The second book I finished this year was a re-read, Hal Clement’s “Mission of Gravity”.
If you are about my age, you probably first met this book through the picture of the Mesklinite in ‘Barlowe’s Guide to Extraterrestrials’. They are our high-density low-temperature hydrogen-breathing pals who are fun to be with.
|One of our high-density low-temperature hydrogen-breathing pals who are fun to be withTM|
What struck me re-reading it this time is how ‘Mission of Gravity’ is a paean to science.
First of all, it is proper science fiction. Not ‘indistinguishable from magic’ science fiction. Not some rubbish latte-land love triangle with spaceships and aliens. Not flip-through-this-week’s-New-Scientist-and-grab-a-few-dodgy-interpretation-of-Quantum-Mechanics-articles science fiction. Just Newtonian Physics pushed to the edge.
Second, the motivation of the (largely offstage) human characters is all science all the time. They want to know stuff. They are part of a project spending a fortune to find stuff out. Completely fundamental blue-sky no-applications-need-apply stuff. It’s all they care about. They never talk about anything else. Which is how it ought to be, because next to a world like Mesklin everything else is pretty boring.
Third, the narrative arc of the novel is the conversion of the Mesklinite characters to the scientific worldview. Barlennan, the main character, is the Han Solo or Vasco de Gama of his world. As the story begins he is all about the phat lewtz. But as it goes on – like Han Solo – he becomes aware of a higher purpose. A higher purpose that might enable him primarily to get more phat lewtz, true, but a higher purpose. Again and again, the scientific skills of the humans are shown to be of practical use in solving problems. Barlennan realises that he wants what they’re having. At the climax of the novel he refuses to help the humans anymore unless they teach him science. This is the sort of standoff situation people like me dream of. So I’m going to quote his whole speech (awkwardly screenshotted from Kindle Cloud):
Amen, little brother.
Amen, little brother.