Mission Of Gravity Essay

Submitted By kate11190
Words: 1601
Pages: 7

Katelyn Williams
Astronomy 222
Midterm Paper
Book Review: “Mission of Gravity” By Hal Clement
March 4, 2014

Hal Clement’s Mission of Gravity (1954) is a love letter to science. Consecutive and astounding in 1953, it’s often pointed to as a prototypical “hard” science fiction novel of the ‘50s, with the story driven more by the solution of scientific problems and the achievement of scientific discovery than by character or plot. Clement, a science teacher, specialized in this sort of science fiction, which may be why he seems to be one of the more neglected of the Grand Masters from the perspective of modern Science Fiction fans. But Clement’s third novel is a cut above much of the hard Science Fiction of the time, which has a tendency to become dated as science advances, because of the way Clement melds the scientific explanations with the characters’ motivations, which in turn drive the plot and create suspense and interest in the story. (Clement, 1954)
Mesklin is a vast, inhospitable, disc-shaped planet, so cold that its oceans are liquid methane and its snows are frozen ammonia. It is a world circling dizzyingly, a world where gravity can be a crushing seven hundred times greater than Earth's, a world too aggressive for human explorers. But the planet holds secrets of immeasurable value, and an unmanned probe that has crashed close to one of its poles must be recovered. Only the Mesklinites, the small creatures so bizarrely adapted to their harsh environment, can help. And so Barlennan, the resourceful and courageous captain of the Mesklinite ship Bree, sets out on a heroic and appalling journey into the terrible unknown. For him and his people, the prize to be gained is as great as that for mankind. (Clement, 1954)
When the book opens, the human crew has been at Mesklin for quite some time already and the language barrier has been crossed; the two races communicating via 'vision sets' provided by the humans. The Mesklinites continue with their trading operations, while also helping the humans to find their abandoned ship. The aliens, being so small, have a very low view of the world and have a strong sense of fear of things being above them. Quite understandable really because when at the poles, a fall of a few inches could be catastrophic, and anything with any mass falling on them would be fatal. As such their homes have cloth roofs, and they have no concept of flying or even throwing. (Clement, 1954)
Another way Clement infuses his narrative with science is by making the exploration of the setting a major source of interest for the reader, as well as the source of the obstacles that must be overcome in order for the plot to advance and the characters to achieve their goals. The protagonists’ quest involves overcoming the environmental difficulties created by the setting itself. That setting is the planet Mesklin, a disc-shaped world with an intense gravity field. The gravity ranges from three times that of Earth’s along the equator (the “rim”) to seven-hundred times at the poles. Intelligent life, capable of living under the extreme gravity, has developed there. The Mesklinites are hydrogen-breathing, chitin-shelled, caterpillar-like creatures fifteen inches long and two inches in diameter, with “dozens of sucker like feet,” and claws functioning as hands. The point-of-view of the novel is that of Barlennan, a merchant trader and leader of a Mesklinite crew that sails the methane oceans of the storm-tossed planet in search of profit. (Clement, 1954)
Clement has carefully conceived the details of both the planet and its inhabitants, and part of the novel’s interest lies in the way he plots out descriptive details as the story progresses. The Mesklinites and their strange home as a result become both more alien and more familiar as we follow the progress of Barlennan’s mission. Since the story is told from Barlennan’s point of view, the nature of his race and his planet are