On the Road Again and Passing Thoughts

I’m sorry to interrupt the cover seminar again, but I’m “on the road again.”  This time headed to Fyrecon where I’ll be presenting over the next three days starting tomorrow.

Meanwhile a quick thought: I agree with very few of the opinions Clifford Simak expresses in is books. He’s still one of my favorite writers (and number #2 son is only not named after him, because husband says no one deserves to be called Cliff.) and in fact I have been binge reading him.

Sometimes he stops in the middle of his books to explain how in the future there’s no: money, private property or whatever, or to lecture us about how we’ve almost depleted the Earth (consider these were written in 62. ) Yes, he was just parroting the conventional wisdom of his time.  Which tells you btw how crazy it’s been and for how long. Some of his opinions were disturbing enough that I asked a friend who knew him if he was a communist.  The answer was “No, just a middle class educated person of his time.”  Which, again, sounds… odd right now.  Particularly because of all the moments you go “Uh… humanity doesn’t work like that.”

For instance, there was this moment in the middle of the book where I’m currently reading where his character is studying back in time to figure out where humanity went wrong. When did the notions of Profit (trading) Greed  and the tendency to band together and follow the band come from.  Uh… DUDE! We’re great Apes. When did you think we stopped being great apes? Or were you under the impression we came from angels?  Which of course, is the foundational error at the heart of all these philosophies (Jean Jacques Rosseau should be burned in effigy for his noble savage and natural man nonsense.)

So, why am I reading him? Is it an exercise in masochism?

Oh, hell no. Both Dave Freer and I love his books. In fact, I own all I could find in paper, first in Portuguese and then in English, and I’m now in the process of buying them all in ebook because my eyes are not what they used to be. One of my projects in the mid oughts was finding them in paper for Dave, because he couldn’t get them where he lived, at any price (and ebooks weren’t a thing yet.)

But I disagree with all his political philosophical opinions. How can I love his writing?

First – because he doesn’t write for propaganda. It’s obvious and clear he really believes in this. All of it. Every little particle. And it slips in when he tries to imagine the future. Well, impossible not to.

Second – his books are fun. No one told him he shouldn’t ponder the imponderable nor poke the unknowable. They’re not every day situations with one thing different (whoever convinced the field that “classy” SF/F is magic realism should be taken back in time and dumped among the mastodons (it’s a Clifford Simak joke, son.))  I love Jorge Luis Borges, but you are not Jorge Luis Borges.  You start off from everyday and find yourself face to face with eternity. That’s just good stuff.

Third- his beginnings and situations are just irresistible. He always starts with an opening gambit you can’t turn down. AND HE DOESN’T LET GO.

Fourth – His characters are deeply and touchingly human. He makes real people. Even the automated cafes and the goblins are people. All his airy-fairy notions mean nothing when it comes to building real people. They’re people, not walking cliches.

So — if you have a political view point you want to communicate? (And btw, the left of the field should be giving him posthumous awards, if they really thought the content was the important thing. They won’t, because he is a dead white male, and “left” in SF these days stands for bigot and skin color and chromosomes trump EVERYTHING. Which is how they’ve chosen to take themselves into irrelevance. Wave as they go. We won’t be seeing them again. Not unless we really want to.):

Be like Clifford Simak. Clifford Simak was a writer to his fingertips. Write with passion, with humor, with love with HUMANITY.  If your povs drop in — and they will, none of us can avoid it — people will keep reading (perhaps shrugging, if they’re me, but still reading) if the book is good.

Just be a good writer. Nothing else matters. For whatever reason you’re writing, money fame or simple propaganda, be GOOD.

Yes, I know it’s a process, and some of us stumble on every pebble along the way. But don’t stop trying. No one promised you a rose garden not even a written one.

If your goal isn’t excellence in story telling, you’re not living — or writing — right.

Go write.



  1. Been long enough that I remember nothing of the content (well then, must be time to re-read!) but back in the day, Simak was one of my “buy everything on the usedbook shelf” targets. So he must have had something going for him — perhaps purely entertainment value, the main driver for most folks’ recreational reading. D’oh!

  2. Entertain me and I’ll suspend my disbelief long enough to buy into your politics for the sake of the story. But you better be doing more than just presenting a platform for your BS political agenda. You better be sending me to interesting places to meet interesting people.

  3. But Sarah, if you don’t agree with every point of an author’s politics, how can you possibly determine if they’re any good or not? /sarc

    1. Because if they’re not right about all those things then nothing they could write will be good either.

      The fact that I can think of exactly that argument made in all sincerity is… well, it’s something.

  4. In Chesterton’s Heretics, he spent the book drawing out and then arguing with writers’ opinions. His concluding observation was that you should advocate for your views in your writing like these writers.

  5. > Even the automated cafes and the goblins are people.

    That’s easy. “The Werewolf Principle” and “The Goblin Reservation.”

    I grew up with Simak too… “Way Station” and “They Walked Like Men” have always been favorites, though there were a couple – “The Destiny Doll” and “Why Call Them Back from Heaven?” that I bounced off of hard.

    I also disagreed with a lot of his backstories, but when I found out his primary job was “newpaperman” I understood why he thought that way. Even then you weren’t going to stay employed in that profession if you deviated too far from the Narrative.

  6. The first bit, about a middle class person of his time and how people just don’t work that way reminded me of something I’d once read, and I swear it was the Frugal Gourmet but who knows, that people thought that cooking didn’t matter and food didn’t matter. It was all going to be premade meals or pills like on the Jetsons. For a while people just really thought that the social aspects of food weren’t a real thing.

    My most hated movie, Silent Running, picked that up and ran with it. People didn’t even know what food was anymore and viewed eating it as some sort of deviant notion. Soylent Green! Shocking that the guy had a real apple. Right?

    So the story was about inviting young people away from home during holidays to holiday feasts and how important eating was and how interested everyone was in the food and making food and sharing that way and that this realization was what prompted the cooking shows. (If I’m remembering right about who was telling the story, and I might not be.)

    But now you claim to be a “foodie” even if you’re not and everyone has a cooking blog or facebook group and even if you don’t cook yourself you’re expected to understand why people are repulsed by well cooked steak. We want different food every meal and even a schedule that repeats weekly seems like too much of the same thing.

    But someone actually thought that the future would have efficient “meals” of nutrient wafers. It made SENSE to them.

  7. Indeed, someone recently created an artificial food in the form of edible bricks that supplied everything you needed to eat, and had no distracting flavors when you were doing one of those 48 hour game sessions. I do not recall who it was and never heard the fate of his business venture.

    In the words of the heroine of my current novel, a steak is called ‘well-done’ because it has been done well rather than poorly.

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