Story summary.Life on earth has been failing for 2 centuries. More new diseases are springing up faster than cures can be found. And it's not restricted to humans - a lot of (all?) earth-life seems to be affected. Human population is far below its twentieth century levels, & pretty much everyone is badly sick.
In an ultimately disparate move, a project is launched to understand pre-life: "Fill the information gaps between the mineral & biological worlds." To this end, a group of 50 individuals is sent to Titan - almost certainly a one way trip since most are terminally sick, as is much of the general population. It's hoped that Titan might harbor the beginnings of life, & we just might figure something about the chemical basis of life to have hope in future.
Of the 50 adventurers, less than 2 dozen will survive till their station in orbit around Titan is set up. A few more will die through the story.
Most of the story is the various individuals' adventures on Titan, a good part dealing with not uncommon local surface structures that are clearly not alive but that can sense "food" (in some sense), can slowly move towards it, & eventually "consume" it. By the end of the story, the group will have a promising hypothesis for future research that just might hold hope for the mankind's future...
- "An earlier version of Half Life was originally published in four installments in the fine SF magazine Harsh Mistress/Absolute Magnitude in 1994 and 1995".
- Arthur Clarke's "Before Eden": Discovery of a far more advanced but still prelife in high altitudes of Venus.
Fact sheet.First published: 1999.
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Related: Stories of Hal Clement (annotated selection of some of his good stories).