clifford d simak and the old solar system

Most settings in Simak's tales are terrestrial or interstellar, or both.  He doesn't frequent the Solar System as a rule.  Nevertheless he does contribute to the OSS in one of his best short stories - a gem of the genre - which has a Jovian setting.

Harlei:  Don't forget that there is one important Inner Solar System planet which Simak evokes superlatively well...

Zendexor:  True - especially one part of it: Grant County, Wisconsin.  See our page on America's Own Haunting.

world by world

On some dimensional extension of EarthThe Autumn Land.

On Earth's far futureThe World of the Red Sun

On the MoonThe Trouble with Tycho.

Concerning Mars (or rather, Martian philosophy):  Huddling Place.

Among the asteroidsThe Asteroid of Gold.  Also the memorable "hunting asteroid" episode in Time And Again.

On JupiterDesertion.

Stid:  So this gem of the genre that you were talking about...

Zendexor: the Jupiter story, Desertion.  Ten and a half pages of irresistible story-telling genius.

Stid:  If it's that good, and it's only ten and a half pages, you're going to have a job demonstrating why it's so great, without over-picking it - I mean, since it's so short, if you quote chunks out of it (the way you often do), there won't be much left for the reader to enjoy for himself.

Zendexor:  Ah, but I can view the challenge as a sort of game, in which I must whet the reader's appetite for the kind of story it is while giving away as little as possible of the plot.

It starts:

Four men, two by two, had gone into the howling maelstrom that was Jupiter and had not returned.  They had walked into the keeing gale - or rather, they had loped, bellies low against the ground, wet sides gleaming in the rain.

For they did not go in the shape of men.

Harlei:  I have that tale in my copy of City.  Let me suggest the next quote... let me see... if you go to page 84, the  passage starting "It was not the Jupiter he had known..."

Zendexor:  No.  Stop.  No more quotes.  If we add more quotes, we'll swiftly over-pick it as Stid suggested.  That would be unfair to the readers and to the author of this marvellous story.

Stid:  Simak died in 1988.

Zendexor:  So what?  We still owe it to him to refrain from spoiling anyone's first read of his story.

We'll hint at its scope by asking questions.

Suppose it were possible, just by pressing a button, to convert men into another form, to explore Jupiter?  Send them out loping, as quadrupeds, through an ammonia storm on the giant planet?

And suppose they do not report back.  What then?

If you were the controller of the project, you'd wonder why they do not come back.  You'd speculate as to whether the biologists or the physicists might have got the matter-Conversion process wrong...  but they deny it. They insist that whatever has gone wrong, it can't be something in their department.

Finally you'd decide you had to go and see for yourself.  You go out through the matter-converter, out of the dome, in the body of a Loper, into the darkness of Jupiter... determined to find out why the others have not returned.

And the answer soon becomes clear...

That's all from me.  Read the story.  And vicariously breathe the air of Jupiter.

Stid:  What would you say to a critic who claims that Poul Anderson improved on Simak's concept by the way he developed it in Call Me Joe?  Gave it greater realism -

Zendexor:  I would say, nuts.  Both are great stories but the Anderson story is four times as long as the Simak, and different rules apply.  Both have as theme the achievement of unexpected freedom, infinite potential.  Desertion, however, has to pack its punch more quickly, and in fact the entire second half of its short length is a lyrical paean to this emotional bonanza, the unlooked-for payoff after a long struggle.

Poul Anderson, "Call Me Joe" (Astounding, April 1957); Clifford D Simak, "The Asteroid of Gold" (Wonder Stories, November 1932); "The Autumn Land" (The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, October 1971); "Desertion" and "Huddling Place" (Astounding, 1944; in City (1952)); The Trouble With Tycho (1961); Time and Again (1951); "The World of the Red Sun" (Wonder Stories, December 1931)

For comparisons between Time And Again and Wells' The Time Machine, see the Diary entry, A Park-Like Future Earth?

For The Trouble With Tycho see the Diary, Simak on the Moon.

› Clifford D Simak