The Nitrogen Fix by Hal Clement
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
In the Earth of the future, humans are the last native animal species on a planet fully depleted of freely floating oxygen. What civilization is left is isolated and separated in what many would call a doomsday scenario, but Hal Clement has somehow made the resulting Earth appear far more enticing than it at first seems.
Clement's trademark hardest-of-the-hard science fiction style explains nearly every aspect of this new world in a fully believable way. Everything about the setting is perfect -- or as near to perfect as the science of Clement's time allows.
However, as usual with Clement, his portrayal of characters is not nearly as strong as his exactitude with setting. The humans of the future act wildly different than how we might expect them to in such a harsh environment. Yet at the same time, the sheer immensity of the realistic future world Clement describes is more than enough to make up for his minor defects in portraying human actions well, especially since not all characters are human. The alien species he describes in the story from the first page is utterly captivating, not just in terms of biology, but also of psychology and philosophy.
While the weak point of this story is definitely Clement's idealism which bleeds through to the human characters in the story, Clement does a superb job with the alien characters and most especially the setting which serves as the backdrop for the entire story. I'm giving this five stars despite its flaws because the perfection of setting Clement provides is that good.
This is a must read for anyone who likes hard science fiction, though those who dislike too much science in their pleasure reading will dislike the depth of technical details Clement uses throughout the book.
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