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Creator / Hal Clement

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Hal Clement (real name: Harry Clement Stubbs) was an American Science Fiction writer. Generally considered one of the harder science fiction writers, he enjoyed creating unusual and extreme, but still realistic, settings and creatures for his stories. His best known works are Mission of Gravity, about the inhabitants of an extremely massive planet, and Needle, about a symbiote detective who visits Earth in search of a symbiote criminal. All told, he wrote over a dozen novels and numerous short stories during his career. He was declared one of SF's Grand Masters in 1998.

Clement is credited with coining the term "symbiote"; the proper term in biology is "symbiont", but Clement's coinage caught on.


Works by Hal Clement with their own trope pages include:

Tropes in his other works include:

  • The Aggressive Drug Dealer: In Iceworld, the protagonist is sent to infiltrate a criminal syndicate which has discovered a drug vapor that addicts those who inhale it with one dose. The story takes place among aliens who live at very high temperatures, and the drug is tobacco, acquired via robot probe from a human who has no idea why the aliens are willing to trade gold for cigarettes.
  • All Planets Are Earthlike: Subverted by many of his works. Clement would go to great lengths to invent non-terrestrial planets and populate them with believable life forms.
  • Atlantis Is Boring: "Ocean on Top" deserves credit for its extremely creative (and scientifically plausible) take on the Underwater City trope. Still, it has almost no plot at all, being significantly less interesting than his other stories.
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  • Babies Ever After: In Still River, when they plan a return to the planetoid, a woman scientist observes that some of the aliens are coming out of curiosity in her pregnancy.
  • Cultural Translation: In-Universe in Iceworld. The novel's extra-terrestial protagonists are from a planet that is literally as hot as an oven, and "Iceworld" how they nickname Earth in (the English translation of) their discussions. The narration points out that "Solid sulphur world" would be a closer translation, since the protagonists never saw water ice.
  • Earth All Along: The Nitrogen Fix kicks this up a notch by making Earth actively uninhabitable to human beings (as in, survival domes and oxygen masks), and introducing an alien race that thrives in the new environment.
  • The Fair-Play Whodunnit: Needle is both a science fiction novel and a mystery novel. If you pay attention to the story and spot the clues, you can figure out the Fugitive's hiding place in the exact same way the Hunter does.
  • Good Thing You Can Heal: Handled consistently in Needle. An symbiotic intelligent virus can heal many minor injuries and consistently defeat disease. Cue the protagonist getting careless about handling sharp objects, and nearly dying from an infection when the symbiote leaves.
  • Humans Through Alien Eyes: A trope found in many of his works:
    • Needle has an alien detective getting a crash course in humanity so he can try to find the bad alien, who is hiding out on Earth, without revealing his own existence.
    • Iceworld is told from the point of view of aliens who find Earth be be dangerously cold.
    • The front cover blurb for Cycle of Fire invoked this with the words: "Each of them was a stranger to the other. But which was the alien?"
  • Science Is Bad: In-Universe: in The Nitrogen Fix, city dwellers are taught that science is why Earth became uninhabitable, and the very terms "science", "research", "laboratory" and the like are considered obscene. (In truth, it does seem a genetically-enhanced organism was the culprit.)
  • Space Is Cold: Inverted in-universe "Sun Spot". 'Grumpy' Ries has to spend a couple hours keeping an astronomical camera, and its operator, from getting cooked on the surface of a comet making a very close pass by the Sun. When he comes back inside, the observatory's doctor offers to treat him for burns. Ries points out he's been manhandling sacks of frozen methane and other ices which were still at the temperature of interstellar space. "Break out the frostbite remedy, will you, please?"
  • The Symbiote: The detective-creature in Needle and Through The Eye Of The Needle was a blob of protoplasm that entered a human host to survive and move around—bordered the commensalistic and parasitic versions, because the boy was not harmed at first but then became ill in the second book. There was also another creature, the hunted fugitive, who'd taken another body and was a Puppeteer Parasite type.
  • Symbiotic Possession: Needle and Through the Eye of the Needle had a boy and a symbiotic alien protoplasm that were like this, until the kid got sick.
  • Technology Marches On: In Mission of Gravity and Star Light (as in 'not heavy'), the humans in the stations orbiting the supermassive "Terrestrial" type planets Mesklin and Dhrawn use slide rules. "Star Light" was published in 1970.
  • Underwater City: Handled as realistically as possible in the short story "Ocean on Top". A colony of humans is established on the ocean floor, using geothermal power to provide light and a specially-made oxygen-carrying dive fluid in place of air. But since the humans are less dense than water, the humans have to wear weights if they want to stay on the bottom or even have neutral buoyancy. They sleep tied to the ceilings of their buildings.
  • Water Is Air:
    • Averted in "Ocean on Top" when a colony of humans is established on the ocean floor, using geothermal power to provide light and a specially-made oxygen-carrying dive fluid in place of air. But since the dive fluid is denser than water, the humans have to wear weights if they want to stay on the bottom or even have neutral buoyancy (their bones were denser than the fluid and their lungs were filled with it, but the rest of their bodies were less dense and the net effect was a slight positive bouyancy). They sleep tied to the ceilings of their buildings.
    • Played with in Close to Critical. The planet Tenebra has atmospheric conditions close to the critical point of water. This leads to some truly bizarre effects like large blobs of water hovering in the air, and people lighting fires to drive water away at night.