Wild goose chase in an alternate universe
Edward Lansing is a professor of English literature at Langmore College in New England. Through a series of odd circumstances best left unspoiled, he finds himself transported to a mysterious forest he knows not where. After wandering a bit, he eventually finds an inhabited inn and meets up with a handful of displaced individuals like himself. Together they form a band of six: a professor, an engineer, a parson, a military man, a poet, and a sentient robot. They ascertain that they have all been abducted from different universes—Earths with alternate histories—and brought together in this place, though none of them have any idea the reason why. Convinced that they have been brought together to undertake some mission that might allow them to return to their homes, the half dozen characters explore this unknown world looking for clues to the mysterious purpose of their involuntary journey.
Though the setup involving the exploration of the unknown has the potential for an intriguing premise, the problem with Special Deliverance is that too much remains unknown throughout the length of the book. The travelers wander about looking for answers, occasionally experiencing some unusual phenomena, but nothing much is really learned along the way. It’s kind of like a long and poorly conducted role-playing game in which the players roam blindly through terrain they can’t see. Only when they accidentally bump into something interesting does the narrative pick up a little. Simak occasionally inserts a device, a monolith, or a creature that demonstrates his knack for original visionary concepts. Only in the final chapter is all conveniently explained; everything up until that point is merely the blind leading the blind. One can’t help thinking that all this aimless wandering could have been avoided or at least condensed for the reader’s benefit. Simak should have parcelled out bread crumbs of knowledge throughout the narrative instead of dumping all the answers in the final act.
Despite the theory about alternate universes, this novel is more fantasy than science fiction—not Dungeons and Dragons-type fantasy but something like Twilight Zone fantasy. There isn’t really much scientific rationale given for any of the happenings in the plot. The narrative is just a string of cool ideas strung sparsely along a meandering thread. By Simak standards, Special Deliverance is a novel of average quality. If you are a Simak fan it may be worth a read, but it is not a book to go out of your way for. If you are new to Simak and haven’t done so already, check out any of the volumes in The Complete Short Fiction of Clifford D. Simak series. Each volume is quite good, and they often pop up as Kindle Daily Deals.
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