Science Fiction Though the Decades

Monday, September 15, 2014

1961: Aliens for Neighbours (Simak, Clifford D.)

Humans perplexed by the whims of aliens (3/5)

Clifford Simak’s first collection of short stories was published in 1956—Strangers of the Universe. Perhaps time has not been gentle to the stories (all between 1950 and 1953), or perhaps it’s my taste in material, but most of the stories felt hurried and whimsical. I’ve also read a later collection—The Civilisation Game (1997)—which has stories ranging from 1939 (“Hermit of Mars”) to 1969 (“Buckets of Diamonds”). Rewinding back a few years, Simak’s second collection was published in 1960 as The Worlds of Clifford Simak (Simon & Schuster, US), which contained twelve stories. A year later in 1961, three stories were omitted from the volume in order to publish Aliens for Neighbors (Faber and Faber, UK), which has stories spanning the short period between 1954 and 1957…

…and like both Strangers of the Universe and The Civilisation Game, this collection, too, feels whimsical and hasty, two very common symptoms for short stories of Simak, I reckon. However, Simak does have his gems: “The Answers” (1953), “The Big Front Yard” (1958) and, in this collection, the unforgettable “Dusty Zebra” (1954).


Dusty Zebra (1954, novelette) – 4/5 – First, Joe’s stamps go missing from his desk, the his inkwell and fountain pen. Certain the pen was gone thanks to his trading-savvy son, Joe unlikely finds his pen replaced with a pen-like object which extends telescopically, yet something pulls from the unseen. Worried by the apparatus, Joe revisits the desk to discover a small white dot—he places a crayon on it, it disappears to be replaced by a glassed contraption. Intrigued by the extra-worldly gift, a business idea springs to his mind. 30 pages

Honourable Opponent (1956, shortstory) – 4/5 – Humans have met alien races across their sphere of space and have always engaged in peaceful commercial interests, until the day they met the roly-poly-like Fivers. Battles ensued where the humans blew up a number of Fiver ships while their own ships simply disappeared—a technology the humans have been trying to uncover. On a worthless planet, a human captain awaits the general of the Fiver race, who are juvenile and enigmatic to a ludicrous degree. How could they screw up a prisoner exchange? 16 pages

Carbon Copy (1957, novelette) – 3/5 – Homer Jackson is a suburban realtor. He’s honest, professional and content with his business, until the queer character of Mr. Oscar Steen approaches him with a deal that’s hard to refuse: lease out each of the fifty houses of a walled off property for a mere $5,000, all of which he gets to keep—some in cash, some deposited in the community’s bank. The homes sell quickly, but though sold, homer can’t find any of them occupied. 48 pages

Idiot’s Crusade (1954, shortstory) – 3/5 – Meek often treated with scorn, Jim is the village idiot in a town where minor evil is around every corner: tax dodging, adultery, common swindling, gambling, illegal distilling and general misdeeds. When Jim is out with his dog Bounce, he unwittingly becomes host to an alien intelligence, thereby granting him incredible powers of sights and telepathy. Initially using it as a tool for revenge, Jim learns to use it for good, against the alien’s wishes. 17 pages

Operation Stinky (1957, novelette) – 2/5 – Out in a thick of lilac around his shack where his dogs are causing a stir, old man Asa discovers a friendly “skunk”, a surfeit or which has been living peacefully under his house for some time. He takes the skunk to the bar, gets the skunk kicked out, and gets himself drunk. He climbs into Old Betsy, his truck, in which the peculiar skunk sits, when the truck takes off under its own will… it also evades police, threatens a dog, and flies through the air. 35 pages

Jackpot (1956, novelette) – 3/5 – Exploring and looting abandoned systems across the sphere of human space, a captain and his motley crew discover an enormous cylindrical building yet to be plundered. Within the ground floor maze of the column are numerous black, labeled cylinders with unknown functions. Further in the maze rest machines that have a seat and an umbrella, which turn out able to play the cylinders in a didactic-type fashion. The captain seems money in the find, but the housed alien considers else. 44 pages

Death Scene (1957, shortstory) – 2/5 – The government had erected cross-country radar installations  and, in a time of desperation, flipped the switch on all them simultaneously. The result, announced by the President to the world, was the country—all of its citizens—could now peer twenty-four hours into the future. An elderly couple affected by the change consider checking in with their soon-to-arrive children, but deem the gesture superfluous. Seconds tick by of time predicted. 7 pages

Green Thumb (1954, novelette) – 3/5 – Joe’s the country agent and is used to getting strange calls from farmers, but the one about the 30-foot hole and mountain of curious sand is beyond even his experience. Back at home, the neighborhood dogs yap at something, which Joe discovers to be an exotic plant, only later to witness the same plant mobile. The unlikely pair begin to recognize each other’s needs through a non-verbal, emotional understanding that Joe can use to nurse earth greenery. 23 pages

Neighbour (1954, novelette) – 3/5 – Calvin, Bert and Jingo tend their sprawling farms in Coon Valley. When a new family takes over the old Lewis farm, speculation runs among them and the other townies. Curiosity is piqued when it’s discovered that their fields are pest-free and well-watered, unlike the farm of the farming trio. Also, Reginald Heath, the new farmer, has a curious tractor and an equally as curious car. Ten years later, during which peace reigns, an unwelcome reporter comes to inquire about the valley’s peculiarities. 26 pages

1 comment:

  1. "Operation Stinky", I'm still laughing... Speculative fiction is inherently odd, but that collection of story titles is odder than average. "Dusty Zebra" ?!?!?