My life in outer space

Cycle of Fire – Hal Clement (1957)

Cycle of Fire

Hal Clement’s genius was in his talent to write rounded likeable characters and set them into a background of realistically thought out planets and environments.
This is no exception and can be seen as a kind of bridge between Stanley G Weinbaum’s ‘A Martian Odyssey’ and Barry B Longyear’s ‘Enemy Mine’.
Young Nils Kruger finds himself stranded on alien world. He had earlier become separated from his colleagues on a survey expedition and they now believe him dead.
This world is highly volcanic and part of the complex orbit of one planet and two suns.
Not far away is Dar Lang Ahn, an alien male whose glider crashed while he was travelling back to his home in the Ice Ramparts carrying valuable books for his people.
Nils finds the alien sick and dehydrated, and shows him how to get water from the analogue cactus plants that stud the desert, which makes Nils suspect that Dar might not be a native of this world either.
Communicating at first in gestures and drawings, the two begin their journey toward safety and knowledge of each other.
Clement throws in cosmological and anthropological mysteries along the way which are not fully explained until quite near the end.
To a certain extent novels like this shame many of today’s writers who, it seems, can’t be bothered to world build or create credible alien lifecycles, preferring to employ ‘Star Trek’ aliens who are essentially humanoid with two genders – although they may be lizards or birds – or just human with a few bumpy ridges on their noses.
Clement does worldbuilding in the truest sense and this is almost a masterclass in designing a species that has evolved to survive on a world with an eccentric orbit involving two suns.
The bonus is that it is also highly enjoyable.

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