Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Transcendentalism in New England by Octavius Brooks Frothingham

A contemporaneous account of the movement
Transcendentalism in New England
is a history of the 19th-century philosophical and literary movement that had a profound influence on American literature and thought. The author of this history, Octavius Brooks Frothingham, was a Unitarian preacher like many of the leading Transcendentalists. This book was published in 1876, while pioneering American Transcendentalists Ralph Waldo Emerson and Amos Bronson Alcott were still alive. Although it is unclear from the text if Frothingham ever met them personally, his writing indicates that he was definitely sympathetic to the movement. The relative contemporanaeity of this account is what makes it interesting, as Frothingham wrote this assessment of Transcendentalism shortly after the movement’s heyday, while its influence was still vibrant.

Frothingham begins by tracing the movement to its origins in Germany, particularly to the philosophy of Immanuel Kant. He then tracks the development of Transcendentalist thought through France and Britain to its appropriation by American clergy and scholars. Frothingham chronicles the establishment and progression of the movement in America, including a thorough look at Brook Farm, the experimental Utopian community founded by Transcendentalists in the 1840s. A series of chapters on individual Transcendentalists follows: Ralph Waldo Emerson, Amos Bronson Alcott, Margaret Fuller, Theodore Parker and George Ripley; plus a chapter on “Minor Prophets” briefly covering several other members of the school. Frothingham closes with a chapter on Transcendentalist literature, but it really doesn’t include much literary criticism. Rather, half its length is occupied by Emerson’s reprinted sermon on why he left the Unitarian ministry.

This is not so much a literary history as a philosophical history. Frothingham doesn’t talk much about the books and articles these figures published, but rather tries to ascertain each individual’s belief system, assessing how closely they adhered to or where they differed from the Transcendentalist party line. In making his case, Frothingham uses way too many extensive quotes, many of them several pages in length. If he truly wanted to educate his readers on Transcendentalism, he would have done better to explain matters in his own words rather than reproducing pages of text verbatim.

The idea of what constitutes a Transcendentalist has changed somewhat from Frothingham’s day. He held a very exclusive view of who truly belongs to the club. Frothingham praises Emerson highly and devotes at least two chapters to him, but considers him an Idealist rather than a Transcendentalist. “A Transcendentalist, in the technical sense of the term, it cannot be clearly affirmed that he was.” As to Fuller, “Strictly speaking, she was not a Transcendentalist.” Frothingham doesn’t even consider Henry David Thoreau worthy of discussion. Thoreau’s name is only mentioned twice in passing.

For those interested in learning just what Transcendentalism is and its effect on American literature and society, the best book I’ve read on the subject is the Modern Library’s volume The American Transcendentalists: Essential Writings. Although an anthology volume, editor Lawrence Buell provides a concise, enlightening introduction on the history, philosophical beliefs, and social agenda of the Transcendentalists that’s accessible to the general reader. Frothingham’s Transcendentalism in New England, on the other hand, will likely only appeal to historians of the era or theologians interested in splitting doctrinal hairs.

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Monday, March 28, 2022

The Rolling Stones All the Songs: The Story Behind Every Track by Philippe Margotin and Jean-Michel Guesdon

Informative record-by-record career retrospective
In The Rolling Stones All the Songs, first published in 2016, authors Philippe Margotin and Jean-Michel Guesdon systematically go through the Stones’ recording catalog giving due consideration to each individual track. The two Frenchmen have compiled similar books on the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Pink Floyd, and Led Zeppelin. I previously read the Bob Dylan volume, but I liked their Rolling Stones book better. The authors exhibit a more comprehensive knowledge of the Stones history than that of Dylan. The Rolling Stones All the Songs delivers an entertaining and informative tour through the career of the World’s Greatest Rock and Roll Band.

Each album-devoted chapter opens with a detailed introduction about the making of that album and what was going on in the lives of the band members at that time. This is followed by brief encyclopedic entries on each song, including full production credits. The authors then discuss the meaning behind the lyrics of the song in question and how it was written. In the Stones’ case, at least 90 percent of their songs are about love and sex, so there is no need to go into a great deal of depth in this department. This is followed by a discussion of the production of each song in great detail, often down to the specific brand and model of instruments played. The performance of each band member is commented upon, and much information is given about the guest artists—pianists, saxophonists, percussionists, etc.—who contributed to the songs. One surprising revelation that comes to light is just how much Mick Jagger has played guitar on the Stones’ recordings, at least since the late 1970s. Even avid Stones aficionados are sure to find some obscure trivia here.

I have the 2016 ebook edition, which covers up to the 2012 compilation album GRRR! Margotin and Guesdon have organized the contents of this book according to the United Kingdom releases of the Stones’ recordings, which differs from the United States releases, so there’s no 12 x 5 or Rolling Stones, Now! albums, for example. All the songs are present, but they are shuffled in different packages, which is not a big issue in this age of digital playlists. Unlike the Bob Dylan volume, Rolling Stones All the Songs does not cover all the outtakes and B-sides. One of my favorite Stones songs, “Everything is Turning to Gold,” is mentioned as the B-side of “Shattered” but not deemed worthy of discussion in detail. Meanwhile, however, the Mick Jagger solo single “Memo from Turner” from the movie Performance is granted a detailed profile, as is its B-side, “Natural Magic,” an instrumental by Jack Nitzsche and Ry Cooder on which Jagger merely played maracas. Even harder to understand is why the authors don’t cover the bonus songs released on the Exile on Main Street and Some Girls deluxe reissues.

I own the coffee-table print version of the Bob Dylan volume, which is loaded with pictures and a pleasure to browse through. For the Rolling Stones volume, however, I snatched up a bargain deal on the ebook, which doesn’t contain any photos. I can’t say I really missed the images all that much, however, since the information is what I came for. I really did learn a lot from Margotin and Guesdon’s track-by-track retrospective. It was fun to listen along while reading, and the book did increase my appreciation for the Stones’ music, even their worst albums (a “bad” Stones album is still better than the best records of most other bands).
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Friday, March 25, 2022

Adventures with a Sketch Book by Donald Maxwell

A British landscape artist wanders around Europe
Donald Maxwell (1877-1936) was an English illustrator of books and periodicals. He specialized in landscapes and literally wrote the book on the subject, Landscape Sketching in Pen and Ink, published in 1932. Maxwell also penned around thirty travel memoirs that he illustrated himself. He would travel around Britain, continental Europe, or the Middle East making sketches of the scenery, which would then be used to illustrate anecdotes of his journeys. One of these self-illustrated travel accounts is Adventures with a Sketch Book, published in 1914.

The generic title, not specifying any particular location, is an indication of the hodgepodge nature of the book’s contents. This is not one continuous travel narrative, but rather a series of brief chapters covering a variety of locations. The book opens in Italy with Maxwell visiting the Renaissance master painter Titian’s hometown. He then travels through France on a series of canal barges, spends some time in Switzerland and Bohemia, treks across Kent to Canterbury, marvels at the architecture in Ragusa, Sicily, and enjoys the beauty of the humble mountains of the Netherlands. Finally, he is invited as a journalist on a festive promotional railroad tour through Austria, where he also explores some rugged terrain on foot.

The text is a mix of scenic summaries and humorous travel anecdotes. Sometimes Maxwell is accompanied by a traveling companion known only as Brown, who may be fictitious. Their adventures are never quite as funny as Maxwell seems to think they are. The most interesting thing that happens to the artist is when he is arrested in France as a spy for sketching a military fort. When I first became aware of this book, I was hoping for something along the lines of Rockwell Kent’s self-illustrated travel adventures, but Maxwell’s writing is nothing to get excited about. His descriptions of the natural landscape are more successful than his jokes, but one wishes he would have included a little more about the history and culture of the places he visited.

This is, however, an art book after all, so its real purpose is to serve as a showcase for Maxwell’s art. Almost every page of this 215-page volume features an illustration. Some occupy a full page, but most are smaller spot illustrations. Maxwell’s pen and ink drawings come in a spectrum of styles ranging from frameable finished works to intentionally rough and rapid scribblings. There are also some hand-drawn maps that are very hard to read. I read a digital copy of this book, so the art probably suffered some as a result of the scanning. In general the art in the book is reproduced rather small, which doesn’t do justice to Maxwell’s attention to detail. Several of the illustrations are in color. They do not appear to be full color, but rather watercolor washes printed in spot colors, usually green and yellow, over the black and white drawings. For the most part Maxwell’s illustrations of mountain scenery and historic architecture are really quite beautiful, the larger and most polished pieces being more successful than the more dashed-off gestural drawings.

Though Maxwell wrote a lot of these books, they are hard to find, even on the internet, despite many being in the public domain. While the writing of Adventures with a Sketch Book may not qualify as an essential travel narrative, anyone interested in landscape drawing, printmaking, or book illustration will enjoy viewing and learning from Maxwell’s accomplished artworks.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2022

With Languages in Mind: Musings of a Polyglot by Kató Lomb

Meandering, repetitive grab bag on languages and language learning
Kató Lomb was one of the twentieth century’s most accomplished polyglots (a speaker of many languages). Learning languages was her great love, and she did it well enough to work as a professional interpreter in sixteen tongues. Lomb also wrote books on language learning and interpreting, three of which are available for free download as pdfs on the website of The Electronic Journal for English as a Second Language (TESL-EJ). One of those books, With Languages in Mind: Musings of a Polyglot, was originally published in Lomb’s native language of Hungarian in 1983. The contents are aptly described by the subtitle as “Musings.” The book is comprised of 35 chapters, each from one to a dozen pages in length, in which Lomb shares thoughts, anecdotes, and her expert wisdom on languages, their interesting peculiarities, and how to learn and teach them.

This book will appeal to both language educators and language enthusiasts. For members of the latter category (like myself), Lomb does not provide a “fluent in 30 days” wonder scheme for how to learn languages quickly, but she does describe her preferred methods and acquired habits for studying and practicing new languages. She also advises teachers on how her methods could be incorporated into language education to improve student enthusiasm and success. Interspersed throughout the book are humorous anecdotes and horror stories of Lomb’s work as a simultaneous interpreter at various academic and political conferences. There isn’t really much rhyme or reason to the organization of the book; it is just a haphazard pouring forth of linguistic minutiae as the expert pontificates on her love of languages in a lively and for the most part accessible manner. Some topics Lomb discusses include the importance of context in learning vocabulary, the growing tendency in many languages towards the use of more and smaller words, general differences in speech patterns between males and females, and the purported value of learning Latin. To illustrate the points made in each chapter, she often cites examples from the linguistic characteristics of English, German, Hungarian, French, Spanish, Russian, and Japanese.

Lomb wrote her books in Hungarian primarily for a Hungarian audience. Thus the text includes many references, puns, inside jokes, and historical anecdotes that can only be truly understood by a native Hungarian. The English translator Ádám Szegi and/or the editor Scott Alkire explain these Hungarian-specific comments with footnotes, but much of the humor and import of such comments is lost to the English reader. This is an issue common to all of Lomb’s writings, but With Languages in Mind is by far the most Hungarian-centric of the three Lomb books I’ve read (the other two being Polyglot: How I Learn Languages and Harmony of Babel: Profiles of Famous Polyglots of Europe). In regard to her native tongue, some topics Lomb covers include the qualities of Hungarian that make it a beautiful literary language, the effect of the World War II fascist regime on the language, and generational changes in Hungarian over time.

The editor points out that some of the content in With Languages in Mind has either been pulled verbatim or slightly altered from the earlier published Polyglot: How I Learn Languages. Having read Polyglot previously, much of the content of With Languages in Mind did feel like a rehash, though I still enjoyed Lomb’s enlightening linguistic musings the second time around. Of the three Lomb books mentioned above that are freely available in English, With Languages in Mind is the least essential read. The other two books, Polyglot and Harmony of Babel, are more interesting, better organized, and cover more compelling ground.

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Monday, March 21, 2022

An Ordinary Life by Karel Capek

Coming to terms with the prosaic and the perverse
An Ordinary Life
is the third book in what Czech author Karel Capek called his “Noetic Trilogy.” This novel was originally published in 1934, following Hordubal and Meteor, the first two books in the series. Though the stories and characters of the three novels are unrelated, they do share a common style and purpose. I won’t attempt to define “Noetic,” but I can say that the common theme or scheme that runs throughout the trilogy is that in each book the life of its protagonist is viewed and/or analyzed through multiple perspectives. The disagreements in the various viewpoints alternately obscure and enlarge the reader’s understanding of different aspects of the character and events of the story, thus calling into question how we myopically view our own lives and what narrative will be left behind after our own passing.

When an unnamed narrator is diagnosed with a terminal illness, he decides to write his autobiography. He doesn’t consider his life anything exceptional, but why shouldn’t an ordinary man leave behind an account of his ordinary life? So that’s what he sets out to do. He paints a prosaic and mundane picture of his life as a contented railroad employee. He diligently works his way from one incremental promotion to the next. Along the way he meets a young woman. They marry, but have not children. The first half of the novel leads the reader to expect exactly what the title promises, a life so unremarkable that the book begins to descend into boredom.

About the halfway point, however, the autobiography unexpectedly changes direction and turns into something different entirely. The narrator becomes more critical of his life and begins to reveal details that belie the serenity of the account he just related. What differentiates An Ordinary Life from its two predecessors is that in this case the multiple perspectives through which the man’s life are reflected are all within his own mind. This is not a case of literal schizophrenia or multiple personality disorder, but rather an example of one person’s ability to assess his own life through different aspects of his personality. The portrait of hard work and contentment is only one side of the story, much like the favorable life narratives we craft for public view on social media. As various sides of the subject’s psyche begin to argue with one another over what should be included or omitted from his autobiography, other aspects of his character are revealed, including an aggressive ambition, a hypochondria enabled by his coddling mother, and perverted desires spawned by forbidden sexual encounters in his past. Capek’s writing on these darker topics is surprisingly frank and disturbing. This was a challenging read for its time, not a pandering potboiler. Capek also delivers some insightful dissenting views on the institution of marriage, albeit the marriage dynamic of the 1930s, when women were forced into a more subservient role than today.

All three novels in the Noetic Trilogy are well worth reading. It is a toss-up between Hordubal and An Ordinary Life as to which is the best of the three books. Meteor is not quite as outstanding as the other two, but it is still a remarkable work. English-language readers primarily know Capek as a science fiction writer, from his futuristic play R.U.R. and his utopian novel War of the Newts. The books in the Noetic Trilogy, however, are not sci-fi at all but rather more along the lines of the existential fiction of Franz Kafka or Albert Camus. An Ordinary Life and the two books that preceded it reveal Capek to be an underrated author with a keen insight into human psychology and an exceptional talent for crafting innovative and thought-provoking literature.
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Friday, March 11, 2022

The Black Arrow by Robert Louis Stevenson

Standard medieval coming-of-age adventure
Robert Louis Stevenson is mostly thought of today as a writer of adventure novels for boys, such as Treasure Island and Kidnapped. In his lifetime and shortly after his death, however, he was practically worshipped as a literary god by writers of the Victorian and Edwardian eras like Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, Jack London, Joseph Conrad, and Ernest Hemingway. As a fan of classic literature, including some of the aforementioned writers, I keep hoping to discover some hidden Stevenson gem that merits such praise, but with the exception of Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde his appeal has thus far eluded me. The Black Arrow, published in 1888, is another coming-of-age adventure for young male readers. Much like Kidnapped, I found The Black Arrow to be rather mediocre fare with nary a hint of genius in sight. Even Stevenson himself didn’t have a very favorable opinion of this book.

The Black Arrow takes place during the War of the Roses, the 15th century conflict between the houses of Lancaster and York, two branches of the English royal family fighting for the throne. As the novel opens, the forces of both parties are gathering for the Battle of Risingham (a fictional battle, I believe?). Young squire Richard “Dick” Shelton doesn’t have an opinion either way, but his guardian, Sir Daniel Brackley, is for Lancaster, so Dick takes up arms for that side. Before the battle begins, one of Dick’s colleagues is killed by an arrow from an unseen archer. The arrow, colored black, bears a note pronouncing a sentence of death on Sir Daniel and three of his closest cohorts. The note also hints that Sir Daniel may be responsible for the death of Dick’s father, which causes the young man to suspect his benefactor and wonder if he is fighting on the right side of this war.

Soon Dick befriends a young man who is really a girl in disguise, in fact the young woman to whom Dick is arranged to be married. Dick is unaware of his companion’s feminine gender, but it is revealed to the reader in the first chapter or two when it would have been better kept as a surprise. The same can be said for the details of Dick’s father’s death, which would have made a good murder mystery had the villains not been revealed early on. Although punctuated occasionally by brief bloody combat, the plot meanders, and many of its turns are predictable. Unlike Jim Hawkins of Treasure Island, Dick never really emerges as an interesting character, so the reader doesn’t care much about what happens to him. Dick also performs some bad acts over the course of the book, and afterwards expresses remorse, but he never satisfactorily atones for his transgressions enough to impart a sincere moral lesson.

The most interesting aspect of the novel is the appearance of Richard, Duke of Gloucester, who would later become King Richard III. This book will mostly appeal to history buffs interested in the War of the Roses, but everyone else will find it quite confusing to keep track of who’s fighting on which side and why it makes a difference. The characters themselves seem to choose their sides arbitrarily, with little knowledge of what they’re fighting for. After indulging in the romantic glorification of chivalrous carnage for most of the book, even Stevenson briefly points out the pointlessness of a war in which men sought reputation and material gain by fighting for a cause they didn’t even believe in. As a depiction of the Middle Ages, The Black Arrow falls far short of the gold standard set by Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe, and even Conan Doyle’s potboiler novels of medieval times (The White Company, Sir Nigel) make for far more compelling reads.

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Wednesday, March 9, 2022

Extinct Languages by Johannes Friedrich

A concise but not elementary overview of Old World epigraphy
Johannes Friedrich was a German linguist and hittitologist (an expert on the Hittites). His book Extinct Languages is a survey of ancient writing systems and the efforts made in deciphering them. (This is generally called epigraphy, but Friedrich’s translator never uses that word.) Originally published in 1954 as Entzifferung verschollener Schriften und Sprachen, the book was published in English translation in 1957. Friedrich begins his book by looking at “The Three Great Decipherments in the Study of the Ancient Orient”: Egyptian hieroglyphics, cuneiform writing, and Hittite hieroglyphics. This occupies the first half of the book, while the latter half is devoted to brief looks at about a dozen other ancient languages in various stages of decipherment. The book is illustrated with drawings or photographs of each script, and Friedrich explains the techniques employed, successfully or unsuccessfully, in deciphering them.

With the exception of the brief mention of an Indus Valley script and its similarity to writing found on Easter Island, the scope of the book is strictly confined to Southern Europe, North Africa, and the Middle East, ranging from Italy (the Etruscans) to Iran (Persian cuneiform). Friedrich never mentions Native American writing such as that of the Aztecs or Maya. The problems encountered and the techniques used in deciphering the Egyptian or Hittite hieroglyphics, however, are similar to those employed in the reading of the Maya glyphs (see Michael Coe’s book Breaking the Maya Code). Friedrich’s book offers an interesting glimpse into what epigraphers do and how they solve these fascinating centuries-old linguistic puzzles.

Given the broad and brisk coverage of each language, I’m guessing that Friedrich intended Extinct Languages to serve as an introductory text for undergraduate students and general readers. It is definitely accessible to amateur linguists and armchair archaeologists, but it’s not an easy read. In the 1950s, educated people were expected to have some knowledge of Greek and Latin, and Friedrich assumes his readers have that linguistic foundation, making some passages difficult for the average English-language reader of today. One thing I found frustrating is that Friedrich doesn’t provide any key to the Latinization scheme he’s using to transliterate these different writing systems into our alphabet. Perhaps he used a method that was the disciplinary standard for his time, but one unfamiliar with that scheme can only take a guess at the pronunciation of these transliterated words.

Obviously there’s been some progress made in the field since Extinct Languages was published. At the time of writing, the Linear B script from the Minoan civilization of Crete had not yet been deciphered. As the book went to press, however, Friedrich added an appendix describing the promising progress made by Michael Ventris towards reading that ancient language. (For more on that, see John Chadwick’s 1959 account The Decipherment of Linear B.) I’m sure advances have since been made in all of the languages discussed in this book, so Friedrich’s 60-year-old survey of the discipline cannot be considered up-to-date. The advantage to this book, however, is the broad range of languages that it covers. In all cases, if you want to learn how a specific script was deciphered, you’d be better off consulting a text that’s solely devoted to that one language. Friedrich’s overview gives enough of an introduction to each language to allow the reader to decide which topics merit following up with further research. For anyone interested in languages, it will definitely pique your interest enough to want to learn more.
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Monday, March 7, 2022

The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck

Compassionate saga of American refugees
I was one of those kids who didn’t want to read The Grapes of Wrath in high school because it was too long, so instead I wrote my book report on Cannery Row. Over three decades later I finally realize what a bad choice I made by depriving myself of one of the greatest books in American literature. Published in 1939, John Steinbeck’s masterpiece tells the story of the Joads, Midwestern farmers rendered destitute by the Dust Bowl, who head for California in hopes of finding work to start a new life. Steinbeck had previously done research amid the migrant workers in California, resulting in several newspaper articles published in 1936 under the heading of The Harvest Gypsies. The living conditions he observed in the migrant laborers’ camps are vividly reflected in his depiction of the plight of the Joads and their fellow migrants. More than just a poverty sob story, however, the novel is a stirring call for compassion and an affirmation of the resilience of the human spirit.

The Grapes of Wrath is a modernist novel that doesn’t ostentatiously wear its modernism on its sleeve. Stylistically, Steinbeck bridges the gap between earlier workingman’s epics like Frank Norris’s The Octopus and Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle and the comparatively more avant garde writings of Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner. On the surface, the saga of the Joads is a naturalist peasant epic in the mold of Emile Zola or Jack London’s socially conscious works. Steinbeck portrays the extraordinary drama of ordinary people’s lives with a frank and vividly detailed realism. The story of the Joad clan only occupies roughly every other chapter of the book, however. In between the extensive chapters on the family, Steinbeck inserts brief iconic vignettes of America in the 1930s, focusing on typical experiences of poor, working-class, and migrant laborers, such as the purchasing of a used car or a stop at a roadside diner. These glimpses into American life call to mind the nonfiction interludes John Dos Passos inserted into his U.S.A. trilogy. At times, however, Steinbeck’s vignettes are written in a style almost resembling beat poetry. These digressions from the Joad narrative cleverly broaden the book’s scope to a wider segment of humanity and greatly enhance the visceral experience of the story by reinforcing Steinbeck’s depiction of greed and inequality in America.

One thing that surprised me about the book is that on top of everything else oppressing the Joads, the Dust Bowl isn’t the only natural disaster that Steinbeck introduces into the plot. That seemed a bit unnecessary considering the family already faced plenty of socioeconomic perils, from starvation to class violence. To focus too much on the latter, however, might have resulted in a rehash of In Dubious Battle, which this book is not. The Grapes of Wrath does depict class conflict, but it bears a heavier load of compassion and pathos that elevates it to a more universal and profound tragedy of the human condition.

Though it was written in 1939, the social issues brought forth in The Grapes of Wrath are still relevant today. The Dust Bowl may be a distant memory, but American still has its share of migrant workers, wage slaves, and rampant income inequality. The global economy also ensures that most of us in the developed world exploit the equivalent of Joads in other nations around the world without even being aware of it. Over 80 years later, nothing about Steinbeck’s novel is so dated that it fails to accurately reflect human nature or the brutal socioeconomic reality. This is really a book that every American should read. Even those who can’t sympathize with its “red” message ought to appreciate its superb literary merit. In the search for the “Great American Novel,” I personally would still give the edge to Norris’s The Octopus, but I wouldn’t look askance at anyone who would choose to bestow that hallowed title upon The Grapes of Wrath.
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Tuesday, March 1, 2022

The Remaining Short Fiction of Clifford D. Simak

Not quite “Complete”
Since starting this blog a little over a decade ago, one of my most fortuitous discoveries has been the science fiction of Clifford D. Simak (1904-1988). Born in a small town in Southeastern Wisconsin, Simak worked as a journalist and editor for the Minneapolis Star and Tribune while conducting a successful side career as a fiction writer. A prolific author from the early 1930s to the early 1980s, Simak was named a Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America in 1977. 

In 2015, Open Road Media began publishing the series The Complete Short Fiction of Clifford D. Simak, which aimed to reprint all of his short stories and novellas. The series is edited by David W. Wixon, a friend of Simak’s and the executor of his literary estate. I have really enjoyed reading this series and would recommend it to any science fiction fan. There has been, however, one frustrating aspect to reading this series. Though projected to be 14 volumes, Open Road inexplicably stopped after publishing Volume 12 in 2017, leaving two books worth of stories left unreleased. Tired of waiting for Volume 13, I have decided to take matters into my own hands and track down Simak’s remaining short stories and novellas. Luckily, most of these works are in the public domain and can be read for free if you can find them online. Many of the old science fiction pulp magazines have been scanned by the Internet Archive. The same is not true, however, for other genres of pulp fiction. Below are the results of my best efforts in tracking down what’s left of Simak’s complete short fiction.

Science Fiction

Rule 18 (3 stars)
Short story originally published in Astounding Science Fiction, July 1938
In the 25th century, Earth has a football rivalry with Mars. A coach uses science to find a loophole in one of the league’s hard and fast rules. This is a well-written lighthearted piece, but contains some unfortunate racial stereotypes not uncommon for the 1930s.
Available at the Internet Archive

Clerical Error (2.5 stars)
Short story originally published in Astounding Science Fiction, August 1940
An error by a shipping clerk on Earth leaves a scientific outpost on Jupiter stranded without the precious metal it needs to survive, forcing them to launch a hunt for the element on the planet’s surface. This is a rather run-of-the-mill adventure story that just happens to be set on another planet.
Available at the Internet Archive

Masquerade, a.k.a. Operation Mercury (3 stars)
Short story originally published in Astounding Science Fiction, March 1941
An outpost of Earthmen who run a power station on Mercury have to deal with the local inhabitants, shape-shifting beings composed of pure energy. There’s also some confusing stuff about a “space warp” that just seems unnecessary to the plot, which is essentially a thriller along the lines of John Carpenter’s The Thing.
Available at the Internet Archive

Shadow of Life (3.5 stars)
Short story originally published in Astounding Science Fiction, March 1943
A group of archaeologists is conducting a dig on Mars, where the ruins of a great city are all that remain of an extinct Martian civilization, except for a lingering “Martian ghost.” One of the archaeological team is abducted by an alien and taken to other star systems where an evil is revealed that threatens life on Earth. Admirable for its ambitious story, but it kind of loses steam in the end.
Available at the Internet Archive

Infiltration (4 stars)
Short Story originally published in Science Fiction Stories, July 1943
A midwestern county fair sports a sideshow tent devoted to purported Martian animals. Everyone is sure it’s just a hoax until one of the creatures gets loose. Good old-fashioned monster-movie fun.
Available at the Internet Archive

Lobby (4 stars)
Short story originally published in Astounding Science Fiction, April 1944
A story about atomic power, written before Hiroshima. In the near future, one company has discovered the secret to safe and inexpensive atomic energy. The existing power industries, however, will do everything in their power to keep the new technology from being implemented. Remarkably prescient in its depiction of the political behavior of the oil industry.
Available at the Internet Archive

Mr. Meek Plays Polo (4.5 stars)
Short story originally published in Planet Stories, Fall 1944
Sequel to “Mr. Meek - Musketeer,” 1944
Mr. Meek, bookkeeper turned space tourist, stops for fuel at a Wild Western colony on the ring rocks of Saturn, where he is roped into participating in a “space polo” grudge match. A successful comedic effort in an interesting setting.
Available at the Internet Archive

Limiting Factor (5 stars)
Short story originally published in Startling Stories, November 1949
Earth explorers discover strange planets in another star system. Remnants of a technological civilization are present, including a mysterious planet-sized machine, but no inhabitants remain to tell the story of the beings who left these artifacts behind. The scientists investigate in an attempt to reconstruct the details of the alien culture.
Available online at the Luminist Archives

The Trouble with Ants, a.k.a. The Simple Way (5 stars)
Short story originally published in Fantastic Adventures, January 1951
Eventually incorporated into Simak’s 1952 novel City. Thousands of years in the future, after mankind has left the Earth, the planet belongs to robots, dogs, and other animals, who barely remember the existence of man. In this installment of the City saga, ants also become a major player in the planet’s future. 

The Fence (4.5 stars)
Short story originally published in Space Science Fiction, September 1952
In a future world where all of man’s material needs have been satisfied and work is irrelevant, the biggest challenge to mankind is finding a way to occupy one’s time that fulfills the need for dignity and meaning. An interesting dystopia with a surprising twist towards the end.
Available at the Internet Archive

. . . And the Truth Shall Make You Free, a.k.a. The Answers (5 stars)
Short story originally published in Future Science Fiction, March 1953
In a future in which mankind is just one insignificant inhabitant of a diverse galaxy, an interplanetary team of explorers discovers archaeological evidence of the first humans who left Earth thousands of years earlier. A human member of the team hopes the find will shed light on the glory and purpose of mankind. This story is quintessential Simak, a philosophical reconciling of his interest in futuristic sci-fi and his love for a pastoral Midwestern lifestyle.
Available at the Internet Archive

Shadow Show (3 stars)
Short story originally published in The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy, November 1953
Nine Earth scientists are sequestered on an asteroid, where they search for the secret of creating artificial life. In their leisure hours, as a form of psychological therapy, they participate in a sort of dramatic role-playing game in which they telepathically generate characters onto a screen. Simak never succeeds in making you care about the characters or the play. He manages to maintain the reader’s interest in what comes next, but he takes things too far in the end.
Available at the Internet Archive

Lulu (2 stars)
Novella originally published in Galaxy Science Fiction, June 1957
Humorous story about three space travelers who are held captive when their spaceship/computer falls in love with them. Mildly funny at first, but it goes on way too long.
Available at the Internet Archive

The World That Couldn’t Be (4 stars)
Novella originally published in Galaxy Science Fiction, January 1958
Previously reviewed at Old Books by Dead Guys
Available at Project Gutenberg

The Trouble with Tycho (3.5 stars)
Novella originally published in Amazing Stories, October 1960
The narrator is a prospector on the Moon, where there is a sort of Wild West colony of those who hunt down valuable minerals, as well as lichens with medicinal properties. In addition to the lichens, there is life on the Moon in the form of glittering energy beings who are content to offer themselves as pets for the humans. The story involves a treasure hunt into the mysterious Tycho crater. This is a suspenseful adventure tale, but its fanciful depiction of the Moon seems pretty farfetched for 1960, demonstrating just how little we knew about the Moon before the Apollo missions. 
Available at the Internet Archive

Horrible Example (3 stars)
Short story originally published in Analog Science Fiction, March 1961
Millville’s town drunk is content with being the disgrace of the community, until he saves a couple of lives and inadvertently becomes a hero. The sci-fi aspect of the story is best left unspoiled.
Available at the Internet Archive

A Pipeline to Destiny
Short story originally published in HKLPLOD #4, Summer 1963
Originally published in a rare fanzine, this story was rediscovered in later years, but has only been republished in Russian translation. 
I haven’t been able to find a copy.

Buckets of Diamonds (4.5 stars)
Short story originally published in Galaxy Magazine, April 1969
The narrator, a small-town lawyer, is consulted when his Uncle George inexplicably comes into possession of buckets of diamonds, a valuable painting, and other unusual objects. Although George is accused of theft, no one can figure out where the riches came from or prove that they are not his rightful property. A fun story with some interesting sci-fi twists.
Available at the Internet Archive

Epilog (4.5 stars)
Short story originally published in the collection Astounding: John W. Campbell Memorial Anthology, edited by Harry Harrison, 1973
Eventually incorporated into later editions of Simak’s novel City. Follows “The Trouble with Ants” (see above). Taking place tens of thousands of years in the future, this story reveals the fate of Jenkins, the robot protagonist of City. Read the novel, one of Simak’s best.

The Marathon Photograph (4.5 stars)
Novella originally published in the collection Threads of Time, edited by Robert Silverberg, 1974
A woodsy area in Wisconsin serves as a vacation destination for a small community of professors and writers, but no one knows anything about the inhabitants of one conspicuous lodge. When the caretaker is found dead, however, it launches an investigation into the lodge, where some mysterious artifacts are found. Elements of mystery, horror, and science fiction are entwined into an ingenious story full of intriguing ideas.
Available at the Internet Archive

Non-Science Fiction

Jazz (2.5 stars)
Poem originally published in The Fig-Leaf, December 1922
This brief poem was Simak’s first published literary work. He was 18 years old at the time. The Fig-Leaf was a 32-page booklet published in Lancaster, Wisconsin. Maybe a high school publication?
A copy of the poem (but not The Fig-Leaf) is available online at (scroll down)

A Bomb for No. 10 Downing
Originally published in Sky Fighters, September 1942
Presumably a World War II thriller. I haven’t been able to find a copy.

Smoke Killer
Originally published in Lariat Story Magazine, May 1944
A Western story. I haven’t been able to find a copy.

The Fighting Doc of Bushwack Basin
Originally published in .44 Western Magazine, November 1944
A Western story. I haven’t been able to find a copy.