on 25 July 1997
The Goblin Reservation is Clifford D. Simak's synthesis of science fiction and European faerie lore within a murder mystery, with a little historical revisionism on the side. It stands safely within both the SF and fantasy categories, and will be well-liked by readers fond of either genre. Although a serious and coherent storyline runs the length of the book, the focus is on the way in which the characters relate to each other, which is often amusing even though the characters are not trying to be comical.
Peter Maxwell was a professor at the College of Supernatural Phenomena, a unit within the planetary university that had become Earth's largest industry in a multi-species galactic civilization. He was, that is, until he was killed. Maxwell had gone to a faraway planet in the Coonskin star system to investigate the report that a dragon had been sighted there. The rumor turned out to be false, however, and Maxwell came back to Earth, only to turn up suspiciously dead a few days later.
Imagine the surprise that Earth's security agency felt when Peter Maxwell showed up again, very much alive, at a matter transmission station in Wisconsin. Upon being questioned, this Peter Maxwell said that he had never arrived at the Coonskin system. His "pattern" had been copied enroute and diverted to a Crystal Planet containing information about a technology far surpassing that of any planet in the entire galaxy. The shadowy alien residents of that planet originated in a previous incarnation of the universe, before the latest Big Bang, and they were looking for a worthy species to receive the inheritance of their accumulated learning. Peter Maxwell was to be the one to arrange the transfer of that knowledge to Earth.
But there was a problem. Not only did Peter Maxwell have to be alert for the murderers who caused the demise of his other self, he also had to contend with unemployment. After his death, the university had filled his position at Supernatural, leaving him without a job.
Maxwell teams up with Carol Hampton, a member of the faculty at Time College (which, among other things, had brought William Shakespeare forward through time to explain why he did not write the plays), Alley Oop (a Neanderthal who had been headed for the cannibalistic stewpot when rescued by Time), and a Ghost who can't remember whom he is the ghost of, in order to unravel the mystery of the forces seeking to prevent Earth from inheriting the knowledge of the Crystal Planet.
The answer to the mystery will involve a dragon, and the dragon's relationship to the Little Folk (goblins, fairies, banshees, and trolls) who live on reservations on the campus of the College of Supernatural Phenomena, as well as a mysterious alien race of "Wheelers" who, it turns out, have been the enemies of the Little Folk races for millions of years.
The Goblin Reservation is written with rare wit, and perhaps the best scene is the bar fight at the Pig & Whistle Tavern, where Peter Maxwell, Alley Oop, Ghost, Carol Hampton, and Carol Hampton's sabertooth tiger get mixed up in a violent dispute between groups of students who were politically polarized over "the William Shakespeare issue."
Just one regret lingers in the reader's mind after finishing The Goblin Reservation. Simak did not see fit to include the recipe for making sweet October ale (the favorite drink of goblins and trolls, and much favored by humans who can rarely get a tankard of it). What a pity.
on 22 August 2013
Returning from a trip to another star system via matter transmitter, academic Peter Maxwell discovers he apparently came back to Earth some weeks earlier and then died under suspicious circumstances. You'd expect most people would make finding out why their top priority, but Maxwell has bigger fish to fry: he's been chosen by a dying race from a previous universe to represent them in selling fifty billion years' worth of accumulated knowledge. With the help of an articulate Neanderthal, a ghost who doesn't know whose ghost he is, a sparky young woman who owns a biomechanical sabre-toothed tiger (think Kate Hepburn in `Bringing Up Baby'), Master William Shakespeare (who didn't write the plays) and a reservation full of goblins and trolls, he tries to head off a sinister race of colonial insects who travel around in Segway-type contrivances and who are after the same prize. His biggest challenge, though, is overcoming his own university's bureaucratic inertia.
Here we have Clifford Simak in frivolous mode. Although not written as an outright comedy, this is a funny, fast-moving tale narrated with dry wit and punctuated by moments of slapstick - a barroom brawl with aggrieved English Lit students, a delightfully silly denouement scene in which one character after another traipses in with their tuppence-worth for no immediately apparent reason, amongst others. And it doesn't feel nearly as dated as most SF books of this era, which is an achievement in itself.