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Camelot 30K is a science-fiction novel by Dr. Robert L. Forward.
A Kuiper Belt object is discovered in 1998, and a space probe is sent past it. Impossibly, there appears to be life on it--and what is more, at least some of it appears to be intelligent! Another probe is sent and establishes first contact with Merlene, the self-described Wizard of the city of Camalor. Camalor is one of the many cities that the keracks (their autonym) have established on Ice (their name for 1998 ZX). Eventually, a manned expedition is sent out to Ice so that the humans may have a more direct interaction with the keracks. The book is an explanation of the science and the sociology of both the keracks and the humans.
Camelot 30K provides examples of the following tropes:
- Alien Arts Are Appreciated
- All There In The Appendices
- And the Adventure Continues...: For Merlene, Hiroshi, and the cat anyway.
- Bittersweet Ending: So Camalor basically nuked itself out of existence in the name of an evolutionary imperative, Hiroshi can't go home again because if he does the stress will kill him, the ship's cat isn't used to Earth gravity so she can't either, and Merlene is all alone…but the other humans are still able to go home, and Hiroshi and Merlene are willing to try and stop the keracks from proceeding with their standard reproductive behaviors again.
- Bizarre Alien Biology: The fact that each kerack has a "soul" of uranium is just the tip of the iceberg…
- Bizarre Alien Reproduction: Basically, every single form of life on Ice is a variant of the same gene, and they all unknowingly work in concert to construct a freaking nuclear warhead to spread the lifeforms all across outer space.
- Blue and Orange Morality: Of a sort, though by the end of the book it seems that the humans might be well on their way to converting some or all of the keracks.
- Bland-Name Product:
- Encyclopedia Terra Digital.
- Cassandra Truth: Merlene is made aware of the mechanism by which life on Ice makes a big nuclear bomb in the name of species-wide reproduction. The royalty rebuff it.
- Chekhov's Gun: Literally every single facet of life on Ice.
- Creator Thumbprint
- Did Not Do the Research:
- 1998 ZX would not be a valid provisional designation for a body in the Solar System. This, however, was probably intentional, given the level of detail given to everything else.
- In-universe, the keracks' blood is a substance that is a nice liquid at Ice temperatures. Cue an attempted autopsy of a kerack body in the lander. It explodes, ruining some of the scientific equipment.
- Expy: Even the title admits that this is Arthurian legend, life, and times at a temperature of thirty degrees Kelvin. It is set in (Camalor/Camelot), (Merlin/Merlene) is the wizard. There's also (Laslot/Lancelot), among others. There's plenty of dances, a royal caste system, the state religion, artisans, farmers, the beginnings of science, skirmishes and battles for no good reason…
- Heroic BSOD: Merlene suffers from one after Camalor explodes, killing all of its keracks, including her loved ones.
- Hive Mind: All the keracks in a given city form one. One can even force the creation of a memory and extract such memories from the collective if the person who implanted the memory died.
- Idiot Ball: The scientists and engineers for the mission. One of the characters managed to smuggle a cat onboard the spacecraft, and nobody noticed. This may not sound like much, but a little mass goes a long, long way in space…especially when you're trying to travel from the Earth to the outer edges of the solar system.
- Info Dump: Many, not to mention the appendices.
- Mohs Scale of Science Fiction Hardness: Scores around about a five.
- Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: The humans give Merlene learning resources. She designs a form of crossbow that slaughters the army of the nearby city of Harvamor.
- Really Seven Hundred Years Old: Discussed by the humans as to how little sense it made for the keracks to all live for so long. Justifed by the end of the book.
- Shown Their Work
- Solid Gold Poop: And solid silver, and solid platinum, et multa cetera…
- Starfish Aliens: The keracks, definitely.
- Wham! Line: Notable for the fact that it takes an already escalating situation near the end of the book and shoots it Up to Eleven:
Rexart: You have no soul!
- What Measure Is a Non-Human?: The ending of the book is in large part an exploration of this question with reference to science and a Blue and Orange Morality.
- You Can't Go Home Again: By book's end:
- Hiroshi. The stress of launch killed him once; his ticker couldn't take it a second time.
- Lucifer, the ship's cat. It grew up in an environment with less gravity than Earth's and spent so long there that it wouldn't have been able to reädjust.
- Your Head Asplode: Or your body, if you're a kerack and you let the uranium pellet that your body contains heat your blood up too much.
- Your Normal Is Our Taboo: For the keracks, it's humans' continually uncovered mouths. For the humans, it is the openness with which the keracks defecate.