Tuesday, September 15, 2015

The Cosmic Engineers

Clifford D. Simak
Completed 8/27/2015, Reviewed 8/28/2015
4 stars

Every book of Simak’s I read reinforces that he’s my favorite author of the golden age of SF.  He created great stories without falling into the trappings of space opera.  His books are always thoughtful and thought provoking.  “The Cosmic Engineers” is no exception.  While on the surface, it has a plot that sounds like space opera, it’s much more, retaining a simplicity and sweetness that I’ve come to expect from him.  

Gary and Herb are journalists exploring the solar system to write stories on all the planets.  They get a message that they need to go to Pluto to stop someone who has built a rocket ship with a drive that will go faster than light, carrying him to Alpha Centauri.  On their way, they pick up a woman who’s been in floating in a ship in suspended animation, but mentally awake for a thousand years, keeping herself from going crazy by solving the universe’s problems.  When they all arrive at Pluto, they help the local scientist interpret a communication from alien beings, calling them cosmic engineers.  They find out the universe is about to be destroyed and the engineers need their help to stop it.

Like most of Simak’s works, this book is short, succinct yet prosy.  His writing style is almost comforting in how well it reads.  And in only 160 pages, he comes up with interesting characters who are multi-dimensional.  I like the fact that considering this book was written in 1950, he made Caroline a mathematical and scientific genius.  She was already quite the mind before her suspended animation, but having had a thousand years to ponder all of the universe’s mysteries, she’s the one that makes the intellectual breakthroughs. 

Another one of my favorite themes of his which he uses here is the bizarre alien.  Except for the engineers, they are not humanoid nor are they humanlike earth mammals with annoying names like Tigerishka.  They look like slugs and blobs and only sometimes have something resembling faces.  It reinforces the idea that just because we are the “advanced” species, other intelligent life will not necessarily look like us.

While not long enough to be a terribly deep book, he does offer some interesting 5th dimensional science, bizarre hyperintelligence on the edge of sanity, and a theory of who we are and where we are going.  I thoroughly enjoyed this book, wishing it was longer, unlike the long books which I believe would have been much more enjoyable if they were at least a hundred pages shorter.  Perhaps of all author’s I’ve read in these past three years of SF/Fantasy immersion, Simak is one in whom I never seem disappointed.  He always has a fascinating twist on things, and there’s always at least one intriguingly gooey alien.  Four stars out of five.

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