Science Fiction: Ten Explorations

By C. N. Manlove | Go to book overview
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Clifford D. Simak,
Shakespeare's Planet (1976)

Like Arthur Clarke, Simak loves to use the frisson of the alien, the other, in his work. But where Clarke is sceptical of man's ability to comprehend the alien without becoming other than man, Simak is more hopeful, if often sentimentally so: he has men save the universe with alien help in Cosmic Engineers (1950); Earth is taken into a larger galactic community in Way Station (1963); humanity establishes a lasting friendship with flower-aliens in All Flesh is Grass (1965), and with an extraterrestrial 'time-engineer' in Catface (1978). 1 How far this optimism stems from the fact that Simak (now eighty) belongs to a quieter age and a rural Midwest community it is impossible to say: but it would be an injustice to write him off only as an old man looking for warm fire in a cool universe, or as a vendor of 'pastoral pieties'. 2 In his best work Simak is not merely exploiting the thrill of the alien: the alien is a symbol of the void of the universe, and if man can come to terms with it, he can come to terms with his own nonentity in that universe too. Simak is most convincing where, without reducing the alien to human concerns, he is able to show man going out to it and taking its strangeness to himself. One work in which this is most clearly seen and artistically expressed is his Shakespeare's Planet.

The story of Shakespeare's Planet is of a light-speed star ship sent out from Earth along with many others in quest of habitable worlds; 3 four humans travel on the ship in a deep-frozen condition. During the voyage there is a mechanical failure, and three of the humans die and have to be buried on a bleak planet. The fourth, Carter Horton, finally comes to himself and his isolation when after almost a thousand years the ship finds a suitable landfall. He is not completely isolated: throughout the story his needs are looked after by a personable in-ship robot called Nicodemus. On the planet, which seems at first less than


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