Skip to main content

Special Deliverance (SF) - Clifford Simak **

This 1982 novel could be seen as either a measure of the changing measures of quality in science fiction, or the sad fact that even great writers can decline as they get older. Clifford Simak was a big name from the late 30s and had major success in the 1960s - in my edition of this book, his name is even given a special logo. His Hugo Award winning Away Station was excellent. But, sadly, Special Deliverance is dire. 

This book fits into the now largely defunct literary category of science fantasy (though it live on on the screen with Star Wars) which has fantastical happenings or devices that are given a scientific gloss that makes it seem feasible that they could be real. The main character, Edward Lansing is a university lecturer in an alternate Earth where, for example, education is funded by the income from slot machines. He is transported to another alternate Earth where he joins up with five others, each from a different version of Earth, on a quest that is, for most of the book, opaque. The quest members are given no guidance as to what to do and meander across a stock 'weird place' landscape.

So far, while nothing too original - it's reminiscent of outright fantasies like Heinlein's Glory Road, with a touch of Away Station's theme of being taken out of your own world to do a role selected for you by aliens - as a concept it has some promise. But the dialogue (of which there's a lot, much of it bickering) would, frankly, be wooden in the 1930s, let alone the 1980s - it doesn't so much creak as collapse under its own dead weight. The characters have 1950s attitudes and the whole plot seems dreamed up as the author went along with very little structure or point. 

There's surely no way a book like this could be published today, even by a well-known author. It's a real shame. But it is a reminder to go back and rediscover some of Simak's better titles.

Surprisingly, despite many far better SF 'classics' being out of print, this is still out there. The image, however, is of my 1980s Methuen cover.


Paperback 

Kindle 
Using these links earns us commission at no cost to you
Review by Brian Clegg

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

The World According to Physics - Jim Al-Khalili *****

There is a temptation on seeing this book to think it's another one of those physics titles that is thin on content, so they put it in an odd format small hardback and hope to win over those who don't usually buy science books. But that couldn't be further from the truth. In Jim Al-Khalili's The World According to Physics, we've got the best beginners' overview of what physics is all about that I've ever had the pleasure to read.

The language is straightforward and approachable. Rather than take the more common historical approach that builds up physics the way it was discovered, Al-Khalili starts with the 'three pillars' of physics: relativity, quantum theory and thermodynamics. In simple language with never an equation nor even a diagram in sight, the book lays out what physics is all about, what it has achieved and what it still needs to do.

That bit about no diagrams is an important indicator of how approachable the text is. Personally, I'm no…

Outbreaks and Epidemics - Meera Senthilingam ****

This book was written before the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, though it has been updated to include it: it's certainly not any kind of attempt to cash in, but rather a sober reflection on how outbreaks and epidemics work, what process the world has in place to deal with them and how a changing, globalised world has magnified risk.

If I'm honest, I'm not a great fan of medical books, but Meera Senthilingam gives an important introduction to disease outbreaks and epidemics, giving enough detail to make sense of them without ever being too technical for the general reader. This is careful journalism, which can sometimes come across as rather dry, but that's not necessarily a bad thing given the topic.

The book starts by plunging us into the beginnings of the 2003 SARS epidemic, then brings in COVID-19 (as of, by the look of it, around the start of March 2020) and measles before plunging back to smallpox and the origins of vaccination. There is a strong section on disea…

Jim Al-Khalili - Four Way Interview

Jim Al-Khalili hosts The Life Scientific on BBC Radio 4 and has presented numerous BBC television documentaries. He is Professor of Theoretical Physics and Chair in the Public Engagement in Science at the University of Surrey, a New York Times bestselling author, and a fellow of the Royal Society. He is the author of numerous books, including Quantum: A Guide for the Perplexed; The House of Wisdom: How Arabic Science Saved Ancient Knowledge and Gave Us the Renaissance; and Life on the Edge: The Coming of Age of Quantum Biology. The paperback of his novel Sunfall is published in March 2020 by Transworld. His latest book is The World According to Physics.


Why physics?

I fell in love with physics when I was 13 or 14, when I realised not only that I was pretty good at it at school – basically common sense and puzzle solving – but because it was the subject that answered the big questions I had started contemplating, like whether the stars in the night sky went on for ever, what they were ma…