Author Topic: EP487: New Folks’ Home  (Read 10610 times)


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on: March 29, 2015, 08:35:08 AM
EP487: New Folks’ Home

by Clifford Simak

Read by Norm Sherman


Listen to this week’s Escape Pod!


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Reply #1 on: March 30, 2015, 04:50:48 AM
I've been listening for about six months now, and listened to back episodes from late 2012 to the present. I've been toying with the idea of joining the forum for a while, but when I found an episode that talked about law, I had to bite. I'm an attorney myself (though I only practiced for a year before going into federal employment) and I liked the idea here. Of course different societies will need a legal framework if they are to interact peacefully. People hate lawyers, but can you imagine a world without them? Law suits would be replaced by brute force, and that works out well only for a few.

The pastoral setting was charming and relatable. The house had a definite Twilight Zone aspect to it, which wouldn't have borne a much longer story but served its purpose here quite well. And I have to say, that even though the story was five decades old, it holds up pretty well.

On the author--I have no recollection of hearing the name Simak. I'm 32, and have shelves full of Asimov, Bradbury, and a smattering of others (Clarke, Pohl, Niven, Wells, Wolfe, Simmons, LeGuin, Gibson, Card, and Herbert, among others, to stick solely to sci-fi). I started with Robotech and BattleTech in my youth, then grew into Asimov and Bradbury, and then found lists of the greatest SF books of all time to decide how to fill out the rest. So you'd think a name so supposedly well-known and well-regarded would have struck me at some point. That's clearly a failure of someone. There is a company somewhere that stands poised to make a good deal of money off such an author, by reviving interest. Who is dropping the ball?


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Reply #2 on: March 31, 2015, 06:35:22 PM
I, too, am a lawyer, and I guess I am in the right field.  For the last section of the story, I was just sitting there saying "Come on!  Open the file!  Why won't you open the file!?  It's space law for God's sake!"  I was so happy when he opened the file :-)

I thought that the story holds up very well.  Because I have been trained by enough Twilight Zone episodes, I was apprehensive for most of the story.  Free houses don't just pop out of the woods  . . . unless they are evil . . .  I'm glad this house wasn't evil.

And what a fun retirement.


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Reply #3 on: March 31, 2015, 10:13:44 PM


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Reply #4 on: April 01, 2015, 07:57:31 PM
People hate lawyers, but can you imagine a world without them? Law suits would be replaced by brute force, and that works out well only for a few.

Well that made me chuckle. Exactly which world are you living on? In my world, I think the law used used pretty much as exactly that, brute force for the benefit of a few.

Okay so maybe that's not totally fair, but there is a point to my lawyer bashing, in that I actually think this is what the story is about.  Don't open that file you fool! It's just a massive interstellar Norman conquest. Not Norm Sherman Norman, William The Conqueror Norman. That particular conquest succeeded not on brute force, but with very devious legislative chess games. For instance, if you take away the right for women to inherit property and wealth, the crown suddenly takes possession of all lands and assets held by women, without even having to raise a fist. It's not an accident that our "free and fair" justice system is full of French words.
So... basically, that Lovecraftian sense of unease about the house and it's implied contract are real. I think he's about to help take the planet.  As they say, there's no such thing as a free lunch.


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Reply #5 on: April 06, 2015, 01:57:36 AM
I like the fact that I couldn't tell where this one was going for a while. In fact, it didn't seem like science fiction until quite a way into the story. Nevertheless, the story telling was engaging and the character relatable, so I was enjoying the story in its own right. Then the twists and the mystery of the house being slowly revealed really worked well. Great narration as well. I had not heard of Clifford Simac, so I will pick up more of his writing. Thank you for running this one.


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Reply #6 on: April 06, 2015, 12:52:30 PM
Yeah, I liked this too. I liked the way that the light of a useful new future grew out of the bleakness of lonely retirement.

However, not being a lawyer, I suspect that by about lunchtime on the second day, I'd have been chasing out the walls with a table knife to find out how the interstellar phone worked.

On another subject entirely...

It's just a massive interstellar Norman conquest. Not Norm Sherman Norman, William The Conqueror Norman. That particular conquest succeeded not on brute force, but with very devious legislative chess games.

Ahem! I am a Northumbrian, and I am here to let you know that over 900 years on, that corner of England still hasn't recovered it's full population after William The Bastard's takeover, even with all the prosperous industry we've had around here. If you call killing anything that moves and burning anything that doesn't a legislative chess game, then you really do live under a very strange legal code. :P
« Last Edit: April 06, 2015, 12:56:35 PM by SpareInch »

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Reply #7 on: April 06, 2015, 02:23:27 PM
I especially loved the early, non sci fi part of this story. The writing was beautiful, and I could picture my dad as this protagonist - although my dad is 75 and still active on bike and kayak, not in any way ready to retreat from life. But this was written in a different time. I kind of regretted when this went in a spec fic direction. Maybe I need to pull out some Jack London or James Harriot - it's been a long time, but I think the writing styles evoked the same feelings in me.


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Reply #8 on: April 08, 2015, 04:24:23 AM
I enjoyed everything about this story.  As a kayaker, I appreciated the descriptions of the river and the falls, and was angry at the discovery of the house on what was formerly pristine riverside.  I was anxious when he fell and had to find the resources to rescue himself (never paddle alone, folks!).  I just rode along side him every step of the way, through the whole spectrum, from last trip, to anger, to fear, to relief and mystery, to curiosity, to acceptance and excitement over new beginnings.  It's too bad that our various cultures on the blue marble haven't found a way to make senior centers and retirement homes in a way that makes its residents feel valued like this galactic culture has.

Great story!

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Reply #9 on: April 08, 2015, 11:03:13 AM
Boy, reading people say they don't recognize Simak's name makes me feel as old as the protagonist of this story. (Pretty close; I'll be eligible for Medicare in a few more years.

I checked on Barnes & Noble to see how much of Simak's work is available. Sadly, a large portion of it seems to be pulp-era short fiction where, under old copyright laws, copyright expired after 28 years unless renewed for another 28. Nothing I recognize as being any of his best work.

Alibris has a better selection, used, some at semi-reasonable prices (0.99 + Alibris' ouchy adds-up-fast shipping charges), some at collector's prices. Simak's best known novels, CITY and WAY STATION are available there.

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Reply #10 on: April 09, 2015, 02:48:53 PM
First of all, I think Norm Sherman deserves praise for digging up this story to air on Escape Pod.  Here's a guy who's passionate about his SF.  It's one of the great and terrible things about science fiction that one can never read it all.  There are always going to be some blind spots for any reader.  I hesitate to even mention some of my own.  Lately I've been much more selective about what I choose to read so I can catch up with some of the more worthwhile classic authors.

I loved the feel of this story.  It felt like a perfect slice of science fiction for the time that it was written in.  So thank you for cuing me into Simak, Norm, and after I get done reading my first Culture novel, I'll have to check out Simak's City if I can.  Considered better than Dune and the first Foundation trilogy, and I've never heard of it?  Crazy stuff.  
« Last Edit: April 11, 2015, 06:05:11 AM by Chairman Goodchild »


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Reply #11 on: April 10, 2015, 10:38:58 PM
I especially loved the early, non sci fi part of this story. The writing was beautiful, . . . .

Agreed. I really related to this, growing up in a rural area.


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Reply #12 on: April 14, 2015, 02:47:56 AM
I always really appreciate it when classic stories are run, inevitably they are new to me. This was no exception, and I'm very glad to have heard it here! Starting with his initial discovery of the house, I kept on waiting for the other shoe to drop. I agree, houses that appear out of thin air cannot possibly be up to any good! So it was nice that it never took on a sinister air.


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Reply #13 on: April 14, 2015, 03:26:50 PM
Agreeing with Devoted135 and everybody who appreciated that the house was not sinister.

As everyone upthread mentioned, my default is to assume something unexpected is sinister. One of the great things about Science Fiction (and Escape Pod) is that you can have a positive, optimistic ending (can, not must, of course).

It's nice to be reminded that sometimes the house isn't sinister; sometimes it's just awesome. Sometimes science goes wrong, or end in dystopia, but most of the time the future is *brighter* because of science. The cautionary tales are interesting, of course, but they need to be balanced out with the ones that remind us that there's a lot of good in the world.

And sometimes we go to the stars, not to conquer, but for legal advice.


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Reply #14 on: April 14, 2015, 07:44:27 PM
I thought this story was all right, but to me it felt like two separate stories that didn't knit together well--the guy trying to survive injured in the wild, and then the lawyer retirement gig.


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Reply #15 on: April 19, 2015, 07:49:41 PM
Great to see Clifford D Simak get some airtime. Doesn't hurt that that I find myself in a legal field, even if I am not a lawyer. Reminds me to try and find find a copy of Gladiator-at-Law by Pohl and Kornbluth again.


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Reply #16 on: April 20, 2015, 02:53:58 AM
I love Simak's works.  Agree with Norm's comments.  He's on my shelf next to Clarke, Bradbury, Asimov, etc.

I have been thinking about this story from two perspectives.  The easier POV is the protagonist.  It is easy to cheer for him.  A sympathetic character - an old man, put out to pasture, lost/losing his loves/friends - who is resurrected and given a new purpose, a new life.  A nice, feel good perspective. 

The law angle is interesting.  Makes a nice segue into speculation about the second perspective.  I mean really, why did the 'aliens' place such a elaborate trap to grab one of earth's finest legal minds?  Why?  Honestly, it's easy for me to dive into a "Douglas Adams" type thought-wormhole into a universe where lawyers are needed to facilitate Earth's removal for an intergalactic highway construction project...and Clifford D. Simak has nicely mapped out how to bait, capture and train these lawyers for the Vogons.  Thanks, Mr. Simak.

But then again, maybe I'm just a little twisted.

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Reply #17 on: April 27, 2015, 06:02:40 AM
This was a beautiful story. But that's not why I'm here.
I too have never heard of Simac, but I went to my magical second hand book store (it's not really magical, they just bought the basements from everybody in the building. So the store front is tiny, but then you go down the rickety stairs and there's a room full of books, on the shelves, the floor and the overstuffed chairs. In the far corner there's a doorway into another, similar room. And from there another and another. All told they have five or six rooms.) and I found a battered copy of City and a sightly more intact copy of Waystation.
Now of you'll excuse me, I have some childhood that needs making up for.

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Reply #18 on: April 27, 2015, 01:57:55 PM
I knew of Simak because Stephen King mentions Simak in his nonfition book "On Writing", and specifically mentions "Ring Around the Sun".  So I've picked that one up.  To a modern eye it feels kind of worn but has been around long enough that I'm guessing the reason it feels worn is that so many other authors have built on that foundation.  One interesting concept in it is that you can learn to travel to parallel worlds by spinning a top with a spiral painted on it, and following that spiral with your eye from one end to the other, I guess pulling you to the next world over.


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Reply #19 on: June 03, 2015, 07:53:53 AM
I liked it, it had that cosy Twilight Zoney feeling to it of old-school SF, and enough character building in there to keep me curious.


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Reply #20 on: June 11, 2015, 04:15:16 PM
A) I don't know where I heard of Simak, but I knew he was important enough to put on my graduate school s.f. qualifying exams. (But I'm one of those people who don't think "Americana" is a douchebag term.) Simak's WAY STATION in particular seems like a longer version of this story, with an interstellar house and a search for meaningful connection.

Though I also have to comment on Simak's bizarre THEY WALKED LIKE MEN (1962) where aliens come to Earth and start to conquer it by buying it up. (The solution to stopping them is bizarre and natural, very Simak in a way.

B) Hamlin Garland. That's the non-sf writer that Simak reminds me of. Like Simak, Garland born in Wisconsin, and sets a lot of his fiction in rural (Midwest?) areas. His best-known works (nowadays) are probably from around the turn of the century, around the time Simak was born. If Simak didn't read Garland growing up, then I'll eat my hat.


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Reply #21 on: February 25, 2016, 06:22:48 AM
Loved the story. Great writing, good pacing, interesting twist. Just awesome!

But, I have a question for the management. Is there a reason why you list the author's name as just Clifford Simak? I have always known him as Clifford D. Simak (middle initial included), so I had to go check Wikipedia and make sure it was, in fact, the same person.


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Reply #22 on: February 25, 2016, 02:42:48 PM
It's an elaborate plot to boost Wikipedia traffic.