Thursday, November 16, 2017

Old Time SF Rock and Roll--A Choice of Gods

A Choice of Gods is classic Simak. Who? Right. Clifford Simak is one of the champions of early science fiction. He is credited with creating the “pastoral science fiction” genre, sci-fi set in the countryside. Heinlein once said, “to read science fiction is to read Simak. Anyone who doesn’t like Simak doesn’t like science fiction.” 

It would be hard to find many who agree with that sentiment today. Though his book, Way Station, won the Hugo, and four other books, including A Choice of Gods, were nominated for the Hugo, most of Simak’s books are out of print. He is largely ignored. And he is one of the neglected masters of the form.

You will not find space battles, swords, sorcery, blasters, urban dystopias, or zombies in A Choice of Gods. What you will find is a tale set on planet earth, in the far future, with bucolic descriptions of rural life. A tale of country folk who encounter extraordinary events. A beautifully written, well-conceived story that moves right along without seeming hurried. It’s old-school writing. And pastoral. He takes time to smell the flowers. And it may annoy some modern readers.

But to put some perspective on it, it was published in 1972. And he talks about travelling to other planets in the galaxy by the parapsychic power of the mind alone. He brings mysticism and fantasy into his science fiction picture. And AI. And sentient robots. And musical trees. And truly alien aliens. He sprinkles non-chronological journal entries into the narrative—something we modernists take for granted today. On the downside, his anti-technological stance is a bit heavy-handed, even illogical—there’s a small army of robots to do the manual labor in this rural paradise. And a lot of the significant action occurs off-stage, and is reported later in conversations. Finally, his pleasant pastoral style may be a bit too bucolic for some of today’s hyper-wired readers.

But to my mind, it’s well worth haunting second-hand bookstores to find copies of Simak’s work. 

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