Dani Zweig's Belated Reviews : archive

Belated Reviews #5: Clifford Simak

Clifford Simak's science fiction career spanned close to half a century, with his best-known work appearing in the forties, fifties, and sixties. His work stands up better today than that of most early sf writers. Simak is as likely as any of his contemporaries to have bug-eyed monsters land on Earth, but *his* BEMs would probably land in rural Minnesota, and end up discussing their difficulties with some locals over a large stack of pancakes. Simak's sf uses technology, but unlike that of many of his contemporaries, it isn't *about* technology. Star ships or genetic engineering might causethe central problem of a book, but the story itself would be about ordinary people dealing with that problem. And the story would be written with a skill which most of the same contemporaries (to put it bluntly) lacked. Among Simak's better-known books are:

Way Station (****). Enoch Wallace is a recluse, keeping to himself, except for regular short walks. His neighbors are used to these walks. After all, he's been taking them since he came back from the Civil War. It's harder, than it used to be, though, to mind one's own business and be left alone, and eventually his longevity is noticed in Washington. Investigators find that the family plot has one grave more than it should -- and that the one buried in it isn't human. The investigators couldn't know that the kin of the deceased would notice that the grave was disturbed.

Time is the Simplest Thing (****-). In the world of the near-future, telepaths search the stars for beings from whom they can acquire new technologies and ideas. There is always the risk of coming back changed. Shepherd Blaine is one of the top explorers, until the day he telepathically encounters a friendly creature who says "Hi pal, I trade with you my mind." On his return, he decides not to wait around for his employers to find out that he's 'gone alien', and flees into the wider world, in which paranormals are feared and hated by the normal majority.

City (***) is a set of linked short stories. The title is that of the first story, which sets the stage -- a world where high technology and plenty have made cities obsolete. Subsequent stories introduce a family which has created and nurtured genetically-engineered intelligent dogs. When most of humanity abandons Earth, the dogs stay to inherit. Other players in this saga are a mutant branch of humanity that takes its own path, a disturbingly intelligent colony of ants, and the robot who is present over the centuries spanned by these stories. Most of the stories were written between 1944 and 1951, with an epilogue appearing in 1973.

The Werewolf Principle (***+) features Andrew Blake, a space explorer who returns to Earth after an absence of centuries. Only, the Andrew Blake who returns discovers within himself the capacity to turn into two alien creatures from his travels. His hosts find this disconcerting.

Many of Simak's books are closer to the fantasy side of the fence, including The Goblin Reservation (**), which is about what the title implies, and Out of Their Minds (**), an amusing novel in which our myths and fairy tales take objective reality.


Standard introduction and disclaimer for Belated Reviews

Dani Zweig