Jay Vickers, an author of some fame, is currently living in a world going through a strange industrial revolution. A company seems to be manufacturing products which are going to last forever, and this apparently has industry quite worried – if goods don’t become used and break down, then they can’t manufacture anything, and no one will have work. But that same company is also manufacturing artificial food, and distributing it for free to those whom do not have work. An industrialist asks Jay to investigate, and Jay says… no, actually. But he eventually goes and investigates anyway.
In some ways, it’s quite pulpy SF. The characters are poorly fleshed out. It is unmistakeably made in the 1950’s firmly in mind - a few gadgets have been added to take the story in the future, but the people carry the same values, the same ideas, the same tastes and prejudices as the fifties, and only what is needed plot-wise is updated. There are a lot of coincidences in this novel. I really do mean a lot. Vickers does question the occurrence of these for us, and although there is some explanation provided, I really cannot accept the inclusion of so many plot coincidences that are required to make this story work.
In other ways, the story is quite odd, in a pleasant way, and reminiscent of Philip K Dick, although Dick began his work several years after this novel. Vickers finds out that his knowledge about the world in which he lives, and what he believes he knows about himself, are quite, quite wrong, and what the world he actually lives in does make for interesting reading. Simak has his own metaphysical ideas about the world, like Dick. There’s also a undercurrent of paranoia running through the book, like Dick. The inclusion of these makes the book far less about whizzy gadgets, which does help detract from the pulpy nature of the book.
It’s the first Simak book that I have read, though, and if there is any fan of Simak reading this, I would be interested to know if this book is indicative of how the author wrote, and if it is, what his best book in a similar vein might be. This novel often reads like badly-written pulp-SF. Although but flashes of Dickian-style ideas do make the book more interesting, in this novel, Simak never manages to achieve what Dick does in his best works, or even his good works. 2.5/5.