Clifford D. Simak practically introduced me to science fiction.
This was, as you may have guessed, a while back. A cold spring day in 1976, if I recall correctly. I was too sick to go to school, and my friend John MacMaster brought me two novels to read while I recuperated. I was already an avid reader, a huge fan of Scholastic books like The Case of the Marble Monster, and Alfred Hitchcock and the Three Investigators. But the books John brought me weren’t like those. They were adult novels and they were unlike anything I’d ever read before. Most of the details of that long ago school semester have long since faded, but I remember those two books vividly: they were Ox by Piers Anthony and Shakespeare’s Planet by Clifford D. Simak.
Piers Anthony, of course, was a fine choice to introduce an eleven-year old to science fiction. But Simak was inspired. If I had the opportunity to introduce young readers to SF and fantasy today, I think I might still choose the novels and stories of Clifford D. Simak. His deceptively simple adventure tales were wrapped up in some of the most imaginative settings — and featured some of the most delightfully quirky characters — of any SF writer of the era.
In the years since, I’ve gotten much more acquainted with the work of Clifford D. Simak. I believe his Hugo Award-winning novelette “The Big Front Yard” may well be the finest science fiction story of the 20th Century — it’s certainly in the running, anyway. His classic City (1952) is probably his most acclaimed work, but Way Station, which won the Hugo Award for Best Novel in 1964, is perhaps best remembered today.
Simak produced a total of 29 novels and 19 short story collections, and even after all these years I’ve read only a fraction of them. He’s the writer I return to when I find myself frustrated, or when other authors disappoint. I returned to him this week, and while my hand hovered over several other enticing choices, including The Werewolf Principle and The Goblin Reservation, ultimately it was Cemetery World that proved irresistible.