Sunday, September 13, 2009

Clifford D. Simak

A friend has never read science fiction. He cannot, unfortunately, read genre fiction, because God, or possibly his upper-class parents, will come back from the dead and smite him if he so much as opens a novel by John Wyndham. He is a pleasant, conventional, well-educated person (Vanderbilt), reads literary fiction reviewed in The New York Times, is devoted to the Kansas City Royals (the worst team in the league), and volunteers for many political causes. But he is so well brought up that he panics when educated friends come into his house flaunting a novel with surreal SF imagery on the cover.

Science fiction could take you over - like aliens.

That’s the theory.

Clifford D. Simak took me over this weekend. His 1962 novel, They Walked Like Men, is the best science fiction I’ve read since John Wyndham’s The Day of the Triffids. This is a classic - out-of-print, naturally - which found its way into my collection in much the same way Simak's aliens infiltrate the earth. I liked the cover, so I bought it.

Simak (1904-1988) won three Hugo awards, a Nebula, and was named the third Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. According to the Clifford Simak Fan Site, he wrote "pastoral" science fiction, which emphasized humanity, rural areas, and the ecosystem rather than technology.

Simak’s combination of ironic narrator and realistic delineation of the atmosphere of a newsroom overlay the classic theme of ordinary people dealing with a threat to earth . Aliens are taking over the world - but not by hackneyed means - they're buying all the real estate on Earth. They look like bowling balls - and somehow combine with dolls to simulate human beings. The narrator, Parker Graves (love the last name!), is a newspaper science writer who investigates the aliens after he foils a trap they’ve set outside his apartment. He also discovers that all the real estate has been bought up by a mystery man - and that even wealthy people are homeless because once they sell their homes, there’s nowhere to go.

It’s intriguing.

There is a talking dog in this novel. I like it anyway.

Here’s the beginning:

“It was Thursday night and I’d had too much to drink and the hall was dark and that was the only thing that saved me. If I hadn’t stopped beneath the hall light just outside my door to sort out the keys, I would have stepped into the trap, just as sure as hell.

“Its being Thursday night had nothing to do with it, actually, but that’s the way I write. I’m a newspaperman, and newspapermen put the day of the week and the time of day and all the other pertinent information into everything they write.”

Don’t you love the voice?

Among Simak's most famous books are City and Way Station.

They’re ALL out-of-print!


Ellen said...

I'm one of these people who can't get myself to process science fiction (well, most of the time -- I loved _Under the Skin_ by Michel Faber). I don't quite know why this is. Ellen :)

Mad Housewife said...

I've never read Michael Faber.

It's difficult to find out about good science fiction. The Day of the Triffids made the Top 100 Books of the Century (in the Guardian?). I was very impressed by Simak, whose City is supposed to be his classic.

Some of these are literary - Philip K. Dick has been collected in Library of America editions.

I don't know much about SF, thouugh.