the Little Red Reviewer

Enjoying some short fiction from Clifford Simak & Stanislaw Lem

Posted on: January 30, 2018

Open Road Media is publishing the complete short fiction of Clifford Simak’s short fiction, so far there are twelve volumes. From what I can tell, the first three volumes are available in print, and right now the rest are only e-book.  The short fiction isn’t in chronological order, for example, this first volume, titled I Am Crying All Inside and other stories showcases fiction from as early as 1939’s “Madness from Mars” to “I Had No Head and My Eyes Were Floating Way Up in the Air” that was written in 1973, but hasn’t been actually published until 2015.

 

I bopped around the table of contents in this collection, and read whatever caught my fancy. Some stories really grabbed my attention, and others were great fun, but forgettable.

 

I quite enjoyed “Small Deer”, in which a mathematical genius and an engineer create a time machine, and the engineer goes back to the days of the Dinosaurs. He discovers something horrifying about the history of life on Earth. What he learns is so outlandish, who would possibly believe him?  Can a horror story be gentle? This one is.  I always get a kick out of time travel stories, especially when weird Kage Baker or Ijon Tichy stuff starts happening.

 

“I Am Crying All Inside”, is well worth a read, and deserving of being the title track. What will happen, generations from now, when we’ve all left Earth for somewhere better? What will happen to the people and robots who get left behind? What kind of society will they build? Told from an obsolete robot’s point of view, this poignant story feels a little like the movie Wall-E, only much, much sadder.

 

“Ogres” was a super fun, and super smart story about what a vegetable society might be like. We’ve landed on a planet and are trying to figure out what we can exploit, sort of “Little Fuzzy” style. The intelligent species on this planet are all plants. No bones, no vertebrae, no central nervous system, no wheel, no invention of fire. Lots of telepathy and strange music. Maybe we can export the musical trees!  Nothing is what it seems, and the human explorers eventually figure out something fishy is going on. But what threats could we possibly make that would scare a planet full of trees and vegetables? Hmmm…   I loved the evolutionary ideas in this story, and I got a laugh out loud chuckle out of the end.

 

Usually fun, smart, and gentle, Simak stories always feel timeless. Give him a try if you haven’t.

I’m about halfway through Stanislaw Lem’s The Star Diaries.  I’m going to write a bit about this now, because there’s no way I’ll have time to write a longer review before Vintage Sci Fi Month is over.  I know Lem is famous for his serious scifi, stuff like Solaris and Fiasco, but I love his funny stuff, like The Cyberiad.  Lem’s The Star Diaries are the adventures of space traveller Ijon Tichy.  All of these stories could be episodes of Space Dandy.  Most of them are hilarious and over the top satires of politics, organized religion, world leadership, etc, and others are just off-the-wall zany.  There is lots of time travel.  The stories don’t have titles, they are just numbered voyages – the seventh voyage, the eight voyage, the eleventh voyage, etc.

 

In the one that I just finished, a future Tichy recruits his younger self to run an organization that is going to fix history. You know, clean up all the messy stuff, make human development better or some such. Everything that can possibly go wrong does – Mars turns into a desert; stuff crashes into the Moon, covering it with craters; the dinosaurs die out; there is an ice age, etc. Every time Tichy and his advisors try to help historical mankind, something weird happens.  People are exiled into history, and while they are forbidden from saying they are from the future, they are still allowed to tinker. Nearly every one of Tichy’s advisors eventually gets exiled into history, and their names are puns on actual people, and these people had a major effect on known history.  The story is super funny, satirical, and goes on longer than it needs to, and ends with an aging Tichy going back in time to recruit his younger self to take over the organization. And the reality you and I live in, today, right now? Match exactly the results of everything the organization screwed up.

 

I’m maybe 2/3 of the way through The Star Diaries, and the first few stories so far, worked the best for me. They were short, sweet, and funny. A few in the middle are much longer than they needed to be to get their point across.  Even though I might put this book down to be picked up again at a later date, I do recommend it. If you are interested in trying some Lem, I highly recommend either The Star Diaries, or The Cyberiad.

 

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2 Responses to "Enjoying some short fiction from Clifford Simak & Stanislaw Lem"

Simak does the best robots.

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Simak wrote a lot, and so it’s natural that half or more of his stories would be so-so. But boy, are the good ones good!

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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