Noise by Hal Clement
Tor HCVR: ISBN 0765308576 PubDate: 09/01/03
Review by Paul Giguere
256 pgs. List price $ 23.95
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Hard science fiction is science fiction that uses science as an integral element to support the plot. Indeed, the science is sometimes treated as a character in the story. In hard science fiction stories, the science is usually scientifically accurate insofar as we what know to be scientifically true based on current knowledge and theory. The plots to these stories usually revolve around the science. These types of stories have been around since the golden age of science fiction (the 1940’s and 1950’s). One person who wrote such tales during that age is Hal Clement (also known as Harry Stubbs) and today, Hal is still writing about far away worlds.
Many of us who read hard science fiction have, at one time or another, read a novel or short story by Hal Clement. The most popular of his novels is Mission Of Gravity, a tale of a visit to a planet where the gravity is many times that of Earth. Today, Clement is considered to be the grandfather of hard science fiction and the fact that he is still turning out stories means that younger readers (or older ones if you’re a late-comer to science fiction) can easily find his works [Reviewers Note: Most of Clement’s stories, novels, and novellas can be found in a three volume collection published by the New England Science Fiction Association (NESFA) at www.nesfa.org/press . These three volumes are: Trio For Slide Rule And Typewriter: The Essential Hal Clement Volume 1, Music Of Many Spheres: The Essential Hal Clement Volume 2, And Variations On A Theme By Sir Isaac Newton: The Essential Hal Clement Volume 3.]
Clement’s latest novel, Noise, is set in a far away solar system where two water-covered planets (Kainui and Kaihapa) are orbiting a double sun. Kainui was settled by Polynesian space-faring colonists many years before. The planet is a harsh environment with a deadly atmosphere made up of carbon monoxide and acidic water where severe storms, waterspouts, and tsunamis generate a permanent, deafening roar called “noise”. The inhabitants of Kainui live on floating cities that are actually alive and were grown using advanced biotechnologies. Mike Hoani, an anthropologist from Earth, arrives to study how the various Polynesian languages have evolved since colonization. Hoani joins the crew of a sea-mining ship that is prospecting for pseudolife (a human-made life form). What follows is a series of adventures on a strange and dangerous planet. From the challenges of the deadly ocean to new discoveries that will rock the colonists to the core of their beliefs and customs, Mike Hoani is on a voyage of discovery, not only to unlock the mysteries of Kainui, but to also discover something about himself.
The scientific detail that Clement portrays in Noise will delight any fan of hard SF. From the beginning of the novel to the end, the planet and its’ harsh environment is every bit a character in the story as Mike Hoani is. Scientific detail regarding the planet is peppered throughout the story; you will learn something reading Noise. With all this said, some readers may find Noise to be off-putting. True this is hard SF (and not everyone’s cup of tea) however, Noise is written in a manner and style which are very similar to and consistent with Clement’s major early contribution to the sub-genre, Mission Of Gravity, and herein lies the problem.
Mission Of Gravity was written in an age when science fiction was really just starting to develop as a force in literature and as such, the writing was not always very good. Character development and plots were sometimes secondary to the primary elements of the story (aliens taking over the world, a visit to another planet, etc.). The flaw in Noise is that the plot is not as tight as stories being written today. In some ways, Noise could have been written in the 1940’s or 1950’s (albeit much of the science of Noise was not known about fifty years ago). This fact can be a detraction to some readers.
Do I recommend Noise? Yes! If you read Clement’s earlier work and found yourself hungry for more as I did, you will find Noise fits the menu quite nicely. Once you accept the fact that Clement is telling a story (a meticulously scientific story at that) in much the same manner he would had he written the novel fifty years ago, you will find Noise to be a satisfying read and another great contribution to the body of science fiction literature known as hard science fiction.