You know: in a foolish, undiscriminating way, I've been happy these last few months. I don't know why. I just am. I love my friends; I love my pupils; I love what I read; I -- dammit -- love my thoughts. I love the taste of oranges.
Thornton Wilder in a letter to Gertrude Stein, Aug 14, 1936

Thursday, September 15, 2011


Needle (Needle, #1)Needle by Hal Clement

Hal Clement had a fifty year career in sf and was made a Science Fiction Writer of America Grand Master in 1999.

Needle (1950) was his first published novel and it suffers the dubious fate of containing so many new sf elements that they have become standards of the medium over time. Two aliens, one good, one bad, crash onto Earth, The good alien, Hunter, is after the criminal alien and yes this is roughly the plot of Critters along with many lesser sf movies and books. Just the other night I decided not to watch something called Alien Hunter which I suspect had a similar plot.

These aliens are gelatinous beings that must find a host organism for survival. They exist cooperatively with their host, doing generally good things for its immune system and such, although they are also capable of killing it in a variety of ways. The good alien, Hunter, enters the body of a fifteen-year-old boy and is ready to track down his prey, but finds himself transported from the research island in the South Pacific where he landed to a boys boarding school in Massachusetts. Bob, the alien's host, gets on well with his new bodily resident and manages to leave school and return to the South Pacific so the hunt can proceed.

If published today, Needle would be YA fiction. It's dated. The world of Booth Tarkington is in its past, but the spirit of the Hardy Boys makes itself felt. Everyone rides bicycles, wears swimming outfits, and they organize their days around returning home in time for dinner. Various of Bob's friends are suspects, and clearing them of potential possession drags on for the middle third of the book. This gets a little boring. Also, I am not particularly good at this sort of thing, but I guessed where the bad alien was hiding out just by deciding which character would offer the biggest payoff for a finale.

Clement's strengths, as in Mission of Gravity, his only other novel I have read, is working with alien psychology, alien/human interaction, and those scenes where the alien acts like an alien. Clement returned to these characters almost thirty years later, and even as unengaging as I found much of this novel, I am curious to see what he does with them a second time around.

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