Reviewed by Steven H Silver
The Lights in the Sky Are Stars is set during a four year period from 1997 to 2001. Mankind has reached the Moon, Mars (in 1964, five years ahead of schedule for the first lunar landing) and Venus, but then turned its back on further exploration. The novel opens in Seattle where drifter and spaceship mechanic, Max Andrews is visiting his brother Bill's family.
The bulk of the novel takes place during 1998 and 1999. After leaving Bill in Seattle, Max began working for Ellen Gallagher, a woman running for Congress on a pro-space platform, including a push for an exploratory ship to Jupiter. She and Max become involved and Ellen eventually decides to put Max into the secondary position of the Jupiter Project.
While giving a real feel for the political maneuvers which would be behind such a project, Brown's writing is dated. The complexities which would be behind such a goal are nowhere near as complex as they would be in the real 1990's. Other aspects that date the book are minor, for instance Max and Ellen's vacation to Havana.
Nevertheless, as Heinlein also did, Brown, in The Lights in the Sky Are Stars, predicted a period of space exploration followed by a slow down in the use of space. There are other areas which Brown successfully predicts in this novel including the demise of Communism.
For the most part, The Lights in the Sky Are Stars is an optimistic book as Max pursues his dream of the stars. Nearing sixty, he knows that he won't be allowed on the Jupiter Mission, but he gives all appearances that he is happy to simply be working on the project which he and Ellen view as mankind's next step to the stars. Max's friends and family, however, are not taken in by his cheerfullness. They are all aware of his intentions to commandeer the vessel which he will help build in order to return to the planets, something denied him ever since he lost a leg on his first mission to Venus.
Brown populates the novel with good friends for Max, ranging from Ellen and Bill to Chang M'bassi, the last of the Masai, now a practicing Buddhist who has his own, metaphysical plan to achieve the stars, and Klockerman, who is willing to give Max a job so he'll look good to any confirmation hearings which will occur before he can lead the Jupiter Project.
For anyone who only knows Brown's writings by his vast number of humorous stories and novels, The Lights in the Sky Are Stars may come as a shock, for although optimistic, it is a serious novel, although a moment of levity occurs when Max describes an old science fiction novel which he is sure is now out of print and which turns out to be Brown's own What Mad Universe, sadly currently, temporarily we can only hope, out of print. Although The Lights in the Sky Are Stars may not be as fun a read as What Mad Universe or Martians, Go Home, it does present a different side to Fredric Brown and should be more widely read than it is.