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Books by Simak, reviewed by Eric WeeksThis book review was written in March, 1999.
As long-time readers of this book review column know (all two or three of you), I like to buy used books. A few years ago my friend Steve called to tell me about a garage sale selling used hardcover sf books for a dime apiece. I had a mental picture of stacks of Xanth books, but I went to check it out anyway. It turned out that most of the books were actually good books by good authors, and a lot of them I hadn't read yet. I ended up buying 35 books; I gave the guy selling them $4, keep the change! As part of this purchase I ended up with seven hardcover sf books by Simak, all written in the 70's. Obscure books -- not City, which is still on my "to acquire and read" list. A quick summary: they've all been worth a dime each. Except for The Fellowship of the Talisman, the first one that I felt strongly enough about to write a review. This book is a decent fantasy, apparently the first one by Simak. It does have a lot of the feel of the other novels by Simak that I read, but it's got a fairly good plot, unlike the other novels.
Main character Duncan is a young nobleman, sort of a knight-like guy. He and his trusty sidekick are on a quest, to deliver a precious religious relic to an important sage. They have to pass through lands infested with the Harriers, basically a large bunch of monsters of pure Evil. Upon the way, they are joined by a whiny hermit, a humble witch, a reformed demon, a friendly ghost (not named Caspar), a benign goblin, and of course, a beautiful Love Interest (not only does she have fiery red hair, but she also rides a griffin). Duncan alternately spends his time clashing with Harriers, and meeting these various people who join him on his quest. Will they successfully reach the sage? More interestingly, what are the Harriers, and can they be stopped? The interesting plot of the book is Duncan trying to learn more of the Harriers, as they are the main barrier between him and completion of his quest.
This is a 2 star book. It's not enormously exciting, but it's fun and the Harriers are a nice puzzle. It is annoying that a large chunk of the time is spent with Duncan meeting yet another eccentric character who decides to join him in his quest; of course, each of these eccentric characters get to play a key role at some point. Also, some of the characters are fairly annoying; Simak seems to like to write about whiny people in a lot of these novels. The ending is OK, not great. To sum up, my advice is that if you find yourself facing a pile of old Simak novels, this is the one to read.
Some quick thoughts about the other Simak books I read. Special Deliverance was odd. The main character is whisked from Earth to an unknown world, where he meets the usual assortment of odd characters. They spend the book wandering around, encountering odd objects such as a huge blue cube and an ancient deserted city. The characters don't know why they've been brought to this world, or what they are supposed to do. It's interesting and quirky, although when I found out what was going on, I felt it wasn't worth the rest of the book to get there. It gets 1 1/2 star, as does The Visitors. The Visitors has North America invaded by alien blocks (vehicles? animals? definitely shaped like large blocks, but that's all we know). The book deals with the US government's responses to these things, as well as the populace. This book seems to be written for a younger audience, although it wasn't a very exciting story. At least all of the characters are normal people (maybe a little too boring), and the aliens are definitely alien.
Shakespeare's Planet has nothing to do with the playwright. Similar to Talisman, the main character meets up with many other characters, some of whom are whiners. This book did have some interesting aliens, but overall it was a dull book. A Choice of Gods was even duller. At some point, almost everyone on Earth was mysteriously taken away by some unknown means. The book begins way in the future, with the descendents of the few people who were left behind, and their friendly Catholic robots. The main plot is that the bulk of humanity was taken away long ago -- but now they are coming back, oh no! Who took them away? Who cares? It's just not as interesting as it sounds. A Heritage of Stars is set on Earth, many centuries after humanity made a questionable decision to destroy all technology. It ask the question of whether there is another route to a prosperous civilization besides technology, but no answers are proposed. Oh, and the main character meets up with another assortment of odd characters along the way. I give these three books 1 star each, since they're just not that exciting -- not bad, just dull. To remind you, a 1 star rating means they're for die-hard Simak fans only (or also suitable for people who find them on sale for a dime each).