The Goblin Reservation, by Clifford Simak
Posted January 1, 2013on:
Welcome to Vintage Science Fiction Month! my first review is for Clifford Simak’s The Goblin Reservation. I’ve been meaning to read Simak for a while now, and this was the perfect place to start. A lifelong newspaperman, Simak started selling short stories to the SF pulp magazines in the 1930s, and by 1940 became a regular contributor to Astounding Stories, and would continue writing science fiction and fantasy for the next 4 decades. Enjoy!
The Goblin Reservation
written in 1968
where I got it: purchased used (the copy on the left is mine, the copy on the right belongs to another friend. We were comparing cover art)
I actually read this book about a month ago, and I’m kicking myself for not taking better notes, or not just writing the review back when I read it.
In this future, Earth has become renowned for its universities, we have interstellar travel (similar to the transporters from Star Trek), alien civilizations, and Time travel. In fact the University has an entire college devoted to Time Travel, with the specialty of sending researchers back in Time to bring back artifacts, data, even people and animals. While civilians might enjoy having saber toothed tigers as pets, the History and English departments can’t stand those jerks over at Time, who keep proving published history to be wrong or incomplete. The English department just about has kittens when Time brings William Shakespeare into the future, and he happily admits to having not written the plays. You can’t help but chuckle at that!
At the beginning of the story, professor Peter Maxwell is returning from a trip to another planet, and he finds to his surprise that he’d already returned a few weeks ago, and died in an accident. Once he convinces the authorities that he truly is Peter Maxwell, and really is alive and well, he realizes that since everyone thought he was dead his apartment has been rented to someone else and his job at the University doesn’t exist anymore. It’s discovered that while Peter was being transported from Earth to the planet he was supposed to be researching, his signal was split. One Peter went where he was expected to go (and then back to Earth and killed) and the other Peter was diverted to an amazing Crystal Planet where the natives offered him their knowledge of the universe, so long as Peter was willing to negotiate the sale to Earth. Knowledge isn’t free, and the aliens want something the Time University has.
There is something fishy going on at the University involving an artifact and the mysterious alien race known as the Wheelers. Appearing to have wheels on their sides, the Wheelers are a hive mind of sorts, and most humans are uncomfortable around them. With the help of his best friend Oop the Neanderthal, a Ghost who can’t remember who he is the ghost of, and fellow professor Carol Hampton, Peter needs to figure out what’s going on before someone else negotiates a trade for the knowledge of the Crystal Planet. Perhaps Peter can find some answers by speaking with the residents of the titular reservation – the goblins, elves, banshees and fairies who have also come through time.
It might sound a bit overwrought, but The Goblin Reservation is very light and witty. Every page was entertaining and amusing and I laughed out loud on more than one occasion. Even with hints, foreshadowing, and a rather philosophical conversation with a Banshee, Simak keeps the story light and well paced and follows the Vonnegut philosophy of “starting as close to the end of the story as possible”. With a creative twist on the origins of fairies, banshees, goblins, and even the Wheelers, everything is wrapped up nicely at the end. Even Ghost figures out who he is the ghost of, in a hilarious and surprising manner. At barely 200 pages, The Goblin Reservation is over too soon.
Even if you’re not into vintage scifi, or into scifi at all, The Goblin Reservation is an excellent read, as it requires no previous science fiction knowledge or experience with the genre, as it’s more a light and fun mystery/comedy than brain-bending science fiction. Even the characters admit to not understanding how or being very concerned with how the transporters work, or how or why other life-changing technologies work. It’s like us and our smartphones – we love using them, but don’t know or care exactly how the thing works inside.
I also got a huge kick out of the cover art, here’s a bigger version . The version I read (on the left) has this bizarrely surreal cover art, which I think is supposed to be what the insectoid hive mind of the Wheelers looks like. The version my friend had (on the right) has a Disney-esque dragon being led around by Ghost, who looks like the grim reaper. And then there is this rare 1990s cover art, which makes even less sense than the surreal who-knows-what cover art. Strange cover art aside, should you find a copy of The Goblin Reservation I highly suggest grabbing it!