Geographic Connection to Pennsylvania: University Park, Centre County
Science fiction novelist Hal Clement wrote Needle (1950) and Mission of Gravity (1954).
Harry Clement Stubbs, born in Massachusetts in 1922 took on an early interest in science and science fiction. Graduating from Harvard and becoming a member of the Army Air Corps Reserve in which he retired as a Colonel, Clement wrote many short stories and novels including his best work, Mission of Gravity. Clement taught high school for 42 years and remained an active author for his life. Hal Clement passed away in his sleep in Massachusetts in 2003.
Harry Clement Stubbs, also known as Hal Clement (his pen name) was born on May 30, 1922 in Somerville, Massachusetts. Clement grew up in greater Boston, attending schools in Arlington and Cambridge. Clement was fascinated with science and science fiction from an early age. In 1930, he saw a Buck Rogers comic strip, featuring a space ship en route to Mars. Like an innocent and curious child, he had many questions about what he saw which he posed to his father who was unable to answer him. His father took him to the library from which he returned with an astronomy book under one arm and Jules Verne’s Trip to the Moon under the other. Clement graduated high school from Rindge Tech in 1939 with his science and science fiction interests still intact.
Clement attended the prestigious Harvard University and graduated in 1943 with a BS in astronomy which he took a great interest in, shaping the accurate knowledge he later infused his science fiction novels with. He also attended Boston University (1946) and Simmons College receiving a MEd and MS in chemistry (1963) respectively.
With World War II affecting the lives of everyone across the world, Clement was affected as well. He entered the Army Air Corps Reserves after graduating from Harvard (prior to obtaining the two aforementioned degrees) In late 1943, Clement came to the Penn State University campus to take a course in meteorology. Science Fiction expert Fred Ramsey recalls Clement speaking fondly of his time in Pennsylvania, saying that he and his newly-married wife regarded it as their honeymoon. In March 1944, Clement received his pilot’s wings and a lieutenant’s commission at Steward Field, New York. He was no stranger to the sky and flew 35 combat missions as copilot and pilot in B-24 bombers with the 8th Air Force. Clement had not been on active duty his whole time in the army, but in 1951 he was recalled to it. He spent eight months as a squadron executive officer at Bolling Air Force Base and sixteen months as a technical instructor at the Armed Forces Special Weapons School in Sandia Base, New Mexico. He retired from the service as a full colonel in 1976.
After college, Clement started writing and his first published work, Proof, appeared in the June 1942 issue of Astounding Science Fiction magazine. His first novel came shortly thereafter in 1949 when he was in the army. Needle is a novel about an alien race whose members live in symbiosis inside other races. One member of this race, the Hunter, comes to Earth in search of a fugitive. The tale concerns his search for the Fugitive, a search like finding a needle in a haystack.
A short four years later was when his greatest work Mission of Gravity came out. This is a science fiction novel about the account of a land and sea expedition across the superjovian planet Mesklin to recover a stranded scientific probe. In his own words, Clement describes his writing in an article he wrote entitled Whirligig World by saying,
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...
His interest in science and science fiction in conjunction with his knowledge of them therefore provided entertaining yet at the same time very real stories. Clement therefore has a large following of fans which is supported by his success as a science fiction writer and critics are often warm towards him. In regards to Clement’s book Noise, Lazarowitz of sfsite.com states that “The science, as stated before, is detailed and impeccable. Any fan of hard science fiction will greatly appreciate the attention to detail.” Clement created new worlds, new planets, describing magnificent yet accurately real universes in his works.
Right before the publishing of his biggest work, Clement married Mary Elizabeth Myers in 1952. They had two sons, George and Richard, and one daughter, Christine. While writing, he taught high school science for forty years, two in a public school and 38 at Milton Academy in Milton Massachusetts, from which he retired in 1987. Stanley Schmidt of Analog Science Fiction & Fact writes that Clement “generated just as much enthusiasm for the sciences through his writings as in the classroom.” He has served the New England Association of Chemistry Teachers as a Division Chairman and president. Since 1972, he has also painted astronomical and science-fiction art as George Richard. Clement received the 1998 recognition as a Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America (SFWA).
According to the January 2004 issue of the Chronicle, on October 29, 2003 Hal Clement died in his sleep, aged 81, most likely due to complications of diabetes.
Needle. New York: Doubleday, 1950.
Iceworld. New York: Gnome Press, 1953.
Mission of Gravity. New York: Doubleday Press Inc, 1954.
Close to Critical. New York: Del Ray Books, 1964.
Star Light. New York: Ballantine Books, 1971.
The Nitrogen Fix. New York: Ace Books, 1980.
Half Life. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1999.
Noise. New York: Tom Doherty Associates, 2003.
Anonymous. “Obituaries: Hal Clement.” Chronicle. 1 Jan. 2004: 29.