Inspired by the ancient travel writers of the Mediterranean who picked their favourite architectural wonders and called them the Seven Wonders of the World, we can try to do the same for the fictional civilizations of the Old Solar System.
Stid: Try and do a better job than they did, will you? They left out the biggest one.
Harlei: You mean -
Stid: The Great Wall of China, of course. Dwarfs all the others.
Zendexor: Yes, but you see, Stid, you couldn't expect chaps like Antipater of Sidon to have heard of the Great Wall of China... Besides, bear in mind that we don't know the exact length and size of the First Emperor's Great Wall - what survives is mostly Ming Dynasty, over 1500 years later... But let's not get side-tracked too far.
Harlei: The side-tracking was worth while insofar as it furnishes an illustrious precedent for getting things wrong. In other words: since the ancients didn't know everything, we'll forgive you if it turns out that you don't know everything either, Zendexor.
Zendexor: Buoyed by that thought, I shall proceed to introduce my list.
Actually, it didn't take me too long to think up Seven Wonders of the OSS. While not sure how long it will withstand criticism, I reckon it to be a reasonable list.
It has a decent spread of items among the planets - I mean, six of the nine planets are represented, which means that only one planet has more than one Wonder (it happens to be Mars, with two).
Stid: Let me guess - the Twin Cities of Helium are one of them?
Zendexor: I did think of including that. Helium certainly must be a marvel of magnificence, and a tribute to Barsoomian city planning - I'd love to be able to gaze towards the Gate of Jeddaks, down the five-mile Avenue of Ancestors from the Temple of Reward.
But no, I decided that living cities, no matter how wonderful, shouldn't count as single architectural Wonders. I suppose the mile-high towers, the scarlet tower of Greater Helium and the yellow tower of Lesser Helium, could themselves have counted as a Wonder. However, for better or worse, I chose more isolated structures.
I must add that later on we will come to what seems an exception to this policy of mine. I hope, however, to justify the exception.
Now let me begin my tour of the Wonders of the OSS.
This the central tower of the ancient Martian city of Li, the whereabouts of which had been lost for countless ages, until the trans-dimensional allies of the imprisoned Beast lead an Earth mathematician to the site.
A bleak range of mountains fell away into a valley of reddish gray sand. The thin winds of Mars blew a mist of sand against the building.
Such a building! At a distance, it had looked merely big. A bare hundred feet projected above the desert, a hundred feet of length and fifteen hundred feet of diameter. Literally thousands of feet must extend beneath the restless ocean of sand to make the perfect balance of form, the graceful flow, the fairylike beauty, which the long-dead Martians demanded of all their constructions, however massive...
- Vault of the Beast (1940)
Once the action of the story is over, and the threat to let loose the Beast has been overcome, we can imagine that the isolation of Li will soon be a thing of the past. Tourists will flock to it, and the authorities will excavate around the Vault to reveal its colossal glory.
Every day the Red Planet grew. Engineering works and cultivated strips became unmistakably clear. And gray rectangular patches hinted of - cities?
"Cities they are!" at last Trent cried. "And I've seen motion - some moving vehicles! Yes, Mars is alive, Hammond. Alive - but dying. Most of the fields are dead and brown. Most of the machines are stopped. Most of the cities are already drifted with the yellow sand.
"And that... that thing, alone in the desert - "
He turned the telescope again toward that chief riddle of Mars.
"Looks like a rusty metal barrel," he whispered. "Round in the middle, with hexagonal ends. Three thousand feet tall! And standing there alone, far from the nearest city, deserted. Its shadow like a mocking finger pointing - What could it be?"
- The Crucible of Power (1939)
Stid: Sounds like an uglier version of the Vault at Li.
Zendexor: But its nature and purpose turn out to be drastically different. It's not a prison, it's - well, I won't tell you what it is. Only that it was "built nearly half a million Martian years ago, when the planet was at its peak of civilization". And its purpose was the quest for power - "Frozen, portable power - power storage, perfected to the last degree... condensed radiant energy - a complex, not of atoms and electrons, but of pure photons."
The degenerate modern Martians haven't a clue of all this. They know the structure only as the Korduv, the "place of the Sun"...
Finally, in mid-afternoon, a thickening line of black showed against the southern horizon. We reduced our speed, and sinking closer to the ground, sped down towards the black line.
It seemed to grow as we came nearer, loomed larger and larger, until at last we hung above the black mass, gazing down at it in silent awe. And it was a wall.
But what a wall! A gigantic, mountain-high and mountain-thick barrier of solid black metal, extending as far as we could see, from the eastern to the western horizon. A colossal barrier of metal, all of a mile and a half in height, with a thickness at the bottom of nearly a mile and at the top of half that much. A smooth-sided, dully gleaming mass beside which the walls of mighty Babylon would have been toylike, microscopic.
- The Time-Raider (1927-8)
I hasten to add, that this isn't one of Hamilton's great stories; however, I was impressed by the glacier-barrier, especially as nobody else seems to have thought of the idea.
Stid: If you're going to allow great walls, why not the better known Wall Around the World?
Zendexor: Indeed I could have opted for that - though I think the wall in the Hamilton story is actually bigger than the one in Cogswell's celebrated tale.
For this structure, see the page on Jovian Inferno.
Stid: A rather short-lived Wonder! The action takes place in the early twenty-first century, but the Bridge is already starting to break up at the end of the story...
Zendexor: Well, for that matter, the Colossus of Rhodes didn't last terribly long either. I seem to remember that it was destroyed by earthquake around 60 years after it was built. But it caught people's imaginations while it lasted.
These are created by the cloud-creatures of the Ringed Planet, who dislike the irregularities of natural mountains, and so turn them into giant geometric shapes. You can read about it all in Prisoners of Saturn, if you're lucky enough to find a copy. I haven't seen one for years - I read the book twice in my life, both times having obtained it from a library.
Yes, another giant Wall - but this hollow, habitable enormity bears little resemblance to any other structure. We don't even know if it was meant to be a "wall" in the usual sense of "barrier" or "partition". We can't probe its orgins: the thing wasn't built by the present Uranians at all, but has been left over from a previous Great Cycle of that planet's history, and its original purpose is unknowable.
...He resumed his ascent. It was like climbing a mountain. No elevator shafts had been inserted into the structure of the Wall. Presumably, the pre-human Builders had not minded this; it was one possible clue to their nature - they may have been winged beings, or, perhaps, controllers of gravity. Maybe, maybe, maybe... a dumb reminder of how little we know, thought Gengr. But then, we don't need to know. In fact there isn't such a thing, really, as knowing. That - surely - is the secret of the builders of the Wall.
Finally, after a restful interval spent in one of the garrison canteens, he attained the top floor and the last stair. From this he emerged at last onto the Wall's summit. He seemed to be standing on a cream-coloured road in the sky...
- Uranian Gleams (2015)
Remember my reasons for not including the Twin Cities of Helium on my list of wonders? I stipulated that living cities weren't suitable in themselves for the list, no matter how wonderful they might be. Well, here's the exception - because the cities built by the future humanity of Neptune are unified structures, the size of artificial mountains:
...These mightiest of all buildings, which are constructed in adamantine materials formed of artificial atoms, would seem to our visitor geometrical mountains, far taller than any natural mountain could be... In many cases the whole fabric is translucent or transparent, so that at night, with internal illumination, it appears as an edifice of light. Springing from a base twenty or more miles across, these star-seeking towers attain a height where even Neptune's atmosphere is somewhat attenuated. In their summits work the hosts of our astronomers, the essential eyes through which our community, on her little raft, peers across the ocean...
Theodore Cogswell, "The Wall Around the World" (Beyond, September 1953); Robert Gibson, Uranian Gleams (2015); Edmond Hamilton, "The Time-Raider" (Weird Tales, October 1927 - January 1928); Olaf Stapledon, Last And First Men (1930); Donald Suddaby, Prisoners of Saturn (1957); A E van Vogt, "Vault of the Beast" (Astounding, August 1940); Jack Williamson, "The Crucible of Power" (Astounding, February 1939)