- Paperback: 416 pages
- Publisher: Tor Books; 1st Orb Ed edition (9 Nov. 2002)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 076530368X
- ISBN-13: 978-0765303684
- Product Dimensions: 14 x 2.4 x 21.6 cm
- Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars See all reviews (1 customer review)
- Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 809,574 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
Heavy Planet: The Classic Mesklin Stories Paperback – 9 Nov 2002
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"For well over half a century, Hal Clement has been a towering, even decisive figure in our special literature. He deserves to be properly appreciated. . . . There's nobody like him. He's been a tremendous force in science fiction, receiving honors for it but not nearly enough."--Poul Anderson
"Hal Clement--who was anointed the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America's 1998 Grand Master--has been writing for the last half century. In that time he has defined the "hard SF" subgenre and established it as his own."--"Analog"
For well over half a century, Hal Clement has been a towering, even decisive figure in our special literature. He deserves to be properly appreciated. . . . There's nobody like him. He's been a tremendous force in science fiction, receiving honors for it but not nearly enough. "Poul Anderson"
Hal Clement--who was anointed the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America's 1998 Grand Master--has been writing for the last half century. In that time he has defined the "hard SF" subgenre and established it as his own. "Analog""
About the Author
Hal Clement (1922-2003) is a Science Fiction Writers of America Grand Master, and the author of the novels "Half Life, Heavy Planet" and the classic "Mission of Gravity."
Top Customer Reviews
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The book has that complete novel, and a shorter story with the Mesklin race learning to cope and overcome changing geography and learning the beginnings of science.
The final novel in this book is a new (to me) novel with some of the Mesklin personnel exploring a new medium-heavy gravity world for the earth men. Troubles from a changing environment in a not well understood world, complicated by Barlenan's plan to do more than the earth team wanted until they can travel between the stars on their own.
Both the original novel, and the second one that was new to me had unique geography, biochemistry, and planetary science. A final treat is the aftérward by Hal Clement explaining the real science he developed to validate his story's science.
Strongly recommended as great adventures, with unusual science that could be real.
Instead, the stories move along on resolving the inevitable hazards as the hydrogen-breathing Mesklinites (variously described as grotesque worms, caterpillars or centipedes about three feet long) explore their own high-gravity planet and, later, a similar one three parsecs away, as contract employees (and, simultaneously, students and respected friends) of the humans.
What makes it work is the interplay between the species and the way Clements' aliens mimic human emotions and behavior, including occasional paranoia and deception, despite their significant physiological differences. I was sad to finish. It's a pity the author is no longer alive to continue this rich story of human scientists, linguists and administrators hesitantly helping the Mesklinites gradually move from being sailors on methane seas in ammonia storms to pilots of interstellar spacecraft.
Hard science is interesting because it proves to us in an entertaining fashion that the universe on its own is a fairly fascinating and exciting place and you don't have to invent hyperspace and teleportation beams to really have fun with the story, you can take the natural quirks of science to create fascinating scenarios and have it be justified as more than just a flight of the imagination. At its best, it stretches the mind and instills wonder at how vast and variable the universe we live in really is. At its worst, it reads like a science lecture you didn't intend to sign up for. Generally that has nothing to do with the degree of the author, there are perfectly good authors who sport doctorates in physics. Hal Clement was one of them.
The collection consists of two big novels, a short story and an essay where he takes us through the process of designing such a bizarre planet. "Mission of Gravity" is the first and the acknowledged classic, where Mesklin trader Barlennan is sailing and exploring areas he has never been able to venture into before due to the help of his new human friends. The humans have contacted him to help them out while also giving him a chance to make some extra money by finding new trade routes and much of the story deals with the trials and travails the crew faces as they journey from one place to the other, eventually in search of a downed probe.
The whole concept of it is fascinating and makes for some interesting reading, almost ground breaking on several levels. Mesklin doesn't have the later sophistication that Frank Herbert would bring to world building with Dune but the science is well thought out down to even the smaller levels (like how Barlennan perceives his world as a bowl due to the strange shape of it) and is a far cry from the Edgar Rice Burroughs stuff that we had seen previously, where planets existed just to be pillaged and adventured on. Here, the planet becomes part of the plot and is vital to it. The story can really only happen here, and it adds a certain sense of place. Also, the relationship between the Mesklinites and the humans isn't something we normally saw in SF, where both of them were treating each other like adults. The Mesklinites aren't a hundred percent trusting, but willing to take whatever information they're given to use to their advantage, while the humans are trying to make sure the Mesklinites are useful while questioning at what point do they cross the line into outright exploitation. But they have several and many rational conversations, and nobody ever pulls out ray guns and threatens to shoot. It's rather refreshing.
Unfortunately, it does make the novel a bit of an even experience. While there is action and some conflict, everyone is so mannered and accommodating that you wish that someone would flip out and start screaming or somebody would start shooting. The story winds up being a near episodic experience as the crew ranges over the planet and overcomes various obstacles, which are difficult to easily overcome due to said planet's weird gravity. That' pretty much it and so if you're in this story, you're in it for the sense of wonder and exploration. To me, that was a little harder because we're never given a real good and clear explanation of what exactly the physics are of the world . . . everything is clearly thought out and the entire cast is reasonably well informed, but the rest of us have to figure it out as we go along. A little hand-holding would have been nice, as things are often described from the Mesklinites' frame of reference, so it takes a bit to square it back into human thinking (a nice move in itself) . . . this isn't really a complaint because Clement seems to be assuming that he has an intelligent readership but there were a few parts where the crew was figuring out an obstacle and it took me a while to realize why it was a problem. But it introduced Barelennan as a true character in SF, an alien with a distinctive personality and viewpoint different from people who was still relateable. He's even out for himself and profit, mostly.
The sequel to the story both accents and betters the flaws of the first novel. This time the Mesklinites are working for the humans on a different world with a similar set of physics, and everything is going smoothly until one ship gets stranded in the weird ammonia sea that they're traveling in. The crew scrambles to figure a way out and the humans try to gather whatever information they can to help. A lot of the novel is devoted to the science of the planet and how they have to manipulate said science to get what they want but this time the science seems more talky and bogs down what little momentum the book has. Again, nothing is really terribly exciting (I never get the sense that the crew is in imminent danger) but the pendulum swings too far in the other direction in terms of explaining stuff to us, stopping short of giving us the mathematical equations on the page itself. This, coupled with the aforementioned lack of wonder and excitement from the story, almost sinks the book.
Almost. The key here comes with the interactions between the humans and the Mesklinites. Because it becomes clear that the aliens are playing a bit of a deception to get what they want, something the accident is about to reveal and the exciting portions of the novel are the ones that focus on everyone's motivations as they dart and dance around each other trying to decide how the others' brains work. Barlennan is reduced to almost a guest star in his own novel but one of the best scene has all the humans gathered around debating what he's actually after and you realize that they don't quite understand him after all. All the maneuvering and plotting adds layers of complexity to the book and focuses on much more than a language or even cultural barrier, but a barrier of an entirely different method of thinking. Some of the detailed discussions between various people who aren't even in the same room as each other prefigures work he would do much later in novels like "Half-Life", only taken to more of an extreme there.
So yeah, neither of them are perfect. Part of that is because Clement definitely wants to show off the new world that he's painstakingly figured out the science behind (I can't blame him, the essay depicts the incredible amount of thought that went into it . . . but it is a problem for hard SF authors everywhere) and sometimes forgets that a little action is better than a pure travelogue. His refined and erudite SF won't spark any fires but Barlennan is a pure SF treasure. Those who miss the days when SF actively sought to teach us about the marvels of science (as opposed to explaining all the horrible things that can happen with it) can't go wrong with these novels, PhD or not.
These little critters that look like large centipedes are some of the most lovable in all of si fi (and I've been reading si fi for about 65 years). The planet is out of this world and the science involved is great.
This over-large planet that spins so fast that it is shaped like a frisbee and the gravity is so weird that at the rim (equator) the gravity is about 3Gs and at the poles about 600Gs. The technology was good for the 50's but don't let that get you down. Read it for fun. Read it to see what si fi was like during it's golden age.