Monday, September 14, 2015

Book review: No Short Cuts, short fiction by Simak

Simak, Clifford D., 2015, I Am Crying All Inside and Other Stories, The Complete Short Fiction of Clifford D. Simak, volume one, Open Road Media, New York, ISBN 978-1-5040-1267-6 (trade paperback, $15.99); 978-1-5040-1265-2 (ebook). 318 p.

Nine stories first published between 1939 and 1969, plus one never before published.

I fell in love with Simak's novels when I was about 10 years old. I read and reread “The Werewolf Principle” and “Time is the Simplest Thing,” checking them out from the Charlottesville public library with the space ships on their spines. I missed most of his short fiction. Of the 10 stories in this book I had read only one before: “All the Traps of Earth.” It's an iconic story about humanity and a robot, with what we would now call A.I.

The other stories span a 30-year period, in terms of year published, if not year written. Simak had a unique style. As far as I know he was the only genre writer who did not use any contractions. It had the effect of making his writing feel old-fashioned, in contrast to the often far-out content.

For instance, the title story is about the long slow end of humanity on Earth, told from the point of view of a robot. The cause isn't climate change, but it boils down to the same thing. People are no damn good, as my father used to say. He didn't believe it, and Simak didn't either, but you might, for a while, after you read this story. “Installment Plan,” the first in the book, is a pretty straight forward tale of cutthroat competition and exploitation among species, but it's very well done. Quite reminiscent of our own past here on Earth. A number of SF authors have explored the idea of plant intelligence, sometimes to chilling effect. Simak's contribution, “Ogre,” is a frightening look at the high-stakes game of interstellar exploration. There are an infinity of ways to lose the struggle for existence. I think this story is my favorite.

There are only 10 stories in this book for two reasons: large print (which I appreciate) and long stories. Only one, I think, could be called short and snappy, but they all carry their weight. And then some.

If you like short fiction, this will be an excellent introduction to a great 20th century SF author, even though he is best known for his marvelous novels. I'm not sure how many volumes there will be, but you won't want to miss the first. Out next month.


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