A Rediscovery of Clifford D. Simak - A Reading Challenge


Luddite Curmudgeon
Jul 26, 2012
Auckland, NZ
There have been a few threads on Clifford D. Simak over the years, though not much for about 6 years, according to my searching, and a recent thread on forgotten and near-forgotten SF authors brought his name up a number of times. I thought it would be nice to read (or re-read) some Simak books to get to know his output better and help me to rediscover him myself. Partly because it seems all wrong that someone who made such an impression on the filed should be read so little these days.

So, for those who aren’t so familiar with Simak, who was he? Well, he was the 3rd SF Grand Master, as voted by the Science Fiction Writers of America in 1977, and he won 3 Hugos, a Nebula and a Locus Award for his work. He was born in 1904 and wrote throughout the golden age; his first published story appeared in Wonder Stories in 1931 and he published up to his death in 1988. Of interest to me is that he was a considerable influence on Asimov, who said Simak was his favourite SF author. Asimov noted that he loved Simak’s clear style and it helped shape Asimov’s writing.

Little of Simak’s output is still available in print form (which I much prefer over e-books), so I have been acquiring some old Simak books from used book stores to read. I’ve come up with a list of books, some of which that I intend to read. Extollager, J-Sun and hitmouse have already made suggestions in the Sept 2014 ‘what are you reading thread’ and these have been very helpful in determining what the best books might be to try. The following list is quite lengthy now, but it includes those books I already own, that I’ve ordered or that come recommended, so I will be seeking them out over time.

Cosmic Engineers [1950 novel; 1939 serial]
City [1952] (got it, needs a re-read)
Ring Around the Sun [1953] (need to source this, lost my copy 30 years ago)
Time is the Simplest Thing [1961]
All the Traps of Earth [1962 Coll.]
Way Station [1963] (ordered it)
All Flesh is Grass [1965] (ordered it)
The Werewolf Principle [1967]
Goblin Reservation [1968]
Destiny Doll [1971] (own it, not yet read)
Cemetery World [1973] (currently reading)
Shakespeare’s Planet [1976]
Catface [1978]
Special Deliverance [1982]

I’ll post brief thoughts about some of these books on this thread, and if anyone else wants to join in the Simak fun (reading any book of course, not just from my list), please post here too so we can get a collection of brief reviews and comments on this rather overlooked author. The title thread suggests a reading challenge, and I think it would be great if others do read some Simak, but I’m not exactly a disciplined reader myself, so if we don’t all read 10 books I won’t be disappointed! I do intend on reading 6 books over the next couple of months though, and that’s the challenge I’ve set myself first off, and once I’ve knocked those off I may set up a second challenge after a short break.

As you can see from the list above, I’ve already started with “Cemetery World” and I’ll post on that shortly. It’s from 1973, so I’m already doing badly as far as chronology goes, so perhaps reading in order isn’t that important to me.
I think I have almost all of those books -- I'll have to check at home. I know I have City, All the Traps of Earth, Way Station, All Flesh is Grass, The Werewolf Principle, Goblin Reservation, Cemetery World, Shakespeare's Planet, and Special Deliverance -- or at least I'm nearly certain of all of those.

My mother collected Simak, as one of her favorite authors, and of course my own partiality is evident in my name. :D

I'm still on my Harrington re-read binge, but I'll see if I can start on the Simak after that. I'd been meaning to, anyway.
Sounds good Dusty - the perspective of a fan returning to Simak after some time would be good to hear. For most of these books, they will be new to me. Given his standing at one time and Asimov's praise I've always harboured a sense of guilt over not reading him more.

For those interested: "The Dusty Zebra" was a novellete that appeared in Galaxy, Sept 1954, and was collected in The Worlds of Clifford D. Simak book in 1960. This collection should probably be in the list too, to be fair.
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This is a good incentive to go through some of the notable Simak novels that I have missed. He is easy to source, often for pennies, from ebay or Abebooks, or through fantasticfiction
I'm in. I'm setting myself the easy goal of reading or rereading at least three of his books this year, from this list of books on hand or on order:

Time and Again
Ring Around the Sun
Way Station
Time Is the Simplest Thing
The Werewolf Principle
The Worlds of Clifford Simak
I've checked my collection, and I have:

Time and Again
Out of Their Minds
Project Pope
Heritage of Stars
The Goblin Reservation
Shakespeare's Planet
Cemetery World
The Visitors
Special Deliverance
Why Call Them Back from Heaven?
They Walked Like Men
Destiny Doll
Our Children's Children
All Flesh is Grass
The Fellowship of the Talisman

I cannot find Way Station and City, which I swear I not only have, but have in the Easton Press leather editions. They have to be here somewhere, but I didn't find them. And, stupidly, I still do not have the collection with my namesake story. :rolleyes:
Book 1: Cemetery World - Novel, 1973

This was perhaps a strange choice* for first book in my Simak reading challenge, as it is neither one of his well known novels, nor from his most acclaimed period, which is arguably the 1950's and 1960's. That said, it is written with Simak's particular style and it was a pleasant way of reintroducing me to the author. It typically shows off Simak's clear prose and rather spare dialogue. It's certainly a refreshing style and overall I very much enjoyed reading the book. Although this novels has its flaws (which I'll go into in a bit), it does provide a sense of wonder by not revealing or explaining everything. It leaves a lot to the imagination, and a sense of strangeness pervades the book. In plot, the book concerns an artist going back to Earth with robot companions 10,000 years after nuclear holocaust. Earth in this time is predominantly run by The Cemetery, the organisation that runs the cemetery, which is now the primary purpose of the planet. However, The Cemetery are up to no good, and exploit various 'back-to-basics' human tribes to cause problems for our heroes. It's a nice idea, although the introduction of a time travel device in the second half of the book didn't quite work for me. I felt this was slightly clunky and didn't sit especially well with the preceding plot. That said, I think Simak did a pretty good job layering ideas and concepts. I certainly wouldn't criticise it for lack of depth or consideration. I found the ideas that Simak plays with, concerning the wisdom of seeking the past and the meaning or importance of memory, to be interesting. So, for style and interest it scores well, for the overall satisfaction of the plot, a little less well. I'll reserve judgement on whether to recommend it to others until I've read more.

Now on to Book 2 in the challenge for me: City.

* I chose it first as it was immediately to hand and I wanted to get cracking.
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I read "Way Station" and really enjoyed it only to follow with "City" that I really didn't enjoy and that's put me off reading anything else by him. At least I've been made a lot more wary...
"Way Station" was the first SF novel I read, I was about 8 or 9 at the time, Nuneaton Library had a good SF section.
Always been a big fan of Simak, read lots of his short stories & novels, think my all time favourite is his Hugo winning s/s "The Big Front Yard".
Hmmm... I think I need to head to the second hand bookshops in search of some of these titles. I've not read much Simak and what I have read is only dimly remembered short stories.
Looks like I'm playing. (Bick, you're messing up my reading order. ;)) The nearest used bookstore has had Project Pope for awhile and I kept seeing it and thinking about recovering it but not getting it. This rediscovery idea encouraged me to go ahead and get it to refresh my memory. And I had picked up Time and Again awhile ago more because it was a very old Ace paperback in very good condition for very little money more than any other reason and it was low in the Pile, but I may go ahead and read that sooner than I expected, too. Can't say I'll do any other re-reading (or not) but I'll do this much. (I was still not finished with my issue of Analog when I opened up Project Pope just to see how the first couple of pages went. While the Prologue didn't grab me immediately, I kept going on to Chapter One and ended up on page 21 before I made myself go back to the magazine. Good sign so far.)
I might be down for this as summer's bisyness wanes into a restful winter. I'm a long term fan; but most of the Simak collection is in the auxiliary library in the barn; most of which has succumbed to a certain moldiness. It'll be interesting to see what's still readable.

Destiny Doll was my first Simak, thirty five years ago. Mind blowing weird for the bestiary, alone. Along with Cordwainer Smith, among the weirdest stuff I've ever loved.

I loved how Simak would start out with an ordinary, plausible scenario, then introduce an element of bizarre; then roll along and roll along until the reader was comfortable, then throw in a new bizarrity. Things just get weirder and weirder.

There's a fresh, new-used copy of Destiny Doll in the house. I reread it, oh, ten years ago; it hadn't quite the same impact, but still good.

My favorite scene in Fellowship of the Talisman is the blatant homage to HPL in that certain scene in an overgrown tomb in a deep dark forest.


No mention yet of The Big Front Yard. One of my favorites.

But then we'd have to hunt up a collection of shorts.... Hmmm.. I don't recollect the Dusty Zebra, by title. 't'd be a pity if I missed it.

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I have just started All Our Children's Children, which has sat unread for several years. So far so amusing, but does not yet strike a familiar Simak chord.
BigBadBob mentioned it. I have it in The Hugo Winners I, the SF Hall of Fame IIB, and The Great SF Stories 20 but, strangely, don't recall it well. All I can say is that it has vaguely positive connotations.
"The Big Front Yard" is a fairly gentle, interesting and optimistic first contact story.
I would say the way the aliens establish first contact on earth is pretty much unique.
It was a Hugo winner which is where I came across it in one of the Hugo collections.
I don't know if it's in any of Simak's short story collections, re-read it recently and still greatly enjoyed it.
Does anyone know -- is it pronounced "SYE=mak" or "SEE-mak" -- or "Simmak"?
Its great to see so much interest in this, and I'm glad to see so many are going to "join in". I'm sorry to muck up the reading order of the tbr pile though, J-Sun! Regarding two books or stories mentioned above - the short story 'The Big Front Yard' certainly sounds like something I should read, but believe it or not, I've looked and I don't think I have it collected, so that's another thing I need to hunt. I was interested to see you're a fan of 'Destiny Doll', Alex - this is one that I already have on the shelf, so I may end up reading it shortly out of order, so to speak, unless some of the more famous works I've ordered arrive in the next couple of days.

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