Mission of Gravity is a SF novel by Hal Clement. The title is a play on words, one meaning “the force which pulls” & the other being “extremely serious or important”. It was serialized in Astounding Science Fiction, 4–7/53. Its 1st cloth publication was in ’54. It was 1st published in paper in ’58. Along with the novel itself, many editions (& most recent editions) of the book also include Whirligig World, an essay on creating the planet Mesklin published in the 6/53 Astounding. He published two sequels, a ’70 novel called Star Light & a ’73 short story called Lecture Demonstration. Mission of Gravity was nominated for a Retro Hugo Award for ’54.
For a profit & adventure, Barlennan would sail thousands of miles across uncharted waters, into regions where gravity played strange tricks. He’d dare the perils of strange tribes & stranger creatures–even dicker with those aliens from beyond the skies, though the concept of another world was unknown to the inhabitants of the planet of Mesklin. But in spite of the incredible technology of the strangers & without regard for their enormous size, Barlennan had the notion of turning the deal to an unsuspected advantage for himself–a considerable enterprise for a being very much resembling a 15″ caterpillar! – Goodreads
Mission of Gravity Review
Mission of Gravity was a fun, imaginative work that holds up well even though its sixty-three years old. Obviously, because of the age, one must be willing to make certain allowances for dated material. That happens, however, far less than you might think.
Hal Clement did a great job of creating a world that is – to this day – one of the most interesting worlds we see in science fiction. It’s a bit hard to imagine (I had to look it up to see if anyone could put the shape clearly to me), but the concept is fascinating. A world where gravity varies so dramatically that the only way life could make it would be in a form drastically different from the bipedal one we humans enjoy.
The Mesklines are written in such a way that it’s hard to remember that they are actually only several inches long and a few inches high. Most of the time you find yourself not even thinking about their shapes and how gravity plays a part in things. Then the author introduces something or mentions a way of movement that brings home how extremely physically different these characters are. They’re a likable lot, even Barlennan, even though he’s a bit of a rascal.
Mission of Gravity is a hard science fiction novel. Clement did his best to present a realistic view of how gravity, physics, etc, work on Mesklin. From a layman’s point of view, he didn’t miss anything. However, I will say it felt like he hammered points home a little too much at times. (On the other hand, if I was a couple of inches high in eight times earth gravity, and aware exactly how quickly even a small drop would kill me… I’d probably not be eager to look over cliffs, jump, or anything like that too!)
As much as it is a hard science fiction novel, though, it’s also an adventure story. If you took away the men in the spaceship and replaced the Mesklines with humans on Earth, it would be the tale of a long, strenuous journey. There are encounters with natives, stops for trading/haggling, situations where its Mesklines against Mother Nature, etc.
Overall, Mission of Gravity was a good read, but it does get a little laborious at times. You don’t have to have a background in science to understand what’s going on. However, a love of science will probably help you in being a little bit more enamored with the long stretches dealing with those particular details than I was.
I would probably be pretty particular about who I recommend this book to, especially when it comes to people who haven’t read much science fiction. It’s interesting and well-imagined, but not a quick and easy read.