Monday, 19 February 2018

Cemetery World

Clifford D. Simak Cemetery World (1973)
This one feels a little like a companion piece to its immediate predecessor, the somewhat ponderous A Choice of Gods. That which Cemetery World is trying to say, or at least what I suspect it tries to say, is clearer than in A Choice of Gods, and the novel feels more fully realised, although it suffers to some extent from the same somber tone and narrative uncertainty. Simak has stated that he's often making it up as he goes along, but his books rarely feel quite so prone to improvisation as that might imply.

Here we have an artist, a human citizen of the universe, visiting an Earth long since abandoned and returned to wilderness, but for a few hillbilly types and a powerful funerary organisation which facilitates burial on the planet of our ancestors. Fletcher Carson, our artist, finds himself at odds with the Cemetery corporation, and improbably allied with ghosts, robots, and possibly the Census Taker, who seems to have provided the inspiration for Orko, the floating wizard thing from He-Man & the Masters of the Universe.

As with much of Simak's fiction, pastoral themes dominate, specifically the return to nature. Cemetery World distinguishes itself by granting that nature has its own agenda, regardless of our good intentions; and so Earth has moved on in our absence.
'We're Babes in the woods,' she said. 'You remember the old Earth fairy tale, of course.'

'Sure, I remember it,' I said. 'The birds came with leaves…'

And let it go at that. For the tale, when you came to think of it, was not as pretty as it sounded. I couldn't quite remember, but the birds, it seemed to me, had covered them with leaves because they were quite dead. Like so many other fairy tales, I thought, it was a horror story.

This isn't necessarily a bad thing, but it's certainly far from cosy, making for a slightly darker, more pensive read than one usually gets with Simak.

'I should have wondered too,' he went on, 'by what criterion one should select the experiences to be packaged. Would it be wise to pick only the joyful ones or should one mix in a few that are somewhat less than joyful? Perhaps it might be well to preserve a few that carried a keen embarrassment, if for no other reason than to remind one's self to be humble.'

The message is ultimately a pleasantly simple and direct affair, although lacking the playful surrealism of earlier novels, its delivery is perhaps less satisfying than it might have been. Still, Simak is always worth a look so I'm not complaining.

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