Heavy Planet: The Classic Mesklin Stories by Hal Clement
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
Since Mission of Gravity is my favorite fiction novel of all time, you'll probably expect that this collection which includes the sequels to that novel to also receive five stars. You aren't mistaken on that point.
However, the strength of Mission of Gravity depends on the beauty of the setting, the surprise pro-science ending (of which I won't go into detail), and the amazing way that the reader is constantly put into a state where they could theoretically figure out the next step if they were quick enough with remembering scientific principles, but in practice are continually surprised because no one is smart enough to actually figure it out ahead of time. It is, in this way, in the same category as old mystery novels where all the facts are given up front and there are no surprise deus ex machina twists that include things the reader could not possibly know in advance, like most soft science fiction does.
Hal Clement did a sperb job with Mission of Gravity, but the sequels just can't keep up the same level. On their own, they are still quite good, but they are not in the same league as the initial novel, and some of the additions to the universe the bring to light really serve to highlight Clement's general ability to write complex relationships. Clement is a great hard scifi author, and does an excellent job with creating settings, but he has a serious lack of making the relationships between humans seem real. The humans of Mission of Gravity are bland, but they are bland for a justified reason, as they are scientists in the midst of observing a new planet. The humans of the sequels are equally bland, but he has lost the in-universe justification for their blandness.
Nevertheless, the series of stories after Mission of Gravity would still get four stars if I were judging them on their own merits, and simply by the fact that they continue the Mesklinite story, they receive a full five stars in this collection. I highly recommend Heavy Planet to anyone who is into hard science fiction.
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