So Bright The Vision by Clifford D. Simak science fiction book reviewsSo Bright The Vision by Clifford D. Simak science fiction book reviewsSo Bright The Vision by Clifford D. Simak

I have been on something of a kick this past year as regards Clifford D. Simak and his shorter fiction of the 1950s. All the Traps of Earth (1962), The Worlds of Clifford Simak (1961) and Other Worlds of Clifford Simak (1962) had all proved to be truly wonderful – or perhaps I should say “wonder-filled” – collections, and I decided to go for just one more. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, these short stories, novelettes and novellas that Simak so excelled at in the ‘50s are the reading equivalent of tasty, nutritive bonbons today; comfort food for the mind, as it were. My latest experience with the beloved, Wisconsin-born, sci-fi Grand Master was via a book that I’d read over 40 years ago but had little recollection of; namely, So Bright the Vision, which gathers together four of Simak’s novelettes from the period 1956 – 1960. And as it turns out, my inability to recall anything about this quartet of tales is much more of a reflection on my ginkgo biloba-deprived hippocampus than the four very-high-quality stories themselves!

So Bright the Vision was originally released in 1968 as one half of one of those cute little “Ace doubles” (H-95, for all you collectors out there), paired back-to-back with Jeff Sutton’s novel The Man Who Saw Tomorrow, and sold for 60 cents. Eight years later, Ace would release the Simak book as a stand-alone collection for $1.50 (inflation in a nutshell!). That same year, in 1976, the Portuguese publisher Livros do Brasil would come out with an edition retitled O Homem Que Via O Futuro (The Man Who Saw the Future). And in the U.K., editions would be forthcoming in 1978, 1985 and 1986 by the publishers Magnum, Methuen, and Severn House, respectively. It is the 1978 Magnum edition that this reader was fortunate enough to pick up somewhere 40+ years ago (featuring a cover by Chris Moore), and it has been patiently sitting on a bookcase shelf here at home for all those decades, waiting to be rediscovered by yours truly. And I am so glad that I have!

So Bright The Vision by Clifford D. Simak science fiction book reviews

The first of the four novelettes presented to the reader in this Simak collection is “The Golden Bugs” (a nod to the Edgar Allan Poe short story “The Gold Bug,” from 1843?), which originally appeared in the June 1960 issue of the 40-cent Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Randall Marsden, a family man and insurance salesman, narrates the story, and tells us of all the strange happenings that had descended upon his home. The ants and wasps that had previously been a problem there were turning up dead. A gigantic agate boulder had suddenly plopped itself into his backyard. The family’s refrigerator had been moved overnight into the living room! And before very long, the cause of all these incidents had become known: hundreds of the titular golden “bugs”; minute, crystalline entities that at first only seemed interested in dusting and tidying up the Marsden abode. But then matters had grown more serious, when the alien creatures had started to telekinetically disassemble everything in the house and surrounding area, in a search for the metallic bits. Simak’s story grows increasingly wild and tense as it proceeds, and the “bugs’” shocking murder of a neighborhood dog serves as a red flag as to just how serious a menace they might be. The idea of an alien gadget or creature capable of performing rapid-fire housework apparently appealed greatly to the author; he’d already touched on the subject in his 1954 novelette “Dusty Zebra” and would do so twice more in this very volume! “The Golden Bugs” is a trifle pat and contrived in that Randall’s next-door neighbor just happens to be an entomologist, his 11-year-old son’s best friend is something of a whiz at mineralogy, and his other neighbor just happens to hold the key to the neighborhood’s – and Earth’s – salvation. Still, the story is capped with a right-on message concerning the necessity of patience and understanding when dealing with an alien race; a moral that goes far in making this a story well worth reading. It is one that will surely resonate with those who have ever had to handle an infestation problem in their own home, and make those folks feel grateful that they never had to deal with the kind of critters depicted here!

In the curiously titled “Leg. Forst.,” which originally appeared in the April 1958 issue of the 25-cent Infinity Science Fiction magazine, the reader is introduced to an elderly, bearded widower named Clyde Packer, who leads a lonely but contented existence while engaged in his hobby of philately. Clyde, one of Simak’s patented loner coots, has a collection of stamps from all over the galaxy, as well as alien contacts who send him items from the distant stars. His life is suddenly upended one day when one of his many contacts sends him some plain yellow stamps; stamps that Packer accidentally spills some broth on while eating. When he returns to his packrat apartment later on, he discovers a bubbling trashcan full of yellow goop. Apparently, the broth had chemically affected the spores with which the stamps were composed, and that goop is moreover telepathic, and more than willing to obey Clyde’s every thought … starting with – you guessed it – tidying up his apartment! Clyde’s go-getter nephew sees a fortune to be made in these “efficiency units” (again, shades of “Dusty Zebra”), but of course, the inevitable problems will crop up, won’t they? Simak’s story is a very charming one, and Clyde Packer himself makes for an irascible yet nevertheless strangely likeable character. Simak’s boundless imagination is here demonstrated in the great variety of alien stamps on display; some employing scents, some with shifting colors, some made of human skin! The story features some gentle humor and even romance due to the interplay between Clyde and the nosy widow across the hall. As in his 1956 story “Jackpot,” the terrible burden of human honesty is featured as a theme here; an honesty that is foisted on mankind whether he likes it or not. I’m not sure if Simak himself enjoyed stamp collecting as a hobby, but he displays a familiarity with the subject here that is most convincing, and his talk of covers, slips, blocks and so on is quite credible, indeed. Oh … as to that unusual title for this novelette, I think I’ll let you discover what “leg. forst.” means on your own, when you hopefully do get to experience this winning tale one day.

So Bright The Vision by Clifford D. Simak science fiction book reviewsThe longest story in this collection, the title piece “So Bright the Vision,” originally appeared in the August 1956 issue of the 35-cent Fantastic Universe magazine; the same month that its author turned 52. This tale is set 600 years in the future; an age when the chief export of Earth is fiction, churned out by machines for a galaxy hungry for the stories that only the people of our fair planet can concoct. (As in “Leg. Forst.,” we are here told that the peoples of Earth are the only ones in the galaxy capable of telling a lie, and making up phony narratives.) Against this backdrop we are introduced to a wannabe hack writer named Kemp Hart, whose Auto-Author 96 machine is broken, and who cannot afford to buy a ritzy new Classic or Best Seller model … or even a decent camera and films to shoot the real-life people to supply to those devices’ database of possible characters. Writing by hand, without a machine to fabricate characters and story lines, is strictly taboo, but still … what’s a starving author to do? Simak’s novelette turns out to be a deliciously written ode to the novelist’s profession – “the loneliest business on Earth,” as Angela, Hart’s galpal and an aspiring writer herself, puts it – and to the men and women who suffer so much to produce their art. As Hart’s acquaintance Jasper – who is secretly defying the taboo by writing his own stories unaided – says of the machines, “They are destroying the pride in us. Once writing was an art. But it is an art no longer. It’s machine-produced, like a factory chair. A good chair, certainly. Good enough to sit on, but not a thing of beauty or of craftsmanship…” Simak’s story also gives the reader two wonderful alien races: the Caphians, a full-blooded, lusty people who love the violent tales of swashbuckling adventure that Earth supplies in reams, and a rather pitiable alien who is described as looking like a blanket with a face! Aliens from both of these races do play large parts in the story line here. Simak’s tale ends rather marvelously, with both Hart and Angela going off to … but no. Again, I’ll let you discover that part of the story for yourself.

This particular collection is brought to a close by its fourth novelette, “Galactic Chest,” which originally appeared in the September 1956 issue of the 35-cent Original Science Fiction Stories magazine. Simak’s story introduces us to one Mark Lathrop, who narrates his unusual tale. Lathrop, a hard-drinking reporter for a small-town newspaper in the Midwest, had gradually been made aware of the many “good-news stories” lately transpiring in his area. An elderly woman had begun seeing the spirits of her dear departed friends. A local physicist had found his notes rearranged, thus giving him a valuable clue in his researches. A young boy undergoing a tricky heart operation had miraculously pulled through. The physicist had suggested to Mark, half jokingly, that the legendary elfin creatures known as “brownies” might be the cause, and when the reporter returned to his lakeside cottage one evening and noticed a gang of diminutive, pointy-headed men painting his house and repairing the roof, he knew that the legend was indeed true! Obviously, Simak’s story would seem to be more of a fantasy piece as opposed to sci-fi, and only an Air Force colonel’s admission that the brownies do indeed have an extraterrestrial origin reclaims it for the science fiction camp. It is a sweet, gentle story that brings down the curtain on this collection. Incidentally, this reader had never heard of the creatures called “brownies” before I read this tale. But right after I finished it, I turned on Jeopardy and was confronted with a clue that read something like “This elfin race does good deeds and only asks for a bowl of milk to be left in return.” I knew the answer immediately: “What are brownies?” Talk about your co-inkydences! Anyway, do you see how educational reading can be? Simak’s brownies, it will be allowed, do not require a milk payment in return for their services, but are every bit as good at being helpful – and, uh, at tidying up a house – as any brownie of popular lore.

So there you have it … four more wonderful tales from the typewriter of a master … and unassisted by an Auto-Author 96! Taken in conjunction with All the Traps of Earth, The Worlds of Clifford Simak and Other Worlds of Clifford Simak, the 25 stories, novelettes and novellas serve to demonstrate that Simak was surely one of the most charming, ingratiating and thought-provoking of all the many sci-fi writers working in the 1950s. And So Bright the Vision is a perfect exemplar of his manifold gifts. More than highly recommended!


  • 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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