I Am Crying All Inside and Other Stories: The Complete Short Fiction of Clifford D. Simak*****

iamcryingallinsideClifford D. Simak is a science fiction legend. Before his 55-year career was done, he earned 3 Hugo Awards, the Nebula Award, and was named Grand Master by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. I scored big when Open Road Media and Net Galley invited me to read and review this wonderful collection. It is available for purchase digitally now, and will be released October 20.
The fact is, I miss old-school science fiction writing, the fun stuff that is the product of a fertile imagination but requires no knowledge of programming code or other technological wizardry. What’s more, the quality offered in this collection is not only excellent, but evenly so. Common themes tend toward robots with complex feelings, sentient plants, and time travel, but there is no sense of sameness otherwise. Sometimes we are on a far-flung planet; sometimes we are back on planet Earth after it’s been wrecked to where anyone with any gumption has up and left, with only sorry-ass losers remaining. The common factor among all of these stories, in fact, is Simak’s ability to engage the reader.
Given the strangeness of the worlds science fiction and fantasy writers create, one would expect to feel intellectually curious about what the writer has cooked up, but what astonishes me every time I read really strong science fiction is the way the writer manages to work our emotions, causing a lump to form in one’s throat over something that could not possibly happen. By creating an alien setting in which a human, or human-like thought and emotion is present, a sneaking affection is created, and before you know it, there you are practically weeping over the poignant scenario that’s before you. The hook isn’t sentimental or maudlin, and that is why it is so successful. The subtlety is powerful, and we are connected to characters that not only don’t exist, but could never exist in the way the author has laid it out. And so, if Stephen King is drawn to things that go bump in the dark and binds our emotions to oddities in that genre, so has Simak laid our feelings bare using distant, fictional moons in solar systems that don’t exist. It’s a hell of a gift.
Every time I read a short story and decided that I had a new favorite, I looked back over the earlier ones—they were all so strong!—and then read on, and found myself uncharacteristically unable to choose one over the others. There isn’t a weak one in the batch; all are outstanding.
At one point I was ready to knock half a star off over the one-time use of the “N” word in one short story written in the first half of the twentieth century, but then there were all sorts of references to racial purity within the context of the story (alien races) that convinced me that he had an agenda when he did so, and not necessarily a bad one. If it were up to me, I’d leave the word out, but given its purpose here, one could argue for its inclusion.
But it’s worth being warned that it’s there. Nobody likes that kind of surprise.
The only other bad news here is that Simak is dead.
The good news is that over his prodigious career, he wrote enough material to fill 13 more collections beside this one, and if permitted, I will read and review every single one of them.
Highly recommended to anyone that loves old school sci fi.

We Install and Other Stories, by Harry Turtledove ****

weinstallScience fiction is a big house with a lot of rooms. Turtledove has managed to leave his calling card in almost all of them, and includes a couple of thought-provoking essays as well. Once again, I send hearty and heart-felt thanks to Net Galley and Open Road Integrated Media for permitting me to glimpse this collection in advance, and free of charge. It goes on sale in August of this year.

I used to read more science fiction than I do now; one reason is that a big branch of it has veered into tech-speak that requires more knowledge than I possess in that field. But another reason also occurred to me as I read these stories, sometimes voraciously and at other times more tentatively, and that is that sci fi requires a flexible mind, and as we get older, our brains don’t bend as readily. Now that I know it, I will require myself to read it more frequently, because they say to use it or lose it, and I’m not ready to surrender yet. I did find that there were too many characters and relationships introduced in too little time for me to keep up with “Down in the Bottomlands”. This one won the Hugo Award, so I am fairly sure the flaw is mine rather than his. Maybe those of you that are younger and more oriented toward this genre will find it more to your taste.

However, I loved “Hoxbomb”, a thought-provoking twist on the notion of computers having intelligence of their own. And I actually laughed out loud during parts of the first selection, “Father of the Groom”, and also “Birdwitching”. The temerity of “Under St. Peters” left me nearly breathless with admiration; the guy will end up on the Banned Books list for sure if this collection sells well.

Maybe most intriguing of all is the subgenre of alternate history. Turtledove’s essay made me want to roll up my sleeves and write again. How much fun could it be?

All told, this is a meaty collection that the sci fi lover should read when it’s possible to do so. I promise you’ll have a great time, and stretch your mental muscles in the process.