Thursday, June 4, 2009

Hal Clement's "Bulge" (novelette, negative gravity): An old man handles a gang of robbers

Quote from short story titled Bulge by Hal ClementWith the exception of "Longline" (what if we share our universe with matter than cannot move slower than light?), this probably has the craziest technical premise of all Clement fiction I've read: negative gravity. Rather than staying on the surface of your world, you are actually sucked out to space!!

This also is unusual among Clement fiction in that it has actual human villains. Nature, rather than being an antagonist, makes a friendly pact with the hero.

Story makes many references to Shakespeare's work, none of which was familiar to me. Final resolution is apparently inspired by some action of a character called Brutus in Julius Caesar.

Title is used with two meanings, both of which really escaped me:

  1. "I have the bulge on you" is apparently US slang to say I have something to blackmail you with.
  2. It's also used in the context of local gravitational field that apparently bulges outwards during close-to-earth passage that causes local negative gravity.

Story summary.

An old & frail man, Mac Hoerwitz, is the sole human aboard a mile-wide asteroid that has been
converted into a nuclear fuel making factory. Factory can take any kind of matter, & turn it into nuclear fuel in a variety of grades - Class IV being the most lethal. On earth, its output is used to power all sorts of devices.

Asteroid itself, originally hauled from asteroid belt, is in a very highly elliptical orbit about earth. At its closest approach, earth's gravity dominates & begins pulling things off the surface of asteroid - inducing local negative gravity. This fact will play a key role in story resolution.

One fine day, the factory is raided by 4 armed robbers. They'll cut a finger of the old man, to convince him they mean business. They want him to manufacture 6,000 tonnes of Class IV nuclear material. They've arranged enough distractions among the owners of the factory on earth that silence from that side won't be noticed for a while.

After going through much anguish & abuse, old man will finally beat the robbers - using the negative gravity induced by close-earth approach as a weapon.

Fact sheet.

First published: If, September 1968.
Rating: A.
Related: Stories of Hal Clement.


Gwenny said...

Oh, this sounds good! I remember reading "Needle" to my sister when we were both young teens and have always been fond of Clement's work.

Tinkoo said...

Yes. Needle is one of his most accessible work.