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First published in 1953, this book was the progenitor of the modern 'hard' SF sub-genre. Using only the known science of the day, it imagined a world so wildly different from our everyday experience that it dazzles the mind, showing just how wild the universe really can be.

The world is Mesklin, a very large planet that rotates on its axis in just eighteen minutes, leading to gravitational forces of 700 gravities at the poles, and just 3 gees at the equator. But this is just the first of the items that make the world unique: its average temperature is a toasty -160 degrees Celsius; a methane/ammonia atmospheric composition that at these temperatures act much like water on Earth - phasing between solid, liquid, and gaseous forms; a wildly ecliptic orbit and planetary axial tilt that has strange consequences for the weather. Now add an intelligent native life form that is fifteen inches long and just three inches tall, looking very much like an overgrown millipede with pinchers, an Earth probe stranded at one of the poles that Terran scientists would very much like to retrieve for the data it contains about high gravity environments, and you have the ingredients for a great scientific adventure story.

Clement, a high school science teacher for much of his life, writes very much in the mold of a much earlier SF writer, Jules Verne. As such, the emphasis is on the science, the puzzles and oddities extreme conditions can present, rather than on character or thematic messages. Every detail of this world was very carefully worked out, right down to why the native inhabitants would 'see' their world as a hollow flattened bowl, complete with accurate maps, and would reject almost out of hand the idea that the surface they could see was really the outside of a sphere. In fact, a good bit of the charm of this book is the portrayed alien mind-set, showing just how much environment shapes the way people look at things. This also applies to the Earth scientists, who have great trouble at times seeing how the extreme conditions lead to important technological conclusions, such as why a canoe is not a viable shape for an ocean-going vessel at super-high gravities.

The plot is pretty much a series of adventures occasioned by various scientific oddities as the Mesklinite party travels across the world from equator to pole in search of the Earthling's probe, with little in the way of character development or any deeper meanings. There is some severe dating of some of the technology used: slide rules, film recordings, environmental suit mechanical linkages, etc. There is one item here that was quite a bit ahead of its time - the use of a water bed as a method for staying in high-gee environments for extended periods of time (but was Clement aware of Heinlein's description of the water bed in Beyond This Horizon, written in 1941?). But the dating does not seriously detract from the main focus of the novel, which is Mesklin itself, just as timelessly incredible as the day this first saw print. Recommended for those who enjoy the scientific puzzle, those who still see the universe as an incredibly varied, complex, and beautiful composition, where scientific fact really is much stranger than fiction.

--- Reviewed by Patrick Shepherd (hyperpat)
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on 22 November 2000
This is a well-written and clever story. Clement has worked hard at making the bizarre world of Mesklin plausible, and his representation of life on an ultra-high gravity world is fascinating. He describes the planet's harsh beauty and its fierce extremes of climate with an atmospheric prose style that makes you feel as though you're there with the Mesklenites.
The only problem with the novel is that despite the publisher's blurb about Clement's convincing depiction of a non-human consciousness, the Mesklenites are not very alien. They may be tiny caterpillar-like creatures that live on a world with 800 G gravity, but they think and talk like 1950s Americans. Clement's undoubted brilliance at atmosphere and scientific imagining does not make him able to create 3-dimensional characters or emotional depth.
Nonetheless this is a worthwhile and engrossing story, and it certainly deserves its re-release under the 'Classic SF' umbrella.
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on 4 February 2017
A great surprise to see this turn up in Kindle Unlimited. It is a classic of old time sf, described as 'hard' science fiction because the detail of the science is crucial to the story, it was published in 1954 and this one describes a world of unusual gravity and a race of insect like intelligent beings who go on a trek to help a human scientist recover a missing science capsule.
Apart from the occasional 'knowing' moment when we know what the natives are trying to understand or accomplish the whole story is pretty gripping and well worth a read- especially now you can have it for 'free!'
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on 14 December 2015
On Mesklin, a disc-shaped planet and a world too inhospitable for Man, with its greater gravity and oceans of liquid methane and snows of frozen ammonia, an unmanned probe has landed at one of the poles and is unable to be relaunched and only the Mesklinites, a tiny centipede/caterpillar like race, can help. Working with the humans they set off on part of their previously unexplored planet toward the probe, meeting other races and problems as they go, but do they have another agenda as well?
This 50s slice of Sci-Fi imagines a world unlike Earth, and beings to match. At first I found this a little bit twee, but as the story progresses I found myself really quite liking it, although somethings don't quite gel, one of the main ones was how a creature so very different from man could actually learn to speak as we do - but then without the communication it would have been a very laboured read, so I can understand where the author was going with this, and it was nice not to have a humanoid alien race.
Recommended, not highly though, but definitely not a waste of time, a nice quick read and as with all the SF Masterworks a great cover.
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on 12 January 2015
Arguably a classic, Clement's Misson of Gravity is a must-read for anyone interested in the history of Science Fiction, and an obvious choice for the excellently-curated Masterworks series.

The premise concerns a large rocky planet, with a peculiar discus-like shape, resulting in unusual physical properties. Its inhabitants have evolved in very high gravity, and higher wells of gravity are experienced at the planet's hubs. In specialising for an environment where a fall of a few inches could be deadly, the Mesklinites have evolved to resemble large centipedes. Despite the physical differences between these intelligent bugs and the humans that they encounter, we discover a great deal of humanity in them as they progress on their journey. In particular, we meet Barlennan, a courageous and resourceful trader-cum-brigand who is employed by the humans to sail into uncharted areas of his own planet, where no human can survive.

Barlennan's odyssey leads his crew into encounters with many hazards and antagonists which he must overcome with the use of ingenuity, tact and good, old-fashioned physics. Clement, being a schoolteacher, presents each of these episodically, and one can't help but to see each chapter as the next thought-experiment in a series, or even as the next lecture in a syllabus, but this is no doubt an artefact of its being written for serialisation in magazines and it does not detract from the fun. However, despite an excellent visual imagination which he uses to concoct some very interesting set-pieces, Clement isn't always clear and specific in his descriptions and I found that there were several scenarios that I found difficult to understand, simply because they were (to my eyes) incomplete in their illustration. Don't be put off, however, nothing here is so complicated that a smart young adult (let's face it, sci-fi's core audience) couldn't piece it together: in fact, I'm pretty sure it was written with a younger readership in mind.

By this book's conclusion (which is quite joyful, but not as straightforward as the reader expects), I had grown to love the Mesklinites and was rather sad to leave them. Thankfully, there is plenty more potential for derring-do in these characters, which Clement would exploit in at least one sequel ... I really must get around to reading it.

Highly recommended for its characters, themes and novel SF elements, but not a great piece of literature. The adventure, mystery and mechanistic, Newtonian puzzle elements, absent of icky romance and boring adult neuroses also make this a great place for younger readers to start off with their journey into classic science fiction.
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on 20 December 2015
A great fifties tale, not too dated. A lot of the story is told from the aliens' perspective. This is a nice touch, particularly as they are non-humanoid. The science is convincing and there is a certain amount of character development, but ultimately rhe story is dominated by the physics and fhe world building. Really enjoyed it though, hence 4/5. Only thing that jars is the poor conversion from print. Nobody can have proof read it as there are frequent typos and formatting errors every few paragraphs, which really detract from the reading experience.
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on 1 January 2009
As the books description says, this is a description of a mission by humans on a hostile alien world. Actually, humans are peripheral in the story. The heros are actually aliens similar to caterpillars.
It is a great book because it describes the alien world so believably - you really get drawn in. The book moves along briskly, and even though some heavy science (gravity) is thrown in, this didn't put me off (I don't like too much hard science in my SF).
Well worth reading if you are a fan of SF books, and a good addition to the SF masterworks series.
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on 10 September 2006
I quite liked this book... I found that I cared about the characters. We have some alien creatures on their own world being visited by Human researchers... the Humans want access to the logs of ship that is on the ground somewhere on the planet. And they make contact with the captain of some kind of pirate or trading ship... the catch... well, the gravity of this planet is way too much for Humankind to endure, so they have to cajole and 'trade' with the aliens to traverse great distances to get to this stranded ship and its precious logs. Along the way, these creatures - who are only ever used to travelling small amounts above ground (even the smallest fall can kill you on this planet with such high gravity) have many challenges - cliffs for one - to surmount and you realise you actually like the plucky bunch and you know they get what they deserve in the end... enjoyed it.
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on 8 November 2009
This is a book about a scientific concept, it's not particularly trying to tell a story, make a point, or make you think about issues. It's trying to describe a world that's completely foreign to us in a fictional way. It's a fun read and a very interesting concept, but it's not a great literary work. I heartily recommend it and enjoyed it a great deal more than the other 'better' books. I mean it has foot long caterpillars as it's main characters for crying out loud, how could you not love it!?
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on 22 September 2010
A book in the 'hard science' fiction category. The story revolves around the unusual structure of a planet. It's the science that drives the story, not the characters. The world is the plot. The 'story' is an account of an exploration. I read it very quickly. The account is curiously gripping.
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