Hal Clement
Half Life (1999)
Reviewed: 2002-12-15

As much as I appreciate a new novel from the grand master of hard SF, this one isn't going to be remembered as one of his best.

Life, and not just human life, was coming apart on Earth.

New diseases appear faster than even advanced medicine can cure them and people are dying. As one of many desperate measures, an expedition is sent to study Titan. After Europa, which is too far in Jupiter's radiation belt for human exploration, Saturn's largest moon is one of the most promising candidates in the Solar System to find conditions that can give rise to life and maybe, just maybe, the scientists can learn something from the prelife there that could help to understand or even solve humanity's plight.

Apart from the speculative science, not much happens in Half Life. In this respect, the novel is similar to Still River, however the characters are much less engaging. In clunky prose Clement walks a cast of zombies over the surface of a hostile world. Actually, most of the exploration is by telepresence, using remote-controlled rocket planes and semiautomatic mobile laboratories, assisted by an AI. The characters are cardboard and indistinguishable. Some suspense is provided by unexpected phenomena and weird chemistry. Unusually, a few deaths happen, but this has little impact since most members of the crew are terminally ill to begin with.

Lifeless and unpalatable to all but devoted fans of the author.

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