Hal Clement
Star Light (1971)
Reviewed: 1997-11-28

Fifty years have passed since Captain Barlennan has struck his deal with the humans in Mission of Gravity. Now the help of those hardy Mesklinites, natives to conditions of extreme gravity and pressure, is needed once again. The giant world of Dhrawn is a scientific enigma. A brown dwarf with a surface gravity forty times that of Terra, it remains inaccessible to human explorers. A Mesklinite colony is established on Dhrawn to investigate the mysterious world. Equipped with a curious mix of human high tech and Mesklinite pre-industrial pulley-and-lever technology, large landcruisers crewed with the cute caterpillarlike aliens roam a small fraction of Dhrawn's vast surface, transmitting their findings to the waiting human scientists and advisors on a space station in stationary orbit thirty-two light seconds away.

It turns out that Mesklinites are a long-lived species, and so we meet again with two old friends: Barlennan, shrewd as ever, returns as head of the Mesklinite expedition corps, and Dondragmer is now captain of the Kwembly, one of the exploration vessels. On the human side, Easy Rich from Close to Critical returns twenty-five years older as Easy Hoffman, tying that novel into the same universe. Most of the book concentrates on a particular trip of the Kwembly, where, of course, a lot of things go wrong. This time, Clement's particular fascination (fixation?) are the peculiar properties of water-ammonia mixtures.

The novel suffers from the unwieldy communications setup around Dhrawn: all messages must be relayed through the humans. Although parts of the story hinge on this, it also leads to an awkward narrative. On the positive side, Clement introduces more Mesklinites and humans by name and fleshes them out as characters. Just like in the original novel, Barlennan and his Mesklinites have an agenda of their own that is somewhat different from the human plans, providing for a more tangible level of suspense than that of the unpredictable planetary environment. Altogether, Star Light is a fair sequel.

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