Review: Space Lash by Hal Clement

This originally appeared on my old site on 2014-05-06. Other than changes related to reformatting and correcting typos, it’s unchanged.

Cover of Space Lash

Date: December 1969 (originally January 1969 as Small Changes)
Format: Paperback
Cat#: 8039
Pages: 206
Price: $0.60
Publisher: Dell (originally Doubleday)
Contents (modified from IFSDB):

Page Title Year Cat Var.Title
7 Dust Rag 1956 short story
27 Sun Spot 1960 short story Sunspot
49 Uncommon Sense 1946 short story
66 “Trojan Fall” 1944 short story Trojan Fall
80 Fireproof 1949 short story
96 Halo 1952 novelette
113 The Foundling Stars 1966 short story
128 Raindrop 1965 novelette
175 The Mechanic 1966 novelette

Dust Rag” is a tale of electrostatic dust difficulty on the moon and is a classic-style problem story, as are most of the tales. “Sun Spot” involves a scientific observation mission based on (in) a comet as it approaches the sun. “Uncommon Sense” is an especially clever tale of a man whose two villainous assistants are trying to maroon him on an alien world. Acute observation and scientific understanding of the fascinating indigenous life forms come into play. ““Trojan Fall”” (don’t ask me why the title is pre-quoted) is an unusual tale in that the focal character is a bad guy. It deals with orbital mechanics. “Fireproof” takes the more usual perspective of the good guys trying to deal with a bad guy who doesn’t understand the interactions of fire, atmosphere, and gravity. “Halo” involves some very unusual alien farmers and indicates we might not appreciate our asteroid belt enough. “The Foundling Stars” features broadly similar aliens but in the context of two human scientists trying to prove that stellar formation is or is not a purely random result or requires a particular process to account for varying densities. This perhaps does the best job of directly portraying the scientific endeavor. “Raindrop” is perhaps the most elaborate tale in the collection, being about a bunch of comets being gathered up, melted down, and turned into a giant water balloon in space, in which our two workers and their new genetically modified bosses get into conflict – underwater in space! John Varley’s “Blue Champagne” (1981) has some similarities to this one. And the collection concludes with “Mechanic” in which Clement does cyberpunk ’66! An ocean-going vessel has an accident made all the more horrific by the calm, clinical, precise tone in which it is described in great detail. The cyberpunk of this story comes from the fact that humans are developing artificial life that blurs the division between machine and organism (a la Moya in Farscape) and medical science has gotten to the point where it blurs the division between organism and machine. The three major movements are getting to know folks and their activities before the accident, the accident itself, and then the last third deals with the humans in the repair shop after the accident.

One of the recurring features of these stories is that Clement just dives right in – the stories are not deliberately obfuscated – rather they end up being quite clear – but it sometimes takes a few pages for the reader to get his bearings, producing excellent sfnal cognitive dissonance followed by the sensation of learning and finally knowing. Also, Clement is not generally given much credit for characterization (as is the case with almost all critics and hard SF writers) but he’s actually quite good at producing individuals by concisely detailing their different experiences, areas of expertise, expectations of causes and effects, and reactions to them. It’s not a “tell me about your childhood” characterization on one hand or a “this guy talks with a funny accent” characterization on the other, but serves to populate each tale with distinct individuals who nevertheless serve a social/archetypal purpose. Unfortunately, the greatest weakness in these tales is that, while well and logically plotted in most senses, the overall arc usually ends in some anticlimactic twist, or so it seemed to me. Some might react to this as a classic “ah, you got me – nice fresh perspective or humorous element” but I reacted more along the lines of “huh, well, the main story was great up to that point, but at least the ending doesn’t ruin anything even if it doesn’t finish it off with an ascending bang.”

Be all that as it may, I very much enjoyed the collection and it indicates that, while Ballantine’s The Best of Hal Clement (1979) did a fine job in collecting the best (taking “Dust Rag” and “Uncommon Sense” from this collection), it still didn’t have room for everything (at least “Raindrop”, “The Mechanic”, the fairly short “Sun Spot”, and possibly even “Halo”/”The Foundling Stars”) and this is a worthwhile supplement. It appears to be very purposefully arranged, too – I liked all the stories (perhaps “Trojan Fall” was my least favorite) but the first three and last two are the strongest, so that the middle is okay but it starts and ends very well.

Links: 2019-09-17

Site News

  • This re-starts the ever-popular “Links” posts. (I deleted the rest because there was so little of anything else left that they made the site look like a “Links” site though the fact that they would have required a lot of detailed editing in the Science Fiction sections also wasn’t appealing. But I still like doing them. Sort of.)

Science Fiction

  • Simak’s “All the Traps of Earth” | Futures Past and Present
  • The Peace-Loving Military Robots’ Plot – (PKD.)
  • In Memoriam – Katherine MacLean – SFWA. I really like her collection The Trouble with You Earth People and I love her collection The Diploids. I also really like her novel Missing Man and I love the novella of the same name which makes up the bulk of it.
  • Should they rename the Tiptree Award, too? / Boing Boing. It never ends. I like the way this takes for granted that they, in fact, should have renamed the Campbell. I also like the way “both narratives fit the story.” So we will take it upon ourselves to pick the least charitable and judge her guilty over three decades after the fact with no evidence. Because we are the pure, the righteous, the omniscient ones. Who cares if she was one of the greatest SF short story writers ever? Who cares if maybe we should feel sympathy that her life ended in great tragedy as her husband wanted to die and she couldn’t live without him or with what she had to do? No. We know she was a murderer and an unperson.

    So who’s next? Shirley Jackson smoked. What a horrible role-model. Ted Sturgeon was worse: in addition to smoking, he was a member of an all-male club. PKD used drugs and his drug-addled visions probably contribute to the opioid crisis. Cordwainer Smith was a right-winger. Arthur C. Clarke was gay and that used to get you jailed rather than honored. Maybe it will again someday. And he was still a white male and British so, y’know: imperialist. (Bram Stoker actually explicitly was.) Chesley Bonestell designed the Plymouth Rock memorial which, as we know, is all about slavery and genocide. Ray Bradbury? “In young adulthood Bradbury read stories published in Astounding Science Fiction, and read everything by Robert A. Heinlein, Arthur C. Clarke, and the early writings of Theodore Sturgeon and A. E. van Vogt.” Another “fucking fascist.” And all these people were white and all male except Jackson and all published in Astounding except Smith, Jackson and, of course, Stoker. So rename all the awards. None of these people did anything worth honoring.






We lost two more. To be honest, the only Eddie Money song I really like is below, but I like it a lot. And Ric Ocasek (who wrote most everything, played guitar, and sang lead on most tracks (including the one below) and the Cars produced a lot of really good stuff.

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