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Sunday, March 24, 2013

Hal Clement: Cover Gallery

(* The following was written for The Guardian back in 2003 but was never used; a shame, but these things happen. I'm breaking my rule of thumb to only post British paperbacks in galleries as so few of Clements' books had UK editions.)

Harry Clement Stubbs, who died on 29 October 2003 at the age of 81, had two careers that entwined and complimented each other. After two years in public schools, he taught high school science for thirty-eight years at Milton Academy in Massachusetts. At the same time, as Hal Clement, he wrote meticulously plausible science-fiction based on the scientific knowledge of the time.

Born in Somerville, Massachusetts, on 30 May 1922, Stubbs’ first brush with science fact and fiction was the Flash Gordon comic strip. As Flash blasted off for Mars the strip gave some facts about the journey which prompted questions from 8-year-old Harry; his father took him to the local library and Harry emerged with a book on astronomy and a novel by Jules Verne.

He studied astronomy at Harvard University, obtaining a BS in 1943, but his math was not strong enough to take it up as a full-time career. He served as a bomber pilot, flying 35 combat missions from England with the 8th U.S. Air Force. He remained in the U.S. Air Force Reserve until 1976, retiring with the rank of Colonel. He used his GI grant to study teacher training at Boston University, receiving his M.Ed in 1947, and later obtained a masters degree in chemistry from Simmons College in 1963.

Stubbs – as Clement – began writing whilst at Harvard, selling his first story, “Proof,” to John W. Campbell’s Astounding Stories at the age of 19. From the start he penned “hard” science-fiction, where a problem was set out scientifically and science was essential to its solution. Clement was as rigorous as any golden age mystery writer in setting out the conceits of each story so that readers had a fair chance of reaching the solution ahead of the characters. Indeed, one of the arguments of that period was that a traditional detective novel was impossible in science-fiction because new technologies would have evolved, an argument Clement answered with Needle, in which an alien police officer arrives on Earth in pursuit of a criminal; the problem is that these aliens live symbiotically within a host and the quarry may have invaded the body of any person on the planet.

In common with many novels where the puzzle is the plot, characterisation tended to fall by the wayside. This was amply made up for by Clement’s creation of extreme environments and the challenges they created. In Iceworld, which concerns the smuggling of the most dangerous narcotic known, nicotine, by sulphur-breathing aliens, the alien planet was Earth; in Close To Critical, the planet Tenebra has a crushing gravity, atmospheric pressure, scorching temperatures and constantly shifting crust, towards which the children of an alien diplomat are drifting; in his last novel, Noise, Kainui is a waterworld peopled by sea-faring colonists living in floating cities surrounded by corrosive salt seas and constantly rocked by seaquakes.

Clement’s most famous work, Mission Of Gravity, was set on Mesklin, whose rapid rotation – a day lasts only 18 minutes – has created a disk-shaped world with 3 times Earth’s gravity at the equator and nearly 700g at the poles. When a research probe sent to the pole fails to relaunch, a group of scientists hire one of the caterpillar-like natives, Captain Barlennan, to save the data it has collected. Barlennan, however, is not only a typical Mesklinite – fifteen inches in length and two inches high – but also a shrewd operator who spends much of his time trying to think of ways to sweeten the deal he has struck. The crafty merchant also appeared in a sequel, Star Light.

Following his retirement in 1987, Clement was able to concentrate more actively on writing and as well as new novels (Still River, Fossil) also participated in the republication of his best work in the three-volume series The Essential Hal Clement. He was inducted into the Science Fiction and Fantasy Hall of Fame in 1998 and received the Grand Master Award of the Science Fiction Writers of America in 1999. Clement also gave his name to the Hal Clement Award for Excellence in Children’s Science Fiction Literature, awarded annually since 1992.

A popular attendee of conventions, sometimes as a fan artist (he painted starscapes under the name George Richard), he died in his sleep only days after his appearance as a guest at MileHighCon at Lakewood, Colorado.

Clement was survived by his wife, Mary Elizabeth (Myers) whom he married in 1952, two sons, George and Richard, and a daughter, Christine.

NOVELS (series: Mesklin; Needle)

Needle (Needle). Garden City, New York, Doubleday, 1950; London, Gollancz, 1961; as From Outer Space, New York, Avon, 1957.
Corgi Books YS1383, 1963, 158pp, 3/-. Cover by unknown

Iceworld. New York, Gnome Press, 1953.
(no UK edition)

Mission of Gravity (Mesklin). Garden City, New York, Doubleday, 1954; London, Hale, 1955.
Penguin 1978, 1963, 199pp, 3/6. Cover by Yves Tanguy ('The Doubter')
New English Library 0450-02994-8, Jun 1976, 192pp, 60p. Cover by Eddie Jones [introduction by Robert Conquest]
Gollancz VGSF 0575-04022-X, 1987, 203pp. Cover by Tony Roberts
Gollancz 0575-07094-3, 2000, 203pp.
Gollancz [SF Masterworks] 0575-07708-5, 2005, 208pp.

The Ranger Boys in Space (for children). Boston, Page, and London, Harrap, 1956.
(no UK paperback edition)

Cycle of Fire. New York, Ballantine, 1957; London, Gollancz, 1964.
Corgi Books GS7417, 1966, 171pp.

Close to Critical (Mesklin). New York, Ballantine, 1964; London, Gollancz, 1966.
Corgi Books 0552-07915-4, 1968, 158pp, 3/6. Cover by unknown

Star Light (Mesklin). New York, Ballantine, 1971.
(no UK edition)

Ocean on Top. New York, DAW, 1973; London, Sphere, 1976.
Sphere 0722-12444-9, 1976, 159pp, 60p. Cover by David Bergen

Left of Africa (for children). New Orleans, Aurian Society Press, 1976.
(no UK edition)

Through the Eye of a Needle (Needle). New York, Ballantine, 1978.
(no UK edition)

The Nitrogen Fix. New York, Ace, 1980.
(no UK edition)

Still River. New York, Ballantine, Jun 1987; London, Sphere, Nov 1988.
Sphere 0747-49117-9, 1988, 280pp, £3.50.

Fossil: Isaac's Universe. New York, DAW, Nov 1993.
(no UK edition)

Half Life. New York, Tor Books, Sep 1999.
(no UK edition)

Noise. New York, Tor Books, Sep 2003.
(no UK edition)

Planet for Pluunder, with Sam Merwin. Fiction House, Oct 2012.
(no UK edition)


Natives of Space. New York, Ballantine, 1965.
(no UK edition)

Small Changes. Garden City, New York, Doubleday, 1969; as Space Lash, New York, Dell, 1969.
(no UK edition)

The Best of Hal Clement, edited by Lester del Rey. New York, Ballantine, 1979.
(no UK edition)

Intuit, introduction by Poul Anderson. Cambridge, Massachusetts, NESFA Press, Sep 1987.
(no UK edition)

The Essential Hal Clement, Volume 1: Trio for Slide Rule and Typewriter (contains Close to Critical, Iceworld, Needle), edited by Anthony R. Lewis. Framington, Massachusetts, NESFA Press, Apr 1999.
(no UK edition)

The Essential Hal Clement, Volume 2: Music of Many Spheres, edited by Mark L. Olson & Anthony R. Lewis, introduction by Ben Bova. Framington, Massachusetts, NESFA Press, Feb 2000.
(no UK edition)

The Essential Hal Clement Volume 3: Variation of a Theme by Sir Isaac Newton (contains Mission of Gravity, Under, Lecture Demonstration, Star Light, Whirligig World (non-fiction)), edited by Mark L. Olson & Anthony R. Lewis, introduction by David Langford. Framinton, Massachusetts, NESFA Press, Sep 2000; as Heavy Planet: The Essential Mesklin Stories, New York, Tor Books, 2002.

Some Notes on Xi Bootis. Chicago, Advent, 1959.

First Flights to the Moon, introduced by Isaac Asimov. Garden City, New York, Doubleday, 1970.
The Moon, by George Gamow, introduction by Isaac Asimov. London, Abelard Schuman, 1971.

(* originally published 25 September 2011; updated and expanded 24 March 2013.)

1 comment:

Phil Rushton said...

They may not have been British but I remember the 1970 Ballantine editions of Natives of Space, Cycle of Fire and Close to Critical being widely available in bookshops over here, and at the time I was a huge fan of their beautiful Dean Ellis covers.