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Hal Clement 1922-2003

Country : Somerville, MA
Profession : Science fiction writer
Date of birth : 1922-05-30
Date of death : 2003-10-29
Cause of Death : Diabetes complications

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Harry Clement Stubbs (May 30, 1922October 29, 2003) better known by the pen name Hal Clement, was an American science fiction writer and a leader of the hard science fiction subgenre.


Stubbs was born in Somerville, Massachusetts and died in Milton, Massachusetts.

He went to Harvard, graduating with a B.S. in astronomy in 1943. While there he published his first story, "Proof", in the June 1942 issue of Astounding Science Fiction. His further educational background includes an M.Ed. (Boston University 1946) and M.S. in chemistry (Simmons College 1963).

During World War II Clement was a pilot and copilot of a B-24 Liberator and flew 35 combat missions over Europe with the 8th Air Force. After the war, he served in the United States Air Force Reserve, and retired with the rank of colonel. He taught chemistry and astronomy for many years at Milton Academy in Milton, Massachusetts.

Clement received the 1998 recognition as a Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA). In 1996 he retroactively received a 1946 Hugo Award for his short story "Uncommon Sense".

His best-known novel, Mission of Gravity (1954), is the account of a land and sea expedition across the superjovian planet Mesklin to recover a stranded scientific probe. The natives of Mesklin are centipede-like intelligent beings about 50 centimeters in length. Various episodes hinge on the fact that Mesklin's fast rotational speed causes it to be considerably deformed from the spherical, and its effective surface gravity to vary from approximately 3 gn at the equator to approximately 700 gn at the poles.

Clement's article "Whirligig World" describes his approach to writing a science fiction story:

"Writing a science fiction story is fun, not work. ... the fun... lies in treating the whole thing as a game. ... the rules must be quite simple. They are; for the reader of a science-fiction story, they consist of finding as many as possible of the author's statements or implications which conflict with the facts as science currently understands them. For the author, the rule is to make as few such slips as he possibly can ... Certain exceptions are made [e.g., to allow travel faster than the speed of light], but fair play demands that all such matters be mentioned as early as possible in the story..."

He also painted astronomically oriented artworks under the name George Richard.

Clement was a frequent guest at science fiction conventions, especially in the eastern United States, where he usually presented talks and slide shows about writing and astronomy. The Hal Clement Award for Young Adults for Excellence in Children's Science Fiction Literature is presented in his memory at Worldcon each year.

Clement died in Milton Hospital at the age of 81. He died in his sleep, most likely due to complications of diabetes.


Clement created a number of notably unusual fictional planets as settings for his works. They include:

  • Abyormen – A planet circling a dwarf star (Theer), which in turn circles a blue giant. This produces a hot and a cold season, each of 80 years' duration. The native intelligent life forms undergo a seasonal mass death. From Cycle of Fire.
  • Dhrawn – A high-gravity world settled by Mesklinites in Star Light.
  • Hekla – An ice-age planet in Cold Front (short story, Astounding July 1946).
  • Kaihapa – An uninhabited ocean planet, twin of Kainui, in Noise.
  • Kainui – A waterworld in Noise.
  • Mesklin — A "superjovian" planet with ultra-high gravity (up to 700 gs) in Mission of Gravity.
  • Tenebra – A high-gravity world with a corrosive atmosphere in Close to Critical.
  • Enigma 88 - A small planet near Eta Carinae in Still River. The interior of the object is honeycombed with caves, due to evaporation of accreted ice-rich planetoids.

Author of books:
Needle (1950, novel)
Iceworld (1953, novel)
Mission of Gravity (1954, novel)
The Ranger Boys in Space (1956, juvenile)
Cycle of Fire (1957, novel)
Close to Critical (1964, novel)
Star Light (1971, novel)
Ocean on Top (1973, novel)
Through the Eye of a Needle (1978, novel)
The Nitrogen Fix (1980, novel)
Still River (1987, novel)
Fossil (1993, novel)
Half Life (1999, novel)
Heavy Planet (2002, novel)
Noise (2003, novel)

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