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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.


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Review by Brian Clegg

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