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Noise
Hal Clement
Tor, 256 pages

Noise
Hal Clement
Hal Clement (Harry Clement Stubbs) was born in Somerville, Massachusetts, in 1922. He received his B.S. in astronomy from Harvard in 1943, an M.Ed. from Boston University in 1946 and an M.S. in chemistry from Simmons College in 1963. Upon finishing Harvard, he entered the Army Air Corps Reserve, received pilot wings and flew 35 combat missions as copilot and pilot in B-24 bombers with the 8th Air Force. Hal Clement retired from service as a full Colonel in 1976. He taught high school science for 30 years, 28 of them at Milton Academy in Milton, Massachusetts.

His first story, "Proof", appeared in the June 1942 issue of Astounding Science Fiction (now Analog) and his first novel was Needle. Since 1972, he has also painted astronomical and science fiction art as George Richard.

ISFDB Bibliography
SF Site Review: Half Life
Hal Clement Tribute Site

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Steve Lazarowitz

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I had the honor of meeting Mr. Clement several times at different science fiction conventions in Boston. I found him to be intelligent, soft-spoken and gracious enough to spend time talking with a greenhorn like me. I had never taken the time to read a Hal Clement novel, though I always wanted to. Noise was released in October, 2003. Shortly after, Hal Clement passed away, leaving behind a hard science fiction legacy few authors could match. One of the many reasons he was awarded the title of Grand Master by the Science Fiction Writers of America.

Noise is, without a doubt, the hardest science fiction book I've ever read. From what I can tell (and I'm no scientist), the science is impeccable. The setup is fascinating in and of itself, which is a good thing, because the plot would build too slowly under other circumstances.

Noise takes place on a planet called Kainui, a world settled by descendants of the Polynesian cultures of Earth. The world is a water-world, boasting not even a single land mass. The atmosphere of Kainui is heavy on carbon dioxide and no fun to breathe. Constant thunder makes communication so difficult that most of the natives speak "finger," a very advanced form of sign language. Cities, and the ships that sail between them, are proto-life, grown by the inhabitants from seeds. "Fish" are grown and set loose in the acidic oceans, each with the job of collecting a different metal. These fish are later found and mined by traders who spend most of their lives on the seas.

The protagonist is Mike Hoani, a linguist from Earth working on a thesis on Polynesian languages. Part of his problem is that cities on the planet don't have a fixed location, they simply float around, generally in the same latitude. His trip on one of the trading vessels will depend on the skill and knowledge of the captain to be able to survive long enough to find the city again. There are more dangers in the oceans of Kainui than just pirates. Water spouts, storms, or any number of things that can damage the four-layer thick ship's skin.

The crew consists of the Captain, her husband and Ao, a child belonging to another family. On Kainui, families don't generally take their own children to sea. This is an interesting cultural phenomenon in itself, but makes sense from a sociological point of view.

I found the book to be interesting and well thought out. The only problem I had was a lack of tension early on in the book. I never really felt the crew was in danger, though several mysteries were laid out early in the book held my interest long enough to get to the main conflict of the book. The books I generally read have more action up front, so the fault here might not lie so much with the story as with the reader.

The science, as stated before, is detailed and impeccable. Any fan of hard science fiction will greatly appreciate the attention to detail. Some of it was actually over my head, though I got the gist of it.

I would highly recommend Noise to fans of hard science fiction in general and Hal Clement in particular. As a person who has read very little in that particular subgenre, once the conflict began I enjoyed the book. Getting to that point won't be for everybody.

Copyright © 2005 Steve Lazarowitz

Steve Lazarowitz is a speculative fiction writer, an editor, a father, a husband, an animal lover and a heck of a nice guy (not necessarily in that order). Steve lives in Moonah, Tasmania with his family and four giant spiny leaf insects. You can check out his work at http://www.dream-sequence.net.


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