Tuesday, 19 September 2017

The Big Front Yard

Clifford D. Simak The Big Front Yard and other stories (2016)
Here's the second of fourteen proposed volumes collecting all of Simak's shorts, one of three to make it to a print edition, so far as I'm able to tell. The others exist only as eBooks at the moment, but I'm hopeful given that Open Road also seem to be reprinting physical editions of Simak's novels.

Of course, in reprinting the complete anything of anyone, there will inevitably be a few duds regardless of the name on the cover. Simak maintained a generally high standard in this respect, but not every last one can be the greatest tale ever told. Part of the appeal of this series is that we'll get to read certain seldom reprinted efforts Simak referred to when interviewed by Darrel Schweitzer for Amazing back in 1980:

SIMAK: At one time I was awfully broke and wasn't able to write as much science-fiction as I wanted to, so I wrote a lot of westerns and some air war stories.
AMAZING: Whatever happened to them? Have they disappeared?
SIMAK: I hope they have.

Contrary to Simak's disparaging view of such tales, Gunsmoke Interlude, a short western reproduced in the previous volume, struck me as pretty respectable, and certainly worthy of its authors name. Unfortunately Trail City's Hot-Lead Crusaders as appears here is pretty fucking awful, so okay - maybe the above comment wasn't simply false modesty. The man had bills to pay and it did its job. On a similarly critical theme, not everything here is wonderful beyond compare. A couple of the stories are okay, nothing special, while others are decent, or at least interesting - Mr. Meek - Musketeer for example, a genial comedy with a bit of a Hal Roach feel to it.

Yet, regardless of objections, raised eyebrows or whatever, the collection includes So Bright the Vision, which is pretty darn great, and of course The Big Front Yard, which we may as well call a novella for the sake of argument and which must surely rank amongst the very best of Simak's writing; in fact, if you've never read Simak and need to get a handle on his work, The Big Front Yard might be just about the best place to start. If you keep in mind that Trail City's Hot-Lead Crusaders at least dispenses with our having to wonder whether we might be missing out, this is otherwise a characteristically readable collection made great by the presence of its two best known stories.

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