Wednesday, 30 March 2016

I Am Crying All Inside and other stories

Clifford D. Simak I Am Crying All Inside and other stories (2015)
It's been a while since I anticipated a collection quite so much as this one - the first of a proposed fourteen volumes collecting the entirety of Simak's existing short fiction - and it's been worth the wait.

Simak, for anyone who might be in doubt, is arguably the greatest science-fiction writer of all time, or at least he seemed so as I was reading this whilst struggling to recall one other author of this genre who maintained such a high standard and for so long with so few blanks having been fired. I love Philip K. Dick, but even he threw out a serious turkey every once in a while, and let's face it, you probably wouldn't want to him for a neighbour. My first encounter with Simak was a previous collection of short stories of such quality as to inspire me to buy everything I could find by the guy; and now, nearly a decade later, there remain just four of his twenty-eight novels I am still to read, and of those I have read, I found only Why Call Them Back From Heaven? in any sense disappointing.

This series has been put together by David W. Wixon, literary executor to Simak's estate and, perhaps more significantly, a personal friend of the man. Accordingly this seems more a labour of love than a clinical exercise in completism, and this first selection of ten stories has been chosen, I would guess, as a group likely to sit well together between the covers. So we have a range of themes and moods from across the broad span of Simak's career, thus avoiding some of the problems which might have arisen from a more traditional chronological plod from alpha through to omega. At the extremes we have such curiosities as Gunsmoke Interlude - one of Simak's surviving fourteen tales written for Western magazines of the thirties - and the previously unpublished I Had No Head and My Eyes Were Floating Way Up in the Air written for Harlan Ellison's Last Dangerous Visions anthology; but that said, none of the remaining eight tales quite settle into being standard Simak because, for an author with such an immediately recognisable style and consistent themes running through most of what he wrote, I'm not sure there quite is such a thing as a standard Simak tale.

Pastoral imagery and tone prevail throughout, as you might expect, and there's the ecological subtext and plenty of robots as pretty much only Simak wrote them - innocents, or at least humanoids without the burden of guilt prescribed by most of our history, and quite unlike the mechanoids of other authors; and there's Simak's characteristic bittersweet tone, maybe not so much pessimism as an underlying sense of sadness, which keeps his fiction from ever quite becoming The Waltons with spaceships. For want of any more precise definition, I would say the element which makes Simak's writing great is that it has soul, regardless of subject. So even Gunsmoke Interlude reads simply as a Simak tale rather than specifically as something which isn't science-fiction, and whilst The Call From Beyond invokes H.P. Lovecraft to a peculiar degree, it never reads as parody. Nowhere is the aforementioned soul more in evidence than the breathtaking All the Traps of Earth, a tale of robot redemption which I somehow doubt many other authors really could have pulled off without looking a bit silly, and - regardless of whether you'll forgive the sweeping statement - is possibly the epitomy of all that's been missing from science-fiction since Simak left for that great newsroom in the sky.

Hopefully this collection will sell by the truckload, thus meaning we'll get physical editions of the other thirteen volumes - four of which are already available as eBooks - perhaps leading to a broader discovery of this wonderful but increasingly neglected author. It certainly deserves to.

Purchase as many copies as you can reasonably afford (borrow money from friends if necessary) of this superb collection from your favourite retailer of physical books, or alternately procure electronic versions direct from Open Road Media.


  1. Good point about the quantity and quality of Simak's stuff. Might have to check this out despite my vast backlog of books waiting to be read. Haven't read anything by him for a LONG time since City but don't think I ever read anything below par by him wheras lots of PKD's lesser works aren't very good although there's always SOMETHING interesting to note in them. He often reminds me of Jim Thompson, another 'hacky visionary' who sometimes plotted better than he told the actual story. Personally I think I preferred the excellent PKD biography Divine Invasions to any of his actual novels.

    I also adored the breadth of Harry Harrison's stuff as a teenager but suspect I'd be a bit disappointed to reread them now although there's obviously my problem hot Harrison's! Actually, I suppose the closest challenger is maybe Terry Pratchett, (slightly different genre admittedly) who doesn't really do it for me but you have to admire the sheer craft and consistency

    1. Oh - any Harry Harrison you would recommend? I've read a couple of the Stainless Steel Rat books, which were okay for what they were, but I've noticed a few of the others (Deathworld?) from time to time and wondered about them.

  2. Read loads of Harrison's stuff and loved it aa a teenager but struggle to recall much about it now. I think a lot of it was basically what we'd classify as 'young adult' stuff today.
    That said, I read 'Make Room! Make Room!' a couple of years ago (which was filmed as Soylent Green in the 1970s) which was a thriller set in a scarily overpopulated New York in 1999. Worth a look, as old attempts at predicting the near future often are... It's easy to mock him for not calling it right on NY, but it has some similarities to what's happened in say Mumbai or Rio De Janiero