Friday, February 24, 2017

A Death in the House and Other Stories: The Complete Short Fiction of Clifford D. Simak, Volume Seven

Seventh Heaven
I previously read and reviewed the first and second volumes of the Complete Short Fiction of Clifford D. Simak series, and I have now jumped ahead to Volume 7 (Why Volume 7? Because it was a Kindle Daily Deal!). I don’t think it really matters in what order you read these books because the selections in each volume are arranged neither chronologically nor thematically. Each book in the series is simply an assorted grab bag of great short stories and novellas from Simak. Volumes 1 and 2 were both excellent collections, and I’m happy to report that seven books into the series the quality of the selections has not decreased one bit.

Volume 7, entitled A Death in the House and Other Stories, contains eight science fiction stories, one western, and one war story. The latter entry, “War Is Personal,” is clearly the worst selection in the book. It’s about naval pilots fighting the Japanese in World War II. To be fair, it’s actually pretty good for its genre, and to its credit it’s not racist, but it’s still a typical gung ho war tale about killing “Japs.” The western on the other hand, entitled “When It’s Hangnoose Time in Hell,” is excellent. It’s as good as anything by Elmore Leonard or Max Brand and would have made a great spaghetti western film.

Chances are, however, if you’re considering reading this book, you’ve come for the sci-fi, and what Simak delivers will exceed your expectations. He expertly combines the visionary speculative theorizing of a science fiction master with the human drama and insight of a literary novelist. The title selection, “A Death in the House,” is a tale of human-alien friendship that feels a bit like a preliminary sketch for Simak’s 1963 novel Way Station. In “Green Thumb,” the author again tackles one of his favorite subjects, plant-based intelligence, yet somehow each story he pens on this theme reveals an original and imaginative take on the concept. “Tools” raises the bar even higher by proposing an intelligent gaseous life form. “Target Generation” is a superb thinking man’s space travel thriller that could easily be made into a Hollywood blockbuster. On the other hand, “The Sitters,” a tale of future alien visitors who have been welcomed into our society, is a slower and more thoughtfully paced story with riveting suspense and elements of horror. “Nine Lives” and “The Birch Clump Cylinder” both take new and ingenious approaches to the time travel subgenre. The latter in particular is a phenomenal story with expert plotting and pacing that moves in delightfully unexpected directions. Even a predominantly humorous story like “Operation Stinky,” about a skunk-like extraterrestrial, contains incredibly creative conjecture grounded in scientific fact.

As usual, series editor David W. Wixon supplies a brief but informative biographical introduction on Simak, though this one repeatedly references a story called “The Creator,” which does not appear in this volume. The Complete Short Fiction of Clifford D. Simak series was originally projected to be 14 books in all, though for now publisher Open Road Media seems to have stalled at Volume 9. I for one intend to read all nine of those volumes, and everything else they put out by Simak. And when I’m done with that, I will plead for Volumes 10 through 14. As a recent discoverer of Simak, I am blown away by the diversity and excellence of his prolific output. Please, Open Road, keep them coming.

Stories in this collection
Operation Stinky 
Green Thumb 
When It's Hangnoose Time in Hell
The Sitters 
Target Generation 
War Is Personal
Nine Lives 
A Death in the House 
The Birch Clump Cylinder

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