A Rediscovery of Clifford D. Simak - A Reading Challenge

Bick

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Book 7: All Flesh is Grass - Novel, 1965

This novel comes from Simak's very productive 1960's, an era that I'm beginning to think of as my favourite from the author. In this time period he wrote serious minded, well crafted novels. I've really enjoyed later books from the 1970's, but he had become a bit more light-hearted and playful in his plots by then. From 1961 through 1965, however, all the books I've read have been excellent. The main plot idea of All Flesh is Grass may sound familiar: an invisible forcefield dome appears over a small town in rural America, trapping the inhabitants inside. Stephen King wrote a recent tome with the same premise of course ("Under the Dome") and its impossible to imagine King hadn't heard of, or read, this book, so similarly do they start. Funnily enough, my wife was reading the King book when I started this, and I looked up and said, "You wont believe this...".

As an introduction to Simak, this novel would serve a reader well, as it delivers on all the themes for which he is best known: the small town semi-rural setting, our connection and interdependence with nature, the sudden appearance of aliens who come to us rather than us having to jet off to find them, the story focus on a normal 'everyman' protagonist and an extreme inventiveness. Simak often seems to present a story that at first is local in its geography and importance, and then later on he reveals a cosmic importance to his plot. This was the case I felt with Way Station and it is the case here too. Its probably closest to Way Station of all the books I've read of his in tone and ideas, too, so if you liked that, you should like this. I felt it was strong novel and I'd certainly recommend it. It's an awful lot shorter than Stephen King's take on the premise too!

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I'm reading a non-Simak tome at the moment, but I'll try to sneak in some short stories over the next few weeks to keep the Simak ball rolling. Anyone else reading any Simak presently?
 

hitmouse

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Book 7: All Flesh is Grass - Novel, 1965

This novel comes from Simak's very productive 1960's, an era that I'm beginning to think of as my favourite from the author. In this time period he wrote serious minded, well crafted novels. I've really enjoyed later books from the 1970's, but he had become a bit more light-hearted and playful in his plots by then. From 1961 through 1965, however, all the books I've read have been excellent. The main plot idea of All Flesh is Grass may sound familiar: an invisible forcefield dome appears over a small town in rural America, trapping the inhabitants inside. Stephen King wrote a recent tome with the same premise of course ("Under the Dome") and its impossible to imagine King hadn't heard of, or read, this book, so similarly do they start. Funnily enough, my wife was reading the King book when I started this, and I looked up and said, "You wont believe this...".

As an introduction to Simak, this novel would serve a reader well, as it delivers on all the themes for which he is best known: the small town semi-rural setting, our connection and interdependence with nature, the sudden appearance of aliens who come to us rather than us having to jet off to find them, the story focus on a normal 'everyman' protagonist and an extreme inventiveness. Simak often seems to present a story that at first is local in its geography and importance, and then later on he reveals a cosmic importance to his plot. This was the case I felt with Way Station and it is the case here too. Its probably closest to Way Station of all the books I've read of his in tone and ideas, too, so if you liked that, you should like this. I felt it was strong novel and I'd certainly recommend it. It's an awful lot shorter than Stephen King's take on the premise too!

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I'm reading a non-Simak tome at the moment, but I'll try to sneak in some short stories over the next few weeks to keep the Simak ball rolling. Anyone else reading any Simak presently?
Agree, this is a good book. Forget Stephen King. I read this shortly after I watched The Simpsons Movie.
 

Matteo

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I'm coming into this thread a little late but...a couple of years ago I bought a stack of paperbacks in varying condition for the princely sum of one pound each. Ostensibly it was a concerted effort to fill some gaps in my Van Vogt collection (which I then realised was actually rather small), complete my Hugo novels collection and fill some gaps for Heinlein and Robert Silverberg - actually my Silverberg collection was fairly comprehensive so I failed in that respect - and finally a few odd books that had been on my "must read" list. Among the lot were "Ring Around the Sun" (the one with what looks like a dune buggy on the front) and "City" (with the spindly tower/green cover).

I won't jump ahead and review Ring Around the Sun but will say I liked it (although I was not convinced the main character [highlight text to see spoiler] would not know he was an android).

City was superb and now goes way up my list of "best scifi novels" - Bick has pretty much already explained why. I can likewise forgive the Jupiter bit because of the time it was written but had the same misgivings about the rise of the dogs and ants (after all, lack of opposable thumbs is a fairly large disadvantage...)

When I filed them away in my bookcases I realised that I already had Time and Again - or to be precise that it was by Simak; I certainly remembered the cover since it has a character that looks like he stepped out of the (Beatles) Yellow Submarine cartoon/film. This another great book but I think it loses a bit by it's brevity; I would have liked a little more explanation of Sutton's book. The time paradoxes are considered well and the relationship between man and android very thought provoking. By the way, the last sentence (though perhaps a little obvious) is a cracker.

I definitely need to track down some more of his work - I have a fondness for this genre of writing; "naïve" is the wrong word as it sounds condescending but I can't think of a better one other than "softscifithathassomegoodideassomeofwhichareactuallytruenowbutsomeofwhichseemoutdated" - which is a bit of mouthful.
 

Zendexor

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Book 2: City - Novel, 1952 (fix-up from stories written 1944-1951)

City is recognised as classic SF: it's in the SF Masterworks series and generally considered to be among Simak's finest earlier works. I enjoyed it for a host of reasons, and on the whole I'd say it was very good, though it fell a little short of expectations perhaps. But, this may be because expectations are so high with this novel.

As a 'fix-up' novel, it derives from 8 short stories Simak published between 1944 and 1951. These are connected throughout not by a single individual, but across 11,000 years through one family (the Websters) and their robot. The earlier stories stand up very well as shorts in their own right. Indeed, "The Huddling Place" is a classic and one I've read a few times. As the book progresses, the stories increasingly rely on the reader having read the previous 'tales' and the sense of a continuous novel becomes stronger. Simak also did a clever thing to glue the stories together: he interspersed 'notes' to each tale as if written by the dogs who now rule Earth (and who can barely remember man). It is in these notes that a lot of my pleasure in the book came. These give Simak the opportunity to present his thoughts and ideas in a direct manner and he clearly enjoys the opportunity. From one 'note' for example came the following, that I just love:

"Throughout the tales it becomes clear than Man was running a race, if not with himself, then with some imagined follower who pressed close upon his heels, breathing on his back. Man has engaged in a mad scramble for power and knowledge, but nowhere is there any hint of what he meant to do with it once he had attained it."

The collected short story structure also allows Simak to show us the long history of the downfall of humans across centuries in a relatively short novel. With such a grand story arc, one gets a good sense of the passage of time and this helps to impart the sense of loss when the humans move on or die out. So, on the plus side, this book is written very well, it presents some great ideas, and has pithy nuggets of wisdom to think about throughout. However, there is one aspect of the book I struggled with slightly and that is the degree of disbelief I was asked to suspend as a reader. The "uplift" (my term) of dogs and other animals, even ants, stretched credibility for me. Likewise the happenings on Jupiter seemed a bit unlikely. I have to remind myself though - Simak came from a generation before the golden age (and this is from the golden age), in which anything was possible, and 'hard' SF as a concept had not formed. To Simak, SF is a literature of ideas, of strange and fantastic futures, and not constrained by what might actually be possible. He writes of the future, but with one foot in fantasy, perhaps. I just need to readjust my SF barometer slightly to accept intelligent ants and dogs chatting to wolves. So, if you can leave your 'hard SF' goggles off, and just come along for the ride, I think this is an excellent book, full of ideas and it will stay with me for a long time, I'm sure. If you want to just dip in and read one or two tales, I'd recommend "The Huddling Place" and then perhaps the short tale "Desertion" as being the best of the bunch.

Next up, Book 3 in the challenge for me: Shakespeare's Planet (which I'm already enjoying hugely).
And he later wrote a 9th "City" story, though it never got put in any expanded edition of the book so far as I know.
 

Zendexor

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We still have wired telephones, the ones with circular dials often still work too. My 1929 radio sounds better than a DAB set, which doesn't look set to replace FM except in a couple of countries.
Development is very uneven and sometimes due to fashion or costs goes backwards!
Software quality has gone down since 1980s. Development of it hasn't really advanced, we can just compile bigger prettier bloat quicker. Computer security is mostly a failure, AV doesn't actually work! (it needs to work 100% or else it's a menace).
Last manned space mission was in December 1972
Built in speakers on TV are equivalent to a 1960s pocket radio. No where to put real speakers in super skinny TVs as the only real development in speakers in 60 years is smaller magnets allowing in-ear earphones.
Yeah and its interesting to compare the jump from 1915 to 1965 with the jump from 1965 to 2015. Both big jumps, but the earlier is bigger - re technology anyway. We are a species may have peaked! At any rate it makes the Simak future (e.g. the year 7990 in Time and Again) more plausible. Also the Jack Vance futures of 40000 or so years ahead. None of them would be too strange for us to live in.
 

Zendexor

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Ray, Way Station is, according to many Simak's fans, his best novel.
Years ago we carried out a contest amongst us members of Yahoo group about Simak, the ranking was:
1) Way Station - 26 votes
2) City - 24 votes
3) Time and Again - 8 votes
4) The Goblin reservation - 6 votes
5) Ring Around the Sun - 5 votes
AS you can see, the contest was between Way Station and City. I myself voted City as no. 1, and Way Station as no. 2, but it has to be said that many members didn't vote City as they rate it as a short stories collection rather than a novel in itself. Otherwise, City would have won.
Roberto
My favourite, I think, is All Flesh is Grass. In this haunting tale, Millville is lovingly portrayed, the home town which the protagonist finds is "in his blood" in the sense that he can't bear to move from it, though this fact frustrates him... then when the unthinkable happens and the obscure town becomes the most famous place in the world, he finds all the threads of his life coming unexpectedly together.
 

Tom Hering

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And he later wrote a 9th "City" story, though it never got put in any expanded edition of the book so far as I know.
The ninth story, Epilog, written specifically for Astounding: John W. Campbell Memorial Anthology (1973), was included in the 1981 Ace edition of City. In a 1975 Tangent interview, Simak said he didn't think the story was as good as it could have been. Though he tried to recapture his earlier City frame of mind when writing Epilog, it was an attempt that simply couldn't be completely successful. He just wasn't the same person or writer in the early 1970s that he was in the 1940s. Perhaps the story was left out of editions after 1981 at Simak's request?
 
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Zendexor

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Hi Bick,

thanks for the warm welcome. Counting "Trouble With Tycho" as a novel, then Simak wrote 28 novels. I have read 27 of them, so all except "Highway of Eternity". This latest novel by Simak has not appeared in German. I own the book, although in English, but I've never read it. Unfortunately my English is not so good that I can read fluently and so a thick book would be very tiring.

Of the 122 SF and fantasy stories are 53 published in German, which I have read them all. I have also read about 10 stories in English, but I'm not sure to have understood everything. So I've read so about half of all SF stories by Clifford Simak.

At best, I like the stories from the 50s and the novels from the 60s. Later Simak has often repeated the themes he has dealt with in previous years.
There is not really a bad book by Simak, but "Shakespeare's Planet" I would so classify as ranked 18-20. But perhaps even the German translation so bad. ;)

The thread about forgotten authors I have not read yet. It I look at tomorrow.
I would like to get German translations of Ring Around the Sun and All Flesh is Grass because I am trying to improve my German and one of the best ways of doing it is to read a book
The ninth story, Epilog, written specifically for Astounding: John W. Campbell Memorial Anthology (1973), was included in the 1981 Ace edition of City. In a 1975 Tangent interview, Simak said he didn't think the story was as good as it could have been. Though he tried to recapture his earlier City frame of mind when writing Epilog, it was an attempt that simply couldn't be completely successful. He just wasn't the same person or writer in the early 1970s that he was in the 1940s. Perhaps the story was left out of editions after 1981 at Simak's request?
Interesting, Simak's doubts about Epilog. I thought it successfully continued the style and atmosphere of the series though I found it saddening as a tale. Anyhow, to cheer up, despite the failures on Earth, one mustn't forget humanity is all the while having fun in Loper guise on Jupiter.
 

Zendexor

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Good stuff! Yes, it does start with a bang, so to speak - it gripped me from page one.
It would get my vote for the best Simak novel; at any rater the one I have re-read the most times. Maybe second would come Ring Around the Sun. Lost count of how many times I've read that one too.
 

Tom Hering

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Interesting, Simak's doubts about Epilog.
He had doubts about Epilog because he felt he was a much better craftsman, in the early 1970s, than he was in the 1940s. He had to recreate a more juvenile (his word) style to write the ninth story. Indeed, rereading City for the first time in fifteen years (as preparation for the memorial anthology), he felt tempted to rewrite the whole book - feeling he could make it a much better book. But he resisted the temptation.
 

Bick

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Interesting comments guys. And a warm welcome to Tom and Zendexor to the forums. I'm delighted to see more folk here with interest in Simak. In truth, many on these boards have read much more Simak than me, but I'm slowly working my way through his best stuff I think. I see there's much mention of Time and Again and Ring Around the Sun - neither of which I've got, so eBay may have to help me out there.
 

Tom Hering

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Thanks for the welcome, Bick. After City and Way Station, I'd say my favorite Simak novel is They Walked Like Men (1962). Not that I think it's his third best novel, objectively speaking. But I like the satirical aspect, i.e., how he takes a shot at developers, who were ruining small towns and rural landscapes, even back then. They're alien invaders bent on destroying a world he loved!
 

Bick

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Thanks for the welcome, Bick. After City and Way Station, I'd say my favorite Simak novel is They Walked Like Men (1962). Not that I think it's his third best novel, objectively speaking. But I like the satirical aspect, i.e., how he takes a shot at developers, who were ruining small towns and rural landscapes, even back then. They're alien invaders bent on destroying a world he loved!
Yes, it's a recurrent them with Simak. He would have got on well with the likes of Bill Bryson, I think, who lament similar things.
 

hitmouse

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I wasn't familiar with Bryson, but after a little research, I see he was past president of "The Committee to Protect Rural England." So yes, he and Simak would probably have shared some concerns.

In one of his early books The Lost Continent: Travels in Small Town America, published in the late 1980s, Bryson returns to his roots in Iowa, and does an affectionate and nostalgic road trip through the midwest and the Southern states. One of the recurring themes is how towns have become standardised, and how strip malls seem to dominate. I hadn't really thought about comparing him to Simak (Bryson is often screamingly funny, Simak less so) but it does make some sense.
 

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