Hal Clement 1922-2003
In the early days of Science Fiction, famed editors Hugo Gernsback and John W. Campbell were trying to raise the bar in the world of science fiction. At the time, SF was regarded as pulp fiction lightweight fare aimed primarily at the limited sensibility of adolescent boys. The twentieth century was a growing age of science with flight, rocketry, radio, and more undergoing a revolution of change that seemed unthinkable only fifty years earlier. They felt that because it was called "Science Fiction" the literature needed some real science.
A young science student named Harry Stubbs read their repeated and impassioned calls for real science. So he thought he would give them some. He sent Campbell a story called 'Proof', hoping the great editors words were heartfelt. They were. Harry's first story, "Proof", appeared in the June 1942 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. Writing as Hal Clement, Stubb's story was the first salvo of a long literary career that make him one of the founders, and the grandmasters of hard science fiction.
Clement's work, from day one, is characterized by inventiveness, but with a commitment to scientific rigor. His worlds are real, with everything down to the social structure carefully designed around a set of premises that begins with the size of the world and it's distance to the sun. Clement's work is solid, physicist and science fiction writer Catherine Asaro recently noted that Hal's work still holds up today, for the solidity of it's science. But science isn't all Hal was about, for his stories had plenty of conflict. But it was not the conflict of some prenaternal evil such as Sauron, but rather from circumstance and the natural outcome of the worlds he has built. There was no meanness in Hal Clement, just determination and a commitment to the scientific method. And truth.
Hal's first novel Needle was serialized in Astounding in 1949. It is a classic, a detective story with twin microscopic organisms as killer and detective with a human host as the increasingly aware partner. And if the seven year gap between "Proof" and Needle, seems long, it is no accident. Harry Stubbs took a few years off to fight World War II.
Harry Stubbs flew 35 missions as the pilot of a B-24 LIberator bomber, which was a fine airplane, but far more touchy than the more famous B-17. He left the service after the war to finish his education, but ended up being recalled to active duty in 1951. He ended up retiring from the air force as a bird colonel.
In addition Harry taught science for forty years, retiring in 1987. He donated enough blood in his life to stock a Quentin Tarantino movie.
Clement's most famous novel was Mission of Gravity which Astounding serialized as "Heavy Planet". The story is about a mission to a planet whose minimum gravity is three times earth standard, and could swell to 700 gees at the poles. The process by which Hal created the world was also the subject of an article, for he made the planet spin at extraordinary speed in order to make the equatorial gravity almost livable, and every detail was worked out with Hal's typical loving care.
Hal remained active up until the end. His last novel Noise was released by Tor Books in September 2003, and he was a regular a science fiction conventions. He enjoyed painting and photography, and fen will long remember his convention talks about how some quirk in gravity, light, planetary mass or orbital mechanics would lead to a fascinating new ecology. He was a kind, happy man up until the end.
Hal Clement has left this world, leaving our Earth poorer. But our world is richer for his having shared it and the worlds he inhabits now are much richer for his presence. I'm glad to have known him.
Guest of Honor at the 1991 World Science Fiction Convention
1996 Hugo Award for his 1945 short story "Uncommon Sense"
1998 GrandMaster Award from Science Fiction Writer's Association