Earth for Inspiration: And Other Stories
by Clifford D. Simak
Review by Sam Lubell
Open Road Media Kindle Edition ISBN/ITEM#: B01FGVUVX8
Date: 05 July 2016
Clifford Simak is mostly forgotten today, but he was one of the stars of the golden age of science fiction and was the third person to be named Grandmaster by SFWA. He is best known for his novel City (really a fix-up of several related stories) and Waystation. Simaks writing career stretched from 1931 to 1981 and included not only science fiction, but also westerns, horror, and the occasional war story.
In addition to republishing his novels, Open Road Media is publishing his complete short fiction (mixing the non-SF stories with the SF rather than publishing them as a separate volume). Earth for Inspiration and Other Stories, volume nine in this collection, has 11 stories dating from 1932-1960. Nine are science fiction, one is a western, and one a WWII air combat story. Unfortunately, stories in this project are not presented chronologically.
The stories are mixed in quality. A few are very good. "Idiot's Crusade" has a Twilight Zone flavor with an interesting take on small town morality when the village idiot gets the power to make anything he wants happen after a super powered alien intelligence chooses him as a host. "Carbon Copy" is an unusual story of a real estate agent whose new client wants to lease the same houses over and over again at unbelievably low rates and turn all the profit over to him. "Desertion", which later became part of City may be Simak's best story. In it, the head of the Jovian Survey Commission has to find out why an attempt to colonize Jupiter by turning humans into Jovian creatures has failed after five men never returned after being transformed. So he decides to transform himself (and his dog too). It may have the most poignant ending in all of science fiction. "Full Cycle" has a wonderful concept of a decentralized America where work is done by nomad tribes whose trade unions make deals with the stuffies who own the farms and factories but need nomad labor.
Unfortunately, the other stories are mostly forgettable and do not hold up today. The editor, David W. Wixon, gives the publishing history of each, aided by Simak's journals, and tells how some stories were rejected by the leading magazines before being published in lesser publications. Scholars and those interested in the development of the writer will be interested in some of the earlier material and the non-science fiction works, but the typical reader probably will not. (It is worth noting that, in the western story "Good Nesters Are Dead Nesters!" from 1945, the love interest does not exist just to be rescued by the male hero, but actively helps the protagonist.)
Simak is a Golden Age author so his stories are driven by plot with little concern for characterization or literary style. His stories show his background as a newspaperman, with any actual science treated lightly.
While Open Road Media should be commended for the scope of the project, publishing all of Clifford D. Simak's fiction in affordable editions, when it comes to his shorter fiction one cannot help but wonder if readers would have been better off with a more judicious selection of his best stories.