The Plot

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

Hal Clement creates, in Mission of Gravity, a fictional planet called Mesklin in the double-star system known to astronomers as 61 Cygni. In the sequel, he moves to the gigantic Dhrawn, a few light years away and still in the known universe. In both stories of adventure and exploration, two motivations drive the Mesklin-ite aliens, who are clearly more interesting characters to Clement than their human handlers and explorer counterparts. First, the tiny Mesklinites are hardy explorers and astronauts who want to carry on their explorations. In the time between the two novels, they establish a College of Mesklin. The Mesklinites are also shrewd bargainers who exploit their human visitors in order to acquire more scientific knowledge than the dominant humans seem to want to give. Conversely, even though they are on major missions, the humans seem less eager and shrewd than their tiny partners. The younger humans are more eager, and in the sequel, Clement makes good use of this trait, as he does in his fiction for young adults and juveniles.

Mesklinites resemble fifteen-inch caterpillars, though they have an immensely tough exoskeleton. They are the most intelligent of the many species on Mesklin, which has variable gravity ranging from three Earth gravities at the equator to nearly seven hundred Earth gravities at each pole. The environmental details of the planet, and of Dhrawn in the sequel, along with Clement’s ideas of what may cause such conditions, are as interesting as characterization and plot. A further conjecture by Clement concerns...

(The entire section is 640 words.)