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HALF LIFE by Hal Clement

HALF LIFE

By Hal Clement

Pub Date: Sept. 8th, 1999
ISBN: 0-312-86920-7
Publisher: Tor

New science fiction from the veteran author of Still River (1987), etc. Near the end of the next century, diseases are evolving so rapidly that human survival itself is threatened. Nobody knows why, or how to tackle the problem. A low-cost expedition to examine possible pre-biotic chemistry on Saturn’s frigid, smoggy moon, Titan, may yield inspiration. Together with the sophisticated but nonsentient computer, Status, only 21 of the original 50 sickly crew members survive to reach Titan, where they soon encounter problems engendered by Titan’s unique high-pressure, low-gravity, supercold, nitrogen-hydrocarbon chemistry. Remote pilot Gene Belvew crashes his ramjet after an unexpected buildup of ammonia ice on the wings. Barn Inger dies in a grotesque accident when a chunk of water ice explodes, shattering his suit. Expedition leader Arthur Goodall, no longer able to tolerate the steadily increasing pain of his nerve disorder, descends to the surface and commits suicide, mingling human enzymes with the pre-biotic gels discovered on the surface. New leader Maria Collos picks up a tar sample that eats through her glove, so her hand must be amputated. Another weird gel actually engulfs the pseudolife labs dropped to study it. Another ramjet develops a transparent rubbery varnish that devours a wing. The varnish also dissolves Seichi Yakama’s spacesuit, and he dies by decompression. But analyses of the varnish give clues to what’s happening on Titan, and why disease is running rampant on distant Earth. Challenging problem, fascinating investigation, persuasive resolution: gripping hard SF from a veteran pro.