Clifford D. Simak
Completed 7/21/2018, Reviewed 7/21/2018
I love Clifford D. Simak’s writing. He’s known as writing “pastoral” science fiction, where there is an emphasis on rural settings and characters. This collection of related short stories mostly has pastoral settings, although it begins with the demise of the city. Like many of his novels, it also involves robots. In these stories, there’s also ants and dogs. I liked this book but wasn’t moved as much as I have been by other works by him. The prose is gorgeous, but I just wasn’t engaged in many of the stories. Still this book won an International Fantasy Award in 1952 and is considered a classic.
The premise of the book is that because of atomic energy, people are moving out of cities. The concept of the tribe is no longer needed. Also, without cities, there are no strike zones for atomic bombs, so peace has become prevalent. The book follows one family, the Websters, through the collapse of the city of the first story, the flight of people first to rural areas then to other planets, the development of robots, the development of dogs having the ability to speak and read, and the overtaking of the earth by ants. It’s a lot to cover in nine short stories, but Simak does it in his classic style of a slow paced, high concept narrative.
The stories were originally written and published separately. When Simak put together this book, he introduced each story with a preface written by a dog critic who discusses the probable reality of the stories, contemplating whether they are fact or simply legends, and thus doubting the existence of humans. These prefaces tie the stories together a little more than without them. The overall effect is something like Bradbury’s Martian Chronicles, only more cohesive. You get the sense that Simak was writing these as if he knew he would put the stories together in a single-book format later
The only character that exists throughout most of the stories is Jenkins, the Websters’ ageless robot butler. He stays with the Websters from his creation, basically through the end of time. He’s subdued, as robots often are in Simak’s stories, but utterly faithful. He’s always ready with a drink and a kind word. He also is a master to the dogs as they evolve and the Websters disappear. The other robots continue to build robots to be chaperones for the dogs and Jenkins seems to be the master of all of these.
The prose is just lovely, as has been the prose of every book I’ve read of Simak’s. However, I didn’t find all the stories that engaging. I often found my mind wandering as I was reading them and didn’t feel fully engaged until the last two stories. The very last story, called Epilogue was appended to the collection in 1974 (I believe). I can’t really go into too much detail without spoiling the ending, but I thought it tied everything together really well. I give the book three stars out of five.