Two more by Simak

Two more by Simak June 18, 2021

Thanks to a haul from a local used bookstore [thanks Hooked on Books!], I’ve been working my way through a stack of books by Clifford Simak. And a stack of Simaks is something every household needs.

As with other books of Simaks I’ve reviewed hereA Choice of Gods and A Heritage of Stars continue to be excellent meditations on religion and society. Both are also post-apocalyptic with excellent plots too complex to dig into here. Each novel also suggests that technology leads to psychological atrophy and prevents human beings from exercising psychic powers, night vision, etc, that we might otherwise enjoy. Likewise each novel brings in other forms of life–namely, robots (created by human beings) and aliens (of various types). These, in turn, lead to fairly nuanced reflections on the nature of life.

Image: Goodreads

In A Choice of Gods, yet another being is thrown into the mix for our consideration: “The Principle.” Existing at the center of the galaxy (=universe?), “The Principle” is an Aristotelian deity which consists of pure thought. As such it is utterly unhuman–not exactly scary, except in its indifference. (And yet still different from Lovecraft’s inhuman beings in ways that I can’t seem to articulate.) Simak writes:

“…it is not really evil. Sensed, scented, become aware of from far off, it has the smell of evil because it is so different, so unhuman, so uncaring. By human standards blind and reasonless, and seeming blind and reasonless because there is about it not one single emotion, one single motive or purpose, one single thought process that can be equated with the human mind.” (A Choice of Gods, 70)

This line of reasoning leads to all sorts of reflections. What is the relationship between such an ‘indifferent’ being and the universe? Is such a being a part of the evolutionary process, or apart from it? If apart, what was it doing before the universe existed? If part of the universe, how on earth did it evolve?

As Christians, of course, we have thoughts about this perspective whether it’s coming from excellent science fiction or from excellent philosophy. Certainly this is a way to look at an aspect of God, though it has the weakness of ignoring His other attributes. Yet even here we still have a point of contact with God, since we too have knowledge and reason as beings made in His image. A being of pure reason wouldn’t really be so alien as Simak (and Aristotle) seem to think. We shouldn’t expect someone to be able to draw these conclusions without the aid of God’s revealed Word, but neither should we forget that these reflections are getting at a truth on which we Christians have a better perspective.

So pick up these two books and enjoy so rollicking good stories, but also enjoy thinking carefully about the ideas brought up therein.

These are great stories.

Dr. Coyle Neal is co-host of the City of Man Podcast and an Associate Professor of Political Science at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, MO

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