Tuesday, May 12, 2015


I'm not sure what the first story I read by Clifford Simak was, but the first I remember is "Desertion." It's part of the book he's probably most famous for, City. The novel is a mournful farewell to humanity and Earth and stars robot butlers and talking dogs.

"Desertion" is about a scientist and his dog on Jupiter investigating missing explorers. They were transmogrified into lopers, a lifeform native to the planet's surface. None so far have returned to the station.

There's a tremendous sense of wonder in the tale as the nature of what's going on is revealed. I think of it as the story that showed me the true potential of sci-fi as something way more than rockets and rayguns (not that there's a single thing wrong with them).

Sadly, Clifford Simak seems to have slipped into the ranks of the unjustly forgotten sci-fi writers of the past. Growing up, he was just part of the general fabric of sci-fi and most fellow sci-fi fans I knew had read at least something by him.

Doing a search on Waystation the other day, I discovered a 2009 review in the UK Guardian. The author admitted he had never even heard of Simak until he started exploring past Hugo winners. Only twenty-three years after his death, a man who was the third Science Fiction Grand Master (after only Robert Heinlein and Jack Williamson), winner of three Hugos and a Nebula, was unknown by the science fiction reviewer of a major paper.

I can't blame the critic. As of 2009, most of his books were no longer in print. Happily, that seems to be changing a little, though, at least in the UK. Gollancz has published City and Waystation, and Gateway/Orion is releasing e-books of what looks to be all of his novels.

It's been a long time since I've read anything by Simak. John O'Neill's post about The Goblin Reservation and the comments reminded me how much I loved his work. There's a warmth and comfortableness to his stories that I love.

Here are the novels of his I have in storage. I just dug out Enchanted Pilgrimage, his first effort at writing a fantasy quest novel. He came back to it two more times in The Fellowship of the Talisman and Where the Evil Dwells.

All three send a party of adventures into enchanted lands to make some discovery or thwart some rising evil. I don't remember them being particularly original but nice reads nonetheless.