Clement’s narratives create the impression that the reader is a scientist. In fact, many of Clement’s readers are scientists who delight in the accurate references to astronomy, planetary dynamics, strange variations in weather, and alien evolution. The elements of learning in Clement’s work make it science fiction, whereas in its strong story lines about survival, it reads like adventure fiction.
The other element that strongly dominates these novels, as well as much of the rest of Clement’s hard science fiction, is the sense of hope and exuberance associated with travel and adventure books written for young people. The history of such books begins with the eighteenth century writings of Jonathan Swift and Daniel Defoe. In the size differentials between the humans and Mesklinites and in the sheer inventiveness of details, the reader is reminded of Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels (1726) and of Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe (1719). The awareness of and attempt to map variability and possibility in nature fuses nicely with youthful hope in Clement’s work, as in that of these predecessors.
In this set of Mesklinite novels in particular, as well as in Cycle of Fire (1957) and Close to Critical (1964), Clement postulates an ominous cycle for civilization in which creatures must learn to use the knowledge they acquire about nature and not to destroy themselves with that knowledge. This classic dilemma is...
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