, Lem also utilized the two suns to the fullest, giving the scenery a most unique lighting, increasing tension or tranquility when the story needed it. We know from the beginning the ocean is sentient, and one of the story’s conflicts is how to communicate with this entity. 


Definitely a must-read!



Pitch Black



The first entry in the Riddick movie franchise is also my favorite — and it’s quite underrated, in my opinion. It has a diverse cast, Muslim characters, a female spaceship pilot, and the “blind” antihero who had his eyes modified to see only in the dark. And, it is set on a planet with three suns.


Pitch Black is a sci-fi horror set in a strange land after our cast crashlands on a deserted planet. Because of the three stars, this world is almost always in daylight. But photosensitive, predatory creatures evolved in its deep, and they go to the surface to hunt whenever nighttime comes. To the character’s misfortune, they arrived right on time for a rare eclipse.


Although the science of multi-stellar systems is not the focus here, Pitch Black utilizes the three suns to enhance the very-human fear of the dark, by making it a sporadic and deadly event. 


Scene from the movie Pitch Black
Multi-stellar system in Pitch Black


Star Wars


In the franchise that needs no introduction, Tatooine is the home planet of our favorite main characters, Anakin and Luke Skywalker. With a dry atmosphere because of its two Suns, Tatoo I and Tatoo II, the planet’s inhabitants depend on moisture farms to survive, extracting humidity from thin air. 


The sand there is coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere.

However, the Fandom Wiki mentions that, in its early history, Tatooine was presumably covered with “vast oceans of surface water, lush rainforest, and flowered fields,” and that at one point in time, “the whole planet became a desert by unknown means.” So maybe it wasn’t because of the double star? If that’s the case, Tatoo I and Tatoo II are merely ornamental in the story, playing no actual part in the planet’s ecosystem. 


And it’s ok.


###


That’s it for today, folks.


Tell me, did you guess the planets I mentioned? Do you remember any other multi-solar system in fiction? Let me know in the comments.


See you next post,

Ra.


 

Carla Ra is a scientist by day, sci-fi writer by night.

You can check out her anthology ARTIFICIAL REBELLION here.

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I absolutely loved reading Asimov's "Nightfall" as a teenager; both the short story and the book https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nightfall_(Asimov_novelette_and_novel) . It's about a planet with multiple suns where the civilization only gets glimpses of other stars during very rare eclipses, and this has disastrous consequences for the civilization. I thought the story was electrifying.

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