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Mission of Gravity by Hal Clement
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Mar 23, 2012

it was amazing

Often cited as one of the bedrock works of "hard" science fiction, this extremely well-constructed little novel paints wonders of chemistry, biology, and physics, but crowns its triumph with a touching and developed portrait of an alien species with their own peculiar neuroses and ambitions.

The gravity of the planet Mesklin is far beyond that of Earth. At Mesklin's equator, humans in power-assisted suits can temporarily tolerate the 3 Gs found there, but at the planet's poles centrifugal force ratchets this up to hundreds of Gs. When a human scientific probe goes down in a polar region, the only possible way to retrieve it is to enlist an expedition of the native Mesklinites.

These enterprising little creatures, shaped something like centipedes, sail, fight, and explore their way across their harsh planet, all the while learning to overcome their ancestral fears and limitations (for example, Mesklinites are pathologically afraid of heights, and of even the concept of an object being held above them, due to the severity of any fall in such a high-gravity environment). What I find most laudable about Clement's Mesklinites is that they're not content to be used as brainless fetch-its by humans. When they become convinced that the humans are witholding information about the probe, they threaten to keep it for themselves. This allows them to re-negotiate the terms of their service and secure a fairer future for the partnership between the species. Hardly -The Autobiography of Malcolm X,- but nonetheless a very welcome portrait of extraterrestrial autonomy and dignity in an era when the right of fictional human beings to kick little green men around for their own purposes was not what you'd call "deeply examined."

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