Mission of Gravity
is, I believe, the granddaddy of hard science fiction. It is often mentioned when discussions of hard sf come up. For some reason the label hard sf usually lead me to expect serious moody novels. For no good reason I tend to equate serious science with serious stories, imagine my surprise when Mission of Gravity
turns out to be something of a romp, a good one too. Another point worth mentioning is that while the book was first published in 1953 it still holds up well today because the real world science Clement employs is still valid today.
The main attraction of the book for hard sf fans is probably the world building. The planet Mesklin is an “oblate spheroid” in shape resulting in different gravity levels from the poles to equator. The minimum gravity there is still three times that of earth (3g) and the max is all of 700g. The native intelligent race of this planet, the “Mesklinites”, is consequently centipede like in shape to stay close to the ground where a small drop of a foot in a high gravity area can be fatal. Building on this great scenario Hal Clement creates a culture where the concept of flying and throwing is unheard of and all the natives are afraid of height. The science makes all these details very plausible without sacrificing the sense of wonder, enhancing it even.
Another great gimmick of this novel is that the narrative is mostly told from an alien point of view, one specific alien protagonist named Barlennan. A rather roguish, cunning, and likable captain of a raft called The Bree.
character. The Mesklinites remind me a little of the primitive aliens in Le Guin’s [b:The Word for World Is Forest|276767|The Word for World is Forest|Ursula K. Le Guin|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1283091038s/276767.jpg|3256815] and [b:Little Fuzzy|1440148|Little Fuzzy (Fuzzy Sapiens, #1)|H. Beam Piper|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1348972417s/1440148.jpg|1876891] by H. Beam Piper. Fortunately they are gifted linguists and adaptable to new concepts and experiences so they are able to work with and learn from the humans. I really love this kind of good natured sf story where species learn to work together for mutual benefits. Stories where hideous aliens are blasted to smithereens by super weapons are fun but a change is as good as a rest.
The plot mainly concerns a mission to retrieve a stranded manmade rocket containing valuable information which accidentally landed on one of the planet’s poles. Barlennan and his crew undertake to retrieve this rocket in exchange for knowledge for the advancement of their people. A lot of exploration and adventure ensues and while the ending is not exactly unpredictable I find it quite pleasing.Mission of Gravity
is a short novel of less than 200 pages in length. The book by itself is out of print but as part of the [b:Heavy Planet The Classic Mesklin Stories|939762|Heavy Planet The Classic Mesklin Stories|Hal Clement|https://d202m5krfqbpi5.cloudfront.net/books/1312045901s/939762.jpg|924737] omnibus volume which contains a sequel called Star Light
, some short stories and an essay; all for the price of one book. An offer you can’t refuse I think. I’m looking forward to reading the rest of the volume soon. Great fun and educational, what’s not to like?