My English teacher at school made me read Clifford Simak’s novel Way Station. It made a big impact on me, and I really enjoyed it. I’ve had a soft spot ever since for that book, but somehow never managed to read anything else by him. On a previous visit to Hay I purchased a few books of his to see if they were as good: City and Cemetry World. I’ll confess that neither is quite as good as Way Station, but they were good enough for me to try some more.
So on my last trip to Hay I aquired Catface, a novel, and So Bright the Vision, a collection of four long short stories. They are described as novellas on the blurb, but that is a little grandiose. After being thoroughly depressed by the Short History of the Liberal Party, I’ve spent this week on a binge reading of Simak.
So Bright The Vision is a collection of stories about human contact with alien intelligence/life. Oddly most of them seem to want not a lot more than to tidy up for us, although the twists are fun. The story telling is compelling. Alongside cleaning there is a theme about the links between untruth and story telling and business. Good fun.
Catface is in many ways quite dated, which is ironic for a book about time travel. It suffers at the start from some unconvincing dialogue, but nothing bad enough to make me give up. If you are more sensitive in your literary tastes I’d avoid the first chapter. The book sets up nice problems to consider, and raises interesting questions about the power of state and individual, if only to pretty well ignore them.
Like Way Station the action takes place in rustic America, and celebrates the romantic view of a hardy, independent small community America. There is an element of idealism in the view, but then this is SciFi, not social commentary. I found the ending of Catface rather disappointing.
I then re-read Way Station. It remains one of my favourite books, although I can’t quite say why. I love the premise: that a federation of aliens have set up a temporary transit point for their teleportation network on Earth. The lead character is set up so that he bridges alien and human in a believable way (by making him come from the nineteenth century we already have a distance from him used to some effect). Definitely a book that I’d recommend to anyone.
(I have absolutely no idea why the picture ended up turned round. I am blaming blogger for this one. I’m sorry but I gave up when the fifth different attempt to fix it didn’t work.)