My rating: 3 of 5 stars
File this under Books I Should Have Read Already. I carried around for more than 30 years (probably lots more) a worn paperback I got from a used bookstore, and it sat on a shelf next to Clarke, Anderson, Williamson, Blish, …unread. I started it a number of times, but never got that far and lost my well-traveled copy to a fire in 2013.
A decidedly odd book. Dated elements, but not overly so, given its oddness. I got a kick out of a subplot line involving the Goblins (actually, Little People…the traditional Irish type) and beer:
Scuttling down the path toward them came a tiny goblin, his multicolored, too-large shirt whipping in the wind of his headlong running. “The ale!” he screamed. “The ale!” He skidded to a halt in front of the three toiling up the path. “What of the ale?” panted Mr. O’Toole. “Do you mean to confess to me that you have been the sampling of it?” “It has gone sour,” wailed the little goblin. “The whole bewitched mess of it is sour.” “But ale can’t go sour,” protested Maxwell, grasping some sense of the tragedy that had taken place. Mr. O’Toole bounced upon the path in devastating anger. His face turned from brown to red to purple. His breath came gushing out in wheezing gasps. “It can, bedamned,” he shouted, “with a spell of wizardry!”
In 1969, Simak probably had no experience with Flanders ales, but then, if he’d ever had Guinness, well, that stuff is nasty sour and not in a good, intentional way.
I like Simak’s language he used for his Goblins:
“But these,” he said, “are dolorous topics on which to waste so glorious an autumn afternoon. So let us fasten our thoughts, rather, with great steadfastness, upon the foaming ale that awaits us on the hilltop.”
And a dig on fools who would chug:
He [O’Toole] put the mug to his mouth again and emptied it in several lusty gulps. He slammed it down on the table and looked at Maxwell’s mug, still full. “Drink up,” he urged. “Drink up, then I fill them yet again for a further wetting of the whistle.” “You go ahead,” Maxwell told him. “It’s a shame to drink ale the way you do. It should be tasted and appreciated.” Mr. O’Toole shrugged. “A pig I am, no doubt. But this be disenchanted ale and not one to linger over.”
Lost, for most readers I’m sure, among the narrative, Simak writes something I’ve been saying for much of my adult life…his main character Peter Maxwell observes:
“I do not like the word `intolerant,’ Mr. Marmaduke, because it implies that there is ground for tolerance and there is no such thing-not for you, nor me, nor any other creature in the universe.”
Wisdom in classic science fiction. It is there, you know.