1968’s So Bright the Vision collects four novelettes by Clifford D. Simak.
All of these stories are about ten or twenty years more recent than I’d have guessed from the prose style. Many authors with long careers (decades-long, like Simak’s) transformed their style and narrative approaches over the course of their career. Simak seems to have been perfectly content with his signature style.
This is a collection of works that display Simak’s predilection for avoiding anything like conventional conflict. Even The Golden Bugs , which features an honest to God alien invasion, not to mention the death of an unfortunate dog, is mostly comedic. The crises in the other stories essentially work themselves out, at least as far as the protagonist is concerned. The collection offers amiable visions of what the future might bring.
The Golden Bugs • (1960) • novelette
Distracted by the incessant noise from a local audio enthusiast’s experiments in machine-generated music, at first insurance salesman Randall doesn’t notice the odd golden bugs suddenly infesting the neighborhood. Nor does he connect them with the car-sized agate that mysteriously appears in his back yard.
Randall, his family, and neighbors are Earth’s unwitting defenders against an alien invasion. Humanity’s survival will come at a terrible cost.
Partway through the story, Randall comes to the horrible realization that his home insurance policy, presumably arranged through his own company, does not cover having his possessions destroyed by tiny crystalline aliens. But aside from the sudden, bloody death of a dog, it’s all played for comedy.
Speaking of the dead dog, it’s killed when a swarm of golden bugs fly thought it at high speed. A very similar scene can be found in Blish’s And All the Stars a Stage . I think both drew on an erroneous news report of absurdly high-speed insects, but I am blanking on the source, date, and bugs involved.
Leg. Forst. • (1958) • novelette
Clyde Packer, a man not overburdened by ethics, spends his retirement years collecting stamps from all over the galaxy. The stamps may have been inspired by Terran stamps, but they have been transmogrified in interesting ways. One unusual stamp first transforms Packer’s overflowing home into pristine orderliness, then spreads uncontrollably to work its magic on the world. Presented with an unexpected loophole in the alien mechanism’s domain, the devious old man spots an unparalleled opportunity for shenanigans.
At the risk of spoiling a sixty-odd-year-old story, the alien stamps are alive and can sort and organize houses and minds. (I was reminded of Greg Bear’s Blood Music .) This notion could easily have been played for its horror potential — would you want your mind tidied for you? In the story, once-crooked businessmen are alarmed to discover they are now honest. But Parker is the viewpoint protagonist and for reasons explained in the story, he is personally immune.
So Bright the Vision • (1956) • novelette
Earth, planet of liars, is the galaxy’s source of pulp fiction. Alas, Kemp Hart is locked out of this revenue source because he’s too poor to afford a cutting-edge writing machine. He’s driven to the unthinkable in his quest for professional success.
(There are other stories in which Earth’s off-world trade is dependent on a single good or service. I wonder if there are enough stories for a whole anthology?)
Intriguingly, what the Earth exports is specifically prose fiction, not other narrative forms. Perhaps prose can jump the bridge between species while other media cannot. As well, the drive to maximize output by mechanization appears to be the primary factor behind writers’ dismal pay. Well, no doubt someone got rich .
Midway through the story, our hero discovers aliens have taken an idea from an ancient science fiction story and created a living cloak that keeps its wearer happy, healthy and entertained. Kemp does not identity the work that inspired the aliens. It was, as it happens, from a 1944 story titled “Ogre”, written by a fellow named Clifford D. Simak…
Galactic Chest • (1956) • novelette
A reporter trapped in a dead-end position at his small-town paper stumbles across a story he hopes will be his big break. All across town, people are being done good turns by unseen entities. As hard as it is to believe, the brownies, the little folk of old, have returned, trading favours for snacks. But are the brownies what they seem to be and what is their true motivation?
Again, this is the sort of set-up that would have turned into a horror story in other authors’ hands. This is a Simak story, however, so the reporter’s conjecture is the brownies, while not precisely what they seem to be, are operating out of pure community spirit. Only a cynic would point out that the reporter never actually talks to a brownie; his comforting explanation of the phenomenon is unverified.
So Bright the Vision is out of print, but we now live in a golden age of Clifford D. Simak collections. The Golden Bugs may be found in Earth for Inspiration and Other Stories , Leg. Forst. may be found in The Ghost of a Model T and Other Stories , So Bright the Vision may be found in The Big Front Yard and Other Stories , and Galactic Chest may be found in Good Night, Mr. James and Other Stories.
1: The situation is not completely motivated by profits: spreading human ideas and values by means of Earth fiction is the only form of imperialism of which Earth is capable.