I ran across Clifford Simak years ago, and thought of him as the decent, but not compelling author of books such as Project Pope. Then, this year, I read his excellent All Flesh is Grass, and immediately went looking for more Simak to read.
Unfortunately, this book is a bit uneven. Some is excellent, but then there’s this book. It’s not bad. Despite an array of oddities and adventures, it still has Simak’s usual understated feel, and it has plenty of ideas. What it doesn’t have is the feel of a complete novel.
There are two problems. The first is that the pieces simply don’t add up, nor do they leave a satisfying, intriguing enigma. Simak presents a number of disconnected items, and largely leaves them that way. There are suggestions that he at some point intended more, but he doesn’t follow through, even by way of hints and innuendo. There aren’t so much loose ends, as a puzzle with a lot of the pieces missing, including the edges.
The second problem is that the story tends toward the philosophical, but doesn’t commit. There are moments of introspection or discussion that verge on depth, but never quite reach it. Simak usually draws on ‘average person’ characters. Here, he introduces a cast that we’re told is largely above average, but there’s really not much evidence of it, including in their grander speculations. The book would have worked better as straightforward adventure or as more profound philosophy, but is trapped in a grey and bland middle region that doesn’t hold the reader’s attention.
All in all, readable, but in no way special. There’s far better Simak out there.