A Rediscovery of Clifford D. Simak - A Reading Challenge

Tom Hering

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Started reading A Choice of Gods today, and I immediately had the feeling, on page one, that I was visiting a dear old friend. Simak does that to me every time. Maybe it's the fact that I was born in Wisconsin, and have spent most of my life here, but Simak's work always feels familiar. It's definitely representative of our regional culture.

While the fictional Indians of A Choice of Gods would probably never read A Choice of Gods, or any other science fiction book, I found myself wondering what real life, Indian science fiction fans think of Simak. So I did a search on the subject. Results included some studies of the way Indians and/or the Indian experience have been portrayed in science fiction, as well as science fiction stories by Indian authors, but I couldn't find a single article or discussion referencing Simak's portrayal of Indians. How very odd. Seems like a virgin subject for the field of Simak studies, if there is such a thing.

In which other Simak novels and stories, besides A Choice of Gods and A Heritage of Stars, do Indians appear?
 
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Bick

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In which other Simak novels and stories, besides A Choice of Gods and A Heritage of Stars, do Indians appear?
I have no idea myself, Tom, but we have some real experts here on occasion who can probably help you. How does Choice of Gods stack up?

I have just started reading "They Walked like Men" - very good so far.
 
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Tom Hering

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I have no idea myself, Tom, but we have some real experts here on occasion who can probably help you. How does Choice of Hods stack up?

I have just started reading "They Walked like Men" - very good so far.

My reading was interrupted by a planned hospital stay yesterday, not to mention the week of anxiety that always precedes surgery (I'm fine now), but I really like what I've read so far - though I'm only a few chapters in. It seems like the most unabashedly nature-loving work I've ever read by Simak. And that's saying a lot, isn't it? ;)

I just noticed that I have more works by Simak in my SF collection than any other author - if you don't include the two-volume omnibus, "The Complete Science Fiction of William Tenn."
 
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Tom Hering

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I wonder how much Simak, during the period when he wrote A Choice of Gods (1971), was influenced by the reevaluation of American Indians (Dee Brown's Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee, 1970, being a bestseller at the time) as well as by the back-to-the-land revival of the late '60s and early '70s in America? So far, in my reading of ACoG, Simak presents an idealized picture of Indians as living in harmony with the natural world - to the point where they will talk to trees, but not to robots. I suppose only someone who knew Simak in 1971 could answer this.
 

Tom Hering

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I finally finished A Choice of Gods. Finally. Despite my early enthusiasm, the book turned out to be quite a slog. I had to force myself to read it all the way to the end.

Most of the usual stuff is here. A desolate future Earth, rural settings, country folk, American Indians, robots, and an alien. What's missing is good storytelling. Heck, merely competent storytelling would have been nice. What you get, instead, is chapter after chapter of Simak musing philosophically. About God, mankind, machines, Nature, evolution, and the universe. And most of the musing feels fairly pessimistic. A central theme is Simak wondering if the world would have been a better place had we never existed.

There's potential for interesting storytelling early on. 99.999% of the world's population has vanished. The few remaining humans live out lifespans lasting thousands of years, and they create idyllic, non-technological cultures. They develop extraordinary psychic abilities, including instantaneous star travel (their bodies included) just by thinking about it. The Earth itself has returned to being a place of vast forests, prairie, etc. Robots are engaged in a secret Project.

But the fear exists that mankind will return to Earth as suddenly and mysteriously as it vanished, and ruin everything by reintroducing its "civilized" ways.

You're 9/10ths of the way into the story before mankind's return becomes a real threat. You're almost done with the book before exciting, dramatic conflict becomes a possibility. Sadly, even the much-feared return of mankind turns out to be a pretty humdrum affair.

Though there's no lack of imagination, A Choice of Gods is easily the least satisfying Simak I've ever read. On every level.
 
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J-Sun

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FWIW, I'll basically second Tom. While I don't recall it well enough to precisely position it and it seems like my take wouldn't have been quite as negative, it's definitely among the least of Simak to me, too.
 

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Personally I've always thought that he had a major impact on Asimov.
Indeed, and The Good Doctor acknowledged this quite openly I believe.

On the subject of A Choice of Gods... Interesting to read the collective thoughts about this book, as it did rather well in a Yahoo board poll. I’ve not read it myself. Below are the poll results posted on the Yahoo Simak discussion board a few years ago. Now, it seems my opinions tend to vary from the majority, as my favourite five novels and short stories are highlighted in bold, or listed at the bottom of the novel and short story list, as they didn’t even get in the top 15. Of course, I’ve not read many of them, so I might agree with some of the best rankings if I was better read.

Ranking of novels (with votes for each in brackets)
1 Way Station (26)
2 City (24)
3 Time and Again (8)
4 The Goblin Reservation (6)
5 Ring Around the Sun (5)
6 Destiny Doll (5)
7 All Flesh is Grass (5)
8 A Heritage of Stars (5)
9 A Choice of Gods (5)
10 They Walked like Men (3)
11 Why Call Them Back from Heaven? (2)
12 The Werewolf Principle (2)
13 Project Pope (2)
14 Special Deliverance (1)
15 Enchanted Pilgrimage (1)

My other favourite novels not in the Yahoo board top 15:
Time is the Simplest Thing
Shakespeare’s Planet


Ranking of short stories
1 All the Traps of Earth (14)
2 The Big Front Yard (12)
3 The Grotto of the Dancing Deer (11)
4 Desertion (10)
5 Eternity Lost (8)
6 The Sitters (8)
7 The Autumn Land (5)
8 Huddling Place (4)
9 Kindergarten (4)
10 A Death In The House (4)
11 Horrible Example (3)
12 New Folk's Home (3)
13 Mirage (2)
14 Neighbor (2)
15 Good Night, Mr. James (2)

Favourite short stories not in the Yahoo board top 15:
Operation Stinky
The Civilization Game
Shadow World
 

Tom Hering

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FWIW, I'll basically second Tom. While I don't recall it well enough to precisely position it and it seems like my take wouldn't have been quite as negative, it's definitely among the least of Simak to me, too.
Just to be clear, my problem with ACoG is the quality of storytelling. It's plodding, at best. With no reward at the end. Simak, while undeniably one of the greats, was capable of turning out a stinker, or two, or three.
 

Bick

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Book 8: They Walked Like Men - Novel, 1962

Sitting in the Simak bibliography time-wise between Time is the Simplest Thing (1961), and Way Station (1963), this novel comes from the heart of the authors highly productive early 60's period in which he stretched himself to bring a real sense of depth and refection to much of his work. It's strange then, that They Walked Like Men reads rather more like pulp fiction than either of those two novels in my opinion. I finished this short novel a week or so ago, but it's taken me this time to remember to post on it. Not the best sign perhaps.

Essentially, this is an old fashioned alien invasion story, with a solution to the problem that, while not exactly appearing from thin air, nevertheless has a slight feel of deus ex machina about it. War of the Worlds, Simak style, if you like. The writing is quite good, but not quite to the standard of his best prose. It has the usual hallmarks of simplicity and direct storytelling, but fewer lines of really evocative description that he can do so well. The plot is quite interesting - positing that aliens may try to take over the Earth through economic warfare, not militarily, and like many Simak novels, he starts the story well and brightly. I've found in fact that most Simak novels start wonderfully well. It's the conclusion that sometimes proves the weakness in his books. It's almost as through he gets a great idea for the central premise and start to the story - usually with a terrific sense of mystery - but almost runs out of interest in the idea before he can bring it to a close. In his best books, he does manage to conclude them well (often with startling brevity but neat as you like). Other times, and this is perhaps one of them, they almost seem to peter out rather.

It certainly looks from what I've written that I didn't rate this book. Not entirely true; there is much to recommend it, and it would actually be a good introduction for young readers to the author. While I felt the writing was, on average, not quite up to the standards I know he can reach, it was nevertheless very readable, and there are certain passages that were highly successful. The scene were our protagonist senses his ties writhing in the closet with otherworldly life was superbly done, for instance. I think someone in this thread previously described their favourite Simak books, rated them from 'excellent' down to 'good', suggesting that even the weaker Simak books were at least 'good'. I find myself agreeing with the sentiment. This didn't quite hit the spot for me in the same way All Flesh is Grass or Way Station, or (particularly) Why Call Them Back from Heaven?, did, but nonetheless I enjoyed it. For the central idea and the first half I would say it's fine SF; but the overall execution and pulp fiction feel let it down slightly; I would therefore say it's a novel of middling quality in the bibliography, despite being a 60's novel of very high repute.
 

tylenol4000

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I liked the first half of City but then it lost me. Then I read his novel The Visitors and loved it. I hope to read more, if I can find more. I love his writing style. He gets straight to the point and doesn't meander around with unnecessary exposition.
 

LoZioOscuro

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I liked the first half of City but then it lost me. Then I read his novel The Visitors and loved it. I hope to read more, if I can find more. I love his writing style. He gets straight to the point and doesn't meander around with unnecessary exposition.

Tylenol4000, I'm not objective as I love Simak, who's no. 1 SF author, in my opinion; but I guarantee to you that you will like the very most of what he wrote.
If I was to reccomend some novels to you, over City, I would strongly recommend Way Station, then The Destiny Doll, A Heritage of Stars, Ring Around the Sun, Time is the Simplest Thing, The Goblin Reservation, Project Pope, The Brotherhood of the Talisman (fantasy).
As to the short stories, I'd recommend Earth for Inspiration nice & funny), Eternity Lost, Skirmish, Good Night Mr. James (excellent), And the Truth Shall Make You Free (great), Contraption (moving), Worrywart, Neighbor, The Big Front Yard (you can't miss this), All the Traps of Earth, Horrible Example, New Folk's Home, The Thing in the Stone, The Autumn Land (you can't miss this too), The Ghost of a Model T (great), Jackpot, Shotgun Cure...
too many?
May be, but I'm sure you won't regret having read them.
As to my knowledge, while it may difficult to trace Simak's works in bookshop, but in the ones specializing in classic SF, you can find them all on Amazon and the like. The short stories were published in several anthologies, averagely very good.
Good read
Roberto
 

clovis-man

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I liked the first half of City but then it lost me. Then I read his novel The Visitors and loved it. I hope to read more, if I can find more. I love his writing style. He gets straight to the point and doesn't meander around with unnecessary exposition.
There's something for everyone in Simak's tales. I loved City (but haven't read it in years), but didn't really care for The Visitors. Way Station is the Simak novel that almost everyone enjoys. As far as short stories go, there is much to like about most of them. My personal favorite: "Drop Dead".
 

Ralf 58

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Today is the 111th birthday of Clifford Simak! On this occasion I decided to extend the functionality of my online bibliography.
http://www.simak-bibliography.com/history.html#2015-08-03

The main changes are:

There is now the possibility of a full text search of the entire database. This is especially of advantage when e.g. knows the name of an anthology or the title of a translated book, but do not know what works (novels or short stories) by Clifford Simak contained therein.
http://www.simak-bibliography.com/biblio.php?ul=en&search=

Newly added to the bibliography are now E-Books and Audio Editions (audio books and radio plays). So far I have collected about 185 e-books and about 80 audio editions (CDs, tapes, online editions).
http://www.simak-bibliography.com/b...=all&thumbs=yes&order=date&filter=ebook&ul=en
http://www.simak-bibliography.com/b...=all&thumbs=yes&order=date&filter=audio&ul=en

I hope that you enjoy the new features.

Ralf
 

Bick

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Yes many thanks, Ralf, that's great. Happy B'day Cliff (yesterday).

I will read another Simak fairly soon I think. The (non-Simak) book I'm reading is taking a while, but will get onto some more CDS in due course.
 

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