Thursday, May 24, 2018

Book Review: The Goblin Reservation

Book Review: 'The Goblin Reservation' by Clifford D. Simak

2 / 5 Stars

‘The Goblin Reservation’ first was published in 1968; this DAW Books version (160 pp) was published in May 1982 and is DAW Book No. 482. The cover artwork is by Kelly Freas.

The novel is set in the future, when interstellar travel is routine due to the introduction of teleportation. Aliens from all over the galaxy come to Earth to attend university at the College of Supernatural Phenomena in Wisconsin. There they mingle with the Terran creatures of folklore and myth (like the eponymous goblins, trolls, banshees, etc.), who - by some process Simak never really explains – have been made ‘real’ and interactive with the world around them.

As ‘The Goblin Reservation’ opens the lead character, a faculty member of the College named Peter Maxwell, returns from a teleportation trip gone badly wrong. Instead of arriving at the Coonskin planet, his intended destination, Maxwell instead found himself on a Crystal planet peopled by strange beings who apparently hold knowledge of the history of the existence of the universe. Even as he struggles with his half-remembered experiences on the Crystal planet, Maxwell's is further bewildered to learn that ‘another’ Peter Maxwell had returned a month earlier to the College – and been killed under suspicious circumstances.

As Maxwell tries to determine where his doppelganger came from, he stumbles upon drama and intrigue surrounding a mysterious alien artifact, its sale to the highest bidder, and access to the greatest body of knowledge the Universe yet holds. Resolving these mysteries will require the counsel of the elder creatures of the Goblin Reservation………..if they are willing to assist him, that is………

‘The Goblin Reservation’ is the first Simak novel I’ve ever read. For one reason or another, he is one of those sf authors from the 60s and 70s that I’ve never really felt much urgency in seeking out. After finishing ‘The Goblin Reservation’ I have to say I don’t see an overwhelming need to try other Simak novels.

The trouble with ‘Reservation’ is not that it’s poorly written – in fact, by the standards of mainstream sf of the late 60s, it’s actually reasonably well written. But it stands as a spiritual forerunner to the ‘humorous sf’ of Terry Pratchett and Douglas Adams, and that’s a genre I never really have warmed to.

Much of the narrative of ‘Reservation’ is structured around lengthy conversations in which Peter Maxwell engages in witty banter with Alley Oop, the 1930s comic strip ‘Caveman’ character; a ghost; a swell dame named Carol; and Carol’s pet sabre-tooth cat, Sylvester. This is fully as cheesy as it sounds.

Interspersed with these humorous motifs are segments in which Simak introduces wide-eyed sci fi tropes such as time travel (giving Simak the chance to write a passage in which William Shakespeare joins Maxwell’s party at a tavern for some ale-drinking and lively conversation), the Big Bang, evolving Universes, and duplicitous aliens. These traditional sf tropes meld awkwardly – if at all - with the narrative’s more cutesy episodes, giving the book a contrived character that seems dated and unrewarding.

Summing up, if you’re a fan of the comical sf of Ron Goulart, Douglas Adams, and Terry Pratchett, then ‘The Goblin Reservation’ likely will be a rewarding read. But all others can pass.

1 comment:

Joachim Boaz said...

I recommend Simak's Why Call Them Back From Heaven? (1967) -- I have a review on my site if you want more details about it.

It's a serious look at how society would be transformed due to the POSSIBILITY of immortality. Of course, the science just isn't there yet.... dark, disturbing, and quite a bit different than his other stories in my view.