Clifford Donald Simak was born in Millville, Wisconsin, son of John Lewis and Margaret (Wiseman) Simak. He married Agnes Kuchenberg on April 13, 1929 and they had two children, Scott and Shelley. Simak attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison and later worked at various newspapers in the Midwest. He began a lifelong association with the Minneapolis Star and Tribune (Minneapolis, Minnesota) in 1939, which continued until his retirement in 1976. He became Minneapolis Star 's news editor in 1949 and coordinator of Minneapolis Tribune's Science Reading Series in 1961. He died in Minneapolis.
Read "The Solar System Our New Front Yard", by Clifford D. Simak, free from the Internet Archive. Writing career
Simak became interested in science fiction after reading the works of H. G. Wells as a child. He started writing for science fiction pulp magazines in 1931, but dropped out of the field by 1933. The only science-fiction piece that he published between 1933 and 1937 was "The Creator" (Marvel Tales #4, March-April 1935), a notable story with religious implications, which was at the time a rarity in the genre of science fiction.
Once John W. Campbell began redefining the field in late 1937, Simak returned to science fiction and was a regular contributor to Astounding Stories throughout the Golden Age of Science Fiction (1938-1950). His first publications, such as Cosmic Engineers (1939), were in the traditions of the earlier superscience subgenre perfected by E. E. "Doc" Smith, but he soon developed his own style, which is usually described as gentle and pastoral. A typical Simak alien is much more likely to be seen sitting on a porch in rural Wisconsin drinking beer with the protagonist than invading Earth. During this period, Simak also published a number of war and western stories in pulp magazines. His best known novel may be "City", a collection of short stories with a common theme of mankind's eventual exodus from Earth.
Simak continued to produce award-nominated novels throughout the 1950s and 1960s. The quality of his longer pieces somewhat declined in the 1970s as his health deteriorated, although his short fiction was still well regarded. Aided by a friend, he continued writing and publishing science fiction and, later, fantasy, into his 80s. He believed that science fiction not rooted in scientific fact was responsible for the failure of the genre to be taken seriously, and stated that his aim was to make the genre a part of what he called "realistic fiction."
Simak's best known stories often repeat a few basic ideas and themes. First and foremost, of course, is a setting in rural Wisconsin. A crusty individualistic backwoodsman character literally comes with the territory, the best example being Hiram Taine, the protagonist of The Big Front Yard. Hiram's dog "Towser" (sometimes "Bowser") is another Simak trademark being common to many of Simak's works. But the rural setting is not always idyllic as here. And in Ring Around the Sun it is largely dominated by intolerance and conservatism.
Another idea often found in the stories is the idea that there is no past time for a time traveler to go to. Instead our world moves along in a stream of time, and to move to a different place in time is to move to another world altogether. Thus in City our Earth is overrun by ants, but the intelligent dogs and the remaining humans escape to other worlds in the time stream. In Ring Around the Sun the persecuted paranormals escape to other Earths which, if they could all be seen at once, would be at different stages of their orbit around the sun, hence the title. In Time is the Simplest Thing a paranormal escapes a mob by moving back in time, only to find that the past is a place where there are no living things and inanimate objects are barely substantial. Time travel also plays an important role in the ingeniously constructed Time and Again, in which a space traveler returns with an sf-slanted yet in tone religious message.
An important theme (or theme group) concerns robots, who in Simak's case are usually very likable mechanical persons. In the novella All the Traps of Earth (in the collection of the same title) the robot Daniel seeks freedom having served men for a very long time, only to find in the end that he has become more human than he had thought. We have, of course, the faithful butler Jenkins in City, the religious robot Hezekiel in A Choice of Gods and the theological project of the robots in Project Pope.
The religious theme is often present in Simak's work, but the protagonists who have searched for God in a traditional sense, tend to find something more abstract and inhuman. Hezekiel in A Choice of Gods can not accept this. Quote: "God must be, forever, a kindly old (human) gentleman with a long, white, flowing beard."
One finds many other traditional SF-themes in Simak's work. The importance of knowledge and compassion in "Immigrant" and "Kindergarten". Identity play, at times almost in a Philip Dick like manner, as in "Good Night. Mr James" (filmed as "The Outer Limits: The Duplicate Man" in 1964). Fictions come to life in "Shadow Show" and elsewhere. And there is the revolt of the machines in "Skirmish". And the rather horrifying meeting with an alien world in "Beachhead". (Many of these stories are to be found in Strangers in the Universe).
Simak's short stories and longer novellas range from the contemplative and thoughtfully idyllic to pure terror, although the punch line is often characteristically understated, as in "Good Night Mr. James" and "Skirmish". There is also a group of humorous stories, of which The Big Front Yard is the most successful. And Way Station is in the midst of all of the science fiction paraphernalia a moving psychological study of a very lonely man who has to make peace with his past and finally manages to do so, but not without personal loss. The contemplative nature of the Simak character is a recurring trait both of theme and of the author's style.