Visions of Paradise

Tuesday, October 04, 2005

New Folks' Home

Once the school year begins in September, my reading fades from its usual summertime torrent almost to a drizzle. As a result, I abandon novels entirely since it would take me too long reading them to really do them justice. Instead I read short fiction from a variety of sources, since I can at least hope to finish one story in a single sitting.

So for the next few weeks, I will discuss in this blog some of the short fiction I have read recently. Some of it is relatively new from such pages as Best Short Novels 2005, which actually contains novellas published in 2004, the latest issues of Postscripts and Paradox. But I will also discuss several stories from older collections and prozines on my shelf.

A few months ago in the pages of FAPA, Fred Lerner made the comment that “New Folks’ Home” is his favorite Clifford D. Simak story. I love Simak’s fiction, and have done so since I first discovered him in the pages of Worlds of IF and Galaxy Magazine forty years ago! In fact, he was my first favorite science fiction writer a few years before the onset of the “New Wave” brought with it the likes of Roger Zelazny, Robert Silverberg, and Samuel R. Delany, which forever altered my reading taste. But I never lost my love for Simak’s pastoral sf, and my collection currently contains 18 Simak novels and 4 collections.

After Fred made his comment, I searched through the collections and found “New Folks’ Home” in The Best Science Fiction Stories of Clifford D. Simak, so I immediately read it.

“New Folks’ Home” is a story which might not have moved me as much when I first read it twenty years ago for personal reasons. Then I was in my thirties, both my sons were infants, and most of my life lay ahead of me. Now I am in my late fifties, my sons are both in college, and retirement is a definitely likelihood three-to-five years down the line. So this story of old age and death has much more personal resonance than it had when I first read it.

Two longtime friends have grown old. One is dying, while the other is taking what seems likely to be his last canoeing/fishing trip in a wilderness area they consider almost their private reserve. On the trip the protagonist spots a new house which was definitely not there during their last trip a few months earlier. When he sprains his ankle on a slippery section of the river, and a driving rain arises almost simultaneously, he cannot walk at all, and realizes he cannot possibly reach his car or drive to safety. So he crawls to the strange house seeking shelter.

Nobody is home, so he spends the night in what seems a suspiciously welcoming atmosphere. What follows is a mystery as he tries to determine who inhabits the house and why he seems so welcome there. This is typical Simak, so you understand halfway through the story that the ending is going to be both happy and thought-provoking, while all the events are a gentle rebuke to all those thriller/violent/action sf stories which sometimes seem to dominate a genre which deserves better. Long live Clifford D. Simak!