Hal Clement, the dean of hard science fiction, has written a new planetary adventure in the tradition of his classic Mission of Gravity. It is the kind of story that made his reputation as a meticulous designer of otherworldly settings that are utterly convincing because they are constructed from the ground up using established principles of orbital mechanics, geology, chemistry, biology, and other sciences.
Kainui is one of a pair of double planets circling a pair of binary stars. Mike Hoani has come there to study the language of the colonists, to analyze its evolution in the years since settlement. But Kainui is an ocean planet. Although settled by Polynesians, it is anything but a tropical paradise. The ocean is 1,700 miles deep, with no solid ground anywhere. The population is scattered in cities on floating artificial islands with no fixed locations. The atmosphere isn't breathable, and lightning, waterspouts, and tsunamis are constant. Out on the great planetary ocean, self-sufficiency is crucial, and far from any floating city, on a small working-family ship, anything can happen. There are, for instance, pirates. Mike's academic research turns into an exotic nautical adventure unlike anything he could have imagined.
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In SFWA Grand Master Clement's ponderous hard-SF think-piece set several millennia in the future, historian and anthropologist Mike Hoani joins the crew of a metal-scavenging catamaran on the planet Kainui. A water-covered world circling a binary star system, Kainui is far from a tropical paradise colonists must wear pressure suits in the poisonous atmosphere and must don further protective gear when working in the salty and corrosive seawater. The planet's Maori-descended colonists live a nomadic existence, traveling about by boat or on one of the planet's anchorless floating cities. Hoani participates in the sea-mining operations of the good ship Malolo, while studying the odd culture of child-swapping among Kainui's nomadic couples. After a mass of gelatinous human-made "pseudo-life" nearly sinks the ship, Hoani and the Malolo's crew discover a new form of secreted iron that has arisen from a mutation of the illegally "hacked" life form. Centuries of human technology is transforming Kainui, and, for better or worse, the colonists must find ways to adapt. Clement follows the blueprint of his classic 1954 novel, A Mission of Gravity a dramatic extrapolation of conditions within an extraterrestrial environment but here fails to develop much of a plot in the midst of exposition-laden dialogue and prose that veers unpleasantly close to a turgid science lesson. Clement is unsurpassed in the exacting detail of his settings, however, and for many fans this may prove satisfaction enough.