Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. LXVII (Simak, Clement, Bradley, White)

I just came back from more than a month in Paris where I was rather sci-fi deprived so I headed immediately (well, not literally) to the local used bookstore.  A nice collection of novels from some of the genre’s greats — Hal Clement, James White, Clifford D. Simak, and Marion Zimmer Bradley.  I’ve not read any of Bradley’s novels and I’ve heard that Darkover Landfall (1972) is probably the place to start.

And I’ve enjoyed James White’s work so far.  Clement isn’t exactly my cup of tea but it might be good to read another one of his novels before I come to a conclusion.

And some fun Paul Lehr covers…

1. Lifeboat (variant title: Inferno), James White (1972)

(John Berkey’s cover for the 1972 edition)

From the back cover: “Disaster! The passengers were the usual varied lot, some nervous, some boisterous, some smart-aleck, some quiet.  The ship’s Medical Officer was brand new and didn’t anticipate having to much more than take care of a few queasy stomachs and bruises among his charges — from earning how to handle weightlessness.  It was a routine trip.  And so was the safety drill.  Until the disaster all went out…”

3. Close to Critical, Hal Clement (magazine publication 1958)

(Paul Lehr’s cover for the 1964 edition)

From the back cover of a later edition: “Crisis on Tenebra.  Shrouded in eternal gloom by its own thick atmosphere, Tenebra was a hostile planet… a place of crushing gravity, 370-degree temperatures, a constantly shifting crust and giant drifting raindrops.  Unpromising — yet there was life, intelligent life on Tenebra.  For more than 20 years, Earth scientists had studied the natives from an orbiting laboratory…  and had even found a way to train and educate a few of them.  Then the unexpected happened!  A young Earth girl and the son of a powerful, hot-tempered alien diplomat were marooned in a bathyscape, drifting toward the planet’s deadly surface.  Only the primitive Tenebrans could rescue them!”

3. Darkover Landfall, Marion ZImmer Bradley (1972) (MY REVIEW)

(George Barr’s cover for the 1976 edition)

From wikipedia: “Darkover Landfall concerns the crew and colonists of a spaceship that is forced to crash land on Cottman IV, an inhospitable planet in orbit around a red giant. The crew become accidental colonists when the ship loses contact with Earth and they realize rescue is impossible. This series spans millennia, as the ship’s descendants populate the world and develop unique cultures and psi abilities. […] Though Darkover Landfall is not the first book written in the series, in the Darkover timeline its events are the beginning for all that follows.”

4. Shakespeare’s Planet, Clifford D. Simak (1976)

(Paul Lehr’s cover for the 1977 edition)

From the back cover: “The most terrifying hour in all time.  Horton wasn’t a coward.  He could bear the crushing loneliness of being marooned on a hostile planet light years from home.  He managed to survive among alone outcasts that included a low-budget robot,  a royal cannibal, and a beautiful missionary sporting a tattooed breast.  He was even prepared to die for his new tribe, if necessary.  But no one could withstand the nightmare horror called… The God Hour.”

28 thoughts on “Updates: Recent Science Fiction Acquisitions No. LXVII (Simak, Clement, Bradley, White)

    • I’m rather ambivalent towards him. The Way Station was fine, Choice of Gods was average, so was Cemetery World — I’ve read quite a few of his other novels as well but can’t recall them of the top of my head…

      • Just finished Cemetery World. I enjoyed it for the most part, but found the last few chapters unsatisfying. There were real problems with payoff.

        The major robot characters, Elmer and Bronco, disappear from the story. Which is really odd, as Simak spent a lot of time creating empathy for these characters.

        Boy gets girl on the last page, but I never felt there was very much buildup toward this ending.

        And the list of Cemetery wrongs that were righted in the end include fleecing Pilgrims and trading in artifacts, but not the gross mishandling of loved ones’ bodies – the subject of the book’s most moving section, Ramsay O’Gillicuddy’s story in chapter 13. Which is a doubly strange omission as it’s O’Gillicuddy who ends up running Cemetery!


  1. I’m afraid to have to add my voice to the masses as far as Lifeboat is concerned. Still, it’s a great cover, the retro-futurist typography of the title is fantastic. Enjoy the others.

  2. I think the appeal of Simak, for those of us who count him as a favorite, is that he doesn’t try to blow you away. He’s the plaid flannel shirt of science fiction writers.

  3. Hi Joachim

    I started reading about Bradley’s Darkover with Landfall, The Spell Sword, and The Planet Savers. I enjoyed all of them, often I enjoy an author’s earlier shorter works best I love a lot of Brunner’s Ace Book titles for the same reason. Maybe it speaks to my attention span. Hopefully you will enjoy Landfall. I know you have been cool on Simak and I found your comment that the robots seem to stand in for slave or servant classes really interesting, but I am a huge fan and I agree with Tom that part of his appeal is the sort of gentle normal approach, he is not a planet smashing kind of guy.

    Enjoy your books. I always look forward to hearing about your new purchases it often encourages me to look for my own copies or reread the titles I already have.

    All the best.

    • Right. He’s the science fiction equivalent of comfort food. I also share your preference, Guy, for the older, shorter SF novels. They taste better than today’s super-sized novels that come packed with a lot of filler. 🙂

  4. I am also dismayed to hear this negative consensus on James White’s Lifeboat. I really liked his novel All Judgment Fled and the three stories I have read in his collection Deadly Litter and the one I have read in Monsters and Medics have all been fun. Anybody here read any of those?

    As for Simak, I think he can be good, but the whole anti-modern, anti-urban, pastoral “the world would be better off if white people all died or left and the Earth’s population consisted of robots and a few hundred American Indians” gets old, especially if, like me, you enjoy modern city life.

    • I’ve enjoyed what I’ve read of his as well — hence why I snatched it up with glee when I saw it in some corner of the store. I still might read it just to see how bad it is… But, I’m definitely not going to stop reading/buying White as a result 😉

    • I can understand a dislike of his pastoralism, but “the world would be better off if white people all died or left” … where do you get racial self-hatred from his work? More to the point, why do you get that from his work? I think you’re bringing an issue to Simak that isn’t there.

      • Isn’t Choice of Gods about how great it is that the only humans left on Earth are Indians who have thrown off all modern/urban/European culture and ideas?

        • Yes, in Choice of Gods the only people who are left on Earth are a few old people who have the robots do all the work for them and wax endlessly about how great this “return” to nature is (despite all their robotic aid and mysterious lack of illness) and some wandering bands of Indians…

  5. Stories about modern men returning to, or finding themselves forced to adopt, a more-or-less primitive lifestyle are as old as the hills. Of course, this usually involves having just enough modern knowledge and technology to make a more primitive life enjoyable / interesting / survivable. I’m thinking of eveything from Robinson Crusoe to Dances with Wolves. A whole bunch of 19th and 20th century utopian novels are based on the idea. Even a dystopian story like Brave New World plays with the theme. It’s nothing Simak invented. He just adapted it to science fiction, bringing SF’s tropes to the fantasy. So if it’s anti-modern, anti-urban, anti-white, it’s only because it’s been a favorite form of escapism or social commentary for modern, urban, white people since, oh, the industrial revolution and the mass migration to cities. At least. You can actually go a little further back to Rousseau, or all the way back to the Greek and Roman pastorals. A very traditional response, in Western civilization, to Western civilization.

    • But they are not really forced to adapt. They have been magically manipulated by an intelligence which causes them to live an incredibly long time communicating across the galaxies from their house and are assisted by robotic servants. This does not fit the paradigm of being forced to adapt…

    • I agree with almost everything you say here. My gripe with Simak, with the movie “Dances With Wolves,” and many similar works, is that I find the condemnation of urban/industrial/Western civilization and romanticization of preindustrial/non-Western civilization tired and boring in general and often silly and unconvincing.

      My gripe with Simak is actually minor – he has real strengths as a writer and I definitely enjoyed City, Heritage of Stars, Special Deliverance, Cemetery World, and Choice of Gods.

      I think Robinson Crusoe is a little different, as when I read it (many years ago now, I admit) I saw it as a celebration of European ingenuity; I thought Crusoe was portrayed as an Englishman conquering the wilderness, that the book was a sort of celebration of what we now would call imperialism.

  6. mporcius @ 11:53, and I’d like to make it clear in return that while I find return-to-nature stories enjoyable as fiction, I would in no way want to give up modern civilization in reality. My day-to-day life depends on the latter’s medical technology. Heck, I even enjoy reading Walden, though the careful reader of that book will understand it was an experiment meant to better the lives of men in towns and cities.

  7. By the way, for anyone who wants to try some Simak without the usual pastoralism, I’d recommend They Walked Like Men (1962). Aliens try to conquer us by economic means. Definitely one of my favorite Simaks.

    • I finally found a Simak novel I truly enjoy — Why Call Them Back From Heaven? (1967)… review will be up soon. Look forward to reading all of your comments — Simak defenders and Simak detractors — hehe.

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