I remember reading a story back in the 1960s where it was said that all faster than light starships carried only a single man and were shaped like starfishes - not necessarily with five arms each. Most species of starfish have five arms but some have up to fifty, so the starfish starships could have, for example, twelve pointed arm-like extensions. They were fast enough to travel to distant galaxies, if I remember correctly.

Can anyone identify this story?

I think that I remember which anthology I read the short story in: the two-volume A Treasury of Great science Fiction (1959) Edited by Anthony Boucher.

Stories that I can be eliminate include the four novels: Re-Birth (1955) by John Wyndham, The Weapon Shops of Isher (1951) by A.E. Van Vogt, Brain wave (1954) by Poul Anderson, and The Stars My Destination (1956) by Alfred bester, and shorter stories like "Waldo" by Robert A. Heinlein, "The Martian Crown Jewels" by Poul Anderson, "Bullard Reflects" by Malcolm Jameson, "Lost Art" George O. Smith, and "The Man Who Sold The Moon" by Robert A. Heinlein.

If I correctly remember the anthology where I read it, any of the other stories listed could be the story I remember.




"Beyond Space and Time", a novelette by Joel Townsley Rogers; first published in All-American Fiction, February 1938, according to the Contento index; reprinted in Super Science Stories, September 1950, which is available at the Internet Archive; reprinted again in A Treasury of Great Science Fiction, Volume One, edited by Anthony Boucher.

We stood there beside it on its launching platform, Hooker Hartley and I, in that stupendous moment before its take-off into the distances of ultimate space, while Nivea prepared to christen it with champagne, and the dazed and uncomprehending workmen, who had trucked it forth and set it there, clustered bewilderedly on the ground a hundred feet below. It was a ship capable of accomplishing the great thing that Hartley had conceived and I had planned, I knew without a doubt. It was the greatest of all my inventions, the most stupendously conceived, the most perfectly wrought in every detail. I put my hand on it and stroked its welded sides as if it had been a living bird. A thing of midnight blue and silver, shaped like a great tear, ready for the stars.

"Will it do it, really?" said Hartley, standing there bareheaded with me, hunched and shivering, with his hands jammed in his topcoat pockets, staring at it with his great luminous eyes. "Beyond the orbit, Helver?"

"Beyond the orbit?" I said. "Beyond the drift! Beyond the galaxy!"

"Beyond the galaxy!" he said. "To the outer-galactic void?"

"Beyond! Beyond the utmost nebula!" I said. "To the ultimate limits of space, Hooker!"

[. . . .]

"I use atomic energy for the take-off, Hooker," I explained to him more patiently. "And plenty of it. An adaptation of the neutron-deutron principle, stepped up to the ratio of omega-pi. We take off with an initial speed of five thousand m.p.m., accelerating with geometric progression. She travels by cosmic energy after the first nine minutes, by which time we should be well beyond Mars, I think.

"The problem of power was not too hard to solve, you see—the problem of shape was somewhat more difficult. It is probably that which stumps you. The hull's apparent contour is obvious, of course, but it is merely for the minimum of friction in the atmosphere. Atmospheric pressure keeps it up. Beyond a hundred miles, in half a second, she collapses into her true shape of a ten-pointed star, the only conceivable one, naturally, for maximum efficiency in interstellar space. The way I worked the mechanical problem of the change of shape was this—"

  • User14111 - This looks like it should be the one. But I read it in super Science Stories at the Internet Archive reached by your link and it lacks the final paragraph that you quote, the one that says the ship takes the shape of a ten pointed star outside the atmosphere. Possibly Super science stories cut out parts of the story. – M. A. Golding Dec 24 '17 at 3:25
  • @M.A.Golding Interesting. Evidently there are three distinct versions of this story. My quotation is from the version in Boucher's 1959 Treasury; the footnote says "Copyright 1938 by Frank A. Munsey Company. Reprinted by permission of the author." Evidently the story was abridged for that 1950 Super Science Stories, probably to save space. (I haven't compared the two in detail; I don't know if anything else was trimmed besides that one paragraph.) – user14111 Dec 24 '17 at 4:51
  • @M.A.Golding However, the version in Boucher's anthology is not exactly the same as the original 1938 story (which I haven't seen). In Boucher, the ship was launched on May 7, 1968. In the 1950 Super Science Stories the launch date is May 7, 1948. It must also have been 1948 in the original story, it would make no sense to change it from 1968 to 1948 for a 1950 reprint. – user14111 Dec 24 '17 at 4:57
  • Arrrgh! The old different versions of the story to drive the readers crazier trick! I have accepted your answer. – M. A. Golding Dec 24 '17 at 17:33

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