Wednesday, June 8, 2016
I Am Crying All Inside And Other Stories: The Complete Short Fiction of Clifford D. Simak, Volume One
Visionary storytelling from a sci-fi Grand Master
Clifford D. Simak is one of the most respected and award-winning science fiction authors of the 20th century. I Am Crying All Inside and Other Stories, published in 2015, is the first volume in a projected fourteen-volume series of Simak’s complete short fiction, currently in the works from publisher Open Road Media. The series is edited by David W. Wixon, a good friend of Simak’s and his literary executor. Wixon provides an introductory essay and a brief introduction to each of the stories. This added material not only provides a mini-biography of Simak but also offers an interesting look into the career of a working writer during the pulp fiction era. Although Simak’s stories are great, Wixon’s contributions make the book even better.
There seems to be no rhyme or reason to Wixon’s arrangement of the stories and novellas within the series. The ten selections in Volume One are not ordered chronologically. They run the gamut from 1939 to 1969, plus one story which was previously unpublished. There is no thematic cohesion to the entries either. In fact, there’s even one Western tale included among all the science fiction. As someone who appreciates vintage sci-fi but has had little experience with Simak, the grab-bag approach worked just fine for me. It was a joy to begin each story with no expectation of where Simak would go with it. By putting himself in Simak’s hands, the reader straps himself in for a roller coaster ride of visionary speculation, thrilling entertainment, and intellectual stimulation.
Simak’s range of subjects and interests is admirably diverse. “Installment Plan” is a tale of economic competition and industrial espionage, but on a distant planet. “Ogre” deals with intelligent plant life and alien music. “Small Deer” and “Gleaners” are two great time travel tales, the former horrific and the latter almost comic. There’s a whole lot of weird science going on in “The Call from Beyond,” but it comes across as a film noir set on Pluto. The previously unpublished selection, “I Had No Head and My Eyes Were Floating Way Up in the Air” is a brilliantly creepy sci-fi/horror masterpiece. “Madness from Mars” is the one story that feels a little antiquated and formulaic, but Simak still manages to inject it with some thought-provoking ideas.
There’s a strain of dark pessimism that runs through a lot of the stories, even the Western, “Gunsmoke Interlude.” However, there’s also a resilient and enduring humanity that shines through, regardless of whether the characters are human, animal, vegetable, or synthetic beings. What separates Simak from so many of the sci-fi writers of his era is his ability not only to create fantastic worlds but also to enrich them with moving emotion. “I Am Crying All Inside” and “All the Traps of Earth” both feature robot protagonists who are more sympathetic and heartbreaking than many of their human counterparts in literature.
This is quite simply one of the best short story collections I’ve read in years, science fiction or otherwise. I’m definitely down for Volume Two. Kudos to Wixon and Open Road for putting together this comprehensive series of the Grand Master’s work. If this first volume is any indication of the quality to expect in volumes to come, I may just work my way through all fourteen books.
Stories in this collection
I Had No Head and My Eyes Were Floating Way Up in the Air
Madness from Mars
I Am Crying All Inside
The Call from Beyond
All the Traps of Earth
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