Monday, 30 April 2018

The Ghost of a Model T and other stories

Clifford D. Simak The Ghost of a Model T and other stories (2016)
This is the third of Open Road's proposed fourteen volumes collecting the complete short stories of Clifford D. Simak, and possibly the last physical volume if Grotto of the Dancing Deer stubbornly remaining available only as an eBook is any indication. This seems a shame because I've never liked eBooks, and in a world with so many physical books I am still to read, I just don't know if I can be bothered fiddling around with a Kindle; and it's also a shame because if this is to be the last physical volume, then it's unfortunately a little underwhelming.

It may just be me, or that my timing was out, or this being the potential end of the physical line, or the introduction which makes the following promise:

If there is a single work for which Clifford D. Simak is most known, it is the book City. Most people call City a novel, but it is actually a compilation of eight short stories laced together by interstitial materials to form a work that functions as a novel. And since those eight short stories were all once published individually, they are included as such in this volume.

Except they aren't, not beyond City, the actual short story of the same name, so I assume this claim refers to the eBook version; so it's kind of like those late nineties vinyl albums where the track list made no division of side one from side two, sometimes even naming songs which weren't on the record because the artwork had been blown up from that designed for the compact disc, and screw you, granddad. At the very least it suggests a certain carelessness.

So I was already a bit humpy, and while this volume contains nothing which is actively bad, it's all a bit middling. Leg. Forst. and The Street That Wasn't There are decent, as are a few of the others, but surprisingly the stand out is No More Hides and Tallow, another of Simak's rare Westerns, and one in which he writes very much to his strengths - traditional but with grey areas and a depth one might not expect to find in anything so often characterised as pulp.

I don't like this man. Never liked him for his dirty mouth and the squinted, squeezed look about him. But it's good to see him. Good to see someone from home. Good to hear him talk familiarly about the folks one knows.

The problem is that, for me, the best Simak tales strike a fine balance between the ponderous and the active; and the least interesting tend to fall back on musing over and over without ever quite going anywhere, and not even musings of any particular depth. The narrative - often third person but with a focus firmly on one solitary individual - mumbles away to itself almost as though the introduction of anything dramatic might be deemed crass and thus devalue whatever philosophical kudos Cliff had been aiming for, resulting in the sort of cosily repetitive babble which stupid people mistake for something profound. I expect he simply got carried away, as that's how a few of these read, but he simply ends up overstating something we thought he'd finished saying twenty pages ago.

There's nothing actively bad here, just plenty which could have been shorter. In a collection with a little more range, I may not even have noticed.

No comments:

Post a Comment