Monday, December 3, 2018

New Folks’ Home and Other Stories: The Complete Short Fiction of Clifford D. Simak, Volume Six



One bad apple in a tasty bushel
New Folks’ Home and Other Stories, published in 2016, is the sixth volume in a projected 14-volume series from Open Road Media, The Complete Short Fiction of Clifford D. Simak. This is the eleventh book I’ve read in the series (not in order, obviously), and I have enjoyed them all. Some volumes are packed with more masterpieces than others, but Simak’s science fiction writing is consistently excellent, so there’s really not a bad book in the series. Volume Six contains ten stories originally published from 1939 to 1963. Overall the collection is an assortment of the outstanding and the very good, with the exception of one story that really doesn’t measure up to Simak’s usual standards.

Though known for science fiction, Simak also wrote westerns, and each volume has one, but here the horse opera is not the weakest link. “Barb Wire Brings Bullets!” is an exciting, action-packed western adventure. It may be the same old story about a range war between cattle ranchers and homesteading farmers, but this time Simak approaches the narrative from a unique perspective, that of a traveling barbed wire salesman who gets caught up in the conflict.

As for the science fiction, “Sunspot Purge” has got to be one of the worst Simak stories I’ve read in the genre. The premise is based on a hypothesis that mankind thrives during periods of high sunspot activity. It reads as if Simak just read this factoid in a newspaper and then set about constructing the thinnest of cockamamie plots around it. In addition, he adds a lot of alcoholic humor that might have been hilarious to heavy drinkers of the Thin Man generation, but seems hokey and antiquated now. Two other stories, “Hermit of Mars” and “Second Childhood,” are also not among Simak’s best work, but at least they are more than competently written and are based on interesting ideas. The former features some intriguing depictions of alternative forms of life while the latter speculates upon mankind’s reaction to achieving immortality.

Thankfully, the pros far outweigh the cons in this collection, as the remaining stories all meet or exceed high expectations. The title selection is the book’s best entry. In “New Folks’ Home,” an elderly man, about to retire, goes on one last trip to his favorite fishing hole, only to find the pristine wilderness invaded by a newly constructed house. The idea may seem a bit simplistic at first, but Simak takes it into unexpected directions, with excellent results. Another outstanding story is “Drop Dead,” a sort of scientific mystery in which an interplanetary agricultural team investigates a mysterious new life form. “Beachhead” is another good yarn about a planetary expedition team, though the ending isn’t all it could be. “Worlds Without End” is an engrossing thriller set in an agency that fabricates lifelike dreams for those volunteering to undergo suspended animation. “Worrywart,” another story that deals with dreams, feels like the beginning of a novel similar to Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Lathe of Heaven, but it could have been developed further. Lastly, “The Questing of Foster Adams” is surprisingly atypical of Simak in that it is a full-on horror story, more in keeping with something that H. P. Lovecraft might have written, yet still Simak manages to execute it quite effectively.

As expected, this is another fine collection in an excellent series. For those completists like me who plan to read The Complete Short Fiction of Clifford D. Simak in its entirety, you can look forward to Volumes Seven and Eight, which are among the best in the series.

Stories in this collection
New Folks’ Home 
The Questing of Foster Adams 
Hermit of Mars
Worlds Without End 
Barb Wire Brings Bullets!
Second Childhood 
Beachhead 
Sunspot Purge 
Drop Dead 
Worrywart

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