‘Surface Tension’ by James Blish
I’ve read this before, right? Or have I just read Stephen Baxter’s version? He did one, right?
Anyway, this is a stone cold classic, both of science fiction and hard SF. A small group of colonists crash land on a planet with is almost entirely covered in water. They know they are going to die, they take this in their stride and they seed the planet with a microscopic version of humanity. Many years later this new form of humanity reaches for the stars.
The hard SF path of heroic endeavour is all here: the universe is a harsh, unforgiving vacuum; up by his bootstraps; per ardua ad astra; etc, etc. ‘Surface Tension’ also reconfigures the familar (the story takes place in a small puddle) into the utterly alien. A joy to read and larded with enough of Blish’s professional background in microbiology to skim of any holes in the plausibility of the scenario.