Saturday, August 3, 2019

Birthday Review: Time and Again, plus some short fiction, by Clifford D. Simak

Birthday Review: Time and Again, plus some short fiction, by Clifford D. Simak

(Cover by Paul Kresse)
Last year for for Clifford Simak's birthday I posted reviews of a couple of his Ace Doubles, plus the first short story collection in the eventually cancelled Complete Stories edition. So this year, I've scoured my reviews of old magazines for a few more short story reviews, plus his novel Time and Again, which was serialized in the first three issues of Galaxy as "Time Quarry".

Thrilling Wonder Stories, April 1939

The other stories this issue are by Clifford Simak and Ray Cummings. Simak's "Madness from Mars" (6000 words) tells of a Mars expedition that returns with all its members either mad or dead. They also carry a live Martian animal. Is it the cause? Of course -- but Simak being Simak, not out of evil motives. Minor Simak, but not awful.

"Time Quarry", serialized in Galaxy, October, November, and December 1950

(Cover by David Stone)
"Time Quarry" by Clifford Simak was the first novel serialized in Galaxy, appearing in the first three issues (Oct, Nov, Dec 1950). I read it in the serialized version, but it is better known by its 1951 book title, Time and Again. It also had a paperback edition as First He Died.

As the novel opens, Earth tenuously rules a widespread interstellar empire.  Chris Adams of the Justice Bureau meets a strange man who claims to be his successor, from more than a century in the future, and who tells him that Asher Sutton, lost for 20 years, will return in a few days.  And that he must be killed.

The focus shifts to Sutton, on his return from the strange planet 61 Cygni VII. This planet, though very near to Earth, has never been visited before. Sutton has returned after 20 years -- in a ruined ship. Somehow he made it across 11 light years without air, food, or engines.

Sutton immediately finds himself threatened from multiple directions. He is carrying encoded notes for a book he needs to write -- based on what he learned from the entities on 61 Cygni VII.  But some people want to kill him, others want to control what he writes, and the beautiful woman Eva Barbour, and the android Herkimer, seem to just want to help him write his book. He trusts nobody, especially after Herkimer's owner thrusts him into a duel, which Sutton wins basically because of his enhanced body. Soon Sutton is on a chase through both space and time -- eventually going back to 20th Century Wisconsin, and the home of one of his ancestors, a farmer. (See -- it's a Cliff Simak book -- you just know there will be a pastoral interlude, referably in Southwest Wisconsin.) Sutton learns that the future is war torn, riven by fights between those who believe in Sutton's original teachings, and those who follow a distorted revision. He must find a way to write his book so that it cannot be misread.

(Cover by Walter Brooks)
The central message of the book is very well done -- that all life, humans, aliens, and androids, has an individual "destiny" -- thus that all such life has rights. The bad guys want to restrict all rights to humans. This is well put, and the story is exciting, but it's a bit marred by the silly science, and the feeling that Sutton's powers will let him do whatever the plot requires.

Space Science Fiction, September 1952

Clifford Simak's "The Fence" is a nice short story that touches briefly on one of my personal pet tropes, the time viewer, but which is really once again a paranoid sort of piece -- it seems that people in the future live lives of complete leisure -- so who is providing for us? And if so, why? Could we be ... pets?

Galaxy, October 1954

Clifford D. Simak's "Idiot's Crusade" (5200 words) is about a village idiot who is giving superpowers by an alien for some reason. The now intelligent guy begins by taking revenge on those who have treated him worst -- but then he realizes that revenge is empty. He decides to use his powers to force people to be good -- and, creepily, that seems perhaps worse. Pretty good stuff.

Galaxy, November 1954

All three novelettes are fine work. Clifford Simak's "How-2" (14,000 words) is a satirical piece about a future overtaken by the "do-it-yourself" spirit, which is then undermined when a "do-it-yourselfer" builds an experimental robot. Clever stuff -- and rather different from what people now think of as the standard Simak story.

Amazing, May 1965

"Over the River and Through the Woods", by Clifford D. Simak, is a simple and nicely told, if never surprising, story about a couple of children who come to stay with an old couple sometime late in the 19th Century. But there is something a bit odd about the children -- nothing that will surprise the reader. Not much to the story, but it’s worth the brief read.

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