Clifford D. Simak
not well known today (a phrase variations of which will come up over
and over in the prefaces to this series), before his death in 1988
Clifford Simak was considered one of the great names of science
fiction. Known for his pastoral SF, he often eschewed the easy
narrative tool of violence. Any reader looking for a story in which
human and alien manage to bridge the vast gulf between them, possibly
while sharing a sunset on the back porch of the human's home, should
is the fourth story in Simak's collection City,
which won the
1952 International Fantasy Award,
is an oddly melancholy collection. Written as a reaction to the
horrors of World War Two, City
the long, inexorable extinction of humanity, not because of war but
due to a series of unfortunate decisions, each made for what seemed
like good reasons at the time. “Desertion” is arguably the moment
when humanity's doom was sealed.
64 years after its first publication.
am fond of
... but I was born just nine years after the collection was first
published. It was timely for me. What will my younger readers make of
on old solar system Jupiter. A planet that bears little resemblance
to present Jupiter, having far too little metallic hydrogen and far
too much solid surface. But if I imagine it is another planet
somewhere else I can suspend my disbelief for the story. Simak spends
a lot of timeexplaining how humans deal with the pressure and storms
and exotic chemistry on the surface, but never explains how they
survive the gravity without being mashed into the floor grates.
story clearly did not predict the rise of telepresence and the real
world advance of sensors and probes.
frontier mentality of just sending explorer after explorer to what
everyone assumes is a quick and fruitless death is pretty foreign
these days. I recognize the mentality from stories of the early space
race and early nuclear research. People were apparently much more
comfortable with being the first to die in new and interesting ways
back then. And the administrators were more prone to let people die
or disappear without requiring lengthy and inconvenient
spent some time trying to figure out Miss Stanley's position. She's a
highly sought-after machine operator but not counted among the
biologists. Otherwise why introduce 'the biologists' if Miss Stanley
is right there to carry on the conversation? She doesn't have either
the will or the power to stop what she clearly believes is a death
enjoyed the description of being in an alien body. Gave me an
animorphs vibe, right down to the free telepathy with the
transformation. The change in how the environment was experienced
with new senses was really interesting. Side note: had nobody else
tried transforming a dog into a speaking creature before? Just out of
curiosity about how a dog's mind works? Speaking of which, is this
converter an immortality machine? It made Towser young again, could
you convert an old human to a young human?
became progressively angrier and the story neared the end because
nobody out of the seven explorers sent out could be bothered to even
send a message back to base about what was going on. They knew how
important this was. It would take minutes, maybe a couple hours at
most. Didn't they at least want to share this newly discovered world
with their friends, tell them about how they could shed their old
busted bodies for new super intelligent psychic ones? I guess Jovians
have even less impulse control than humans.
on what radius ground level was at, Jupiter could have a truly immense
area to explore, enough to fill lifetimes without ever going back to
revisit anything. I can't decide if it's a good trade, giving up the open
possibilities of all of space for the huge but still bounded surface of
back at how much I've written about it, this was a good story. I'm going
to go look up some more stories by Clifford Simak.
read this story on vacation. I wasn't looking forward to reading this
story on vacation, I was worried that it would have too many
characters, they'd debate issues that were extremely dense and
difficult to parse (and didn't even make sense), and that it would be
hard to find something to say about the story. I was pleasantly
story was easy to follow but still interesting. Some of the ideas and
themes explored (sending minions out into danger from behind the
safety of a shield) were very much topical to 1944 and still
(unfortunately) apply today.
worst part about including Desertion in this project is that I
don'thave more to say about the story that won't ruin the story for
anyone who hasn't read it already. .....So this is probably a good
place to stop.
it aged well?
The basic sci-fi premise has aged well. We haven’t explored Jupiter
much, so it did not strike me as wildly inaccurate – just
fantastical. Another basic idea that hasn’t changed: humans not
living up to their full potential.
the story was published in 1944, I couldn’t help thinking about
WWII desertion of soldiers. Is it moral to send people on suicide
missions? Is your own happiness and freedom more important than
now the obligatory look at female characters. Not quite as bad as
other stories but still problematic:
only one female character…
she’s a strong female character!
this disturbs the protagonist… “Those sharp blue eyes saw too
much, her hands looked far too competent. She should be somebody’s
Aunt sitting in a rocking chair with her knitting needles.” Ick,
But the two of them argue with logic! And he
(kind of) listens to her! And she totally interrupts him and he
backs down during their argument!
reminds me of…
communication with the dog reminds me of The
Golden Compass. Who wouldn’t want to speak telepathically with
their pet? It also reminds me of the Acorna
series with the enhanced senses and condescension towards
Fowler discovers the wonders of being a Loper, there’s the familiar
(false) idea that we’re not using all of our brains “down to the
last hidden corner”. I also had an ominous feeling that things were
going to go downhill in some kind of Algernon-Gordon
effect, but they didn’t. [Side note: Flowers for Algernon is
older than I thought. It was recommended in high school as YA
fiction. But it counts as sci-fi, too. Neat.]
can’t Fowler go back and give a brief report? He can tell them it’s
safe, and then go out again transformed. No one’s going to stop
him. He’s in charge, right?
Less interesting to re-read.
I accept the ideas that there are aliens on Jupiter, and that humans
have developed the technology from the Animorphs, I still have issues
with this story.
really, if the painstaking explanation of how the shape shifting
works is only serving to remind me of a series of books I haven’t
read since grade six, that’s not a good sign.
people have robots and cameras. Why aren’t they monitoring their
test shapeshifters? There are better ways of doing things than
sending off random people in the hopes that eventually someone will
come back. Use your technology, people!
also concerned that this author has a severe misunderstanding of the
differences between knowledge and intelligence. It’s an interesting
idea, that the aliens have a greater mental capacity than humans (or
dogs), butincreased intelligence/brain power does not confer
knowledge. The sudden realizations they make aren’t building on
prior knowledge. There’s no evidence that Fowler was a chemist
working on the metal who suddenly had a breakthrough because he had
more processing power. Intelligence does not replace education.
was nice to see that the technician role was filled by a woman. It
would have been nicer if Miss Stanley did something other than act as
Fowler’s conscience and be disapproving. She does get a bit more
personality than any other character but Fowler and his dog, so I
guess that’s something.
felt like there were religious undertones in the idea of transcending
humanity and discovering how limited it was. The writing seemed to
embrace the idea that the limitations of humanity had been put there
intentionally, forcing them to do things the hard way. While I like
the idea of humans not automatically being the most amazing species
on any given planet, the moral/religious overtones made me
pace of the story really drags, despite it being fairly short. I just
can’t get myself invested in some guy sending a bunch of people
(presumably) to their deaths, feeling bad about it at the prompting
of the disapproving woman, and then sacrificing himself and reaching
enlightenment, plus some random technical stuff. I just don’t care.