We begin our novel with humanity’s final understanding that the dream of space is fatally flawed and no advance in our science or efforts will ever allow these feeble human bodies to withstand the massive dangers of space.
On a personal level I really connected with this. Since my youth I’ve always believed there will come a day when some fantastic scientific discovery will allow faster than light travel to be possible. The more I learn of space the less I believe humans could ever survive anywhere except this 3rd rock from our sun.
Mr. Simak doesn’t allow that human discouragement and depression to stand in “Time is the Simplest Thing”.
As always with humanity there are souls who’s lives begin when the experts proclaim a thing impossible. This is the birth of Fishhook, a tiny desperate effort to keep the hope of the stars alive in this novel.
As we are thrust into the story proper, Fishhook is a massive private corporation and our protagonist Shepard Blaine is on a planet 5000 light years from Earth believing he is approaching some relic of intelligence.
Naturally, I cannot write a spoiler but I was never clear about the machine in that early scene. Shepard was clearly in the machine or was using it. Shepard is employed at Fishhook and they don’t have space ships or robotic probes thousands of light years in space. I didn’t get it, but I found it easy to suspend disbelief for the sake of the story….
Shepard was there in thought or mind and that was the point. If someone someday ever reads this review and understood how this robotic machine was there with Shepard Blaine on a planet 5000 light years away… and these details were clear in the story, I’d be interested in any comments.
Oh… this is ALSO where the fan hits the tree ☺
Fishhook has complete control of the space travelers like Shepard Blaine and when the countdown timer strikes zero, the mind in space is returned to Earth.
It isn’t an unusual plot in science fiction… where minds travel space and visit far off worlds. E. E. “Doc” Smith had the entire Lensman series with some foundation in this ability. When Simak’s Shepard Blaine gets sucked back to Fishhook he has only one thing strongly focused in his mind. Escape.
He has to get out of Fishhook, which he actually loves, but he has been warned before by dear friends who have disappeared… they have told told him a simple thing.
IF this happens, THEN you must do this…
Much of the rest of “Time is the Simplest Thing” is about Shepard Blaine’s breathless and desperate attempts to escape Fishhook, the this that he must then do… and their long reach covering the entire Earth.
This is no “simple” short story though. There are plots and subplots and ever volatile decisions that consistently shift the course of Shepard Blaine’s expatriation.
One of my most moving moments was when I linked up in the story why it is titled “Time is the Simplest Thing”. How little the human race actually knows, even with current physics exploring three dimensional time theories, this idea of Time being Simple may be more profound than expressed in the book.
I was also pleased when reaching a point in the book… where no flashback was offered but memory of earlier actions in the book naturally provoked a reader produced flashback and was amazed at Clifford D. Simak’s remarkable creativity.
Looking back on my life, I’ve had hindsight’s too often that if I had only known THEN…, how different things would be now. Mr. Simak putting such things into a novel is not something I have come across in fiction where the reader/writer contract and cooperation produced a reader induced flashback. Where you say to yourself two thirds through the book… but if Blaine had only known back on page 100!!!
I doubt most folks would notice such things but having read veraciously my whole life and struggled with my own writing for decades, I don’t recall an author thinking to add this particular twist into a story. (I’ll probably see it every novel I ever read again, but it was new to me in this one).
Yes, there are good escapism and fun reasons to read this book but be warned it is of the era when authors managed to get their political, religious, or cultural rants into their books. I don’t mind this terribly. Heinlein did it often but learned to thread these things into showing the ideas in his stories instead of both showing and telling as he perfected his craft. Simak, if he learned this “show, don’t tell” rule hadn’t figured it out by this story in his career.
I don’t like this “show and tell”, and I don’t understand it well either. Every writer, I assume, is trained repeatedly by editor, teacher, and mentor, “show, don’t tell”, yet many of these older books do both. Ayn Rand’s 2 greatest books could have been hundreds of pages shorter if the telling was simply cut. Her ideas were excellently shown well throughout the books.
I was moved to read this book based on a review by my Goodreads friend Cheryl.
Learn more about Clifford D. Simak at Wikipedia.
Time Is the Simplest Thing currently has a Youtube Full Audiobook. This video was posted on Apr 7, 2016. Move fast to download it if you are interested. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) people may take exception to its posting. I personally am unaware of its copyright status. It may be public domain. Many Simak Audiobooks are available on Librovox in the public domain.
Finally if you must have plenty of spoiler info before deciding to grab this book then most of the book summary is on Wikipeda.