If you’re into nostalgia, I’d like to recommend a collection by a founding father of science fiction. The Best of Clifford D. Simak, 1939-1971, harkens back to a time before World War II, when science fiction was in its infancy, the dark side of the moon was a mystery, and space travel was an absurd dream. In that era, the fantastic tales of Simak and his contemporaries appeared mostly in pulp magazines.
I found this anthology of ten stories in a bookstore several years ago. Although Simak’s works have been republished in other collections, this volume isn’t listed even on Amazon, so it may be a collector’s item. It covers the years during which Simak, a career newspaperman, wrote sci-fi stories as a sideline.
Modern readers will no doubt find this collection old-fashioned and quaint. For me, their attraction is the worldview they represent, and the author’s humanitarian approach to alien lifeforms.
- Madness from Mars (1939) From a magazine titled Thrilling Wonder Stories, it tells of a spaceship returning to Earth from the red planet, its crew decimated by a baffling epidemic of violence.
- Sunspot Purge (1940) was published in Astounding Science Fiction. Though its notion of “outlawed sunspots” is murky, it foreshadows today’s concern that humanity is signing its own death warrant by tampering with nature’s delicate balances.
- The Sitters (1958) appeared in Reminiscent of Children of the Damned, it involves alien beings who cause human children to mature more rapidly than their parents.
- A Death in the House (1959) Appearing in Galaxy, this story involves a farmer who discovers an alien creature on his land and tries to help it. It has echoes of Way Station, one of Simak’s best novels.
- Final Gentleman (1960) From The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Here we meet a famous writer who discovers than an alien computer has been running his life. Reading it, I couldn’t help thinking of the Matrix
- Shotgun Cure (1961) Also published in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, this tale is about an alien who gives humanity a cure for all diseases, but which comes at a great price.
- Day of Truce (1963) A Galaxy publication about a soldier guarding the only remaining house in a neighborhood at the mercy of teenage gangs.
- Small Deer (1965) In this Galaxy tale, a man travels back to the age of dinosaurs and discovers why they became extinct.
- The Thing in the Stone (1970) In this story published in Worlds of If, a man recovered from a brain injury finds himself able to see visions of prehistoric times.
- The Autumn Land (1971) appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. Following an unexplained holocaust, a man finds himself living in a community that doesn’t seem quite real.
In the introduction to this collection, Simak confesses “an ache to rewrite” some of his early work. I’m glad he didn’t. His stories harken back to a time when people knew their neighbors, and print journalism was almost exclusively the source of daily news.