Friday, April 25, 2008

The Book You Have to Read

Patti Abbott came up with this idea. She has a great gator photo on her blog, so naturally I went along with her suggestion that some bloggers write about "forgotten" books, books that influenced them but that seem in danger of disappearing. So I thought I'd start with City by Clifford Simak.

We're talking here about one of my favorite books by one of my favorite SF writers. Simak died 20 years ago, and while I don't know for sure, I suspect that few of his books remain in print in mass market editions.
City is a "fix-up" book, composed of a series of chapters that originally appeared as short stories. Each story is a tale about the legendary creature known as "man" and what happened to him. It's about the end of the world, in a way, and it ends not with a bang, but a whimper, just as Eliot predicted. Except for the dogs, Jenkins, a robot, becomes the most human figure in the book, which contains as one of the chapters what is possibly my favorite SF story, "Desertion."

I really loved this book when I first read it more than 50 years ago. I've read it several times since, and I still feel the same way. "Desertion" never gets old, and that last line slays me every single time. I still think it's one of the best I ever read. Check it out.

15 comments:

Randy Johnson said...

It's been many years since I read this book. I guess I need to dig it out and read it again.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Thanks, Bill. That looks like one my husband will love.

Josephine Damian said...

"....a"fix-up" book, composed of a series of chapters that originally appeared as short stories.

Never heard that phrase before - did not know books structured that way were called that. Love the cool retro cover and the 25 cent price tag.

Any book that stays with you for 50 years has to be good. Thanks for sharing.

Bill Crider said...

I think that phrase is pretty common among the SF contingent. I love that cover, too.

Todd Mason said...

Patti, you should try CITY yourself. Simak will surprise you here. Maybe not so much with, say, CEMETERY WORLD. And, moreso than something like TIME AND AGAIN, CITY is the kind of sf that non-sf people can easily wrap their heads around. Not to be a wet blanket, I must admit, while loving Richard Powers's paintings, that one does seem extaordinarily inappropriate for CITY.

"Desertion" was in my 7th Grade reading text...I already knew of Simak (from that other CITY story "Huddling Place" being in the HALL OF FAME volume and other items in my father's collection), but was still pretty impressed (same text also had, among several dozen other works, Alan Nourse's "Brightside Crossing" and Bradbury's "All Summer in a Day"). John W. Campbell, reports Algis Budrys, happily bought and published the story in the glory years of ASTOUNDING, but was eventually bugged by the implications of the ending (Campbell always was a human Chauvinist, a speciesist as PETA would have it).

Josephine, I forget who was credited with creating the term "Fix-up," but it was Officially Entered into the critical lexicon no later than Peter Nicholls's SCIENCE FICTION ENCYCLOPEDIA...Raymond Chandler cannibalized some short stories and thus THE BIG SLEEP was a borderline fix-up...Philip Roth's PORTNOY'S COMPLAINT was a fix-up of three shorter works, beginning with a short story in ESQUIRE...etc.

Todd Mason said...

I take it back...not "extraordinary inappropriate," but insufficient. (Of course, I first read the stories over thirty years ago, and hadn't looked at this edition's cover closely till this morning.)

jjs said...

a book that did it for me was Destination Universe: a paperback compilation of a e van vogt stories. i had never come into contact with such a lucid mentality before. i think because he was never recognized for his brilliant writing skills he kind of lost faith in himself and fell apart creatively. he also got onto a kind of "develop your inner superpowers" thing and lost all his superpowers. ironic, no?

Anonymous said...

Most SF readers will be more familiar with the cool robot cover on the ACE BOOKS edition of CITY. Simak is an underrated writer. His short stories like "Big Front Yard" are classics. My favorite Simak novel is WAY STATION.

George Kelley

Todd Mason said...

Not the best-rendered cover, to be sure, but the Gnome Press cover might be the most iconic:

http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/en/1/11/City(Simak1stEd).jpg

Here's the Ace cover George Kelley remembers:

http://www.scienceworld.cz/sw.nsf/ed161f5b1ecd72c3c1256e7f00342c53/f1e6fd6114c44a60c1256e8b003477fb/$FILE/citycover1_s.jpg

and here's a smattering of CITY covers (among other Simaks), including Bill's edition:

http://www.tc.umn.edu/~brams006/simak/covers_cn.html

Meanwhile, here, just for swank, is a cover of SHORT STORIES (in the era that it was a stablemate of MIKE SHAYNE MYSTERY MAGAZINE), an issue with a Simak story:

http://www.falseducks.com/simak/ninelives.jpg

Bill Crider said...

Great links, Todd. Thanks.

JJ, a while back I picked up a hardover of the Van Vogt book for a buck. It's in bad shape, but still readable.

Todd Mason said...

I think it was Budrys or Blish who suggested that the SFWA voting Clarke's "The Nine Billion Names of God" into the HALL OF FAME volume instead of "The Star" was foolishness...I'll go ahead and suggest similarly the selection of "Huddling Place," good as it is, over "Desertion" was likewise.

And you're quite welcome, Bill. A first-rate book that is in danger of being forgotten by today's publishers and younger audiences.

Travis Erwin said...

Like Josephine, I've never heard the term fix-up book but sounds intriguing.

Ed Gorman said...

That cover sure makes me sentimental. Twenty-five cents, a Richard Powers cover and some of the best sf stories of Simak's generation just waiting to be read. Thanks for running it. Ed

Patrick Shawn Bagley said...

I have two copies of City: a battered one that I keep because of that classic cover, and the Ace edition, which is my "reading copy."

My favorite Simak works are Way Station and his novelette “The Big Front Yard.” I didn’t discover him until after he’d passed away.

Bill Crider said...

I've enjoyed too many of his books and stories to list. A wonderful writer.