Friday, November 15, 2013

From the Spike S. Collection: Hal Clement's Mission of Gravity

A quick administrative note: I had to change my plans a bit. I originally had Karina Fabian's book scheduled for today, but unfortunately, I was unable to finish it this week due to extenuating circumstances. Please see the side-bar for more information! (And Karina -- I promise I'll get to yours next week!)

The Spike S. referenced in this post's title is my dad. If any Huns are reading this, you've probably seen him around on Facebook or at Sarah Hoyt's blog. Dad's been a science fiction fan since the sixties; indeed, during his stint at the Naval Academy, he spent much of his midshipman's pay accumulating a book collection that includes not only the most famous mid-century sci-fi authors (for example, I'm pretty sure Dad owns every book Heinlein ever published) but also some authors who are, at least today, more obscure.

And that brings me to the topic of today's post: Hal Clement and Mission of Gravity. I may be attending the wrong cons, but I haven't heard people discussing Clement's work very often -- and that's a shame, because his writing is actually pretty freakin' awesome, especially if you're looking for excellent world-building.

For those readers who may be unfamiliar with the short novel in question: Mission of Gravity takes place on a superjovian planet with a hydrogen atmosphere and methane oceans, an extremely rapid period of rotation (a day takes minutes, not hours), and wildly variable gravity fields (ranging from 3 g at the equator to hundreds of g's at the poles). Honestly, I have no clue if the science still holds up after sixty years, but it really doesn't matter because Clement is a genius when it comes to dreaming up what kind of sentient life-forms might evolve on such a planet and what these life-forms' cultures might be like. For instance, Clement supposes, quite sensibly, that such creatures would be extremely acrophobic due to the messy consequences of even a minor fall in high g. He also speculates, equally sensibly, that these beings would be small and thick-skinned.

Beyond the creativity behind the idea of Mesklin (the aforementioned planet), Mission of Gravity is also a fun, engaging adventure story. In short, human astronauts lose a probe at Mesklin's pole and have to recruit one of the natives, a seafaring trader, to go rescue it. I really enjoyed reading about Barlennan, the aforementioned trader, and his transformation as he encounters things that challenge both his acrophobia and his high-medieval-ish worldview.  This tale, to me, exemplifies what I like about science fiction -- at its best, it inspires your imagination.

So if you've never dived into the worlds of Hal Clement, I strongly recommend you do so. Click here to see the Clement titles available in the Kindle Store. Personally, I suggest you start with the Heavy Planet collection, which includes Mission of Gravity and Clement's other Mesklin-centered stories, but look around and see what else you might find appealing!          


  1. What is atmospheric pressure like in this series? Just curious...because Jupiter's atmospheric pressure is many millions of times stronger than Earth though the gravity is only 2.5 times as strong as on Earth. From what we know of jovian-style planets, their cores are not made of liquid...they're made of super-dense, compressed METALLIC HYDROGEN (the pressure is so great that hydrogen gas gets pressed into a crystalline structure that is super-DUPER-conductive...which is why Jupiter has such a kick-ass magnetic field.

    Super-Jovian planets will all have that sort of core or be converted into brown dwarf stars (not hot enough for large scale fusion but some fusion occurring at their cores to produce an internal heat and weak light at their surface). Hydrogen plus big size = the same physics every time. But it's a good try for its time.

    1. The atmospheric pressure was described as very high. So yeah... I think it was a good try for its time.