Experiencing Gravity. Flying. Exploring. Throwing. Trading. Overcoming Physical Obstacles. Strategizing. Communicating. Retrieving Something Valuable.
Imagine a world where an intelligent species does not have words for such concepts as “flying” or “throwing.” In 1953 Hal Clement gave us the classic science fiction story Mission of Gravity, set in a world with intense gravity. Clement’s ability to create a convincing world is what makes this a classic. Never mind that in later years some of the scientific details would be disproved. According to Worlds Without End, the novel is on at least six major science fiction lists.
Briefly, Mission of Gravity takes place on Mesklin, a world shaped like a flattened sphere. The gravity at the equator is a number of times stronger than Earth and at the poles hundreds of times stronger. The Mesklinites, who look similar to large caterpillars, are an intelligent species. One of them, Barlennan, forms a relationship with Lackland, a human exploring the planet. When a rocket containing valuable scientific information is lost in a high gravity region, Lackland must enlist the help of Barlennan and his group to retrieve the information. As the gravity grows stronger, Lackland must part company with the group and help via radio (television?) contact. We soon learn that cute Barlennan is actually a shrewd trader and strategist.
Once again, I am reminded that current generations of science fiction authors stand on the shoulders of earlier generations. Mission of Gravity has good world-building and a relatively interesting plot. The novel represents major progress from standard 1950’s science fiction. By modern-day standards, this book might be considered quaint and, at points, a bit overly focused on mechanical details. At a few points, the humans, who are watching from space, take out their slide-rulers to make calculations. This novel is well worth reading.