Science Fiction Though the Decades

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

1997: The Civilisation Game (Simak, Clifford D.)

Heavy on speculation in dialogue, light on wrapping it all up (3/5)

Among Clifford D. Simak’s plethora of twenty-two short story collections, seven collections were published after his death in 1988. These posthumous publication contain stories from Simak’s career spanning from 1932 to 1981—his entire career, actually. The Civilisation Game and Other Stories (1997) is one such posthumous publication of Simak’s short stories and contains stories from 1939 to 1969.

I won’t provide much analysis or commentary of this collection as I did with Strangers in the Universe. This collection is wittier or playful, at times, than Strangers’ thoughtful reflections on human inadequateness. Largely, with the exception of “The Big Front Yard”, the stories are flat and uninspiring, lacking any oomph to propel them to stardom. There are some smiles and snickers but also periods of protraction which felt like Simak was stretching the plot to infinite thinness with the characters’ conjecturing and speculation, namely “Hunch” which had an agonizing series of assumptions.

Even the conclusions of nearly every story felt unprepared, almost like an afterthought—plot elements didn’t tie together the end was merely a grasp for something outré or unique. Most simply fizzled at the end.


Horrible Example (shortstory, 1961) – 3/5 – Tobias is the town drunkard—“so low-down and despicable and disgusting” (13). Unbeknownst to the entire town save for the school janitor, Tobias is actually a robot designated by the Society for the Advancement and Betterment of the Human Race so that no other citizen could sink down to that level. His excellence at his duty and recent heroic behavior deter his own advancement in heading an interplanetary colony… or did it?

The Civilisation Game (novelette, 1958) – 3/5 – Humanity has colonized the stars but have forgotten their roots back on Earth. However, some still call Earth home and keep alive the ancient traditions so that they are never forgotten. Paxton practices politics yet is uncaring for his recent ascent to the presidency. His unscrupulous methods have pushed his opponent to the use of assassination. The only human tool to face this threat is that of war.

Hermit of Mars (novelette, 1939) – 3/5 – Kent and Charley know the Martian hills better than anyone and even know the savage instincts of the local Eaters and Hounds. One night, amid the creatures, they find a solo traveler on a quest for the expert guidance to Mad-Man’s Canal in order to visit the mythical hermit named Henry. The two scoff at her naivety but sympathize with her ignorance, so they lead her through the valleys to the realm of the ever-vague Ghosts.

Masquerade (novelette, 1941) – 4/5 – The four-man Mercutian Power Centre, led by Curt Craig, is host to Washington crony Page, a mischievous cat named Mathilde, and a score of human-mimicking Candles which are native to the planet of Mercury. During a space warp caused by the sun’s enormous strain, Craig discovers Page’s secret intention on capturing one of the pure energy lifeforms known as Candles. The tense atmosphere is ratcheted up when behaviors change in the Centre.

Buckets of Diamonds (novelette, 1969) – 3/5 – Old Uncle George is in a bind again. After having a few beers and watching the Yankees play the Twins in the seventh inning with Mickey Mantle up to bat, George loses his memory and is found in the middle of the road with a bucket of diamonds, a famous painting and a handful of unexplainable items. His son-in-law lawyer takes his side while George is in jail, yet George can’t be charged with theft is nothing is reported stolen… then George disappears from the jail.

Hunch (novelette, 1943) – 2/5 – Chambers is a blind man without a handicap thanks to a telepathic entity he calls Hannibal, found on the outskirts of the Mars system—it’s entirely one of a kind. It helps him to see and takes a certain liking to Chamber’s friend Kemp. Some curious goings-on at the Sanctuary, an orbital asylum for mentally-diseased spacemen, has both Chambers and Hannibal astir. Once there in its revelations, the myth of the war-like fifth planet rears its head.

The Big Front Yard (novella, 1958) – 5/5 – Hiram Taine makes ends meet in his century-old ancestral home in Willow Bend. With his occasionally batty dog Towser, Hiram repairs electronics and sells antiques. The task of repairing a black and white TV becomes simple when it repairs itself as a color TV, thanks to an unexplainable impenetrable translucent ceiling in his basement. Later, he also discovers his stove and radio are also mysteriously upgraded. A door to another world opens in his kitchen and the military becomes interested.

1 comment:

  1. "Even the conclusions of nearly every story felt unprepared, almost like an afterthought—plot elements didn’t tie together the end was merely a grasp for something outré or unique. Most simply fizzled at the end."

    That describes many Simak stories I've read; he can come up with great ideas, and writes pretty well. But sometimes one of his works has an abrupt shift near the end: the point where Simak realized he didn't have an exit strategy, and latched onto the first thing he thought of.