Other Worlds of Clifford Simak by Clifford D. Simak science fiction book reviewsOther Worlds of Clifford Simak by Clifford D. Simak science fiction book reviewsOther Worlds of Clifford Simak by Clifford D. Simak

Other Worlds of Clifford Simak is the companion volume to the 1961 Avon paperback The Worlds of Clifford Simak, a collection that had recently impressed me very favorably. As I mentioned in my review of that earlier volume, The Worlds of Clifford Simak was originally released as a Simon & Schuster hardcover in 1960; a rather generous-sized, 378-page affair containing a dozen of the future Grand Master’s stories. Apparently, when it came time for Avon to reprint it the following year in paperback format, it was deemed expedient to break the volume apart to form two smaller collections. The first ran to 191 pages and contained five novelettes and one short story, ranging from 1954 – ’58. The companion volume, released in 1962 with another cover by the great Richard Powers, was a briefer, 143-page affair consisting of three novelettes and three short stories, dating from 1954 and 1957. Both volumes, need it even be mentioned, provide high-grade entertainment value for the sci-fi buff, and find the beloved, Wisconsin-born author in top form, indeed. That first Avon collection had given its readers stories concerning an interplanetary armistice, a house that becomes a portal to other worlds, a wonder-working skunk from another part of the galaxy, the discovery of an alien library, a lovelorn computer, and a small-town resident who has relocated to Earth from afar. You never know what you’ll be getting in a story from Clifford D. Simak, a writer with an immense imaginative faculty and a knack for creating endearing characters in his often-gentle style. True to form, Other Worlds… gives us a half dozen tales that are as different from one another – and as unpredictable – as can be.

Unlike the first volume, which kicked off with its weakest story, Other Worlds… opens with one of its best. The oddly titled novelette “Dusty Zebra” (which originally appeared in the September 1954 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction) gives us the story of family man Joe Adams, who one day discovers an inlaid ivory dot on the desk in his home office. Objects placed onto the dot vanish overnight and outlandish gizmos take their place! In time, Adams comes to realize that he has somehow been brought into contact with a Trader from another world, but sadly, cannot figure out how to make money from all the alien devices that have been coming his way. After a rough sort of communication is established, the alien makes it known that he/she/it will take as many of the plastic-zebra charm-bracelet trinkets as Joe can provide; in exchange, the Trader’s miraculous dust removers will be provided to us, with which Adams hopes to make his fortune. This tale is a nicely detailed one (I love the in-depth contract that Joe draws up with his neighbor and business partner) and concludes with a surprise ending of sorts that few will see coming. The alien gadgets that Joe receives display Simak’s great creativity (I also love the “fishing rod” that hooks on to something from another dimension, as well as the rose-tinted glasses that actually do induce happiness!), while the tale’s mysterious final sentence will surely leave one pondering. Once again, Simak makes a tale of casual charm look easy, which of course it is not.

Another man who chases after the elusive big-bucks windfall is to be found in the collection’s next entry, “Carbon Copy” (a novelette that originally appeared in the December 1957 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction). Here, we encounter Homer Jackson, a suburban Realtor who is hired by a man named Steen to lease the 50 houses in a new development called Happy Acres. Remarkably, the properties are to be leased at the unbelievably low price of $5K each for 99 years … with Homer keeping all $5,000 for each house he lets! Even more remarkable, after the 50 homes are sold off like hotcakes, Homer is instructed to lease them to new customers … and yet more new customers. And although the many hundreds of buyers of the 50 properties all seem to be satisfied, nobody seems to be moving in! What in heaven’s name is going on here? Simak’s tale conflates multiple Earths in other dimensions (a subject that the author had explored in even greater depth four years earlier, in his 1953 classic Ring Around the Sun) with aliens that look “a lot like an English sheepdog with a wrestler’s body.” The tale captivates the reader’s curiosity from the first page – when Homer notices that Steen is wearing his shoes on the wrong feet – and grows increasingly bizarre as it proceeds, culminating on a rather downbeat note … for poor Homer, anyway.

Up next we are given the short story “Founding Father” (from the May 1957 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction). Here, we meet Winston-Kirby, an immortal who has just landed on a new world, along with five of his fellow immortals, to found a new colony. But Winston-Kirby’s joy at making a landing on this virgin world, after a century in space, is short lived, after he learns from the robotic servants that he is in fact alone, his five “friends” – as well as all the various luxury items that he’d grown used to – being merely illusionary constructs created by the ship’s “dimensino” to prevent him from going batty during the 100 years voyaging in space. But after a century of living with those beloved friends and luxuries, can a person just go “cold turkey” and give them up like that? Some interesting food for thought here, especially for a tale that runs to a mere 13 pages. As for that “dimensino” (the reader will most likely be envisioning the holodeck of Star Trek: The Next Generation here), Simak must have liked the concept a lot, as the same gizmo would appear in his 1961 novel Time Is the Simplest Thing four years later. Some slight points off, though, for Simak not telling us why so many immortals had been born on Earth recently, or, for that matter, for not having put Winston-Kirby in suspended animation for his 100-year trip. But I suppose that would have made this compelling story a nonstarter, right?

“Idiot’s Crusade” (a short story from the October 1954 Galaxy Science Fiction) introduces us to a young kid named Jimmy, the much-reviled “village idiot” in the town of Mapleton. But Jimmy’s life changes for the better one day when an alien of some kind takes up residence in his brain, inadvertently conferring on the neighborhood simpleton any number of superabilities. Thus, before long, Jimmy is able to see plants underground and fish beneath a pond’s surface; communicate with animals; and induce happy feelings, as well as feelings of remorse and contrition, in others. More threateningly, he is now also able to mentally kill garden pests and induce heart attacks in his perceived enemies; make animals attack; and start fires from afar! And because Jimmy’s list of enemies and list of those who are in need of moral improvement are long ones, the town of Mapleton is soon on the receiving end of a rash of rather bizarre events. Simak’s story will surely appeal to those fans of such “psychic kids taking vengeance” entertainments as Stephen King’s Carrie (1974) and the classic Twilight Zone episode “It’s a Good Life,” which first aired on November 3, 1961 and whose Anthony Fremont character (indelibly performed by Billy Mumy) shares some DNA with Jimmy here. Simak makes his tale even more interesting by occasionally letting us see events from the alien’s POV, and wraps things up on a note of bleakness … for the human race, that is, not for the triumphant Jimmy!

Clifford Simak

Clifford Simak

“Death Scene” (a short story from the October 1957 issue of Infinity Science Fiction), the briefest offering here at a mere seven pages, posits a world in which mankind has been given the ability to see roughly 24 hours into the future. Several years earlier, as a last-ditch means of averting world war, the U.S. had turned on the transmitters that gave this heritable ability to all the peoples of Earth, thus forestalling any possibility of sneak attacks. But of course, this great boon also came with a cost: no more poker, or gambling, or need for newspapers, for example. And naturally, an individual would now be able to foresee his or her own death a full day in advance.  Thus, here we meet a man named Williams, who returns home one day from the office to find his extended family gathered to say good-bye, one day before his checking out. Simak’s story, brief as it is, is a sweet and moving one. Those readers who have long maintained that they don’t want to know the date of their own personal demise might be given reason to reconsider after seeing how civilized a closure Williams is given here.

Other Worlds of Clifford Simak is brought to a close with what might very well be the most endearing story of the six … and maybe even of the 12! “Green Thumb” (which originally appeared in the July 1954 issue of Galaxy Science Fiction) is narrated to us by an agricultural county agent only identified as Joe. As Joe tells us, rather unusual events had recently transpired in his bailiwick. One farmer had discovered a 35-foot-deep pit on his land, while the entire flower garden of the town’s banker had suddenly died. And then, Joe had discovered the cause: a 5-foot-tall, ambulatory weed the likes of which he’d never encountered before. Rather than destroying the walking parasite outright, Joe had brought it home, nurtured it, and studied it. And before long, the plant – who he’d named, uh, Plant – had begun touching him, and thereby setting up a rough form of communication. Joe was thus able to learn that Plant was not only a novel species of flora but indeed a marooned visitor from outer space! As the months proceeded, Plant and Joe had become fast friends, to the point where the star visitor was even able to help the Earthman deal with a pesky dog. And then, a luminous ship full of the sentient vines had descended behind Joe’s house… I’ve got to tell you, what might sound in synopsis like a fairly silly and even risible affair is actually a story with a superabundance of sweetness and charm. There is something very touching about the sight of Joe and Plant, sitting side by side and in contact with one another, gazing up at the stars on a summer night. A far, far cry from the inimical ambulatory plants to be found in John Wyndham’s classic The Day of the Triffids (1951), the ones encountered here are rather pleasant and likeable, and their lovely story makes for a satisfying conclusion to this abridged Avon collection.

So there you have it … six more truly wondrous stories from the rather fertile imagination of a future Grand Master. These shorter pieces by Clifford D. Simak are kind of like literary bonbons, each one different from the others but all of them lip-smackingly good; quite addictive, really, just like that darn “dimensino”! I have still another collection of Simak’s shorter pieces here at home, So Bright the Vision (from 1968), which I haven’t read in over 40 years, and I find that it is now crying out to me. For this reader, these Simak tales are the reading equivalent of nutritive comfort food, and I’m feeling in the mood now for another tasty snack…


  • Sandy Ferber

    SANDY FERBER, on our staff since April 2014 (but hanging around here since November 2012), is a resident of Queens, New York and a product of that borough's finest institution of higher learning, Queens College. After a "misspent youth" of steady and incessant doses of Conan the Barbarian, Doc Savage and any and all forms of fantasy and sci-fi literature, Sandy has changed little in the four decades since. His favorite author these days is H. Rider Haggard, with whom he feels a strange kinship -- although Sandy is not English or a manored gentleman of the 19th century -- and his favorite reading matter consists of sci-fi, fantasy and horror... but of the period 1850-1960. Sandy is also a devoted buff of classic Hollywood and foreign films, and has reviewed extensively on the IMDb under the handle "ferbs54." Film Forum in Greenwich Village, indeed, is his second home, and Sandy at this time serves as the assistant vice president of the Louie Dumbrowski Fan Club....

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