Hal Clement 1922-2003

I just heard that Harry Stubbs – better known to the world as Hal Clement – died today.

Hal was one of the greats of science fiction. He pretty much invented hard SF, insisting that all his science was as accurate as possible. Other writers of the time were more than willing to jettison the science for a good tale, but Hal never did, rewriting things if he found out he had made an error in his numbers. Hal never wrote anything unless he could justify every inch of the science involved.

His novel Mission of Gravity is one of the classics of the genre. It postulates a world what has different gravities at different latitudes, and the search for a missing space probe. His Captain Barlennan is a fascinating portrayal of an explorer who is hungry for knowledge. There’s a review at Scifi.com. The sad thing is that the book is out of print; it is a foundation of SF (in a non-Asimov sense), and deserves to be read by anyone interested in the field.

I also liked his Nitrogen Fix There’s a bibliography at this site

Hal was a grandmaster of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. He also was an accomplished painter of astronomic scenes, under the name “George Richards.”

I first met Hal in 1979, when I turned around at my first SF convention and saw him smiling at me. Hal Clement!, I thought, and was too awed to speak. In 1982, I met him at another convention, and it was easy to fall into a conversation with him (Hal was one of the most approachable people in SF). He saw our daughter grow up, meeting her first when she was three months old.

Over Columbus Day weekend, I saw him for what is now the last time, running the slide projector as he discussed the science behind the story he was working on. I’m shocked and saddened to hear he’s no longer with us.

81 is a fairly long life, but it’s still a shame. Damn it, more and more when I’m at the science fiction shelves in the bookstore, I realize the writers whose names I’m looking for are dead. Sadly, this reduces their new output.

Sad. What’s funny is I had always heard about how great Mission of Gravity was since I started getting into SF, and had never got around to reading it. Just about 6 weeks ago I bought it at a used book store for a quarter. Really enjoyed it, too.

I didn’t even know he was still alive, though.

Hal had clearly been fading for a number of years, but he kept up an active round of almost 20 conventions a year. Truly one of the nicest people in the field, he “paid forward” in huge ways. He’ll be missed.

This is really bizarre.

There is a newscaster in San Diego with this same name.

And I just watched him yesterday. That’s who I thought this was!


I met him at URCon and the 1989 WorldCon and at several Arisia’s. He was an SF writer and a fan and an artist (not to mention being a teacher – his real-life job).

Besides Mission of Gravity, read Needle, also a classic (and rippedc off for the movie The Hidden). It had a sequel, Through the Eye of a Needle, and there was also a sequel to Missio of GravityStarlight. Clement wrote a lot of books, but I don’t think they ever got the publicity they deserved. His aliens were usually a little too human in their psyches and thought processes, but he came up with truly original biologies. Read Iceworld. At recent Con he talked at length about “Bleachworld” – the old idea of life in a chlorine atmosphere, carried through to its necessary conclusions. There’s no one else quite like him, and he’ll be missed.

An astronomy prof I had in undergrad actually put Mission of Gravity on his syllabus. Darn good book.

We were extraordinalrily lucky in our little Oregon town, because some librarian either was a fan or got good advice from someone. We had LOTS of those books with the stylized atom-and-spaceship logo on the spine, and that included both Iceworld and Mission of Gravity sometime in the early to middle 60s, so they’ve been part of me since jr high/high school.

What a wonderful, imaginative human writer. Yes, he will be missed.

Damn, another one of the greats gone. At least I got the chance to meet him and tell him how much I enjoyed his work.

Chuck, Mission of Gravity is part of the NESFA reprints. It and Starlight are both in The Essential Hal Clement Volume 3: Variations on a Theme by Sir Isaac Newton, along with some short stories and essays by Hal on the science of the novels. It is available on Amazon or straight from NESFA Press.