OR: Mission of Gravity

A review that originally appeared in The Third Alternative #25:-


Hal Clement

Gollancz pb, 203pp, £9.99

First published in 1953 and now reissued by Gollancz as one of their SF Collectors’ Editions, Clement’s novel with its use of scientific extrapolation has long been considered a genre classic and seminal work of hard SF.

The disk-shaped planet Mesklin, with gravity of 3g at the equator increasing to 700g at the poles, is being studied by humans, but their efforts are seriously hampered when a probe is lost in an area that’s inaccessible. The human’s only hope is to enlist the help of Mesklin’s dominant lifeform, intelligent amoeboid shaped aliens. With Charles Lackland guiding him from space, the trader Captain Barlennan and the crew of his ship Bre embark on a mission of recovery, en route tackling a variety of dangers and problems. But the wily Barlennan has an agenda of his own.

This book harks back to an earlier, more innocent age, when the Prime Directive was just a twinkle in Jean-Luc Picard’s eye and human ingenuity could be relied on to circumvent any obstacle. Clement’s prose is workmanlike rather than inspiring and much of the book seems unsophisticated by modern standards, but for all that there’s a certain pleasure in seeing him rigorously work out all the ramifications of Mesklin’s gravity fluctuations, from both human and alien perspectives. It sets the backdrop for an engrossing story of adversity overcome with renaissance ‘man’ Barlennan a particularly memorable character. A volume all SF readers are going to want on their shelves, if only for sentimental reasons, to catch of whiff of that long lost sensawunda.

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