Cycle of Fire

by Hal Clement
Reviewed date: 2006 Sep 3
Rating: 4
185 pages
cover art

A deep-space exploration vessel accidentally leaves Nils Kruger stranded on the planet Abyormen. A unique planet, Abyormen circles a dim red sun which in turn orbits a hot, blue sun. Kruger quickly discovers that Abyormen is entering the hot phase of its orbit around the blue sun, and unless he can reach the polar icecaps he will die.

While trekking towards the pole, Kruger rescues a native. Dar Lang Ahn, the native Abyormenian, is on his way to the icecap for his appointed time of death. Kruger and Dar learn enough of each other's languages to communicate, and decide to proceed on together. As they travel, Kruger teaches Dar as much technology and science as he can; Dar, in turn, teaches Kruger about Abyormen. Their communication is difficult and marked by misunderstandings, but it emerges that Dar's people expect to die a mass death within a few Earth months, when the temperature grows too warm. Thereafter, during the hot period, the planet will be peopled by another race of creatures. When the planet cools again, the hot race will die and Dar's race will be reborn.

Cycle of Fire is a top-notch example of the world-building subgenre of science fiction. Hal Clement creates a detailed, plausible alien world, and packages the explanation of the world in an entertaining (if not entirely believable) story. Dar Lang Ahn's character is underdeveloped, but that is understandable because he is an alien; the story is told from a human point of view, and humans will never understand Dar. Kruger is a stock character, which is to the story's detriment. However, the world of Abyormen is developed in startling detail, and that, after all, is what world-building science fiction is all about.

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