I still can’t pretend to understand the logic of the sequencing in this series, but however, they were chosen, the stories in this collection are mostly very good. Much of this is classic Simak – extraordinary events happen to an ordinary guy, in a very low key fashion, far from the centers of power and commerce. There are a couple of missteps – a western that isn’t bad, but isn’t interesting, and one very un-Simak gung-ho war story complete with biddable natives and evil opponents. The fact that the latter was written soon after Pearl Harbor is the only explanation I can come up with for it being written at all. The others, though, are mostly very good, and show Simak’s more characteristic natural compassion for other life.
The best stories are:
- Operation Stinky – an alien in the form of a skunk. I’ve read this one before, but it didn’t stop me from laughing out loud at parts.
- Green Thumb – an alien in the form of a plant. Not as funny as Stinky, but no less touching.
- Target Generation – when a generation ship reaches its destination. A more optimistic response, perhaps, to Heinlein’s Orphans of the Sky.
- A Death in the House – another alien in the form of a plant. A nice counterpart to “Green Thumb”.
Skip the war story, and you have a great selection of moving and optimistic Simak stories.