Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Hal Clement's "Raindrop" (novella, farming): Exploring a weird artificial world

Background is an over populated earth; even the seas are mostly occupied by floating artificial cities. So little sunlight reaches the surface - even at sea. Too many people, too few farms. So, why not build farms in the sky! Raindrop, of title, is the first such experimental farm in the earth orbit.

Farm itself is a huge globe of water, collected from ... asteroids? ... I forget; one of those heavenly bodies. Initially contained in an artificial skin; later replaced with genetically engineered algae that love the sunny surface & quickly heal any tears created by micro-meteors.

A lot of genetically engineered weeds & microbes have been introduced here; & they keep quickly evolving. A little station exists just below surface, entered through an airlock, that also has entry into water below. Silbert is the only permanently resident employee, & he tries to spend most of his time up in a space station in a geosynchronous orbit a half mile above Raindrop.

Adventure in the story is provided by Aino Weisanen, one of the private owners of the Company that recently purchased Raindrop from government, & wants to convert it into a city from original farm. He's here with his pregnant wife Brenda, & an assistant Bresnahan.

These 3, accompanied by Silbert, will go exploring the dark interior of Raindrop in a specially built vehicle; that's where they intend to build their home. An altercation & we have stranded people in core & a hopeless rescue effort. Of course, all ends well.


Story features two curious gadgets I've not seen in fiction before:
  1. Adventurers are stranded deep inside the dark Raindrop interior, with no clue of direction towards surface. How to they go? They throw a bubble; because of low gravity, it moves slowly, but still surely towards to surface where pressure is less!
  2. Transport from Raindrop to orbiting station is unusual. While going from station to raindrop, they just jump (I think, but am not sure). While returning, jump is still possible because of very low gravity, but station presents a very tiny target; if you miss it, you'll go out to empty space. So men on surface can ask the station to deploy a sort of foldable net-cum-ladder; you jump towards the net, & then do some gymnastics to reach the station.

Fact sheet.

First published: If, May 1965.
Rating: A. 
Related: Stories of Hal Clement.