I often despair of understanding the logic of anthologists. Especially in collected works anthologies, they seem to group stories together with no clear organizational logic. This Open Road Media collection is no different. This volume has what it claims may be Simak’s first story, from 1930, along with a western, and stories written up toward the end of the last century.
The sad common feature of many of the stories here – they’re not that good. Even the introduction seems to acknowledge that, as do many of the story notes. It’s not surprising that an author who wrote over such a long period put out some duds, or that he improved over time. The organization of this collection throws the latter point into sharp relief without giving a sense of how the change progressed. A few of the stories are good; one is downright embarrassing.
Some of the best stories (mostly):
- Over the River and Through the Woods – time traveling children. Despite a somewhat condescending introductory note, this is a nice, relatively subtle piece that gets its fundamentals across without you really noticing.
- Grotto of the Dancing Deer – cave paintings and longevity. I’m not sure this deserved its awards, but it’s a nice story with a touching theme that the ending hammers a little too hard.
- Crying Jag – alien intoxication. Thin, but with the strong small town feel that Simak was so good at.
- Hunger Death – a small town doctor on Venus. With some not very credible aliens, but a nice feel.
And the embarrassing one:
- Mutiny on Mercury – humans lord it over the inferior but uppity Selenite and Martian races, with, apparently, not a trace of satire in sight. It’s hard to read, and hard to believe that this story is from the same guy who wrote about regular guys standing up to authority. I’d like to see it as a sardonic comment on colonial attitudes, etc. But I’m afraid it’s not – [spoiler alert] the brave human puts down the troublesome lower races, and all is well again.
- Then there’s the story about how we need DDT to live.
All in all, an unfortunate grouping. There are good stories in here, but the overall feeling of the collection is a decidedly negative one. Don’t let this be all the Simak you read. There’s a lot more to him than this collection would suggest.