Half Life

Posted by : atcampbell | On : February 20, 2001

Half Life by Hal Clement

This discussion had fourteen participants. Only six had read the book, and the others were present to vote on books at the end of the meeting. This meeting’s topic, Half Life, is the most recent novel by SFWA Grandmaster Hal Clement. It involves an expedition of scientists in the near future to Saturn’s moon Titan, where they hope to find clues about the origins of life.

We liked getting to read a traditional hard SF novel, where people solve “problems in space.” This book is full of interesting facts about chemistry, biology, and physics, and none of us found any technical errors. The level of detail presented as the scientists explore Titan gave us almost the feel of a travelogue. The extreme discipline of the scientists and their rigid set of rules for interaction made us wonder if the author intended this book to provide an etiquette lesson for aspiring scientists.

While we liked Half Life‘s science, we found its characters were lacking. None of them have any personality, culture, or emotions. One person said they might as well have been “brains in a jar.” The many long scenes of highly technical dialogue seemed about as interesting as a verbatim transcript of a NASA interchange between astronauts and mission control. At one point a character told a joke, but since no one else in the book had a sense of humor there was a half-page explanation of what was funny.

We enjoyed reading such a hard SF novel as a change of pace, and we appreciated how much work and research had obviously gone into the writing. We’d only recommend it to people who read SF more for the science than the characters or story.

At the end of the meeting, we picked several new books for the reading list. This new schedule is posted on our web site and will be printed in The FACT Sheet.

— A. T. Campbell, III