A Rediscovery of Clifford D. Simak - A Reading Challenge

The Scribbling Man

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Thanks, @Bick . Yes, I read all your reviews on this thread and very much enjoyed them; I will also take a look at your site in case there are any I've missed!

I think I possibly liked more of what you've described to like in Cemetery World than comes across, and most of my dislike is focused on the time travel aspect and much of the narrative that follows on from that (which I think was one of your issues as well, though perhaps to a lesser extent). The central premise/setting I remember quite liking, but many of the plot points felt so random that it almost became enjoyable in an ironic way for me.

With Flesh Is Grass I do wonder if I would have liked it more had I read it before Ring Around The Sun...

I may yet change my mind on a reread, which I plan to do with many of these. I certainly will with Way Station - given its overwhelming praise I feel like I must have completely missed something about it or been in the wrong frame of mind (I did in fact read it during a rather difficult time in my life).

Happy to expand on Why Call Them Back From Heaven, though my memory is a little foggy on the details.

I think the premise and ideas explored are excellent. I found it to be one of his most interesting novels, but also a little uneven. I remember thinking that parts felt a bit like a first draft, whereas other sections of the book contained probably some of his best prose, though in general I think it felt stronger and more settled as it went along. Structurally it was interesting, though I was a little uncertain of the decision to intersperse the main narrative with short excursions, zooming in on other individuals. Nothing wrong with it, just that I don't think I fully grasped what he was doing with that element at times, in particular the scene he chose to end the book on. Thematically it's probably one of his richest and most interesting, alongside Project Pope. It's definitely one I want to reread... I actually listened to a podcast review of it recently by someone who picked it up on a whim and they loved it (I could link it here if it's of any interest).
 

The Scribbling Man

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I just finished the Simak I was reading. Here's the review I just posted to goodreads:


They Walked Like Men - 3.25

"'Have you noticed, mister,' said the cabby, by way of starting conversation, 'how the world has gone to hell?'"


The core premise is quite scary in an unusually grounded way for an alien invasion novel. The aliens invade, but on man's terms. Disguising themselves as human, "legally" buying up all the property and land, forcing people out of their homes. Monopolising earth to a point that man has nowhere to go and the planet can eventually be sold off to a third party.

Economic abnormalities are also the inciting incident in another Simak book, Ring Around The Sun, although they take a different form and the source and motive of it all is very different. I prefer Ring Around The Sun, but it works well here too. Simak has a few tropes he often revisits (benevolent aliens, parallel universes, time travel, strange events disrupting small-town comfort), and I think sometimes it can make his novels predictable. Only a couple of those can be found here though, and (relatively uncommon for him) the alien force is sinister, which is refreshing.

Our protagonist is a newspaper man, as was Simak. Considering the latter is not known for his characters, I feel like his occupation maybe had a part to play in the tangibility of the faces on display here. No, they are not three dimensional pillars of depth, but there are a handful with characteristics that make them... characters. More than just names on a page... Which is unfortunately rare in the Sci fi genre (of course, there are plenty of cardboard cutouts to accompany them as well). I also think that when Simak is writing in the environment of a paper office, it feels real. There is an atmosphere, a vibe. I credit the tangibility here to the experience he must have drawn from.

It's not his best writing, but very readable. During the first half the prose and dialogue is snappy and pulpy. A little dry sometimes, but it carries the narrative at a relatively good pace.

The middle act felt a bit dragged out at points, but the setup is intriguing. The third act becomes a bit exposition heavy, but also has more of Simak's token pastoral style coming through, which I enjoyed. The ending is on the cusp of Deus Ex Machina, but narrowly dodges that criticism by dropping in sufficient foreshadowing earlier on. Still, it comes across as very convenient and less than satisfying.

Overall, not Simak's best or most engrossing, but far from his worst and certainly worth reading. Most of its strengths lie in the ideas at play and the initial build up before our enemy is fully unmasked. As soon as things start to get a bit more whimsical, I think it loses its way a bit. I was never bored though, and the writing made for a pleasant read regardless.


I backed away across the room from the terror that writhed behind the door, with horror welling in me - the bubbling, effervescent horror that can only come when a man's own home develops fangs against him.
And even as the horror chilled me, I argued with myself - for this was the sort of thing that simply could not happen. A man's chair may develop fangs and snap him up as he bends to sit in it; his scatter rugs may glide treacherously from beneath his feet; his refrigerator may lie in ambush to topple over on him; but the closet is the place where nothing of the sort can happen. For the closet is a part of the man himself. It is the place where he hangs up his artificial pelts, and as such it is closer to him, more intimate with him than any room within his dwelling place.
But even as I told myself that it could not happen, even as I charged it all against an upset imagination, I could hear the rustling and the sliding and the frantic stealth that was going on behind the closet door.
 

Piman25

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Hi all! I've just joined. I've spent most of this morning just lurking on this thread and browsing over all the different reviews, news and musings. It's been a pleasure to read through and find so much information from some excellent sources, as well as hearing people's thoughts on different pieces of Simak's work.
Simak is by far my favorite author. I am truly looking forward to the two final volumes from Open Road Media, there are some wonderful gems in those already published, both flawed and perfect.

When reading Simak, the journey is always enjoyable even if the destination is imperfect. It is like listening to an old friend spin a yarn for you personally, many times with an understated, or even unknown resolution.

Many people are disappointed with some of his endings, or even the seeming meanderings of some of his books. I feel that in most cases, this was intentional. He doesn't explain the why's and wherefores of most things, he presents them and allows us to contemplate and conclude on our own. Because he wrote of humans relating to cosmic events, some of the perceived unsatisfying endings or orphaned concepts are the best. Even when we humans are dealing with mundane occurrences, there is no clear resolution.

The first book I read by Simak was Out of Their Minds I purchased it at a store called Grand Central in the early eighties. Admittedly the cover illustration b y Kelly Freas is what initially drew my attention. Upon reading, I discovered ingenious concepts presented in prosaic prose with a solid dose of humor. I was hooked.
1609271911282.png

I next read Why Call Them Back from Heaven? - once again the foundational concept was thought provoking and the writing pulled me in.
From there I went to the used bookstores around my area and bought up all I could. I ended up with the story collections Strangers In The Universe, All The Traps of Earth, and Skirmish. Simak is a master of the short form. This is where I became a true convert. A few favorites: Dusty Zebra, The Big Front Yard, The Grotto of the Dancing Deer, The Thing in The Stone, and Kindergarten.

In the same hauls I bought novels. Over the next year, I had everything available.

Welcome aboard @scribblingman.
 

The Scribbling Man

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Thanks! I agree that his strength is in short fiction, and have very much enjoyed what I've read of his in that format. Of the ones you've named I think I've only read The Thing in The Stone, which I recall being a highlight for me as well.

I wasn't initially interested in Out of Their Minds, as I haven't heard much positive said about it, but I came across this edition in a shop one day and couldn't resist:
out of their minds.jpg
Hard not to pick up a Simak book when I see one around. I feel like I will probably wind up reading them all at some stage anyway!
 

Piman25

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Thanks! I agree that his strength is in short fiction, and have very much enjoyed what I've read of his in that format. Of the ones you've named I think I've only read The Thing in The Stone, which I recall being a highlight for me as well.

I wasn't initially interested in Out of Their Minds, as I haven't heard much positive said about it, but I came across this edition in a shop one day and couldn't resist:
Hard not to pick up a Simak book when I see one around. I feel like I will probably wind up reading them all at some stage anyway!
Of all Simak books the two I started with are probably the least accessible, they are part treatise, part fiction, the concept and the story not as tightly woven together as most of his other works. But as you say hard not to pick up a Simak book - I have multiple editions of some, because different covers are also appealing. You will end up reading them all eventually I am sure.
 

AE35Unit

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I've read Waystation which was excellent. Same with Cemetery World. I read one called The Visitors; that one wasn't so good.
I want to read City, that one sounds good.
Oh yes and I had a collection of his stories called Off Planet.
 

The Scribbling Man

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The Visitors is another one sitting on my shelf and I (accidentally) have two copies of it. I've heard contrasting things about it... Either people seem to dislike it, or love it. I've even heard it called Simak's best on one occasion.
 

Bick

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Book 14: Destiny Doll - Novel, 1972

Destiny Doll is, one the one hand, quite unlike much of Simak's output, and on the other, still very recognisably 'Simakian'. There is another thread currently on the forums attracting comments on what is science-fantasy, and do readers like science-fantasy. Well, if you wanted an example novel to go along with a definition, here it is: Destiny Doll. A young, rich woman hunter of alien big game (Sara) obtains the services of a cynical Starship captain (Mike), who is himself on the run from his misdeeds, to seek out a fabled adventurer (Lawrence Knight) who left known space many years ago in search of something. Sara and Mike are guided across the galaxy by a blind telepath, George, who hears a voice telling him where to go, and George's helper, an apparently weak and possibly fraudulent religious man, 'Friar Tuck'. Upon reaching the planet of their destination, they find they are held captive by the planet, and undertake a quest across its surface in search of Knight. On the face of it this sounds like a fairly standard SF plot, until you encounter the characters and witness the scenarios that befall the troupe. Helped by a strange alien (Hoot), our heroes are at first waylaid and then helped by hobby horses (yes, that is indeed rocking horses), meet centaurs, a robot who speaks almost entirely in rhyme, and are attacked by trees. And ultimately the destiny of our heroes is deeply affected by an ancient wooden doll. To say more would enter spoiler territory, but the fantastical elements here are clearly stronger than the SF elements. But as strange as all this is, Destiny Doll is a compelling read, and internally consistent. Reading like a cross between The Wizard of Oz and Through the Looking Glass, Simak uses his full imagination here to weave an intriguing plot, and inquire: what is it we are searching for and why? Is it a place, a thing or a feeling, and can our greatest desires fulfill us if they are isolated wishes, rather than being part of a social or group destiny? The allegories here give this book a depth and thoughtfulness that raises it above many SFF novels and Simak's prose is clean and clear as usual. Moreover, we are aided in accepting the utter strangeness of the planet by the cynical captain, who finds it all quite as strange as us and looks on it as a bizarre place he wants to escape. Also noteworthy is the fact that Simak's captain Mike Ross is a cynical no-good (at least at the start) which is unusual for Simak, but it allows the character to be the be both the foil to our disbelief in the planet and also provides Simak a flawed character who can ultimately find redemption. So, this novel is recommended - suspend your SF disbelief and enjoy the ride.
 

The Scribbling Man

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Thanks for the review, Bick. I'm over halfway through it now and will probably finish it by tomorrow. It does indeed feel very different and so far it manages to sell the whimsy quite well, and as you say I think that is in part owed to the cynical protagonist. I loved the opening of the novel with the description of the planet, and the hobbyhorses are so odd; but rather than feeling silly, the context in which they're presented makes it feel almost nightmarish. I think I would maybe liken the tone to something like Return To Oz. I think my only current criticism is that some of the dialogue feels a bit stilted, but it's a relatively small thing.
 

Hugh

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Great review @Bick . It's a while since I read a Simak novel. After the last read through I resolved to wait until my memory had become sufficiently hazy before re-reading. Your review makes it increasingly tempting to make a start.
I'm sure I read an interview in which CDS spoke of his use of allegory in Destiny Doll but frustratingly I can't find it, so that may be purely wishful thinking. He does discuss its publication history briefly in his interview in Muriel Becker's bibliography:
"Now, the problem with Destiny Doll was a real one. Galaxy had bought it, and it was supposed to be published in serial form in a companion magazine edited by Lester del Rey. Lester foresaw that the companion, Worlds of Fantasy, would not last long enough to allow serialization. He asked me to condense "Reality Doll", its magazine title, to a shape that would go into one issue (the fourth), which, incidentally, did turn out to be the last published. That meant cutting it. So I sat for a long time thinking whether or not I should cut that much or give him back the money he had paid for it. I needed the money so I cut it in half and ruined it absolutely. No question about it. If you read the book and then you read "Reality Doll", you can see what had to be done. Ironically, "Reality Doll" was nominated for a Nebula. I wrote and said if it was to be considered, I wish they'd wait and consider the book. But Destiny Doll was never nominated.
Rated 5 stars
Full Star
Full Star
Full Star
Full Star
Full Star
Mystic faith triumphs on an alien world


By Thriftbooks.com User, April 24, 2008
When I first read this novel more than twenty years ago I just didn't get it. Frankly, I thought that my favorite science fiction author had written a clunker. Then, after rereading it after all these years, I finally got it. This is a spiritual allegory. What threw me off the first time was the fact that, unique to any other Simak novel, the lead character is absolutely obnoxious. Captain Michael Ross is a completely arrogant, intolerant, and bigoted specimen. We get a hint of his ruthlessness and lack of conscience from his original profession- "planet finder." This means that he locates new worlds for profit and turns them over to developers to subdivide and exploit. That's where he makes his big mistake- he sells an already inhabited planet. This means he has to run and hide on earth to escape the people who are looking for him. Once on earth he is desperate to get into space again. So he becomes part of an expedition that he has absolutely no faith in- but the pay is good. He has total disrespect for every one else in the party (a woman big-game hunter, a blind mystic, and a monk.) He makes it clear that he considers them all to be freaks and defectives to varying degrees. Then, the expedition begins to collapse under his leadership. He is slowly forced to interact with the people that he has held in such contempt. He finds that just because he doesn't understand the other members of the party, that doesn't mean that they do not have valuable God-given gifts. His own arrogance and certainty that his is the only correct way of seeing and doing things slowly erodes as the party makes it's way through the alien wilderness. Finally, sick and out of his head he has a vision that perhaps there is more to space and time than he ever dreamed of in his limited view of things. Finally, he is left to ponder alone as, one by one, the other members of the expedition find their own higher destinies.... Here we have once again a story based on Simak's sophisticated intuition that there are many universes and many sentient levels at certain space-time intervals. It is just that our sensitivity to these levels have to evolve before we can access them. In other words, the kingdom of heaven is all about us, but we just don't see...
and here's the link to that page:
 
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The Scribbling Man

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I've had Destiny Doll on my shelf a while and seeing Bick reading it prompted me to jump on the wagon.

Here are my thoughts, having finished it this morning:

Destiny Doll - 3.75

There are two separate Simak "to-read" piles that I mentally keep track of: the "I think this might be good" pile, and the "completionist pile". Destiny Doll fell into the latter. The other three books I'd read from his 70's output did not impress me, and so while I was interested in the premise, I was expecting it to be an average romp with maybe some sprinklings of goodness, and at the end of the day I would be able to cross off another title on the bibliography.

Instead, Destiny Doll was a pleasant surprise and I'm not really sure why it isn't better regarded. We get a ragtag crew; a jerk captain-for-hire, a monk, a telepathic blind man all along for the ride with a woman bent on chasing a legend on a distant planet. The scene is well set with a mysterious and seemingly malicious lost civilization, and hints of an even more ancient one before it. The world is populated with the bizarre likes of sentient rocking horses, centaurs, a single gnome and violently defensive trees, creating a vibe of nightmarish whimsy. It's not unheard of for Simak to inject fantasy elements into his science fiction, but while it typically can feel a little silly, here it's nicely contrasted with a cynical protagonist and a dark air of mystery. The part-fantasy aesthetic and mystical/spiritual nature of the story does, I feel, bring it into the realm of being more than just Science Fiction.

As far as Simak goes, and even the genre, the characters here are fairly well-drawn. They have personality, traits that make them unique, flaws that make them relatable, and I sometimes found myself physically reacting to the circumstances that befell them. Although Destiny Doll is quite a pensive work, it was still a breeze to read through and if I'd had the time I probably would have consumed it in a day. The prose is effective in conveying an atmosphere and the internal philosophising doesn't feel pretentious (unlike, say, the laborious A Choice of Gods).

There's a lot about the world that's hinted at, but not clarified, and I enjoyed the ambiguity. I only wish it had carried through to the end, which felt over-tidy. It's possible I've missed what Simak was going for, but I was expecting something a little more quiet and bittersweet. Instead, a lot of stuff seemed to be racing to wrap up in the last ten pages or so and I wasn't really sold on it.

All the same, and in spite of the ending, I think this is probably among Simak's best. It's an enjoyable and thought-provoking read, exploring spiritual themes and the nature of destiny. I would recommend it to any fan as a must-read.
 

BAYLOR

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Simak is by far my favorite author. I am truly looking forward to the two final volumes from Open Road Media, there are some wonderful gems in those already published, both flawed and perfect.

When reading Simak, the journey is always enjoyable even if the destination is imperfect. It is like listening to an old friend spin a yarn for you personally, many times with an understated, or even unknown resolution.

Many people are disappointed with some of his endings, or even the seeming meanderings of some of his books. I feel that in most cases, this was intentional. He doesn't explain the why's and wherefores of most things, he presents them and allows us to contemplate and conclude on our own. Because he wrote of humans relating to cosmic events, some of the perceived unsatisfying endings or orphaned concepts are the best. Even when we humans are dealing with mundane occurrences, there is no clear resolution.

The first book I read by Simak was Out of Their Minds I purchased it at a store called Grand Central in the early eighties. Admittedly the cover illustration b y Kelly Freas is what initially drew my attention. Upon reading, I discovered ingenious concepts presented in prosaic prose with a solid dose of humor. I was hooked.
View attachment 74302
I next read Why Call Them Back from Heaven? - once again the foundational concept was thought provoking and the writing pulled me in.
From there I went to the used bookstores around my area and bought up all I could. I ended up with the story collections Strangers In The Universe, All The Traps of Earth, and Skirmish. Simak is a master of the short form. This is where I became a true convert. A few favorites: Dusty Zebra, The Big Front Yard, The Grotto of the Dancing Deer, The Thing in The Stone, and Kindergarten.

In the same hauls I bought novels. Over the next year, I had everything available.

Welcome aboard @scribblingman.

That cover is a an oldie.:cool:
 
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2DaveWixon

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At this point, I need to apologize for having more or less dropped out of the discussion(s). As some of you know, my beloved wife, Sharman, passed away at the end of December. I just have been unable to work for a long time, now...
The long, hard struggle is over for her; but for me it continues...
I'm trying to work my way out of the depression. And I know I will. And trying to get those last two collections out may help me.
 

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